Why I’m an Atheist

I was born an Atheist, ignorant of any deities or theology like everybody else who has ever lived. Religions are not passed genetically but are ideas and philosophies that are taught. The religion that we first learn about is always the one to which our parents happen to subscribe. In my case, my mother was Catholic and my father was indifferent which means I was baptized into the Catholic Church before I could formulate or voice any opinion on the matter.

New England Catholics aren’t very strict about religion for the most part. Sure, they go to church on Sundays, abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent and believe in an afterlife but they rarely obsess about religion the way Christians in the bible belt appear to. New England Catholics are practically agnostics who just feel very guilty all the time so I really don’t remember religion playing a big part in my day-to-day life until I started going to school. My family sent me to Catholic school but it was more to do with it being a private school than for religious reasons, but it was the first time I was really exposed to religion on a daily basis.

I definitely believed in God during first through fifth grade which doesn’t say much since I also believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and Chewbacca. And why wouldn’t I believe in God at this age? Not believing in him was never an option and we had a religion class every day telling us that we would burn for eternity if we didn’t believe in him.

My earliest memory of finding certain parts of the Catholic religion silly if not down right confusing was during First Confession, when we go to confess our sins to the priest to purify our souls. I remember going into the booth and blanking out on what I had done wrong. I wasn’t even sure what constituted a sin worthy of confessing. I mean, sure the 10 Commandments are a pretty good guideline to go by but after I had said that I had lied the priest told me to continue like that wasn’t enough. What the hell else did the man want? I remember making up sins to satiate his need to know all the wrong I was doing but the bastard would come back with “Go on,” which just made me panic and go down the commandments in sequential order to create more lies about sins I hadn’t even committed. I’m lucky I didn’t blurt out that I had killed someone to get the damn padre off my back. The only sin I didn’t tell him was that I had just lied to a priest of all people during confession, which made the whole exercise futile anyway. I came out of confession defeated. I went in to purify my soul and came out with one even blacker than before. I tried confession one more time after that and had a similar experience to the first and just never bothered again. It just seemed silly to me even then that you needed to tell God your sins through a surrogate.

I still did believe in God although as I grew older I started to question my faith more and more until one day in sixth grade the catholic school made a grievous error that was to change the way I thought about religion forever. They gave each of us our own bible. Up to that point, we had never had our own bible to take home and read and study. Sure, we had religion books that had parables and lessons from the bible but these were all excerpts, not actual scripture. I had in my hand the actual word of God, the manual for everything we needed to know in life. I mean we’re talking about the Gospel, the Scripture, God’s Biography! So I read it. I read all of it from Genesis to Revelations. And what a sacred steaming pile of bullshit it was. Sure, there were some of the stories that we had learned in religion class that was familiar to me but the rest of it was boring, cruel, and just plain contradictory. I didn’t feel blessed after reading it at all. I felt robbed more than anything. This was the basis for religion? Hell, the first story in the damn book, the story of creation, is contradicted in the very next chapter. God certainly could have used a good editor. By the time I had finished the damned Bible, I had all but lost my religion. The only reason why I didn’t lose it completely is because I didn’t know that having no religion was even an option. I questioned my religion teacher who brushed it off as saying that the bible had gone through men so some parts would make no sense which just led to the inevitable questions of if some parts are wrong then how do we know the whole thing isn’t wrong. Nobody could give an answer to that for the simple reason that there isn’t one besides the obvious that the whole damn book was written without any divine influence.

I went through the motions of Confirmation with my parents telling me that after that I would be an adult and going to church would be my choice. After the ceremony I told my mother that I had decided not to go to church anymore. She brushed it off as a phase although she respected my decision.

I went to a public high school after eight years of Catholic school and started reading about other religions such as Greek Mythology, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc. I no longer believed in Christianity and as I learned about other theologies I became Agnostic. Religion was just not an important part of my life to commit to a particular one. At some point during college, I decided that I just didn’t think any deity was even probable so I started referring to myself as an Atheist. I’ve heard people make the argument that not believing in God is as blind as believing in God which I also believed at the early stages of my Agnosticism but became a lazy idea after I had thought about it for some time. There are an infinite amount of nonexistent entities and asking someone to prove that any particular one of them doesn’t exist is a waste of time. I can only make decisions based on information that I have, not information that I’d like to have.

When people ask me how I became an atheist, I think they expect some distinct moment where I was struck by a non-epiphany and shrugged off religion from that point on. The truth is that there wasn’t a moment like that but years of questioning my faith and religion itself. My decision to free myself of a deity was not made during a fleeting instant of passionate realization but of years of cold reasoning and thought. This probably would have been accelerated if I had been exposed to other Godless people or Atheistic literature but neither was available to me at the time. But the Bible was a pretty good start.

48 comments

  1. hmm… i was raised agnostic. religion and spirituality was just something we never discussed at home. in my late teens i was more of an athiest, thinking the whole subject to be utterly stupid. gradually, though, my curiosity grew and i started reading about psychology(particularly jung), zen buddhism, alchemy, and several forms of mysticism. currently, i sometimes refer to myself as a pantheist but it’s more of a tool to simply provoke thought.

  2. I’m an atheist but I’ve come to respect religions, especially after reading philosophers such as Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Campbell. They did not adhere to any of the monotheistic religions, but they saw the value they had. CG Jung’s Man and His Symbols – as l’elk mentioned – also made me see religion in a new light. Taking religious texts literally, at face value, is a sure way to laugh them off. I think you have to look at them as allegories in order to appreciate their deeper significance.

    Still there’s absolutely no excuse for bible-thumping mountain mommas from alaska to shove their beliefs down our throats. Don’t get me wrong on this. She’s taking the texts waaaaaaaay too literally.

  3. I am also atheist .My son is learned about religion
    8 years is atheist. Now is philosophy and sociology student and even more
    is atheist.Sorry for my English.

  4. Confirmation confirmed it for me – they spent a day telling us why all other religions were false, and it was just so mean-spirited and obviously wrong, I gave up on any small shreds of belief I may have still held. Although I do really like Alan Watts.

  5. Chris, I too am a “recovering Catholic”. My first realization came at the tender age of 6, when I began to wonder how God, the “all-loving”, would give me one chance–one life–in which to get it right, and if I blew it, I was sent to Hell for eternity. Even my natural parents would forgive me and give me a second chance (and third, and fourth, and so on)! And any questions I had were basically answered with “That’s the way it is; don’t question, just believe.”

    It’s most accurate to describe myself as an agnostic; I sincerely DON’T KNOW. But I have doubts about the existence of a deity, or at least a beneficent one (as opposed to a totally neutral one; I do NOT believe in an evil deity of any kind).

    Won’t know till we die… if then.

  6. What if you are wrong? Wouldn’t that be terrible?

    Remember:
    If you do not believe in God and there is no God, fine.

    If you do believe in God and there is no God, fine.

    If you do believe in God and there is a God, well, great!

    If you do not believe in God and there is a God, UH-OH.

  7. Boobert, what if YOU are wrong? What if you’re wrong about Allah? In the afterlife I’d hold up to his scrutiny better than you would. I think he’d be willing to forgive a non-believer before someone who worked for the competition. My neutrality would be a plus.

    What if you’re wrong about Hinduism? Judaism? Ancient Egyptian beliefs? You’re playing Russian roulette with faith, putting all your eggs in one basket. You’re assuming that if there’s a god, it’s certainly YOUR god. Every time you read your Bible you may be pissing off the real god in ways that I never did. You may be blowing any chance at an afterlife, while I have left my options open.

  8. Do you think believing that God does not exist — being an Athiest — requires any less faith than believing God does exist?

    So, do you have faith that God does not exist?

  9. justin, Chris he answers this question in the post. You can’t use logic to prove faith. Most Atheist (and all Agnostics) will logically concede that God possibly exists, but if you accept this possibility you also have to accept a whole host of improbable and ridiculous possibilities.

    I will grant the possibility that God exists, but I don’t think the likelihood is high enough to care.

  10. Whoa, your 4th paragraph. I think most Catholic kids have had a similar experience. I remember going to confession and wondering at like 7 years old or whatever, what could I have possibly done that was actually sinful. I could understand adults being sinful as they had so much opportunity for it, but little kids?

    As to the rest of your story, the biggest enemy of religion is a thoughtful and questioning mind. Religions know this and try their hardest to keep their followers ignorant and complacent. Religion is an enemy of knowledge and learning no matter what they say.

    Say it out loud: I’m Atheist and Proud!

  11. justin,

    I have faith in evidence and in the routine testing of theories through use of the scientific method.

    In the entire history of humanity, not one shred of proof of god’s existence can be documented. Might as well believe that magical pixies draw each and every day especially for you and you alone and every person you come into contact with is merely a magical rendering. Do you have faith that this isn’t true? Well, then the magical pixies will just undraw you.

    It’s all just so silly.

  12. I’m a third-generation atheist, growing up laughing with my grandmother at grown-up men wearing ridiculous hats at the Vatican.

    If you lack the early-age indoctrination, there really isn’t anything about religion that is even remotely attractive. I accept its influence on culture and morality, but it is an outdated concept that bears no relevance any more.

  13. “What if you are wrong? Wouldn’t that be terrible?”

    Oh man, you’re right! I’m sure God would rather I lie and pretend to believe in Him in order to avoid His Divine Wrath than speak the truth of what I actually believe!

  14. What if you’re wrong? What if you spend your life following and appeasing a specific god, and then you die… and it’s some OTHER god that’s actually running everything? Maybe some as yet unknown god that was even more cryptic and full of riddles and puzzles than the ones we do know of. Maybe this real god has been trying really hard since the dawn of civilization to reveal unto us its great truth, but we never decoded the secret message. Seems that all the “holy” books are like secret codes that only certain people can decipher anyway.
    If there really was a god, I think it wouldn’t be so frustratingly vague as to confuse and anger entire continents full of people. There wouldn’t be so many vastly different ideas about what it is if it was real. I think it would be a little more obvious which convoluted story was the truth because if this higher power really cared about us, and was all-powerful, as many religious folks believe – then it wouldn’t allow huge chunks of its world to be so wrong about it… and therefore doomed to eternity in torment (or whatever other horrible, vengeful punishment it promises).
    What if you’re wrong? Then you’re wrong about a deity who doesn’t care enough to clarify, or isn’t able to. And if it’s that powerless to communicate or demonstrate its all-powerfulness, then it probably can’t hurl me into a lake of fire, either.
    And about respect. I hear people saying that we should respect all religious beliefs. I disagree. We have to tolerate them because they’re so prevalent, but I certainly don’t respect them. They don’t respect my beliefs, either, so we’re even. Except they want me to burn in hell (or something similar) when I die.
    I grew up in the USA in the south and attended a Southern Baptist school but never really believed with “all my heart.” I pretended to believe for a while when I was young to avoid the obvious dangers and scorn. And despite knowing the truth, I kept pretending to believe in Santa until my parents told me he wasn’t real since it seemed to make them happy.

  15. Weird, Chris, I lied to the priests in confession too (ours were held in the gym so everyone could see you going; talk about social pressure). As I have always been pretty foulmouthed and enjoy swearing for its own sake, I had that to confess. Plus, I was a little thief, pinching quarters from my mother’s purse. After that, though, I ran out of steam and just sort of repeated myself, spiced up a few things. But that priest, man, he was just egging me on trying to get more stuff. “Go on,” is like the phrase of choice.

    However, afterwords I did feel an amazing sensation of lightness, but that’s just because when you confess something to someone that you think is wrong, you’ll get that because now you can relax and stop worrying that you’ll be found out. It’s pre-emptive action that gives you one less thing to fret about. It’s kind of the same way the “talking cure” works for people. They get things off their chest and feel better about them.

  16. @critic and zantimisfit,

    It’s because as a catholic at least, you’re taught that just about everything you do is shameful in God’s eyes but it’s pretty damn difficult to narrow down when you’re put on the spot and have to bare your soul to a priest. The 10 commandments is the easiest way to try to categorize them but unless you’re a mini-Manson, you start running out of things after you’ve said that you’ve lied and stole something…

    Even back then when I actually believed in a hell I found it ridiculous and creepy.

  17. Jeff, never said I what I believe in. Perhaps I am wrong.

    I believe there is a higher power, mainly for the reason that I cannot explain where the begininng started. Where did the gasses which created this earth come from. In my life, I have come to realize everything comes from something. So how/where did it all begin?

    I feel I am on the safe side.

  18. lowercase justin, this is Uppercase Justin. Ben has already pointed out that Chris has already pointed this out.

    I just want to add to Ben’s point a little. Your argument creates a slippery slope of other ridiculous shit you’d have to acknowledge. Loch Ness Monster: it takes a certain amount of faith to say this is 100% false. Russell’s teapot: again faith is required to deem it unequivocally nonexistent. But there is so little credible evidence for the Loch Ness Monster, Russell’s teapot, or God, that if we put a number on its probable falsehood, it’d be something like 99.9 repeating. And any good scientist will tell you, you might as well just call that 100. As in 100% deniable. As in atheist.

    I’m not going to walk around saying, “I’m still on the fence about the Loch Ness Monster,” or “I guess I’m agnostic about a real life Mighty Mouse. I’ve never seen him, but who’s to say?” or “That elf that may or may not live in my closet? I can’t say for sure that he doesn’t exist, so I’m continuing to sleep with my gun.”

    Anyway, everyone please take special pains not to confuse me with lowercase justin.

  19. “Jeff, never said I what I believe in.”
    – You alluded heavily enough to have stated it rather clearly, as illustated by, “I believe there is a higher power…”

    Now to rebut:

    “…mainly for the reason that I cannot explain where the begininng started.”

    – So the logic flows like this: “I don’t know how something works. Therefore, random theory X (invented by unlearned ancestors) MUST be true.” Until science proved what a sneeze was, it was demons escaping your nose. Sometimes, the ancients are wrong.

    “I feel I am on the safe side.”
    Huitzilopochtli is an angry Aztec god, who demands sacrifice. So what if YOU are wrong? You do not want to be on that guy’s bad side.

  20. *Lurking MODE OFF*

    Pfft… Chris your use of lower case bible annoyed me: surely it should be Bible, BIBLE or BIBLE!!!.

    Anyhoo, a good friend of mine who attended an all-girl Catholic school (Rrroaw’sa, yeah you know what I’m talkin’ about!) also complained about having to make stuff up for confession: usually, “Forgive me father, but I’ve been thinking about boys”. How come your confession wasn’t as interesting?

    Did you know that the Hebrew written language did not contain punctuation, leading ambiguity, such as:

    Comfort ye my people (Go and give my people some comfort)

    Comfort ye, my people (Hey my Peeps, crack a smile!)

    Therefore, any religion borne of the day’s prior to punctuation is a savage religion?

    *Lurking MODE ON*

  21. Religion is such a complex arena. I consider myself Christian, and believe in the existence of God. However, to be a Christian you are supposed to adhere to all the principles of the Bible. I do not agree with all the concepts, so does that mean that I am not a true Chrisitian??? As a result, I am not practicing, I just continue to contain my beliefs. The last thing I need right now would be to go to church and be told by members that I am not “a traditional Christian.”

    By the way, I found it interesting that my Catholic friend said that she used to “make up” and “say the same” confessions each week at church. And apparently there was no way she’d truly confess her real sins to the priest! What is the value of that???

    Everyone is entitled to their religious and spiritual beliefs. What I don’t agree with is the bashing of religions. Yes, there are extremists that come across as “crazy.” But in the long run, if it makes an individual happy, who cares?!?!

  22. Good read, by the way. It is always interesting to gain this type of insight. I can see how you may have been turned away by religion! I don’t know how you feel, Chris, but I think you shared a very personal aspect of your life- thank you for that!

  23. If the average Joe six-pack thinks about sex every six seconds…. then the confessional boothe seat should never grow cold.

    Hell that thing would be worn down to a nub!

  24. wait until you get over that whole idealism about social issues thing. if you don’t, then the catholic guilt worked
    *returns to split-second lurking & not reading whole threads*

  25. My mom was raised New England Unitarian. her mom took the family out of church for good after the minister delivered a sermon without god.

  26. Hi guys ‘n dolls. I’m a European guy with much the same story as Mr. C…
    Lying to priests and nuns when I was younger (they made me do it), asking difficult and often unwanted questions to teachers when I got older and totally refusing to take part in any kind of catholic ceremonial behaviour…

    The good thing about this part of the world is that basically nobody gives a flying feck about religion anyway. So I wasn’t as big of a rebel as I thought/hoped I was!

    Sadly enough these days, religion is becoming more of an issue again… especially the more extreme points of view are becoming more prevalent.
    And that’s why we need atheism. It’s not a fairy tale about how beautiful blind faith is. It’s about reality and about teaching people to think for themselves and make up their own mind. It’s about being open and tolerant to all people and all different points of view.(as long as they’re not complete BS of course.)

    So if you’re interested in learning more about atheism and reality, then have a listen/look at these guys from Austin, Texas. http://www.atheist-experience.com/

    Here’s their “mission statement”:
    The Atheist Community of Austin is organized as a nonprofit educational corporation to develop and support the atheist community, to provide opportunities for socializing and friendship, to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture, to defend the first amendment principle of state-church separation, to oppose discrimination against atheists and to work with other organizations in pursuit of common goals.

  27. mondo makes a good point–as long as you arent hurting others or proselytizing obnoxiously, i dont care if you believe in Moses or Buddah or FSM (His delicious noodle-y appendages be praised). Just keep it separate from laws and politics and everyone wins.

  28. It’s not magic, l’elk!, it’s my divine power. And yes your wish is granted. Check your local supermarket.

  29. It breaks my heart that you’ve lost faith in Chewbacca. He lives with us to this day, performing maintenance upon the Millenium Falcon in each of our souls.

  30. I also had big issues with the bible as a young catholic (and still – though I would hardly now consider myself a catholic). And I lied in confession. Once, most likely my last time, I told the priest I hadn’t sinned. that was not the correct answer. I still had to do the prayers.

    After I started exploring other religions, over many years, I think now that “God” is more a force or energy than a divine being. Actually, I think it is as simple as “God is love”. it works in all religions. its just not practiced that way.

  31. Devil’s Advocate:

    @ Rev. Snarfleez J. Cattleprod in comment 22
    Until science proved what a sneeze was, it was demons escaping your nose. Sometimes, the ancients are wrong.

    In a little while, we will be the ancients. What if all theories held today (atheist and religious) are understood to be false? Our brains are quite small to think we know so much.

  32. @deepsea33: “as long as you arent hurting others or proselytizing obnoxiously, i dont care if you believe in Moses or Buddah or FSM”

    Harm doesn’t have to be direct. The sweet little old lady who organises the all the church’s fundraisers helps nurture a culture where we are expected to respect the ridiculous, and are then shocked when a epileptic girl’s mother stabs her to death because she couldn’t tell epilepsy from a ‘possession’.

    Tolerance kills.

  33. Abbi Crutchfield:
    It’s the important questioning that we as atheists are beginning to do now that will hopefully lead our forebears to continue that questioning and not make the mistakes we have made in taking the “wisdom of the ancients” as fact.

  34. @abbi Crutchfield:
    Atheism isn’t a theory. It’s the reluctance of committing to a theory for which there is no proof…

  35. I came to atheism out of boredom.

    I went to church with my folks, coz that’s what they did on Sunday. It took me until I was 15 to recognize that “If I’m falling asleep here in church, why can’t I just stay in bed”. So I told my folks it was boring and I didn’t want to – they were fine with it.

    Also, when I was a little kid, I asked my grandma for a bible because I thought it was “a book” – hell everyone called it the “The Book”. So I got it, and started reading it, like “a book”, and thought “damn this shit is BORING.”

    When people tell me they’ll “pray for me” (eg: over a job, stressful situation, perceived lack of faith), I say back “No thanks, I’d rather work my way through the situation on my own merits/education/mental abilities/critical thinking”.

  36. I’d like to thank the people and institutions who contributed to my atheism.

    Thank-you, the presbyterian Church of Scotland of which my father was a minister. Your endless squabblings over the direction in which the church should go showed me very clearly that religion is man-made. It was but a short step to wondering whether “god” was also man-made.

    Thanks also to the theological idiots who in answering my questions showed how petty and hate-filled were their small minds.

    A great! big! thanks to the authors of the Bible for the repulsive immorality and endless contradictions immortalised on every page.

    Thanks must also go to Nasa for launching the space-shuttle. Without you, I might have been happy to sit in church pretending to pray. As it was, I realised that doing anything else – especially watching a shuttle launch – was preferable.

    I must also thank my mother for showing me the lie in the Christian message of love: My brother is not going to hell because he is gay. He is not going to hell because there is no hell, you silly old woman.

    Thanks to David Attenborough who showed me and countless others the wonders of evolution which made a mockery of the biblical story of creation.

    Thanks, everyone! I truly am happy to be free.

  37. It is interesting that alot of athiests are former Catholics. The Catholic church has so many dogmas, rituals and things added to it that are in no way come from the Bible(purgatory for example),that it really should be called more of a cult or fairy tale than a spiritual religion.
    The sad thing about the Bible is that all of the dry, boring parts are at the beginning. Which is discouraging for someone trying to read it as a cohesive book.
    The exciting parts start at the middle and end with the Proverbs, Psalms, prophets and New Testament – if your into that sort of thing and into engaging your heart (affections) in deitous pursuit.
    Wouldn’t want anyone to get “God in my heart” syndrome.
    Reading the Bible can also heighten your reading/thinking skills since i’ts packed tightly with words of dense meaning and concepts, though atheists think these concepts are bunk, concepts nonetheless.
    Oh here’s a cool bhuddist website, primer as it were.
    http://www.arrowheadsangha.com/basics.html#4truths
    The Bhuddists hold beliefs not that different from many athiests. They don’t ascribe a mystical or deitous source for the causes and effect of the universe, but accept it as it is.
    Thiers is more the realm of the inner universe than the outer.

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