Is there anybody out there who WAS a true believer and is now an atheist? If so, I'd love to hear how you got from there to here. I always put the whole God story in the same category as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and I was lucky enough to grow up in New York, so I knew from the beginning that there were lots of belief systems and lots of degrees of belief and compliance. I've always been impressed by people who had what must have been the comfort and ease of automatic belief and who gave it up for the much more demanding and unsavory challenges of reality. I'd love to hear your stories, particularly those of people from communities where no other options were around, were available, were even acknowledged.

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I too was raised catholic. I went to church every week with my mother (a devoted catholic) and memorized all the prayers that were common to every mass but never said them with any connection to 'god'. I did believe, however, I was a lazy believer.

I didn't start questioning my faith until I was a teenager. I didn't like the idea of confession where you could do absolutely anything and repent giving you a clean slate. Plus the idea of saying your hail mary's etc. over and over wasn't appealing to my laziness. I did learn the basic premise of evolution in high school and there were a lot of 'events' in the bible that rubbed me the wrong way (Abraham sacrifice, passover, Adam & Eve, etc.). I still believed at that point, though.

In college, I took a class called Human Origins. Although I knew and believed the basic premise of evolution, is wasn't until this class that I understood how humans evolved. The class officially ended my belief in god, however, I was very much in the closet. At the time I felt that religion was a good thing for many people and I didn't want to impose my beliefs on anyone. I probably still wanted to believe then and didn't want to 'convert' for reasons of empathy. I also was fearful how I would be perceived.

I remained a closet atheist for about 15 years, but I would take baby-steps outward. Most of the time I was reluctant to tell anyone my beliefs although I gradually told my family. It was bothering me more and more when others would assume I believed as they did and occasionally I would come out of the closet. I enjoyed coming out when the missionaries would drop by my house to save me. I live in the south so most would be flabbergasted when trying to understand my stance. I was always cordial and most of the time they were respectful.

It wasn't until a few months ago that I became more confident about coming out. I'm still not officially out, however, I am much further along thanks to the words of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. "The God Delusion" and "God is not Great" were my favorites and made me view religion in a different light. I had never read the bible, so I didn't know of all the condoned genocide, rape, and other despicable acts found in the bible. I highly recommend their debates on YouTube. I now have a confident stance in my atheism and am trying to find the best avenue to express my views. Stay tuned...
Raised Mennonite in a strictly christian small town. Fervent bible thumper. Wanted to convince the non-believers. Assessed the arguments dispassionately because I figured God's truth would hold up.

It didn't.
I cannot recall a time when I felt beaten into belief. My immediate family has never been very religious. My mother would drag my brother and me to church on occasion when we were young, but my father never came along. The only time I've ever seen him in church was on Christmas Eve.

I can never recall being punished because I disobeyed God, and with the exception of a single tumultuous incident, God was never invoked to discourage bad behavior. In other words, there was never any preaching around the house.

That said, there was never any questioning of God's existence, either. It was something I took for granted growing up. I had never heard or comprehended anything that would discredit God's existence. I just assumed he was up there somewhere, but wasn't all that concerned with what he desired of me. I was too busy becoming the star basketball player on my little league team.

I never liked attending church. Yet I pined for it on Christmas Eve. I liked the songs we sang at that time of year, and I liked the candle lighting ceremony performed. It was aesthetically pleasing. Still, I can never recall Christmas morning being about Jesus. It was all about Santa.

The Pastor was a neighbor of ours. I remember him as a very nice man. He gave good sermons and never seemed to interject politics. He didn't preach fire and brimstone. Only the good parts. One of his sons baby-sat for my brother and I when we were real young. I idolized his son. When I was 10 his son committed suicide. I'll never forget the stream of cop cars lined outside of their house that day.

I was confirmed when I was 13, though I only went through the motions. I was not baptized as a child, so I had the ceremony performed on confirmation day. I felt nothing.

At this time I had been attending a YMCA summer camp for several years. I applied to be a counselor and was accepted. I will cherish the summers working there, with so many great friends, for the rest of my life. Like most teenagers, we were wild and crazy, but we were also committed to God. The more involved I became with the camp, and with community service projects, the more my faith grew. By the time I was 16, I was a full-fledged believer. By the time I was 17, all that faith had washed away.

There was no Eureka! moment that caused me to lose faith. Rather, it was a gradual erosion. The Christianity I had come to know was hopeful and beautiful. We sang songs at camp, gave devotions, committed our lives to service and prayed earnestly. I cannot recall politics being interjected at all. There was no talk of abortion or gays or whatever perks the fancy of social conservatives these days. It was the late 90s and our faith was about what we were for, not against.

It may seem like a surprise that I would have given these nice, happy, fulfilling traits up. But the more I read the Bible, the more I thought about what it purported to be truth, the more I could no longer accept it at face value. For a time I still retained the belief and worship of God, even while I knew the stories in the bible were not and could not be factually true.

At 17, the world opens up a lot. I began doing lots of drugs, reading philosophy and orienting myself with the socio-political dynamics of our country. All of these things were like a slap in the face of Christianity. But they were authentic, and so I knew the truth.

I also attended a methodist high school after years of attending public school. While my experience at camp had grown my faith, my experience at a Christian school countered it. All the chapel services and preaching and hypocrisy and lies became so evident. I began to see how Christianity could manifest itself in dangerous ways.

So I gave it all up. Yet, I think I expected to return one day, to find some common ground that could balance my rationality with faith. And so while I didn't believe, it took a few years to cast off the shackles of God completely. In moments of despair and trauma, my mind would wander to God. It was as if he existed but I refused to worship him. I think in part that I felt some shame about my disbelief and doubt. I thought maybe I was abnormal and simply lacking faith. Maybe I just needed to try harder. But with each passing year I drifted further away from belief until I ultimately expelled the possibility of God's existence from my mind once and for all. What liberation! What joy! And then, to my surprise, I found my disbelief all too natural. I found it shared by so many. I found it reasonable and respectable. I found it to be true.

My family and friends, even those who are Christians, know that I'm atheist. I'm very open about it and am fortunate to have people in my life that are open to hearing about it, even if it differs markedly from their own beliefs. It's a good reminder that not all religious types are narrow-minded bigots. I guess Im especially fortunate since I live in the South.
I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish home. Different sets of dishes for meat and dairy, same for passover. Synagogue Fri. night and Sat. and prayed 3x every day. Put on tefillin, wore tzizzit (fringed garment) yarmulke, didn't even know anyone who was not orthodox Jewish. Went to yeshiva from 1st grade through college. Classes in elementary school were Hebrew religious classes from 8AM to noon and secular until 5. In HS school ended at 6:15 PM. Grad school felt like a vacation in some respects. Doubts crept in at age 16 and 17. Too many contradictions and things that made no sense. At age 21 as a volunteer at a hospital in Jerusalem I visited the memorial to the Holocaust (Yad Vashem) and the Western Wall of the temple on the same day. Only a viciously cruel god could let the holocaust happen. Either god was mind boggling cruel or, more likely, there was no god. There was no internet, nobody I could talk to since everyone I knew was in the same community. My 3 brothers were not real close and all are very observant. Two now live in Israel, one of them on the West Bank defending the land god gave him. I started to read more. Too bad people like Richard Dawkins had not written their books yet. What I found was pretty stiff but still helpful. With my parents I just hid my beliefs for a long while. Years. I'd go to synagogue and pretend to pray but that got old. Once I moved out for grad school it was a bit easier as I could discover the world a bit.

It was not until I was in my mid 20's that I got the courage to say I was not religious. They assumed it was the fault of my then girlfriend (now wonderful wife and best friend of 28 years). The idea that if I believed all that stuff I would have chosen differently did not occur to them. They assumed too that I was just trying to blend in with society. That I was actively rejecting their ideas was later even more shocking to them. My visits became less frequent. They did their best to break my girlfriend and I up. Threatened to boycott the wedding. We were engaged quickly (8 weeks after we met) and told friends but did not tell family until we were financially able to get married 1 1/2 years later. My parents exploded in anger when I announced my engagement to them. It was not a pretty sight. They made our wedding a day to forget and for many years we celebrated our real engagement and mostly ignored the wedding anniversary.

After school I moved 1,000 miles away and went back to visit for a couple of days every few years. My wife never joins me. 10 years after we were married, my father needed to pass through my city for health related issues and both parents spent their only night ever visiting our home. At some point my father leaned over and quietly said, "you know, your wife is really nice!" All I could muster back was a stunned "yes, I know that, thank you." He died shortly after that.

My mother eventually stopped her derogatory comments when I let her know that they were unacceptable and I would terminate conversations on the phone. She would still wish me a happy (fill in the blank holiday here) and ask me if I had an easy fast on Yom Kippur. Then she'd act upset when I told her I didn't fast and didn't celebrate the holiday. We rarely see each other. My wife has not seen my mother in 18 years.

I think that my story is common. For most religious people it is family that presents the biggest hurdle and the most painful experiences. There are many things I'd have done differently today that could have eased the transition but that is only with the benefit of hindsight and, hopefully, some maturity.

On a positive note, shucking the yoke of religious belief was the most freeing, liberating thing I could ever have done. It is the feeling of fresh air, open fields and a sunny day. On those occasions when I do visit family the feeling is one of overwhelming claustrophobia. It is good sometimes to go back just to remind myself of what I have gained. Life is good!
"On a positive note, shucking the yoke of religious belief was the most freeing, liberating thing I could ever have done."

- Yes, I agree. It's what I felt when I've come to realize that atheism is really what I believe in.
Would you believe that I just came to fully realize my atheism when I got into college? One of the main reasons why it came to be so is that I grew up in a very traditional Catholic family. My parents are the type who'd readily come into question behavior and beliefs that run contrary to what we've been taught as catholics. The rest of the clan are also catholic and I believe I'm the only atheist in the family. I haven't been really out to my parents just yet because of this difficulty but we also do not talk about my religion that much lately because they've noticed that I haven't been participating in their usual religious practices.
Wow~ that's a new one - "not cut out" to be a believer! That's something to be proud of, though, isn't it? Not cut out to blindly believe whatever you're told, not cut out to turn your brain off when it comes to certain subjects, not cut out to ever stop questioning and learning? Would you have made it all the way to atheism if it hadn't been for your Uncle Pete, do you think?
Both of my parents were moderately religious, but I seemed to be more spiritually inclined. While I was pretty active in my local Methodist church I also read from other religious texts such as the Bagavad Gita and various works of Christian heresy. During this time, my skepticism manifested it's self in the form of a deep interest in theology and religious history. I was aware that there were a great many things in the Bible that didn't make sense, but I felt that with enough study and spiritual questing I could reconcile them.

I prayed every day and went on work missions through my church every year of my own volition. Even though my parents were luke warm about religion I spent a good chunk of my formative years trying to understand The Universe from gods perspective. When it came time for me to go to college, I decided that I wanted to be a minister. After I went through several "discerning" exercises with my minister and others, I started down the path to ordination (I didn't make it very far!).

During this time I fell in with a group of fundamentalist Christians because I felt like they were taking their faith much more seriously than anyone else I knew. To make a long story short, it was a bad experience and I witnessed the truely revolting effects that religion can have on people.

I feel into a depression as my faith began to wane and eventually disappear.

Eventually, I pulled myself out of that depression and in hindsight I'm glad that I no longer have to see the world through the comfortable delusion of faith. Being a freethinker makes my parents uncomfortable and I have established new relationships since then.

The journey continues!
It wasn't until I was 7 that my parents started taking me to my best friend's family's church. My best friend had gone sledding on New Years eve (on the same hill and day that I went sledding, but at different times of the day). It wasn't until a few days into the new year that we got a phone call from my friend's parents saying she had died. Apparently she had run into a log, hit her chest, and internally bled to death. I was devastated by the news. I went to her funeral. Seeing her looking like a doll, laid in a coffin, cold to touch was too much for me. I began sleep walking and crying in my sleep. My parents often had to get up and lead me back to my bed. They started taking me to my friend's church after the funeral and my "night hikes". Everyone there comforted me and told me she had gone to heaven to live with god. I wanted to believe them, so I did.

The next 9 years passed.

I had become pretty immersed in my faith. I participated in my church's yearly work mission, I went to youth jam, I prayed regularly, and I was confirmed. Even after deciding to be confirmed, I had many doubts about the christian teachings. I often put them out of my mind without much thought--assuming I had little knowledge of god's greater plan or that I was simply weak in faith. I was surrounded by people who shared my beliefs, never anyone who challenged them.

Then I met mthoreau.

I met him in high school. We shared our faith but often talked about our doubts, the inconsistencies in our faith, and some of the harm religion caused. We began dating. He was interested in being ordained. I was supportive but still questioning my own faith. As both of us continued to explore our faith we began to lose hope. Eventually, we both fell away from our faith. Now we enjoy spending time talking about secular religions, science, philosophy, politics, and where we are in our journey. I've never been happier. I've never been more frustrated.
My view is a little different on why some are able to break the bond of religiosity. It has more to do with environment. If a religious family is too strict with their offspring, the chances of rebellion increases. Also, external influences outside the family plays a major role. Particularly since the world has become much smaller because of technology. The cultures of others has become known to many. Communications with others outside the home has become easier. Today, only by strict restrictions on the flock can religion keep control of the minds of their flock. Often these restrictions breakdown and many kids are exposed to more realistic ideas. Of course, each individual is different so rebellion against fantasy has an individual component also.
The stories that people are telling in this discussion most definitely attest to the validity of your argument. The awareness of other beliefs and other ways of thinking allow for the possibility of believing differently and thinking differently. But some people seem to have some kind of core sense of "reality" or bullshit detection that would bring them to a different mindset no matter what.
Hate to tell you this, but I live in Las Vegas (Sin City) now and I come from New York, and there is a general assumption of belief in both those places too. Maybe there's a slightly better chance that non-belief will be accepted in a place where there are, at least, different brands of belief. I really think that atheism needs to speak out more. Fundamentalists tend to link atheism with all kinds of bad things, or what they think are bad things, very loudly and persistently. I think we should do the same - mention fundamentalism and rampant belief in conjunction with all the ridiculous things that it brings with it.

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