What Convinced You? A Survey for Non-Believers

If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

Was there one particular argument or incident or experience that did the trick? Or was it more of a general softening of the ground, with lots of different factors adding up?

A lot of non-believers are actively engaged in trying to persuade people out of religion. I’m one of them. I think religion is a mistaken idea about the world; I think it does significantly more harm than good; and just as I would with any mistaken and harmful idea, I’d like to persuade people out of it. And I think it would be extremely useful to have a sense of what methods actually have a track record of working. After all, most atheists and other non-believers were, at one time, believers. Clearly, something changed our minds. Possibly more than one thing. I’d like to know what those things were… so I can do them more.

I realize that this won’t be a good statistical sampling. People who read my blog are, naturally, people who are likely to find the kinds of ideas found in my blog compelling… so that’s going to skew the numbers. I’d love to see some good sociologists tackle this question, and get a good, large, somewhat statistically representative sampling of non-believers to answer this question. But for now, this may at least get a rough idea of some of the methods that can work. And hopefully, enough other atheist bloggers will link to this to make the sampling a little broader and more diverse. (I did a poll like this in my blog a few years ago: but my blog didn’t have as wide a readership as it does now, and it wasn’t part of this snazzy FreethoughtBlogs network. So I thought it’d be worthwhile to ask again.)

So: If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

Did you come to your non-belief entirely on your own, simply by thinking about it, or were you influenced into it by others?

If conversations with individual atheists — friends, colleagues, family members, people on the Internet — made a difference, please say so, and say how they affected you.

If the presence of an atheist community or communities, either in person or online, made a difference, please say so, and say how it/they affected you.

If specific atheist writers or thinkers or other public figures made a difference, please say who they were, and how they affected you.

If a specific idea or argument made a difference, please say which one or ones they were, and how they affected you.

And if there’s more than one answer — i.e., if letting go of religion was a multi-step process, with several different factors playing into it — please say so.

You can tell your story in the comments here, or email me at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com. Let’s see what works, and start putting together a game plan!

What Convinced You? A Survey for Non-Believers

416 thoughts on “What Convinced You? A Survey for Non-Believers

  1. 1

    In my case, it was rather simple. When I was 17, I came to the realisation (alone) that if you’re good, than any kind of god people respect would give you a free pass into heaven, thus he didn’t matter really. Futhermore, having learnt about such things as Pheias Gage and the effect things have on the brain, I came to the realisation that there was no soul.

    Of course, there’s numerous problems with those claims, but they are what lead to me becoming more and more interested and more involved in the atheist community.

  2. 2

    I took the long, sliding road. I was raised a Catholic, went to church right into college, then the notion of religion started slipping. First I lost my belief in the church, then the idea of the Christian “God”, then the vague lingering notion of a “spirit”, and then I discovered skepticism. Once I heard the question “is God really necessary?” actually articulated, I realised I hadn’t needed God for quite some time (and didn’t even notice). I stopped being agnostic more or less immediately.

  3. 3

    A friend of mine went from evangelical hardliner to very openminded christian/not even sure if to believe at all, simply by being exposed to the real world. When majoring in Latin & Greek (the only thing she was allowed to study, her parents rather had she didn’t go to college at all) she was reading about Pandora’s Box and thought ‘how stupid is that, to blame one woman for all the sins in the world… …oh wait…’. Add to that her two best friends, both female, engaging in a sexual relationship together, and there you are, maybe the christian values weren’t so great after all. What might have helped though is that she only became a christian at age 11 (when her parents converted and she had to follow along), so she already knew there were other ways of thinking.

  4. 4

    I had a few things build up and cook into gumbo in the back of my brain.

    First, a colleague challenged me when we were both slightly drunk “you don’t really believe all that do you” and I found that I couldn’t coherently explain why I believed.

    I also … discovered isn’t the right word because I already knew in a way… The conversation threw into sharp relief that I had a cherry picking, all you can eat buffet view of religion. “I’ll take the christian god with a side order of reincarnation please.”

    I still feel that the eternal afterlife is one of the biggest problems christians have to face, or rather block out and avoid facing. It’s just too horrible. So I decided reincarnation was better, but acknowledging that meant accepting I was picking and choosing what would be true as if I were writing a fantasy novel.

    The same co-worker challenged me to read The God Delusion and I accepted. On that first read through I read the christian version. That’s the version where your head is full of wool and you get very angry at Dawkins for pointing it out. “I’m not like that” you say to yourself, and you promise yourself you’ll go back through the book and form a detailed rebuttal.

    In my case I let that simmer for a few months and decided to try a more modern church. The music and power point slides and occasional cold reading manage to paper over the gaps for a while, but one day – and for me that day came at a christian youth work conference in the middle of a praise song – I looked around and realised “I don’t believe a word of this”… which made the rest of the weekend awkward!

    I rushed to re-read The God Delusion as soon as I got home. It was like a different book. This time a breath of fresh air, a gentle wit, and a comfort that reality was available with no cognitive dissonanc required.

    I started reading other atheist books, searching for blogs, watching youube videos. It felt like I’d escaped from being buried alive into the light of day.

  5. 5

    I think I just gradually over time stopped taking religion seriously. Not that I took it all that seriously to begin with – to me it was just something that you did because it was expected of you.

    For me, though, one of the biggest reasons to stop taking religion seriously is the existence of other religions, especially past religions. You can tell all those people took their religion just as seriously as believers do now – they built these enormous temples, created great art, made sacrifices, etc – and yet they are all gone now. What’s more, most everybody today dismisses these religions as mere superstition. But what really sets current religions apart from these superstitions? They even all think that the other ones are still superstitions (but not their own). Why wouldn’t we simply consider all of them superstitions?

  6. 6

    It was a long slide for me, btu the clincher was this: Christianity teaches that God gives a conscience so we can tell right from wrong. Yet, our conscience tells us a lot of the Bible is immoral. Either God gave us a defective conscience, which is swayed by Earthly influences, then punishes us for making the wrong moral decision when he’s the one who made us unable to know the difference, or the whole concept is bullshit and God is not any kind of moral source or authority, in which case he was bloody useless.

  7. 7

    Well I was never really into it, my mum dragged me along to church after my dad died (she mostly went just to be with her friend) so I had less to fight against but the lack of fun was the real killer for me. It was all so serious, no joke I made during the confirmation lessons got anything other than a dirty look from the priest (in the disapproving sense rather than sexual) and the church part was so tedious…

    I had a C64 when I started going and had an Amiga when I stopped, church couldn’t hope to compete with either masterpiece of technology. It could be very realistically argued that gaming saved me.

    It wasn’t until years later that I really started reading up on the religion thing and realised how ridiculous it all was. They would say that gaming is childish and church is important but at least The Secret Of Monkey Island managed to be internally consistent (sort of)…

  8. 8

    I grew up in an apathetically Christian household, and went to a Church of England primary school and a secondary school where we were encouraged to debate religious ideas in RE. I tended to argue for Christianity on the grounds of 1) So many cultures believe in a God, there must be something to it and 2) Something I know recognise as Pascal’s Wager (hey, I was fifteen, and arguing against other fifteen-year-olds).

    A fascination with Derren Brown led me to read his ‘Tricks of the Mind’ which turned out not to be an autobiography as I’d thought, but an examination of many cognitive biases, including the placebo effect, and their application to pseudoscience, as well as a lot of plugs for some chap called Richard Dawkins.

    And of course, upon picking up ‘The God Delusion’, I found a chapter dismantling each of my arguments with clarity and logic. So I said to myself, “Oh, I guess there is no God, then.” It wasn’t a big revelation or a shock, just a take-down of arguments no-one had taken down before.

    Dawkins had shown my arguments to be flawed, therefore I had no more arguments for God, therefore there must not be a god.

  9. 9

    Apart from the blatant immoral acts in the bible, one of the ideas that played a role was this: there’s many religions and each states they are the true way and other religions are mistaken. They can’t all be correct, so how could you be sure yours is right? And what also helps is reading about other religions, both current and dead religions, then you see similarities, and often where ideas were copied from a rival religion.

  10. 10

    It was a long process for me. I was a fundie christian at a baptist church (though I’d grown up in a variety of churches) and I’d sworn to save sex (and my first kiss even) for marriage. When I was 18, i met a (non-christian) guy, started dating (something I’d sworn I’d never do), kissed, and after three weeks had sex. My older sister (who was no longer christian) pointed out that my actions and my beliefs did not match up, so I really ought to drop one or the other. I dropped my beliefs. I didn’t stop believing immediately, but I decided I’d rather continue having sex (which, looking back, was not the most fantastic sex, or even particularly good sex…) and I’d deal with God later. I don’t remember when I eventually got around to dealing with God, but I know by the time I read Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and started reading atheist blogs (yours first, though others soon followed) I didn’t really believe in the whole God thing anymore. I’d realised that I could be good and happy without God, and that various “sins” (like sex) were perfectly ok. Plus, God doesn’t like gay people, and I eventually came out (first as bi, then gay, and now bi again, which I’m finally perfectly comfortable with). I wanted nothing to do with such a hateful being and realised through various reading and my own consideration that it likely doesn’t exist after all. There is a lot more to the story, but that’s the basic gist. And I’m sorry, I honestly cannot remember if I read Dawkins first, or if I stumbled into the atheist blogosphere first.

  11. 11

    Gret point about Derren Brown Jenny! I read him talking about mediums in Tricks of the Mind and thought “how are priests any different?”

  12. 12

    I switched majors from engineering to psychology. I was raised as an ELCA Lutheran in a moderate-to-liberal congregation. I didn’t believe a lot of the BS, but still considering myself a Christian until sometimes during my junior year of college. I had switched majors to psychology, and as an elective was taking “The Psychology of Extra-Ordinary Beliefs.”

    I LOVED that class. It specifically did not address religion, but it talked about pareidolia, logical fallacies, UFOs, psychics, lie detectors, all kinds of stuff. The prof even directed us to Respectful Insolence, which was the first skeptical blog I read. As a follow-up, I took a phenomenal class called “Clinical Psychological Science,” which should have been titled, “All the bullshit that morons continue to push in the psych field.” We went over (and debunked) Rorschach tests, Anatomically Detailed Dolls, etc, as well as talking about manufactured memories and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.

    All this led me to a conclusion: why was I applying all these ideas to these medical procedures and supernatural phenomenon, but not my own beliefs? So, I started really thinking about it. I briefly flirted with deism, but realized that all I had done was get rid of the dogma, leaving me with what was still an unfalsifiable, irrational belief in a deity. So I was an agnostic, until lately, when I’ve been comfortable calling myself an atheist.

    And that’s my story. No bad experiences in church; quite the opposite, actually. No rejection of the Bible due to evil acts in it, etc. Just a straight rejection of the whole base concept of a deity. Simple reasoning and forcing myself to be consistent with the application of skepticism.

  13. 13

    For me, it was gradual and a combination of things that made me into a nonbeliever. I went from gnostic believer at about age 7 to agnostic believer by age 8, to agnostic non-believer with regard to Christiantiy by about 11 (too nervous of anti-athiest sentiment in my commmunity and from my mother to voice it until about 13)… I was still an agnostic believer in that “something” was out there… sort of an agnostic Deist by that time. I learned about several religions and the various sects of Christianity, and around 16 or so, I decided to set aside the religion question for a while and became an agnostic “don’t-give-a-damn”-iest. I can’t let an issue settle until I’ve stettled it to my own satisfaction, though, and came back to it at around 20. After a year of gnawing at it, I settled on agnostic athiesm, and I think it fits me.

    In all, it was a combination of the huge cognitive dissonance caused by the Christian God supposedly being the embodiment of goodness while mass murdering people at the drop of a hat, similar inconsistencies with other religions, the fact that no believer could answer my doubts without raising new ones or employing logical fallicies like argument ad populem, and the fact that I started getting really into science and logic as a kid (I’m now a chemist). Finally, I couldn’t really determine any substantial difference between God and the fantasy book “gods” – which I knew were fictional – in the fantasy adventure novels that I liked reading.

    Funny thing: My dad, when I was little, didn’t like me reading fantasy because he thought it would teach me magical thinking (he’s an athiest, though I didn’t know it growing up as Mom forbade him to tell me or my sister – she believes that it’s impossible to grow up moral unless you’re raised in a religious mindset). Instead, it taught me to identify magical thinking and reject it. Funny, eh?

    It started cracking for me around 6, when I first learned about the Noah’s Ark tale and called God worse than Hitler (something that earned me a grounding to my room for a month when Mom was told by the Sunday School teacher). Nobody could explain why God wasn’t worse than Hitler, not without resorting to “Well, he’s God.” By the time I was 16, I was an agnostic on-the-fencer, and by 20, I was an agnostic athiest. Probably would’ve arrived at athiesm faster if it weren’t for the huge pressure from the adults in my life to not question and accept the doublethink.

    Orwell’s 1984 was a key book in my rejection of religion. I read it first at about 13, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between doublethink and religious thinking.

  14. 14

    I kind of shucked religion leaf by leaf. I was raised catholic. Then I slowly realized, as I tried to learn about everything, that Jesus (probably) never existed. So, I stripped the teachings of Jebus out of my worldview, and spent some time thinking about just the God of Abraham & Noah. Then, at about the same time, I started coming across arguments that he probably didn’t exist either, and I think I found PZ’s blog at about the same time. And then, that was all she wrote for my religious beliefs. Just the slow realization that there was nothing there.

  15. 15

    Well, I know one grandfather was an atheist for most of his life (not sure about my grandmother), whereas my other grandparents were the type of Christians who did not go to church because it was not a sufficiently high enough priority in their lives. My father is an agnostic; my mother has said very clearly that if God exists he must be evil and therefore does not deserve her respect, and because she would not change the way she lives her life if she found out for certain that God exists or that God does not exist, she considers the question irrelevant and does not care.

    So with so many non-believers in my family (though I also have relatives who are quite religious) I don’t think I ever really was a believer. I do think there was a time when I was close to the fence on the believer/non-believer thing – I was very interested in woo for a while – but I think even then, if you had pressed me, I would have said “I don’t really believe it – I just think it’s very interesting”. Of course, I eventually came to the conclusion that the material world (history, science, etc.) was more interesting than woo, which put me very solidly in the non-believer camp.

    However, even though I’ve been a non-believer for most of my life, for most of my life I had not called myself an atheist. What pushed me there was taking a class in college about the history of Jerusalem. On the one hand, to understand the history of Jerusalem, you have to know something about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. On the other hand, it was a real history class, where claims about the history of Jerusalem, in order to be taken seriously, had to be supported by evidence, whether archaeological, or from contemporary written accounts, etc. So I was examining these religious beliefs *at the same time* I was practising skeptical discipline. And I could not help noticing that if we tried to submit papers in that class in which our arguments had evidence no better and no worse than the evidence used to claim that those religions are true, our papers would have received an F. And because we had to study three religions, it was also apparent that the three religions contradicted each other and thus, at the very minimum, two of those religions are false.

    Well, because I was critically examining these questions in a way I had never done before, I decided to go to the “religion” section of my local book store to become better informed. I intended to get a book about Abrahamic religions … but one title jumped out at me. The God Delusion. And as soon as I saw the title, I realised that I agreed with it and I hadn’t even read the book. I did of course eventually read most of it (I had to skim some sections I found uninteresting), but I don’t think it was the book itself that persuaded me – I was already primed to become a flat-out atheist, and the title just whispered to me “the emperor has no clothes”.

  16. 16

    Atheism: The Case against God by George H Smith. With some help from a friend.

    I can’t say if there was a specific argument or not. Mostly I just think I had no chance.

  17. 17

    I came to it on my own. I was raised Methodist by a believing mom and a disinterested (in religion) but going-thru-the-motions father. We hit church on Xmas Eve and sometimes Easter, and I was condemned to Sunday school and church-sponsored trips. I found both exasperating, as questions I asked in Sunday school received answers I found ridiculous, and the chaperons for the trips were intensely judgmental (first thing they’d do was take our music). On the plus side, I kissed my first girl at church, which was a good start.

    This was also the era of Falwell, Robertson, Swaggart and Baker, along with much debate about things I enjoyed, like loud music and Dungeons & Dragons.

    At 14 I had to go through confirmation. Didn’t want to, but 6 weeks of being grounded if I didn’t. I decided, during the ceremony, that I needed more information to make an informed decision about Christianity (or any of the other religions — there seemed to be so many!) and declared agnosticism. Over the years following I read a lot on the topic, and at 25 I decided only atheism made sense.

    Nothing I’ve read or seen has swayed my view — quite the opposite, really.


  18. 18

    Just briefly, I grew up not believing in god, but believing that I was ‘wrong’ and somehow lacking because I could not believe. This is why voices like yours, Greta, are so important – Professor Dawkins freed me, and you continue his work (and offer other insights on it, as I see Dawkins as a teacher who is passionate about teaching, rather than concentrating on atheism).

    I wholly agree with Christopher Hitchens when he says that he ‘knew’ his teachers were wrong, but the implications of growing up feeling I couldn’t have a voice are tied in with “Respect your parents” as well as “You are evil if you don’t believe”. Which may be personal to me, but they have an effect now – I get infuriated by injustice but also feel as though I don’t have a right to speak up, and my feelings towards religion are related to that. I still find myself thinking things automatically, like “Christians are always more gentle and forgiving than atheists”, even when I know this not to be true.

    I think the crux of the matter is that I wanted to believe. I really, really, earnestly wanted to believe. I wanted to be a Bride of Christ, I thought if I became a nun, I would automatically find this amazing love and fulfilment some people kept telling me about, and despite all of that I still never ‘found god’. Not that I became a nun, it was just one of those paths not taken, which I am now relieved about. I don’t think I could have opened my heart any more to Jesus than I did, and he still didn’t find me. A friend of mine still thinks that one day, I will follow god, and I realise with despair that I will have to die first to prove him wrong. It’s sort of sad and funny all at the same time, to think of me hovering over him in spectral form going, “See? See? I still didn’t find him!”

    I keep reading, Greta, because I hope one day to rid myself of that brainwashing and truly understand that I don’t need religion to be a good person.

  19. 19

    Very short version: Scary Christian co-worker causes me to jump back into reading about evolution. Online Science searches lead to Online Skeptical Community, which hooks into Online Atheist Community. Any remaining theism goes *poof.*

    Slightly longer version: I was raised in an offshoot of Mormonism (CoC nee RLDS). Mormonism has the questioning of religion built into its founding myth; I was raised to believe religions are not infallible and had to measure up to scrutiny both from God and their own membership. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were the seeds of “Free Thought,” laid down in Sunday School. I love the irony of that.

  20. 20

    I wish I could help, but for all practical purposes, I’ve been an atheist since birth. One of my earliest childhood memories is of the girl next door (who was a year or two older than me) telling me she and her family went to church on Sundays and talked to somebody named God. After some questioning re: this “God” person I told her, in so many words, “you talk and sing to some guy who isn’t there? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

    Exposure in later life to religion did nothing to change my initial impression: y’all are talking and singing to some guy who’s not there, and until I see some evidence that he actually is there, I’m just going to tolerate your nuttiness (because I have little choice) but there’s no way I’m buying into that bollocks.

  21. 22

    Talk.origins helped me out of my creationist nonsense in 1997-98. Dallas was rough on the inquisitive child’s mind.

    Specifically, this article shattered my entire belief system.

    The ‘index to creationist claims’ (also on TO helped a lot too).

  22. 23

    I was a conservative Christian all my life, but in late high school I joined an ultra-conservative fundamentalist denomination called the Church of Christ (not Mormon). At that point, my faith reached new heights of vigor. I was training to become a preacher, and actually had a pretty good career lined up for me, when several things happened:

    1.) I’d always had a love for science due to an early exposure to educational programming as a child. To me, evolution always made sense even when I vehemently disagreed with it, so I never suffered from the ridiculous misconceptions concerning science and evolution that many believers suffer from. After years of suppressing it, my nagging suspicion that evolution deserved the benefit of the doubt couldn’t be fought any longer, so I did some research. It turned out, evolution not only made sense, it made *perfect* sense given the state of our world.

    2.) I had held many misconceptions about Atheists until, late in college, when I finally met one. She wasn’t an awful person, and she didn’t spend her time railing against God. She was devoted to her boyfriend and was a great friend to me as well. I met other Atheists and could no longer deny that they were mostly good, genuine, upright people.

    3.) Meeting some good Atheists led me to examine Atheist philosophy a bit more, and I found that it was so much more accurate at describing the world than Christian theology.

    In short, these three things (and years of suppressed curiosity in Atheism) led to an explosion of learning for me that sealed the fate of my religious convictions. Today, I’m an active Atheist and a happy member of the SSA, doing all that I can to help other young Atheists realize that it’s good to be who they are.

  23. 24

    Greta, your question reminded mi the times when I was much younger! The process for me was quite painful indeed. I was attending a Catholic high school, boys only, all religious services included. Full package. (From what I heard, two of my ex-classmates are Catholic priests now.) I don’t have any really nasty stories from my school, nothing bad happened – I think we were on average just the usual bunch of kids, with football/girls on the top of our list of priorities (girls were a bit problematic – it was a male school, you know, and that in practice left us with football.) But some of us were also quite engaged in religious activities and I belonged to this group.

    So what happened? In my case becoming a nonbeliever was connected with one of the worst depressive periods in my life. I don’t think it was really about some rational arguments against religion (that came later, when I was able to think again). It’s just that the whole world started looking insignificant and cruel, with normal, everyday activities becoming impossibly hard. Whatever you read, whatever new information gets to you, it confirms your picture of the world as a monstrous trap – that sort of attitude. (Too few girls at school, probably!) And God didn’t help. In fact God didn’t fit. Hmm, one could try to interpret my way to atheism as rejecting God because of the argument from suffering (theodicy not being good enough), but I don’t think it’s correct, not really. It wasn’t based on a rational analysis of this or that argument; the whole painful process of rejecting God was for me more emotional than rational. (It was more like: “Shit, how can the world be like that?!? And don’t answer, I’m refusing to hear any answers!” The realization that there are in fact no good answers came only later.) I don’t remember how long it lasted (quite a while, for sure). There was no internet at this time, no support groups, really nothing, and that’s probably what made it worse.

    I guess that my story is not very helpful to you – sorry about that! Anyway, that’s how I remember it.

  24. 25

    I’d love to see some good sociologists tackle this question, and get a good, large, somewhat statistically representative sampling of non-believers to answer this question.

    Actually, you’ll be happy to know that someone did start doing research a few months ago back in February. Benjamin Myers at University of South Carolina, Upstate asked PZ for help in getting participants, and a number of us who’d been reading Pharyngula for some time volunteered for interviews via Skype. He was even kind enough to include his research plan for anyone who’d been interested in participating.

    I don’t thing he’s doing any more interviews, and is currently in the middle of analyzing all the information he got from all the interviews. When I talked with him, it sounded like the research would take about a year and a half before he came out with the results from his study.

  25. 26

    For me, it was just thinking through things in my head. My parents were both religious (Baptist, now Methodist), and going to church was a regular thing. I ended up getting baptized because it was what everyone expected, but even then I didn’t really believe / “hear the voice of God in my heart”.

    From there, it was just thinking about things (do people who’ve never heard of God/Jesus automatically go to Heaven or Hell? In either case, that’s weird. How can God love his creation and yet send the flood / tell his followers to commit genocide / have all sorts of weird rules? Who figured out these rules, and why do so many go against living a ‘good’ life? Why would the “original sin” taint all of humanity? Why would God create something so flawed that it was allowed to sin? Etc and so forth).

  26. 27

    I grew up and was no longer a child, since then I have questioned everything which led to not believing in Satan/Santa, a man living in a big fish and the list still goes on.

    Bottom line was with a great public secular education fact blew fiction away while feeding the fire and desire for more knowledge not bunk.

    Science and mathematics can be proven even when translated unlike anything religious from thousands of years ago.

  27. ACN

    Even though they were PC-USA, who are not supposed to be creationists, all of my sunday school teachers were creationists. The corpus of work in the talkorigins archive helped me figure out how ridiculous that belief was. I also bought “The Blind Watchmaker” at the time.

    I still thought of myself as a christian through college, but in grad school, my brother made me watch Hitchens debate Frank Turek, and Hitchens just obliterated him. I had never heard someone defend atheism the way Hitchens did. At this point, I did a religious death spiral. I bought a few of the gnu-atheist books (God is not Great, The God Delusion, Godless), which got me to realize that I had erected a number of partitions in my brain/belief structure that allowed me to keep religion away from any sort of serious criticism.

    Once I became conscious of this, I started hold my religious beliefs up to the same critical standards of everything else, including my science, and I became an atheist. Specifically, I think I’d describe myself as an “agnostic atheist w/ antitheist tendencies and a secular humanist personal philosophy” and I’ve been incredibly happy.

    One of the happiest outcomes of this is that I’ve been able to engage in the kind of sexual relationship with my girlfriend that both of us always wanted, but I was holding back from because of how hard my church drilled into everyone’s heads that it made god very sad anytime anyone had pre-marital sex. I’m closer to my girlfriend, I’m happier, and due to my experience with religion, I actively try to look for ‘sacred cow’ beliefs that I hold and subject them to critical scrutiny.

  28. 29

    Love this – love it, love it, love it!

    I converted hard to Christianity in high school – became a Jesus Freak (it was the early ’70’s). Studied for the ministry in college. That career didn’t work out but my faith remained intact. Started raising my kids in church.

    But as a kid I’d always been fascinated by science, and that never went away. Sure, I could dismiss creationists because my theology was all sophistimicated, but I couldn’t help thinking about our position in the expanse of space and time. The Christian story makes claims about the attention God supposedly pays to our species but it didn’t wash in that context.

    I think the tipping point was reading Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. Long about my 20th year of marriage I started to back away from Christianity. All the way back, eventually. I just couldn’t do it anymore. We’ve been married 33 years – or is it 34?

    My poor kids… In addition to being lousy cosmology, Christianity makes for lousy parenting.

  29. 30

    Although in and out of churches from time to time as a child, I never really had belief or disbelief: just didn’t think about it. I decided religion was a crock when I took intro to Philosophy in college, and confirmed that it was a crock when I took Logic.

  30. 31

    Mom was agnostic (though she would have probably changed to atheist if she had known more about the definitions of both) and Dad says he’s a believer, but through discussion, he seems to be just playing at Pascal’s Wager. We went to church as a family when I was little, but when we moved to Virginia, we never joined another church. I was told that I could go to any church I wanted and they would make sure I got there. I went with neighbors to Catholic Church, Methodist, Southern Baptist and more. It mostly depended on who my best friend was at the time and where she went. Then, when I was about 13, I went to Sunday school and none of my gal pals were there. I realized after a long boring few hours that I was using church as a social outlet, nothing more. I vowed to never go back to church (except for weddings and funerals) unless it was for the right reasons. Much searching and studying ensued and those reasons never materialized. Religions and all the trappings are fascinating mass illusions. Science rocks.

  31. 32

    For me, it was a multistep process which I managed on my own. Actually, I was kind of begging the religious people around me to talk me out of it 🙂

    I think my religion was its own downfall. I learned to value believing what’s true, regardless of whether you like it or have social support for it, and was reinforced in that by many people in positions of religious authority in my life. My pastors were always saying to check their sermons out for ourselves, and not to just take their word for it. This runs counter to the received wisdom about priests being intentionally deceptive…

    So, puberty hit, and I struggled with the moral questions around sexual attraction. It seemed to me that God both built strong sexual desires into us and forbade us from having those desires. That led to several years of unsuccessfully trying to reconcile the positions, often feeling guilty about it. That might have been what first unsettled me.

    There were several other key moments, too. I had always thought that I spoke to God in my head, through silent prayer. The advice I received in these times was very important to me. Then, one day, I realized I was in control of both voices. Similarly, there were several “miracles” I had seen and took as evidence that God existed, but over time I realized that not one of them required a supernatural explanation. I thought that the story of evolution and the age of the Earth was full of holes, because I had been taught that by my Christian school, but an atheist girlfriend laughed me out of that opinion 🙂 I also eventually realized that the religious leaders who I had so respected didn’t have any extra source of truth than I did; they were just going by faith, or a desire for their lives to have significance.

    I kind of eased my way out of the faith. I spent years studying the Bible and praying and begging God to show me how to resolve the conflicts. Then I let it go, and spent years seeing myself as the “one lost lamb” out of the 100 that the shepherd (God) was said to be willing to seek out and bring back. Finally, I came around to believing that there’s no compelling evidence for anything supernatural and nothing much to worry about or wait for.

  32. 33

    It was definitely a gradual process that went from around 6th grade through my second year of college. Though it did help that I wasn’t raised particularly religious– most of my original indoctrination came from my friends at school, my grandmother, and the fact that I was good girl who did and believed what she was supposed to. But to this day, I have no idea what my mom believes and I’d bet money my dad is an atheist.

    As for resources: Reading Tuck Everlasting as a child made me intensely uncomfortable with Heaven and Hell and the idea of existing forever. Reading The His Dark Materials trilogy in middle school made me comfortable with blaspheme and with challenging religious institutions (if not God himself). The Selfish Gene showed me that science didn’t leave a lot of room for God. I think the Intro to Psychology class I had to take in college was the final straw though– hearing about how all the things that seem to make you “you” are inseparably tied to your body and physical brain kind of knocked my concept of a soul right out the window.

    It wasn’t until college when I met other self-described atheists that I really felt comfortable saying the word out loud.

  33. 34

    I was raised Reformed Baptist (Calvinist), and believed into my 20s. I think I first became disillusioned with the amount of guilt I had to carry around every day, and couldn’t believe God was so cruel, and eventually (after I’d stopped attending church) I realized I could not believe that God was both good and all-powerful. The lame argument that “God’s ways are not our ways” can’t explain away every tragedy.

    Outside influences came from books…it’s hard to be self righteous and close minded when you read widely enough, and I am curious about everything. Robert Heinlein’s religious satire in science fiction was one of the earlier influences, and more recently the “New Atheists,” in particular Richard Dawkins. His books renewed an interest in science that religious fundamentalism nearly killed years ago, and made me proud to call myself an atheist.

  34. 35

    I guess I came to atheism gradually and mostly by myself but I was never overly religious to begin with. I was raised in a very liberal, catholic family and was encouradged to learn and think for myself. I believed in god and the trinity but was taught that the Bible is basically a bunch of great metaphors. Church was just incredibly boring to me. I stopped attending as a teenager and started considering myself agnostic because I found the existence of god very unlikely. I do not remember when exactly I stopped believing and if there was a specific argument that convinced me. The whole concept of Christianity simply made no sense. Religion was pretty much a non-issue for me after that and I ignored the topic. A couple of years ago I watched Richard Dawkins documentaries “The root of all evil” and “Enemies of reason”. They reflected my opinions, got me interrested and made me reassess my stance on religion. I openly identify as atheist ever since.
    No one ever tried to deconvert me or debated with me when I was a believer (I was a bit young for that), but I had my atheistic older brother as a role model. I think I became an atheist due to logical thinking combined with increasing knowledge on various topics: learning about basic philosopy (I really like Kant and the enlightenment) and statistics in school, and becoming a biologist later. Of course, the rather secular climate in Germany also made things easier. And the strong online community is great as a moral support as well as a resource for information. I read the FTBs (via Pharyngula) and watch the Atheist Experience and other videos on the topic which helps me to better communicate my point of view.

  35. 36

    I came around gradually, with a long (15 years?) sojourn as an agnostic before over the last year or two identifying with atheism. My mom was always fairly religious (in her fifties she went back to school to become a minister, which is what she does now), but the church we were a part of (United Church of Canada) is one of the better ones: progressive, with a better record than most in social justice, equality, etc. I was raised to believe in a God of love: who loves everybody, forgives everybody (because he’s omnipotent, y’know? Why would something with absolute power and knowledge bear a grudge?), etc.

    Somehow, I discovered a deep love of science, and throughout my teens I gradually settled on agnosticism as a reasonable attitude to take towards the supernatural (…er…I also, embarrassingly, dabbled in “witchcraft”, but since that never seemed to work and didn’t really make any sense I eventually left it behind).

    I’m always been interested in what is -real- and what is the truth. I studied psychology and neuroscience at school where I took a few courses that really hammered in the ways that the human mind is fallible, including one class on the scientific method that focused on the bazillion ways we can screw up science, and what sorts of methods we use to counteract those screw-ups. But that course also taught me how to evaluate claims, and how to, basically, read newspaper headlines and understand that what an article says and what actually happened can be vastly different things.

    For the longest time my attitude was that since there is no way to prove that God exists, the most reasonable attitude is agnosticism: he might exist, he might not, but the world still works in certain ways so we’re best served by learning those rules and not resorting to supernatural explanations.

    Then, maybe 3 years ago, I stumbled onto Scienceblogs, and after reading Pharyngula and a bunch of others, I’ve come to realise that it’s a little bit ridiculous to hold so much room “in reserve” in case god actually does exist. Why does a deity command a special place in how we view the universe? What really is the difference between God and the hypothetical orbitting teapot that no one can see? Why dismiss one as unlikely but hold the other as still possible? I can’t square that question yet, and so I guess that means I’m an atheist, since I think that God is as unlikely as the invisble purple unicorn or any of the other spoofs.

  36. 37

    I was raised Catholic as a small child by a moderately religious mother (I think she has her own doubts). My grandparents were very religious in that they firmly believed in god and went to church, well, religiously. I have an uncle who is a pastor of a church as well.

    It was indeed brainwashing as a child. Without any context, I simply assumed that what was presented was the truth. It wasn’t until I was a teen that a few questions started popping into my mind.

    I think the first serious doubt started when I helped someone late Saturday night / early Sunday morning at a restaurant I worked at. He had managed to flip his motorcycle (no helmet) and had a concussion. We took him to the hospital and made sure things were set before heading home. Needless to say, I got into bed very late…only to be woken up by my mother mid-morning telling me I needed to get to church. That struck my mind as asinine. Here I had done a good deed, needed rest, but going to church was more important? That couldn’t be right.

    Doubts persisted into adulthood. I stayed with a Catholic church across town where my first career job was located…mostly because the pastor was a very good man and truly interested in the parish. This probably delayed me from becoming an atheist for 5 years or more.

    The next turning point was my interaction with a fundamentalist christian who was a creationist. Instead of getting me to become fundamentalist, he actually got me to question my own Catholic faith. I began reading about the official doctrine of the Catholic church for the first time. Some things struck me as being fine, but other things were clearly not in accordance to what this loving god and his church were supposed to be about.

    Just the same, I kept going to church…more to keep my mother and extended family from giving me grief than anything else. But I don’t think I was fully atheist at that point. I kept looking for information, and even in the early parts of the internet, it was amazing to find the same questions I had.

    The final nail in the coffin was provided by Cardinal Law and how the Catholic leadership handled that event. If there was ever an event where there should be an easy decision and heads should roll, that was the event (in my life at least). Yet the pope merely handed out a light slap on the wrist for a cardinal that was clearly implicated in covering up child rape and letting the rapist rape more children. This should have been a no-brainer of firing Cardinal Law and swift excommunication from the Church. To not do this quickly clearly demonstrated that the Catholic Church was no better than any American corporation…and perhaps with even fewer morals.

    So, it was a long journey and very individualistic. But at least I did get here and continue to move forward in life…

  37. 38

    I was raised by very free-thinking parents, who attended a Unitarian church for a while and took me along, with discussions about what was right and what was not, and what was ethical behavior. My grandmother was a Methodist, my grandfather was a Christian Scientist, so I was exposed to those ideas, and actually went to Quaker Meeting, and to a Congregational Church, when I was a mixed up teenager trying to figure things out and looking for guidance from where ever I could find it. There was a certain comfort in shared rituals like hymns, but I never felt I found what I was looking for in church. Then I attended Wagner College, in SI, NY, which was a Lutheran college. I was a nursing major, but because it was a religious-based college, it required a course in religion to graduate. I took a course in “Religion in literature”, taught by E. Carlyle Haaland, and found it not only absolutely fascinating, but because it was a seminar course, all the wonderful discussions about all the religious ideas and historical backgrounds to them gave me much of the free-thinking ideas I hold today. That class was almost a half century ago, and I remember Dr. Haaland better than any of my nursing professors. . . . . even though I’ve had several variations on nursing as careers ever since. My own worldview is part Taoist, part Buddhist, insomuch as it has any religion parallel at all. There is a difference between “spirituality” and “religion”, and a reverence for life in all forms, and the earth we live on does not require going to a church. More bad things have been done in the name of religion (include Communism as a state belief system) than anything else. It serves as a legitimizer for greed, whether destroying the environment for monocrops, enslaving other people (literally or economically), abusing animals in “factory farms”, etc, etc, etc.

  38. 39

    The site which deconverted me is a deist critique of the Bible which no longer exists, but you can find a review here: http://thechristiancynic.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/absurd-anti-religious-site-of-the-week-god-vs-the-bible/ I found it after I decided to leave my church due to their hardline message of “if you’re not constantly trying to convert people to Jesus, you’re going to Hell for disobedience!” For context, I had recently spent 2 months in Italy which is surprisingly secular compared to the USA. So when I came back, I was in total shock at how Christianity was EVERYWHERE.

    Then I sat down in church and listened to that uber-evangelical message. I’d had enough – I mean, there’s no way that anyone can live in this nation and not know about Jesus. It’s practically impossible, but I’m going to go to hell if I’m not constantly pressuring everyone I know? I figured he was misinterpreting the Bible, so I started looking for a better branch of religion to join.

    That’s when I found the deist site God vs Bible. Such a good argument: if God is good, would he really have written that piece of filth? The only “problem” is that I had already rejected all other religions as being logically invalid. Whoops, guess I ran out of religions! And since a deist god is pointless to consider (even the deist god itself would admit as much), I just jumped straight into atheism.

  39. 40

    I’ve never really been a follower of religion. I paid lip service when I was younger because I admired my grandfather, (who was quite religious) and I wanted to be like him. 35 years later, I still want to be like him, and except for the religious part, I try to be.

    At about age 7 or so, I came to realize that I was just going through the motions of church service. Doing what I was supposed to do, saying what I was supposed to say, all at the right times. It was around that time in my life, during Sunday School, that the Sister who taught the class told the story of Abraham and Isaac (in which Abraham was ordered by God to kill his son, as a test of his faith.) She told the story with such vividness and fervor that the lesson was completely lost in the absolute horror of a “loving” god ordering someone to kill his own son. I could not imagine being asked to kill anyone.

    Following that, and for a long time thereafter, was “on the fence” about the whole God thing. I was what I know now to be an agnostic.

    About 3 years ago, I started reading Bad Astronomy, having run across the link on Facebook. I soon discovered that Dr. Plait is much more than just an astronomer, and through his blog, I found Pharyngula, Skepchick, and a whole world that I didn’t know existed.


  40. 41

    When was first introduced to epistemology I was persuaded, a la Decartes, to abandon all I knew and start from scratch. I found to many problems with Decrates dualism, but still didn’t understand the alternatives enough to subscribe to them. I then read Hume, and was persuaded towards the empirical philosophies. I worked my way through the enlightenment and into modern philosophy, and I still find my way to empiricism. Though many may argue otherwise (quite well, sometimes), I maintain that empiricism precludes belief in God. Basically, through a process of doubt I found my way to empiricism before the God question even came up, and then found that the epidemiological framework I adopted didn’t support my previously held opinion about God.

  41. 42

    I’m a former fundamentalist Christian who has now “seen the light”. My journey from religion began in the late 80’s when I stopped going to church for several reasons. I just wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore and it made me feel guilty for silly things that I had done, or thought about, which was senseless and certainly not enjoyable.

    Twenty years later I discovered a podcast by Zachery Moore called “Evolution 101”. Previous to that I had my doubts about human evolution. Now mind you I had never really looked at what real science was saying about it. This podcast opened my eyes to the evidence. He also had another podcast called “Apologia” which was basically debunking religion and having rational discussions about it.

    Shortly after that I started listening to a podcast called “Skeptoid” regarding critical thinking. Once I began looking at my own religious beliefs with a skeptical eye, it wasn’t long before I threw off the blinders and began seeing the world around me in a new light.

    Free from the shackles of nonsense and fairy tales I was a little angry about the fact I had been snookered all these years by religion.

    My conversion took a few months of debating internally and giving god one last-ditch effort by listening to an apologist for christianity, William Lane Craig. It didn’t work. So, as of about March 2009, I became a non-believer.

  42. 43

    Key to my deeper commitment to Humanism (I was raised nonreligious) was the existence of a community which shared and promoted my values. I would not have become engaged in Humanism to the extent I have if the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard had not existed and provided a stable, welcoming community of like-minded people to spur me on and encourage my enthusiasm.

  43. 44

    At one point during college I remember realizing how unlikely it was that, by accident of birth, I just happened to going to heaven. I’m just not that lucky. On top of that, I also had a history professor who was an outspoken atheist. In my sheltered life, I had just never heard anyone talk about the idea that there might not be a god, and it challenged me to think about it. I did a lot of soul searching (couldn’t find the damn thing) and read a lot of books (Bertrand Russell was a huge influence) and made a clean break from my belief in mighty mouse – uh, I mean, god.

  44. 45

    I generally find vacuous apologetics to be most convincing. Both of the situations below are examples, and true examples.

    1. “Look around you… isn’t it obvious there’s a god?!?”
    Response: This is what I call the “Where’s Waldo” argument. Look around… he’s in there somewhere. The only difference is, we looked and Waldo isn’t there.

    2. After I asked why there were no profits for so long (Jesus to John Smith), a Mormon responded, “It was too dangerous to send a profit during the Middle Ages.”
    Response: John Smith and the Mormons were chased across the country by armed, angry mobs. John Smith himself was shot to death. That’s what god thought was safe enough?

  45. 46

    I was raised Christian, started calling myself an agnostic in my late teens and an atheist in my early twenties. It was a long and winding road, with a U-turn or two, but in the end what convinced me was the fact that in a decade, Christianity had provided no sufficient answers for the two things that had started bothering me when I was ten.

    They came from one root; I was a voracious reader. At the age of ten, all members of my Sunday School were presented with our own Bibles. That was when I read the first few books of the Old Testament for myself and came to the realisation that the kindly father-figure I’d been taught was watching over me… wasn’t very nice. It took me a while longer – some years – to start wondering why, if it was God who made the rules, I was the one who had to apologise for having been created inherently sinful, and under pain of such terrible punishment. The more I learned, the more the moral and logical failures of Christianity piled up; and eventually I grew out of thinking I was just too young to understand.

    And then there was the other thing. I was really into other mythologies. I believed in God and Jesus, but having just the one deity seemed so dull next to all those colourful pantheons. At some point it hit me – the Egyptians, Greeks, Vikings et al had actually believed this stuff. The pretty stories I was reading had been their equivalent of the Bible. But that was silly. How could anyone take all this seriously? Well, they’d been told all their lives that it was true, that was why. Oh, wait…

    Christianity had its hooks well and truly into me and it took years to get from these initial concerns to the actual break. In the end, I asked myself, “If people I trusted hadn’t been telling me all my life that this was true, would I believe it?” The answer was no.

  46. 47

    I lost my belief gradually between the age of 11 and 14. It started when we learned about Greek mythology in 6th grade. It struck me that the ancient Greeks truly believed in those gods; that was their religion, an now no one believes in those gods anymore. Could the same thing happen to current religions? Would students 2000 years from now be reading Christian mythologies? This idea planted the seed that my beliefs had the possibility of being wrong.
    Over the years, learning about the big bang and evolution made me realize that the story of Adam and Eve was much closer to mythology than fact. The more I thought about it, the sillier all the miracle claims became. I realized there was not too much of a difference between Christianity and Greek Mythology after all.

    I came into my non-belief mostly on my own. In high school I learned that some of my friends were also atheists, which was nice to know. But we didn’t talk about it much and I was already an atheist by that time so it didn’t effect my conversion.

    The internet did not have an effect on my conversion, but that’s only because I didn’t have access to it yet. I probably would’ve visited atheist site if I had the ability.

    Although my conversion was mostly done by myself, visiting atheist sites (and christian sites too) more recently has really strengthened my non-belief and given me better reasons for it. In the past my answer to “Why don’t you believe?” would have simply been along the lines of “Because it’s silly.” Now, because of the web, I can tell you exactly why its silly and why the common reasons given for belief are silly. I’ve certainly benefited from the many articles and debates on the web.

  47. 48

    Short answer: for me, it was the way the church treated queerfolk, and their ongoing conflict with reality.

    I was raised in a United Methodist church in a small town. My extended family were all members of the church, and a few of them were interested in bringing 1980s Christian radio sensibilities (Chuck Colson, James Dobson, et al) in to the local church. In my teens, I went to adult bible study, in part because it was one of the few permitted ways to get out of the house during the week.

    It bothered me that the Sunday School song said “they’ll know we are Christians by our love”, but the sermons on the radio said that homo-sex-u-als were a scourge on the nation and a danger to society. Clearly the God of Infinite Love had some pretty narrow limits. I also noticed that as more and more evidence piled up for the scientific view of world and life origins, the church’s devout held more tightly their strict Creationist views – God did it, 6000 years ago, in 7 days.

    When I went away to college, I made a conscious decision to take a break from religion and just see where life took me. I discovered sex, beer, and really nice queerfolk who weren’t at all interested in the downfall of society. I also did some reading on the history of religions, and the history of Christianity specifically. You can’t dig too deeply in to that subject without noticing that the church grew in direct proportion to its usefulness to the ruling class. I was *mostly* done with religion at that point.

    Fast-forward a few years: after getting married and having kids, I’m now going through a messy divorce. I started attending my family’s church for the social and emotional connections. At that time, they had a pastor who believed not only in Christianity, but also in any other woo that drifted by. After listening to a few of those sermons, it just “clicked” for me that the whole of Christianity was just another form of woo – the only thing separating the Church from Miss Shirley’s Power Crystals was the number of subscribers. After that, I could never see the church as anything but a self-serving, for-profit, self-protecting, self-enriching cult that just makes shit up in order to gain followers.

    My inspirations for my de-conversion included PZ, Greta, and Dan Savage. PZ’s writing helped me understand why the “god of the gaps” argument was bunk, and also showed me that the “gaps” are much smaller than I’d imagined. Greta and Dan helped me understand that you can be sexual, moral, self-respecting, and thoughtful all at the same time.

  48. 49

    When I was about 8 years old I noticed that the Bible said god created the world instantly, but science said that a block of ice and dirt over the process of millions of years formed the earth. At the time I was going to a catholic school and I asked my teacher about this. He responded that not all of the bible was literally true.

    I immediately realised that if some parts are not true, that the whole accuracy of the book was compromised. How could we tell which parts were true and which parts were not? It was at that point that I became an atheist, through that argument. I was still a bit fuzzy on the consequences of that though. It was not until I was about 16 that I saw clips of the atheist experience and really started identifying myself as an atheist and learned the importance about speaking out about your beliefs.

  49. 50

    I got argued with on the Internet. Dude told me about Russell’s Teapot and pointed out that I had no actual evidence of the existence of a deity; after all, even if I felt a deity, that doesn’t mean one had to exist. I believe I pulled out a C. S. Lewis argument (God has to exist, because imperfect evolution cannot create perfect reason, and without perfect reason all conclusions were suspect). As I recall he linked me to some neuroscience and, well.

    I realized that, pissed as I was about it, intellectual honesty demanded I be atheist.

  50. 51

    sethhanisek up in #2, your story sounds an awful lot like mine. I believed until college, then a combination of learning new things and meeting people of different religious traditions pushed me from Catholic to general theist to agnostic to atheist by the time I’d started my post-college job.

    I remember the first thing to go was the virgin birth, which I decided was almost certainly made up. That and all the Catholic sex stuff. The thing that pushed me over the edge was, believe it or not, learning advanced physics and general relativity. The thing keeping me with one foot in the God camp was the “why is there something rather than nothing?” question, and once I understood the math that models the big bang the Laplace “no need of that hypothesis” notion made me drop the concept.

    I remember looking in the mirror and thinking “so I’m an atheist now”. And it hurt a little at first – I felt like I’d lost something, almost like I had to grieve. But I had to believe what the evidence told me and not just what my brain wanted to.

    For what it’s worth, Greta, reading your blog a few years ago really helped me firm up the reasons behind my atheism and make me more confident in it.

  51. 52

    Similarly to some of the others who have posted, I was raised Catholic, but in a fairly liberal household. I never took it all that seriously, just did what was expected and took for granted that, even if 90% of it was made-up crap, there was something real behind all of it. Of course, I was a huge science geek, so at most my God was a Deist sort of God, like Einstein’s (and thus, Spinoza’s too). Upon becoming an adult, I never really gave it a whole lot of thought anymore, there were always more important things to worry about than religion.

    What vague “faith” I had in the Catholic Church was eventually shattered by the abuse scandal. Then, a number of things led me to actually spend some effort pondering God, religion, and such… including 9/11, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and Katrina, among others. Over a couple years I re-read the Bible, read the Koran, a bunch of Buddhist and Hindu literature, and even the God Delusion. Slowly I just reached the point of admitting to myself what I think I knew all along, that God is almost certainly entirely fictional.

    Despite that I was in my 30s at this time, it was very much like “finding out” Mom and Dad were the ones that had been hiding presents under the tree. It was like I knew it all along, and only played along to keep from disappointing anyone.

  52. 53

    My deconversion took place over a few years. However, there was a moment of clarity when I realized I didn’t actually believe.

    I was very indoctrinated in Catholicism. However, around age 13 or 14, I noticed a huge amount of hypocrisy in my parish, which I concluded meant there had to be hypocrisy in the wider church. I figured that if my parish had hypocrites for leaders (priest included) and Jesus hated hypocrites, then maybe something was wrong with the church, since these people were put in power.

    I went to a Catholic high school and we had to have religion classes. I think that those classes were generally useless (I was told my mother was an adulterer because she dated a guy after she got divorced, even though the marriage was annulled; two of the religion teachers were fired for inappropriate touching of girls in class), but the comparative religions class really opened my eyes to the craziness of religion. This was in my sophomore year. The text book went through all these old and new religions and why each one makes these statements of faith, and then at the end of the book, just states that Catholicism is the correct religion. WTF? How do they expect people to buy into that?

    I was wavering as an “agnostic” as I still kind of believed in something, but not the Catholic religion. I thought Buddhism was pretty cool and that Hinduism seemed pretty close because it at least was more inline with the scientific age of the universe. I tried talking to my mom about it, but she unequivocally told me that questioning my faith was wrong. Or rather, questioning is OK, as long as I came back from it with a stronger belief. She blamed people who weren’t involved (should have blamed the nun who taught the class, or the priest in our parish, or the parishioners!). At this point I was angry that the person who should believe me when I tell her stuff thinks I’m lying, and I realized she couldn’t tell fact from fiction when it comes to her religion. She’s great with everything else (loves science based medicine), but has a huge blind spot when it comes to religion.

    We had to have class mass a couple of times a year. The whole school went to mass once a month. During one of the class masses (just sophomores) as we were walking down the aisle to communion, I suddenly realized that the reason I was so confused was that it none of the religious stuff made sense. I was confused all the time because I was trying to force myself into this small box that my mom wanted me to be in, that my friends wanted me to be in, that my school wanted me to be in, and I was too big for it. And, even more surprising was discovering that I was acting like I believed, when I didn’t. There wasn’t a question of whether I believed or not. I wasn’t an agnostic, I truly did not believe in a god. This sudden revelation (ha!) dazed me as I marched toward the priest. I took the wafer in a daze, and walked off with it. The priest started yelling at me to eat it, and I couldn’t figure out why. I found out later that it is somehow a deathly sin to not eat your god.

    Too bad I still had to spend another 2.5 years lying to my parents before going to college.

    tl;dr Kind of slow, then fast. Just an overall lessening of belief, then confusion, then a sudden burst of insight.

  53. 54

    So I was raised lutheran, which at least where I live is as down to earth religion as it gets. Had a fairly religious father and a priest brother. Even did some youth volunteering myself.

    Anyway, I’ve alway been what you might call open to ideas, if they are well presented and supported by facts, and sceptical of things that aren’t. So by the age of 20 I was already bordering on agnosticism, since the whole religion thing had some rather glaring holes. But our religion being as down to earth as it is, faith was enough, nothing else was required.

    Then I ran into two people called Cristopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. And the rest is history, as the saying goes. Now a proud atheist in an otherways fairly religious, but luckily tolerant, family.

  54. Amy

    I never really believed. I tried to for a while because it seemed like the right thing to do, but I could never really convince myself that god existed. I remember sitting in home room as a Freshman in high school and somebody was talking disparagingly about someone else (I can’t remember who), and said, “And (that person) doesn’t even believe in God!” Gasps from my classmates. I, being very young and naïve and never imagining what the consequences might be, said, “I don’t believe in God, either.” It was as if I had admitted to serially murdering whole families. I am such an apparently sweet, wholesome gal that I’ve actually had people tell me they simply assumed I was Christian. But after my revelation, I was ostracized; one girl, who I had thought was my friend, spat at me with such venom that I couldn’t believe it, “You’re a FREAK.” Fortunately, most people seemed to forget about my admitted atheism over time – mostly because I never mentioned it again. It wasn’t until graduate school that I felt confident enough in myself and officially “came out.”

  55. 57

    As a kid, I believed vaguely in Christianity, in much the same way that I believed in Narnia and genies. I would read about ancient religions, especially the Greek pantheon, but never really thought of them as gods so much as fairytale characters. As I got older I began to have doubts, but tried not to think about it to much, and decided on the label “Apathetic Agnostic” in a Pascal’s Wager sort of way.

    In my final year of high school, I went to an Anglican boarding school, which had a Bible on the book list. The year before, I had discovered Terry Pratchett and was devouring the entire Discworld series in no particular order. About two thirds of the way through the year, I read “Small Gods”, which forever changed the way I thought about gods in stories. Rather than giving their actions an Ineffable Divine Plan free pass, I’d think “Why DON’T they get of their arses and do something, the lazy, selfish egomaniacs?” (Aslan, I’m giving you the side-eye.)

    A few weeks later, on a whim, I decided to read my Bible cover-to-cover. I still had the character of the Great God Om in the back of my mind, and it greatly influenced the way I read the character of Yahweh. I judged the actions of him and the people acting on his behalf to be horrific. I also realised that, in general terms, the stories of miracles and communicating with angels and whatnot were indistinguishable from any other religion in history. The realisation felt very much like the logical conclusion one draws about the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy after one has learned that Santa does not exist.

  56. 58

    I was not brought up in a faith, but chose one at about 14,a branch of the absurd charismatic movement. I suppose it was university that knocked it out of me in the end – the whole business of the fall of man, the vicarious atonement and the condemnation of those who refuse to believe is just too bloody stupid to survive an education. Click my name to read an account of the mad years of my pentecostalism.

  57. 59

    I was a devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I deconverted in the space of two days. It was triggered by a moment that felt like a mental jolt, triggered by the realization that the religious leaders were both demanding unquestioning loyalty and obedience while trying to avoid the consequences for being wrong by just saying they were human and imperfect. Whenever a particular doctrine was being enforced, it was Jehovah guiding their decisions. Disagreeing with them was equivalent to disagreeing with God. Yet, if they changed a doctrine, they never took responsibility for being wrong and would place blame on followers (particularly those who left as a result of disagreeing with the leaders) because “some misunderstood” or were “presumptuous.”

    It all came down to lack of evidence. I had no reason to trust them more than, say, the Pope or the leaders of the LDS Church. I had no reason to rely on the Bible than on the Quran or the Book of Mormon. I had no reason to believe in one god over the other, or in any god at all.

    I spoke with two atheists, friends from an online game. One of them mostly provided emotional support while the other one explained concepts to me that had always been misconstrued (since Witnesses aren’t supposed to read or trust material that disagrees with the Society), such as evolution and morality without religion. Neither of them pushed me to leave and were respectful of religion, but they also provided me with information – with evidence! – when I asked for it.

    When I had to leave home after officially leaving the religion, a family of non-believers generously offered me their home and treated me like one of their own children. Nearly all of my closest friends have ended up being atheists, but not by design. I tend to end up living in very religious communities so like-minded people usually end up finding each other quickly. 😛

    The arguments that had the strongest influence on me were the lack of evidence and, for Witnesses in particular, the consistently failed prophecies. I tried to look for everyone’s viewpoints. I read why Jewish people reject Jesus. I read why some don’t see Witnesses and Mormons as Christians. I read why Muslims see the Bible as flawed. I already identified as an atheist before I found the atheist blogs that I read now (namely, Blag Hag, Camels with Hammers, Daylight Atheist, Friendly Atheist, Love, Joy, Feminism, and your own) but they were also instrumental in helping me to reject the deeper philosophical and emotional influences that my religion had had on me.

  58. 60

    I was a Southern Baptist, but really didn’t like their views on a lot of things (like science). So, I was mostly agnostic.

    Then I read The God Delusion. That changed my mind totally.

  59. 62

    For me, atheism isn’t fully there yet – I’m more agnostic leaning atheist. Say what you like, but there’s times I really want to believe.

    My deconversion from Christianity began when I began reading my bible. Most of the old testament is atrocity after atrocity. It increased when I began trying to reason my way around what I read – obviously, most of the OT was not true. God couldn’t have ordered the slaughter of children, it must have been a justification for their war made after the fact.

    Then I tried to apply reason to the soul. Needless to say, it failed once I decided that the soul must be directly tied to the brain (since you wouldn’t have less soul if you lost an arm or a leg). Then I considered what happens with brain damage, and how it can change people. This lead me to believe that the ‘soul’ was purely biological – otherwise brain damage wouldn’t change who a person is, just how they can function.

    It all came together when I met my wife, a Wiccan. She had been born into a Catholic family, and introduced me to a website (religioustolerance.org) that lead to me doing a very simply comparative study of religions.

    That did it for me.

    Christianity didn’t seem any more true, at that point, than Buddhism, Islam, or Judaism. It seemed as silly as the D&D deities, and I found myself unable to lie to myself any longer – my faith had died, unmourned, years before. It just took time for my self-delusion to fade.

  60. 64

    Personally, becoming an atheist happened fairly early on, in the later years of high school. Basically it was a mix of my own thoughts influenced by friends who were already atheists. One thing that was asked of me was, “Well you don’t really choose your beliefs, right? You just kind of know them.” Thinking about this from a spiritual sense, I think any religious person would agree with that. But in my case it got me thinking about what I actually did believe. I started asking myself why I was going to church, why I was praying, why I thought that the bible contained factual events. I came to understand that these things were NOT in fact true, that, at heart, I did not believe that these stories were true, and that I really felt no need to pray or go to church because I didn’t think that anyone (anyone being God) really cared. So this idea that “you don’t really choose your beliefs” really hit me. And I encourage you, if you promote atheism to theists and if you know theists who are not very religious in itself, to try using this.

  61. 65

    I was raised in a small, bare bones kind of church, a small subsect, but relatively uncrazy.
    At some point I started asking people about issues of doctrine related to ‘sins’ that were unknown at the time of the writing of the Bible.
    And the answers I got gave me an epiphany: “They’re just making it up as they go along.”
    That was pretty much it for me. It was necessary, being a teen to go along with things for awhile, but at some point my mother threatened to let me not go to church if i was such an adult. To her apparent surprise, I took her up on it, and haven’t been back except for isolated special occasions, such as the odd funeral.
    I can still sing hymns, but it’s with a sense of irony now. The words are as meaningless–more so–than any given libretto in Puccini.
    Eventually, after a process of examination of other religious viewpoints, I noted the same problems in all of them and eventually owned the A-word for myself.
    I know a number of people who are reluctant to take that last step; clinging to words like ‘spiritual’ or ‘agnostic’. More of them are coming around these days, as I did, to the acknowledgement that they just dont believe.
    In that last step, the Internet was a big help.

  62. 67

    This question isn’t for me because I was born an atheist and I was never indoctrinated into a religion. However as I see it the default position is atheism, literally without gods. We are born with no concept of gods and have to be taught about them if we are to believe in them. For some people, like me, that teaching was never there. For others they weren’t paying attention, or they didn’t understand what was being taught or, more likely, they understood the concepts but disagreed with it. Sometimes the indoctrination just doesn’t stick and piece by piece it falls away or gets chipped away. For some they look for meaning in life and, not finding any, they choose a religion to fill that gap for them.

    I cannot imagine gods existing. If I hadn’t been exposed to religious teaching at school the idea of gods or magical beings who somehow watch over us may never have occurred to me. I don’t have a “god shaped hole” that needs filling. I’m not looking for meaning in life, I’ve made my own. I don’t need gods and I never have. Nor does anyone else.

  63. 68

    Well for me it was definitely a multi-step process. I just sort of gradually drifted away from religion as grew older. As a Marine I got to travel to other cultures and see that they were just as good as ours and saw that their religion was every bit as good as mine. At that same time I ran into my first evangelicals. There outright proselytizing used to really piss me off. Who were they to “know” they had all the answers. They also had a habit of telling me that I was not a Christian because I was Catholic, I was like “the friggin’ Catholic church was the first church”. I was taught evolution in a Catholic school and it made way, way more sense to me at that time that the bible was not literal, but they sure seemed to be able to ignore the facts.
    Since this was in the mid 1980’s it was also the time when Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, and Oral Roberts were making fools of themselves and being greedy. Also, my church, was just as culpable, the arch-bishop of Detroit got promoted for closing churches with “low attendance”. In other words, churches that weren’t making money. I thought it is all just a racket. So, I declared myself a non-denominational Christian that would no longer attend any church because they were all corrupt.
    I started college in the early 90’s after a couple of years of working after leaving the military. I was starting to question why Christianity was any better than any other religion out there. I took a philosophy class in college and the teacher dared us to question the existence of God, so I did. At that time the concept passed. Shortly after that, I rejected Christianity and came up with this personal philosophy that if God were omnipotent, it could make all religions real. Well over the next couple years of question the existence of God, the concept still passed, but now, I was a Deist, even though I didn’t know what a Deist was until about 5 years later.
    Well after a short time as a Deist, I really was unsure if there was or wasn’t a God. I started calling myself an agnostic (meathead from Archie Bunker taught me what that was). Well, I was quite content with that, but I want to meet others like me, so I voyeured onto the internet looking for somewhere to meet up with like minded people, I joined a couple of yahoo groups, but they did nothing for me. I then found this Myspace group called “Atheist and Agnostics”, I was like, I am an agnostic, I am in.
    The group was fabulous, I met many like minded people and also learned more and more about myself. I learned one could be an agnostic and an atheist. I learned that I was indeed and agnostic and an atheist, and I could be proud to say I was an atheist, God no longer passed the test. I also learned about the concept the Jesus may not be a real person but could be a fictitious character, or an mesh of several people (though I tend to think there real was some dude back then, the shit attached to him was false). I don’t know why it did not click until then, but I realized that most of the bible was unsubstantiated bull shit. No, Moses, no Abraham.
    It was a great time in my life. It made me happier than I have ever been. I started reading all the books, following all the blogs. Interesting enough, I even got rid of my fear of death. I guess just “knowing” was the closure I needed.

  64. 69

    I was raised a Mormon.when I was old enough to read,I was forced to read the bible & book of Mormon.After several years of reading them,I was 11 or so ,I realized that if this god really did exist,that there was no way that I would want to spend an eternity with him.How could a father be happy knowing ANY of his children were suffering in hell??? That was my main Problem with this god,plus many more.What finely convinced me there was no god,I was about 16 and was studying where these books came from & who REALLY wrote them.That did it for me.
    Thanks to the internet for making it kinda easy,you have to wade through allot of “church science” aka “shit” Mormons have allot of there own scientists in there pockets.That will back there doctrine no matter the facts.Its people like you,that really help save us ,thank you !!

  65. 70

    My journey from Christianity to atheism was a multi-step process. It started when my dad died. I was 15 at the time and a firm believer. I felt that I had a personal relationship with God, but my dad’s illness and death caused me to doubt. I had always been taught that God answered prayers, but here was a piece of disconfirming evidence. So I threw myself into (unanswered) prayer and (fruitful) research, and eventually decided that God was not what I thought him to be. So I started learning about other gods. In particular, I remember listening to someone describe their belief in an Earth Mother. But I decided that god could not be female because she would have come up with a better method than menstruation. Each god I learned about, there was some aspect of it I found unsatisfying. And the same holds true today. I started calling myself agnostic. It was around this time that I started reading agnostic and atheistic websites. On positiveatheism.com, I read for the first time the definitions of “atheist” and “agnostic” as used by the atheistic community. From that point forward, I have called myself an atheist. This whole process took about 5 years.

    Since I am not a very outgoing individual, it was not one-on-one conversation that lead me towards skepticism and atheism. But online resources helped a great deal. Another thing that helped a great deal was the critical thinking skills instilled in me by my parents and public education (yes, public education). For a large portion of my childhood, I attempted, and thought I succeeded, to reconcile my religious beliefs with what I was learning about science and history. When I started doubting my faith, I double-checked my work on all those things I thought I had reconciled, and found them lacking.

  66. 71

    Mine was a long, slow process. I was neck-deep in Christianity my entire childhood. My parents sheltered me from the real world and it wasn’t until I graduated high school and left their house that I began to sleep in on Sundays and make friends who weren’t Christian. Once I discovered that not going to church wasn’t hurting me I began to question other aspects of my beliefs and why I believed them. Gradually, through a combination of apathy, self-reflection, and distaste for the religious institution I shed it like an old coat and wrapped myself in reason.

    However, to answer the short question: there was no single person, event, or thing that deconverted me.

  67. 72

    > Or was it more of a general softening of the ground

    Speaking for myself, I’d prefer to think of it more of a “gradual climbing into the light”, as opposed to a gradual sinking into darkness, as you seem to imply, though perhaps inadvertently, humorously, or ironically. Now that I think about it some more, perhaps Plato’s analogy of coming out of the cave is even more applicable. 🙂

    I’m not entirely in your target audience. I don’t think I ever *honestly* believed. I was raised in church (Methodist) and went to confirmation and all that, but frankly never really believed it.

    I’m sure my parents, both quite educated (physics & biology) had a lot to do with it. When your dad has a PhD in physics and you ask him why the sky is blue, for example, *he can tell you*, without invoking God. From a fairly early age I remember my dad talking about physics as the “mask on the face of reality”.

    Not to mention lots and lots of Heinlein, Niven, Asimov, Herbert, and lots of other greats (and not-so-greats).

    So anyway, I grew up skeptical.

    What influenced me in recent years to self-identify as an atheist: reading Reddit’s atheism forum, reading The God Delusion, reading PZ, and later, you. Conversing about God with a Christian friend of mine. Thinking about my personal axioms: What do I believe without proof? (God is not on the list. But I am. :))

    Watching lots of crime shows (Law and Order, Bones, Castle, to name a few), and House. They never talk about what’s “true”, they talk about *what they can prove*, and *what is consistent with the evidence*.

    Learning about the scientific method. “The plural of anecdote is not data.” Others must be able to replicate your results under controlled conditions. There are multiple interpretations for almost any result: pick the simplest. (Which may well be: you messed up.) Correlation is not causation. (But lack of correlation probably is lack of causation.) Just because you don’t like the consequences of a hypothesis (God does not exist => morality is relative) does not make it false.

    Several of your articles have been influential and meaningful enough to me to archive them in my Evernote notebook: The Top 10 Reasons I Don’t Believe In God; 6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe in God; Atheism and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Arguments.

    The 6 Unlikelies have bounced around in my head a lot. More to the point, the lack of them, so to speak. The messages are ambiguous and inaccurate. It’s entirely unclear whether a given religion benefits its adherents more than any other. (Actually, that’s not true — it seems pretty clear, actually, that none do.) And it seems pretty clear that prayer doesn’t work.

    At the end of the day, if I assume electrons did not exist, there are lots of experiments I could do to demonstrate that they do. But if I assume God does not exist … I can’t think of anything that would demonstrate that It does.

  68. 73

    Check out PZ Myers’s Pharyngula blog, too. Every day, he’s posting a new “Why I Am An Atheist” article from his readers. (Inspired by my book of godless Americans from 1903.)

  69. 74

    My path was through skepticism. I had been slowly moving away from religion before I found the skeptical movement but had continued, as I think many do, to still “believe” in God. It never crossed my mind to question it. When I first stumbled across the skeptical movement I thought “These are my people” and dived in head first.
    I had always been a fan of both science and science fiction and the logic and unbiased analytical nature of applying science to supernatural claims greatly appealed to me. The tipping point came while I was listening to an episode of “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe”. This was back in the day when Perry was still alive and the SGU rogues were discussing some topic, which I now forget the nature of, and Skepchic Rebecca Watson made an offhand comment comparing the faulty belief under discussion to a belief in God.
    Now fans of SGU know that there is very little “atheist” talk in the SGU podcast. They spend the vast majority of the time discussing medical quackery, fraudulent claims, and dismantling ghost sightings and psychic predictions, so I wasn’t expecting Rebecca’s comment. It hit me like a lightning bolt out of the blue and for the first time the skeptical part of my brain became aware of the God part of my brain. Now I’m not claiming I had kind of a reverse “Road to Damascus” type of moment, but I could no longer continue blissfully unaware that I had beliefs that I wasn’t examining critically.

    These thoughts continued to gnaw on my brain for several weeks until I could ignore them no more. I stuffed down the fear, opened up the god door in my brain, and turned on the light. You need to realize that this was not an easy thing for me to do. My parents were not overly religious and despite sending us three kids to Sunday school each Sunday (A move that I now suspect was simply a way to get us out of their hair for an hour) they didn’t regularly attend church themselves. My Grandmother had lived with us so they simply sent us to the same church that she had been going to for years.

    I could literally see this little white country church from the front porch of our house and it was built on land given to it by my grandmother. This was an evangelical fire-and-brimstone church, complete with some congregants that spoke in tongues. My time there coincided with the addition of a new minister who had a few children with one boy falling close to my age. Our house was on a rural road with few houses around and, besides my brother and sister and the rare play date with a friend from school, there were not any other children to play with. What this new preacher brought to the church was the welcoming sense of community that we might associate with Pentecostal churches. I was sucked in. During my time there I was “saved” by Jesus at least three times.

    After growing a bit older and becoming friends with schoolmates that could actually drive, I ended up drifting away from the church. Looking back I now realize that the sense of community and belonging was the only thing holding me there. Despite my multiple times being “saved” it had never seemed to stick and I had figured that it was a failing on my part. Other interests and people filled that void and I no longer attended any church services. God was there in the back of my head and every now and then he would peak out but, like many people, I continued to live my life without depending upon or examining my belief in God. Until that one day I heard Rebecca’s offhand comment.

    When I finally got up the nerve to truly examine my religious beliefs I started with the bible. I had heard many verses from this book during church services. I heard about how loving Jesus is and how evil Satan is. I heard about a blissful place called heaven and the fiery depths of hell. I had uncritically accepted stories such as Noah’s Ark and the miracles of Jesus. I had thought I had known what the bible had to say. This time though, I would read it for myself from cover to cover. This time I would look at what I read with a skeptical eye.

    I started with “In the beginning” and read the familiar story of creation in Genesis. Then I read it again in Genesis 2. Why did they write it twice? Why didn’t I know about this second telling of the story? Are they the same? I found differences between the two stories. Not small differences as if told from a different point of view, but big differences as in the order that things were created and how Eve came into being.
    As I went through the bible I found more apparent contradictions and logical problems. For the first time I actually thought about the flood story. How had all those animals fit on one boat? I read about atrocities committed in the name of and at the bequest of God. This was not the god I was taught to love and fear. This was a god that seemed to be primitive and childlike in his actions. This god seemed no better in his thoughts and deeds than the Bronze Age men that wrote about him.

    I eventually got to the New Testament and learned things about Jesus I have never heard before. Why did he curse a fig tree that had no fruit because it was out of season? That doesn’t sound reasonable. Why did he tell people to hate their families if they wanted to follow him? This Jesus was not the Jesus I was taught about. This Jesus was a communist and gave some really bad advice on how to run your life. How will selling everything you own do any more than make you more like people that currently need help? When I finally finished with the acid trip that was Revelations I was convinced. God did not create man. Man had created God.

    I spent many more years reading the likes of Harris and Dawkins, but the tipping point, the point of no return, was an offhand comment in a skeptical podcast and the instrument of the final destruction of my belief in God was the very book that had started it, this time read by a skeptical mind.

  70. 75

    My family never talked about God religion at all when I was a kid. All I knew was that some people went to one kind of building on Sunday and a much smaller group went to a different building (and got presents for a whole week during Christmas). Meanwhile I was interested in dinosaurs and astronomy like many kids. I also had some D&D rulebooks from my brother – I didn’t play, but they incorporated various mythologies that got me interested in world religions.

    My mom became Catholic since my stepdad was, and I went through the CCD classes to become Catholic too to fit in, and even was an altar boy and lector for a while. However the sermons and rituals never really sunk in, and I really don’t like being talked to as a child. By now I had come to the conclusion that people had always been trying to explain natural causes in their limited perspectives, and that modern day religions were no different. I also went to a Catholic high school, mainly since the public schools around were so bad. However there and at home, the hypocrisy between believers’ actions on Sunday and the rest of the week made it evident that religious people weren’t special at all.

    When I went to college I stopped going to church completely, but I didn’t really think about my religious views then – too busy going to class and misbehaving. I was generally agnostic but had no real position on anything. It wasn’t until I graduated and started paying attention to the Religious Right’s position during W’s campaign. My push to atheism is really in reponse to the absurdity of the RR’s claims, and has broadened sicne then. In the past 10 years or so I’ve gotten more firm in my atheism, although am inactive in any activism (which I’m looking to change).

  71. Tom

    I was Catholic growing up, but I was never a strong believer. It was just something I thought was true but had not really asked myself if I had a reason to believe it. At around 20 or 21, I started thinking about it and began to realize there was zero reason to think it was true. I did it pretty much on my own.

    After I knew I was a “beginning atheist”, I started lurking around on alt.atheism which exposed me to all the various religious argument and why they were worthless.

    I never had any bad experiences with religion and my family, while religious, didn’t go overboard.

    I basically became an atheism when I thought about why I should believe and couldn’t find a reason.

  72. 78

    I was a strong believer, grew up Catholic but converted to evangelical, going to churches ranging from the conservative to rolling-on-the-floor Vineyards. I was in a Christian industrial band (Global Wave System) and preached and spoke and lead bible studies, etc.

    I was also very interested in history, science, and archeology. I started college as a physics major but ended up with my degree in Math. I studied apologetics quite a lot, knew all the arguments for the “historicity of the bible” (though I was not a YEC, I also thought I was “skeptical” when saying things like “they just compare one rock to other rocks they already decided they know the age of”). I also read book after book on why atheism doesn’t answer life’s difficult questions, why evolution is not true, etc. Frank Heeren’s Show Me God was dog eared, and my pastor -who like me had a math degree – was pretty much the only christian who supported me in reading and trying to understand the universe and why God made the choices he did.

    I also read some Carl Sagan, who probably influenced me more than anyone. I grew up watching Cosmos, and had read The Demon Haunted World in the past but found it rather anti-christian and offensive.

    But it was Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Sagan that was the turning point. He did not talk about religion or philosophy much at all, but stuck to the science. The idea that our behavior can so closely mirror animal behavior was a new idea to me, and also amazing with tremendous portents for human behavior and ethics. After reading that I decided that to be truly honest with myself, I should read some counter arguments to my apologetics books.

    The 2nd most influential book was The Blind Watchmaker. When I read that, I found out all these arguments against evolution I’d been reading were debunked decades ago, and yet so-called “honest” Christians were still out there writing and speaking using these old arguments. This both opened my eyes to what might be true about the world, but made me very angry with the church and the authors of those books. I still believed in God, but I found myself open to believing things didn’t necessarily happen the way the religions say they did.

    The third thing that helped me turn was simply not going to church every week. I had stopped before reading Shadows due to some interpersonal drama, and not found a new church, even though I prayed and read the Bible. But not being surrounded by people who were trying to convince me of something allowed me to investigate on my own.

    At this point, I wasn’t sure if God existed, I thought of myself as an atheist but didn’t really tell people that, and I’d still talk to God sometimes. And I didn’t really think much about the question of God’s existence but really didn’t care much.

    The final nail in the coffin occurred 5 years after my first reading of The Blind Watchmaker, it was when I read Godless by Dan Barker. His life paralleled mine as a musical evangelist, and I found myself identifying with him quite a bit which helped, since I often found books by Dawkins and blog posts by people who grew up as atheists to be incredibly insulting and patronizing, since they can’t understand the brainwashing we go through every single day.

    In Godless book I first realized how much of apologetics regarding Higher Criticism was outright lies. The “500 witnesses” argument, the “10,000 copies of the New Testament” argument, were nothing but lies. This infuriated me. So-called Christians knew they were distorting the truth, so why did they do that if they were so sure they were right? On top of that the similarity of Christian and Jewish myths to everyone else’s, and finally the horrible consequences of believing in absolute right and wrong and that you know what it is, shoved me over the edge to fully be a gnostic atheist.

    I remember I was on a plane at the time, and for the first time in my life I was not afraid of heights or flying, because there was no longer a capricious being to kowtow to who may or may not save or destroy you.

  73. LS

    It was early in the morning, seven years ago next month. I was 17 years old. I was cleaning the parking lot at the grocery store I worked at, and pondering philosophy to try to keep my mind off of the cold. In September of that year, I had met one of the most amazing women it has ever been my privilege to know. She was 21, and we had so much in common. We’d been dating a little over a month at that point, and I was becoming increasingly concerned with the fact that she was Mormon, whilst I was Catholic.

    This was an issue I had struggled with a great deal already. I had hunted down and posted on a few Catholic forums. I believe some of those posts can still be found, actually. Aside from being told that she was a pedophile, I didn’t find a lot of useful information from speaking to the faithful. I had even attempted to break up with her at one point, but tearfully recanted, telling her I was sure there had to be some way to make things work.

    So on this morning, as I swept up cigarette butts and soda cans, I constructed an argument for myself. As an eventual student of philosophy, I would later become quite embarrassed by its flaws. As I’ve told others, though, the argument served only to help me break free of the paper bag Catholicism had placed over my head. Once the bag was off, more reasonable arguments became apparent. But while I was still inside the bag, this feeble argument was my lifeline.

    >Suffering exists as a temporary test which we must pass in order to reach heaven.
    >Any corporeal suffering is completely insignificant in duration when compared to eternity.
    >Given suffering’s established insignificance, God has no reason to care about human suffering.

    >Love is metaphysical.
    >That which is metaphysical is not bound to end when life ends.
    >Love is not insignificant.
    >God cares about love.

    >This woman and I have a profound and long-lasting love. (Yes. One month into our relationship I was certain of this. I was also seventeen.)
    >God cares about love.
    >God cares about OUR love.

    >Catholic doctrine teaches that Mormonism is a dangerous cult.
    >Catholics cannot marry Mormons.
    >This Woman is a Mormon, I am a Catholic. Due to religion, we cannot marry.
    >Religion denies our love.

    >God founded the Catholic church.
    >God’s teachings have been used to construct the Mormon faith.
    >God could end the conflict between these two faiths through some revelation.
    >God chooses to allow the conflict between Catholicism and Mormonism to exist.

    >God supports, through inaction, the religion which denies our love.
    >In doing this, God allows metaphysical suffering.
    >God cannot care about our love, yet allow it to be destroyed in his name.

    >There is no God.

    It’s hardly the most compelling argument. There are a number of logical leaps there which make me wonder if I was just looking for an excuse to dump the abusive religion I’d been raised with. But whatever flaws the argument may have, it freed me from the shackles my upbringing had placed on my mind.

    For the record, that woman and I were together for six years, and I still miss her every day. So as it turns out I wasn’t completely off base about how profound our connection was. =P

  74. Leo

    I read lesswrong.com (then Overcoming Bias). I learnt a lot of things about economics and probability theory and cognitive biases and medicine and so on. And then I read a particular post on minds as cognitive engines, completing the argument tree for why you have to look at things to model them.

    I noticed atheism was a direct corollary, accepted it, and went on applying the post’s conclusions to my other beliefs.

  75. 81

    There were a couple of things that changed me from a Lutheran to an atheist in high school.

    First, as a kid, I was always impressed with the power of science, and I noticed that the scientifically impossible stories in the Bible were ‘myths’, much in the same way as Santa. From a young age, I learned that when push came to shove, science won, and religion was just story time. I got this view from watching a lot of science documentaries and reading science books, while at the same time having parents that were willing to encourage that consumption, and were not willing to lie about the Old Testament’s untruth.

    Second, skepticism about other paranormal things bled into religious claims. I was interested in UFOs, ancient aliens, cryptozoology, and the like, mostly from the X-files, but I eventually read real scientists talking about them, and they fairly convincingly obliterated those notions. Carl Sagan was especially helpful in breaking down the wall that protected religion from my critical thinking. When it did, it was a flood, and my becoming an atheist largely just awaited me arriving in an environment were I felt comfortable declaring it.

    Third, I went to a boarding high school with lots of students who were becoming atheists at the same time. I’d noticed that the zealous religious people were pretty crazy before (and Lutherans tended, behind close doors, to dismiss Mormons, Baptists, and the like as nutty). But I only ever met two atheists before, which was hugely influential to me, since they were both really cool, thoughtful and smart: A high school history teacher, and a fellow student and sci-fi fan. When I left that school, and went into a more egalitarian, parent free environment, it was only a matter of time before I aligned myself with the atheist/agnostics, rather than the Christians that kept to themselves and were really bad at arguing.

    Fourth, I never had a spiritual experience, and I never felt my prayers were doing anything. People talked a lot about feeling God’s presence in their lives, but honestly, I was always bored in church. A lot of singing, a lot of talking, but not a lot o thinking. Just in the past few years, after discovering Ehrman and Finkelstein, I’ve learned so much more about the Bible than I was ever taught in church. That dullness, the repetition, the dumbing down got to me, and when I tried to read more advanced things, they were often written in theology speak. Its another reason why I gravitated towards science.

    So, it was not a simple thing, but rather a lot of factors in my young life. Definitely a big one is having out atheists around. I probably would have become an atheist on my own eventually, but I wouldn’t have talked about it if others weren’t doing so.

  76. 82

    What started the ball rolling for me was, ironically enough, an apologetics book. I was sort of a New Age theist and my extremely religious cousins got me “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel for my birthday. I thought it was one of the worst things I’d ever read. Even as a high school student, I could spot all the flaws in Strobel’s arguments, which made me wonder if there was anything better arguing for Christianity out there. I read McDowell, and Lewis, and some other materials and they were all incredibly weak, which really shook me. I prayed and prayed and prayed for some sort of sign or proof and nothing happened. I then shifted into deism before picking up copies of “The End of Faith” and “The God Delusion”. Started calling myself an atheist not long after that.

  77. 83

    I started reading FSTDT (Fundies Say the Darndest Things). That sort of all-out mockery resonated with me, and over the course of a few years, gradually led to me not really holding too much confidence in that whole jesus thing anymore. Then I discovered Adam Lee, Ebon Musings, and Daylight Atheism, and reading everything written on those two blogs is what prompted me to truly declare myself as an atheist.

  78. 84

    As freshman in college, I took New Testament Survey which was a serious scholarly look at the origins of the text, etc. After two weeks, I was so mad at preachers — they knew this! — yet continued preaching it like it was the “Word of God”.

    I didn’t apply the tag of atheist until many years later I ran across Chapter 1 of End of Faith online.

  79. 85

    I’ve always been the kind of kid who asked too many question. And then suddenly there was a tsunami in asia, and my southern baptist penpal was tut-tutting about what a shame it was, all those souls lost to hell, and no one could answer my questions. No one could give me a good reason why God would allow something like this to happen. “An act of God”, that’s what they call things like that; destruction and death on a massive scale, from the natural world. Not something people did. Not free will at work. Just nature.

    Theodicy, I think, is the name for this problem: an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God cannot, logically, have created the world we live in.

    And I really, really wanted to believe. I consciously used the phrase “brainwashing” to describe what I was trying to do to myself, trying to force myself back into faith. Needless to say it didn’t work, and one night at a church youth retreat I had what I can only describe as a complete meltdown, and woke up the next morning to the retaliation that I was an atheist.

    So I guess you could say I was influenced into atheism by other people, albeit not by other atheists – I was influenced into it by the religious people who told me that the people who died in the tsunami deserved it, or that God had no choice but to design the world in such a way that tsunamis happen. (Akin to the idea that for stone to be hard enough to walk on and make tools from and so forth, it also has to be hard enough to hurt us if we fall on it.) Either way, I couldn’t help but think that was a pretty shitty God.

    Where conversations with individual atheists I met (or rather, “discovered” – I’d known them all along) helped was with the realization that it was okay. These clever, intelligent, well-liked people were atheists or agnostics too. More importantly, maybe, these people were atheists/agnostics and it was no big deal – they hadn’t had the traumatizing “oh fuck I don’t believe in god what do I DO” moment I’d had, they’d just calmly and peacefully become unbelievers. It gave me hope that I’d eventually be able to walk back into a church or overhear a prayer without bursting into tears!

    Atheist communities have not been very helpful to me. I still see a lot of value and worth in religious belief and practise. All the time I see people doing just incredibly admirable things in the name of their faith. I see intelligent, questioning, wonderful people who still believe in God. I’ve come to see religion as a tool, which people can use in positive, life-affirming ways, or in negative, destructive ways. I feel that religion isn’t the problem so much as the way we’re teaching/allowing people to use it. That opinion is… not very popular in the atheist communities I’ve ventured into. You, yourself, disagree with it.

    I like hearing the things other atheists are thinking, even if I don’t fully agree. I think it’s good for me, to have my opinions challenged and pushed. Hence why I read this blog! I always come away considering ideas and perspectives I hadn’t thought about before. But past experience has left me reluctant to actively join in the conversation. Look, I’m a queer atheist women living with Mennonites. I don’t have the energy to waste dealing with crap from atheists AND theists, both of whom often fail to see the difference between a challenge and an attack. The theists, I can’t escape. The atheists, I can walk away from.

    Needless to say, I don’t feel welcome in atheist spaces. The local queer spaces – which are predominantly, although not exclusively, atheist, and respect religion as long as it isn’t persecuting them – are the closest I get. If anything, atheist communities have come close to driving me BACK to religion, or at least back to religious services. Before I found the local queer community, I’d started attending church again, not because I really wanted to be there but because I missed that community feeling, and none of the atheist communities I’d found felt like a place where I could be open and honest about who I am and what I believe.

    Similarly, public atheist figures tend to make a negative impact in my life. I don’t want to have to answer questions about Dawkins et al every fucking time I mention I’m an atheist. It’s exhausting and I’m sick of it. If I don’t defend the “new atheists” people feel free to assume I don’t think they have any legitimate points, which isn’t true, and if I DO defend them, people feel free to assume that I’m a close-minded asshole (hopefully ALSO not true) and then passive-aggressively shut me out. Have I mentioned that most of the people who live in my physical community are Mennonites? I love them dearly, but no one does passive-aggressive as well as a Mennonite.

    For the record, I know that’s selfish of me, and unfair to Dawkins et al. It’s hardly their fault I find myself in this position. But I just wanted to stop pretending I believed in God, I didn’t want to join a political movement. I don’t want to speak for all atheists, and I really don’t want to speak for Dawkins. It shouldn’t be my job. And I know the problem is more with the people who demand all atheists speak for Dawkins then it is with Dawkins himself, but… Well, you asked how public figures have affected me, and this is how.

  80. 86

    Wow, should definitely have proof-read my comment a little better… FYI, among other things, I meant “realization” where I inexplicably wrote “retaliation”…

  81. 88

    …and the rest of my post got cut off be accidentally hitting the freakin’ touchpad on my laptop. It was going to be on topic, I swear, but I’ve got a headache and am going back to bed.

  82. 89

    My cafeteria Catholic mother jokes that she should have seen my atheism coming when, as a very young child, I interrupted a homily where the priest was talking about the church being god’s house to ask “Where is he?” Little kids are waaaaay too literal for belief in the supernatural to be anything but learned.

    I turned against organized religion and stopped going to church in my early teens when the mellow old shirt-off-his-back-for-someone-in-need-with-no-attempt-at-conversion priest retired and was replaced by an arrogant d-bag who was less than faithful to his vow of poverty. As I’d never been particularly hardcore about belief in the first place (religion was pretty much just a Sunday morning thing, and I’d always despised catechism classes), once I was no longer going through the motions I just naturally drifted to soft atheism.

    Now that I’m in my early thirties, I’ve started trying to think more rigorously about my atheism, which is of great benefit when believers try to drag me back into the cave.

  83. 90

    The one aspect of my story that is different from those told here is that this slow awakening began to happen to me in the 50’s, and there were no reference points for me at all. Out of teen Christian devotion as a Southern Baptist at the time, I decided to read the bible for myself. First time through, as a junior in high school, light began to dawn. By the second time through, I was in college, taking introductory philosophy courses, psychology, history, giving me more of a context, but still, I had not encountered the word Atheist, nor, as far as I knew, a single non-believer. I had a nagging suspicion that I was the only one who didn’t believe in anything. This was Texas in the late 50’s, early 60’s, and religion so surrounded me that it was like water to a fish. Only last year did I discover that my father is and always has been atheist, but decided to let me take my own journey, and now, at 92, he doesn’t want to distress my mother.

    Now, I have an atheist husband, two grown atheist children, atheist grandchildren, and a vibrant on-line community to share with, but I still live in Texas, so I’m still surrounded by god-bothering on all sides. I’m just not so isolated as I was when I started this journey.

  84. 91

    Well, I wasn’t a believer for all that long. I was raised Christian, but I lost the faith when I was about 11 or 12. I came to the conclusion more or less on my own, or at least I never felt like I was being persuaded out of religion. The biggest push I got was from Bible camp (all in all, a fabulous experience full of the great outdoors, storytime, and the start of my atheism!). Being saturated in Christianity like that made me think and talk about it more, and the more you do that, the more you notice the contradictions, the injustices, and everything else awful about the bible. I did try to make sense of it all, but I ended up going with the simplest explanation (“This is bullshit”).

    I don’t think I really knew any (out) atheists, and if I did, I’m not sure if I would have seriously talked to them about religion. But, that was about when I started reading more books by atheist authors (Philip Pullman and Douglas Adams especially- my parents checked which movies I watched but never bothered with my books) as well as a lot of fantasy. I think the more subtle ridicule of religious beliefs was pretty effective with me- stuff that wasn’t actually shocking, but that made it harder for me to take it seriously. I think fantasy stories, mythology, and Santa Claus all make it harder for kids to believe yet another ridiculous story.

    Basically, a gentle method of “isn’t this silly?” occurring before I really had a stake in religion was effective for me.

  85. 92

    I was raised Catholic. Mum is Catholic, Dad is Anglican. We moved around a lot, but when they found a church we would go. It probably averaged out to going to Church every other week. I was in Catholic schools for my entire childhood, in Canada until grade 7, then in Virginia until university. I was a believer. Not an especially fervent one, but a believer.

    I’d say the two things that caused me to be an atheist now are my own nature and my Dad.

    When I was little, I never accepted anything. I’d ask my Mum or Dad a question, they’d answer, and then I’d say “But why?” This would keep going until they didn’t know anything else to say. Naturally when I asked a question (typically at school) and was given the answer “God did it.” or somesuch and I asked “But why?” and they didn’t have an answer, I went looking elsewhere. Elsewhere was usually Dad, who kept giving me real answers and reasoned arguments. He favoured the socratic method, forcing me to examine things myself.

    Two defining moments led me to atheism. The first came, appropriately, in Church. We were supposed to respond to the Priest with the phrase “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” I distinctly remember thinking that I was uncomfortable specifically stating that this is right, all the time, period. So I stayed silent for that part from then on. Then I started to think about other things in the Mass, and I began to have problems with them. Eventually I rejected religion in favour of simple spirituality. Then I started to question that, until I wound up realising that I didn’t buy the idea of a god at all.

    The second defining moment was in high school. I wish I remembered it in more detail, I know it involved the ten commandments as part of a homework assignment. The important part is what I remember my Dad saying to me about it: “What do you think is more likely? That God came down from Heaven and gave these rules to Moses himself, or that they were already existing rules that people incorporated into their religion?”

    Actually, the second moment came first, but I wanted to end with a quote that changed my life. And now this little bit screwed it up. Damn.

  86. 93

    I like to say that I grew up and put away childish beliefs (which can be interpreted as an insult to believers, but it is an honest expression of how I ‘de-converted.’) Over time, from age 16 to age 22 (ie, the end of high school and college), I exposed myself to a variety of people with a variety of belief systems, and slowly realized that there was no honest way to reconcile them all with each other and with reality. Holding on to my faith would have been, to me, like holding on to my belief in Santa Claus despite the clear evidence that my parents were the ones buying me gifts. My faith at that point wouldn’t have been just “conviction of things not seen,” – it would have been conviction of things that directly contradicted what I was experiencing.

  87. 94

    Turning point was June 6, 1968. I’d been a Catholic, even an altar boy (unmolested variety). Was following the Democratic primary election race in California and pleased that RFK had won. Then, through the actions of one single man, it was all over.

    That was the last time I remember praying, and later thought that every prayer that night of every Catholic must have been for his recovery. Nothing. Nobody listening with the power to make it better. On top of his brother’s assassination and the ones which followed, it was too much.

    I’d grown up intensely interested in science of all sorts and would eventually have broken free of the RCC, I’m sure. But I remember that as the crystallizing moment. I kept going to the parochial school, of course, kept serving as an altar boy, but it was all rote. Ironically I even wound up teaching catechism (CCD) one summer–probably turned out a classful of atheists…

  88. 95

    I wish I had an awesome story of how an atheist or one idea de-converted me from Mormonism, but that isn’t my story.

    There were a few big steps to helping me on my way out of religion. The first was actually changing my political ideals and thoughts. In college, I discovered that I wasn’t a republican like my parents. I identified strongly with the democratic party. That change in thinking really helped me step away from the thought process of most Mormon church members and paved the way for my de-conversion.

    A couple of years after that I realized I was bored with church and was starting to chafe under all of the annoying rules and procedures of the church. I used church for a socializing tool, but didn’t go to be spiritually uplifted or connect with God. Looking back, I had obviously lost my faith by then, but hadn’t realized it yet.

    The final step was realizing that I had lost my faith in Mormonism and God in general. Prop 8 was the event that really hit me hard with the corruption and bigotry of the Mormon church.

    After realizing my lack of faith, I started to read a few atheist blogs (Greta & The Friendly Atheist). They really helped me come to terms with my new identity as an atheist.

  89. PSG

    I think it was a gradual process for me. I got strong indoctronation from going to Catholic school. I was a pleaser of authority at a young age and I continued through confirmation classes mostly because not doing so would have been an issue at home. Once that was done, my family pretty much left me alone about religion – and I really only went for family holidays if it was non-optional. I had let go of the catholic religion as a teen, mostly due to the Vatacin’s anti-woman policies, even in the 21st century! Despite the religious upbringing, we were raised as strong feminists.

    I hung on to a feeling of connectedness/soul/spirituality/Zen for another decade. It’s only been in the last year or two that I made the leap from Zen/agnostic to athetist, mostly because what I read online in the atheist bloggosphere made a convincing argument for atheism.

    I started with PZ (thanks good (atheist) friend who linked to one of his articles on FB!), Twisty Faster, and a number of other feminist bloggers – finding that some of these bloggers, whose views on morality, equality, and the like that I really respected, were also atheists. I linked out through PZ to the larger atheist community online – like Jen, Greta, skeptifem, Dana – and picked up skepticism too, something I practice as a scientist but never really thought about as a philosophy for life.

    Studying atheism for the last year or so has allowed me to accept that I am an atheist. Technically an agnostic atheist (thx Crommunist) but y’all have convinced me that accepting the term atheist is meaningful, so I do. I’ve yet to get to the point of actively advertising it, but I no longer deny it or pretend to be religious, except on occassion at home over the holidays.

    That last leap has been the hardest – giving up immortality is freaking hard. I’ve really fought my desire to believe with an acceptance of the world as it is, but I still struggle these days with losing the fairy tale I was promised as a child. This is where the atheist online has been helpful to me – by challenging my magical thinking, by explaining how they live with the knowledge that death is the end, by just existing to show me this great philosophical struggles can be resolved, and by reminding me that I am so fortunate to be able to struggle with these things because I live where we have the freedom to do so.

    Things certainly aren’t perfect where I live, and where I’m going they are probably going to be worse. Still, just as I am LGBT, feminist, and believe in racial equality, I am also an atheist. I am trying to accept the latter with the same pride as I wear the former. I am good without gods, better than I was when I accepted so much of the guilt and self-hatred that comes along with religion.

    I still need help to do this though, I’m not quite there yet, and so the atheist blogs (and freethought blogs in particular, way to be awesome!) are still so very important to me in understanding myself as I am and providing me with a view of the place I want to get to. Religion still holds some power over me because I fear things: death being final, telling my family I’m an atheist, being out as an atheist in the world…

    I still struggle with being who I am in an authentic way and working/dealing with a diverse group of people, some of whom like me because they don’t know these things about me. I hide so well behind their assumptions and it’s hard for me to push myself out there to be judged and condemned. I struggle with that because I know the feeling of meeting another “outsider”, the joy in that moment of recognition, that this person *gets it* and isn’t going to judge or expect you to default to something you don’t actually agree with.

    So I guess I’m still looking for the answers on how to live as an atheist, out, proud, and yet connected to the world which is still full of believers. I’m not a philosopher (well, technically I am but that’s science) and I don’t like to have vicious debates with people about my ideas. I have enough debates in my life in regards to whether people like me actually exist and they exhaust me. I know there’s no magic formula, and that being out as an atheist will probably have repercussions like being out as LGBT (which I’m mostly not (out)) will have, but damn it! I canhazcake and eatit2? I just want to exist in the place where who I am is not a subject of debate or fodder for critique – and it seems as though we’re not there yet. Help me (more) bloggers! 🙂

  90. 97

    I came to non-belief on my own. My parents were generic christian but never attended church except for weddings and funerals. My grandparents were much more religious as were most of my uncles/aunts. I prayed a lot and would sometimes go to sunday school or the like with friends.

    It was sometime in middle school when I realized that everything I did wrong was my fault but I wasn’t allowed to take credit for anything I did right. That was always “god.” That just didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t understand how that was logical. I don’t know, maybe that’s a trivial reason but once I realized the illogical nature of the credit/blame dynamic, everything else about an idea of a god, just crumbled into nothing.

    I latched on to occult thinking after that and believed in things like ghosts and ESP and palm reading and what have you. It wasn’t until after college that I started reading skeptic literature and let go of all magical belief.

    Now I don’t really see any difference between believing in a god and believing in, say, homeopathy or ghosts. They all require you to make assumptions about some sort of magic power that defies all known properties of physics and somehow grants wishes for the believing few.

  91. 98

    Throughout my middle school and high school years, I attended a fundamentalist church (speaking in tongues, running the aisles, etc). I was extremely religious, and church/god played a central role in my life. However, I was always one to question my beliefs– why were gay people supposed to be “going to hell”? Why did we follow some old testament commandments but not others? Why follow an archaic holy book that was written by humans and translated over and over again, at all? The answers I received from religious leaders were never quite satisfactory (and often involved an admonition to pray more/have more faith/stop asking questions and go with the flow). My senior year of high school I left the church and began calling myself an agnostic. I still firmly believed in a god, just not the Judeo-Christian version.

    Fast forward a couple of years to my sophomore year of college– after seeking out and learning about numerous other faith traditions, I still couldn’t reconcile the world that I saw with the idea of a god. This is probably the biggest part of my deconversion story– the famous Epicurus paradox. “Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?” Religious people had never been able to give me a satisfactory answer about why bad things happen to undeserving people in the world. I could not, and would not, accept the idea that “free will” was the reason that children could starve and die in some parts of the world with no divine intervention whatsoever. One day, I began looking at atheist message boards on the internet and atheist pages on Facebook, more out of curiosity than anything else. But as I learned more, something just “clicked”– I realized that this was the answer I’d been looking for.

    It wasn’t an easy task to “come out” as an atheist to my friends. I actually didn’t have any atheist friends at the time, and many of my closest friends are quite religious. (I have since joined my university’s free thought organization, which has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.) But, it has worked out well, and I can say I’ve never been happier.

  92. 99

    Mine was a gradual escape from a fundie sect, into something a bit less fundie, then liberal Christian, and then progressively more metaphorical until I realised that I no longer held any recognisable Christian beliefs.

    I then played with some pagan and Eastern stuff for while until I realised that the new woo had no more support than the old woo.

    Since then, I’ve lived pretty much woo and god free.

  93. 100

    >Did you come to your non-belief entirely on your own, simply by thinking about it, or were you influenced into it by others?

    Mainly influenced by others, at least at first. Extremist Christians as well as atheists.

    >If a specific idea or argument made a difference, please say which one or ones they were, and how they affected you.

    I think being shown some of the more ridiculous parts of the Bible I’d never read was the final nail in the coffin. To be honest considering how much of a militant anti-theist I am now it’s a bit weird that I can’t remember any particular instance where my “faith” was really “tested”. I went from gnostic theist to agnostic theist to agnostic atheist in just a couple of months.

  94. 101

    It was the absence of reasonable answers to simple questions that caused me to drift away from religion and faith.

    Beginning at the age of seven or eight I drifted steadily away from the American Lutheran Church of my youth and its core beliefs. I was recruited to the ministry as a teenager. I attended a Lutheran college. I dabbled in mysticism and American-flavored Eastern religions.

    What stuck was the value of clear thinking and education. What slipped away was magical and wishful thinking. I don’t think I ever believed any of the mythologies offered by any religion. Paul Bunyan and his blue ox was as good a story as Daniel and his lions.

    There never was a day where I woke and said, “I’m a non-believer.” By the time I fully recognized that non-belief was one of my core principles I think I had been a non-believer for many years.

    However, there was a coincidence that made a difference along the way. As I was beginning to recognize my distance from religion I discovered the work of Joseph Campbell. His explanations of the similarities across religions helped me understand that religious belief is an almost universal expression of humanity. But, more importantly, it was not required that a specific religion or faith be the foundation of that expression. It’s entirely legitimate to express that part of my “soul” through a love of humanity and the wonder of all that surrounds us. “Billions and billions” is like a response to a call of “How many wonders do you see?”.

    I learned through Campbell’s work that my views of religion and faith were more natural and valid than those of the most ardent, blinkered evangelists. It’s normal to be in awe of our universe and our roles in it. It’s abnormal to believe you have secret knowledge of an exclusive access to that awe.

    I don’t find I am anti-religion, in general. I have little quarrel with people who practice a benign form of religion that requires a nominal expression of faith in exchange for a social network of ritual and compassion.

    But, I have known for a very long time that I am anti-stupid. The level of stupid in religious folks who want their faith to overwhelm evidence, pragmatism, good sense and science is something I’ve learned to despise.

    I did not have a de-conversion. I just slowly walked away from religion as I plodded toward some calm understanding of what makes things work and, in my opinion, religion makes things break.

  95. 102

    I was raised in a nonreligious home, but became “born again” at age 20 when a friend convinced me to join Amway and I ended up going to one of their “functions”. At the time I was a sophomore in college on the track team, competing in the decathlon. I became a Christian because the Amway guys kept on hammering on about Matthew 21:22: “Anything you ask for in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” They used it as a prosperity gospel gimmick to get people to pray about getting rich through the (Amway) business model.

    The thing about being in a cult is that you want to be just like the rich and powerful boss of the cult, and while you are preoccupied with that thought, anything the boss says stealthily enters your brain without you evaluating its merit. If the boss says “I don’t believe we came from monkeys”, everyone nods in agreement, because obviously if the guy is rich and powerful he must know the answer to everything. So I was a creationist for a while, too.

    But more than getting rich what I really wanted to be was an All American in the decathlon, which meant placing in the top 8 at the national meet at the end of the track season. I worked very hard, and in the spring of my senior year I scored 6574 points, which was good enough for 10th in the nation for division II. As the season progressed I was unable to better the score, and a few athletes managed to bump me down to 15th by the end of the season. In the past, the NCAA has taken 16 athletes, so I thought I was good. But two weeks before the national meet, they decided to take just 12. I prayed very hard with my bible study group that a few would drop out, either to injury or to interest in competing in other events (since many of the top scorers in the decathlon were also top scorers in other events). Two days before entries were due, it was announced they were going to take 14 athletes, with the 14th place athlete having scored 6577 points. I was four points away from everything I had prayed for, and I needed a miracle.

    So it happened on the deadline date, Monday, May 16th, 2005, I stopped being a Christian when I didn’t make the final entries list. All of the hundreds of prayers I made, in vain. All the church I went to, all the bible study I went to, all the self pity I put myself through and guilt I felt trying to be a good Christian and I couldn’t get even the slightest tailwind in the hurdles, which might have propelled me across the finish line 0.03 seconds faster, enough to get the 4 points I needed to be in the 14th spot. Nor could I get a tailwind for the javelin such that the spear would have landed 10 inches farther. Or a few extra “magic” Kilojoules of energy for the last kick of the 1500 meters. Jesus lied to me, and I was furious. But it took me a long time to make the distinction between Jesus lying and men who lie while claiming to speak for Jesus. While I credit Amway for teaching me how to manage my money better (ironically by making me spend a ridiculous amount of money on their products and functions, which forced me to cut back on some of those products and functions and establish a budget outlining exactly what things I need), the Amway cult is infested with Liars for Jesus. Today I am an atheist because I realize the claims of religion are indistinguishable from claims made by men who speak on behalf of an imaginary being. In the real world, an Emperor with invisible clothes is indistinguishable from an Emperor who is naked.

  96. 103

    When I was 18 (and in college) I realized reality was a far cry from what I had been taught in my childhood. In all honesty, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn precipitated my leaving religion. About 10 years later I stumbled across Hitchens and Dawkins and realized I was an atheist. I simply hadn’t realized what an atheist truly was before and needed someone to clear away the misinformation I had been raised with.

  97. 104

    It was pretty much a non event for me. Hanging out one night with friends, just talking about things, a sudden realization that there’s no god. No different than an earlier realization that there’s no santa. Just a simple obvious recognition of reality.

  98. 105


    I think I began to first question my faith
    When the subject of miracles came on the scene.
    I was probably somewhere around twelve years of age,
    Looking forward quite soon to becoming a teen.

    “If Moses and Jesus did miracles, why
    Can’t we see the same miracles right here today?
    The super big kind like the loaves and the fishes
    Or bringing back someone who just passed away?”

    The church stood by miracles. All could not see them.
    They always appeared to a sweet peasant child
    From some remote village quite far far away
    Or a mountainous region way out in the wild.

    And later when broadcast TV was invented
    And we could see everything right on the spot,
    The miracle touted was one person living
    From some huge disaster when others did not.

    If this was a miracle, God was much weaker
    Than back when he saved people parting the seas.
    Now people were thrilled if his image appeared
    On a window or wall or on bread; even cheese.

    Without all the miracle stories, then Jesus
    Was just a nice guy who was killed far too young.
    What people said later he said and he did
    Could be myth or just rumor. I’ll tell you that stung.

    Cause the next level up was then was what about God?
    Why do we have ‘The One’ and all others do not?
    If all of the people on earth are God’s children
    Then logic puts our version here on the spot.

    Plus all newer knowledge we gained of the cosmos
    And short little trips into near-outer space
    Threw the tale of creation as seen in a couple of
    Seven-day sagas right out on its face.

    “Where do we come from?” Charles Darwin had solved
    That big question way back in Eighteen Fifty-Nine.
    But religions absorbing the impact of this
    Could take us just eons and eons of time.

    So now I am left with my former belief
    Lying shredded and crumbled right here on the floor
    And I’m sorry it does not bring me more relief
    Knowing how we arrived but not knowing what for.
    Yes, of course, there is more:
    Raised Presbyterian from birth. The first irritable seed that stuck in my craw was when I was about 10. Could not understand why children in Africa (our current mission project) were due a horrible afterlife when, through no fault of their own, they had never heard of Jesus. My Sunday school teacher was both irritated and unconcerned. Still, the fear of hell, power of peer pressure and the fact that the church was one of the main social outlets for friends and boy-girl relationships keep me tightly bound. One day a newer preacher said Hell was not a burning fiery place but it did mean separation from God. I was greatly relieved because I figured I could handle that ok.
    Dissatisfied with my smug church, I switched scenes in my mid 20’s and joined the Episcopalian version. They seemed smarter, less judgmental, and they had those cool left over papist ceremonies without my actually having to be Catholic. I married, and our two kids were baptized there. When the eldest was entering confirmation classes, I ‘studied’ his literature along with. Not at all comforting. Too many unanswered questions. Sort of like the first time he said “Mommy..Why did God make wasps?” and “Mom! This Adam and Eve book is stupid! There weren’t any apple trees back in dinosaur days”.

    We all eventually drifted away. The family watched the Joseph Campbell Power of Myth series on PBS , and I bought the book. As we age and death starts becoming a scary reality one starts peddling faster. I read Sam Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and found a web site which even questions the existence of an historical Jesus http://nobeliefs.com/exist.htm After that it was just a question of finding like people. Thank (Gore?) for the internet. There are few ‘like’ people where I live.

  99. 106

    Just for the data point: raised by atheists, never been anything else. Have investigated in detail whether there are any good arguments for any kind of theism, the answer is so much not!

  100. 107

    My deconversion was definitely incremental, over a period of two decades or so. Here are the major influences I’ve identified, in chronological order:

    1. Raised by a quietly devout Methodist mom and an “apatheist” dad, both of whom place a high value on education. The fact that my dad doesn’t go to church, but is still a fine human being, placed that first little seed of doubt about the assumed moral supremacy of religion. The emphasis on academic achievement hinted at a NOMA view of the world, or at the very least “God helps those who help themselves.” Not exactly freethinking, but far less intellectually oppressive than YEC fundie-land.

    2. Grew up in a community with lots of Mormons. My bafflement at the inanity of their doctrines laid the groundwork for later questioning the beliefs *I’d* been raised with (the “outsider test”). Also gave me experience with being on the outside of in-group privilege. Became comfortable with being a minority “other,” which may have helped ease my slide out of Christian conformity.

    3. Got the hell out of my small red-state hometown and went to college. Was exposed to lots of new ideas and ways of thinking, most of which were more inclusive and liberal than those of my upbringing. Still nominally Christian at this point — my main social outlet was the Methodist youth group at the university, and I felt lots of pressure, external and internal, to become more “devout” in my belief and practice. But of course when I wasn’t thinking about God (90% of the time), I was fucking and drinking like most college kids — with friends from the youth group. Hmmm….

    4. Worked as a music minister at a large Methodist church in a small city. Saw “behind the curtain” and realized the leadership of the church really had no better idea of what they were doing than anybody else — they just took feel-good pop psychology and decent Enlightenment ethics and couched them in Jesus-y platitudes. Eventually resigned because I felt increasingly uncomfortable “pitching” Jesus music to the congregation when I didn’t buy it myself.

    5. Drifted into Eastern spirituality while studying Shaolin Kung Fu. Read lots of new age books — Celestine Prophecy, Conversations with God, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, etc. Even though this stuff isn’t any better than Christianity from a skeptical point of view, I think it primed my brain with the idea that purpose and potential come from inside my mind, not from some external supernatural entity with an ineffable plan.

    6. Had an unsettling experience at a visit to a chiropractor, and started researching chiropractic on the web. Landed on the Quackwatch website, then found Skepdic, then Michael Shermer. Eventually all that led to the Rational Response Squad, Dawkins forum, Pharyngula et al.

    Side note: If there’s one moment (actually a few weeks) that qualifies as my “epiphany,” this is it. Prior to this I had been of the “spiritual but not religious” or “there must be *something* out there in charge of the universe” school. I was simply rejecting the beliefs of my upbringing and searching for something belief-y (i.e., quick easy good-feeling answers) to replace them. After my Quackwatch epiphany, I started to become a freethinking skeptic, which is replacing the now-discarded “belief void” with a search for real questions and real answers — and a new level of comfort with uncertainty.

    7. Read books by the Four Horsemen, Coyne, Pinker, et al. Saw that many of the “religious” experiences, feelings, NDE’s, etc. claimed by believers could be explained by various sciences, from neurobiology to anthropology. These sources helped dispel the nagging feeling that “so many people believe in X, it must have a grain of truth.” Started to see that religion is very likely a bug, not a feature, of the human mind.

    That’s it for me. It’s been a punctuated evolution: tepid Christian > striving Christian > disillusioned spiritual seeker > skeptic > atheist. Hope this data point helps.

    Thanks for doing what you do, Greta. (I just typo’d your name as “Great,” which I’ll bet a lot of people do. I do think you’re great!) The lucidity and passion of your writing is unparalleled among the many blogs I read, and I’m always looking forward to your next post. Your archived posts are my go-to source for eloquent arguments in favor of atheism and secularism. I rarely comment here, because usually all I can think to say is “Nailed it again, Greta!” but I wanted you to know that your writing has definitely made a difference for me. Cheers!

  101. 108

    Hm. I was an agnostic pretty much as soon as I started reading thoughtful books – my religious education was pretty vague and inconsistent, and none of it really stuck. The key to switching to atheist was when a friend challenged me to have the intellectual courage to pick a side, that to say “eh, who knows?” wasn’t a brave position for a serious thinker to have. (I was about thirteen at this point, my friend was eighteen.)

    The more important argument, for me, was my deconversion from woo. That happened when I was an adult and started reading atheist blogs and such, and the argument that did it was “you disbelieve in a lot of gods, too, we just disbelieve in one more.” I realized that my long-held opposition to all the organized religions applied just as well to my own supernatural beliefs, so I gradually, and with some difficulty, pushed those beliefs away.

  102. 109

    As a child, I had to go to church every week, but I did so unattended because my mother was part of the service (long story) and my farther didn’t attend. I got bored, and the only book I was allowed to read in church was the Bible. So I did, starting at the beginning.

    That pretty much clinched it. I won’t say I was a believer before this, because my views were the inchoate ones of a child. But this was the decisive matter in how I ended up.

    So Genesis was obviously a bunch of faerie tales. I knew about dinosaurs, after all. I wasn’t ignorant.

    The books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus were obviously the moral rules of an ancient culture. They were pretty horrible, but they were fascinating to me. They didn’t disgust me or anything at the time- my general understanding of history was that in the past everything sucked and people were horrible to each other (racism, sexism, slavery, horrible things done to native Americans), but that over time people were getting better. So the fact that a REALLY ancient culture was REALLY horrible to each other didn’t faze me. It fit what I knew about the world at a young age.

    So anyways, between this and a few other matters (religious pluralism undercuts claims of divine inspiration, religious evolution undercuts claims of Biblical fidelity, etc), I became what I didn’t know to call a “cultural Christian.” I figured that everyone around me was the same way. For example, I assumed that obviously no adult I knew would be dumb enough to believe that the God of Love once sent his prophets to tell his people that they could have sex with little children after murdering their parents! The very idea was silly. So I figured that everyone in the pews (except maybe the really old people because they grew up when people were less educated) was on the same page as me.

    What radicalized me was finding out that I was wrong.

    When discussing these aspects of the Bible, I found out that people responded in the following way:

    First, denying that the Bible said any such thing.
    Second, admitting that it did, but making wacky excuses for it.
    Third, getting extremely hostile.

    This shocked me, and has probably been the single biggest influence on my present views of religion. I don’t see it as truth-aimed. I see it as a set of rationalizations and adaptations created by people desperate to maintain a sense of cultural continuity with a horrible past of which they’re ashamed, and which they’d prefer to deny, but which they will defend at all costs if you force them to do it.

    When people claim that religion doesn’t make people do evil things, I remember listening to a bunch of educated middle class types defending pedophilic rape as a weapon of war… entirely because they can’t help but defend the Bible.

  103. 110

    Fossils and their underlying (and overlying) geology did it for me.
    Evidence for a Noachic Flood … none
    Evidence for an ancient Earth, Solar System, Universe …a lot
    If Noah’s Flood did not occur, then the Bible is wrong,
    If the Bible is wrong on even one thing, then by self-reference it is all wrong.
    Without the Bible, there is no basis for a Christian God.

  104. 111

    When I was in college, I had the unpleasant experience of watching my older sister, actively involved in a reform presbyterian congregation (it’s all Eve’s fault!–the whole downfall of humanity!), meet a guy in her adults sunday school class in August, get engaged by Thanksgiving, and marry by the next easter. The pastor was “praying for marraiges” within the class and 25 couples from the class got married that year–they were one of them.

    The guy set my(and my parents’)teeth on edge at first meeting. She married the self-centered, emotionally abusive bastard, and because she believed it was “god’s will”, stayed with him for the next 30 or so years. (She finally (as she put it) grew a backbone and left him–with the support of their two children and their spouses, who essentially did an intervention to prevent her from returning.)

    The presbyterian church I grew up in was low-key and low-impact enough that what it essentially provided was a reasonably good founding in the bible as lit, which IS useful if you want to understand all sorts of cultural references–but when I saw the utter garbage, the non-sense my sister believed? And all the other utterly unverifiable crap that xians are supposed to take on faith, the blatent hypocrisy… and then, I also read a whole bunch of science and technical writing, and lots of science fiction… I gradually decided I wasn’t going to take anything on faith any more.

  105. 112

    My story is one that is probably common among ex-Christians.

    I was a devout Christian, and one day I felt called by God to read the Bible from cover to cover.

    About halfway through the New Testament, I was an atheist. (Although I did not know the word ‘atheist’ at the time.)

    I remember the very moment when I allowed myself to accept my disbelief. All sorts of fear and wonder came pouring into me. I spent the next few days wandering about in a daze, just trying to process what it meant to live in a godless universe.

  106. 113

    I was never really religious, agnostic by college…and then had a “Great Books” class that included some bible reading with a Calvinist professor. I was totally open to the possibility of god (and actually got excited when I read Aristotle’s first cause arguments…but my curiosity quickly led to reading more, and discovering its faults).

    I can’t remember which book of the bible we were reading, but my initial question was about evil. Was evil death, disease, destruction, dysfunction, etc?

    My professor said that was a good definition.

    And was the devil “absolutely evil”?

    I was told yes.

    Well, how can the devil be “absolutely evil” if evil is death, disease, destruction, dysfunction, etc? Wouldn’t that mean the devil is absolutely dead, absolutely diseased, absolutely destroyed, absolutely dysfunctional, etc? Which all seems to suggest the devil doesn’t exist?

    No, I was told. There can be one being that is absolutely evil, and that is the devil.

    …That seemed totally illogical to me, which made me uncomfortable, but I ignored it and asked the next question: Well, if the devil is absolutely evil, and god is absolutely good, wouldn’t that mean they would be in a stalemate for eternity?

    Yes, my professor told me, until the end of time when god throws the devil in the lake of fire.

    DING! I was an atheist. I can still remember the feeling, a mishmash of “This person is crazy”, and “This person is actually a professor in college”, and “He really believes this garbage”, and “Is this kind of thinking the basis of other beliefs?”, and finally, “I have to reject all of these beliefs from now on no matter who is proposing them until presented with solid evidence–believing this nonsense could be really, really dangerous.”

    I don’t want to sound like the typical “angry atheist” cliche, but I was somewhat angry about it. It felt like the stupidest trick ever, and I had (at least somewhat) fallen for it for some time.

  107. 114

    I was raised Prebyterian in Canada. Letting go of belief was a gradual-ish process which took places between the ages of 16 and 18, in the years 1994-1996. It went like this:

    Around age 16 I started feeling a bit uncertain about the existence of God. I don’t remember any one particular trigger; I just started realizing that some of the religious claims people made sounded a bit silly to me. However, I was still open to the idea that they actually made sense and that I just wasn’t smart and sophisticated to see it; the “God works in mysterious ways” trope worked pretty well on me.

    The real shift to non-belief happened over the course of a Comparative Religion course that I took in high school (at ages 17-18). We studied all the major world religions and many minor ones in a lot of detail. It occurred to me that a bunch of different religions made the claim “this is the only true religion,” and meanwhile said mutually contradictory things about God and history and so on, and so certainly they couldn’t all be right … and it occurred to me that there was no particular reason to believe the religion I’d been raised in was the one that was right. It wasn’t a big leap from there to the idea that none of them were right (especially since this course also included non-theistic religions like Buddhism, and blatantly made-up religions like Scientology).

    Then I sort of became Buddhist for a while, but that’s another story!

  108. 115

    For me it was a lot of little blows here and there. I was raised religious, and for a while I held a fairly fundamentalist mindset. I went to church every sunday, I sang in the choir, the whole nine yards. There was always particular points of dogma that I resisted (I didn’t really understand, for instance, why it was so necessary to hate on the gays and the nonbelievers so hard), but on the whole, I was a True Believer™.
    This was gradually worn down with exposure to the real world. In my first apartment, I had neighbors that were genuinely nice people – even the single mother downstairs, and the gay couple down the hall. They were good, decent people, just trying to get by (like me) and I went from not understanding the hate to strongly disliking it.
    But there were three definite events that I consider large turning points. The first one was when I worked at one time for an employer who was deeply religious, and he had a chaplain that would go around to different employees and talk to them about their problems. I had chatted with him on several occasions and found him a remarkably pleasant individual, and he was almost responsible for bringing me back to a stronger faith. But one day I asked him an honest question: “Why do we say that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us if he came BACK to life on the third day? What exactly did he give up for us? How is that a sacrifice?” The thing about this question is that I was not intending to be the least bit confrontational. I was genuinely curious and fully expected him to have a satisfying answer.
    But instead of answering, he mumbled something about ‘well if that’s the way you feel, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind’ and walked away. I was flabbergasted. And after that conversation, he never once spoke to me or even acknowledged me in passing. It was as if I had become a nonentity to him, and it was a huge blow.
    The second ‘event’ was actually a book. It was by Frank Peretti, and it was christian fiction – I think it was called ‘This Present Darkness’ though I could be wrong. In it, a pastor loses his wife (I think) and quits being a pastor. Peretti actually does an extremely good job of describing a process of how christians become burned out on christianity and stop going to church and fall away from the practices of the religion, without really giving up their core beliefs in jesus and god. It also described with excellent clarity such things as nasty church people that constantly snipe at other believers for petty failings and the way people pretend to have supernatural experiences (such as speaking in tongues or pretending to see miracles or demons) to gain status in the church. Since this was exactly how I felt at the time and exactly the problems I had with organized religion, I really felt that it was a sign from god that I had come across that book and was incredibly eager to discover what answers Peretti (and god) had for me for these questions. I really wanted to be convinced, I was ready, willing, and eager to be convinced.
    So when Frank Peretti let me down, he let me down hard. Instead of resolving these concerns (ANY of these concerns), a dude with demon powers pretending to be jesus reincarnated starts a cult in town, and the pastor just kind of ‘falls’ back into ‘real christianity’ to combat the cultists. It had a real, ‘sigh, once more unto the breach’ feeling to it, where there were no answers but you just had to keep soldiering on in ignorance, trusting that god knew best, even when you were surrounded by hypocrisy and doubt. (I realized later that this wasn’t Peretti’s failing – it was christianity’s failing. He didn’t have an answer because there aren’t any.)
    What was I supposed to do with that? In my life, I didn’t even have a demon powered christ-pretender to at least confirm that the supernatural WAS real. I had nothing at all to go on, no answers, no good reasons to believe that any of it was real. All I had was faith and the bible.
    So I read the bible, and fresh new horrors awaited me as a new perspective on old bible stories awakened fresh doubts. Did god REALLY need to kill ALL the babies in the flood? How were babies evil? Did god really send bears to kill those children? Did god really send a lion to kill a guy because the guy refused to strike a prophet? (A crime, by the by, punishable by death! Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t!)
    The bible was just awful. I couldn’t believe that I had believed in it so long.
    So I went for a while not really believing anything, or rather, not knowing WHAT to believe. I vacillated between calling myself an agnostic and a deist for years while heavy shit in my personal life kept me from thinking about it too much. I briefly dabbled in Intelligent Design but was unconvinced.
    The last event for me was both the smallest and largest step for me. I had been a huge fan of Douglas Adams when I was younger but stopped reading in the late 90’s. In 2007, I discovered that so had everyone else! (Much to my shock – I was actually deeply depressed about it for several weeks.) The only book of his I had not read was ‘The Salmon of Doubt’, which isn’t actually a book but a collection of Adams’ writings and articles from his entire life – I HIGHLY recommend it. In it is recounted his explanation of how he became an atheist – how he went from a religious upbringing to calling himself an agnostic for years, and then how he read The Blind Watchmaker and all of the sudden, BAM!, he realized he was an atheist. But his description of what an atheist actually was made me realize that I was already an atheist!
    A whole new world was opened up to me at that point, and now, here I am, posting the story on FTB.

  109. 116

    I also wrote something like this for PZ (not published) but this is a more condensed version. I was brought up fairly fundagelical, and lived many years in terror because deep down in my heart I knew I didn’t – couldn’t – really believe. For some reason it was eminently possible to believe in the horror stories about Hell and the Tribulation and Judgment day and so forth, but no matter how hard I prayed or studied, I was never able to believe that I was truly Saved, because the whole virgin birth, rising from the dead, doing miracles in between thing was just too hard for me to stomach. (Plus, being an outspoken and queerish woman, I had personal reasons to be very angry at God for what my church said about me.) I tried for many years to do the Pascal’s Wager thing but I knew any omnicient deity would never buy it.

    The things that set me free from God were theodicy and the Euthyphro dilemma. These convinced me that even if deities exist, none of the ones I’ve read about are worthy of worship.

    Setting me free from the fear of Hell was harder. The world not ending in 1998 as had been predicted in my community, certainly helped. But what really did the job was materialism, specifically in contrast to dualism. I didn’t become a neuroscientist, but I did study a fair amount of neuroscience, and learning about the brain, lead me to understand that whatever the soul is, it must be a function of that physical brain. At the same time, living with mental illness – which was not alleviated with any amount of prayer, but turns out could be mitigated by messing with my brain chemistry – gave me a very close-up view of how everything right down to the sense of who I am as a person, could be altered by a few chemical reactions. Which, for me, is strong enough evidence that there is no such thing as an immortal, immaterial soul. If there are no immaterial souls, then even if there were deities who existed and wanted to send me to a Hell that existed, they couldn’t, because I don’t have an immaterial soul that could go there.

  110. 117

    It was a long process for me, but one key part of it was the course I took on the New Testament in college. Even though the professor was a believer, this was a fairly rigorous course that covered, among other things, how the New Testament came to be, and really, how could anybody learn about that and still consider the Bible to be divinely inspired? The professor was no dummy (this was Swarthmore College, and if I may uncharacteristically let my school pride show a bit, they’re not in the habit of employing dummies, even in the religion department), but clearly he was somehow blocking some bit of brain function that would otherwise have permitted him to look at the Bible and see it for the entirely human creation that it is. But this isn’t supposed to be about his failure to abandon religion; it’s about my success.

    Giving up religion wasn’t actually a big step for me, as my parents didn’t raise me to be particularly religious. Even so, I didn’t consider myself an atheist until relatively recently. Oddly enough, that’s not because of any change in my beliefs but because I finally learned the correct definition of atheist. I realized long ago that it is logically impossible to prove that there is no god. Since I couldn’t prove the absence of god, I considered myself agnostic, which I take to mean someone who doesn’t actually know one way or the other. I assumed that to be a true atheist required a leap of faith, to be able to say “I believe there is no god” with the same certainty that a believer says, “I believe there is a god.” I’m about 99.9999% certain that there is no god, but I remain unwilling, for purely nitpicky reasons, to make that last tiny leap of faith. Now I understand that an atheist is simply someone who doesn’t believe in any god. The difference between “I believe there is no god” and “I don’t believe in any god” is, I admit, minuscule, but so is the difference between 99.9999% and 100%, so there ya go. It was, of course, on this blog (and other freethought blogs) that I finally learned the correct meaning of atheist.

  111. 118

    Mine was a long, slow trip. I was raised in a fundamentalist christian environment, church of christ. These people are so hardcore they think all the other fundies (southern baptists, assemblies of god, ie ‘holy rollers’, etc) are all going to hayull because they are too liberal. The believe in literal interpretation of the bible (gawd said, that settles it) so no evolution allowed.

    Studying science on my own, long after I got my bachelor of science in medical technolgy degree, is what started me out. Charles Pellegrino’s books pointed out to me, in a non-religious format, that it was impossible for the earth to be only 6000 years old. I love to read and read mostly nonfiction, books on world history (which I feel my formal education was lacking in), travel, and geology led me away from my background.

    I did not read any athiest blogs, because I didn’t know there were such things! However, I was and am a frequent reader of fark.com, and the comments on many of the threads, religious or not, actually caused me to realize that my christian beliefs were nonsense. At first the comments offended me, and even made my face turn red with anger. But I kept reading anyway, because as rude as the comments were, they were funny. I began laughing at myself for believing that stuff.

    I was 45 years old (yeah, I know; about gawdamn time) when I finally stopped going to church and ‘outed’ myself as a non believer. My immediate family knows, other relatives likely not, and I don’t advertise my non-belief at work except to a few co-workers that I know to be like minded.

    Here in Oklahoma, one of the first questions asked of a new acquaintance is likely to be, “Where do you go to church”. The vast majority of persons are fundamentalist christians, with a few catholics thrown in, as well as mormons. But just about everybody is SOME brand of religionist.

    I love reading blogs like yours now, and I do visit freethought every day as well as a long list of others if I can find the time. They give me hope that someday, probably not in my lifetime but perhaps in my children’s, that our country will be truely secular and further evolved.

  112. 119

    It was mostly a long, slow slide, helped along by discovering American, evangelical Christians on the internet – the sort who were smugly delighted that I’d be going to hell for not whacking my son with a wooden spoon. They were just as convinced as me, so I had to think through why I believed what I believed. It’s hard to remember now, but I think at that stage it boiled down to “I just feel it in my heart.”

    And then I came across the idea in a novel that since evil exists, God could be any two out of all-powerful, all-knowing and good, but not all three. Obviously that ruled out the christian god, so I tried to work out the catch. After a week or so, I decided that there wasn’t one, and the christian god couldn’t be true.

    Once the god glasses came off, I started to see how unlikely it was for any kind of god to exist. But I still pretty much believed in belief until I read The God Delusion. That convinced me.

  113. 120

    I never really believed in any gods, but when I became a feminist and really thought about what it means for Americans to worship the image of a 33-year-old white man who has women wash his feet, I went full atheist.

  114. 121

    I could write, and have written a very great deal about this, but I’ll keep this short.

    My childhood interest in astronomy definitely started the process of doubting god. Gaining some small appreciation of the mind-blasting scale of the known universe suddenly made god seem like a very small and paltry and obviously man-made idea.

    And then I never understood why we were praising and worshipping this thing. It seemed to me that that’s how cowards act before a tyrant. I wasn’t having any of that. Once again it just made it clear that this stuff was about human fears and wishful-thinking, not any serious attempt to engage with reality and its mysteries.

  115. 122

    My mind was changed in a college class my freshman year. The professor had gotten off topic (as usual) and mentioned that there is no evidence for the existence of god. A student raised his hand and said he thought there was plenty of evidence because trees and nature are so beautiful. I remember feeling embarrassed for him and for myself. The argument continued between a few students and the professor. The prof said that the bible is not a cafeteria and you can’t just pick what you like. If some of it is false then it’s all false. In my notes I wrote “bible does not equal cafeteria. Oh, pwned.” I realized that it was silly of me to hold on to some Christian beliefs while I rejected others. I discovered I had no good reason to believe any of it. I left the class that day as an atheist.

  116. 124

    I wasn’t raised in a religious household, but at age 8 some religious neighbors invited my sister and me to their church. I had read some of the bible stories and when they were repeated in the Sunday school, I realized that none of them made any sense. Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel and Seth, yet Cain knew his wife? Either someone pulled off a creation in the next county or Eve was his wife too. Noah had all those animals on a boat and they didn’t eat each other? I’d seen enough nature shows to know that story didn’t hold water! I’ve considered myself an atheist since then. I’ve kept quiet for many years because I had to make a living in this small southern town, but am coming out more every day.

    Religion just doesn’t hold up against logical thinking. The only ways to truly fight the mind virus known as religion are education and critical thinking skills.

  117. 125

    My reason was: A good 12 year Catholic education. In 4th grade (1962) we were taught that if there was a choice between saving the life of the mother or the “baby”, the mother had to go. I thought that was just crazy. When they made us go to confession every week, I would make up sins to confess so I wouldn’t get into trouble. From there my, “they’re crazy list”, just got longer and longer. At some point it dawned on me that these nuns and priests were not adhering to the rules they were teaching us about the religion. From that I concluded that following their rules must be optional and so I opted out.

    After that I just went through the motions because I didn’t want my ass beat by the nuns. I chose to be a pain in their asses instead. I actually got a doctor’s note to excuse me from kneeling. I figured there was no way the doctor could tell that I was faking knee pain.

  118. 126

    It was misogyny that started it for me.
    Growing up, we were never a big church-going family, but we were vaguely protestant/Christian. I just remember being so confused and then irritated that there were no women leaders anywhere, even though they were as dedicated and knowledgeable as anyone. At best, women were pushed to the sidelines. At worst, they were treated as property. So I basically disavowed organized religion.

    The rest was gradual. I’v always been fascinated with science and psychology, so I’m sure those played a role. But I believe that I could be a good person and we could have a good society without.

  119. 127

    I was raised Methodist and was very involved in my church until about 16. A friend of mine was Wiccan and we talked a lot about spirituality, the nature of the world and such, the possibilities we thought might be true instead of What We Were Told. The Christians around me, both friends and family, were unwilling to have those kinds of talks. We talked about ideas, instead of beliefs. I adopted a lot of Wiccan ideas, because at least they were flexible and no one expected one Wiccan to be exactly like another.

    I went to college and got a degree in religion accidentally – I took so many religion electives, trying to figure stuff out, that in my junior year one of the professors pointed out I might as well take a few more prerequisites and have a degree. I studied mysticism, Buddhism, Judaism, archaeology, Celtic Christianity, the history of religion, comparative religions, women’s studies in religion, Vodou, Eastern Orthodox iconography – you name it, I probably took a class on it. I came out of it having completely educated myself out of any semblance of Christian faith I might have had left for me. The more I knew, the less sense it made.

    Several years ago I met an outspoken, wonderful atheist couple. At that point I still called myself “paganish.” I had a lot of pretty ideas about God. They gently presented polite counter arguments, which I took a lot more seriously because they were non-confrontational about it (more “have you thought about this” than “you’re wrong you dolt”) and that kept me from getting all defensive. So I was all softened up and receptive to the ideas by the time I picked up one of Richard Dawkin’s books (while at an erotica writers’ conference). As I read it, I got really mad. Because I knew he was right, and I didn’t want him to be right. I liked having some remnant scraps of belief. But his arguments pretty well swept them all out the door.

    From there, I started reading other atheist blogs and books, including yours. 16 years after I first began to doubt, I’ve come to the point of calling myself an atheist at last.

  120. 128

    What convinced me was the injustice shown toward me and the favoritism shown toward another.
    When I first went to college, a private Baptist college in northern Pennsylvania, the co-captain of the basketball team and I had a homosexual fling one night.
    The next day he spilled his guts to the dean.
    I – a nobody from a poor family – was summarily dismissed from the college and declared persona non grata.
    He – the son of a prominent minister who’s father was on the board of directors for the college – was given a single day suspension.
    And that’s when I decided that although Jesus’ teachings might be fine in theory, they do not play out in reality – especially when administered by his devotees.
    Faith died, I embraced non-belief, came out of the closet and am now an evangelical anti-religionist.

  121. JfC

    The last time I believed in God, heaven, etc. I was a child. When my parents took me aside and told me Santa Claus wasn’t real, I applied that logic to the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and eventually God and heaven. I was surprised when my parents contradicted me and said that God was real, not like Santa Claus, but I was still convinced they were pulling my leg.

  122. 130

    I was a theology major in college and went on to spend a year in a seminary working on a MDiv. I studied religion deep enough that I was able to see the many holes in the system and at the end of my third semester in the seminary I admitted that I was not a Christian and left. It took a few more months of reflection and filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge of biology for me to no longer feel the need for a god of the gaps and become an atheist. My study of the Bible and theology is what did it for me.

  123. Eli

    I was raised Catholic, but while they stressed the importance of being a believer, they were kind of vague on what exactly one was supposed to believe. For a while I just convinced myself that the Bible was all symbolic and allegorical (like, Noah’s ark, for real?)
    and didn’t think much further about it.

    One thing that really helped free me was the internet, there were newsgroups like alt.atheism. It was like finally seeing spelled out all those doubts I could never quite articulate by myself. Also finding out that some of my reservations had been famous heresies since the first century, but still hadn’t been substantially addressed. A tutorial on logical fallacies may have been the biggest trigger for cutting through a lot of the bullshit apologetics they indoctrinate people with. And finding out more about other religions made even Pascal’s wager unconvincing. The last holdout of woo was a belief in some kind of soul, which I could let go after finding out more about the workings of the brain and thinking about dementia and brain damage. After that it was just a matter of overcoming the ingrained fears of punishment.

    Actually reading the Bible also helped – few Catholics do. I didn’t have the annotated skeptic’s Bible back then but I’m sure it would have helped even more.

    There wasn’t much social pressure aside from my mother, and she cared about conformity rather than theology. I tried to be a good Christian because I was taught that I was supposed to, that that was what being a decent person meant. But in retrospect I hesitate to say that I was ever a “believer” in a meaningful sense. I already got in trouble with the nuns in kindergarten for making up fanfic of the crucifixion…

  124. 132

    Short version: Raised in a strongly Catholic family. Process was gradual: I just found more and more of the account implausible. By high school, I had pretty much decided that most of the Jesus story was false, but I was still OK with a real God, vaguely seen, behind it all.

    In college I was a religious studies major for a while; very interested in Eastern religions. Had some meditation-induced mystical experiences. Experienced some charismatic faith-healing. Was with folks who were seeing apparitions of Mary. But the more I learned and saw, the more it seemed to me that most of it was confused and false.

    I think that what most convinced me was that as I learned more and more about the world, I got a sense of what it’s like to understand how things work. I had heard crazy stuff about quantum mechanics and relativity theory, but as I investigated these claims, it became clear that the scientists really did have an understanding of what was going on. And the more I studied, the clearer things got.

    With my study of religion, on the other hand, I had the opposite experience. An understanding of religious “truths” always retreated into the distance as I learned more and more. I studied a little bit of medieval philosophy in grad school, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and I decided I wasn’t (as far as support for theism goes, at least).

    Married an atheist. Joined a UU church (we value the community, social activism, and religious education for the kids). I don’t have to deal with religious wackos too much in my daily life; most of my siblings are still strongly religious, but we tend not to talk about it. Never really considered myself an “atheist” until I started reading Pharyngula. But PZ is rather inspirational.

  125. 133

    I was raised catholic, and spent a great deal of time with a group of fundamentalist friends through the group “Young Life” as a teen. I had questions from the very beginning which no one seemed to be able to answer to my satisfaction.This didn’t deter me from participating in church. I liked belonging. I liked the routine, the tradition, and the community. But, as I got older, I began not being able to stomach the crap factor more and more and by the time I reached my teens, I was looking for excuses nearly every Sunday. The real problem came when it was time to get married and I din’t want to have a church wedding and my husband did. He thought we should “just in case I was wrong” 🙂 Then he wanted to baptize the kids and take them to Sunday school. I actually ended up teaching so that I could direct the lessons while my oldest was in his first years. As you can imagine, we fought about it all the time. The kicker for my husband came when my then 5 year old came home from ccd one day and said, “I am sick of listening to that woman (not me) tell us that baloney every week. Who in the world believes that Jesus crap?” I don’t know how to explain what techniques I was using beyond teaching our kids to question everything, and to think critically. (My husband,by the way, was also teaching them these skills). I had been unsuccessful, however, at swaying my grown husband away from the church. It was my 5 year old sons announcement that finally convinced him to let go. This was a critical turning point in our family. We began working together to actively raise our kids as freethinkers. I started looking for a community online and reading books by Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. and am now connected with at least 100 other freethinkers. Ten years ago, this would not have been possible.

  126. 134

    I don’t know how much I can help, but here goes. No one thing led me to where I am now. It was a slow and steady process of realizing there was nothing to the claims of all theists and all religions.

    I started out as a theist very enthusiastically supporting and working for the Herbert Armstrong Worldwide Church of God cult. Questions started coming up in my mind long before my actual departure about 1975, but they were mostly of the doctrinal variety. I still had faith in God and the Bible.

    My first stage was rejection of the traditional concepts of God and I often stated that I then believed, not in the Judeo-Christian god but in something akin to the native american concept of a “Great Spirit.”

    Steadily, my studies, which were greatly aided online as I became functional on the internet, led me into agnosticism, and it is only recently that I morphed into a full-blown atheist. Once it became inescapably clear that the Bible was a concocted farce about a not so unique Hebrew deity and a “Christ” that was one among several others and a total myth, there was no other mindset open to me.

    Whatever comfort the old myths might contain, delusion is delusion, pure and simple. The idea that those beliefs promote morality and decency in the world is amply disproven by the sordid facts of history. Working up faith in a fictional deity and a fictional book to “play it safe” is akin to trying to take refuge behind a twig when an enemy with an AK47 is bearing down on you.

  127. 136

    For me, it was a philosophy class I took when I was 13 or 14. In the philosophy class, we studied short essays and stories from many philosophers throughout history, starting with Plato’s shadows and eventually coming to Bertrand Russel and beyond. Starting with Plato, I questioned what was the nature of reality and thought about what was I going to base my view of reality on. It was a disturbing class for me, because I suddenly didn’t know what was reality and if there was a god or heaven or not. Reading Bertrand Russel, I was convinced by his arguments about what to base my perceptions of reality on. I have been an atheist since then, for 29 years.

    Before that class, I was Catholic, but thought the patriarchal church structure was a load of crap and didn’t believe in a lot of the rules about no women priests or popes, and didn’t believe in having to go to church on Sundays. Also, I was taking biology class… not sure if evolution was mentioned in it or not. At that high school, I did take a genetics class either that year or the next one. I mention the science and evolution because I would imagine they would have had a positive effect on my understanding of reality in a scientifically-based way.

    At the time, I didn’t know a single person that was an atheist. I think the first one I met was in college, around 6 years later. While in college, I heard a rumor that the teacher of that philosophy class was either an agnostic or an atheist. (The high school was Catholic,so I guess she had to be closeted about that if she was.)

  128. 137

    I was a Christian for 25 years. Despite the logic involved, I really didn’t see that Christians were any better off than the rest of us, in fact, they seemed a bit irritating. They had no answers to any tough questions, and seemed disinterested in finding any besides what they heard other Christians saying. It’s not that they don’t think, it’s that they are threatened by thinking.

  129. 140

    When I was 13 or 14 I had my own personal version of the Epicurean Dilemma.
    I was born transsexual and raised to be Catholic. When my parents caught me dressing up they sent me to a priest for counseling. The slime ball told me I would burn in hell if I was ever true to my own being. He suggested I join the priesthood as a cure.
    I asked what I was supposed to do about what I felt. I was told to pray it away and never even think about it because thinking about it was as sinful as acting upon it.
    He implied that it would be better for me to commit suicide than live a life of sin by acting on what I felt was my core being.
    I thought about this and thought some more.
    I concluded that condemning someone to this sort of pain was sick and sadistic. Telling them to not seek a solution was more so.
    Prayers were unanswered leaving me with the conclusion god was either malevolent or impotent.
    The next alternative is that there is no god.

  130. 141

    Step one: I was raised in a Bible-believing family and naturally went along, but my parents were also keen on us kids figuring things out for ourselves and emphasizing scientific approaches to things. Bad combination, that!

    Step two: I discovered science fiction in my middle school years and soon was devouring Isaac Asimov. Once when exploring the card catalog under his name, I came across “Guide to the Bible” and checked out the volumes. Suddenly much doubt was sown! Enter the possibility that this was just another human literary creation.

    Step three: My father, who had never harmed another person in his life, died a distressful, pain-filled death, and the problem of evil arose. How could this happen??

    Step four: Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, and Myers and Christina.

    Step five: No reason to hate anybody in the world! What a relief!

  131. 142

    In my case it was a rather long and gradual process, but by far actually reading the bible (beginning with a children’s bible I got for a First Communion present) had the biggest impact towards shedding my family’s religion.

  132. 144

    When I was younger I loved going to church. But once I hit about 13 or so, I would hear things that people said about god, and I tried making excuses. I’d think, well god wouldn’t do this or god wouldn’t do that. After a while I started to realize that what I had been told about god at times was incompatible with others. I also started realizing that I was basically creating my own personal god that I had no rational reason to believe in. From there my lack of belief grew and grew to the point of me starting a freethought group on my university campus.

  133. 145

    Wow, there are a lot of responses here! Well, I’ll post mine and then go back and read through, I love reading people’s deconversion stories.

    For me:

    1. Seeing the sexism in the patriarchal church I went to as a child (WELS).

    2. Thinking that it was pretty narcissistic for a god who was powerful enough to create everything to want people to get together once a week and sing boring songs about how awesome he is.

    3. A discussion about infant baptism with a Lutheran relative that drove home how literal some of my relatives’ beliefs were.

    4. Trying to work out my own definition of god. This was the tipping point.

    I was trying an exercise in meditating on an object, where the object I focused on was to be my representation of god. No one representation seemed large enough to me to encompass all of the qualities I associated with god – I went from an animal I liked, to a lazy susan full of every god from every religion I could think of, to the universe, but at every step the one thing I couldn’t nail down was what it was about all of the things I was using to represent god, that made it god instead of just those representations. There are already words for love, community, compassion, justice, universe – saying god is any one, or even all of those things, and more, is meaningless. What is it that makes it god?

    I put the exercise on hold and just let the question rattle around for a while. I had been reading Pharyngula for a while, which had made me both more comfortable with atheists, and because of the dishonesty and generally bad behavior of believers in the comment sections, more sympathetic to the behavior I at one time perceived as rude on the part of atheists when responding to them.

    PZ posted a link to a survey, which I followed and filled out. The last question was about my religious beliefs. It listed various sects of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, new age, atheist, and agnostic. I drilled down and rejected each definition until I was left with atheist and agnostic. I didn’t feel labeling myself as an agnostic was saying anything, so I looked up the definition of atheist, and realized I was one.

    And, that was that. I didn’t read any books about atheism or engage in any arguments before then, I just sort of progressed to atheism over time, out of a desire to present myself and my beliefs as honestly as possible.

  134. 146

    It was a long process with many contributing factors, but the final planks and nails in the coffin of my religion came while in pursuit of a masters degree in theology from a Catholic University. So in a sense, I have the Catholics to thank for delivering me from delusion. Two classes in particular–both dealing with the historical underpinnings of Christianity did the final honors: Patristics (the study of the early church fathers and their writings) and Christology, in which historical Jesus studies were a an eye opener to me indeed. At the end of those two classes…I found myself admitting to myself, “I’m an atheist. By God, I’m an atheist….” It was 49 years in the comin’…but so glad it came and that the delusion was broken.

  135. 147

    Step 1: Learning about science, history, and other religions stopped me from believing in Biblical literalism, because it was clear that there was not enough evidence to believe the Bible’s claims about any empirical matter, especially not given that other religions claimed the same quality of evidence.

    Step 2: Learning about Enlightenment, ancient Greek, and Eastern philosophy convinced me that there was no reason to consider Christianity (or any other revealed religion) as a particularly good source of moral truths. This is what really turned me off of any major religion.

    Step 3: After coming out as bisexual I got more politically involved, and some of my friends in that situation sent me some silly videos poking fun at religion and apologetics. Understanding how much damage religion was doing to political discourse, and understanding that atheism was not as dogmatic as I’d been led to believe (that atheists didn’t, for example, think that they’d found a disproof of God), that’s what led me to identify as an atheist.

    So to recap, science was the antidote to literalism. A broad understanding of the history of philosophy was the antidote to theistic values. And political messages and a sense of humor about religion were what got me into the atheist community.

    I think the biggest improvement atheists could make, from my perspective, would be to really take ownership of humanist values, without speaking as if we did so “despite” not having religion.

    Don’t just say “We can be good without God.” Also say “Being good is so incredibly important to us that we don’t trust religion to address it.” Don’t just say “We believe freedom of religion should cover atheists.” Say “We believe in freedom of religion, and there’s no such thing as freedom of religion unless it applies equally to people who lack one.” Don’t just say “Religion is bad when it approves of sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia.” Say “We are so serious about sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia that we are compelled to denounce any moral system that endorses them, atheist or theist, old or new, popular or unpopular.” Don’t just say “Religion is unreasonable.” Say “We value a way of living that emphasizes reason, fairness, and a strong grounding in reality, and religion is incompatible with those values.”

    Don’t just say “Religion is bad.” Say “We have simple, decent, basic standards, and no religion has come close to meeting them.”

    The thing is, we really do have the moral high ground here. We really do have ethical systems that are rationally justified, sometimes obviously more so than religious ones. We really do have a set of values that’s more consistent with how most people in the first world already live. I wish we were better at acting like it, acting like we have our own values, rather than constantly speaking about ourselves as if we were just an alternative to religion. “Atheism” is defined by lack of belief in gods, but atheists and the communities we build have many more interesting qualities than just not being religious, and even our criticisms of religion are based on more than simple dislike.

  136. 148

    I was raised in a very Catholic community in Texas, but it was one with (some) progressive values, and my mother was a scientist. I was never a creationist, and I wanted to be a chemist growing up, so I always knew the value of the scientific method. I received excellent science and sex (!) educations in my Catholic schools, albeit with the numbers skewed a bit in favor of natural family planning.

    I also received a strong education in the philosophical backing behind the Catholic faith. Catholicism is big on having reasons for what they believe, even if they’re ultimately tortured post-hoc justifications. But that very attitude is what made me think that my ideas about reality should all be consistent, that there should be a rational and provable basis for my beliefs.

    The first crack in the foundation of my faith was coming to college, and finding out that SO MUCH of the world saw things differently than I did. A lot of people did things that I was told I’d be miserable if I did – drugs, premarital sex, underage drinking, etc. But they were responsible and happy. It encouraged me to see the gray area.

    I dated an atheist, who introduced me to atheist and skeptical blogs, including Bad Astronomy and Pharyngula. We talked a lot about religion, materialistic world views, and the like.

    I started reading Bad Astronomy in earnest, and began subscribing to a skeptical worldview. It seemed to be the logical conclusion of the attitudes I’d been taught growing up. I was a theistic skeptic for a while, insisting adamantly that religion still provided the best explanation for what I saw in the world… until I started reading PZ’s pitiless dismantlings of religious “logic.”

    Slowly, my skeptical attitudes permeated that protected core, and eventually I realized I had no choice but to accept that god did not exist, once I looked at it in the cold, hard light of day. I still have a lot of bad mental habits and attitudes, but I’m working on them. It was never an emotional thing for me; just a regretful (and later, freeing) realization that these skeptical values I held dear did not admit the existence of a deity. And because I care about being consistent, and about not being a hypocrite, I took my first steps into a much better world.

    TL;DR: Seeing how other people lived, happily, without the restrictions I thought they should adhere to; growing up with an understanding of the value of science, and ultimately comprehending that it didn’t support my religious views.

  137. 149

    I escaped Catholicism through a long, slow, and at times difficult process. It started in high school with just questions and doubts that arose in my own mind. I remember thinking back in high school that it seemed just as logical for the universe to exist without cause as to have been caused by a god who is without cause. I also realized that I was a Catholic because I was taught to be, same as someone born in Saudi Arabia would be a Muslim because he was taught to be. I realized that he and I were equally sincere in our faiths and had essentially identical reasons for believing what we believed and justifying our faiths. It was at this point, near the end of high school, that I asked myself the question and gave myself the challenge that would, over the next years, prove deadly to my faith: If you were not born a Christian, and were just now being pitched this religion, would you buy it? I pledged to myself that I would seek the answer to that question, and try to “sell” Christianity to my skeptical mind.

    Going forward, I was dealing with my rational rejection of most of the Bible and expanding my prior challenge to myself to include having a logically consistent worldview. I couldn’t have beliefs in isolation that may contradict others. I never bought literal creation, Noah’s ark, or any of that crap, and was trying to come up with a way to interpret the Bible; if I rejected one part, why hold on to another? If there was no “fall” and original sin, no need for vicarious atonement, the whole story kind of fell apart. Why did Jesus die? I has always kind of bought the “God is just and good people will go to heaven” line, but this just didn’t fit with the source material. And if I didn’t believe the Bible… why was I buying this idea of heaven and hell, and of a divine Jesus anyway? My goal the whole time was to preserve my faith. I was comfortable in it. Also, though some fear of hell was present I did, like I said, believe good people wouldn’t go to hell and thought I was a good person and this was far less than my fear of disappointing Jesus/God if I turned away and the story had all been real (there’s that Catholic guilt for you). Eventually, over a few years of losing and regaining faith, I had to concede that I couldn’t accept Christianity because I had no basis to do so in a consistent manner.

    I still believed in a God of some kind, though this slowly faded into a sort of deism because I couldn’t rationally accept a God who intervened in the world, answered prayers, or anything else. An atheist friend really challenged me. When I said I just believed in something, some kind of God, he was one of the only ones to call me out on this and not let me comfortably assert it. He asked me WHY. He said you can’t just say something’s real for no reason, how can you back up a belief in a god? I had no answer, was mostly speechless other than to say well I don’t know I just do. He told me in one year or less I’d be an atheist (and continued to push me and others on the issue). I’d have gotten there eventually, but that person really pushing into my mind the idea that maybe there ISN’T any god was powerful. And it took me mere months from that time before I actually admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in any God.

  138. 150

    The short answer is that science taught me skeptical thinking, and I applied it to religion on my own.

    I grew up in the sort of small town where everyone is christian and they all believe mostly the same thing. I believed as well, mostly because it didn’t occur to me that it was possible not to until much later. When I was a senior in high school I took my first physics class, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Here was something that actually described reality, and you could see for yourself why it was true. I instantly loved it, and I decided to go to college to study physics.

    Studying physics really changes the way you think. In physics classes, it is impossible to pass by just blindly accepting that what you are told is true, and memorizing those facts for the test. You have to really understand the underlying principles. You have to think about it, question it, analyze it…you have to be a skeptic, in other words. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I applied my newfound skepticism to other things.

    One day the question just occured to me: how does anyone know that christianity is true? Really, I think as soon as I had that thought, the rest was inevitable. I spent a bunch of time reading about history and the origin of christianity (I don’t remember exactly what now, sadly), not because I thought christianity wasn’t true, but because I wanted to know how we know it’s true. Of course, I realized that there was no proof whatsoever. I must confess that I didn’t go straight to atheism at this point, I looked into all sorts of other religions: judaism, islam, buddhism, etc. Eventually I realized that they were all basically the same and that there was no reason to believe in any of them. Then I started thinking about god himself, apart from religions and dogma, and decided that there was really no reason to believe in that either.

    This all happened in my first couple of years of college. At this point, I had never met another atheist and I didn’t even really know what atheism was. (Where I went to college was the same sort of place as where I grew up.) It was lonely, and I pretty much constantly wished I could still believe. Luckily, shortly after all of this I made a couple of new friends who it just so happens turned out to be atheists. They pointed me to some books to read (The God Delusion being the one I remember the most). I was already an atheist, really, but conversations with my friends and the new books I was reading sort of reaffirmed what I was already thinking.

    I’m not sure how my story would help in figuring out how to persuade others out of religion. I would say that it’s important to be out as an atheist if possible, because it’s so difficult to be an atheist or questioning religion when you’re stuck in these places where athiests just don’t openly exist.

  139. 151

    I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I grew up in an extremely catholic city, living one block from the church that’s still a center of pilgrimage, and I grew up reading a series of children’s books heavily centered around Brazilian folk legends and Greek Mythology. I just couldn’t understand the difference between “these are fairy tales and silly things dead people used to believe on”, and religion. Eventually I just sort of fell into deciding that “because my family say so” wasn’t an answer.

  140. 152

    Step 1: When I was maybe 10 years old, I decided god didn’t make any sense. But I still liked the idea and all the songs and warm community feeling, so I decided to believe anyways.
    Step 2: When I was 16 I made some atheist friends in high school. They were kind of arrogant jerks about religion, which I found distasteful, but I also felt I had secretly agreed with them about god since I was 10. The summer I turned 17 I was traveling with a Jewish youth group in Europe and realized that if I really loved Judaism the right thing to do was be honest and admit I didn’t actually believe any of it. My senior year of high school, I called myself an atheist, but asserted my respect for religion and understanding of its appeal.
    Step 3: During college I waffled back and forth as I felt that atheism lacked that sense of spiritual transcendence that was very important to me. Lonely and unfocused, I spent a lot of time struggling against a nihilism that seemed the inevitable conclusion of atheism. By the time I graduated I felt that atheism was too simplistic.
    Step 4: Living abroad with christian missionaries, still lonely and unfocused, I began to consider suspending my disbelief and trying out christianity. They were so happy and nice to me! And clearly I was so unhappy and confused about life, but still thought I was right? But I was also reading the bible for fun and found it barefacedly ridiculous.
    At the same time, my dad, who was becoming more and more outspoken about his own previously-understated atheism, directed me to the website of his atheist group at home. From there I discovered greta christina’s blog and daylight atheism. I read through a lot of the archives of both. The key concept for me was that spirituality and atheism, awe and science, are not at odds, but rather improve each other. All of the cognitive dissonance and mental turmoil of the previous years dissipated in probably a few days.
    Once I had figured it out, it seemed so obvious that I had troubled understanding why anyone was religious (even though I’d been confused myself days before). That was in December 2007 and I’ve never looked back. It’s such a relief!

  141. 153

    I had an english teacher who made a very sarcastic comment about belief to myself and a couple of other students when I was a freshman in high school. I understood the sarcasm, and that started the wheels turning. Funny, I cannot tell you specifically what he said. I know that it just tweaked my views in a humorous sense. Up to this point, I had been a relatively christian child. In fact, I “spoke” to god constantly in my head. It was years before I actually was able to shake that habit. It was nice to be able to get away from it, and to this day I really forget that I was like that. I’m 32 now, and free! So Free. It’s a good feeling.

  142. 154

    It was the utter lack of evidence for souls. I figured if there was something to know on the subject, scientists would be testing, refining and honing the information for their own interests and benefit as well as others. If souls were real, they’d be at least as compelling as x-rays, and atoms, and DNA, and schizophrenia– and all that other stuff that scientists were testing and refining information about.

    I saw a documentary on Clive Wearing, a man who cannot form new memories because he doesn’t have a working hippocampus. He constantly feels as if he is just waking up from a coma. (You can google him and watch amazing clips from his two documentaries on youtube.) If you can’t make new memories without a hippocampus I wondered, then what could you be with no brain at all? There didn’t seem to be any “soul” stepping in to do the job when brains were damaged.

    Without an immortal soul that could feel stuff after death(much less suffer eternally for not having enough faith in the right unbelievable story), gods became irrelevant. I stopped trying to make them make sense. I don’t think it makes any sense to say that someone exists when they have no material parts whatsoever. In what way do they “exist” except as, perhaps, a concept or memory in the material brain of others?

  143. 155

    I’ve been a skeptic without realizing it most of my life, but not an active skeptic. Not wanting to be confrontational, I went along with religion and even joined a few most of my life until a few years ago, when I re-subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer and at about the same time began discovering your articles on AlterNet.org.

    In my youth I tried various religions, from mainstream protestant to Native American to eventually Eastern. Up until I finally declared as an atheist (put the red A as an icon on my FB page for “Out” week, discrete bumper stickers and lapel pins, as well as mentioning that I was an atheist when it seemed appropriate) I sat with a new-age bent buddhistish teacher here in Seattle (they, a husband and wife, would teach Buddhist dharma along with a wide variety of other woo, going so far as to support teachers such as the deceased Rajneesh). As I read more of your current and past articles, discovered WhyWon’tGodHealAmputee.com, The Thinking Atheist and The Atheist Experience on YouTube and many more sources, I began to realize that even the seeming godlessness of Buddhism was filled with woo of a variety of natures, and decided to let people know that I was an unbeliever, both in God and in any other beliefs that could not be backed up by fact and research, such as karma, reincarnation and the bardos of Tiebetan Buddhism.

    I was also appalled and concerned at the rise of the fundamentalist right in the United States and the attack by these same people on science in our schools, most notably the attack on Evolution by the dark forces of (Un)Intelligent Design, based in my own liberal bastion of the Pacific Northwest. I knew that I needed to stand up for reason to the best of my ability and to support those who were better at it than I was or am.

    I especially want to thank you Greta for your kind but forceful rebuttals of the religious arguments. You have provided me with tools I didn’t have to successfully discus these issues with those who still believe. Although I had almost always teetered on the edge of atheism, it was arguments such as yours that helped take the leap across and embrace atheism enthusiastically. Thank you for all you do to promote reason and critical thought. It was really lovely to meet you and your wife here in Seattle earlier this year, and I loved your talk on the lessons we can learn from the LGBT movement. I’m sorry I missed you a few weeks ago at the UW, last minute sickness of a coworker required me to work that day, drat! LLAP!

  144. 156

    At the end, Richard Dawkins’ “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.” Apart from a Buddhist professor in grad school, he was the first atheist I had really encountered on that topic, and his argument concerning the anthropic argument and the inevitability of life on a billion billion worlds shook something loose.

    But he didn’t make me doubt at all. My mistake was in taking the Bible too seriously, in believing the world – or at least God’s chosen community – operated as it did in the Bible, with miracles and virtue and great signs of faith. Studying Jewish history, going around churches throughout the southeastern U.S. and applying modus tollens to 1 John 3 in relation to my own actions convinced me that either God was a bastard and no one was saved or I was damned beyond even my ability to comprehend what seemed obvious to all the Christians around me. I stopped believing, looking for other sources of faith before a combination of events and authors (not just Dawkins, but Feuerbach, Frans de Waal, William James, Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran and the Buddha) helped shift my understanding of the world to a more grounded one. Not particularly rational, but we all find our ways.

  145. 157

    During religion class in my Catholic school in 7th grade, I read a section in the back of the book about how the religion didn’t tolerate homosexuality. I had and still have quite a few close friends who are gay and this was not an acceptable view for me. I thought Jesus was about treating everybody with kindness. Knowing that some of the most considerate and amazing people in my life weren’t accepted by that religion turned me off to it completely.

  146. 158

    I read all these tales about religion having a profound influence on people’s lives at some point, and I have difficulty understanding it. For me, religion was never all that important. I spent 12 years in Catholic schools and, like most of my classmates, I memorized what I needed to memorize to get through the classes and promptly forgot it all. We went to church every week as kids, but once my parents decided I was old enough to go on my own I would skip it more often than not. I found it boring. When I began working, as a Senior in High School, I generally worked every Sunday, so church was out. I never went back to it.

    Over the years I never gave it much thought, but the influence of Asimov (essays more than fiction), Heinlein, Clarke and others must have gradually eroded away any residual spirituality I may have had. When asked, which was very seldom, I generally claimed to be an Apathetic Agnostic (Don’t know and don’t give a damn). And that’s about where it stayed for a long time.

    Then, when I found the Internet, I found people who claimed to be atheists, and who could provide valid, understandable reasons for denying the existence of gods. I quickly realized that much of what they were saying made perfect sense to me, and that if I was going to be honest with myself I had to admit that I did not believe, either. Reading P Z Myers, in particular, and through his blog many others, I found a community that embraced science and rejected wishful thinking as much as I do, and I finally began telling anyone who asked (still very few) that I am an atheist.

    I never had the family histrionics, or the community condemnation that so many others seem to have had to deal with. Maybe I’m lucky.

  147. 159

    I always had doubts but tried to force them away, going so far as to join a very fundamentalist church. Finally about a dozen years ago I thought through the concept of hell and fairly easily threw that out. After I let go of believing in hell, the rest wasn’t hard. Online sceptical writers had a big effect in bringing me all the way to nonbelief. And Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith showed me that what I was was an atheist, a word I’d been nervous about.

  148. GC

    It happened when I was 17. I had been going through severe depression and an eating disorder for several years and came to the conclusion that no loving god would put someone through that much pain and suffering. That was over a decade ago, and I’ve never questioned my lack of belief since then.

  149. 161

    I was at an orientation for the baptism of my second child and I was sitting there in the pew holding my 6 month old daughter as a deacon was explaining the need for the sacrament of baptism. He went on to tell us that as it stands today, before our child is redeemed by Jesus, the church views her as nothing more than a demon. Seriously….he said that. Now having been in catholic churches my whole life, I’m sure I’d heard some fucked up things from many priests and other religious folks that weren’t necessarily conducive to molding emotionally healthy human beings. It wasn’t necessarily hard for me to accept the inferiority that they so often reminded of. This time was different though. I looked down at this bundle of innocent perfection that I was holding and for the first time I began to wonder what kind of path that this man took in life that led him to be able to look at a beautiful baby girl and see a fucking demon. Of course I concluded that it was religion that led him down that path and he was probably a perfectly decent man simply corrupted by something he was told he shouldn’t question his entire life. I didn’t want that to be me…ever. For the first time in my life, I actually started caring whether or not my beliefs were true. As most of you know…once you start doing that, it’s only a matter of time before you’re enjoying the sweet fruits of apostasy.

  150. 162

    Learning about the similarities between so many different religions, each convinced of it’s own unique correctness was the clincher for me.

  151. 163

    I was raised in a secular Christian home, experimented with religion in my teens, then atheism. THEN I started my family, and while I didn’t hold with Christian dogma, I wasn’t courageous enough to let go of that eternal soul thing. (That physical connection I felt for my young children was really powerful!)

    Skip ahead to my 40’s and the atheist blogosphere. I started reading Pharyngula because I like science and snark, and because it’s just a pleasure to read something well written. Eventually, as I became a better critical thinker, I realized I had to choose to give up my superstitions or quit growing. Damn it. (My final stage of this process was a bit like you described.)

  152. 164

    Well, I was never a believer myself (my parents pretty much raised me without teaching me anything about religion), but I have to say that reading The God Delusion when I was in year 10 definitely shifted me from ‘I’ve never really thought about it much, but I’ve never in the past believed in God’ to ‘I’m pretty sure God doesn’t exist’, and it combined with Ebon’s magnificent essays at Ebon Musings were what made me really interested in the atheist movement.

  153. 165

    For me, the thing that planted the seed was studying Greek mythology in 6th grade or so. I remember wondering whether people would look back on us 2000 years from now and view our religion the same way we were looking at these myths. Then I shut that line of thinking down for a long time because it freaked me out.

    I really started to lose my faith when I was in high school. I was raised Catholic, and when I was about 15 I realized that I didn’t believe that apostolic succession made the Catholic Church the one true church. I still would have considered myself a Christian at that time, but I just figured the Catholic Church didn’t have the monopoly on true Christianity. By the time I got to college, my thinking was along the lines that the whole story of Christ didn’t necessarily have to be true, but that it was certainly something that God could have done. And in general, I believed in a loving being watching over us, and in souls.

    I majored in biology, so as I went through school, I learned a lot about the natural processes that led to the world around us, including evolution, and my last idea for believing in a god — that somebody must have created all the amazing things around us — just melted away. I don’t remember having a real struggle over the idea or feeling a sense of loss; it was more like, “Huh. Guess I was wrong about that.”

    I honestly don’t know why it didn’t bother me much to give up the idea of that loving being watching over us. Of course, I was also starting my struggle with depression at about that same time*, so it may just have been that it figured that there was no such being, if you see what I mean.

    *And no, I don’t think the two were related. I have a pretty good idea of the genetic, environmental, and personal factors that go into my illness, and losing my God-belief just never entered into it.

  154. 166

    War was the place I started to end the self-deception of faith in my life. When people tie bombs to themselves, or cars they’re driving, or step out from behind cover to spray the area with bullets because they believe Allah will reward them, or direct the explosions or bullets to kill who he wants, they have faith, and I did not. What I realized was I truly didn’t believe… I wanted to, and in a sense I still want to, but I didn’t and don’t. If I was interested in truth, honestly, then I would have to follow the evidence, wherever that leads. Where it lead was to a life without a sky-daddy and someone to blame for my own decisions.

  155. CC

    My journey from Christian fundamentalist to atheist took about a year and a half, from ages 26-27. I didn’t have any big ah-ha moment. God gradually became smaller and smaller as I discovered more and more reasons he probably didn’t exist.

    But first, I had to leave my church. Leaving my church DID involve a sudden ah-ha moment and a decision to walk away and cut ties. I cannot overstate how traumatic it was for me to leave. It was like a sudden loss of gravity. The church was cult-like, an offshoot of the fundamentalist Church of Christ, mentioned in another comment above. I lost nearly all my friends as well as the belief system that gave my life meaning.

    I would probably not have been able to leave at all if I hadn’t connected with an online community of ex-members. They showed me that there was life on the other side of the tracks and it wasn’t so bad. They also showed me different perspectives on the Bible and that there were different ways to be a Christian.

    Most ex-members settled into a more mainstream version of Christianity. But for me, leaving that church was just the start of a spiritual avalanche, so to speak. Questions about my former church’s interpretation of the Bible became questions about the validity of the Bible itself. I explored a wide variety of churches and religions. I talked to ministers, teachers and rabbis.

    I questioned everything. All aspects of my belief system were fair game. Little by little, I found that the Bible didn’t speak to me anymore and I decided that if there was a god, he/she/it didn’t have anything to do with the Bible. I didn’t read any atheist literature at the time; I mostly just looked at religious teachings in the cold light of reason.

    Around that time, I started dating an atheist (now my husband). I saw that he had a much happier and more stable life than I had ever hoped to have. I don’t think he said anything in particular to me that pushed me over the edge into atheism. We didn’t talk about it much. Rather, it was seeing how happy he was and what a good person he was without god. I got to thinking that I could also be happy without my imaginary friend. I was already on the reason train, so I took it all the way to its logical conclusion – there is no god.

  156. 168

    My mother was Christian (Episcopalian); my father was Jewish. Both were on the older side (most of my peers have grandparents the age of my parents).

    We attended church occasionally. I was send to a private Jewish elementary school (because inner city public schools, even 40 years ago, SUCKED), where I learned Hebrew, and recited all the Jewish prayers and participated in the services.

    By 5th grade, we had moved to the suburbs, and I went to public school from then on. We still attended church on rare occasions.

    I am grateful for my experience, because I was never taught that there was One True Religion. (*MY* religion is right; *YOURS* is wrong.) This made it much easier to realize that all religions were equally right — or more to the point, equally wrong.

    In terms of their actual beliefs, my folks were almost Deist (or possibly, Unitarian). They believed in God… but anything else was negotiable.

    To the extent that I believed in God as a child, I did so only because the adults all said God was real. Adults said fire was hot, adults said streets were dangerous, adults said God was real and we were supposed to pray to him. *SHRUG* OK.

    By my teen years, I was already dubious about “God”. But I was raised in the South; people Just Didn’t Question these things.

    By the time there was a proper Internet, I was in my twenties and had moved to the Northwest. It was MUCH easier to learn what atheism was, and it all became just so very, very obvious.

    OF COURSE I’m an atheist. Always was, really. I just hadn’t had the resources to REALIZE it…

  157. 169

    I lost my naive faith in “Santa” at 5 and in “God” at 6. The difference being that I was brought up with one religious and one atheist parent, and it was harder to reveal the sham with one believer around.

    Then I returned over and over to thinking on these questions, because of the religious community where I was brought up and because I didn’t know about sound alternatives for life questions (cosmology, biology).

    Studies left me a functional agnostic and again for social reasons. I later became atheist when studying up on modern cosmology and biology. Yet later antitheist when I came into contact with anti-science creationism. Nowadays firmly so after the Paul statistics showing correlation between social insecurity and religion taking advantage & the scandals of the Pedophile and Human Trafficking* church.

    – It was a multi-step process, mostly science education but definitely in later years the new [sic!] atheist and antitheist community helped.

    – What Wasn’t Helping was the agnostic religious alternative out there (“can’t ask, can’t tell” theology).

    * Maybe, a putative scandal-to-be in mostly Spain, where newborns seems to have been scammed from their young mothers and sold to paying families.

    The unknown is if it is systematized (2 verified cases, 900 in court, 300 000 possibles). But again, it is the _Pedophile_ church, it did systematize cover up of its crimes.

  158. 170

    When I was a kid I went to Methodist Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. It was all “Jesus loves me, this I know” and memorizing bible verses. Then in my teens we had MYF, Methodist Youth Fellowship, which was cool, ’cause we got to go to other churches and have dances and meet boys. I went to church with one of my Baptist friends sometimes, and I got all caught up in the fever at a revival and got “saved” when I was about 11. My folks kind of freaked out. None of it really made a lot of sense. Looking back I never really felt that it was spiritual, just mostly confusing. It was all about the socializing.

    When I started high school we got a new preacher. He got butts in the pews and money in the collection plates. All the little blue-haird old ladies just knew he was having an affair with the church secretary. Turns out, he was. Boom, disappointment in organized religion #1.

    In college I never went to church much. We had the odd crazy evangelist on campus, and I laughed and mocked with the rest of the students, but I was never involved with any secular organizations. I’d go to church when I was home to visit, but my folks weren’t that religious about it (ha ha). My thinking about the bible was changing from “it’s the truth” to “it’s metaphor” to “it’s total B.S.” I was evolving into a much more developed feminist and defender of LGBT rights at the time, too.

    From college through my 30’s I dabbled in new-age woo, wicca, apatheticism, and a very brief urge to investigate Islam. I settled on Agnostic, tending toward Atheist. I think the real turning point was reading The Golden Bough. It’s so obvious that the Christ resurrection myth is predated by so many other fertility gods and is just a copy of the death and rebirth of the crop gods of other religions.

    I started reading Greta’s blogs on AlterNet, and from there found PZ and the old SciBlogs, and now FTB. I’ve also read the available books by the “Four Horsemen” that my library has. It’s so awesome to have a virtual community.

    What’s funny is that from the same upbringing, I have a brother who’s all into the alt-med woo and I guess a sort of hippy Gaia spirituality, and a sister who’s a total bible-thumper. Yay upcoming holiday season!

  159. 171

    At Sunday School (aged 4)

    * God created the universe in six days…Really!
    * Methuselah lived nearly 1,000 years…Impossible!
    * An angel told Mary she was having a baby…How come we don’t have angels today?
    * Jesus walked on water…Why are you telling us this stuff?

    More than sixty years later – still an atheist.

  160. K

    I was brought up going to sunday school, which was lots of fun, but I always knew there was another option because my dad was an atheist and never went to church. And as I grew older I started to realise that the whole religion thing made no sense, when my dad and his parents would be going to hell, and the stories and ideas didn’t work with the truths of science etc… so I pretty much just fell out of it. I tried a couple of times to get it back, including going to church again when I was 16, but realised I’m just not designed to be a believer. (And over the subsequent years, all of my siblings fell out of religion too)

  161. 173

    Hi Greta

    Apologies in advance for the TL;DR 🙂

    My journey to atheism, though thankfully not at all traumatic or even blindingly revelatory, was long and introspective. My parents weren’t religious, at least not my dad the biologist & science teacher, whose shelves I used to raid for natural history books and encyclopaedias (and Asimov novels about robots) on rainy afternoons. My mum’s a pianist & former lab tech and loves choral music & hymns, but I doubt she’d have any truck with the attendant mythology (I think my parents and I have had maybe one conversation about religion in my entire 35 years).

    Despite the lack of religion in our house I grew up Christian, thanks largely to weekly compulsory Religious Instruction classes at our state primary (grammar) school (this was the early 1980s) and going to Sunday School while my parents took my grandparents to church. While I enjoyed the old stories of Samson, Jonah, Noah et al (they never told us about the Midianite/Canaanite genocides, hmmm) as well as the nicer stories of Jesus (who was obviously bred for his skills in magic & catering) I always wondered about the fairness of Hell: why would God condemn a decent non-Christian – a Jew, for example – to the same fate as Hitler? Would he do the same to non-Catholics like me, as my Catholic friends claimed? Despite this & other deep pre-teen questions I muddled along until about 16, believing in Jesus, not thinking too hard about how his weekend of being dead was meant to save me from the consequences of a crime I hadn’t committed and trying to be good because I was being watched.

    At about 15 my rebellious streak kicked in. I began to notice the iniquities and hypocrisies of organised religion, the irreconcilable differences between sects and I disavowed Christianity. This was aided by – you guessed it – compulsory Religious Education “seminars” in our state high school’s library. Of course it wasn’t “education” by any stretch; it was a chance for the local goddists to proselytise to a captive audience. As it turned out, it was also a chance for my nerdy friends and I to gang up in the post-sermon Q&A and ask “cool youth pastors” questions they couldn’t answer honestly without looking ridiculous. While I had become non-Christian, however, I still wasn’t non-religious.

    Fast forward to my mid 20s – I’ve flirted with some very unsatisfying and frankly idiotic neo-Aquarian new age spirituality in my late teens/20s (more as potential avenues toward sexual enlightenment than any other variety, if I’m honest) and moved on toward a very noncommittal and inconsequential deism (redundancy noted), thanks largely to the eye-opening “Conversations With God” books of Neale Donald Walsch. I liked Walsch’s God: here was a pro-sex, pro-fun, pro-everything morally flexible universal consciousness who just wanted us to be happy and true to ourselves because that would make him happy.

    I muddled along with this may-as-well-not-bother deity for a while until one day I noticed he wasn’t there – that is, he wasn’t in my thoughts any more. At 30 I realised I was functioning perfectly well both without a deity, or without thoughts of an afterlife – in all senses of the word I was an atheist – I just hadn’t noticed yet. My curiosity was piqued in late 2006 by Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”. I saw the infamously awesome video of the talk he gave about the book at the Randolph Macon Womens’ College, instantly became a fan of his uncompromising stance and straight-up bugger-off Britishness and dropped strong hints at my mum to get me the book for Christmas that year, which she did (bless her!). I read it all by New Year’s Eve (that’s quick for me), so transfixed was I by the strength of his prose.

    Dawkins didn’t make me an atheist – he just made me realise I was one already. After TGD I went online, read Sam Harris & Chris Hitchens, found Pharyngula & Greta C & James Randi & Jerry Coyne and that was that – the more I read, the more I thought and the more I read the more I thought. Now I can’t stop thinking and I can’t face the morning without a quick refreshing blast of godlessness/bio-science with my espresso – not because I have a chip on my shoulder against religious people, but because I have always loathed bad ideas. Ideas and beliefs founded on bad information almost necessarily lead to negative actions. The belief that Hell exists and that infinite torment is a just punishment for even the most grievous and finite earthly crimes is perhaps the worst idea anyone has ever had.

  162. Rod

    Having grown up in El Salvador, I had very little exposure to skepticism or any form of godlessness until I, already a self-identified atheist, actively searched for it online. Prior to that, everything I used to realize my atheism came while I was trying to confirm the need for a supernatural entity. I was browsing websites from what I can now call my opposition – that is, pages that gave their perspective on why there was a god. Looking for intelligent arguments for god’s existence, I told myself that if there was a god, there had to be solid scientific grounds for such a claim.

    The most valuable “sources” I found at that point were those that tried to examine primal conditions on Earth, in order to reach the conclusion that abiogenesis could not have occurred, and thus that a supernatural force was required. I used these explanations to quell my questioning spirit for the time being, and tried not to think about how faulty the whole “you-can’t-explain-it-so-my-god-explanation-must-be-right” argument was.

    It was only in years to come (that is, from middle school to high school), that I would pursue skeptical inquiry and come to the realization that my whole system of exploring the world was faulty and even shallow, as I had assumed a truth before I even explored the world for myself. However, I have been unable to bring others to view the issue the same way, regardless of the fact those I have spoken with have been highly intelligent individuals. – so ingrained are many religious teachings instilled in the minds of those who live in predominantly Christian/Catholic communities.

    Looking back, I can see my atheist spirit manifested itself as early as 6th grade, when a textbook exercise asked us to explain the metaphor behind the phrase “Prepare to meet your maker.” I confidently answered that it most naturally meant “Prepare to die” – that, clearly, was what was really going on in the real, observable world. My teacher, a believer, tried to correct me, saying that the true meaning behind the metaphor was “Prepare to meet God [in heaven].” Even as a believer at that point, I starkly disagreed with her then, and I have disagreed since.

  163. 175

    I was forced to attend church until the age of 10. My family stopped attending due to a confluence of factors: my mother’s distaste for our local churches and the superior attitudes of the pious (the words “holier than thou” came up a lot), my father’s evident lack of interest, and my older brother, who never bought any of it and was creating scandals with his questioning of the precepts by the time he was 11 or 12.
    By the time I was 12, I had become aware of other religions, other cultures, and other peoples in this world. It seemed terribly unfair to have everything hinge on belief in Jesus, when billions of people lived and died without ever hearing of the guy.
    Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Robert A. Heinlein helped, too, by pointing me to bible verses that the preachers never talked about.
    But mostly, the idea that something as important as eternal salvation vs. eternal damnation depended on believing that some guy 2000 years ago did a bunch of impossible stuff seemed like a really screwy way to run a universe.

  164. 176

    It took steps over 5 years for me, starting probably my second year of college and ending about a year ago.

    First, the guilt-tripping and self-hatred of the “flesh” that’s promoted by Christianity made me hate myself for everything that had gone wrong in college: losing friends, losing direction, failing to hold Christian brothers accountable.

    This lead me to stop attending church readily, because I was ashamed to be in fellowship.

    Then, I made friends in college who were damn good people despite being atheist or agnostic, which made no sense to me.

    Then further failures of prayer including the death of a Christian friend, further realizations that Biblical literalism wasn’t fully accepted even by all Christians, and seeing people papering over their doubts in different ways.

    Finally, I was handily crushed in a comment debate about creationism, and was rightly accused of having an empty God of the gaps. I realized how hard I fought to make God’s word line up with reality, and how the truth really shouldn’t require that much effort to fall in line with evidence.

    Without the highly emotional component (I was angry and depressed) to back it up, the logic of Christianity fell apart, and all my previous doubts had no objections left besides the threat of unjust hell. I was already immunized to other religions by my studies of apologetics and my new-found skepticism, so atheism was the way to go.

    After some months of self-prophesized nihilism that I’d always assumed atheists just had to feel, I finally read Dawkins…then kept reading more on atheism and humanism. I’m still working on the self-hatred and depression, which I owe to Christian brain-washing, but at least now there’s a way out.

    To sum it up, despite thinking of myself as a logical person, it took major emotional whacks over the head and what is likely clinical depression and social anxiety disorder for me to get out of the self-reinforcing blindness and giant guilt-tripping hate-generator that is Christian faith.

    As recently as three years ago I was distraught that my brother had lost his faith, though even then I was depressed and low on faith. Now I’m horrified at the grip the Christianity mind-parasite has on the rest of my family.

    I think if I had actually had the courage to try reading atheist writings earlier, they still might not have worked for me. I was already too skilled at weaving bullshit for myself, shoving my doubts about God’s character and the truth of the Bible into a tiny box, never to be opened. God had to fail me repeatedly before I got angry at him, then doubted him, then finally realized he just wasn’t there.

  165. 177

    The more I thought about it, and analyzed all the different parts of religion, the fewer parts of my birth religion (Catholicism) I believed in, until there were no parts left. Nothing of it made sense. All of it could be disproven, and I wasn’t even a scientist.
    I also grew up with a lot of “because I said so,” reasoning from my parents, which always grated me. If you can’t even give one proper reason for something besides the fact that you opened your mouth and verbalized it, that’s not a good justification. And that’s basically religion.
    All the religion, and all of the beliefs, and superstitions just fizzled away and I before I knew it, I was an atheist.

  166. 178

    Nothing “changed my mind”, I’ve practically been an atheist for as long as I can remember. My father (raised catholic, I doubt he still believes anymore though) did give me a children’s bible when I was little, either to keep me “open-minded” or because he thinks its an essential part of understanding literature. I read it just as I read every other book I saw at that age and never saw it as anything else but a faerie tale.

    Until I came to the US at age 9 (whoa! that was a shock!), I thought religion was something from the past, something grandparents might still believe in, but not belonging to a modern age.

  167. 179

    I think the first time I really started questioning my religion was when I was ten and I read that gay people don’t go to heaven. I had just got back from bible camp and I was reading my bible when I read Leviticus 18:22, and I was so shocked I ran downstairs to my parents and demanded to know why homosexuals didn’t get into heaven. It was the first time I had heard about this, because my parents were pretty liberal, so I was pretty shocked. My parents just looked at each other and then tried to explain that only some people believed that and that homosexuals actually do get into heaven. I thought it was kind of weird that we were basically just ignoring the bible but I went along with it. From then on however I was always asking questions and arguing. The next year when I went to bible camp I was the only one (out of hundreds of kids) who asked questions and argued against the counsellors saying things like people who follow other religions don’t get to heaven. Our cabin leader even told us that “Girl Power!” was bad because it somehow means that women don’t need men and we need men because God is male.Finally just a few months ago I started reading how atheists are treated in the United States (I’m from Canada) and from there I started reading atheist blogs and books (especially Richard Dawkins). I am now an atheist and couldn’t be happier.

  168. 180

    My parents did not raise me in a specific religion. They had been Catholics, and they told my brother and me that they “hope we believe in god,” so I remained agnostic for a good while.

    I can thank the StumbleUpon toolbar for my atheism. I turned on “atheist/agnostic politics” or something like that, and one day I stumbled Daniel Florien’s Unreasonable Faith blog.

    The idea that Daniel’s blog helped me grapple with was humanism. I had remained agnostic because I was convinced a god had to exist to be the basis of morality. Once I realized how demeaning that idea was for the human race, atheism ensued.

  169. 181

    The summer I spent in a tent in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert ended my 16 year deconversion that began in bible college. I grew up the typical Midwest country girl and raised in the evangalical/fundamental Christian traditions. Since I wanted my faith based on rational thought and not emotion, I attended bible college my freshman year. The first year curricula required that we read the bible twice and an indepth study of the gospels. That’s when the seeds of doubt were sown and I transferred to an engineering school the next year. It wasn’t until several years later in graduate school that I learned critical thinking and how to reason.
    Fear was my biggest stumbling block in letting go of my religion. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat wondering if I was wrong and would end up in hell for eternity. I read Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World that summer in the desert and I finally saw the light.

  170. 182

    I wanted to believe. But I didn’t want to be Christian – my reasons included the Crusades, although I don’t remember what exactly I thought about the Crusades. So around eight years old, I made up my own religion. I had a children’s bible and a children’s book of Roman mythology and Arabian Nights and books of fairy tales from around the world, so I thought I knew how a religion should go. In practical terms, I must have been an atheist then, because I don’t think I ever really believed in those gods. But I thought I had to believe – that religion was part of culture and that I wanted a culture, although I didn’t much care if it was at all like the culture around me.

    So I pretended to believe in my gods. My mother briefly protested, so I lied and told her I’d found them in a book at the library – and that was the end of her protests. I happily pretended to be religious, inventing my own rituals and beliefs.

    Over twelve years later, the internet brought me to Pharyngula. I don’t recall what PZ was writing about. I’m fairly sure he was castigating the religious, pointing out stupidity, and extolling rationalism. And he defined atheism. I went “Oh!” and stopped pretending.

  171. 184

    I was raised sort of socially Mormon, in Virginia.  I got baptised and everything.  We fell off attending for a while, then my mom and sister (younger) got back into it when I was 16.  They put me in the class for missionaries — not because I was going to be one, just because I needed to catch up.  I found it all kind of stupid, and used the Bible to argue against the three books that Mormonism had.

    After I stopped caring about Mormonism, I started sort of religion-shopping; I grew up where some sort of theism was expected, and atheism wasn’t so much discouraged as never presented as an option.  It was similar in kind to being childfree, which I was for a while — having children was what one did, so there was no real outrage over deliberately choosing to not having children, because it wasn’t expected that anyone would do that.

    Later, I moved away, and fell in with Objectivists.  Through them, I discovered that there was a such thing as atheism, and that it was perfectly fine and valid to be one.  And then I found George Smith (I think?), and then Dawkins, and it all cascaded from there.

    (Aww, yes!  Atheism: The Case Against God, my first atheist book.)

    In my opinion, activism can and should encompass many varied forms, and one should be basic awareness.  I didn’t even know atheism was a thing until I was in my 20s.  😛

  172. 185

    I think the first seeds (albeit, deeply subconscious) were sown through my studying biology and anthropology in college, although at first I bought into the Answers in Genesis type explanations. A year and a half long depression convinced me that “god” didn’t care about me and so I shouldn’t care about him. What followed was a year of me happily living without thinking much about it, but still considering myself a Christian.

    Towards the end of my senior year of college I had a brief crisis of faith, but the alternatives terrified me into convincing myself to continue believing. Moving back to my hometown and seeing the hypocrisy and bigotry of Christians there (seen through eyes more opened by college and travel) pushed me further from the church.

    Over a couple months I started reading atheist blogs online. Seeing that being an atheist was ok and not really as terrifying as I had thought before is what finally allowed me to accept the fact that I didn’t believe it anymore and call myself an atheist.

    So I guess for me it was a long process with a large number of factors working together. For me, specific arguments against religion by atheists didn’t really have any effect on me, but seeing a wide variety of people living more or less normal, happy enough lives as atheists allowed me to let go of my ingrained fear of the concept and be intellectually honest with myself and accept the things I learned as a biology/anthropology student at face value instead of twisting them to fit my previously held views.

  173. 186

    I was never a strong believer or adherent to any particular religion, and was raised in a mostly secular household with a Jewish father and a mother who was raised Christian and believed in God, but did not define herself as belonging to any particular faith. But I was taught by my mother and her mother to believe in the Judeo-Christian concept of a personal god that you could pray to for advice and assistance. By age 12, I was starting to doubt that a god existed, as I saw no evidence for it. Around that time I first heard the word “agnostic” used, and decided that suited me.

    By age 16, I felt that I was really an atheist, and while having a conversation about the existence of God with classmates I had an epiphany: God was made in man’s image, and not the other way around. From that moment I knew I was an atheist.

    I have explored various religions since then, including the Judaism I largely ignored in my youth, and have variously labeled myself as Buddhist and semi-pagan. But I have never believed in the existence of any god since my teenage years.

  174. 187

    I maintained a loose attachment to the idea that “maybe there’s something out there” until I lived with conservative fundamentalist evangelical christians for a year. That was the end of that.

  175. 188

    If Santa does not bring you presents, would you not turn suspicious of the scheme?

    I did–not with the Santa scheme but something similar.

    My parents were Hindus, and I was raised as one. I imitated religious rituals because, well, I was told to.

    I do not ever remember believing that there was or were these gods, but I do remember going along with the rituals, and claiming to be a believer. So if I can be asked to recall when I was a believer, the truthful answer is “No, I do not recall”, but other than continued falsification of major prayers, as a child I had no conviction that there wasn’t a God.

    In my teens and early adulthood, the suspicions mounted, as well as the abandonment of rituals and cultural influences. I moved from India to the US for my graduate studies, and that meant freedom from religious ceremonies, family obligations to participate in them, etc. I also was exposed to Christianity, not as a different religion, but as a different, majority religion. I had experienced other religions before, other than Hinduism. Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, but never another majority religion.

    The ridiculousness of Christianity forced me to re-examine the ridiculousness of Hinduism, and as I grew older, I gained the conviction that I did not have as a child to assert my atheism.

    Every claim that was falsifiable and examined stood falsified. Via someone’e else efforts or my own investigation.

    The final hurdle was rejecting ‘weak’ atheism, and asserting ‘strong atheism’

    That happened after 9/11, over a period of years.

    There is no god. A god being any entity that performs magic, is worshiped and alleged to interact with humans and the world in discernible ways.

    I am certain of this as I am certain that there are no rats in my attic.

    And I have had rats in my attic in the past. At times when I was certain that they were not there.

  176. 189

    Simple,I READ the bible, cover to cover, when I was about 11. Took me a while, but I stuck with it. I realized it was mythology, just like all of the other mythology I was into reading (but not as well written!). I just had an extended argument with a bunch of godbot theists who were giving every excuse they could think of why they had not and would not read the damned book. One excuse was that she found jebus and her hubby was a con artist..I mean minister and told her what to read. This is after spouting off about the ‘good book’ when they clearly had no idea what it even said, and were happy in their ignorance. They even quoted a biblical quote extolling ignorance, although I can’t remember what it was. BTW, I am in my mid 50s.

  177. 190

    (Firstly: I love this idea. Figuring out what worked for us is a great way to figure out what’ll work for others – much better than trying to intuit what will and won’t work)

    I was raised Catholic, went to church every Sunday, was baptised and confirmed and did my communion. I was pretty religious, really, or at least as religious as a kid can be – I didn’t mind going to church, I paid attention in Religion class (they have those in Australian public schools, and I went to a Catholic high school) and got good grades because it genuinely interested me.

    I was also very interested in science, though, and a lot of what I was learning contradicted what the Bible taught me – but I didn’t really have too much of a problem with that. The science always took precedence, but I very much bought into the God of the Gaps idea – maybe God started the Big Bang, I thought.

    Then, around age 16, little dissatisfactions with the church and its corruption led me to really investigate my religious choices: I read more about my religion, I started to explore other religions. I briefly considered Judaism, because it seemed to be a more humble and righteous existence than Catholicism provided, but at the end of the day I realised it had exactly the same root problem – I had to make excuses for the religious doctrine to fit around the scientific framework.

    And if these books had all been edited by men, and had been shown to be completely wrong in several points, what were the odds of them being right about the big unprovable ones? Why should I trust them – why should I not look at the evidence with a fairer eye?

    In the end that’s what did it. I had the scientific groundwork, but my trust for the church meant I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on the things science hadn’t (to my mind, at the time) yet proved anything. Once that trust was broken, I could look at things more clearly and see how it was.

    It was a slightly gradual transition – I was fairly agnostic for a while, because I needed to do some more research before I was sure, and atheistic books/websites did help there. But the big break was that combination of science and disillusionment; the truth about the universe and the truth about how the holy books were written.

  178. 191

    Catholic school, with nuns, 3rd grade, age 8. Sputnik was up. I did a science report on space. The nun told me “there is no such thing as a vacuum.” I checked it out. According to catholic theology, she was right. For the next decade, I just went thru the motions, until I grew up and moved away. Never looked back.

  179. 192

    Tons of good comments up there, so I’ll try to bullet point my deconversion:

    – Raised Catholic
    – First confession: very weird, in a Tardis with a strange man, dumping my errors, and getting fined heavily (rosaries for 2 weeks)
    – 2 weeks!?! What the hell did I do that was not what any other kid does?
    – Read in the Bible something about having faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains. This was too good to be true, so I tried it. Fail.
    – Tried again on something smaller. Fail. Would more rosaries help?
    – Mustard seeds turned into seeds of doubt
    – Read ‘ask in my name and ye shall receive.’ Another magic spell, tried that. Mixed results, but the fails were painful.
    – At 7 or 8 I was floored – FLOORED – to discover there were religions other than Catholicism. Did not compute. Everyone should’ve been Catholic, that was the truth.
    – Grade 7 at Catholic school, girl passes out in hot church during stations of the cross, hits her head on marble floor. Nuns sweep in, collect the girl, whisk her away while hushing the rest of us. Carry on, we were told.
    – Confirmation at 13 (or so), part of the gig is you commit for life to Catholicism and encourage others to convert. I knew I was too young to make such a commitment. And that ‘encouraging others to convert’ stuff could really make for a bad date (if I had any).
    – In high school, tried Bible study for a few weeks. Had a very hard time accepting someone’s authority on micro-sections of Scripture, let alone the whole book. Seemed so subjective.
    – Still in high school, a friend and I researched local hauntings (Chicago), then went on a search for ghosts. We put some real effort into it (more than our homework, that’s for sure). Ghost fail.
    – It’s the 10th round, approaching college, got some math and science under my belt, religion is fatigued and staggering.
    – More science, math, and theology in college pushed me to the outer edge of agnosticism.
    – Heck, why not go for the gold? I dug out an old Bible and spent some time reading various parts, already convinced it held no sway over me, but just to be sure and refresh myself on all the fuss. There was no fuss, only nonsense.
    – Realized I’m an atheist, and rue the fact that the world wastes so much time on woo when more constructive things can be done.

  180. 193

    I had doubts and questions pretty much as soon as I could think, but I was so indoctrinated I was too scared to even think it might really not be true. I trusted my parents and didn’t think they would do anything that would hurt me. I was so scared of girls that I couldn’t even look at them because it was a sin to lust after them. I constantly went over my life wondering what I could do to make myself more worthy, because the blame had to be me, because god was good and perfect. Everyone thought I was gay because I was trying so hard to be as holy as I could, like Jesus, like it says you are supposed to be. It destroyed me. I read the bible over and over trying to find a clue why it made no sense to me and why I kept coming up short while everyone else didn’t seem to have a problem with it. The answer was easy: they weren’t taking it seriously. I questioned it more and more. The more I learned about history, geography, and science, I realized that religion was all made up. Still, my intense depression from being so alone and inept with women from lack of experience and shame of my desires drove me to a suicide attempt. I got help and got better, and even though I am in MS, they didn’t even hint that god was what I needed to make it all better. I finally got rid of my guilt of being a sexual being, and now am pretty anti-theist, for a calm, nice rational guy. I became a nudist to help get over my insecurities about sex. It helped some, but I think I will never get rid of the shame completely. I would burn every religious text there was if I could. The stuff is the biggest, most devastating problem in the world.

  181. 194

    Surprisingly, I first really started questioning at a christian camp when in middle school. I had been questioning religion before, but had been told that was a bad thing to do so I spent copious amounts of time yelling at myself for questioning anything. Finally, the annual church camp came along, which was supposed to be a safe place to express doubts or feelings, but it definitely wasn’t. I “came out” in sorts about my questioning religion to my youth leader there, and was constantly pressured and hounded about being saved and to stop questioning for a whole week. This was horrible for a shy middle-school girl who could barely handle meeting new people – much less having lots of new people awkwardly staring at her as “that girl who doesn’t believe in god”. I was so pressured that on the last day I ended up walking up to the alter and “accepting jesus into my heart”. In reality what I was doing was closing my eyes, and telling myself I had hated all of this – if I wanted to question something I was going to do it and I wasn’t going to listen to anyone who told me not to. This eventually led to an exploration of many religions, and finally a revelation of finally admitting to myself that I was an atheist. A HUGE conclusion to come to when you grow up in rural Georgia from southern baptist parents.

  182. 195

    I stopped believing in the christian god through independant study of their bible.

    I stopped believing in a personal god when I realized prayers were not answered. Not just mine, no one’s; at least not at any rate higher than chance would predict.

    I stopped believing in any kind of gods when I sincerely and hopefully tried to find any kind of evidence for the supernatural and could not.

  183. 196

    I wish I could say there was any one particular thing. I think it was everything and nothing. The only thing I can say for sure is that I came to this conclusion on my own, long before I’d ever even heard the term “atheist”. Then came the internet, and I found other like-minded people who confirmed everything I’d already figured out on my own.

  184. 197

    I lost my faith pretty much on my own, by thinking about it. As far as I can remember, I had had only one discussion with an atheist, several years previously. It may have stimulated some questions for me, but the specific ideas and arguments we discussed were not those that changed my thinking. I had never thought about whether or not there was such a thing as an atheist community. I was likewise unaware of atheist writers or thinkers.

    Letting go of my religious faith was very much a multi-step process that took three or four decades. Essentially it was a result of a recognition that my religion had failed to fulfil its promises for me. I’ve outlined the steps of my story on my web site (http://www.mountaintrail.us/Wanderer/wonderings.htm), but here’s a two-sentence summary:

    For most of my adult life, I questioned some conventional Christian doctrines, but it wasn’t until I experienced a breakthrough in my understanding of healthy relationships that I realized that my religion had hindered my growth rather than helping me mature. At that point my faith, which had been strong, suddenly evaporated.

    There was one idea that served as a tipping point in my thinking. It was the realization that I was responsible for my own actions, that I was not responsible for anyone else’s choices, and that nobody else was responsible for guiding my life.

  185. 198

    Long and complicated. Basically, my parents were into new age spiritualism and I was into fantasy as well as science and logic. I believed everything. I didn’t so much deconvert as slowly have the falsehoods stripped away.

    It helped that no matter how much I believed, I never saw anything like a ghost or a UFO. The “Law of Attraction” New Age stuff was completely decoupled from my personal experiences, so there was never anything life-defining that kept me wedded to those beliefs.

    The demonstration of “Yogic Flying” by the Natural Law Party at school was the first of the last straws. Embarassingly stupid.

    I went into biology, which by itself, did not dent my belief system. We had a Behe style biochemist teacher for instance. Still the ability to evaluate science would come in handy years later.

    There was the death of a woman I loved deeply. The relationship was so atypical that my spiritual toolkit was completely incapable of dealing with it. Every spiritual worldview resulted in unfairness compounded, pathological self-centered thinking, or wishful thinking that stretched the credulity of even other believers. It was ultimately an atheist view of death as simply the end, expressed in a comic book. “It’s just easier” said the protagonist… and dammit he was right. Took several more years for that to sink in.

    Over time, I started to pack away the woo and mythology under “fantasy” and identify more as an agnostic. I didn’t identify atheist, as I associated the phrase with anti-theism: trying to force out religion the same way the religious right was trying to force out everything but christianity.

    Sept 11 shook me out of my political apathy, and the realization that the US media was completely dysfunctional forced me to educate myself on the blogsphere. That application of critical thought to the political arena not only lead me to a much firmer position on the political left than I had been, but also introduce me to Pharyngula.

    Ironic perhaps that the “Mean, vile arch anti-theist atheist” PZ was the one that managed to get me to drop my aversion to identifying as atheist. He had the same view of a secular society, and pointed out the privileged position religion maintains in comparison. I could judge the truth of his positions and the foolishness of the opposition, and saw (more by the fight than the actual arguments) the contortions of the “accomodationists” that I once would have been happily allied with. What really got me were the expressions of atheism as positive virtue, not merely anti-religion. Appreciating the shared desire of humanity beneath the trappings of religion and mythology; freedom from the guilt, shame and hate from the old religious beliefs, and the virtues of fighting against the snake-oil salesmen exploiting the hopes and fears of the ill for a quick buck.

    So, for what it’s worth.

  186. 199

    Well, to be honest I’ll end up being less helpful than the others. Admittedly, my parents aren’t religious. But not “irreligious” in the American sense (i.e. overtly atheistic), “irreligious” in the European sense (i.e. “Isn’t it peachy how happy those religious people are? Alas, would that I too believed what they did.”) They didn’t talk about it at all really. But, in any case, I live in TEXAS…so I did get quite the Jesus knocked into me, whether I liked it or not. I pranced around religion like a little girl trying not to “wake up” the people under the headstones as she walked by. One should always be respectful, my well-meaning parents said.

    Around the time I was finishing high school and had less work to do (being busy really inhibits questioning) I started getting more conscious of the negative religious influence in the news. Then one day, I still remember it, a local theatre group I enjoy had a production and there was a review online. The show hadn’t done that great and there was passionate talk about it left and right and so I was interested in what the comments online were saying. The show had some evolution metaphors and invriably someone got up in arms over it. As I skimmed down, I found a comment that was shit-slappin’ irreverent and plunged me into a shock of political incorrectness overload. I was truly aghast. Talking snakes and magic gardens and zoo boats and zombies and other clinical retardation wrapped up in one ass-whupping roll of fuck you hit my face on my computer monitor. Who could say something so…shameless?…I thought. And you know what? To my horror, this horrible man’s snark and devilishness made me laugh. There was a moment where I almost choked I was so royally surprised by him.

    And what’s more, I noticed I had no counter arguments. What was I going to say? “No the snake probably just swallowed a walkie talkie and it was all one misunderstanding”?

    That would probably have to be the most condensed moment of change for me. More change (quantitatively) occurred outside it – like you said – “ground softening” – but it was by far the strongest in a short span it’s gotten.

  187. 200

    For me it was a slow erosion of beliefs. The biggest factor was the dissonance between my knowledge that the Earth is very, very old and the instance of most Christians that it is only a few thousand years old. Other things, equality of women, the acceptance of homosexuality, and just the overall idiocy of the whole Christian worldview also helped.

    I came to it, mostly, by myself. I had stopped believing by the time I got through with college and hadn’t known any atheists who were out or Christians who admitted to doubting (I didn’t ever admit), I didn’t seek out atheist bloggers (blogging was in its infancy back then).

    One thing I did do, however, was read good science fiction, Clark and Asimov especially. I was also fascinated by science, especially cosmology and had been a huge dinosaur freak when i was younger.

    My parents taught me to think for myself, they wouldn’t answer my questions but would tell me to look up the answer for myself. They provided me with critical thinking skills that eventually lead me to abandon the faith that they also raised me in. I’m not sure what they would think if they knew that (I am not out). I was homeschooled, I grew up on the campus of a Baptist seminary, but I also grew up as the internet began to catch on. I was online when the World Wide Web became a thing in the early 90s and the world of information was at my fingertips, fed to me through the phone line to a CRT in my bedroom. I’m sure that my parents don’t realize what they did when they gave me access to that and taught me to think. I’m sure of it because they have raised my sisters, fifteen years my younger, the same way. I hope they’ll see the truth one day, too.

    I spent ten years or so after I stopped believing convincing myself that I believed. It was during this time that I learned one of my best friends from high school was no longer a believer. It was through him that I began reading PZ’s blog occasionally (when he would post links on Facebook, then I became a regular reader). I was interested in the science at first, then became interested in the atheism. At first I just ignored his anti-Christian rants, though I agreed with most of what he would say.

    I think there are a few things that can be done to help the people who are like me. First, make sure they are taught critical thinking. Hemant Mehta’s recent talk on teaching critical thinking is dead on. My parents taught this to me, even while teaching me to believe in mythological beings. This is going to require that we change the way our education system works, I think. (I can’t say for sure, I have no experience with the public education system.)

    Second, we need to make sure that the truth is accessible. We need people who talk about the science, revealing the truth of it while not being overly in your face about the anti-religion thing. I watched Bill Nye as a young teen, my parents didn’t mind, they didn’t know he was an atheist. But he taught me about science. PBS, in general, was great at this. These people can even be open about being atheists, but they make more of their science than their atheism. In addition to Nye, I think of Sagan and Hawking when I think of this point.

    Third, we need the “activists” who actively debate Christians and point out the idiocy, the logical fallacies, the myth of religion. The PZ Myers and Greta Christinas. It might turn some people off, but if someone has been doubting and has the chance to see just how ridiculous the religious side of the debate is it can be the deciding factor for them. I sometimes see people questioning why debate the Christians when no ground is ever gained. This is why. People like me. The fence sitters. You aren’t likely to convince those firmly in the other camp, but you might get some of those teetering on the edge or hanging out near it.

    Finally, I think that seeing stories about other people’s experiences helps. The thing that finally made me admit to myself that I don’t believe, ten years after I stopped believing, was a story that went around last year about unbelieving ministers (I was, still am, employed by a church). I realized I wasn’t alone. It was then that I could admit that I don’t buy it anymore.

  188. 201

    I suppose this doesn’t really relate to me but I wanted to put it out there since I felt left out, neener, neener 😉
    I’ve always been an atheist. I never had to change my mind. I never believed my church about god or jesus and I never believed my parents about santa or the tooth fairy or any of that.
    I’ve become more outspoken lately and a question I’ve been running into is, “When did you lose your faith?.”
    Ummm… Never? You can’t lose something you never had.

  189. 202

    Super-fast version:

    I was raised Christian, although my family is not overly religious. I was first challenged to really think about my religion in college where I was particularly struck by the problem of evil. Slowly stopped believing in this or that part of Christianity the more I thought about it over several years. Eventually, I went through what I guess could be called a spiritual or perhaps deist phase. Then one day about a year-and-a-half ago (while riding my bike, if you care to know) the last thread holding me to any sort of supernatural belief snapped, I called “bullsh*t” on the whole affair, and have since been enjoying the real world that much more.

    It really wasn’t any one thing, but a slow steady progression that took about ten years from the first time my faith was challenged.

  190. 203

    About the same time I realized there was no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny , or Tooth Fairy, that fairy tales were lovely things to read but did not make sense in the real world, I stopped believing. It wasn’t overnight, it was more like about 2 years from age 8 to 10. I put it down to simply growing up. Even when I was near death at age 12 I did not backslide but asked my surgeon to describe in detail what they were doing to save my life.

  191. 204

    Disclaimer: I’m drinking and don’t feel like doing much grammar or spell checking.

    Science, that is what has convinced me that religion is bunk. I used to be a good little catholic boy. I participated in church, I had a great little boy voice that I used to sing glorious church hymns, and I learned to be a good public speaker by reading up at the church lectern.

    However, as my education moved along I learned that most claims by religion are false and ridiculous. This made me curious so I started using the tool of this modern age, the internet, to more fully find out how crazy religion was.

    A matter of fact, I may have to give most the credit to the internet and how it makes information so easy to track down. As long as one is aware that you always need to check your sources easy access to info is the best way to shoot religion down.

    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, beer………….

  192. 205

    I was born an evangelical preacher’s son. I grew up actually living in the church. My life was all about the church and religion.

    At 5 years old I could not understand how an all knowing and all powerful god had let a snake into the garden. Other stories and words did not make sense. I have always been an analytic thinker, even when young. I accepted weak explanations to my questions for a long time. After all, my family was highly invested in faith and the religion.

    The one thing that turned my thinking was the believer’s themselves. If so many believers could not achieve their stated goals even with the help of an all powerful god, there must be something wrong. So I looked at other religions, other sects. Same results. Jim Baker was a good example of what I was seeing; from high profile to average joe, believers were universally failing to be Christ-like. They are plagued by all the ills of being human that non-believers suffer. Believing is obviously not helping. This began to be very prominent in my life in high school.

    The journey from that thought to ‘militant’ atheist was long and the reactions to 9/11 pushed me over the edge of just accepting that I don’t believe but never talk about it. I have opinions that many non-believers don’t like. I feel that they stem from accepting the logical ends of my world view. For instance, if morality is subjective there are some things you need to be voting for and some to be voting against. Accepting the logical ends of my world view is not a popular sport.

    I have to be true to myself, honest with myself. Nothing can be more important as all that I am starts with that relationship. I am an atheist. I’m not all the other things that people seem to think come along with that. The atheist community is a myth. Its like saying the North American community, or the community of people who do not collect stamps. It’s silly. I did not need leaders or community to reject the god hypothesis, and I see needing community as a crutch… methadone for former addicts.

    I’ve asked ‘what next?’ – now that I’m an atheist, what does the community suggest is next? There are no answers, or at least I’ve not heard any. Anything offered up as a suggestion comes in the guise of humanism et al. That has nothing to do with atheism. Once you don’t believe it appears that you’re done – so go live your life. If you want to know more about good, evil, and morality you have to talk to someone that has a world view. Atheism is not a world view. For this reason, the thought that there is an atheist community is hilarious bullshit.

    Personally I’m seeking more knowledge about philosophy and how to apply that knowledge to my own life. I don’t need purpose or meaning or community. I’m just enjoying the ride. I’ve started a blog to sort of document my thoughts on living as an atheist. The actions of believers still amaze, shock, and dismay me. I’m nearly convinced that the mechanisms of the brain which drive addiction behavior are fully engaged in those who believe. Like gambling and eating disorders among others, the mental aspect reinforces the behavior which drives the addiction. I’m free of it and trying to figure out what is left now that I see the errors of all the lies I was told and taught to believe. Life is simpler now. We ARE a bunch of stupid apes with great skills and a lot of luck… for the most part. A few among us have shared their brilliance and we have all benefited. I live better than kings of old and my knowledge stands firmly on the backs of giants. My life is better for it, but the state of humanity is deeply depressing. The very thing that caused me to doubt the existence of gods has only gotten stronger, more caustic, and more entrenched. I hope in my lifetime we see it’s decline. So, whatever ‘atheist community’ actually means, I support it for the fact that its mere existence erodes the growth of the thing I find so repugnant about religion… that it exists.

  193. 206

    5 Step Program for Quitting Religion

    Summary: Very slow process. Did about 3/4 on my own. Helpful arguments concerned the epistemological limitations of belief.

    Step 1. Be disappointed in some manifestations of Catholicism.
    I grew up during that hopeful post-Vatican II period so my religious education tended to emphasize seeking a personal relationship with god, seeing Christ in everyone- no matter how different, and working for peace and social justice. (The Catholics I know best do these things, they don’t just talk about it.) The conservative bishops foisted on the American church by the previous & current popes are pleased to call this “being badly catechised.” Badly catechized people like me are apt to be disappointed when they discover the official Catholic attitudes toward women, gay people and reproductive rights. Of course, since in the world I grew up in sex was mentioned as little as possible, it took me a little while to work out what those last two were.

    For most people here, I hope this goes without saying, but just in case, I’m going to say it anyway: Neither at this nor any point would I have found it clever or liberating of someone to tell me that Catholics were stupid, evil, supertitious, idolators, cannibals, or zombie thralls of the pope. I would have classed a person spouting this stuff with Ian Paisely & Chick Comics and disregarded everything else they said. On the other hand, a list of evils committed by Catholic officials is moderately useful if you’re trying to argue that 1) Catholic priests have no special insight into morality or 2) Religion can make good people do bad things. It’s not a very convincing basis for arguing that Catholics should leave the church en masse, any more than a list a evils committed by the U.S. government is a convincing basis for arguing that the population should rise up or flee to Canada. In any case, most Catholics already have their own mental list of this stuff.

    Step 2. Attempt to extricate self from lobster trap of liberal theology and apologetics.
    My very educated father (Harvard Law) read a great deal of theology which he was very keen on explaining to me, because I was ‘smart’. Why stick with a church that clearly got some things wrong? Well, because if I really studied history, I would see that the Catholic Church represented the main thrust God’s work in the world and if I really studied theology I would see that the Holy Spirit, working through flawed human beings, was going to bring everything right in the end, or something like that. I am afraid, that with regard to this lobster trap, I took the nuclear option. In my twenties I decided that if ‘smart’ people had to sort through all these slippery arguments before they could think for themselves, then I was no longer going to be smart. I was going to be dumb, ditzy, ‘blonde’, New Age, follow my bliss, ride the mystical rainbow connection (which might, after all, be the Holy Spirit) wherever it took me. And so I did.

    (And, at the same time, I wanted to try Descartes’ experiment. What does the world look like if you ditch received wisdom and go out and touch and taste things for yourself?)

    Step 3. Marry a scientist.
    In the course of my adventures I met and married a charming young physics student, saying to myself, “Here is a man who will not want to tell me how to think.” While we were dating, he called me up to explain that he had just read the Bible and didn’t believe in god anymore. I thought this was funny and adorable, since simply finding problems with the Bible (which I read around age 13) had never been available to me as a way out (see lobster trap above). So we were half-baked pantheistic pagans together and had three babies and then…

    Step 4. 9/11
    9/11 blew gaping holes in my, by then tattered, faith in the rainbow connection. I could see that there was no appreciable difference between my mystical methodology and that of the hijackers. (Although I’m not sure I put that insight into words just then- I was just worried and uncomfortable). Plus, I was reading every bit of digestible history and science I could get my hands on because, as a pantheist, I believed god was everything and it was important to understand something about that everything, and because I wanted to give my children a less flawed map of reality than the one handed to me. New Age mysticism looks pretty shabby in the company of actual thought.

    This is the point at which New Atheist arguments entered my life in the person of Sam Harris on NPR. The thing I remember best from his books at this point is that with regard to some contradiction or other, he said, “This should bother you.” That was important- the affirmation that it was righteous to be bothered by contradictions. Sometime, fairly young, I had internalized the message that in spiritual matters, only simplistic people were bothered by contradictions- truly intelligent people sucked them into their creative mystical internal furnace and poetically integrated them into something nonthreatening. I went on and read Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. I think it’s Dawkins who points out that belief, compared to science, is just a bad way of trying to understand the world. This was the other bit I needed to hear, because, of course, I thought it was good to believe in something. Now I could quit trying to work out a ‘something’ to believe in and learn about things there was evidence for. Kind of a relief.

    Step 5. Read good science writing.
    Reading the New Atheists felt thin. I cannot quite put my finger on why, but it was like eating the ice cream cone without the ice cream. Luckily, the ice cream was out there and the cone was pointing in its direction. I read the Ancestor’s Tale. Dawkins writes much better about biology than theology, and I finally learned something more about evolution than set phrases for answering questions on science tests. The Ancestor’s Tale was on a shelf within spitting distance of Neil Shubin and Natalie Angiers and not so very far from Stephen Pinker, and no doubt there is more where they came from. I have a feeling that if a person got to this step first, all the other steps would be unnecessary.

    (And, this is not a step, but thank you Greta for being here for to read while my father was dying and I was looking for, I suppose, fellowship and reassurance. I cannot say why reading a blog by a woman who writes about sex and atheism should be reassuring at such a time, but it very definitely was.)

  194. 208

    I tried very hard to be a good Catholic girl. I went through the motions. It was what was expected. It was all I knew. As a freshman in a Catholic high school, I volunteered to back to my Catholic elementary school and teach Catechism classes. My faith died the day I read the teacher’s manual for the course. It told me that every story I had ever been told about how good kids behaved because of Jesus in their life was a story – a LIE – that I was supposed to perpetuate. There was no kid who ever gave away all their Christmas presents because that would make Jesus happy. There was no girl who had been gunned down by Nazis in church and spent her dying moments crawling around the altar licking up spilled hosts so they wouldn’t be further desecrated. I couldn’t tell those lies. I stood in front of that first class and stammered, and hemmed and hawed, and felt a fool. The nun thought I was just a bad teacher because I was the “good kid.” When I tried to explain my doubts and why I was so hesitant, I was told saying those things was all part of being a good teacher and it was what children would understand.

    I knew then, it was all lies. It wasn’t a trauma, it was liberating! It was confirmation and vindication of something I had always suspected – that it was all bullshit. There was no good reason girls couldn’t be altar boys, or priests. Noah’s ark was stupid. Jonah couldn’t have lived inside a whale. Loaves and fishes don’t multiply. Nobody rises from the dead.

    And I knew I was good. No one is born sinful. Original sin was a crock.

    I didn’t, at a sheltered 14, know there was such a thing as an “atheist.” I went through the motions for a few more years, but I didn’t believe any more. Fortunately, ignorance is curable, and the Dominican nuns did teach me how to think and research. I’m sure they would have been appalled to know I turned my brain onto the problem of why what they were teaching me about god wasn’t true.

    After I graduated from my Catholic high school, I just stopped going to church.

    I made sure my kids grew up knowing that religion was all just old stories, and they grew up smart, ethical, rational, and not religious.

  195. 209

    Just wanted to add that it’s great to read other people’s stories and think that I’m not alone in the fact that religion still has a huge hold over me. Such a relief. What’s the emoticon for a collective hug? 🙂

  196. Ana

    Actually, I’d have to say it’s because of you and Jen.
    Well, for some background, I’m from a South European catholic country, but my grandmother is fervorously evangelical. She says I first ‘accepted Jesus’ when I was 4. I remember, growing up in the church, how it was always ‘us against the world’: against the catholics, against the sinners…And it was always demanding more. More praying time, more testifying to our friends…the goal was always to be perfect, while at the same time erasing ourselves, because no matter what we were sinners, corrupt and evil, and had to die so god could live in us.
    When I was a teenager, I was so into it it’s weird. I carried my bible everywhere, prayed every day, spoke in tongues, believed in creation…which was kind of at odds with my lifelong dream of becoming a scientist. I used to say there was no better way to praise god than learning all there is to know about his creation.
    Then I went to college, broke up with my longtime boyfriend, and because we were so high-profile in our church I just couldn’t go back and face him and everyone else. So I stopped attending. Also, I finally had the freedom to think for myself, to have friends, to be owner of my time and of my life. And I started meeting new people and stuff started to bother me: why condemn homosexuals? I met some gay people and they were just like everyone else! Why condemn abortion yet at the same time condemn contraception? That’s just hypocritical. But all this was in the back of my mind. Although I wasn’t practicing religion anymore, I still thought of myself as a Christian. I just leaned more and more towards a hippie, Jesus-loves-all philosophy. I think I didn’t ask further because it was quite hard to let go: I had all those experiences that I thought had no explanation apart from God. Speaking in tongues, prophetizing, feeling peace above all understanding…I had all of that.
    Then there was Boobquake. Now, this is the funny part, the one who told me about it was actually my very christian roommate. I googled it and found Blaghag, started reading, and the arguments against religion just made sense! And from there I came here, and it all started falling apart. I had to admit that the hippie-love-all theme just wasn’t in the bible, and hadn’t I been taught the bible was inerrant? But I couldn’t keep adoring a god that was morally wrong! So I made a wager: either a) no god existed, b) my love-all god existed or c) the god of the bible existed. So, I would live my life as best I could, trying to do the best for myself and for others and trying to create a better world. If a), I would die happy and without regrets. If b), I’d go to heaven. If c), I’d go to hell, but it was alright because it would prove that god was a bastard. And once in hell I could always start a revolution…
    I’ve been following your articles, and I started reading about neurology and how hormones and emotions can explain weird phenomena, and I’ve come all the way to finally calling myself an atheist. It is still hard sometimes, there is still some anxiety, and I still fight against all the brainwashing, all the triggers in my brain. But I can do my best to work for a better world without being tied down to a higher being!

  197. 212

    Deconverting was definitely a multi-step process for me. I was raised in a liberal Methodist family, and I fortunately grew up with the idea that white heterosexual Christians were no better than anyone else.

    When I started listening to people about religion other than my parents, I realized that that view was stunningly unusual (and was further outraged to learn that as a female, I was valued less than males by most religion). So I started explicitly rejecting a lot of aspects of the Christian religion (there were a lot, but that was the biggest one), and in my late teens ended up with something watered-down to “I believe in *some* benevolent higher power.”

    Then I started reading Pharyngula.

    I probably don’t need to say a *lot* more about that, but basically, PZ’s writing made me realize that the question of faith should matter more than it did to me. That sitting on the fence as I was doing wasn’t doing me or anyone else any good, and it was mostly trying to avoid the question out of discomfort. So I reexamined the one thing I had left of my faith – the idea that there was some benevolent higher power – and was pretty ashamed to realize (I’m a scientist, damnit!) that I’d accepted that premise with no evidence whatsoever.

    And that was the end of that.

  198. 213

    When I was a child in CCD around the 4th or 5th grade, So I suppose that makes me 9 or 10.

    I sat back and thought on the creation myths contained in the religion I was brought up to believe in. I noticed it offered little to no further explanation beyond ‘God did it’, which to me was an empty and hollow explanation for everything around me. I understood the basics of atomic theory, gravity, weather systems. It all made significantly more sense without a creator ordaining it all to be so.

    I was aware of the Miller-Urey experiment a year or two later. What especially contradicted itself in my mind was this idea that for some reason an all powerful creator would build the universe, and carve out the world just for us, yet leave us with so many issues. This may be logically flawed in some way, but as a child I thought to myself ‘If prayer is supposed to work, but only works some of the time, what’s the likelihood of it working?’ I ended up testing things, praying to god for a serendipitous event one day and asking god to do it within a certain time frame, then, alternately doing nothing but still looking for similar serendipity. The point was that if god and prayer were testable real things, then it would be measurable and possible.

    In the end, obviously I found no evidence to support a divine creator. Nothing bad would befall me if I violated gods laws and no one knew about it. I could masturbate at home, my life would not crumble to pieces. I could lie to a person, as long as no one found out, there was no retribution. It all boiled down to there being nothing but conjecture to support god.

    As a kid, I’d hear thunder and think, god this and god that, until I learned, just like with everything else, that it all had an explanation, a simple measurable, tangible one. And the more I looked into things that skeptics would rail against, the more I found things like magic, ghosts, UFOS, all to be just as religion, largely empty with no real supporting evidence. Certainly holes where we can say ‘We don’t know’ but nothing definitive.

    TLDR: At 10 I thought through religion on my own and found it to be nonsense.

  199. 215

    “Clearly, something changed our minds.”

    Yes, but that does not necessarily mean that we know, what that something was. I don’t. When I was young, I did believe in God. I was even doing complimentary work at our church. But over the years I hat more and more trouble with the people there. At some point I realized the reason for this: I did not believe any more. But this was not a conscious process – it just happened. My view about the church or about religion did not change with this. I just did not believe any more and called myself an agnostic from that point. I did not think that God was impossible or unlikely, but thought that you could neither prove nor disprove his existence. And I just did not care about it.
    Years later I started reading science books again. The more I read, the more I saw that you could say something about the probability of God’s existence. It was hilariously small. At that point I became an atheist and started to think about religion and the problems with not questioning religious ideas (or any idea). So I became not only an atheist but a skeptic.
    But what changed my mind in the first place, I still do not know. Maybe subconscious reasoning. Maybe not.

  200. 216

    @NegatroN exactly. For me, losing my religion was a many year process with a lot of particular points of faith being painfully dismissed one at a time. If something “changed my mind,” it was a commitment to valuing the truth over safety – over being sure of avoiding damnation, and over being sure of having my family’s support. It was a process; not an event, not a book, not a clever lecture. It was up to me, not Dawkins or Hitchens, not an atheist friend or a philosophy class. (Although, interestingly, one of the many key events along my path was studying theology at a Christian university and learning from the professors there that it’s logically inconsistent to take the Bible literally. It provided room to understand that it’s a product of human thought.)

  201. 217

    My mother died when I was 6, so I made up my own mythology about afterlife, mixing Christian & Greek mythology (which I loved) and things I made up myself. Those thought about afterlife led me to thinking about God, and at the age of 9 I kept asking everyone if they believed in him. Now that I think about it, Christians would answer “yes”, and the people I now know to be atheist would ask me what I believed.
    I did not think about it all the time, though (I was only a child!) but I never really had faith. I became aware that I was an atheist discussing sex with a Christian friend when I was 16.

  202. 218

    My path to atheism started when I 2 or 3 and my parents took me to see a cheesy little sci- fi movie called Star Wars. My taste in movies has not really improved since but, hey, no big deal. My love for the movie led to an interest in astronomy at a very young age. I was a little bummed to find that we couldn’t actually travel to other planets and such like in the movie but what I did learn was still cool all the same.

    I was about 9 when Return of the Jedi was released and shortly before that I read an interview with George Lucas. In it Lucas stated that part of his inspiration for Star Wars was mythology. My nine year old self had no idea that he was talking about myth in the Campbell sense but I did know a little about Greco- Roman mythology due to astronomy. If myths and the like was an influence to something I loved so much then, I naturally thought, I needed to learn about that too.

    By this time I had largely been raised Roman Catholic with a smattering of Episcopalian. I was taught that Christianity was the “Truth” and there was no question about it. Ever! However, as I learned more and more about mythology over the next few years, the Christian teachings that elevated it to “beyond question” status started to make very little sense. After all, deities such as Odin or Morrigan or Anu were no more or less believable than the Christian god and I was constantly being told that they, without a doubt, did not exist and never did. All those ancient peoples that believed in them had simply been tricked or deluded.

    But if that was really the case then how could I or anyone else know that the same wasn’t true of Christans? Over the course of my teenaged years and early twenties I became more disillusioned with Christianity. I looked into other prominent religions like Islam and Buddhism but none of them really held up either. I also tried less prominent beliefs like paganism and Wicca to no avail. Eventually I settled into a mild deism but also started getting into New Age woo and other supernatural/ paranormal beliefs like ghosts and astrology and UFOs.

    It really wasn’t atheist sites or literature that got me out of that thinking. In fact I stubbornly refused to ever apply a word like “atheist” to myself. I stuck with sentiments like “spiritual but not religious”. Eventually I found myself on Phil Plaitt’s Bad Astronomy blog one day. From there I started going to other skeptical sources such as JREF, Skepchick and Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The supernatural/ paranormal beliefs, held mostly because I thought I had to believe something, fell to the side but I held on to god for a while.

    Then one night I was walking my dog. It was winter, as much as we have one in Alabama, and the sky was clear and crisp. There weren’t many street lights and few houses nearby so the sky was way fuller with stars than I was normally used to. Looking up at the sky and getting just an idea of how vast the universe was, I guess my guard slipped and my growing sense of skepticism got a hold of my god- belief. In hindsight, I don’t think I became an atheist that night, just that I finally acknowledged that that was what I was.

  203. 220

    Mine was a slow process. I grew up in a very conservative household that went to a “Non-Denominational, Non-Instrumental Church of Christ.” These people think that everyone is going to hell. If you are not born-again, if you don’t go to church every week, if your church doesn’t do communion every week, if your church has instruments, if your church has a preacher rather than “mutual edification”– you are going to hell.

    The turning point with me was prayer. I had been praying every night before bed, but one Sunday they told us those that weren’t “born again” were not heard by God. I started thinking about all of the other people that go to other churches who pray and are convinced that God answered their prayers. The people at my church just said it was a coincidence for them and all of the people that were Catholic with answered prayers, Presbyterian, Methodist, Muslim, and Jewish, and so on. God only heard Real Christian’s prayers. I realized that every “answered prayer” was a coincidence. That all of the “unanswered prayers” were explained with “It was the Lord’s will.” What a load of bullshit.

    I just kept my skepticism quiet and suppressed until I started dating my atheist boyfriend just over a year ago, who was open about his non-belief. I had told no one, I was embarrassed, I kept pretending, and trying to convince myself that Christianity was true. He was someone I could talk about it with. Pretty soon I was opening up to more people. I found out my best friend was also an atheist, and believed none of the Christian bullshit we grew up with, she just kept quiet about it because she thought I still believed it.

    Still, however, I have not told my parents. They have trouble sleeping at night because I don’t go to church, and ask me when I will be “born again,” because it will just kill them if I died and went to hell. I don’t know when I will finally tell them, I suppose when I’m done with college and fully moved out.

  204. 221

    @0, Greta Christina:

    I’d love to see some good sociologists tackle this question, and get a good, large, somewhat statistically representative sampling of non-believers to answer this question.

    You might care to track down Altemeyer and Hunsberger’s studies. “Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion” (ISBN 1-573-92147-5) obtained a statistically representative (within usual WEIRD limits) sampling of conversions from unusually irreligious upbringing to unusually religious attitude and deconversions from unusually religious upbringing to unusually irreligious attitude, using the simple brute-force approach of surveying some 4000 undergraduates, and taking those in the appropriate distribution quartiles for those two criteria to find about a score or two of the types of interest.

    They also did a followup study focused on Atheists (ISBN 1-591-02413-7), which includes a not-so-representative sampling of such accounts from members of a couple atheist organizations that agreed to have a representative sub-sample participate in a survey. It also has some fascinating attitude comparisons of atheists (organized and not) to religious fundamentalists, regular churchgoers, inactive believers, and agnostics.

    Dead-tree copies are a little hard to find, but Kindle editions are available.

  205. 222

    I was raised agnostically – my parents just didn’t put much effort into thinking about religion, one way or the other. My mother is now an outspoken atheist like me (as we all get older and family members begin to die, and the prayer-offerings start rolling in, forces one to take a harder look at whether you believe, I guess). My brother and I absorbed her don’t-really-believe-but-know-that-everyone-else-does-and-feel-vaguely-uncomfortable-so-just-say-you’re-agnostic attitude.

    I got really into Wicca around end of high school, and spent years trying to find some religion, any religion – or new age interpretation of – that would fit my notions of morality. I “knew” that spirituality was an integral component of the human condition. Everyone everywhere had some sort of Faith – I heard it over and over particularly during my undergrad, which was a degree in Agroecology. It was a science program, with heavy helping of social justice, so it drew in the hippy set with strong ‘it’s all relative, it’s correct if someone somewhere believes it’ set. I was becoming desperate, and rather (in highsight, ridiculously) unhappy about the fact that I couldn’t find any version of spirituality circling about that fit my criteria:
    1) Women are people. No more, no less.
    2) Whatever miracle/magic/whatever is espoused must be plausible under known scientific paradigms (i.e. is meditation beneficial?…okay. Can you cast spells?… fuck right off).
    3) Does it match my morals, based on human empathy, and not causing suffering for others?

    I reached the breaking point a few years ago, I think I was about 25, when one night after reading some spiritual blogger my aunt recommended, I burst into tears and sobbed to my husband, “I just can’t make myself believe any of this!” and he asked “Why does that make you cry??” and I said “Because everyone says that people need to have some sort of Faith in the supernatural or spiritual realm or whatever bullshit to be complete and happy, and I can’t make myself believe in things that defy logic, reason, or the-science-as-we-know-it. I will never be happy!”

    And then I went “whoa”. I was perfectly happy if I let myself do what came naturally, and critically evaluate, and use my damn brain and the scientific education I paid for. I already had a robust sense of moral justice; religious teachings were usually repugnant to me (mostly on feminist grounds). I was just afraid to accept it because of all the True Believers who told me I needed them to be happy, and swallowed the lie about atheists being nihilists (and mostly just mean – they said that things weren’t true just because people believed them! Assholes!). I immediately read The God Delusion – the most nihilistic, mean-spirited atheist screed I’d heard about. And…. it was completely reasonable, funny, and steeped in moral sense and compassion for humans.

    The piece of mind has been incredible.

  206. 223

    I was seven years old. I was sitting in the pew of St. Paul’s Lutheran church and the pastor, a golfing buddy of my father, was standing behind the casket of my mother, presiding at her funeral. He was trying to explain that we should be happy because my mother was in a better place, somewhere called heaven. This seemed to me to be the most ridiculous statement any one could make. It was patently obvious that no one present shared his assessment of the situation. No one I was familiar with was happy that my mother had just died of Hodgkin’s Disease, they all seemed rather distraught. I my self was bereft with grief and loss. It was painfully clear that the best place for my mother to be was with her two young children and loving husband. Where else should she be? Why would God have more pressing business with a young mother? I may not have become an Atheist right at that moment but the contradictions presented by religion had become painfully obvious. These contradictions only grew more obvious as time passed. My father did not give up his religious beliefs and this became a great gulf between us, one that remains to this day. My father remarried a very religious woman with two sons very soon after (about a year) and at that time I felt I had lost my father also. I was eight years old and living in a house full of strangers who I did not trust or understand. I had become an orphan in my mind. Both parents gone and living in a strange unpredictable world.

  207. 224

    I was never a strong believer in the first place. I think I always suspected that the things I learned in church were fairy tails. A key turning point though, was reading Franny and Zooey, by JD Salinger. (This was in early high school.) The book is not about atheism. But it has a strong ecumenical bent(there is probably a better word than ecumenical to describe the philosophy of the book, but I don’t know what that might be), pointing out that the morality and some general philosophy is shared between many diverse religions. It made me seriously question how one religion can be “right” if by definition that made the rest “wrong”. I realized pretty quickly that most likely they were all wrong, after all, how could anyone ever figure out which was most plausible when none made logical sense. At that time I came to the conclusion that morality is human nature and religion as most of us know it was mythology.

  208. 225

    For me, it was the simple realization that the universe makes more sense without any supernatural beings than with one. Major catalysts for deconversion were Carl’s Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World” and Bertrand Russell’s collection of essays “Why I Am Not a Christian”.

    I think it was a long process over many years, allowing myself to doubt. Looking back, I can see that I’ve always been an analytical thinker and a skeptic in many regards. I think it’s a fundamental part of who I am, but I resisted it for a long time. I don’t think everyone is necessarily like that. A lot of people are not naturally skeptical or willing to reexamine their beliefs.

  209. 226

    I was raised Catholic but was exposed very early to other religions. When I was 3 we moved to Saudi Arabia and I went to pre-school and kindergarden there. As a result, I’ve always been aware that other people believe different things.

    Even so, I believed. I worried about my soul. I prayed. Then I got older, and learned more. I was and still am enamored with science and learning new things. As I became aware of more of the world I kept mentally adjusting my conception of God. The old testament is mostly fable, but still important. The Big Bang occurred, but that could be how god made everything. etc.

    I went to college, learned more, adjusted more. By the time I graduated, I began describing myself as spiritual. I didn’t believe in the divinity of Chirst, but still believed in God. A God, anyway.

    Then in I read about Dover. My mind had been changing and it was a shock to realize that not everyone was going though the same process. I began to read more, and found AronRa, Thunderfoot and all the rest that exposed me to even more of the nuttiness that’s out there. I would have called myself agnostic then.

    I began to more critically examine my own beliefs. I thought about what it would mean if there were a God, how we could know or not. Ultimately, I decided that until there was some sort of positive evidence, then – like dragons or fairies – God was just a fable, an occasionally useful metaphor, but not real.

    In short, I’m a curious person that loves to learn and the thing that helped me the most was just having the information out there to be discovered and explored.

  210. 227

    I was raised a Southern Baptist and went to church regularly until I was about 14. My father was agnostic but had agreed to raise my sisters and me in my mother’s church. He even went with us a couple of times a year. I “believed,” I guess, in the sense that any kid believes what he is told, but I never felt the spark, and never succumbed to the pressure to be baptized. By the time I was 14, I was just going through the motions — I didn’t believe, and religion was just a social activity. Around that time I asked my church youth group if I could bring my friend Jerry to our Tuesday night meetings. Jerry was from the wrong side of the tracks, and unpopular. The other kids in the group said they’d just as soon I not bring him. The preacher agreed.

    That’s when I turned against religion. Initially, it was over the shock of hypocrisy, but as I began reading more adult books I came to believe that religion is responsible for far more harm than good. Nothing I have seen or experienced since (I am 65 now) has changed my mind.

    Sadly, I must confess that in order to keep the peace I in turn agreed to allow my wife to raise our own children in her faith, the Catholic church. It didn’t take … my son, 45 and with a family of his own, is just like me; so is my 36-year-old daughter.

  211. 228

    My mother is agnostic but stayed out of our religious education; dad was an off-beat, questioning Catholic, my husband in an atheist. All influenced my thinking.

    I formed my religious opinions and drifted away from the Nicean and Apostle’s Creeds little by little, dropping one line at a time since about the age of ten or twelve, even though I went to mass regularly because I enjoyed the plainchant and the sermons at the local cistercian abbey, then the grandiose architecture and the organ concertos at the basilica Notre-Dame, and later the friendliness and the Guam choir at the little St. Barnabas Church in Alameda.

    First I dropped “the resurrection of the body”, then “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”, then “the Holy Spirit”, “the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints”, then the rest all went in tatters over time until I pretty much stayed silent during the recitation of the Credo.

    Then there was a period of several years when I fell out of the habit of thinking about religion. I settled in my ways, and didn’t go to church, but I still considered myself able to stay within the boundaries of the Catholic Church, however stretched, by relying on my conscience. It became more and more difficult as every papal bull I read was more out of touch with reality, but I made allowances for the advanced age of the previous pontiff.

    But when the group of old men entrusted with the selection of a spiritual leader so rapidly selected the only candidate on the list which I knew I couldn’t live with, Joseph Ratzinger, I felt I had been thrown out and the door slammed behind me. I certainly felt no kinship, no sense of community left with the Roman Catholic Church.

    Being “out the door” brought me to take inventory of my spiritual beliefs, to gauge whether ideas formed years ago were still able to sustain me. I found that, if anything, jettisoning the Catholic framework made it easier to form a sense of peaceful, serene internal consistence. For one thing, I don’t have to hold on to any dogma. I’m not any more eager than anyone else to back away from dearly held beliefs, but when evidence suggests that these beliefs do not reflect reality, I am able to incorporate the new evidence into my understanding of the world, to change my mind and admit I have better information than I used to.

    I’m really more of a pantheist, but I fall under Hitchens’ and Dawkins definition of a functional atheist.

  212. 229

    This is a long one, but this is the first time I’ve ever put my story down in words, so I’m going to indulge.
    I’m not sure if you would describe my deconversion as being brought about by a single cause or not. It was a particular incident that began the whole thing, but it was certainly a long road from the first break in the dam of my mind to where I am now.
    I was raised in a Reformed church – Canadian Reformed for the few who may have heard of it. It was a very tight community and my family and friends and I seldom interacted with people outside of it on any real level. Don’t get me wrong, that kind of a close community certainly has its benefits, but it also meant that I had no idea what the real world was like, what every day people were like and the thought that we may be wrong just seemed so obscene that it didn’t even cross my mind until my mid teens. And when it finally did, I was so brainwashed that it was pretty easy for me to push the thought away and attribute it to the big scary devil trying to trick me and lead me astray. More questions and doubts came up over the next few years, but again, I had no idea how to take those questions further. I somehow managed to swallow weak answers when they were given to me. But even the questions that no one could answer I viewed as interesting dilemmas that I just couldn’t solve rather than seeing that they were major holes in my belief system. That is where my deconversion should have began but for whatever reason, I wasn’t ready. When I look back now I’m rather embarrassed of the fact that I was such a sheep. No ability to think skeptically and critically, and actually proud of the fact.
    Eventually I went to a private Christian university and lived on campus which gave me my first experience outside of the little bubble in which I had spent my whole life. Although it was Christian, it was not nearly as fundamental and conservative as I was used to and I began to see different types of people and different view points. Soon enough I met more people through new friends at school and started dating a *gasp* “non-Christian”. We had a lot of talks and he taught me to look critically at my beliefs. I still don’t know if he was actually trying to talk me out of it, or just enjoyed discussion, but the fact is, he asked questions that I couldn’t reasonably answer. All this time I had been pushing away questions about inconsistencies and fallacies and ignoring the implications. But now there was a real live person asking me these questions and it wasn’t so easy to blow them or him off. I searched for answers in myself, in prayer, and in my bible. I talked with trusted coreligionists, parents and ministers. The answers weren’t there.
    The first concession that I had to make was that the bible had contradictions within itself. Up until then I had considered the bible to be perfect and infallible and 100% truth, which meant that nothing else mattered. If science disagreed with the bible, than the scientists have made a mistake. Bible stories may be fantastical, but it’s the bible, so there was no doubt they were true. Once I had to admit that the bible was no perfect source though, it called EVERYTHING into question. Unbelievable stories became precisely that – unbelievable. So I left my church and decided to search for one that would allow for a less literal interpretation. But I quickly realized that without the bible’s so-called authority I had no way of filtering the good from the bad and the truth from the lies other than what sounded good to me. But other people were doing that too and coming up with different conclusions than me. So, if a god did exist (I had come far enough to entertain the idea that he didn’t), he must not have very specific requirements for our lives or else his instructions and his very existence wouldn’t be so questionable and open to interpretation. Not to mention the fact that Christianity is only one of many religions and we have no way of knowing which is closer to the truth. So I decided that the existence of a god or gods was questionable and unknowable at this point, and the only reasonable course was to live as an agnostic, be the best person I can and re-evaluate if anything were to change in the future. I certainly didn’t identify as an atheist then as I misunderstood and had the common misconception that to be atheist was to be arrogant, close minded, angry and prickish.
    Over the next five years, I didn’t invest a whole lot of energy into it but I did gradually slide from one side of the agnostic scale to the other (from “I can’t KNOW if the supernatural exists, but it wouldn’t really surprise me”, to “I can’t know for sure but it seems unlikely”) and I was pretty content with my choices. Then I somehow stumbled on an “Atheist Experience” video on Youtube one day and couldn’t get enough. It was like I had a thirst for knowledge that I just didn’t know about and was now awakened. I devoured their Youtube videos, and a whole new world opened up to me. I discovered this blog next, I think because it was mentioned on the show. I couldn’t get enough of the new knowledge and the rational, logical discussions and arguments. Slowly I realized that I was actually an atheist. I finally understood the difference between lacking a belief in something due to insufficient evidence, and claiming with finality that something does not exist. But I am still not sure when exactly was the moment that I went from agnostic to atheist (or “agnostic-atheist” if you want to be technical). I’m not even sure what happened next as it was a whirlwind of new information, discoveries and learning. From here I learned of Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Dan Dennet and on and on and on. I was exposed for the first time to science and facts that showed me that while an absolute answer IS unknowable, the evidence we do have points towards the non-existence of a god more so than the opposite. And all of this gradually led me to the point where I not only identify as an atheist, but I am now comfortable in my atheism. I know that there are a lot of people out there like me. Even if I can’t identify with people in my personal life on this particular topic, I’m not alone, I have permission to be who I am and as cliche as it sounds, I am free.

  213. 230

    I was a Christian until I went to college. The things I learned in college that made me an atheist are;

    1) In psychology I learned that you can measure the time it takes for signals to get to the brain, that we are basically machines. This blew me away.
    2) In psychological anthropology I learned about many of the various and diverse beliefs in the world. (Most of them had to be wrong, and was Christianity that much less strange in comparison?)
    3) In philosophy I learned the arguments for god. I wasn’t impressed.
    4) I took an epistomology course, which introduced me to skepticism.
    5) I had an agnostic psych professor who had us read Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape and Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. That did it. I couldn’t be a Christian after reading The Selfish Gene. I realized, and still believe, that evolutionary theory – as laid out by Dawkins – is incompatible with Christianity.

  214. 231

    At thirteen, in my CoW college, we started a class labelled RE, supposedly Religious Education, and run by a number of CoW preachers who were also specialists in other subjects. I say supposedly, as in fact, it was more comparative religion and ethics than anything else. We started each class by highlighting a particular ethical or world religion item, maybe something in the news at the time, to spark a discussion, and, were not only allowed, but encouraged, to openly discuss it in class. We were also encouraged to read the holy books of all the other major religions.

    This reading was then the start of my fairly rapid retreat from xianity and all religion. For, ironically, this was also the first time I fully read the bible and there was so much obvious and blatant contradiction, not too mention the outright horror that was god, that it just didn’t make sense. When I raised this with any of the teachers, while they didn’t reject or dismiss the problems I raised, their explanations didn’t really do much to allay the suspicion that was growing that this was goobledeygook. Over the next few months I then read the Torah, The Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, and while interesting, all it did was throw up even more inconsistencies, both between the various beliefs and even, as in the bible, in each belief itself.

    It wasn’t far from there to realising that not only could all of them not be right, even using the widest possible latitude, it was looking more and more as if none of them could possibly be right. It took a few more discussions with my teachers and among others in the class with similar queries and problems to realise that mankind likely invented god and religion. Thankfully, when some of us told our teacher that we no longer believed, his main response was mainly one of disappointment, but other than that there was no negativity. Though we were told not to expect to be allowed to escape the daily morning prayer and Sunday service in the School chapel. That was in the 1960s and I have been a, when necessary, vocal, old Gnu atheist ever since.

  215. 232

    I was asked one time how I “lost my faith,” and my reply was that I didn’t lose it, I had “thrown it away.” It all happened one day about twenty years ago.

    God and I got into a wrestling match, and I pinned him to the mat. It was after that that he changed my same from an actual “person” name to something like “Detroit” or “Saudi Arabia” or some weird shit…..oh, wait! I remember! It was Israel!

    I didn’t like it, so since he’d obviously handed over some level of power to me, I figured I’d test it, and poofed him right out of existence.

  216. 233

    I just outgrew it. I was raised Catholic in the 1970s, post-Vatican II church, so it was actually a very pleasant experience for me. No fire and brimstone, no sexual assaults. My pragmatic Catholic high school had real sex-ed classes that gave real facts about birth control. (Seriously! Ever see a nun put a condom on a banana?)

    As a kid I used to talk to my imaginary friend Jesus, just voicing my problems and questions out loud. Around age 10 or 12 I realized I was just talking to myself, and talking to oneself was actually a valid way to process ideas.

    There was a Bloom County strip where the question was asked of what had existed before the Big Bang, as if this was some counter to that theory. But I realized the other side was equally a problem: where did god come from? And what the heck was he doing all that while until he got bored and created the universe?

    The whole notion of god just seemed silly, and I discarded it. I was about sixteen years old.

  217. pj

    I grew up in a secular family. The only ‘believer’ I knew was my Granny, and she was eccentric in other ways too. Overall, the message that I got growing up was that ‘believers’ were bit suspect and definitely not morally superior. By believer I guess I mean not theists but those who you ‘merkans would probably call ‘born again’.

    As Mommy is very traditionalist in her outlook, I was duly put to Sunday school anyway and was bought a multi-volume childrens Bible with pretty pictures. All the characters in it looked caucasian come to think of it…I got to know the Bible very well.

    At the same time I learned about nature, evolution, astronomy and geology. I was a voracious reader from the age four onwards. Bible stories and the scientific narrative co-existed in their respective boxes in my mind and I didn’t much bother with pondering if they are contradictory or not. If push had become to shove I probably would’ve admitted that Bible isn’t really-really true in the same way as dinosaurs are really-really true. Probably.

    We have mandatory Religious Education in my country. So at school I started to learn about the theology of Christianity. Finally came the day I was told the whole *point* of Christianity. It was to be ‘saved’ by faith and faith alone. You get to the good place if you believe in Jesus. Otherwise you go to the bad place. Your deeds in life do not matter. There and then I decided to utterly reject such a vile and immoral belief system. I became anti-theist.

    Then when I took some time examining what I actually believed, I noticed I don’t believe in this god stuff anyway. I noticed I was an atheist.

    This all happened before I reached puberty.

  218. 235

    In my case, it was largely the arguments for evolution. I grew up in a conservative Christian family, and was always told that there was evidence for the Bible, creation, etc, that you should be skeptical of claims and investigate them thoroughly, that the evidence for God would always come through. So in high school, when I decided to attend a public university for Biology, I made an in-depth investigation of creationist arguments (the idea being I would be able to refute the evil ideas of evolution by the time I started college). It worked the other way around – the evidence for evolution kept adding up, the “evidence” for creation kept dissolving into nonsense and lies, and after a year or two I was pretty well convinced. The kind of Christianity I was raised in meant I just wasn’t ok with believing in something that was only a metaphysical sort of truth, so I left Christianity. I spent a few years wandering through neo-paganism, agnosticism, etc, became increasingly skeptical of the supernatural in general, and now identify as atheist.

    I do feel my “de-conversion” benefited greatly from communities, websites, online articles, and books that debunk creationism and explain the evidence for evolution. I began by talking to atheists and a few pro-evolution christians on the theologyweb.com, and branched out from there to quite a few books and google searches (especially talk.origins resources). After I first left christianity, I really benefited from communities, like Skepchick, the blogs here (I’ve read PZ for a couple years and more recently began reading this blog), and a local college freethought group. The community aspect has really helped me develop from a not-christian to someone who identifies as atheist and is willing to openly talk about why I’m an atheist.

  219. 236

    I used to be certain god existed. The evidence was in how kind people were to each other when we could betray each other for profit. It kind of faded gradually after I learned game theory, though.

  220. 237

    For me, letting go of religion was a multi-step process, with several different factors playing into it.

    I was raised Catholic. I bought a lot of the stuff I was taught, though I was never as devout or fervent as some. I always thought questions of existence, meaning, ethics, etc. were important, and I always asked questions.

    About the same time I entered college, I had the good sense to say to myself “Waitaminute. I don’t actually know any of this stuff is true.” It wasn’t because I read anything in particular or had any conversations in particular that made me think this, but I’ve always been pretty good at logic, and I (sometimes) am smart enough to know when I don’t actually have logical support for something. So from that point, I declared my religion as Undecided, and I continued exploring the truth.

    I should mention that although I did not call myself christian anymore, I was very sympathetic to christian values and beliefs. I thought the idea of there being one God (as opposed to many) just made sense. I thought christianity as a whole made more sense than the mythologies of religions like Buddhism or Islam. Now I would say they’re all silly, but at the time I was still quite under the influence of my upbringing. In addition, I had hangups about sex that I’m still trying to get over fully.

    I kept having conversations about religion, and occasionally reading about philosophy of religion. I didn’t do too much in-depth study throughout college or for several years after. Something I did do was debate religion and evolution a lot with my uncle, who is a Jehovah’s Witness. So that was a frequent source of thought-provocation for me.

    I don’t remember how exactly my beliefs changed over time. I think that for most of my “Undecided” phase I retained most of my sympathy for the basic views of christianity. If I recall correctly, all of that changed rather suddenly – around the time that I read Why Evolution is True (WEIT) by Jerry Coyne.

    Through the constant debates with my uncle about evolution, I realized I didn’t actually know what the evidence for evolution was (though I accepted its truth). When WEIT came out and received high praise, I thought “That’s the book I need to read.”

    So I did, and that’s when things started to really change for me (this was about 6 years after I first declared myself Undecided). As I read through WEIT, I found myself “letting go” of the idea of there being a god. Even though I had previously believed in god and evolution, learning about the theory of evolution, which is so detailed and so specific and so predictive, must have created a strong contrast in my mind between real knowledge, and the vague, non-predictive ideas about god I had floating around up there. I just didn’t see the need to posit the existence of a god, or anything supernatural, anymore. That’s really the best I can describe it; learning about evolution was like training in scientific thought.

    Around the same time I read WEIT, I was also exploring atheist/science blogs on the internet, and learning a lot. Those blogs sealed the deal for me, and helped me get over a lot of my hangups about criticizing religion, or about treating people unfairly because of their beliefs, etc. The WEIT blog was helpful, as was Pharyngula. My beliefs had started to change by this point, and I think these blogs helped me retrain my values. Reading about atheism is what made me feel comfortable calling myself an atheist, when previously I had not been.

    So that’s basically how it happened. It wasn’t any arguments that convinced me, but learning about scientific thinking (via evolution) that made me an atheist. Still, it was a long process from start to finish, and I’m sure my mind was changing in subtle ways the whole time.

    Hope this helps!

  221. 238

    For me it was a gradual process that wasn’t really intentional at first. When I entered college, I was still a rather liberal Protestant Christian and remained that way during most of my undergrad. I started doubting later in my undergrad, and the process accelerated when I started working on my Ph.D. in engineering. One of the reasons that I was religious in high school was for the social aspect, another was that I grew up in Texas where many people don’t understand that not being religious is an option (or even possible). The largest reason though was definitely education. As I increased my technical knowledge (physics and math heavy, but a bit of biology scattered about too), my religiosity lessened. Even though I “believed in God”, I didn’t actually believe there was anything he had done. I basically went to agnostic (the wishy-washy, somewhat apologist kind) completely on my own, but once I started reaching out and reading blogs such as yours, that’s when I gave up all of my pro-religious/religion ideas.

    I did a blog post a while back talking about my conversion in greater detail if you’re interested: http://chronosynclasticinfundibulum.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/my-journey-from-being-a-liberal-christian-in-texas-to-an-atheist-in-california/

  222. 239

    Background for me. Born in 1953 in Boston to first-generation Irish Catholics. Mother very devout, father a believer, mother’s brother a priest in my parish (head of my school).
    I would have been OK if I had not been sent to school. The nuns were stern but loving, handing out the corporal punishments we “earned” with reluctance. However, even in the first few years of school the mysteries of the Baltimore Catechism were tough for a logical mind to swallow. When questioned about these inconsistencies, the nuns would talk about faith and their kicker was “All will be revealed to you when you die.”
    I didn’t know how any of my classmates could accept that one. Why didn’t I just commit suicide to get the info? Well, that would be a sin, and you would be shut out. Ouch!
    We received First Communion near the end of second grade. Unfortunately for me communion practice and little league practice clashed a few times. I went to the park with my glove (we walked everywhere in those days). Of course you can’t get away with this, and I did not. I was in trouble with my mother, my uncle, my teachers and Mother Superior.
    When called into M.S.’s office I was unrepentant. “Well, Joe, you may not be able to get your communion until next year.”
    “Fine with me.”
    Wrong answer. They would make sure I knew what a bad kid I was by putting me at the end of the line, waaaay out of my alphabetical order. My poor mother. She knew right then. I had no guilt in me.

  223. 240

    Hello Greta. I’m a long-time lurker, but I believe this will be the first time I’ve commented on your blog. I’ve wanted to write this story down for a long time, and this seems like an ideal opportunity.

    For me, becoming an atheist was definitely a decision I came to, very slowly, pretty much entirely on my own. I suppose that’s why I’m not really sold on the idea of trying to argue believers out of their faith. I’m not really a ‘convert’, and my beliefs – or rather lack of them – are very much my own.

    My journey from belief to atheism took about 8 years. I grew up in a family and a community (in the UK) that was nominally Christian, but which was and still is strictly divided along sectarian (Catholic/Presbyterian) lines. It’s really hard to explain the impact of this to an outsider, but whether anyone was a practising Christian was relatively unimportant compared to whether they identified with the Catholic or the Protestant side. In a very real sense it was impossible NOT to be a Christian. Saying one was anything else – a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an atheist – was essentially treated as a joke. The old punchline, “Aye, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?” is funny because it’s TRUE. People actually did ask that question – they didn’t really care what your beliefs were, just which side you were allied with. But in doing so they effectively erased any identity other than those two – both of which are obviously Christian.

    So growing up my world – school, family and friends – was very much divided into Us and Them. (Both primary and secondary schools were segregated into Catholic and non-denominational. Everyone knew that non-denominational meant Protestant.) And I was taught that We were good and righteous and honest, and They were evil and conniving and just plain wrong. But about the age of 11 or 12 I began to think, what makes Us so different from Them? What makes Us right, and Them wrong?

    Since parents and other adults tended to get angry with that question, the most natural place to look for answers to these questions seemed to be in church. I mean, all our differences were about religion, right? (Yeah, I know, they weren’t. Give me a break – I was just a kid.) My family weren’t big churchgoers, but I started studying the bible and going to a local church on my own every Sunday. But the more I read and the more I sat and sang the hymns and listened to the sermons, the more questions and contradictions it raised. And none of it answered my questions about why We were better than Them.

    So then I started researching other denominations – first of all trying to find out what They believed that was so very different from Us, and then going on to study and experience as many different types of Christianity as I could. By the time I went to Uni at 17 I had more or less rejected the ‘truth’ of any form Christianity, but I hadn’t quite given up on belief in a god or gods of some sort. Then I began to look at other religions – basically I got an encyclopaedia and went through them one by one – and eventually I came to some important conclusions:

    1) Science and religion were probably born in the same moment – the moment the first man-like ape or ape-like man looked at a flowing river or a sunrise or a lightning strike and said, “I wonder why that happens?” Asking the question is ‘science’ in its most basic form, but in the absence of any real means of investigating the answer it’s easy to make up a story about an all-powerful being that controls the river or the sun or lightning storms, because ‘knowing’ the answer is a lot less scary than admitting you might never know it. It’s more comforting to believe you can act in a way that appeases the ‘gods’ than to admit you have no control over the natural world. The story is powerful because it provides those answers; that comfort. As the story spreads it becomes dogma; non-belief becomes heresy – are you going to risk being punished because your neighbour fails to appease the gods? Or are you going to punish your neighbour for non-compliance? And so a religion is born.

    2) Science is about knowledge and religion is about power. Those that have control of the ‘story’ – even if they believe it themselves – have immense power in the community. Any questioning of the story is a threat to that power – and so the structures of religion are designed to prevent questioning and perpetuate the story.

    3) Man makes god(s) in his own image – most religious ‘stories’ seem to say more about the societies in which they were born than about the nature of ‘god’.

    4) Science actually provides answers to questions about the world, in a way that religion is designed not to.

    So having reached these conclusions somewhere around the middle of university (about 1990 or so) I discovered I’d stopped believing in god(s), as well as in any other supernatural phenomena, but I didn’t really have a name for what I was. I was reading Maths and Physics at uni, but I also read a lot of other popular science books, including Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. It was a relief to finally find someone who so perfectly articulated what I’d been struggling with for so long, and I would say that’s the point when I began to think of myself as an atheist.

    I didn’t ‘come out’ as an atheist until about 10 years after that, when I moved to another part of the country which doesn’t have the sectarian problem I grew up with. I’ve only recently begun to seek out the atheist community online, but I’m still a bit leery, for a lot of reasons. Your blog aside I find it to be very US-centric, for one thing. It’s tiresome in every conversation to receive arguments couched in terms of the right to free speech, or the (US) constitution, or separation of church and state, and having to say, “But my county is different,” and then often having to explain in detail not only HOW the social/political/religious landscape is different from the US (which is invariably assumed to be the norm, if not the ideal), but WHY it’s different (ie give everyone a 101 lesson in 2000 or so years of British history). And as I said above I’m not really interested in arguing with Christians or other believers – not that I think it isn’t worth doing, but it isn’t my thing. I’d rather spend my time talking about secular ethics or campaigning on other secular issues.

  224. 241

    I’d never been a particularly firm believer in gods. From childhood, I just assumed god existed because everyone else did, and figured he must be responsible for the things I didn’t understand yet.

    However, the moment that really got me thinking was in 7th grade, when we spent a day on world religions in my social studies class. Up until then, I didn’t realize there WERE other religions besides Christianity. I’d heard of Jews, but I didn’t know they were another religion. As I read through what all the other world religions believed, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is silly. Who in their right mind would ever think any of this is real?”

    And then I got to thinking… the only reason it seemed “silly” to me was because I was unfamiliar with it. Then I began wondering if people in those religions thought my religion was “silly” if they heard about it. And as I thought more, I realized that there wasn’t anything objectively more sensible about what I believed than what anyone else believed.

    From there I pretty much abandoned the idea of a god being a given. I didn’t outright assert there was no god, but I never called on it as a potential explanation for anything. And after many years of realizing that falling back on “god” as an explanation for something had never proven necessary, it became apparent that such an entity in all likelihood did not actually exist.

  225. 242

    I don’t know if anyone is still reading down here at comment 242, but:

    I was a full devout Catholic believer. I was planning to be a nun until I hit adolescence – when I tell the story I say “I knew I wanted a husband and children” but really I knew I wanted sex, whatever that was. A Catholic prayer group was my main social group through high school and where I met my husband.

    I love learning about everything, how things work and why they are the way they are. I read a lot about physics and evolution. In early adulthood (20s/30s) I started asking questions about faith. I remember one of the first was: Why did god harden Pharoah’s heart when it caused so much suffering for his chosen people? The only answer to “why” anything at all about faith or God was “God is mysterious”, “We don’t know his plan,” etc. I started really searching for some way to reconcile what seemed true about the world with any kind of faith. Over about 10 years, I went from one belief system to another; Richard Bach’s novels, Neale Donald Walsch and his Conversations with God, Unity, Unitarian. Each had less and less God in it.

    I ended with: Quantum physics does suggest that there is a connection throughout the universe, that must be God. Then the final thought: So there is a connection. What evidence is there that the connection has a personality and opinions and cares about us? POP! It was like a soap bubble burst – everything I understood about how the world worked not only did not require any higher conscious being, it made more sense without it.

    My brother said to me years ago: “So there is a powerful, omnipotent being that allows or causes bad things to happen and that’s supposed to be comforting? I’m way more comforted by the thought that the universe is indifferent to us and stuff happens for no reason.” I don’t remember when he said that, but it has really stuck with me. It might have been in my teens, and might have been the start of my questioning.

  226. 243

    Three things.

    1) When I was in high school (late 1990s), I saw a segment on TV about James Randi. I gre up in Brazil, where everyone believes in all kinds of superstitions. Astrology, auras, psychics, Voodoo ceremonies, doing this or that little ritual for luck, wearing this saint’s wristband or that saint’s jewelry when you’re going through certain situations… These things had always sounded like BS to me, but I could never really develop my skepticism because EVERYONE believed in the superstitions. Even the smartest and most reasonable people I know said “Who knows, people keep doing it, there’s probably something to it”. Then I saw James Randi on TV, and learned that he would literally award a million dollars to anyone who could show him evidence that any of that worked at all. Seeing him on TV, a smart person who had rejected all superstition and saw no good reason to look back, basically gave me “clearance”, made me feel like I had “permission”, to become a naturalist and a skeptic, and to reject all superstition. Which I did.

    2) When I was in college, I was still a deist. I mean, if the universe exists, then it must have a creator, right? Especially a universe as intricate and harmonious and fine-tuned as ours. Then I read George Smith’s “Atheism; The Case Against God”. It introduced me to two ideas: (A) But if things that exist have a creator, then the creator must have a creator. Who created the creator? And who created THAT creator? The creator must be even more complex and perfect than his creation. So any God must have been created by a Super God, who was created by a Hyper God, who was created by an Uber God, etc. It makes much more sense to think that the universe has always existed. Which brings me to (B) if all possible universes exist, then most of them are not “fine-tuned”, and it’s the ones that happen to be “fine-tuned” that end up having life in them, life that marvels at how lucky they are that the universe seems to have been made for them!

    3) After college, I read “Godel Escher Bach”, “The Mind’s I”, “Consciousness Explained”, and “I Am A Strange Loop”. These books showed me that it is possible to think about human thought as computation. That the “I” is an illusion. That when you have enough dumb little parts each mechanically and deterministically following simple rules, the most wonderful behavior emerges, including the self. That thinking of ourselves as a “self” is something we learn how to do. That there is no difference between the matter that makes me up and any other matter in the universe, other than the matter that makes me up triggers signals to my brain when it’s touched. This allowed me to finally shed the idea of a supernatural soul, which I had a lot of trouble getting rid of (even though I was already an atheist). I believe that the idea of the self as a naturalistic, deterministic, emergent, computational, self-referential phenomenon is one of the most amazing ideas I have ever come across, to the point where I pity all the people in the world who are still dualists (which is most people). Like Neil deGrasse Tyson says about the common origin of the iron in our blood and the iron from meteors, the stuff I read from Dennett and Hofstadter about the mind and the self and the “I” and consciousness makes me want to grab people in the street and say “HAVE YOU HEARD THIS?”

  227. 244

    My deconversion was a multi-stage process over the course of about five years.

    The first step was the realization that the religion I was practicing was not actually lining up with my values and conscience. I was going to an evangelical church and trying to reconcile their teachings with my feelings about feminism, gay rights, etc.

    I began to study the field of apologetics, in the hope that others had studied these problems and found viable answers, but of course I didn’t find that. What I did find was a great big pile of lies. Some of the lies I found were so egregious and so obvious in their concerted effort to shield believers from the truth that it put me off Christianity completely.

    However I still held religious tradition and spirituality as a virtue and a necessary part of the human experience, so I delved into the woo-woo depths, looking for something that gave the community, moral structure, ritual, and similar comforts of religion but also made sense and aligned with my core values. After a few years of meandering I settled on Buddhism.

    Gradually my Buddhist practice began to focus less on the supernatural (chants, shrines, enlightenment) and more on the practical (meditation, moderation, 8-fold path).

    The final step from religious to nonreligious I can credit directly to you, Greta. A feminist blog I read linked to you, and I started reading some of your greatest hits. After approximately a week of reading and digesting your work, I self-identified as an Atheist for the first time.

    In particular, I was influenced by your posts ‘how and why I became an Athiest’ and ‘what’s wrong with a little woo?’

    Strategy wise, I think the one thing I see missing is helpful coordinated outreach that’s tangential to our conversation about beliefs. One of the great successes of evangelical Christianity is providing services like counseling, food assistance, dating, concerts, potlucks – things that are easier to invite friends to than a church service that still get some part of the message out. I love lectures and panels and conference activities, but we need more down to earth stuff. I’d like to see more local atheist groups holding trivia nights, rock band parties and picnics. Maybe free educational events teaching people how not to be a sucker; teaching people about various types of scams and how to spot them would promote skepticism and rational thought without getting people up in arms defending their religious beliefs.

  228. 245

    My path to atheism was a gradual one. Incremental steps. I grew up in the UK in the 1970s and everyone, everyone! said Xtian prayers in school assemblies then: Xtian, Muslin, Jew, Trippy-Hippy, Hindu whatever. It never occurred to me that there was no actual evidence for any of this tripe we were fed about God. As a child I thought it was just one more example of the divide between adults and children, which was why they made us close our eyes during prayers. They would get to ‘see’ and we didn’t. When I was six, a library project on the weather opened my eyes to a whole other world and that maybe life wasn’t quite as simple as ‘thanking God for sending the rain’ – and bear in mind I was attending a very liberal, high end State School (who knows what the Catholic school down the road were telling their kids!). I asked a teacher about it the next time we did that prayer, that this project had never mentioned God sending the rain and got a hissed ‘Yes, but it’s nice to *think* that he does’ as a reply, which was at least honest. From then on I may not have been an atheist in name but I was a non-believer. I dabbled in all sorts of ‘spiritual’ ideas but always fell down on the actual ‘believing’ bit. Religion was something that was ‘nice to think was real’ but actual belief? faith? without evidence? I could never muster it. Time and experience have worn down even that. Religion, all of them, isn’t ‘nice’; it’s pernicious. I’m with Dara O’Briain. The whole lot of them: ‘Get in the fucking sack!’

  229. 246

    Re-posted from Ed Brayton’s Dispatches blog.

    I walked away from organized religion as soon as I got out on my own, and never looked back. I grew up in a fundie family, church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday, Christian schools, the whole works. My parents are still very active in the church (Dad is an elder and treasurer) and my little brother teaches at a Christian university.

    I grew up on a literary diet of “Sugar Creek Gang” books and Jack Chick style tracts (one in particular I recall denied the existence of dinosaurs), which my parents unquestionably accepted and encouraged me to do as well. Of course I couldn’t just blindly accept what I was being told in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    A huge turning point for me happened after a Sunday evening service in my mid-teens. Some guy I’d never heard of was making the rounds speaking at churches, claiming to be a famous ex-rock-star that came to Jesus. He played a couple of 2-string chords real loud (scaring all the blue-haired ladies and causing me and my brother to stifle giggles), short unfamiliar riffs, to cement his ‘authenticity’ with the crowd, and went on to tell us that rock and roll was Satan’s evil music designed to subvert the youth. He said he had attended Black Masses at record pressing plants where Satan-worshipers cast demons into the vinyl. He claimed to have led record-burnings all around the country and that it was not uncommon to hear the screams of demons being released from the vinyl as the records burned. No Shit. And people actually believed it and scheduled a burning for the next Wednesday night meeting. My parents were sane enough not to take us to the burning, but they did go through our record collections and tossed out a couple of my brother’s Carpenters(!!!) albums because they had cover songs of the Beatles(!!!) on them (Help! and Ticket To Ride). No Shit. That experience sent up huge red flags for me.

    My parents are not insane or stupid by any measure, but to me this reaction to that ‘sermon’ was both. To see first-hand how actively practicing blind-faith acceptance of the unprovable and unfalsifiable on a highly regular basis can, out of sheer habit, lead sane, intelligent people to the blind-faith acceptance of other things they so obviously should be questioning, convinced me that organized religion can be dangerous and unhealthy to it’s participants. I mean c’mon, if you’ll fall so hard for something as crazy as that, what won’t you fall for? All one has to do is frame their message in such a way that they’re telling you something that you already want to hear, and anything that supports that gets swallowed up hook, line, and sinker right along with it, no matter how crazy or unlikely.

    The other thing was all the scandals. We were regularly changing churches because some scandal would inevitably come up every few years, always involving sex or money. Organized religion is well-attended by hypocrites, and I’d rather not be part of that crowd.

  230. 247

    I was the son of a Church in Wales schoolmaster and therefore attended church regularly. I accepted what I heard there by default. Later as an adolescent I went from C S Lewis’ science fiction to his apologetic books and was convinced by them for a time. I gradually realized (1) that I was enjoying his stories as stories, but with no particular feel that they were true (2) that other religions had just as good stories and that they contradicted each other, so couldn’t all be true. At some point I found myself outside the Christian belief system, with no obvious reason why I should get back in to that or any other religion.

  231. 248

    I have to admit that the initial spark that started my thinking fire isn’t the one I’m necessarily the most proud of, but it’s probably for the best and I can laugh about it later:

    I believe shortly after I was confirmed, I started having doubts about Catholicism and God specifically. Couple this with the fortuitous reading of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and the subsequent four books, and that humorous outlook really disarmed my fear of critically analyzing religion (realize I was in 7th-8th grade while this was going on).

    By 9th grade I had rationalized that it didn’t matter to me whether there was a God or a god or any higher power: I would simply wanted to live my life by my own definition of good, which consisted primarily of helping people. So from my agnosticism in 8th grade I grew to full blown atheism by 9th grade, and since then I’ve only gotten more sure of that my thought process has led me to the only logical conclusion.

    Of course, at the end of the day, what it comes down to is not what you believe or why you believe it, but what you do and how you do it. Yes, I actually think it’s that simple.

  232. 249

    When I was 18, I had been a member of a liberal Protestant church all my life, when I was going to church every week and being pretty involved. I enjoyed church services, and I felt like my religious faith was important to me.

    I grew up in a fairly conservative area of the US, and I never even heard the term “atheism” used very much – I didn’t know anyone personally who claimed be “atheist” until I was 14 or 15. I always liked talking about politics and religion. Since I was already politically liberal, I got into a lot of debates at school. When I was in high school, I started arguing about religion with some of my friends. Some of them were atheists or agnostics.

    These atheist friends of mine seemed to be really ignorant of what it’s like to be a liberal Christian. It seemed like fundamentalism was the only thing they understood. I had to keep explaining that I did reconcile science and religion – I accepted evolution, and believed that the Genesis account wasn’t entirely literal. They asked me how I felt about gay people. I said that I love gay people as a Christian, and that I actually am OK with homosexuality. They asked me how I squared that with the Bible – I said the New Testament message was more important to me. My atheist friends also asked me how I could talk to them and be friends with them, given that it says “do not yoke yourself to unbelievers”. I said I felt the parts of the Bible telling me to love other people, and the parts where Jesus spent time with tax collectors and other unsavory characters, justified our relationship.

    I had a lot of different opinions about how to interpret the Bible when I was in high school. The biggest issue my atheist friends kept asking me about was how I could interpret the Bible, how I could know what was metaphor, and what was literal. That argument didn’t change my mind. None of the arguments from my atheist friends in high school did anything at all to change my mind. Take from that experience a review of the arguments which do not work to convince a liberal Christian.

    What convinced me? I was a freshman in college, studying Eastern religions, when I had an epiphany. One day, I was sitting in class, when it occurred to me that most of the religions in the world share some remarkable similarities, and that it is difficult to know which one is more true than any of the other ones. I had a sudden crisis of faith: the foremost thought in my mind was – “what if all the religions of the world are not true? what if we live in a world without gods instead?”

    I couldn’t escape from that powerful and subversive line of reasoning. Over the next several days and weeks, these thoughts caused me to doubt my entire faith, starting with the supremacy of Christianity…eventually, I doubted the veracity of the Bible, the existence of the soul, the necessity of religion for morality to exist, and the compatibility of evolution and a Biblical account of sin. Those were not the arguments which caused me to become an atheist, but once I started to ask myself if it was more likely that religions were all false, I started to accept these arguments as more probable when I examined the evidence, and each of these arguments in turn reaffirmed my new lack of faith to a higher degree.

    The real sparkplug for my deconversion was my own thinking about how different religions are related to one another. If religions are similar to each other, perhaps all religion is a human creation. Perhaps religions are stories that people tell each other – just stories, not literal truths. Then I could only accept my own previous faith, Christianity, as just another story. That’s all it could ever be to me now, and that’s why I just couldn’t believe it anymore.

    After all that, everything else unraveled, too, once I started to read more writings from other agnostics and atheists on the Internet. YouTube was really helpful, especially this six-part introductory series on Freethought I found. All I remember is that the narrator had a southernish accent. The biggest impact was that it made atheism sound safe, reasonable, and not a big deal. The more I read, the more I felt that my initial doubts had been correct, and the more I felt it was OK to be an atheist. The community online was a huge part of helping me understand my new beliefs, because it was really hard to talk to anyone about it in person.

    I also joined a skeptical group at my college, and just seeing that all these other people were also atheists was important to me. However, the group was ineffective because all they ever talked about was atheism, and I felt like that was the only reason some of them were my friends – they did a very poor job of developing social roots in the club. I also felt like they spent too much time making fun of religion rather than positively discussing critical thinking and other similar ideas – as a former Christian, that still irked me and I felt it was counter-productive and tiresome. I am now dating a liberal Christian, and we have a very good understanding about religion. She pretty much believes most of what I believed when I was a Christian, and I have no problem with that. All people are human beings, similar to each other, no matter what beliefs they hold. This common similarity was the biggest thing which drove me to atheism, but this similarity also drives me to strive to understand why other people believe what they believe, and to try and respect their point of view – even if I disagree. As somebody famous once said: “remove the log from your own eye first”.

  233. 250

    I haven’t read the comments yet, but I wanted to add a mite to the burgeoning pile.

    My atheism was the conclusion of a cumulative case — but the final nail in the coffin was a Test I came up with, derived from my ruminations on the nature of God. I considered myself to be some sort of a “Transcendentalist” at the time — so this test clearly doesn’t rely on the subject needing to believe in one of the more traditional forms of authoritarian male gods. A spiritual “Higher Power” will do.

    Bottom line, the most significant, important, necessary ‘bottom line’ about all versions of God seemed to be this: if one does not believe in, accept, follow, connect with, or recognize God, then one’s life will be impoverished. God is supposed to matter. Having faith is supposed to make a difference. God is the most significant, important, necessary bottom line there IS. It’s foundational not just to life: it is foundational to a Good Life.

    Given this, it seemed reasonable to assume that one would not be able to live a life filled with love, value, beauty, purpose, or meaning WITHOUT, in the process, coming to believe in God. So I was going to test this.

    I would try to live out my life with love, value, beauty, purpose, and meaning without believing in God — and discover if it still made sense. If God exists, this should not be possible. If God is the foundation, then this recognition will be inescapable. God matters. I will see.

    You can guess what happened. Hello, Humanism.

    The interesting thing is that when I told my spiritual and religious friends about this “test” — they loved the idea. It was a great test! I was honest and open and good — so they just knew where it would inevitably lead me. They had no doubts.

    So I add my “Test for God” to your survey.

  234. 251

    Through high school, I accepted such statements as there is a God and Jesus is His son as facts, much as George Washington was our first President is a fact. However, I had no interest in religion and never gave the subject a moment’s thought. Between my freshman and sophmore year in college, I read a Life magazine article on how the Bible was created (I still do not know why I read that article). I immediately saw that the Bible, rather than being the word of God (as I had been told numerous times), was, like all books, the word of humans, ignorent humans at that. Then the obvious struck me: All those religious “facts” were really opinions that I was free to disagree with. For the first time in my life, I thought about religion and, within a week or less, became an atheist, for all the obvious reasons, with respect to the God of Christianity or any other religion. The more difficult question whether the existence of the universe requires the existence of an impersonal creative force or god led me to read many religious books and blogs, including yours, before concluding that the answer was ” No.” Today, I am a weak atheist with regard to the existence of a creator god, i.e, I do not believe in such a god, but a strong, very strong atheist with regard to the god of any religion, i.e., I do not believe that such a god exists.

  235. 252

    My change from religion to atheism was an internal one. It had to be, since it occurred while I was still immersed in Christian culture, at a Christian college. Fortunately, it was still a place where some of the professors encouraged thoughtful analysis, so in a biblical literature class I turned that on a core element of Christianity, the bible. The more we dissected it, the more we noted the conflicting passages, the more we saw similarities with other legends and epic literature of the time, the less divine it became. Eventually, living a life and basing a belief system on what was basically equivalent to Beowulf or the Epic of Gilgamesh began to seem a bit absurd. And as for the new testament, it was just a set of disjointed, mis-authored letters written decades after Jesus supposedly existed and selected as holy writ by a committee of church leaders centuries later.

    “But it’s symbolic, and has such wonderful truths, it doesn’t matter if it’s not literally true”, I would hear. But being symbolic and having (some) truths doesn’t make it divine, not by a long shot. A lot of things fit in that category that we don’t consider divinely inspired. Without its claim to divinity, it was just another old book.

    That being said, I think the only way a devoutly religious person is going to “convert” to atheism (as if we are now proselytizing…) is if they are really willing to take a hard look at what they believe. I don’t think any witty arguments or compelling reasoning will change the mind of someone set in their religion. In that regard, I think the most effective way of encouraging believers to make those choices is to promote an environment where people are taught to think critically about things they hear and are told, then let things unfold as they may. Trying to find the “magic bullet” to convert religious people to atheists is like Christians trying to find the same to convert atheists. Would any Christian argument convince you? I doubt it.

  236. 253

    Two items did it for me. One, Joseph Campbell ‘The Power of Myth’. I watched it on PBS through my Christian filter and was very troubled by it. I talked to a friend, who was studying to be ordained Presbyterian minister, about how we could know we are ‘right’ in our beliefs. He kindly sent me a treatise which was incredibly circular and very unsatisfying. When the program was repeated, I could not stop watching it, half wanting Campbell to be wrong and half wanting him to be right. But things were not adding up in my mined.

    The second item is the internet and the ease at which data can be gotten. After listening to Campbell I started looking up some of the myths that he talked about, like King Arthur and King David. To my surprise and dismay there is no evidence of David, or Jesus. The more I read, the more I realized how much misinformation I was being given. Slowly the scales fell off my eyes and the relief of not having to jam reality and myth together was a huge weight off of me.

  237. 254

    For me it was being put in a series of situations where my beliefs had very real and important consequences. For example, I was perfectly happy to do tarot readings while being more or less agnostic with regards whether or not they had any sort of magical powers, right up until someone asked me to do a reading to determine whether or not their friend, who when last heard from was in a war zone, had died. All of a sudden ‘There might be something to it and if not what’s the harm?’ doesn’t cut it anymore. I get the feeling that for most people, and certainly this was the case for me, it seems perfectly reasonable to believe whatever feels right or whatever makes you happy so long as it isn’t hurting anyone. Sometimes we need to be reminded that our beliefs have consequences, even ones that seem innocuous.

  238. 256

    I was raised southern baptist. Even as a kid I knew that something didn’t seem right about all that; even in Sunday school I felt like the stories I was hearing were ridiculous. When I was 12, my parents divorced. A couple of months after that my mother approached my two sisters and me on a Sunday morning. She announced that she was no longer going to church and that it hadn’t been working for her for some time. She added that if any of the three of us wanted to go to church, she would make sure we got there and back safely, but it would be our choice. Of course none of us chose to go. That was the end of god and Jesus in my life. From that moment on (30 years ago) I knew that the bible stories could be nothing but made up fables.

    All I can say looking back is “Yay mom!”

  239. 257

    I became an atheist for two reasons in my early teens. I was raised by reformed Jewish parents – basically that means you don’t really hear much about God/religion except for the “high holidays” in the fall, but you are getting your Bar Mitzvah whether you like it or not. Jews have an odd hybrid of culture with religion, so reformed/secularized Jews like my parents aren’t God-driven, but they ram “Jewishness” down your throat as a kid.

    Anyway, I had two moments, both of which were during my Bar Mitzvah preparation, which involves intensive study of a small Bible passage. I found my passage, about Noah and other Genesis passages, utterly stupid and moronic, and I recall wondering why anybody believed this stuff happened. First of all, it contradicted science, and I loved physics/astronomy even in my early teens. Second, these people were said to live several centuries – give me a break. And third, this “god” always demanded, and enjoyed, animal sacrifices. What kind of sick bullshit is that?

    Taken all together, my atheist foundations were shaped by Bible readings. I just couldn’t help but see it as medieval garbage.

  240. L

    I was never “into” the religion thing as a kid. My parents tried. We went to church up until I was 6 years old, but stopped because of the ways other church members treated us/them when we missed a Sunday service. My mom talked about Jesus, especially at christmas and my other relatives talked about god around me, praying at family gatherings, etc.
    It just never clicked with me. I wasn’t interested in going to church and I had always kind of viewed god with the same idea as Santa Claus. It was just a name, something spoken of sometimes, that had no bearing on my day to day life.
    I say it was like the estranged relative we all have. The one that’s spoken about on holidays and birthdays but you never actually get to meet.
    At 16, I stopped being satisfied with that empty feeling associated with god and religion, and searched on my own.
    I barely knew what atheism was, but I woke up one day and I knew I had never believed in the god of my parents or any god and was an atheist.
    Up to that point, it was really the most satisfying and happy day I’d had.

  241. 260

    Like so many others, my belief started to unravel once I hit adulthood. I had always thought the story of Satan didn’t make much sense but I had to believe in it. As a young (and very immature) adult I decided that I would just let go of that belief but hold onto everything else. It didn’t take long before I accepted that if there was no Satan then there could not have been the temptation of Eve in the Garden, and if that never happened then there was no Original Sin and no need for Jesus to die for us. And like that, the whole thing came undone in a matter of weeks. That was over 20 years ago…

  242. 261

    I started becoming an atheist around ninth grade. When a lot of people find that out, they immediately think it was “the gay thing”. And sure, that was part of it. It’s hard to reconcile the idea of something that makes you happy being a terrible thing. But the biggest thing that turned me into an atheist was the idea of heaven and hell.

    I couldn’t reconcile the idea of god with the idea of hell– or heaven. I just couldn’t conceive of an “Ultimate Truth” that needed some kind of threat and reward. I thought that if something was true and good, it was. I thought that any sort of decent god would care more about people living decent, moral, happy lives than whether they obeyed some crazy strict set of rules. And I also thought poorly of myself, if I needed some sort of incentive system to lead a good life.

    So I left church. At first, I decided to put off the idea of a god for personal reasons– not that I didn’t believe in one, exactly, but that I thought it was far more important to live a good life. Later, once I had put some emotional distance between myself and religion, I realized that I was an atheist. I no longer believed in any sort of god. In fact, I believed that religion had screwed most of the world up royally, including me. It was illogical and, more so, dangerous, both for the philosophical implications that had turned me away from it and for more tangible reasons like psychopaths blowing people up.

    My de-conversion was an entirely personal journey. I wrote a note to my pastor once explaining why I left, but didn’t deliver it for fear of embarrassing my father. My progression to the more militant style of atheism involved a lot of friends who made me think, however (both atheist and religious). However, overall, it was just critical, moral thinking that made me leave religion.

  243. 262

    As a small boy, I used to sit in church, bored to tears by the hymns and the sermon. The only thing I could do to amuse myself without earning a pinch from my Mother was to sit quietly and read the Bible. It seemed a very crude thing, compared with all the hundreds of books I had devoured at the public library, and what’s more, it not only contradicted observable facts, but it contradicted itself in numerous places. I didn’t quite know what to make of the fact that this pig of a book was supposed to be THE book to live by. I just couldn’t see it. And when I tried to raise questions about it with my Dad, he was mystified by my need to resolve the inconsistencies. I remember clearly that he once called me a freethinker, at age eight, and it didn’t sound to me like he thought it was a good thing to be.

    The infamous story of how Abraham was willing to murder his own son to prove that he was obedient to God was simply grotesque to me. I knew that my Dad, who was a cop, would arrest such a man if he encountered him in our town, but here he was, along with the other adults in church, seeming to admire Abraham’s “faith”. Was faith some form of psychosis? I couldn’t fathom the meaning of this story at all. I just thought Abraham had behaved rather badly, and that if the whole thing was a trick God played on Abraham, then God had behaved rather badly, too. I knew that my Dad wouldn’t kill me for God, but I wondered if that made him feel that he was less faithful than Abraham. It was a painful puzzle.

    As I read more books and learned more science, my doubts about the Bible as a source of wisdom grew apace. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point I just tossed it. Whatever Christianity I had left (mostly faking it for family peace) was surgically removed by the Marine Corps; it gets in the way of business there, although they pay lip service to religion for PR.
    I tried out paganism, and looked at Buddhism, and Wicca, and who-knows-what, but nothing stuck because I was coming to the realization that I had no religious yearnings at all, and couldn’t really comprehend the need for religious faith in those around me. Science was a lighthouse in the fog, I thought; I’ll navigate by it. And my faith became a faith in my ability to see what is real, and to make good decisions. I didn’t need more than that.

    I kept silence about my atheism for a long time, but eventually I just began to say what I think, and to avow disbelief whenever appropriate. I don’t feel a great need to persuade others of the correctness of my lack of belief in anything supernatural. I just try to be a mensch, so they can’t point to me as an example of a miserable atheist living an empty life!

    Looking back, I think I was always a skeptic, since birth maybe. I never had a religious feeling that was anything genuine, despite being surrounded by believers. I tried to fake it, but it only made me sad. I wonder sometimes why religion never took with me, despite multiple inoculations. Natural immunity? My parents believed it was brain damage from childhood illness; they never could understand why it was impossible for me to just believe what others said was true.

  244. 263

    I was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist home and by the time I was 15, I was very religious and devoted nearly all my free time to church activities. I actually became pretty zealous and by the time I was 20 and disillusioned with the country club atmosphere of church. I felt called to foreign ministry and wanted to do more solo study and introspection. I was really self righteous and actually felt that my faith was able to stand any test the world could throw at it. I know, this is ridiculous but I was naive and ignorant and raised in a pervasively evangelical christian culture.

    As read the bible cover to cover on my own (sans propaganda and church guidance) for the first time. I noticed the “prophecies” in the old testament did not line up with “fulfillments” in the new testament and were horribly twisted and taken out of context to make them fit. I also noted there was no clear do/don’t list for getting into heaven despite my church’s assurance that all one needed to do was “accept Jesus as your lord and personal savior.” I also found the verses listing the fines for injuring a fetus (this god was not pro-life!)plus no justice for rape victims *plus* the raging misogyny! These realizations were distressing to me but I wanted to know the truth. Around this time I researched the canonization of the bible and also read this book: http://www.amazon.com/Harlot-Side-Road-Jonathan-Kirsch/dp/0345418824
    I realized the bible was made up of disjointed stories, poorly translated, and creatively edited over the centuries. It did not read like a work from an infallible god.

    During my crisis of faith, my church happened to hand out free copies of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” I felt hope and relief that this book would help get me back on track and give me a way to put my doubts aside. I remember getting halfway through the book and experiencing a crushing revelation. “THIS is the best they’ve (Christians) got?? This is the objective case for belief??” I absolutely felt like I had suddenly swallowed the red pill.

    Over the next 6 months I read many books about other religions from Buddhism to Wiccan only to conclude that no matter the stories, religions are all equally hollow and nonsensical. One day I realized I had no reason to believe in any gods and I kissed magical thinking goodbye. That was over 10 years ago and I’ve never been happier. My world *makes sense* and I feel empowered to make a difference my life and the lives of others. I am awed with the real story of our world and species. I feel connected to reality.

  245. 264

    I wanted to know the Bible like my father (a minister). While in the Navy and out at sea (actually under – subs), I started reading the Old Testament from page one. I could not reconcile the savage God I found there with some great being that I should love and follow. Over several years, I finally decided that if God was like that, I would have to stand against him. From there it was easy to come to the conclusion he did not exist.

  246. 265

    I was raised as a mormon. It was expected in my family and community that when I turned 19 I would go on a 2 year mission in an attempt to convert people to the mormon faith.

    Up until that point I had no strong religious convictions one way or the other. I attempted to put it off as long as I could and finally decided that I could not teach people something that I was not sure about.

    That was a turning point for me. From then on I looked at religion a lot closer and thought a lot more about it. The more I thought about it the less I believed it.

  247. 266

    While the process took several years, I think the key element of my ‘de-conversion’ was learning skeptical habits of thinking.

    My husband had a subscription to Skeptical Inquirer, as he’d been very interested in ghosts, bigfoot, etc. as a kid. As he’d gotten older, and studied a scientific discipline, he learned critical thinking and reasoning, and found great pleasure in skepticism.

    I started reading the magazine and loved it. Reason and logic were very appealing to me. After learning this way of questioning what doesn’t make sense — even questioning things that might seem to make sense at first — it’s pretty hard to avoid turning such scrutiny on religion.

    I considered myself an agnostic until I read Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens, and began finding atheist blogs and podcasts. Then I was able to comfortably recognize that I was actually an atheist.

  248. 267

    Raised a fundamentalist Christian by ‘nondemoninational’ parents who very strongly believed that you must be born again, that Jesus has a personal relationship with each believer, guiding their life, meeting them when they die. Had doubts when I was a kid but was told that was normal and healthy because it would inspire one to study the Bible even more. Misled by people like Hal Lindsay, Josh McDowell and James Dobson with their nonsense reasoning, feared burning in hell, hated to think of losing my parent’s love and respect not to mention my brothers and others in the community so just floated along, stopped going to church, fell into New Age thinking as an alternative to the horrifying thought that there really ISN’T anyone out there that cares about me personally, let friends take my two sons to church who are now fundies themselves including one who is a creationist much to my horror and despair, finally read The God Delusion which turned me on to Richard Dawkins on You Tube which turned me on to Sam Harris and Hitchens and Dennett. Basically became an atheist this year (2011). Now I read The Friendly Atheist blog and listen to The God Debates, listen to Think Atheist Radio, learned about James Randi, and just joined the local Secular Humanist group. My mother is 87 and would be DEVASTATED if she knew the truth about me. Currently she just thinks I’m a back slidden Christian but not ‘lost’. My creationist son has two boys and I fear that he would keep them from me, maybe not totally, if he knew the truth. Personally, I feel freer and happier than I ever have, like a tremendous weight has been lifted. At the same time, I feel overwhelmed to realize the true state of the world and what that means for all of us. At the same time, I’m excited because with the internet, maybe the transition will happen faster than we think. And then I am sad again because there is a part of me that misses thinking there is this wonderful being out there that is going to take care of us all forever. And then I’m angry again because that same being was going to burn me in hell and many other great people for the most ridiculous reasoning. And I’m angry with myself for ever having been so stupid. Work for a big ‘Christian’ company (what a JOKE!) and fear losing my job if they knew. I hope my mother lives for many years but when she is gone, I’m coming out to the rest of the family and the world (my two sisters and a friend of mine are quite taken aback).

  249. 268

    I had a new age mother- holistic doctors, homeopathic, crystals, the whole nine yards. Though between the ages of 13-15 I became a hardcore born again christian (maybe to rebel?)

    From 16-22 I considered myself agnostic. When I hit 22 I lost my job, broke up with my live in boyfriend and became deeply depressed. I, weirdly, started to follow in the foot steps of my mother, delving into the new age as a comfort.

    This went on until I was about 24. I met the man who would later become my husband and he kinda teased me about believing all that stuff, even though I calmed down a bit.
    I still believed most of it at first.. I believed in spirits and such too.

    My husband began watching Richard Dawkins interviews and later announced to me he had become atheist. He added some Atheist Quotes of the Day on facebook- And I read them ALL. It wasn’t until one, I forget by whom, said something along the lines “No other species in the animal kingdom bothers itself with worrying about an afterlife”

    That’s what lit the spark. I watched Richard Dawkins BBC videos on the Enemies of Reason- and I was so embarrassed at the stupid things I believed, especially when science proved them wrong. I had no idea. I never looked for evidence before. So I assumed it be true, since I had heard it was true from a young age. All I could think about was what believing in the new age garbage did- I spent soooo much money on classes, books, psychics, reiki and seminars and I felt duped. All while they reported being science backed… Later, I began looking for reasons as to how my “ghostly” experiences were real or if there was a scientific explanation. Well- they were all common experiences of sleep paralysis. ha.

    I think that’s why I officially became an atheist… I was tired of being gullible. I was going to find out the truth myself, from scientists. And it renewed my childhood fascination with science and questioning everything.

  250. 269

    Raised catholic, but a bible class at a Lutheran college started me thinking. If all that stuff, even about Jesus, was written ~50 years after he died… how in the heck could it be accurate? Then I was a bio major too, and learned lots more about evolution. By the time I graduated college I didn’t really believe anymore. Dawkin’s book (God delusion) just sealed it for me a few years later, making me realize that I was proud to own the label ‘atheist.’

  251. 270

    For me, an important event was reading “The Brothers Karamatzov.” One of the brothers (I think Ivan) is a university student who lives near a farmhouse. I don’t recall the story well, but basically it’s something like this: at the farmhouse is a child, a little girl, who is tied up outdoors to be exposed to the elements — a cruel existence — and only brought indoors to be beaten and raped.

    I realized that there really are children who suffer like that. And they are completely innocent. They’re children.

    That was the “nail in the coffin” for Christianity. If the God they talk about, our father in heaven, would let the completely innocent suffer such misery, with no hope and an eventual fate of painful death — then as a father, he sucks.

    And I’m offended by the whole “rapture” thing, that only 144,000 souls will be saved. The idea that an all-good God would create seven billion human souls so that 6,999,856,000 of them, his own children, would end up being tortured forever, is revolting.

  252. 271

    On the one hand it was a gradual, long process, but it took one final snap to put it all in place.

    I was raised moderate, small-town Baptist. I was a pre-teen in the age of the 80s Satanism scare, where everything that good upstanding parents didn’t like was branded satanic and cult-like (read: everything about teenagers). I had read the Amityville Horror and was too young and naive at 12 to know the difference between “based on a true story” and “actually true”. When I read about all the horrible, frightening things that demons and devils did to the people in that story– and to the *priest*, the most devoutly holy one of the group, no less!– I started to fear that something similar could happen to me and to my family. I was terrified of the supernatural and even more terrified at the idea that God might not be powerful enough to protect me from it. When someone said that they heard that unicorns were a “cult sign” (and what 12-year-old girl doesn’t love unicorns?) I had my first “a-ha”; I realized then that a symbol could mean different things to different people, and if unicorns weren’t evil to me then that was enough.

    Of course that led to an adolescence and young adulthood of wishy-washy cherry-picking sorts of beliefs. I figured out that Christianity as I knew it didn’t quite have it right and so for a while I explored Neo-Paganism. I will say, at a time in my life when I felt miserable and useless (I was undergoing treatment for what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder), it gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of empowerment, to feel a part of this Something Special Something Bigger out there. But, in time, I realized that didn’t gel right with me either.

    And so I went into my late 20s using terms like “agnostic” and “spiritual-but-not-religious”. I couldn’t figure out what was going on in the Grand Celestial Everything, but surely it was just because God was too big and complex for little me to figure out.

    Then came Hurricane Katrina.

    I was sitting at my computer and watching it on TV, the suffering, the misery, the longing for relief that never came for so many. And I realized then, it wasn’t that God had a bigger plan, it wasn’t that God was punishing or working in mysterious ways… it was that there was nobody there to answer the phone at all. Boom. That was it.

    And from that moment, despite my initial fears that I’d no longer have my crutches to prop me up in all the uncertainty of the world, the world to my surprise began to make more sense than ever before. I was no longer afraid of dark hallways in old houses or walking past cemeteries or Mercury in retrograde. I began to truly live my life.

  253. 272

    HI Greta,

    I was an Anglican Clergyman for over ten years before I left the church. I witnessed first hand how the church attempted to protect itself from lawsuits resulting from the aboriginal residential schools in Canada. (Over 80,000 young aboriginal kids had been forced to attend schools that were intended to convert them to Christianity and turn them in productive and modern Canadians)The defense of the church was justified by some clergy who characterized those abused as enemies of the church. Some clergy questioned how the church could be held accountable for what had happened.

    I had served in northern Manitoba where I knew a number of people from my parish who had been sexually abused while in residence at these schools. The abuse was real to me and the church’s attempts to deny much of the abuse and to protect itself sickened me. I realized that this was not God’s holy institution. Soon I doubted my own calling and thought of it as wishful thinking on my part. soon after leaving for a sabbatical I read The selfish Gene. That was it. I knew I had found a better explanation for what I had seen. God was not involved at all!

    That was about 7 years ago. I now call myself an atheist. I am president of the Humanist Association of Manitoba, and wrote a book explaining my reasons for leaving called “Leaving Faith Behind”

  254. 273

    First, a bit of background information: I was raised in a fairly conservative sect of Lutheranism, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. From preschool to the end of high school, I went to private Lutheran schools.

    Now to plant the seeds of skepticism: During my senior year of high school, my religion teacher invited us to submit anonymous questions about faith to him. One day, I asked about the whole “homosexuality is a choice” myth, and the answer he gave left me even more confused than I had been before. I concluded that I wouldn’t be staying in the WELS much longer.

    After I started college, which was the first time I’ve gone to a secular school, I began identifying as a Protestant rather than a Lutheran. It was also around this time that I began talking to Paul, a fellow writer on DeviantArt. He was the first person to make me really question my faith, and soon I considered myself a deist. I wavered between deism and agnosticism until August of 2010.

    My mother volunteered me to organize felt storyboards for the preschool students at my former elementary school. One day, when I was assembling the cast of the Fall of Man, the thought came to my head, “If God is omnipotent, why did he allow Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge? And if he’s omniscient, didn’t he know they’d sin? Did he plan for them to sin?” Luckily, I was working alone, because for the next twenty-ish minutes, I nervous-laughed and paced around the room, going, “Holy shit, God doesn’t make sense! I’m an atheist!”

    And finally, the aftermath: Now I’m twenty. I’m still an atheist, and I don’t see myself going back to the church. I feel SO much better about myself since I’ve abandoned my faith. And you know what? The world is so much more beautiful without God, and I’ve gotten much more interested in science.
    Since I’m still dependent on my parents, I haven’t come out yet and probably won’t for a long time. I have a lot of supportive friends at my college, though, and for now, that works.

  255. 275

    I was raised loosely spiritual, and turned toward theism in high school. When justifying the theistic claims of the social group (it’s hard to avoid saying “my”, ha), I worked my way from full on theism to mostly deism. I say mostly because I still had a wonderful feeling of “the holy ghost” strong in my memory. I then struggled for years with that memory, as well as the question of how relevant my beliefs actually were.

    What finally did it was two things. I learned in human anatomy and physiology about a neurology concept called EPSP, which long-story short accounts for all the holy-ghost feelings. Then I watched the original (2006) beyond belief videos put up by TSN. These accounted for all my last reservations, and I renounced my beliefs entirely.

    My favorite people at this conference are some of my favorite atheists today. Richard Dawkins for his boldness, Niel DeGrasse Tyson and V.S. Ramachandran for their poetry and insights, Sam Harris and Scott Atran for their reasonableness about including religion.

    Since then, I’ve gleefully watched debates, anti-religious comedy, and pro science videos like crazy. My current favorite is Dr Kiki’s science hour on the TWiT network (she’s pretty awesome), though ted talks are right up there as well. As I learn more science, the beliefs of religions just seem more and more silly.

  256. 276

    This is perhaps not much of a story, but I’ll share it anyway. I was raised in a more laid-back church. None of the hellfire and brimstone, and a geniuinely good minister, by which I mean, the minister was just plain a good person. Someone who really cared about people and always put them first. Sermons focused as much on how we could get out and do some good as on any god. And so for the longest time, religion was never something I really had due cause to question.

    As I grew up though, my prayers (something I’d never been much good at or done a lot of) turned to things like world peace. When I said such a prayer though, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew not to expect much. After all, countless people before me have said such prayers, surely. I am just a grain of sand in that desert. But it did get me pondering, and over a rather long period of time, which I’d hazard to place in the range of a couple years at least, last couple grades of high school I guess, my mindset changed to something that I suppose now would be seen as rather deistic. Roughly, I figured the only possible explanation for it all was that god for whatever reason took a hands-off approach. Not quite deistic truly though. I think I still thought there was a heaven for example; I must have, I remember something I said during a friend’s funeral, and I meant it then. I don’t remember if I thought there was a hell.

    This was nestled somewhere in the back of my mind for years during which I was for all practical purposes not really religious. I still believed, but I said no prayers nor attended church. So it just sort of stayed that way for quite a while. Eventually, whilst working in a call centre, one of the other employees there (a supervisor in fact) mentioned something about atheism on Facebook. I forget what exactly. The relevant bit was that it had been posted at all.

    Now, here’s the thing… I’d never even heard that word before. As in, I had to look it up in a dictionary to see what he was on about. And when I did, I realized that it was a possibility that had simply never occurred to me when I was years ago pondering how I could mesh what I saw in reality with the presence of a god. Sure, my explanation worked, but it was aught better than covering up the problem and I knew it; I’d just not thought of anything better.

    The idea that a god not existing was even an option was genuinely new, and it had me thinking.

    There’s really not much more than that to it. In a period of time I suspect was something more than a day but less than a week, I realized that this was the explanation that I’d been trying to find all along, and I’d just been blind to it. And hence I became an atheist.

  257. 277

    A former theist, then deist, then new-age woo-head, I suppose the short answer as to why I went from believer to non-believer is that I had finally THOUGHT about what I knew of the logic and science in which I held such high regard, and realised that my belief in supernatural boojums such as my god was incompatable with them.

    The rest is history.

  258. 278

    For me, it was realising that the criteria I had learned of for getting to heaven (acceptance of Christ and church doctrine) were quite arbitrary and completely unworthy of a ‘perfect God’.
    This ridiculous criteria also was going to condemn most of the Indians, Chinese, Japanese, etc to hell because they were born where the dominant religion was something else. Even if they had heard of Christ, I got it every Sunday and throughout the week, they might now about it periferally. Hell for that seemed completely unfair.

  259. 280

    I’ve been an atheist since I was 12.

    I’d had some nagging doubts after going to religious school and doing my religion homework one day, to learn that gawd is a jealous gawd, and it even said that in the bible. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I distinctly remembered all the litanies of the rich and the enablers of the rich who used to intone to children everywhere who saw unfairness and didn’t appreciate it, “Don’t be jealous of what other kids have.” “It’s wrong to be jealous.” “Being jealous is wrong and bad.” When, if you ask me, the kids at least have it right–it’s not right for others to have so much more than the rest of us, and the reason they keep having more is because people like you have bought the bullshit that it’s right and normal for greedy fucks to be greedy!

    Anyway, the more I read, the more it looked to me like gawd was a scumbag who I couldn’t respect as much as I could the meanest teacher at my school. I was getting the idea that worshipping such a piece of shit was insanity, and that I was surrounded by an asylum of nutbars who couldn’t see reality. When I was punished by family and school for voicing my questions and concerns, I felt more alone than ever. They kept acting like something was wrong with me.

    And then I met my first atheist. It had never occurred to me that non-belief was even an option. Not in East Texas. But here was someone who was out and proud as an atheist (talk about courage!), who said religion was stupid and crazy, and I was right to notice that it didn’t make sense for otherwise sensible and sane people to believe such nonsense, when they didn’t believe nonsense in other parts of their life. It wasn’t just the ego-stroke–I was too relieved at not being crazy to worry about my ego; it was that he explained why the things were wrong. He could point to the inconsistencies, and, more importantly, the bad science, things that even I knew weren’t true, like insects having four legs. I was the kid who read dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun–of course I was going to be swayed by facts and reality!

    And so I was an atheist before I was 12 years old.

  260. 281

    I was raised as a member of the Bahaí faith, to believe that all the major world religions were equal and that relgious conflict, acrimony and prejudice in general were bad, and that we should try to find unity in diversity. The idea was beautiful but the exclusivity of the religion’s claims still troubled me, in that the founder claimed to be a manifestation of God and that the only acceptable path to spiritual success or however you want to define it was through acceptance of the message promulgated by the latest manifestation. Along with this I studied science a lot, and I prayed but found no concrete results. I still believed pretty strongly when I started going to a Bible study on campus and arguing with a fundamentalist Christian preacher about my beliefs. He challenged me, saying in the course of my religious upbringing, at any point did I feel I had come to know God. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. He had a certainty about him which I lacked, and it began to shake my faith. At the same time, through the course of our debates, his certainty became intellectually unattractive to me. His fervour and his counter-factual beliefs such as rejection of evolution and anthropocentric global warming troubled me. I began to feel like faith itself, this overriding feeling of being right, was capable of taking all evidence and subverting it, and forming an impenetrable wall. I still pray occasionally, asking God to give me enlightenment and free me from doubt, that if He really exists in the form that the preacher believed, or any prayer-hearing form, and he wills it, I would be forever greatful just to know. But no such knowledge has come my way. I don’t think religion is inherently harmful. I think human nature is complex and religion relies on certain aspects of it, and the harmful aspects of religion are generally correlated with the harmful aspects of humanity, and to blame religion is to diagnose the symptom as the cause. Atheists who actively try to persuade other people to join them strike me as being just as consumed by faith as the religious people they oppose. Of all the religions and life-stances such as Christianity or secular humanism, I find theravada Buddhism is one of the most appealing. It denies God and even the idea of any kind of world-soul. I don’t see why atheists would have a problem with this religion, but it still requires faith and commitment. I can’t say I’m a Buddhist because I never meditate and my life isn’t one of moderation, but it’s a pretty cool idea. I figure I’m most accurately called an atheist or a non-believer because I don’t believe in any religious notion, not for sure. But that’s mostly because there’s no scientific definition for ideas like God or the soul, and this makes me wonder, because the self and the consciousness are also beyond scientific understanding. If I have faith in my existence and the existence of the minds of others, then I’m probably being just as unscientific as if I believed the entire world was conscious. Neither of these perspectives is contrary to science, I’d like to add, because they make no observable difference.

  261. 282

    As a child, I was only vaguely religious. I live in the UK, and the public school system here is required to educate children about Christianity up until a certain age, and I had just sort of absorbed it without putting much thought into it. Religion never really impacted my life outside of these lessons, and I knew people from many different faiths without any tension.

    When I was about 7 or 8, I developed interests in science and history. My parents indulged these interests, and bought me books on the subjects which were full of fascinating stories and big pictures of dinosaurs and Roman temples and things like that. Needless to say, I got hooked, and read everything I could about the subjects that interested me.

    I noticed that Christianity as explained in the Bible couldn’t coexist with scientific explanations for the origins of life, the universe and everything. This, coupled with my knowledge of several ancient mythologies that had turned out not to be true, made me wonder whether or not Christianity might just be wrong. After a while, I decided that it was, and I’ve been an Atheist (though I didn’t know the word then) to this day.

  262. 283

    I went to a church school. That’s why im an atheist. First, all of the fantastical bible stories I read sounded like fantasy a genre that I already enjoyed. Secondly, I have always had a very good attitude towards the LGBT community, the school didn’t. And, finally, The school books taught about genetic variations in the same species, but not evolution. In fact it claimed that evolution was as likely as preposterous things without telling me really what it was. So, I researched myself, God bless the internet for making more atheist than it does christians.

  263. 284

    I was brought up a liberal Christian and would probably been happy staying a liberal Christian all my life, but I attended a Catholic High School. The horrible hypocrisy I saw in the Catholic Church made me see how all of Christianity, even my sweet liberal church, was a lie.

  264. 285

    I was very religious until the age of thirteen. I was very sheltered until then. But when I started to go out into the real world, I learnt something very important- the world is an awful place, full of unjust suffering and great inequality. The inequality in the world was the first sign that turned me away from God. This is because the Bible claims that “we are all equal in the eyes of God”. So, if we’re all equal, we are we not born equal? why are some born just to suffer and others born to live well?

    The second sign was when I was 15 and I watched a documentary by Dawkins. In it he claims that when one person suffers from a delusion it’s madness, but when many suffer from a delusion, its a religion. This was the turning point – it made so much sense I couldn’t deny it.

    Of course I still had a big question- If God doesn’t exist, why do so many people believe in him? Books such as the God Delusion helped me to find the answers. Even some older books held answers for me and helped me to confirm my atheism e.g. Thee works of Karl Marx, who claims that “Religion is the opiate of the masses”.

  265. 286

    I was never a really strong believer, but the complete and utter…lack of presence, of interaction; the lack of obvious divinity combined with the natural explanations that abound for things like evolution and the formation of our solar system, seemed to signal to me that he or she or it either didn’t care at all what we did, or he didn’t exist.

  266. 287

    It was a two step process:
    Step 1: My loved one died in spite of me praying to save his life. I became angry at god and just couldn’t forgive him no matter how hard I tried. I lived in constant fear of hell for a couple of years, because I knew that’s where all the god-haters inevitably end up. I was so scared I wished god didn’t exist, although all the evidence at the time seemed to point to the contrary.
    Step 2: Living with the knowledge of my death sentence in hell became unbearable so I began to actively seek proof that god didn’t exist. I tried to make myself lose belief in order to get rid of the fear, but at first all the atheist arguments seemed to arrogantly deny the obvious. Then I read a forum post where someone was explaining the God of the gaps argument and it hit me. The same moment I finished reading I felt a sudden relief. It was the strong conviction that I actually was so silly and wrong all the time. The fear was gone and I was free.

  267. 288

    I suppose I was always suspect of religion. My parents were not church people, but they adhered to Christian beliefs. We celebrated the holidays and my father would sometimes read to us from the Bible but for the most part we were a fairly secular family. It was sort of like going through the motions but not really taking the stories of the Bible as literal truths, just lessons of how to live. So in short I was “Home Churched”.

    The things I was told about God and how he answered prayers became a very clear problem for me at a very young age. I would pray desperately for things and surprise no answer. I tried to believe I tried to push down my doubts but I could not suppress the skeptic in me.

    I was always a critic of the church and religion, but I held on the belief that someone had to be in charge….but slowly imperceptibly the skeptic emerged and finally my irrational mind succumbed.

    One major turning point for me was Carl Sagan, it started with Cosmos and then his books, mostly The Demon Haunted World. This book should be in every Hotel Room in the world. Well that is my story for me it was a gradual process of deprogramming.

    I have never looked back and I have never been happier. So glad to know that when I am doing the most private of things :), there is no one in the sky watching.

  268. R S

    I never much believed in any religion, more in just letting people do whatever felt right to them (was lucky there because my parents never forced me to believe in anything but humanity). I did, however, have a very strong belief in the existence of a god and the necessity of owning each and every one of your actions, as they were what you would be judged on in the end. Now, the following part is going to sound stupid. A few months back, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” was on TV, and I watched the last few minutes. I’d never really seen a gas chamber before, and it was like a physical blow to the stomach. The omnipotent, omniscient being I KNEW existed would never let that happen to innocents, would he/she? Well, I went to bed thinking and woke up an atheist (albeit still a tad bit on the fence). That’s all! Thanks for reading!

  269. 290

    My conversion was gradual. I was raised by an evangelical parent and experienced the very narrowest and meanest version of christianity available. As a young adult, I disassociated from fundamentalism but spent most of my adult life haltingly trying to cultivate an honest and meaningful spiritual life. I felt deep internal pressure to know and live by a code that was true and good, but couldn’t align fully with any denomination or dogma. It was lonely and frustrating.

    As I became more politically engaged, the culture wars in the U.S. required me to challenge how we use religion to inform social agenda. I became interested in understanding how separation of church and state was functioning this country and became really excited about it. It was getting easier to see how everyone cherry picked ideas to serve their own goals and how inconsistent we are in our justifications of what serves the greater good.

    I crossed the commit threshold in my early forties when I decided to inform myself about atheism by reading. I started with Dawkins and Hitchens, which I found more expansive and encouraging than most spiritual writings I’d read. I’ve tapped into the on-line community to learn more about Free Thought and Humanism. For a couple years I hung in the agnostic column, and am now very simply happy and confident identifying myself as atheist. My goal for my remaining life is to learn how to think for myself.

  270. Amy

    My story, briefly, can be found here

    I was a devout Evangelical and missionary for years. Mostly, it came down to reason for me, and seeing the inherent illogic of Christianity.

    That can be really the hard part to break out of. Christians, most of them, see the problems of believing in magic books, invisible sky Daddies, men who rise from the dead, and women who turn to salt. But what is elevated is faith. You reason yourself as close as possible to the beliefs, and then you just slide in a bit of faith to close the gap between what is reasonable and what you want to believe.

    Eventually, I just had to accept is was complete bullocks. It was reason and being honest with myself. I let myself read scholarly books on the origins of the Bible that were not from a Christian perspective and they helped me understand some of the oddities in the Bible I hadn’t even known were there, and some that I did, but had rationalized in other ways.

    For me, it came to reason. But before that, I had to also see that Christianity (and a believe in Jesus and God) was detrimental to me, my family’s well-being, and the world. And then being able to admit it, and really have to search out whether it were the honest reality.

    Anyway, I explain a bit more at the link.

    I often wish there could have been an experiment on the believing brain. You start with some very religious people, from all religions, and scan their brain. Then, you wait 30 years and take another brain scan. See if there’s a difference between those who have stopped believing and those who still believe.

    This would be really interesting, I think.

  271. 292

    I was raised catholic and knew nothing but till 7th grade. My father was CIA (Catholic Irish Alcoholic) and was a mean one at that. It made me question why god would allow that as i started to think about it i felt like if i fixed the problems around me they got fixed if i waited for god nothing happened. I went to catholic high school and a religion teacher gave us assignment asking about our thoughts on faith. I wrote a paper called the monster under the bed. In it i compared faith and religion to a small child scared of the monster under the bed or in the closet. Calling for mom fixes the problem and i see the need for god the same way. Needless to say i was asked to leave the school further leading me to believe religion is unaccepting. I never meet another atheist till after high school i joined the marine corps and was the only one in my unit. Since i renounced god my life has been better minus the occasions where im singled out for not believing ( i live in the bible belt). My house and my car have been vandalized i was attacked once. I lost my faith because noone could answer my questions just told me to pray more and read the bible.

  272. 293

    For Me, the biggest factor was reading the bible one last time without the requisite “faith” blinders. I had skipped over or not thought out the ramifications of the Old Testaments as Christians do, with the theory that all of the inconsistencies and moral failings of key characters would be made clear “by and by”. I was struck by how absolutely horrific God was and decided that such a being was not worthy of worship. After that, I ran across a website called “Internet Infidels” where I came to realize that I was not agnostic–I had just been too scared to call myself an “atheist”. A few years later, after reading and posting on their discussion board, I discovered “Daylight Atheism” and Greta Christina’s blog. I learned so much from reading them almost daily. Finally, after reading Christopher Hitchen’s book, “God is Not Great”, and Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”, I discovered that there were debates on Youtube featuring Hitchens, Dennet, Harris, and Dawkins. I have watched too many of them to count, so I am strong in my position as a nonbeliever, but more importantly, I know exactly why I hold that position.

  273. 294

    For myself, it was just not finding satisfying answers to my most important questions through religion. I was brought up Catholic and my indoctrination was mostly coercive. I remember my mom bribing me to complete the steps to become a Catholic by saying she wouldn’t force me to go to church after I was confirmed (she hoped I would just want to go…it backfired). From about age 17 on, it was a slow process of questioning the world around me and trying to be rational in my understandings. Step-by-step, religion broke down to the point it was no longer an acceptable worldview for myself. As I acquired more and more knowledge through formal schooling, my tools and paradigms for understanding the world strengthened and pointed towards a non-religious comprehension of the world and universe. I think human suffering was the nail in the coffin though–the idea that god would punish otherwise innocent children and adults for not believing–because it was so irrational to me. I became a sociologist because the knowledge I gained through sociology seemed to fit an objective understanding of how things really are (and how people think about their experience and knowledge as a group). I still constantly challenge my conceptions of the world and universe and am not opposed to a belief in a higher power, if it works for you, but for myself inserting god into the equation causes most everything else to unravel. That is how I slowly became an atheist.

  274. 295

    I was raised in a “culturally Catholic” home, which meant we went to Christmas and Easter services mostly. But I did attend Sundays pretty consistently in high school. Growing up in the bible belt I also had the benefit of attending Baptist, Methodist and Pentacostal churches. My Mom studied Transcendental Meditation and exposed me to those ideas at a young age.

    Even though I had been educated as a scientist (engineer), I didn’t really question my God Hypothesis until I read Sam Harris. At that time I was in maybe my fifth year of trying to figure out, with my wife, what religion our family should be. I had read a bunch of books on early Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism. My kids were in grade school.

    And then I read Harris. And that lead to Dawkins. And finally I was able to relax! I did not have to choose our family’s religion, because my most honest answer was, “none”. So far, our losses: church identity, community, palliative myths, has been more than offset by our gains: fuller understanding of how our human minds are succeptible to error, full appreciation of our limited lifespans, fuller appreciation for the miracles of reality! The miracles of life and the cosmos are only diminished when we try to explain them with fairytales. Reality is so much awesomer.

    I should also mention that I read Gilberts, “Stumbling On Happiness” before Harris and I think that increased understanding of how our brains err, contributed to my decision.

  275. 296

    For me, it was at a time before atheism was a household label. I had no idea that one could lack a belief in a god. The problem of evil really got me thinking about it. It was only after I experienced what I believed to be good losing to evil that I questioned God’s existence. That is when someone first told me that I must be an atheist. It wasn’t until years later when I befriended fundamentalist Christians that I really started to see the danger of religion and became much more of an activist in my atheism. It really was fundamentalist Christians who made me really find the arguments against God and Christianity. That you Christians, lol.

  276. 298

    For me, I remember going to church every Sunday in college and struggling to convince myself that this was true. I was growing up and questioning my beliefs and worldview. I shamefully struggled internally with these questions: This is really the body of Christ? He rose from the dead, I mean he really did that? Did a virgin really conceive a child? Why are women not in higher leadership positions in the church? Why is homosexuality a sin?

    But this alone did not make me an atheist because I was afraid to lose my beliefs and faith. I went on a search of information to strengthen my faith not challenge it.

    I had never met an atheist, and the thought of atheism honestly unnerved me. How could I live like that? What would others think of me? But I read Dawkins and Hitchens and internet forums populated by nonbelievers. I started to see that they had a lot to teach me. And then I saw the Rational Response YouTube videos of people saying they deny the Holy Spirit.

    Now its easy for me to say that, but then I was amazed that they could say this and do it publicly. It honestly used to frighten me but by this point I was inspired by their strength to say it and I realized I too was an atheist. And then I felt free.

  277. 299

    I grew up without going to church or any indoctrination, but still managed to get all the guilt and shame, probably just from living in a community with religious people. When I was 11 or 12, it seemed so unfair that animals couldn’t go to heaven no matter how good they were. Then a few years later I was appalled that people who had been unlucky enough to be born in a non-Christian country and pre-Christians were also screwed. Then I read the bible and had no more delusions about a “good” god.

  278. 300

    For me, there were two main things that led me away from Christianity. First, I started developing an attraction to both sexes when I was a teenager. This wasn’t easy to deal with and was repressed for many years because of the indoctrination I went through when I was younger.

    Second, it was the inconsistencies in the Bible. I devoured the Bible when I first became a Christian and over the course of the last twenty years, I’ve read the book cover to cover at least 5 or 6 times. After reading the book as intensively as I did, the contradiction between what was in the book and what was highlighted on Sunday morning during service was staggering. I just couldn’t deal with the cognitive dissonance any longer.

  279. Cee

    As a child I saw nothing but hypocrites posing as Christians. On the way to church or home from church my step father would scream at my mother, call her names etc. He treated her very badly all our lives. But everyone at church thought he was a saint. I began to wonder, how many people sitting in that church were no different than him.. which ones abused their kids? Which ones were cheating on their spouse? Which ones had secrets they didn’t want anyone to know?

    When I got older I began to pay attention. More death and distruction has come to the world in the name of religion than anything else. Slavery, oppression of women, hate crimes, suicide bombings, war, mass suicides, murder, the list continues. I don’t want to be associated with a religion that has such hate and hypocrisy. I feel that I am a better person than many of the believers out there.

  280. 302

    I was a kid that started reading early, including making my way through a set of old encyclopedias that were illustrated with wonderful dramatic historical paintings. I also read everything the local library had about early civilizations. I was taken to a Catholic church occasionally, but my parents never had a discussion about religion that I heard. We were just a very prosaic Midwestern family, more interested in making money than anything else.
    Anyway, I became interested in religion briefly, when I was about 7, and again when I was a teenager. I quickly figured out that being religious did not add anything to the life of a small girl, and I read enough of the Bible to see that it was not going to get any better when I grew up. I read a lot about the occult when I was a teen, and soon realized that unless I wanted to prey upon the gullible, that wasn’t going to add anything to my life, either.
    I don’t think I ever had a truly spiritual experience. Not that I never experienced wonderful things, but my mind never made the leap to imagining some external power. What I looked to religion for was power. I was already “free,” in a sense, because nobody really cared what I did, but I wanted legitimate social status- for people to be impressed by my worldly and intellectual accomplishments, and to be able to afford to do what I wanted to. Religion can’t deliver unless you become a liar and manipulator.

  281. 303

    I was 20, a college junior, when I had my unBorn Again moment. I truly realized, not in an “it’s interesting to think about theological dilemmas” way but in a “holy shit this is reality, this is my life” way, that I only believed because of the home in which I’d been raised. My 18 years in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor-dad and a properly submissive mom saw every day saturated with Evangelical tenets. If I’d been raised in a similar home in any other faith, my epiphany told me, I’d believe just as strongly.

    And, like a switch, in a proper Road-to-Damascus moment, it just shut off. I 100% did not believe. I knew that, if I were to ever return to the faith, I’d have to have a better reason than mere circumstances of my birth. I never found that reason. Instead, I found Reason.

  282. 304

    when I was 13, a few months after my bar mitzvah, I decided, in random, to ask myself, why do I believe in my religion instead of all the other possibilities that exists out there, almost instinctively my mind said to me “cause mine is the right one and the others are a little misguided”, this troubled me even more, what made me think that? I didn’t even try to search which religion has more “proof” for it’s existence, cause, hell, even then I knew a little bit about the Internet, everything can be easily faked, no, I decided to check which one was more morally worth, started by removing the omnibenevolent factor from the bible I knew and rethinking the stories, I didn’t even have to read the book, I’ve remembered enough, oh so much enough, and not only the stories, also the laws, most were either vague or practically meaningless and could be swayed by practically anyone to anything, so I’ve looked for the one belief that couldn’t be redirected to ones selfish goals, and that didn’t claim everything to be fine cause it’s part of the divine plan, but one who faced it, things could be better, and speaking to something invisible asking to help just won’t solve it, we better just help as much as possible, besides have you heard the singers we got? Awesome muicisians, just a good point,

  283. 305

    My journey to non belief started while I was still very active in the church. I remember quite well sitting in church and wondering about all the different religions in the world that all claim to have the one truth and that if you believe in a different religion you are going to hell. I wondered how I could possibly know that I was in the right one. There was no more evidence for my particular religion being right than any other. They all made the same baseless claim.

    I still attended a year of bible college until I changed majors and transfered schools. It wasn’t until my senior year at this college that someone (who would eventually become my wife) loaned me a copy of Sam Harris’s The End Of Faith. While reading I found that agreed with nearly eblvery point he was making. It still took my a little whilchange my personal identity from christian to atheist, but I am so glad that I met this woman in college. Not only because she is the most amazing wife a guy could ever ask for, but also for helping in my personal journey away from an illogical belief.

  284. 306

    I was raised agnostically, but I was a theist as a child. I couldn’t call myself a Christian (although that is my family’s cultural background) since I barley knew who Jesus was, but if I thought about it (as I did from time to time) I thought that a loving, benevolent, transcendant deity of some kind was probably out there. I wanted to have an immortal soul. In crisis situations, I would occasionally pray.

    When I was about fourteen, however, I did some serious thinking. I liked the idea of a god, a soul, the supernatural. It appealed. But did that, I had to ask myself, make it real? Would I have any reason to think there was a god out there if nobody had ever told me there was? Did wanting to live forever mean that I actually would?

    Of course, the answer was no. All the religions I was familiar with made more sense as cultural constructs than divine revelation. I was not particularly happy with my revelation—I wanted all the magic to be real. But that didn’t make it so, and I sinkingly accepted that it wasn’t. From that time, I’ve identified as an atheist.

    Mostly, this hasn’t been a big deal. I’ve never been “in the closet” but it’s not a question that comes up where I live. Conversely, I never knew many (any?) other atheists. I bought the “religion’s benefits outweigh its costs” line and the “it’s nobody’s business” line. The extent of my activism was to refuse to participate in a baptism ceremony if my husband (whose family is Catholic) wanted one for our children, and to refuse (as my parents had) to have my kids actively participate in religious camps and activities.

    It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered the online “atheist community” and even realized there could be such a thing, or that it could have any purpose. The dramatic stories of people who deconverted from Christianity after being fervent believers—and the costs in emotional and family strife they often have to pay—shocked me. I have become an avid consumer of atheist podcasts and (to a somewhat lesser extent) blogs. I’m still not a personal participant in any local atheist communities, and I must admit I’m still ambivalent (or maybe just shy). I don’t feel estranged from the people I meet on an everyday basis due to my (lack of) beliefs. I’m uncomfortable trumpeting my own atheism, because I don’t live in an environment where others trumpet their theism, and I think that that “don’t ask don’t tell” detente is at least sometimes preferable to conflict and debate. On the other hand, I really enjoy the loud and proud atheists out there.

  285. 307

    I guess I can consider myself a believer at one time because I was somewhat of a Pagan in the beginning of high school. My mother was not religious, and I was raised by her, so I never got heavily inundated with religious belief. For that reason a lot of it just seems odd and strange to me.

    Anyway, I toyed with Paganism a bit in the beginning of high school. It never really lead anywhere, and all the feelings I got from it I could pretty much explain away upon later reflection. If I had to put the blame on anything, I would say Astral Projection. I tried for probably a solid three or four years to astral project. I even bought books on the subject, read tons of internet resources. I just couldn’t do it, and finally decided people were tricking themselves.

    After that it was just back to the default. I didn’t see any tangible reason to believe in divinity, or the soul, or any of that. I held onto reincarnation the longest (I was raised that way), but in trying to think up a mechanism during the first few years of college I decided it wasn’t worth trying to justify, and is trivial in the end.

  286. 308

    Oh, and for my own story…

    My family is Catholic, but fairly liberal Catholics. Dad tells a story about a Newman club chaplain who referred to the type as “Saint Thomas Catholics — who don’t actually have more questions than the rest, but are the ones who dare to ask the questions they have.” There are a few amusing incidents where my sisters or I got in arguments with priests, bishops, and so on, with my parents’ considerable approval (and amusement).

    The neighbors where I grew up provided early exposure to religious differences. On the small dead-end street, about a third were also Catholic, but about half were jewish (the street was within easy walking distance of two synagogues), and one house was owned by the local Methodist church and used by the pastor.

    Another factor is that for complex reasons, for grades 5-8 I went to a non-Catholic religious private school — technically non-sectarian, but more closely the sponsoring church was a presbyterian splinter faction. The messages didn’t differ enough for outright conflict, but there were a couple points where the emphasis didn’t quite mesh.

    Middle school and early high school involved a few “gifty” summer camps, mostly dealing with mathematics. I’ve probably taken more math over the years than some math majors. This didn’t have immediate obvious religious impact…

    In High School, the time for confirmation came along. Unlike some horror stories, my parents and pastor were very clear that doing this or not was MY choice. The CCD teacher even said that if anyone was getting pressure from their parents, to speak up so the Bishop could make a house call to explain how egregious a sin the parents would be guilty of. I had some minor doubts about how strongly I believed, but (shades of Pascal’s wager) went through with it because postponing it would potentially make for major nuisance if I later wanted confirmation.

    By college, I was pretty minimally observant. Despite the nearest Catholic church being literally two blocks from the dorms, I didn’t go after about the first month. I also was hanging out with the local science fiction club, who were also not particularly religious, and not overly conventional where they were. SF had been a main staple of my recreational reading since middle school — another factor which probably didn’t deepen my religious roots.

    So, I drifted for a few years as nominally C&E grade Catholic; if asked privately, I probably would have filed myself in the “Agnostic” category. Then I stumbled across Fark.com, and started arguing the pro-evolution side in the fairly regular evolution/creationism flamewars. Trying to figure out how to persuade a rather fairly regular and rather irritating creationist poster about evolution got me thinking about some fairly basic philosophy, and trying to find ideas too basic to dispute– and I was familiar with Betrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica efforts. I also encountered about that time two other pieces of math. Via Steven Wolfram, I ran into the Robbins Algebra — a way to get to Boolean logic with fewer starting axioms. And via a friend of mine, I ran into a couple of papers which indicated how to get Occam’s Razor as a theorem, with as a by-product something closely resembling Science to resolve Hume’s problem of induction. Which implies when boiled down: given the baker’s dozen axioms required to get the tools, “no need for that conjecture” implies God probably doesn’t exist; using alternative axioms either gets you to the same place, or leaves you unable to tell a hawk from a handsaw. Running into Scienceblogs, Ed Brayton’s Dispatches, and PZ’s Pharyngula about the same time probably helped cement the position; but they really can’t take credit for the shift.

    Of course, most people don’t know enough math to leave my position understandable, so it’s not a lot of use in making converts. =)

  287. 309

    The first major blow to my faith was the evidence for the Theory of Common Descent and an Earth older than 6000 years.

    The second was learning about biblical prophecy, and how Christianity requires a twisting the obvious meaning. For instance, Matthew mentions many “prophecies” about the Messiah in the Old Testament. Also, Jesus predicted the end of the world and/or his return within a generation.

    The prophecy problems were a double blow. The first blow is a shattering refutation to all the arguments that we know the Bible is true because of all the fulfilled prophecies. The second blow is that these make positive arguments against the Bible. So faith in the Bible isn’t just faith in the unverifiable. It’s faith in the verifiably false.

    In my experience, going from evangelical to non-evangelical was very difficult emotionally and intellectually. However, it was extremely easy to go from non-evangelical to atheist, probably because at that point, I had already fought all of the difficult battles.

  288. 310

    Short answer: My parents tried to raise me Catholic. I was taught the importance of forming my conscience, and I took that seriously, only to find the religion itself unconscionable. I still went along with the rituals, though under duress (we had a fight over my confirmation, and I lost.). I came to regard my education as a prison sentence, and feared the consequences if I didn’t go along (Catholic boarding school? Psychiatry? I didn’t know and didn’t want to find out.).

    That was back before it was so easy to reach out to atheist organizations, especially youth-oriented ones. Keep up the outreach, so young atheists don’t have to go it alone as I did.

  289. 311

    For all of my childhood and much of my adult life I was a firm Creationist, in later years the Creationism was lost and the Christianity eventually followed.

    What most definitely did not work for me was trying to tell me that there was no God. That was guaranteed to put up my defences and hunker down. In my opinion, trying to persuade a Christian directly that there is no God is bad idea. Oh, and people being a dick, that didn’t work either! I know several atheists who, like you, are of the opinion that religion is bad and ugly and people should be saved from it. Hearing it constantly from them put me right off. If they can’t have the decency to give me respect and be sensitive to my beliefs, why should I even consider offering them the same in return?

    What worked for me was the gradual awareness that the science I thought I knew was wrong. When that science was fixed and I started to challenge myself to learn more, the realisation that there was no god after all dawned slowly. It was all my own doing, with a lot of help from science blogs and podcasts.

    In summary: education was the key for me. Fervent atheists trying to help me along hindered that process significantly.

  290. 312

    Fundamentalist evangelical to atheist in a nutshell:

    1) circumstances in life made it difficult to attend church. Once distanced from the reinforcement of fundamentalist beliefs doubts started getting stronger and stronger

    2) Christian Forums.com introduced me to atheists and the website Ex-Christian.net. There I first saw people who had the same problem with the mental gymnastics I had to do to maintain my faith. I slipped from thiest to diest. Ex christian.net helped the most with the fear of being wrong and going to hell.

    3)Ex-Christian.net introduced me to the Atheist Experience. Eventually I got over my fear and am now an athiest.

    The biggest weakness in my faith was the bible-how it came into being and why I trusted it so much. Once I read some Bart Ehrman books I realised bible history was not necessarily what I had been told and my faith erroded pretty steadily after that. Also, having to be a bigot was very uncomfortable for me, and learning more about LBGT rights made me question the bible and become more liberal before leaving the faith completely.

  291. 313

    I couldn’t understand how a God I was taught all my life was a “loving god” could stand by and watch as people were wounded and persecuted because of his supposed teachings.

    I couldn’t understand why this “loving god” would send me to hell because on days when my leg hurt so badly that it would give out underneath me I didn’t go to church.

    Finally, I couldn’t understand why this “loving god” could stand by and watch as terrible evils were done in his name, encourage others to harm themselves and others, to deny truths just because “HE” had said otherwise (ie. Gay people aren’t gay by choice and there is nothing wrong or evil about them, slavery is wrong, evolution is real).

    If God is real, he is both an idiot and a sadist and I won’t worship him. Or he just plain doesn’t exist, and religion is just a tool to keep people subservient and dumb.

    Not to mention, have you READ the bible!?

  292. 314

    I was in church one Sunday after reading Harris’ The End of Faith. It was a lovely Episcopal church in Greenwich Village with superb music and a gay-friendly environment. I loved attending liturgy there, even if it lasted almost two hours.

    During the Prayers of the Faithful it became painfully clear that I did not expect the petitions to be answered or the world changed. Nobody seemed to. We were simply doing “what was done” and, consequently, not really absorbing the depth and pain of unameliorated human suffering.

    As I became more and more able to tolerate, consciously and clearly, the vastness of human suffering, my faith in God deteriorated. With that deterioration, however, came a growing appreciation of every living moment and the joy of human succor.

  293. 315

    Will you be compiling and/or categorizing the responses? I’d be interested to see a breakdown!

    For me, it was two things. First, since I was very young, I resented the sexism of my parents’ religion. I was told I should want to be a mother and homemaker, when I wanted to alternately be a writer, horse trainer, veterinarian, astronaut, whatever. Without any outside influence at all, I always believed in my gut that boys and girls shouldn’t be treated differently.

    Second, evolution. I was always very science-oriented. I started reading fairly advanced biology texts in middle school, and the arguments for evolution were compelling. I didn’t believe that god would purposefully plant false evidence about creation. Church leaders were constantly telling members that evolution was a lie, and it made me wonder what else they were wrong about.

    These things got me started down the road to atheism. Once I started questioning, I was drawn to authors like Michael Shermer and Stephen Jay Gould. Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” is almost a beginner’s guide to skepticism. I was already internally an atheist, but it felt almost shameful, like I was doing something wrong. Shermer and Gould helped me realize that just because a million people believe something stupid doesn’t mean they are right. Ghosts, really?

  294. 316

    I think for me it was more a matter of becoming unconvinced of my faith in the supernatural.

    I grew up with a sort of abstract, new age idea of god. At twenty I was “born again” out of a sense of my own inadequacy. After fifteen years of devout, evangelical belief, I could no longer deal with the cognitive dissonance.

    It really struck me in retrospect. After I became an atheist, I realized the sorts of mental gymnastics I had been doing to try and justify things that I either didn’t understand or couldn’t stomach or both. I also remember right near the end my husband and I were talking about Mark Driscoll, who before plunging into fundamentalism had been one of our christian inspirations. It became clear to me that the fundamentalist position actually did align with biblical texts more than our increasingly liberal theology.

    Things fall apart, the center cannot hold… I finally found one interpretation of the bible that made complete sense to me. Reading it in light of cultural warfare and suppression, the texts are clearly propaganda intended to vilify certain people groups and beliefs. Now I get it.

  295. 317

    I started religion late in life. My family didn’t become religous until I was 10 or maybe 11 years old. I was the type of child you was ernest. Also I trusted the adults in my life. So when we started to attend a tiny Church of Christ I believed what I was told. I clearly remember that before I was baptised I had to meet with the preacher and explain my reasons for wanting to be baptised. The true reason was that it was expected of me. And I was the kind of kid who did what was expected of him. But I gave the preacher the answers that I knew he wanted to hear. I can remember that even when I was very young I had questions that I didn’t feel comfortable asking the adults in the church. “What existed before god?”, “What created god?”, Etc. At this point I was probably an agnostic but I didn’t know it at the time. I tried very, very hard to belive. I tried very hard to be a good christian. I would try to evangilize and I tried to live according to what I was taught was a christian life. As I grew older I started to read and study the bible. This only deepened my questoins and feelings of unease. By the time I was a college freshman I was having a lot of trouble with belief. Which only made me try harder. I didn’t become sexually active until I was 19 out of a strong sense of guilt. By this point my belief was crumbling. I had stopped attending church. I just couldn’t reconcile what was in the bible with what I knew to be reality. I think by this point I was an atheist but didn’t know it. I found Isaac Asimov’s auto-biography in the school library. Bu the time I finished it I knew what I was. I was an atheist. This would have been 1991. From that time until 2006 I was the only atheist I knew. I was alone. Then I found randi.org and learned that I wasn’t alone.

  296. 318

    Ockham’s Razor cut me free, once I had formulated the right question: Which is more likely, that my religion was based on an entirely human tradition, or that a god had performed numerous miracles? Once I allowed myself to even consider the possibility that it might well have all been made up, it was obviously the more likely bet. And not at all scary; the real world is so much more awesome once it’s seen without the distorting lens of faith.

    I thank Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” for making natural selection pellucidly clear beforehand.

  297. 319

    Well, I’m probably not the only one to have done so, but I believe I fucked and jerked my way out of religious strait-jacket. As a horny teenager, I had spells of catholic guilt for my masturbatory adventures. In college, I discovered the joys of long-term relationship loving. How could something so good, so wholesome, so fulfilling be so wrong? Sure, I dabbled with Buddhism before finally humping away the last vestiges of religiosity, but my beliefs in the supernatural had culminated way before. The end was anti-climactic, to say the least.

  298. 320

    Traveling with my mother as a child. She was a travel nurse (and is still a Baptist to this day) and I grew up all over Africa: Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone and finally DR Congo. She is a native French speaker, so was naturally sent to attend to displaced people who didn’t speak any English. The things I saw affirmed for me as a young girl that there are no gods who care about any of us on this planet. Why would people have to suffer solely because of where they were born? There isn’t a lot of justice in our world.

    What’s worse, my mom held long conversations with her patients about God. Never evangelizing to them, just sharing in their joy about the Lord. Almost all of her patients were devout Christians long before they met my mother. “God is healing us,” her patients would say cheerfully, while my mom tended to their amputated limbs or malaria-racked bodies. No one ever asked the obvious: What kind of god would place you in this situation in the first place?

  299. 321

    My change to atheism was simple. At the age of 12 I loved mythology. I then realized that millions of people who lived before christianity would automatically goto hell. That seemed unfair so I did a lot of research and came to the conclusion religion is B.S. with a capital moo. So i turned away from religion and haven’t looked back since.

  300. 322

    I was raised Catholic, and as a small child I bought in fully like every child does. I asked a lot of questions back then, because I was raised well and I knew asking questions was a good thing, but all of my questions were things like “if this church (yes, our specific church) is the House of the Lord, where does he sleep?” They were questions based on the assumption that everything I was told was literally true.

    As I grew out of that, Catholicism just kind of fell away. Nothing specific convinced me that Catholics were incorrect, just an accumulation of questions they did not answer. I didn’t turn to atheism right away though. I turned first to trying to figure out which religion did have the answers, or at least was closest to them, still assuming that there must be a God.

    The event that finally broke my belief and made me an atheist, before I even knew the word atheist existed, was during my Catholic confirmation classes. The woman teaching us brought in representatives from other religions to speak about their beliefs so that we could be more informed when we all chose to get confirmed as Catholic. Most students laughed at the silly beliefs of the Jews, Muslims, and Mormons, but I was already sitting there pretty sure that the Catholics were wrong and hoping one of these would be better. None were. It was on that day that I decided I would never find a true religion, because a true religion did not exist. It wasn’t a big leap from there to deciding there was no God either.

  301. 323

    It was a long slow path for me, as well.

    I was raised Catholic, with a mother who had coverted to Catholicism as an adult, and a father who I now think was an agnostic, if not an atheist. He went to church only on Christmas and occasionally Easter.

    Since my father was a physicist, he really encouraged me in science, and asking questions. I never got satisfactory answers for many of the questions I asked about religion. (Why aren’t we cannibals, since we profess that the Host is the actual body and blood of Christ? Because it was a willing sacrifice, that makes it okay. Look, it says here in the Bible that Jesus had brothers and sisters! …That’s a different Jesus.)

    I moved on from strict doctrine to a vague belief in some kind of deity, and from there to paganism with a hint of Wicca, on the logic that a pair of deities made more sense than one. A different species had to be a breeding pair or go extinct, after all. My mother found my altar and flipped out. A family friend cooled her down, and I will always be grateful to him for that. (This was late high school.)

    From there, I slid into a sort of agnosticism, concluding that if I had proof of a deity, I was unlikely to live my life any differently than I currently did. The more research I did, the less likely I thought it that god actually existed, and I was already close to atheism when I finally read Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker. I was fascinated, and convinced. Here were the arguments that I had been trying to verbalize!

    I’m still reading and refining my ideas (currently on Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything– wow!) and I currently identify as atheist/skeptic/freethinker (pick a term).

    Hope this helps!

  302. 324

    I didn’t have one “magical” moment that made me stop believing. I was raised American Baptist (yes, they want that distinction made between them and Southern Baptist) and was very involved with my church sporadically. I asked a lot of questions to my pastor, of which he didn’t always have the answers. For instance, “What do we look like in heaven? Do we look like how we do when we die? Are we balls of light? How can you tell which ball of light is your mom and which is your piano teacher? What do you do up there all day? Does it get boring? Do they have tv in heaven?”

    I remember one Sunday the pastor called people down who wanted to be “saved”, and said something about how Jesus would call you down to him. While the music played and the congregation sang, I stared at the large, gorgeous stained glass window in the sanctuary of Jesus tending to his flock. I stared, and stared, and stared at his eyes…waiting for Jesus to talk to me, to tell me that it was time for me to officially become part of the church. As other people made their way to the pulpit, I sat in a confused silence. Why wasn’t I “chosen”? What had I done wrong? Why wasn’t God talking to me?

    Eventually, weeks later, I decided to just pretend that God had called me and went up to be baptized. When that day came, I was expecting to feel different after I got dunked, but I didn’t. My mom asked how I felt afterwards, and I said, “Eh…kinda cold…” I guess both of those incidents planted the early seeds of doubt.

    Six years later, I had several family members die in quick succession, including my dad and both of my grandfathers. Due to this, I was really struggling with the thought of mortality and what happens after we die. As comforting as the thought of heaven was, I just couldn’t buy the schpiel. My mom’s pastor had come to our house and dad had, in Mom’s words, “Made his peace with god”, which confused me how he did that because the cancer had eaten up his brain and he didn’t even know his own name anymore. And in the end stages of death, Dad would kind of moan and throw his arms up into the air, which my mother concluded that he was reaching out for his dead mother that he was apparently seeing “on the other side”. Made no sense to me that he would do that since she died nearly 30 years earlier and, according to my dad, he didn’t like her much in the first place.

    His death was the final phase in my non-belief. While in mourning, I read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and although I didn’t agree with a lot of what was in there, it had some wonderful thoughts on how dying is a natural part of life and we must accept its inevitability. Even though I’m still in that acceptance stage, I feel it’s better to live in reality than to believe in a fairy tale just to make myself sleep better at night.

  303. 325

    I was brought into religion later than many children. For the first years of my life I wasn’t churched, nor was religion/god discussed. As far as I was concerned, “god” was another TV character, albeit one who was merely spoken of and never seen.

    That changed when I was 8. My mother started taking me and my sisters to the local Baptist church. There I was taught all the usual dogma about god; that he created the world and everything in it, that I was supposed to love and worship him, etc. I never imagined my mother, my grandparents (who promptly gave me my first Bible with my name engraved on it) or those nice people at church would lie to me so I believed it.

    For the next 20 years I was a Christian. In the later years of that period I began experiencing doubts. There were contradictions in the Bible, things that didn’t jive with my core values and parts that simply didn’t make sense. I tried to squelch my doubts with more Bible reading, more prayer and old-fashioned denial.

    What put the final nail in my Christian coffin was a college course called “Myth and Culture”. In it I read several of Joseph Campbell’s books and encountered the religious and cultural myths of myriad other groups. Some of them I found intriguing, others rather silly, some downright absurd. I realized, if only on a subconscious level, that it was foolish and hypocritical of me to continue believing my religious faith was true while denying all of those others. I admitted to myself I no longer believed.

    My first reaction was anger. How could all of those people lie to me like that? That lasted about a week. I never looked back and I’ve never felt the need or desire to return to theism.

  304. 326

    My journey to atheism began as a distillation of my Christianity, trying to figure out what it was I believed and why it was I believed it. I became more and more strongly Christian, until one day the floor fell out from the bottom of my beliefs and I came out the other side as an atheist.

    I began taking personal possession of my religious beliefs during my senior year of high school. I was raised Christian and had always gone to church with my parents, but I was starting to question WHY I believed what I did. I had noticed that a lot of sermons were just stories or good messages. They made claims about what I should do or how I should think and feel, but they rarely had anything other than anecdotal evidence supporting those claims. I decided that I had had enough of this feel-good, substance-less Christianity. Christianity should be biblically based, because at least then you have some evidence to cite for your claims.

    I went off to college, found a biblically based church, and started reading books on apologetics. I also became good friends with an agnostic, and we would have friendly sparing matches over religion. He brought to my attention aspects of my religious beliefs that I hadn’t even thought to question before. Things that were so ingrained that I took them as starting assumptions rather than something that needed proven. So I expanded my search from “Why should I agree with the things being said at me by the guy at the pulpit?” to include things like “Why do I think the Bible is a credible source?” and “Why would a loving god allow painful and fatal conditions to happen to newborns?”

    My sophomore year in college, a silver book caught my attention in a book store. It was Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” I purchased it and read it from cover to cover in a day. I realized that with all of my soul-searching trying to figure out the what and why of my beliefs I had missed the most fundamental assumption- “Why do I even believe that there is a god?” I couldn’t come up with a valid reason. And if there isn’t a god, then whether or not Christianity is true becomes a non-question.

    My faith had been a huge, defining force all of my life, and I wasn’t quite ready to let go completely. For several months, I continued going to church and reread the books on apologetics. But everything just rang false. One night, I stayed in and reflected on all of my experiences, and I realized that I had to let it all go. It was painful. But that night, I made the mental switch from Christian to Atheist, and I haven’t looked back.

  305. 327

    It was definitely a gradual thing for me. Ever since middle school I had decided that I was a pagan. My parents are wonderful people – even though both were raised Christian (one Methodist, one Roman Catholic), they never baptized me and they told me that I could choose for myself what I wanted to be. If I had told them later I wanted to be baptized, they would have supported it, but they never ever pressured me. This was my own path to walk.

    I dabbled in this and that for several years, even throughout college where I minored in Religious Studies (mostly a focus on eastern religions – buddhism, hinduism, taoism. Incidentally I was a Biology Major). While I always had the “feeling” that connected me to my spirituality, which I decided was Wicca, I never really got involved in any kind of groups – only very peripherally.

    I was heavily involved in pagan boards online (paganforum), and was convinced that I could reconcile my love and involvement in science with my spirituality. I was PROUD that I could do so — everyone else was just so intolerant and so black and white. On top of that, this online community saved me so many times that I cannot count. They were like friends and family when mine were far away, or when there were things I couldn’t talk about with my parents.

    Then, gradually, as I got away from the college years, even though I kept posting and kept going through the motions of my faith, I was just doing it to do it. Because it felt right, safe, ritualistic. It felt like ME. Who was I, if I was not this?

    Then, finally the cracks started forming. Did I REALLY believe this? Seriously? What about all of the science, the lack of evidence? I found podcasts and blogs and listened and read and questioned.

    After that it only took a few weeks, and I had declared myself an atheist. I’ve never turned back for an instant, but I can’t say that I don’t understand and empathize with how I used to feel. However, even with that empathy, I can’t stand the online boards I used to frequent. They are full of nonsense, both spiritual claims and earthly ones – they are chock full of pseudoscientific bull (something I am glad I never fell into).

  306. 328

    a combination of things made me an atheist. First, even as a child I felt religious practices were somehow silly and I felt fake doing them. Second racist, sexist family members who were ardent church goers made me wonder…third, reading about science and other cultures, fourth college courses on religion and history

    Being from the South I have been quiet about being an Atheist and in some of my jobs I knew itnwould be detrimental to be open. For five years I lived in Oregon and could be completely open….so nice. I recently moved to Danville VA and am overwhelmed by the overt religiosity of the right-wing type here. I’m back to being careful again.

    Just read Phil zuckerman’s great new book on why people become non believers.

  307. 329

    I was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 14. I went to church every Sunday including Sunday school. I dared to ask the question “Why did this happen?” and the responses ranged from “I don’t know” to “Everything happens for a reason” The “It’s god’s will” argument put me over the top. I was just a kid. What in the world had I done that was so bad to bring this disease down on me? I finally realized that the arguments didn’t make sense AND contradicted each other. It was then that I started becoming an atheist. It wasn’t until several years later when I went to Christmas Eve service with my family that I was pushed all the way. I was pretty much there to placate my family anyway, but when it came time to go up for communion, I let everyone out of the pew and then sat back down. That was when I got the look of death from the usher, a woman I’ve known my whole life.

    I’ve always questioned whether god exists. It was just this chain of events that finally allowed me to think for myself.

  308. 330

    I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school up through high school. I had no bad experiences with Catholic church or schooling. However, as I got older I always thought that the religious explanations of things didn’t really add up. I had a lot of doubts but pretty much kept them to myself. Beginning in college I stopped going to church, except when visiting my parents and considered myself more of an agnostic.

    In 2005 (in my earlier 30s), I read Douglas Adams’ book The Salmon of Doubt. I have been a huge fan of his writing since childhood and read this final collection of his writing with mixed emotions. A couple of pieces in this compilation talk about his stance as an atheist. I realized that the points he made were things I had been thinking myself. It also helped me to overcome a certain mental barrier to truly considering myself an atheist. Since then I have realized more fully the good company I am in by being a person who follows reason instead of faith. Thank you, Douglas.

  309. 331

    Interestingly, I came to atheism from a non-standard religious upbringing. I guess you could say I was brought up sort-of “new age spiritualist”. There was never any formal discussion of religious belief in our household, but concepts like “guardian angels” and everything alive having a soul/spirit were taken for granted. My mom was into a lot of Native American pantheistic stuff, and has a lot of neo-pagan friends. Nominally, we were Jewish, but not “practicing”– it was our culture, but not really our religion. Eventually, we started going to Quaker church (nominally Christian, but they believed that everyone’s connection to God is very personal– “services” consist of everyone sitting quietly praying in their own way).

    So, while I was never indoctrinated into a standard religion, I was nonetheless brought up in a tradition of “magical/mystical thinking”.

    I got very interested in philosophy in high school, and began to realize that the chances of any one religion having the right answers were pretty slim. For a long time, I felt that all religions had a piece of the answer, but that none of them really had it right, because they all tried to exclude each other. I guess I had a sense of a generic “positive force” in the universe– some sense of order, or connectedness, or reason behind it all– not really because I had any reason to believe that, but because it “felt” right. I suppose you could have considered me Unitarian or pantheist at this point.

    I became increasingly agnostic in college, as I learned more and more science and had many of my mini-beliefs busted by fact. After all, I grew up believing in things like telepathy and psychic healing (laugh if you want, but if you think about it logically, those things are no more, and quite likely less, ridiculous than people walking on water and rising from the dead). I never did go in for the idea of the humanocentric Christian god who’s only focused on us here on earth in the past few thousand years. As physicist Richard Feynman said, “the stage is too big for the drama”.

    So I had pretty much cut all ties with any formal religious beliefs, but I still had some superstitions and pseudo-scientific beliefs until quite recently (I probably still have some that I haven’t caught yet), things that I just couldn’t quite shake the feeling of– a sense that there has to be more to life than what we know– so I still believed, in some way, in “souls”, and perhaps in a “higher consciousness” of some sort, some kind of guiding force.

    And then I started studying psychology.

    What I learned is that the human brain is an expert in seeing patterns, regardless of whether or not they really exist. We have an instinctual need to explain things. We form narrative histories. We are particularly suseptible to certain types of logical fallacy. Our minds play tricks on us. Big ones. Ask any neuroscientist. Just because you saw something with your own two eyes doesn’t mean it was actually there.

    Two books influenced me in particular: Michael Shermer’s “How We Believe” and Andrew Newberg’s “Why God Won’t Go Away”. Interestingly, the second one makes no argument for the nonexistance of god, and leaves the question quite open, but combined with the other things I’ve learned, it put the final nail in the coffin for me, and made me decide that I am truly an atheist, not an agnostic, because *every human belief system is perfectly explainable without requiring any of it to be true*.

  310. 332

    My journey to atheism started in a church pew. At the age of 8, I finally heard in a sermon that god was personal and knowable, my response was where and how. At 12, I could not discern between mythology and the Bible. At 14, my first communion nothing happened. At 15, I realized that a culture’s thought on an afterlife was a mirror of the culture. Up to this point it was a personal journey, at 18 I read a book that challenged how I looked at god. The book played that god and Satan were bullies, who manipulated humanity just for fun. At 22, I learned the term agnostic and embraced the term. During my 20’s, I continued to search for belief, never finding belief. A month after my 30th birthday, 9/11 happened. I doubled down on my search for belief. After six months, I came out an atheist.

  311. 333

    I was raised Lutheran, went to the private school and everything. I HATED to go to church. Since I can remember my sister and I would be REALLY quiet and tiptoe around the house Sunday mornings until 9 or 10, knowing that if our parents woke up in time we’d be in for another boring sermon. I was pretty sure there was a god until I was 15 or so and had questions about my cousins who were jehovah’s witnesses. I asked my mom point blank if my cousins were going to hell and she hesitated, but told me they were. A couple of years later I found out my boyfriend was an atheist, so that got me to further think about my stance on god. Then my dad died when I was 18, so that was pretty much the clincher.

  312. Rob

    I grew up in a family that went to church most Sundays. We were Presbyterian (USA) members, which is a fairly tolerant and liberal denomination. As such I never heard the gay-bashing/creationist/pro-war propaganda that more fundamentalist churches turn out. Most of the Christians I was surrounded by were good people and most of my close friends today are Christian. So it wasn’t the people or the culture that turned me away.

    What started my road towards leaving religion was reading the Bible. We had been encouraged by our pastor to read the whole book. I quickly discovered why our sermons dwelled more on the gospels and less on the Old Testament. The god of the Bible was not the same loving god I heard about from the pulpit. That started a streak of skepticism in me that I rode into college. Probably the single biggest nail in the religion coffin for me was a course I took on Ancient Mesopotamia. While examining the religious practices of the Babylonians and Assyrians, I realized that Judaism (and thus the whole Abrahamic tradition) was just another Mesopotamian tribal religion. They worshiped Yaweh instead of Marduk. Other than that, the priest structure, temple, and worship practices were virtually the same. The grand claims of the Abrahamic tradition–a dramatic break from the idol worshiping pagans, the first monotheistic faith, etc were all false.

  313. 335

    Much like a recession I wasn’t aware of the loss of my religion until after the fact. I was raised Southern Baptist and bought the entire line until I was in high school. That’s when I started to realize that all the good god fearing people at church were no better or worse than anybody else. I simply lost any desire to spend time with them and lost any enthusiasm for the doctrine.

    If there were a text that might have made a difference it would have to be “The Mind’s I” by Hofstadter and Dennett. That and a spiritual experience that had nothing to do with religion that meant more to me than all the doctrine in the world.

    I was standing next to a pond on a quiet night and thought about the fact that since I was standing straight up, my feet were pointed at the center of the planet. Then I realized that there could be a laser that extended through me from that point out into space to infinity like a thin red searchlight. I didn’t know this, I felt it. It sounds silly now but it changed my life.

  314. Rob

    Teleprompter wrote:

    “These atheist friends of mine seemed to be really ignorant of what it’s like to be a liberal Christian. It seemed like fundamentalism was the only thing they understood.”

    I came from a liberal Christian background and I had the same experience. It was very unattractive for an atheist to tell me that my beliefs were ignorant, while he demonstrated a complete ignorance of what my beliefs were.

  315. 337

    I think it was a few different factors. It took me being really religious for about half a year to realize I was acting a little crazy. After that, I really began to question my faith, and I became an agnostic during my first year of college.

    During my Junior year of college, my best friend and roomie convinced me to take Religions of the East with her. I did, and while it was very interesting, I found a lot of what the professor said to be odd.

    The professor grew up Christian, converted to Buddhism in his early adult life, had lots of Buddhist experiences, and then converted to Catholicism when he married. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would he believe in the Catholic dogma after he had Buddhist experiences?

    Eventually, I chalked it all up to him being full of it. I had also joined the college’s Non-Theist Society around that time, and was being exposed to more atheist viewpoints. Those actually made a lot of sense.

    If I had any lingering on the fence feelings, those were squashed when I took Philosophy of Religion. The arguments against theism were better supported, and even though the professor tried to argue that theism and naturalism are evenly matched, I thought naturalism was way, way ahead all the time.

  316. 338

    I was raised attending a Methodist church with my family.

    I had a friend who was Jewish, and I remember when I was 13 or so thinking that the only reason he was Jewish and I was Christian was because of an accident of birth. That struck me as a bad way to decide what religion to follow.

    At some point after that I got to thinking about the fact that people have believed all sorts of things over the years, and not all of them could be true. I was biased towards Christianity, but eventually realized that no religions have solid evidence to support their supernatural claims.

    During my 20s I called myself an agnostic. I knew about the Big Bang, and figured maybe a god could have kicked things off, but it really didn’t matter at all in my daily life. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never thought “who created god?”, but after hearing the question I let go of any notion of a god being neccessary for creation.

    Reading about evolution and cosmology and following atheist blogs has helped solidify my lack of belief in gods. I now identify as an atheist.

  317. 339

    I became a Christian due to peer pressure in grade school.

    When I actually read the Bible, I realized that it didn’t match my beliefs and the world around me. I couldn’t rationalize my belief in a Christian God, and still hold true to my beliefs. It was then I realized that my parents were right, and there wasn’t a god.

    It’s been a long journey ever since, but I’m glad I’m still on the path of Atheism.

  318. 340

    With mom Southern Baptist and dad indifferent Catholic, my brother and I got religious “training” from the kids in the neighborhood. We went to services with our Protestant friends; we learned to say the rosary with our Catholic buddies. Just as I hit my teens in the early ’70s, the town’s Episcopal church hired a pastor who was interested in developing a youth group. I became the group’s president following my confirmation at 14, and the first female altar server in the diocese. I quit going to church after the Sunday following the Easter Sunday when I was 15. They’d earlier disbanded the youth group when no one else (male) was interested in becoming president. And although I had been the only server to show up Sunday after Sunday (and for a wedding and a funeral as well) for at least two months before Easter, the Rev called and visited the families of the unreliable boys to make sure they’d serve that day. Pictures and praise abounded–a group photo even made the paper. But that next Sunday? None of them showed, and the Rev expected me to hop right to work once again. I refused. He told me how greatly I was disappointing God, and guilt training kicked in. He’d have been better off letting me refuse; every part of the ritual that day felt completely different and unpleasant enough to keep me away so that I wouldn’t feel it again.

    I read and researched and visited with other congregations through the rest of high school and my first year of college, but there was little there–and plenty elsewhere. It took those years to realize that I wasn’t just rejecting one man’s narrow-mindedness or organized religion.

  319. 341

    ‘Kay… so this grew into a monster in the process. But anyway… well…

    Stand by for massive core dump, I guess:

    1) If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

    I don’t think it was a single thing. But then, honestly, I’m not sure my mind exactly changed, either…

    Explaining: it’s complicated. I was a member of a religion–and a fairly active one–but I can’t say I think I ever really believed. So, by the way, I don’t know if any of this is going to be any help, actually… But anyway, I did, at one point, sorta think maybe there was something terribly wrong with me that I didn’t believe, but even that…

    Even that was complicated/sporadic/conflicted. As in: I don’t think I was ever particularly convinced even of that, on balance. Sometimes I did worry about it, would even get terribly anxious about it. And then, sometimes I thought something more like: ‘that’s bullshit–that’s just this big, nasty system of headfucks messing with you–you’ve got to stop letting it get to you… I bet everyone feels this way, actually–that no one really believes a word of this nonsense, but just like me, they’re too scared to say so, afraid of the shit they’ll get from everyone for saying so’. I do remember, I kid you not, praying to the god I’d had prescribed (I was assigned the Christian variety) to convince me, somehow, make me less endlessly doubtful, fix whatever was wrong with me that I was so utterly unable to believe. But even doing that, I was always thinking, oh, c’mon, as if there’s anyone listening… You’re just mouthing this in your head ‘cos you figure that’s what you’re supposed to do, and at least that way you can say to yourself and anyone else who asks that sure, you tried, but could there be anything more incredibly pointlessly silly than this bizarre non-gesture? And as if it’s gonna change anything…

    It’s funny, if you’ll allow an aside: I remember through this one of the memes in the whole culture was that listen, this, too, is okay–doubt’s okay, you’re supposed to wrestle with that; it doesn’t make you a bad person or anything. But it was a bit of a mixed message, too–as you’d also hear how it was so great to have the ‘faith of a little child’, and so on…

    … and even all that, I remember being suspicious about that, even then. Thinking something like: seriously, they can’t quite call that one either way, and maybe that’s kinda by design, too–as it’s a stick anyone is naturally going to start beating themselves with, this guilt over doubt, as everyone is gonna have doubts, and I bet that kinda serves this whole mess, too, that it’s like that, ambiguous about that, how they can then say, oh, don’t do that… don’t be hard on yourself–it’s okay that you’ve doubts, ya poor sinner–we said that, see, so that guilt trip isn’t from us anymore. And besides this, how are you ever going to clear your head with that mess of messages around? It’s like so much of everything in religion, really. Nothing really nailed down that you can call us on, if we can help it. Indeed, let’s keep it messy and ambiguous. Keeps people nervous and off-balance, and that’s actually the way we want them. And guilt, guilt is actually good. We can use guilt. As it keeps people needy and dependent.

    … also, seriously, that whole ‘it’s okay to have doubts’ thing, I think it also missed the mark with me because it seemed to me it was more than a bit of a whitewash to say ‘I have doubts’. Pretty much lying by understatement. As in my case, at least, that’s like saying that ocean thing, y’know, that has a few damp bits in it, here and there…

    Had doubts? Right. Put it honestly, it’s more like now and then, I maybe very briefly thought there might actually be bits of this which aren’t complete and total nonsense… Somewhere… Theoretically… I mean, I guess it’s possible, anyway… Like maybe in some bits I haven’t actually read yet… Maybe… Well, who knows? And this level of intense conviction, let’s face it, I could sustain that maybe for brief femtoseconds, at best. Usually when feverish.

    So, getting back to this: anyway, what changed in me, it wasn’t whether I believed. It was my willingness to admit to the fact that I really didn’t. And that, again, I don’t think it was a single thing, certainly not one thing that happened. The most I can say is a lot of it was in one category. And that was this: a growing sort of sense of disappointment in myself that I hadn’t had the nerve yet just to fucking come out, say it, have done with it, be honest about it, find the courage to say ‘bullshit’ out loud, get it over with. And that built up over time until it just got too uncomfortable. Growing shame. It just got to be too much.

    Oh. Right. And anger. A growing resentment of the whole headfuck I really came to think it was… Tho’, additional detail, I actually got angrier about it, later. First getting out, realizing I really, finally was out, that was actually mostly pretty nice. Thinking later about how miserably long it took, and what a messy and sticky bamboozle it was, yeah, and what a lousy deal it ultimately was, that still kinda pisses me off. Hell, I think I’m getting angrier about it now, writing about it, and it’s been decades, now. Pardon me while I briefly fantasize about shoving it all back up someone’s ass so hard it gets caught in their front teeth…

    (Pause/gets faraway and slightly bloodthirsty look…)

    … seriously, moving on (somewhat regretfully) from this fantasy, I will say, as I tell this story often, that once a high school friend said to me something like ‘I don’t see how anyone halfway intelligent can believe this stuff’. That was back when I was still a master of the apologetics shuffle, doing my hemming liberal Christian ‘well, see, it’s sorta metaphorically true if you squint just right/what does anyone really know’ BS.

    And that very forthright comment of his always stuck with me. Rang out as kinda… ouch, y’know? Because I think it was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to say, and had never quite had the nerve. It was like, dammit, guy, we both know you’re right, but I just can’t say it. I’m too invested in this damned thing, been at it so long. So it’s less painful for me at this moment anyway just to keep throwing the good money after the bad than admit publicly that I know too well I’m propping up a swindle, thanks. So I think I’m just gonna keep right on pretending, here, if you don’t mind–maybe until I can’t actually look at myself in the mirror without cringing… Oh, wait, so, come to think of it, I can’t really even do that now, but I’m just going to keep going anyway. Maybe I’ll just stop looking in mirrors.

    2) Did you come to your non-belief entirely on your own, simply by thinking about it, or were you influenced into it by others?

    Yeah, like I said above: I think it always just was, really. So I guess that’s on my own. Still can’t work out why. I was raised in actually a fairly seriously religious environment, spent a lot of time in and around churches, over time. Y’know–choir, confirmation classes, altar boy, youth group, youth retreats, playing brass for the church, visiting the old folks’ home to sing, whole deal. And I never really looked for atheist writings or anything, prior to calling it done… And (apart from abovementioned implicit headfuck I’ve later grown to resent with every fibre of my being) I wasn’t treated particularly badly in the church. With the exception of their various minor roles in that whole mandatory and very beneath the radar and probably completely unconsidered lousiness, they were really pretty decent people, by and large.

    So there’s so many bits I’m afraid I’m probably no help with, but anyway, I guess you can take this as one more datum all the same: I can honestly say it always just sounded kinda… well… at least fictional, to me. They weren’t all bad stories (or didn’t seem so at the time–I’ve been finding myself a fair bit more harsh about the entire genre, more lately, given more distant consideration), but I still just took them as just, y’know, stories…

    Oh, and rather cartoonish ones, even. And I wonder now half seriously, looking at that word if maybe that’s part of the reason. As, come to think of it, I did watch a lot of cartoons as a kid. And this god and this devil and these angels all these folk running around in robes doing numerically dodgy things involving loaves and fishes and so on, they did kinda seem to belong in that category. Less funny, fewer explosives and falling anvils, sure, but it all made roughly as much sense as anything from Warner Brothers, and I wonder if maybe my kid mind just therefore naturally stuck it all in that category: silly stories featuring striking disregard for the laws of physics go in this box, or one near to it. The additional peculiar facts that a) these ones really weren’t nearly as much fun as were Bugs and Co., and b) we were also expected to say these words to each other that made it sound like we really believed it, like this cartoon could ever have actually happened, that was the bit that just kept getting more and more annoying. It was like: doing this rather absurd proclamation was kinda… an interesting exercise, for a while, guys, but geez, seriously, who do we think we’re kidding, anyway? Can’t we drop this? It started actually kinda boring, and, really, it’s only getting worse with the repetition.

    And that feeling that we were all just pretending–that it was like this social expectation you were just expected to pretend–that never really left me. I just came to assume that was the deal for everyone–me, the priest, the scarily enthusiastic evangelising-type-lady in the front pew, even her–yeah, all of us. We’re all just doing this, saying all this, playing along because we figure we have to, because it got rolling, and now no one (or too few at any one time, anyway) has the nerve to say ‘bullshit’ out loud, and/or because we’re all too invested, so it’s just gonna be too embarrassing to admit it, finally, now, after all this time. I still kinda think that. I’ve had some people tell me they’re atheists now, and insist that no, that’s not everyone’s deal–that they really believed, and honestly, it’s still incredibly difficult for me even to fathom this. Hard for me to believe even them. I still can’t help suspecting: no, you had to have just sorta half talked yourself into believing saying that’s important, somehow… You didn’t believe, you just really wanted to, or it was too painful to admit to yourself how full of it you were, what a crock you were talking, so you repressed that.

    Re influences, tho’: one funny revelation I do remember which maybe kinda counts: Reading Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian and thinking fuck, I could have written this. Bastard’s stealing all the best lines that have been simmering inside me for years and that I’ve just now started to dare to breathe out loud. And never mind that somehow he’d stolen them decades before I was actually born. So it wasn’t so much a ‘eureka’ moment as an ‘I’m neither alone nor original’ moment. With the tantamount relief and disappointment. As it was also an ‘I guess I’m not gonna be dazzling anyone with that insight’ moment…

    But also, against it really counting, then, by then, I was already out of the faith. I think reading it was more for curiosity, for me, not so much looking for arguments or anything. It was like: there’s no real argument for, actually (and I know this too well from having taken upon myself the thankless job of trying to sell some of those clunkers, in the day, thanks) so why would I bother looking for arguments against? Or, y’know, I think I was maybe just looking for a little validation. Or camaraderie through the printed page. Which it did kinda give me, after all.

    3) If conversations with individual atheists — friends, colleagues, family members, people on the Internet — made a difference, please say so, and say how they affected you.

    Like I said above, that one pithy statement from one high school friend did stick with me a long time. It wasn’t so much convincing as shaming, tho’. Oh–and there was my older sister–she and I never discussed it, as she wasn’t around anymore much, but I think it did come up somewhat before I called it quits that she had, too–my mother complained about it at some point. But I think I was probably pretty close to done by then anyway, myself, and biding my time. So hearing was kinda like: huh, good, they’re pissed, but they haven’t actually disowned her or anything… so maybe I’ll survive this, as well.

    4) If the presence of an atheist community or communities, either in person or online, made a difference, please say so, and say how it/they affected you.

    None. I can say safely. I was calling myself atheist before the net was much of anything, and didn’t really know a lot of other folk talked about it at all. Like I mentioned, I think I’d heard about my sister, but I also think by then I was all but through it anyway. I volunteered for the Internet Infidels many long years ago, but I was (I’d think kinda obviously) pretty much solidly out by then. They might have had some influence on the notion that being vocal about it’s a good thing… but again, there, I think I was already coming to think, look, people just have to be more public about this stuff. It’s ugly hiding, pretending you’re something you’re not. Nasty, and bad for you, and bad for the world, and so on. And anyone else like me still mired in that closeted misery, they really need to know they’re not alone. So doing that was more like: fine, this here looks like a fitting vehicle. Appropriate community service for all my years propping up this nasty-ass bullshit.

    5) If specific atheist writers or thinkers or other public figures made a difference, please say who they were, and how they affected you.

    Again, Russell was a bit of a ‘you’re not alone’ revelation. I do think just knowing folk like him were out there did give me a little courage. Ingersoll, too, only a little later. There was a biting bluntness about his stuff too, that made me think I wasn’t nuts to be thinking this way, anyway. They didn’t get me thinking or tell me anything I hadn’t worked out for myself, really. But it was reassuring to hear someone else saying it all, too.

    6) If a specific idea or argument made a difference, please say which one or ones they were, and how they affected you.

    Yeah, again, can’t offer zilch. Again: when you know so well there are no real arguments for religion, you don’t really look for arguments against real hard. Nor feel you need them.

    7) And if there’s more than one answer — i.e., if letting go of religion was a multi-step process, with several different factors playing into it — please say so.

    I guess I should say that. Letting go certainly did take time, for me. I hope the above sketches it, I guess. I don’t know how many people there are like me. As I said: sometimes, I suspect it’s really everybody, but I’ve noted this sentiment has tended to piss of those who insist no, they really believed, so I’m still trying to take their word for it…

    Regardless, I know there’s a few have echoed similar sentiments, so I always like to beat this drum, anyway: for some folk, talking them out of it really isn’t so much reasoning with them as getting them to admit what they already know all too fucking well, but just haven’t quite found the guts to say.

  320. 342

    It started with conversations with individual atheists. That led me to seek out works of Christian apologetics, certain that they would have the answers I needed to “save” my friends. (Yes, I was one of *those*.) What I found instead of compelling, logical arguments against atheism were sloppy, solipsistic pieces of crap like the “Lord, Liar, Lunatic” argument. And I was looking at “the greats” – William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, etc. I saw the holes in their logic even coming from a mindset that agreed with them.

    So I decided to do my own thought experiments. Start from a place of pretending that I didn’t believe, in order to find something that would convince me that Christianity was true. And I couldn’t do it. Starting from the very beginning, Christian theology contradicts itself. If 100% of humans “fall short of the glory of God”, then by definition, we never had free will. Similarly, a God whose love is supposedly unconditional does not square with a belief system that says “anyone who does not do X (believe in Jesus) will burn in fiery torment in the afterlife”, especially when only a tiny fragment of humanity throughout our history will have even had the opportunity to know what X was in order to do it.

    That was pretty much the end of my Christianity right there.

  321. 343

    What convinced me?

    Star Trek – The Next Generation, Episode 52: Who Watches The Watchers?

    I credit that episode of Star Trek TNG with turning me into an atheist. It made me think about religion for the first time, and that was really all I needed.

  322. 344

    For me, it was just thinking outside the box of religion. I started questioning the religion of my family when I was in high school, and eventually started rejecting catholic dogma on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and their views on sex in general (just for starters). But once I disregarded the rigid dogma, even on (relatively) minor issues, I couldn’t stop. From certain issues within catholicism, then to catholicism altogether, then christianity, and finally religion and belief in god. As soon as I looked outside the little box of religious dogma, I no longer felt restrained from looking at other options. And when I did, no single religion emerged from the mass and stood above. No religion is more believable than another, none provide a more satisfying explanation for this universe than any other.

    Yet Science did. Atheism did. They took the unverifiable, the unproven, the faith out of the world and asked: Can you prove it? No religion did. Scientists and atheists generally pride themselves on proving things and providing evidence, and once I found explanations for this universe that fit common sense, rationality, and critical thinking, religion lost me for good.

  323. 345

    It’s weird for me to put it in words. My old beliefs just kind of… flaked off, a little here, a little there, kind of like a sunburn peeling. It was nearly all due to me thinking things through after being prodded by reality.

    In my early years I was hypothetically raised Church of Christ. However, when my mother divorced my father and remarried, they kicked her out as an adulteress. My mom had been a volunteer at the church — cleaning the place up on weekdays, assisting in preparing the services, occasionally teaching Sunday School — so I imagine she was pretty upset about that, although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time (some combination of my own obliviousness and of her shielding me, no doubt).

    After that fiasco, though, we upgraded to the Southern Baptist congregation that my stepfather’s family attended. And yes, it was a genuine upgrade: beyond the increased budget that comes from Southern Baptist being a relatively mainstream faith with larger congregations, it was also much more liberal in doctrine. My 8 year old self was rather struck by the fact that they didn’t forbid musical instruments accompanying the hymns; they even had a piano and a pianist, right there in the church, which blew my mind. (Even the more “relaxed” Church of Christ denominations generally forbid musical instruments in the church; the more extreme ones forbid dancing or even secular music. The explanation I remember is that using instruments to make the hymns prettier is lying to God, or something along those lines.)

    I didn’t really think too hard about this stuff at the time, but in retrospect I see that it made me realize that people out there had some pretty wildly different ideas about what was good or true. I think it helped give me a more humanist outlook on the world.

    Later in life, when I was 12 or 13-ish, I figured out I was gay. I’d internalized a fair bit of homophobia by that point, although the origins for me were much more social than religious. But as I worked through it, I suddenly became very self-conscious that most of the religions around me would scorn me, at best, if they only knew what I’d just figured out for myself. That took another big chunk of my trust away from organized religion and anyone in it.

    By the time I’d entered high school — and probably for a good while before then — I definitely no longer considered myself a Christian of any stripe. Instead, I believed in the usual vague “searching” stuff. I flitted around, toyed with a few ideas, had a very brief but torrid affair with Transcendentalism, and ended up settling on Deism. I’d read in History class that many of the US Founding Fathers were Deists, and once I finally encountered (in those pre-Wikipedia days) an explanation of just what Deism was, it clicked in a way that Christianity never had for me: God the Watchmaker, the God who Doesn’t Intervene Because He Got It Right the First Time. I didn’t know the word for it, but I was also a Universalist at that point; the sheer injustice of eternal damnation had long since convinced me that it wasn’t on the list of things a just God would do.

    A few more years passed. I went to college. I made friends. My beliefs didn’t really do much for a while; maybe they picked up some Americanized Buddha-Bits like so much salad topping, but I no longer felt the itch of my beliefs being contradicted by reality.

    Then I watched my grandmother’s mind fully wither away and die from Alzheimer’s.

    When my grandmother was first diagnosed, she was not much past 50 — quite young by Alzheimer’s standards. Unfortunately, the diagnosis came because she was already showing memory loss and occasional confusion. Alzheimer’s is a disease that can linger for decades, but when it starts showing symptoms with such an early onset, it tends to be very rapidly progressing. This was no exception.

    When the diagnosis first came, I think I was maybe a teenager. When I graduated high school and left for college about six-ish years later, she was still recognizably my grandmother, but she was starting to have some pretty severe memory lapses and impulse control problems. After two years of college I dropped out (for reasons too emotionally complicated to explain here), and when I came back….

    The neat, simple, and wrong thing to say would be “her body was there, but she was gone”. At that stage of her illness, I can’t recall ever seeing her light up in recognition of my own face; even my mom and my grandfather rarely got one of those. Her eyes tracked faces but mostly held a DMV-like vacancy. But she would constantly wander to and fro. And there was the babbling.

    The babble was an incoherent stream of words pouring forth with no internal logic; the words themselves weren’t even pretending to be sentence pieces, just a fountain of junk stuck together. There were three that kept popping up: my own name, “jackets”, and “Mr. Wonderful”. This last was always said in a scathingly sarcastic tone of voice, which made us suspect rather strongly it was her private nickname for… well, we won’t go into that. But it was so clearly an echo of my grandmother, some bit of passive-aggression she’d held in secret and never uttered… well, never uttered consciously.

    More than that, her babble still conveyed emotional tone, and the tone matched her face. It was clear she was still experiencing emotions. But no memories, no conversations to anchor her, just her own streaming babble as she flitted between emotions. It was astoundingly difficult being around her, because even when she was happy and giggling, she could swing to tears or anger on a breeze. When that happened it was hard not to be moved to pity, and to stew in frustration that nothing in your power could calm her.

    Eventually we put her in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients. At some point while wandering the locked halls, she fell and broke her hip. After that, both the wandering and the babbling stopped entirely; she became almost vegetative. Not long after they couldn’t get her to swallow food, so they had to feed her by IV. Finally, about two years after I’d dropped out of college, about ten years after she’d been diagnosed, she died.

    It took a while for a lesson of that magnitude to sink in. But I soon realized that the disease that took her life was a proof-by-counterexample that souls don’t exist. I’d previously hewed to the naïve idea that our memories, our emotions, and our decisions all came from a single, unified soul. She’d lost her memories… but she still babbled my name, and that was a memory. She still had emotions; they were impulsive and no longer anchored to the external world, but she was still a sentient being. And the decisions… it’s not as if her decision-making simply turned off one day, like a lightswitch; there was a period where she was still making decisions, but they were poorly thought out, more teenager-ish at first, more childish by the time she started babbling. How could a soul suddenly go from making good decisions to making bad ones? If it had incomplete information about the world, perhaps, but her bad decisions weren’t always a simple lack of information. Sometimes they were very out of character for her, things that would have scandalized her before Alzheimer’s.

    And without a unified soul, the entire concept of an afterlife seemed… empty at best, contradictory at worst. What parts of her went to Heaven and when? Is the version of her in Heaven a snapshot, a saved backup, from some specific point in time before she suffered the worst of the disease? Or is her Heaven version a composite being, a combination of memories and emotions that never simultaneously existed in her physical body… that is, a different person than the person we knew? And if there’s no fuzzy warm glow of an afterlife waiting for us at the end… is God the Watchmaker really that useful of a concept? My concept of God had been a being that created us because He wanted to see what sorts of wacky and wonderful things we could dream up with this “life” thing, then maybe tell Him all about it at the end. But, if the end just means dying… just living followed by not-living… why would He have bothered to create all this? It would make much more sense for our existence to just be a lucky accident….

    It took me a few years to consider all these and scratch my new itch. But after her death, I gradually made that final slide from Deist to agnostic to atheist.

  324. 346

    The thing that started the whole thought process was figuring out that praying wasn’t working for me at all, when I was about 10. It was a slow process that I came to on my own just by thinking about it, but that is also because
    a. I was growing up and
    b. because I was an atheist by the time I reached adulthood.

    Im sorry if my story doesnt really fit in with the survey you’re looking for. Writers, the internet etc didn’t even have time to affect me because I didnt discover any of them until after I had come to the conclusion on my own. My theological journey is so tied in with my development and growth as a human being that it’s hard to pin down the steps along the way, suffice it to say that reaching an atheistic conclusion and reaching the last stages of maturity coincided perfectly.

  325. 347

    I grew up a very committed Evangelical, and deconversion took over ten years for me, with one little piece after another sort of falling away as I adjusted and redefined my faith over and over, hanging onto it as long as I could. It came down to me and my own thought processes in the end, but here’s how other people helped along the way:

    – My own Evangelical parents, die-hard acolytes of Frances Schaeffer, wholeheartedly espoused Schaeffer’s idea that if something is true, then you should be able to examine it critically and fearlessly and it should be able to hold up. So the seeds of my deconversion were already there, in the structure of my faith itself.

    – I had a lot of non-Christian (atheist and otherwise) friends who happily and without judgement engaged in hours and hours of “debate” with me over the existence of god. I was totally uncrackable at the time — and it’s important to note that we were all headstrong pseudointellectual teenagers who genuinely enjoyed this stuff — but their arguments did come back to me years later. Also if any Christian leaders tried to tell me that non-Christians were bad or sad people, or unsuitable friends, or whatever, I simply didn’t believe them.

    – The final piece of the mythology fell away when I read Sagan’s Cosmos and he described the mechanisms for the very beginnings of life. It was simple and non-confrontational, and at that moment I didn’t need any other explanation any more. It’s worth noting that I had actively Googled evolution-101-style information before that without much luck.

    I should also mention things that didn’t help at all:

    – The college professor who, when I came to him with very sincere but misguided questions about some of the lies I’d heard as a child about fossilised footprints, assumed I was trying to start a religious discussion and declined to speak with me at all. I don’t blame him, but it was really discouraging. I was very ripe in that moment for genuine growth.

    – Various people who engaged in arguments in bad faith and condescension, without bothering to understand where I was coming from.

    – People who didn’t want to talk to me about religion at all, for the stated reason that they didn’t want to disillusion me or ruin my innocence or some such nonsense.

    That’s all! I’m keen to read the rest of this thread now…

  326. 348

    Not that I was ever a strong believer, but I just couldn’t swallow the “magic” of religion. To believe, you have to accept all sorts of magical explanations. None of it made any sense. We are all non-magical creatures living on a non-magical planet in an unmagical universe. Believing in a bunch of magical nonsense might make a lot of people feel better about their circumstance, but it doesn’t mean that their magical beliefs are any less…….magical.

  327. 349

    I grew up non-denominational Christian. Went to church, prayed, read the bible and other religious stories. Then I realized that every religion insists they are the one and only true religion. Then I looked at how mutually exclusive they all are and realized at best, every religion but 1 was lying. At worst, they all were. So the question remains finding out which ones are lying, and which is telling the truth (if any are). Then I understood that people only believe what they’ve been taught to think, and that is the only reason they have religion. What god you pray to depends upon where you were born and not some universal truth. Essentially, religion = Hitler Youth (which, ironically, is where the current Pope was recruited from). Brainwash someone enough, and they’ll eventually believe what you’re telling them. From there it was a short trip condemning all religion and a further understanding that it’s all about control. At first, Man didn’t understand what was going on around him, so he turned to the first kook who offered an explanation. This led to respect for the kook and later control of Man by the kook. As science has peeled away the truth, religion has fought back lest they lose money and control.

    At least Cpt. Picard understood despite everything: There are 4 lights! Will is the antithesis of brainwashing. This may also explain the predominance of believers to be those of limited intelligence.

  328. 350

    I was changed by a combination of things. In order of importance:

    1) Realized the evidence shows we are a product of our environment and not the reason for it’s creation. Douglass Adams’ bit on the puddle that suddenly gains consciousness opened my eyes to this.

    2) Didn’t attend church regularly for a while and then stopped going all together for no particular reason. Removing myself from an environment of devout believers stopped all the reinforcement of belief.

    3) Thought the rules were unreasonable. No instruments in our church, and pre-marital sex mostly.

    4) Never realized how mean the church was during the dark ages, and that Christianity wasn’t the most popular religion in the world. Also realized most people are born into their religion based largly on geography.

  329. 351

    my 0.02 €

    -what changed your mind?
    a number of things which everybody go through, I guess (problem of evil, discrepancies in the scriptures, plurality of conflicting religious beliefs etc.) and nothing in particular. I started as a liberal roman catholic and drifted away gradually, going from believer, to “spiritual” to apatheist, to atheist.

    – Did you come to your non-belief entirely on your own?
    Nobody convinced me, if that what’s meant, but getting an education in science, philosophy and history had a huge influence, so I can’t say that I did it all by myself, quite the contrary 🙂

    – If conversations with individual atheists […]
    Not really. I grew up in a neighborhood which was rather apathetic about religion, outside of the social event of attending mass on Sunday. In other words: nobody gave a rat’s ass either way at the time I stopped believing.

    – If the presence of an atheist community or communities, […]
    I found them almost twenty years after I abandoned religion for good, so the only difference has been in making me more vocal about some issues. It should be said, though, that I live in an extremely secular enviroment (north-east of Italy), so I don’t really need to be vocal, most of the times…

    – If specific atheist writers […]
    see above

    I’m sorry this isn’t a lot of help
    good luck!

  330. Ron

    For me there was a defining moment followed by years of trying to understand it.

    I almost died in a car wreck. I was pinned in the car overnight and had a lot of time to think about my death. Not once did I turn to God for help or forgiveness during that night. Afterward, I wondered why. I went to several different churches and saw a lot of hypocrisy. I decided church wasn’t for me and decided to be an Agnostic (defined as someone that doesn’t believe in church but does believe in God.) Years went by and I started saying that I was an Agnostic or a wishy-washy Atheist. After a few more years I finally had the answer to why I did not turn to God that night – I knew deep down that he did not exist and praying that night was probably counter-productive. Today, I don’t believe that I would be alive now if I really had a belief in God.

  331. 353

    Brought up in a world (small town Yorkshire in the 50’s) that was pretty well exclusively Christian, though many people didn’t attend church. My parents were sort-of Christian, my mum was CofE and my Dad was Methodist. And they would discuss/argue the merits of each, so I learnt from an early age that there was a discussion to be had.

    A couple of incidents shocked my assumptions further, firstly finding out there wasn’t a Father Christmas and being admonished (in a somewhat embarrassed way) by my Dad for telling the younger girl next door of my discovery. This was the first indication that not everything adults told you was true.

    Secondly when a boy joined our class and refused to say the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the school day (everyone did, though it was not specifically a Christian school). I assumed he would get into terrible trouble but he didn’t and told me that you didn’t have to say the prayer if you were not a Christian. So you could make your own choices about this then?

    I also read a lot, a lot of science fiction and also tales of Greek and Roman mythology and about astronomy and dinosaurs. By the time I was ten I realised that the Bible stories we were told were just that – stories. I’ve spent the rest of my life failing to understand why so many people are incapable of seeing this simple fact.

  332. 354

    For me, it was the admittedly slow process of realizing that the inconsistencies I’d been fed throughout my childhood actually meant none of it was true. Everyone seemed to have their own preferences, their own flavor of how their god “really” felt, or what “really” happened, and none of it was based on anything but what they wanted to believe. What a coincidence that their ideal god felt the same way they did about things! In the last stages of my belief I noticed I was doing it, myself, making things up and hoping they were true, and I think that’s when I finally realized that’s what everyone was doing, even the religious authorities, even the writers of the texts they used as “proof.”

  333. 355

    I was raised in a family which could be best described as Roman Catholic Lite. I went though the motions and it felt fine. I went to church every week, I made it all the way through confirmation, I prayed at meals, I participated in a church activity every now and again, I went through most of Boy Scouts at the church. The beliefs were there, but it never felt like a big deal when it came to day-to-day activities.

    This lasted until my mid-late teens (in the early 2000s). I grew into a quiet and introspective person, who still today feels it appropriate to constantly reassess and improve his life. Eventually, I began to consider my religion as that behavior and my understanding of the world around me grew. Essentially, the more questions I asked of religion, the less reasonable it felt to continue. A few which got me started readily come to mind:

    How can we have so many interpretations of (essentially) the same text?
    Who is to say which one, if any, of the above is right?
    Also, why are we getting all of this important information from just one source?
    If all of mankind is fallible, why do we place any more trust in religious leaders than others around us?
    And the big one, after figuring out that I was bisexual at some point: Why is this part of me seen as immoral and in need of change?

    I basically drove myself to Agnosticism without any outside assistance. Once I reached that step (around age 20), I was more okay with that than I was holding any particular religion, but I wasn’t done. After going that far, I had to consider if going a step further was reasonable. Research into various philosophies and Atheism quickly came into play and gradually brought me to where I am today as an Atheist.

  334. 356

    “Everyone seemed to have their own preferences, their own flavor of how their god “really” felt, or what “really” happened, and none of it was based on anything but what they wanted to believe. What a coincidence that their ideal god felt the same way they did about things! In the last stages of my belief I noticed I was doing it, myself, making things up and hoping they were true, and I think that’s when I finally realized that’s what everyone was doing, even the religious authorities, even the writers of the texts they used as “proof.”

    Kristin, this is so true! I thought of this when I finally got round to reading The God Delusion, when Dawkins talks about the absurdity of claiming to get morality from the Bible, and then using that self-same morality to interpret the Bible anyway. When I was fourteen, I thought the Bible clearly said we shouldn’t use swear words. When I was 24, I thought the Bible clearly said that women should be equal to men (ha). Just pre-deconversion, I thought the Bible probably maybe had generally good things to say about humanity or something. Then the bubble burst.

  335. 357

    I’ve always been skeptical about a god. The tsunami in 2004 was the tipping point. The Kansas City Star had an article titled, “What god would allow this?” It featured all sorts of religious apologists but all it took was the huge title to tip me over to the atheist side.

  336. 358

    Never had religion forced down my throat. Grew up believing that God/Jesus=Love. I don’t know exactly when I became a non-believer but I’d have to say going college and being exposed to more free thinking writers and the scientific method. Funny, 2 of the books I remember that had an influence were The Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice. The latter sort of made me think more of less, “if there is a god, he is kind of a sociopath so why follow him” I’m not saying these were the final nails, more like the start of me moving to admit it to myself. By the way, I am still not 100% because, nothing is certain. Could be something we can not yet perceive. Or maybe we are all in the Matrix. Red pill, please.

  337. 359

    What convinced me? Nothing did.

    The fact is, I was a devout Christian for around a decade (not brought up in it, but converted when I was older), some of those years I was even a fundamentalist, and yet looking back I’ve come to realize one thing:

    I never really believed. I just convinced myself that I did. I wanted God to exist.. so he did. I wanted to be part of a community that accepted me.. so I joined one.

    Over the years I became more and more progressive, until finally in my last moments as a Christian just a mere couple of years ago, I woke up one morning and asked myself a question: “Do I really believe?”

    The answer was heavy but blatant: No. I don’t.

    And that was it.

    So for me, the question isn’t what convinced me to be an atheist. The real question? What the hell ever convinced me to be religious!

  338. 361

    I was raised Jewish.

    Becoming an atheist was a gradual process.

    I was raised in a household that valued science and education, so of course I had read atheist writers; I grew up on Carl Sagan, I read Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am Not a Christian” (in my rabbi’s office, no less!) But I took religion quite seriously, more than my parents, more than most people I knew.

    Things started to fall apart when I was a junior in college and got a boyfriend and had sex. I was guilty about the sex for a long time, but finally came to the conclusion that it seemed I had a disagreement with the Torah. There were a lot of disagreements, when I stopped to think about it. I read a book by Robert Wright, called The Evolution of God, which convinced me that the historical and archaelogical picture of the biblical era was nothing like the traditional Jewish view, and that what I had believed was simply factually inaccurate. That terrified me.

    Then I stumbled across the website Less Wrong, which presented arguments for atheism, while I was in a rather distraught state… and I had my “Night of Fire,” and came out the other way. I think the realization was that I was already an atheist, and that I may as well admit it to myself.

    I don’t always feel good about my decision. I have some sense that cutting myself off from historical continuity, and making my own rules as I go along, is a mistake. But I don’t really think there is any God, and I don’t agree with a lot of the notions that have been promoted in the guise of religion, so what can I do?

  339. 362

    The Christian worldview didn’t make any sense. If God exists, why does he hide? Why did Jesus have to die for our sins, when he’s the one who decides if you go to heaven when you die? Why does an all-knowing being need you to pray? Why does He need worship and ritual, anyway?

    Once the doubt took hold, it was but a short step to complete atheism for me. I was aged 11. When I entered High School I found my best friends were also atheists.

    Since then, religions have not been able to provide any compelling reason for me to alter my conclusion; instead they offer a host of reasons for retaining it.

  340. Kat

    I grew up Roman Catholic and I believed in God until I was around 17… Which is when I got pregnant. My first instinct was to plead and pray to God to spare me from this life-altering disaster, but then I had a bitter realization that prayer is not doing anything to improve my situation, or even to bring me solace, like it used to in times of lesser distress. I realized that I am the only power acting in my life that has the ability to actually change anything, and that God won’t help me out because he simply does not exist. Ten years later, my child is growing up in a happy, religion-free home, and I’m glad every day that reason prevailed in the internal struggle of a terrified teenager.

  341. 364

    When i grew up, my mother was an off the walls, hypocritical christian. I almost never had any friends because of her. I was very limited with what i could do. I couldnt watch any good tv shows, play violent video games (even pokemon, because they were supposedly little gods that i worshipped.), celebrate halloween (we went to church every year on halloween. My stepdad trapper, would sometimes be able to control her, but not for very long. After being in church all my life, at age 13 i realized i did not want to worship a god that was so limiting, and made my life so miserable. To this day i have problems socializing with other people because of her. You wont let your young child do anything fun, but youll smoke pot with your 17 year old son? I hate her more than you can imagine. To this day, i dont speak with her, and when i do, we end up cussing each other out. Its fine, becaus t shows how much of a hypocrite she really is. Her bible says to love your enemy, not cuss them out.