Sue Nowicki of The Modesto Bee -- the newspaper in Modesto CA --
interviewed a number of local Atheists to learn their personal stories. 1
Susan Robinson, 50, said:
"I always had the feeling from childhood that [religious] things I was
told were not right. ... [I] kept looking for something to believe in. I
explored other churches -- Presbyterian, Mormon. I
even started reading the Koran. I could never
find a god I considered to be moral."
"Very often, there are different rules for God than for people. Like
the flood -- I'm sorry; I made a mistake.
Let's wipe everyone out except for one family and start all over again.
Or when Jesus was born, every child up to
two years old was killed. That's a huge price for a savior."
"[For many years] I was afraid to tell people I was an atheist because
of their reaction. I've read of a poll that says people view atheists
less good than Muslims, including terrorists out there, and homosexuals.
I read about things happening to people -- losing friends, losing family
members, losing marriages."
She's still cautious about revealing her beliefs. She'd like to tell
believers to not be:
"... afraid of atheists. They're usually striving to make the world a
better place. And please, please keep religion
out of government. Any time God is put into government or someone
wants to be treated like a god, it's really bad news for all the
Peggy Gardiner, a 62-year-old business owner, only had
one religious experience during her childhood when her
grandparents took her to a local Sunday school. She said
that the teacher:
"... told a Bible story and asked if there were any
questions. I raised my hand and said, 'How did God get
here?' I was about 5 or 6 years old. She said, 'God has
always been here.' That pretty well settled it for me."
She once ran for City Council in the 1980s, but dropped out of the race
when the local First Baptist Church circulated a
questionnaire to all of the candidates. She knew that if the
public became aware of her Atheism, she would stand no
chance to be elected. She commented:
She tolerates the beliefs and practices of theists. She said:
"I have a sister and a brother-in-law, and when we go out, they like to say a prayer before a meal.
I have no problem with bowing my head with them. To be agnostic or atheist, you have to be pretty open-minded."
She'd like to tell people of faith:
"... that while they all think they have the answer, it's not the only answer. ... If people would spend as much
time trying to improve the world as they do proselytizing, we'd probably have a better world."
Martin Baker, 44, is a criminal defense attorney who was
raised in England and came to the U.S. at the age of 27. He said:
"In England, although they have mandatory Christian education in public
schools, it seems to be much more tolerant or open to other religions
than America. ... It isn't that I rebelled against Christianity, but I
began to question the personal level of it.
[At the age of about 8, he] stopped going to church. My dad and I would go fishing on Sunday
mornings when my mom went to church. Fishing was the guys' religion on
He shifted to atheism, He said:
"I used to have a lot of hard-core atheist friends. I like to describe
it as devout atheists. I learned atheists can be as dogmatic as
Christians. The two (opposing) views of the world are 'we've always been
here' or 'intelligent design.' It's an argument that will always be
there. I realized it was futile to debate it."
He describes his current belief system as apatheism 2:
"a term which literally would mean that I don't care if there is a god.
More accurately, I believe that it shouldn't matter whether there is a
god, and that an ethical life should not be directed or encumbered by
thoughts of an afterlife or godly oversight. [I believe that humans]
... all have the potential or power to live ethically, to strive for an
unselfish life without regard to the consequences, whether we'll be
rewarded or punished. If I burn in hell, too bad. It shouldn't matter.
If I live unselfishly, the rewards are there in this life."
He does see some benefits in religion:
"I see a societal necessity for it. I think now, just as thousands of
years ago when it came about, people need some help in living morally,
living ethically. Your neighbors benefit from you being nice to them."
But he said religion has a negative side.
"I'm offended by a lot of things ... [among] Muslims and evangelical Christians.
Something we all like to deny, Islamic fundamentalists are very violent
and bigoted in their thinking. One of the things I don't understand
about Christianity is ... there's a God who's so arrogant and selfish
who says, 'You don't get into heaven because you don't believe in me, no
matter how many babies you've saved.' It's not so much offensive as
puzzling. I don't believe a truly unselfish god would care."
Chris Muir is a 51-year-old part-time secretary. He
"I grew up in a religious, Mormon household in a little farm town in
southeast Idaho. It was pretty much an all-Mormon town." [At the age of
8] I started having doubts. One of the things they said is that when you
were baptized, you'd be receiving the gifts of the Holy Ghost. I
believed it, but when I was baptized, I didn't feel any different. Then
I started finding discrepancies that didn't fit. By the time I was 14,
I'd pretty much decided this was baloney."
He has studied:
"... the tenets of other religions. Being a skeptic, I find the flaws in
those religions, too. Basically, religion appears to be what people want
to believe. If it comforts them and helps them cope in life, I'm not
going to try to dissuade them. It might be cruel to take [religion] away
from them. It may be a false hope, but it's still hope."
He remains on good terms with his family who remain Mormons, but is
"quite happy without having to give donations and tithes to maintain the
"I get asked a lot, 'Is there anything you do believe in?' I have to say
yeah. I believe the world does exist as we see it. Some people think the
world is just a vast computer program. I can't prove it, but I think
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Sue Nowicki, "Modesto-area atheists speak up, seek
tolerance," The Modesto Bee, 2008-AUG-16, at: