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How and why do people become Atheists?

Thirteen personal stories

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Personal stories of conversion to Atheism:

bullet "Ariex:" "My childhood family life was disorganized, with only minimal contact with religion. In my teens, I found myself drawn to the "clean cut" among my schoolmates, and I began to be curious about Christianity. When I became engaged to a Christian girl, I took the leap and became a Christian, enthusiastically attending church. A couple of years after marriage I began to seriously study the Bible, beginning with a thorough reading from cover to cover, and immediately found problems. I sought answers from clergy, who pointed me to various apologetic works. These actually set off 'alarm bells' in my head as I recognized things that seemed contrived and artificial, designed to save the reliability of the Bible, but I began to feel as if they were directed at people who were gullible and would believe anything. I kept at it, but the problems kept cropping up and the answers kept looking lame. Finally I started reading critical Biblical scholarship and found that there were answers, just not the ones I was hoping to find. I kept on studying and finally recognized the probability that gods were mythology, the product of ancient minds trying to explain their own existence and purpose. My search for 'truth' began in 1964, and continues to this day."

bullet James Longmire: "I grew up in a nominally Baptist family. We did not go to church, or discuss religious matters. We did go thru some of the motions, including Sunday school, at least until I was expelled at the age of 8 ;o)

I can't recall ever believing in God, although I'm sure I must have at one time. I certainly remember believing in Santa! (but not the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, LOL)

Religion was never an issue where I grew up (Nova Scotia, mostly) and those who were overly vocal about their beliefs were looked upon as being slightly daft. Quite different from the US Bible Belt, I guess...

I was a bit of an evangelical atheist for a while, but eventually came to realize that such an approach was not only pointless, but was in fact, presumptuous. Who am I to tell people what to believe?

As I am a skeptic by nature, and a materialist philosophically, I regard all claims of the supernatural to be without merit. Still, I may very well be wrong, though I've yet to encounter either evidence for the supernatural, or even a compelling argument for its' existence.

So, I experienced no trauma, nor do I feel a sense of 'betrayal', as ... many other atheists seem to. The concept of the supernatural just never made sense to me. I know that 'absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence', but I also know that evidence cannot be found for the non-existent...

I believe in tolerance of other's beliefs, but not respect. Respect must be earned."

bullet John E. Evans: "I was a Christian from the time I was 5 until about 4 years ago. That is when I turned 40 and was compelled to know God as much as humanly possible. I wanted to love God more than any human that had walked the earth. I began a quest for truth that started with an in-depth study of the Bible which I continue today, consultation with theologians, intensive book reading of almost a book a week for the past 4 years, interviewing church leaders, attending laity classes at SMU and much personal thinking.

I loved Jesus and God with all my heart. I never questioned heaven. I prayed almost every day. We were even one of those families that prayed before dinner in restaurants. I felt sorry for atheists and could not comprehend why they did not believe.

But early in my journey, as I was trying to wrap my mind around God, I decided that if God was anything, God was truth. So I made truth my god and decided to follow it wherever it led. I NEVER would have guessed it would have led me to atheism but it has. It was not pleasant letting go of the idea of God. It was scary and dark and lonely at first.

But I discovered a new way of seeing that makes far more sense and is actually far more interesting than my old way. Like opening a dirty window and feeling a spring breeze and morning light illuminate a dark musty room, I feel more alive than I ever did while accepting the Christian worldview. I feel like I am making steady progress toward a better understanding of reality and that is incredibly exciting and fulfilling."

bullet Conley Thorn: "I was born into a Baptist family in the hills of West Virginia. They were solidly religious, and my mother regularly read me stories from a large illustrated Bible. Later we moved to a small city in southern Virginia where I attended a rural public school. I was a sincere believer until about my 15th birthday, leader of a youth Baptist training class, etc. I had met two women missionaries and corresponded with them briefly after they returned to the Sudan. For three years I was privileged to attend a week-long summer church camp, the third year at Massanetta Springs, VA. On the first evening there, everyone assembled at an outdoor amphitheater for vespers. When the service ended it was beginning to get dark and red streaks were visible in the sky through the pines. I sat on the hillside, glorying in "God's universe" until everyone else had gone to their cabins. My "heart" seemed filled with glory, and I was certain I was communing with God. The following morning, in a Bible class, a lovely young lady asked the instructor a question regarding free will and predestination. His reply was to the effect that that was one of the thorniest problems in the Christian tradition. "A problem?" I thought--"in my religion?" It was almost a shock to me. I'd never before questioned any item of belief, nor heard anyone else do so. I began to wrestle with the seeming contradiction that had been posed. It was the first time I had realized that I could think critically about such things--probably the first time I realized I had the capacity to do so. Once begun, I continued the process fervently and fearlessly. I was agnostic within a month, though there were many more years of thought and study before I considered myself an atheist. But my apostasy resulted purely from intellection, not from any anger or disappointment with family, church or "God." I have always felt very fortunate that I had those years of experience in religion, and in Bible classes. It's a rich heritage that I would not want to have missed."

bullet "LawStudent2187:" "For me, there was nothing dramatic that led me to atheism. I'm a confirmed catholic, but I never really felt what others apparently do while I was going through the rituals. When I went to college and started spending more time critically thinking, I started to reevaluate the wisdom of the religious teachings I'd been exposed to. I too acknowledge the possibility there's a god, but I know of no good reason to believe in one."

bullet "Zoltan:" "It was easy, quick and painless, really. The Easter Bunny turned out to be a lie, Santa Claus turned out to be a lie, along with a whole lot of other things that adults tell kids. Stories about God always sounded suspect to me, if a little bit scary sometimes. When the things adults told me about God didn't pan out, he entered the same category as the bunny and the fat guy. I think I was about eight when I figured this out. Later, as an adult, I began to explore theism and religious belief. Everything I have encountered reinforces my childhood notion that all of theism is a sham."

bullet "Ponger:" " ... I don't blindly disbelieve. I look at how religion came to be and see a rational progression that has nothing to do with any real evidence of a god. And I understand that our the emotions and ego allow us to believe in anything from Astrology to Tarot cards to created a reality we can feel more comfortable in. So when I factor all this stuff in the evidenced gives me 99.99% confidence we created God in our own image. I am surprised most people don't see it this way. But I have been lucky to have a good life and don't need to find fulfillment by being made in God's image. ..."

bullet J. Stewart: "I was raised in a very strict Christian home. My six siblings and I were home-schooled all of our lives; we never owned a television or a computer. There was no explanation, meaning or purpose outside of the Bible and we studied it for hours every day. My father is an international evangelist. As far as I know, I am the only atheist in my family.

I believe that my de-conversion occurred because I searched for answers; over a period of roughly ten years, I came to regard religion as being intelligently designed. I envy those who never truly believed. The trauma associated with my de-conversion is greater than anything I have ever experienced, but I survived and I suspect that this is more than can be said for many others. The freedom of being able to think for myself without the constraints of a totalitarian deity was worth the price."

bullet Thomas A. Lewis: "I was born-again at 12, home schooled for seventh grade with the usual creationist, "Christian history" propaganda (and sincerely believed it,) and baptized at 15.

That all started to unravel at about age 19 when I started to realize the psychological functionalism inherent in afterlife beliefs. At that point, religion became quite clearly false to me but I still held to a generic theism/deism. After that it was simply an intellectual journey. Sometime around my sophomore year in college I wanted to become a 'better Christian' (I still called myself and believed the basic tenets of Christianity at this time even though in retrospect it is more accurately called 'generic theism/deism.') and so I began studying my religion.

After about two years and 100 books ranging and hailing from both sides of creation/evolution, psychology of religion, history of religion, etc I was pretty sure that atheism was correct.

I still have an open mind and would accept a god (gods) if I found that plausible, for to me it is a simple question of correctness. However, I find that highly unlikely because a thoroughgoing naturalism seems to be the standard of reality."

bullet "Old man:" "I came from a non-religious family. I envied my friends who believed in god and went to Sunday school. I read the Bible off and on throughout my life and I found nothing in it that wasn't in any other history book, fiction mythology book.
What convinced me was when I studied anthropology/evolution/mythology and found that religious mythology to be no different than any other mythology and today's science fiction stories."

bullet Eric Pyle: "My experience parallels that of old (but wise) man's. Like him, I felt no religious pressure from my family. Like him, I occasionally envied those who had faith. In my case, this wasn't true in childhood, but in my teens when I started to look around. The beauties of Dante, Milton, Bach, the cathedrals of Europe, these really appealed to me, and their aesthetics lured me to learn as much as I could about Christianity.

But as he wrote before, when you study history, anthropology, etc, you realize that every culture in history has had a religion. They have had as much reason to believe theirs as we have to believe one from ancient Palestine. They were as sincere and as intelligent as we are.
In the zillion years of human history, am I supposed to believe that only our supernatural unprovable beliefs are true? Though many generations have believed they were in 'end times', in our case it's really true? That the theology of the trinity makes more sense than Hinduism or Jainism? Nope, can't believe that. I still love the art, though."

bullet Daniel Burdette: "My parents weren't the most religious people. My dad was an agnostic, and my mom always said she believed in God, but they were the types to just make the customary Easter & Christmas appearances at church. For some reason, they felt that we (my sisters and I) needed to go to Sunday school every week though.

So, early on, I was learning religious stuff pretty much every week. I don't know how critically I thought about it (being maybe 6 or 7 when I started), but I definitely remember it never seeming real to me.

I was very much an imaginative kid, always drawing pictures of monsters and dragons, and whatever else I could come up with, and while I knew the difference between reality and fiction, even the stuff I made up seemed more 'real' than what they taught me every week at Sunday school. One day, in probably 3rd or 4th grade, our teacher was talking about how old the earth was, and he said something about it being only thousands of years old (I forget his exact number). Being a young boy, I had a fairly vested interest in dinosaurs, and his statement alarmed me.

I asked 'But what about the dinosaurs? If Earth isn't millions of years old, when did the dinosaurs live?'. His answer? 'They didn't, their bones are just a trick of Satan'. And with that, I was gone forever.

I still had to attend, per my parents wishes, until I finally negotiated my way out of it at age 12, but mentally, I was never back in that room after that. I 'knew' that dinosaurs were real, and not the trick of some evil dude who I never really believed existed.

From there, I eventually looked into several other things (Wiccan nonsense that was all the rage among loners in high school, LaVeyan Satanism, because it seemed "cool", etc), and found all of them lacking as well.

Beyond that, I never really thought seriously about it again. I'll debate religious beliefs, think about religious concepts, philosophy, etc...but nothing I've ever read, watched, or experienced has given me any reason to think that belief in a higher power is anything more than wishful thinking.

bulletDavid Lister: ... I was raised in a nominally Christian family, although neither of my parents were churchgoers. As a teen, I was a member of a Presbyterian youth group, primarily for the exposure to social activities. A friend and I often attended churches of other denominations out of curiosity. It was through this habit that I was able to observe everything from the majesty of a Catholic midnight mass to the passion of a large evangelical service, a Billy Graham crusade held at the Seattle Domed Stadium, and the anti-music, anti-dancing, anti-everything teaching of a particular branch of Christian fundamentalism. While in the army, stationed in Italy, I briefly studied Mormon theology with the Mormon missionaries that were living nearby.

In other words, from a very early age, I've always been a religious seeker, but not for the typical reasons. I was more interested in understanding why people believed what they believed, and less interested in picking a belief system that I could then ascribe to.

For much of my adult life I was an agnostic, and I argued that atheism was as foolish as theism. Eventually, however, I came to understand that in reality I was an atheist. I think Richard Dawkins did it for me, when I read his quote (I think it was his and I'm paraphrasing here) that most people are atheists about all gods but one, but that atheists simply take it one god farther.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that since I believed in no theology, I was without theology--therefore an atheist, by very definition of the word. It became [a] revelation (if I can use that term) to me that to be an atheist one need not deny the possibility of a creator (proving a negative is, after all, impossible), but that he/she merely must choose to live without theology and to assume God's nonexistence, based on the lack of evidence to the contrary.

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References used:

  1. "Dear Atheists," Amazon.com forum, at: http://www.amazon.com/

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or Home > Christianity > Christian personalities > God > Atheism > Why? > here

or Home > Religious information > God > Atheism > Why? > here

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Originally written: 2007-OCT-15
Latest update: 2011-AUG-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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