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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P.S. Love your picture.
I grew up going to church 3-5 times a week. Sundays at a Lutheran Church. Wednesday at Chapel (I attended a parochial Lutheran school). Saturday was the weekly Christian rock concert/revival. Then, depending on my step mother's mood, we often attended other church services where faith healing, speaking in tongues, etc was all considered NORMAL and even EXPECTED of us.

Yes, I was a believer. I gave myself to Christ and considered myself to be born-again and all that stuff.

About the time puberty really kicked in I began thinking for myself more and more. And eventually and slowly lost my faith, but not the fear of Hell. It took at least 5 or 6 years for that fear to finally go away. Throughout my young adult life I flopped like a fish out of water, checking out every religion I could. My only knowledge of atheism was that it was strictly evil and obviously Satanic in origin. Keep in mind, I had lost my faith, not my understanding that God was as real as Satan. I never questioned the existence of a God. I never questioned the existence of Heaven and Hell. These were so ingrained in my mind that I didn't even think I COULD QUESTION them. I was stupidly seeking an alternative religion, not turning my back on God.

It wasn't until I read Ishmael and the other Daniel Quinn books (all of them), that I was finally able to destroy the God Meme. So, about 20 years or so went by before I finally kicked the God habit.

I live quite a distance from my father (a Lutheran minister) and step mother. We get along fine and we've not discussed religion in MANY years. We've never fought about it or anything like that...I've just ignored the "God talk" from them. I simply didn't respond when they told me they were praying for my family or told me how blessed I was and after I started getting tattooed and pierced the invitations to my father's church just sort of stopped coming when I was in town. LOL

Anyway, my daughter just turned 3 and my father and step mother flew up to meet her for the first time. Dad asked if he could baptize my daughter. I told him that since I din't believe her to be a sinner in need of salvation I couldn't be a part of that. But I told him he was welcome to baptize her without me as long as it would be non-threatening (no dunking) and would have to be perceived as a fun thing for her. He declined because he said the parents must give her to God willingly or it would be a waste of time.

I actually respected that. But what followed was a typical appeal to believe in God again and get saved. The Non Profits podcasts, which I've been listening to for the last few months helped me out a great deal. I was able to argue well, stay cool and call bullshit as needed. It ended with my dad saying, "one day, Son, we'll both know for SURE..." LOL. I said, "Or not."

We dropped the religion thing and focused on my daughter getting to know her grandparents. It was nice. Unfortunately, they continued their constant infusion of God into almost EVERY single sentence they spoke. I think it's just habit. I don't even know if they realize they do it anymore.

Anyway, I think it's safe to say I'm now "out" to my father and step mother. I never said, "I'm an atheist" but I argued against the existence of god, sin, heaven and hell, etc. I don't think there's any question in their minds that I'm an atheist.

It feels really fricken good.
Thanks, John. Have you ever read Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion?" It talks alot about the unfairness and ridiculousness of calling children "Christians" or "Muslims" or what-have-you. How can anyone say that a child is a member of any religion or belief? How could they possibly make an informed decision? It is good, though, that you all managed to get far enough past the issue to let your daughter have a relationship with her grand-parents. Anyway, thanks for sharing so much of your struggle.
I'm reading that right now! I just bought it a few days ago. I loved that chapter (2?). I'm only into chapter 3 or 4 right now and I already plan on reading many more of his books.
Me too. He's just so much better than I am at making those perfect arguments. I usually just end up sputtering something that ends with "I give up . . . I can't talk to you about this." That book kind of turned me from a little bit of a "closet" atheist into something closer to an activist.
Amen, Brother!
You're the first person who mentioned feeling any kind of anger over "wasting" years of your life supporting a delusion. I had really wondered about that. I know I'd have been kicking myself. Sounds like a hell of a journey!
I have a naturally enquiring mind and a good research brain which does not accept authority without proof. I began to ask awkard questions about my indoctrinated religious beliefs in my teenage years. At first it led me to be more conservatively religious (evangelical), then more liberal and ecumenical. In my final years I began to train for the Methodist ministry. I did not make it to the end of that training, largely due to the content of the training and the questions it raised for me.

I continued to bite on them like a dog with a sock. My strong belief in the morality of intellectual integrity would not allow me to avoid them. Of course, I had to deal with the emotional stuff that went with having a familiar world view exploded from underneath.

In the early part of the theological training I was introduced to Real Bible Study and serious scholarship. I was forced to read the Bible like a collection of short stories and historical ramblings instead of like a magical lucky dip. I read it in a modern translation which did not obsure its meaning and which made it easier to tolerate the tedium of the writing in many sections. After reading all of the letters by Paul/Saul of Tarus I came to the startling conclusion that I would not have liked the man had I met him. I also came to the conclusion that modern day Christianity is actually Paulianity and bears only a slight resemblance to the teaching reputed to have been provided by Jesus of Nazareth.

I found the study of the Old Testament quite fascinating but it punched the final nails in the developing coffin of my religious belief system. It made a fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible quite impossible without encapsulating the belief from logic and reason. This was not new to me, however. More seriously, the study challenged belief at a deeper level. The Old Testament god is a monster in the light of modern notions of civil rights and morality. Spending an enternity with such a sadistic arsehole would clearly be hell.

The ephiphany, I think, was the result of a church study group on prayer. I went away from that discussion convinced that there was no good reason to pray at all since it had no effect other than to make the praying person feel better or, possibly, strengthen their desire to help their fellow humans in some way.

I decided to throw all my religious beliefs up in the air (figuratively speaking) and wait to see what came down. Several years later I discovered that nothing had and that I had learned to live life without the beliefs. The "hole", which many continuing Christians believe those who lose their beliefs must have, was just not there. Life just expanded into the behavioural gap and went on as usual. My emotions followed my head at a distance, but they caught up after several months to a year.

I studied psychology and became a licensed clinician. That ruined any possibility of believing that my emotional and subjective feelings about supernatural presence were based on any kind of objective reality. Like the hallinations of my clearly psychotic patients, they were grounded in the belief systems and shared background of those in my environment. There was no scientific reason to expect that they would be identical if I were to find "enlightenment" in some other culture, country or century. There was also the uncomfortable knowledge that people required certain types of brain abnormalities (genetic or induced) to experience the religious ecstasy prized by pentecostals, evangelics and Catholic saints and that, conversely, some kinds of genetically acquired brain structures resulted in a person who was immune or extremely resistent to the formation of beliefs in the supernatural. Of course, that led to the problem of an apparently immoral god: one who created people who were psychologically or neurologically incapable of religious belief and then elected to torture them eternally because of it. None of the "special pleading" arguments which atte
Hello Rosemary -

It seems that your reply was cut short, unless you actually intended to end with "atte" - but we probably got the bulk of it.

I may be misinterpreting you here, but it seems that you didn't so much "come" to atheism as "left" religion. Are you, in fact, atheistic? I suspect that many people who call themselves atheists are not actually rejecting the concept of a god but only religion.

And thanks for your delightfully coherent comments.
Yes, the system ate the end of my reply.

I left the Christian religion, certainly, but that does not preclude me from also being an atheist. I am, in fact, now an atheist. The process of leaving Christianity and becoming an atheist was one and the same.

The change was a slow and steady one as I moved through stages of thinking like a developmental journey. The process reminds me of the developmental intellectual stages delineated by the Swiss psychologist, Piaget and the moral stage counterparts delineated by Kolberg.

Once you have passed a stage of thinking you cannot normally go back: it is a generally one way street. The exceptions are the same for the process which leads to a rejection of a supernatural worldview as they are for the developmental or intellect and moral values. The person may vacillate at the border of a change. Or they may regress to an earlier stage when the brain is damaged or incapacitated in some way. This includes the effects on the brain of physical, mental and emotional stress.

In other words, except for the just mentioned extraordinary circumstances which affect normal brain functioning, I do not believe that there is any way that I could return to a belief in a supernatural being or beings, even if I wanted to.

Do I miss the beliefs? Sometimes, yes. Like my belief in fairies, they were attached to a lot of emotionally nice feelings (except when they were not). I recall those emotional highs fondly. Fortunately, but I have discovered that the same feelings are available to me from other sources. Nature is still wonderful, a good piece of classical music can bring tears of joy to my eyes and my family and friends give me lots of "warm fuzzies".

My only regret is that I now have to live with the uncomfortable reality that this life is all that I have, and there may not be much more of it to experience now that I am in my sixties. The knowledge that this world and even this galaxy must sometime cease to exist is frightening. I guess this kind of unpleasant reality is what drives many people to develop or cling to beliefs in benign supernatural powers and the concept of a pleasant immortality .

The problem is that I can't just believe in a wish fulfilling dream because it would make me feel better to behave as if it were true. I could only do that if I were insane or ignorant. Which brings up the moral question of whether I have a right to disturb other people's comforting certainity in the actual existence of a delusion. Unlike House, M.D., I do not believe that it is humane to face someone with an uncomfortable truth if the delusion is providing more good than harm at the time. If someone is clinging to a belief in a comfortable "heaven" as they are inevitably dying then I will leave them thinking those thoughts. On the other hand, if their delusional belief in the supernatural is causing them to needlessly kill themselves or others then I will intervene immediately and strongly.

I would apply the same humanistic thinking to those who believe in fairies, Santa, leprachauns, Catholic saints, medicine men, faith "healers" and the Easter Rabbit.

Rosemary
Boy, there's a lot to respond to here. For you, the journey away from both religion and a deity myth marched down a single path. I understand that for many people, there are two separate journeys there, and some people never lose their belief in some kind of deity. For me though, it was a single lesson. I don't know whether I'm better off because that lesson was learned when I was quite young and not so able to articulate it to myself.

I agree that once a person has had a "revelation," it's close to impossible to undiscover that wisdom, given a normal brain chemistry. But it is certainly possible to reject religion (the realm of men with agendas) while still clinging to belief in a deity (the realm of the supposedly unknowable).

I'm somewhat torn on the question of whether humanity would be better off with its comforting beliefs or with reality. I prefer reality. Give me a choice between a fluffy pink delusion and cold, ugly reality - and I'll take reality every time. But does that mean that EVERYONE should? Richard Dawkins makes some pretty good arguments for abolishing religion altogether (in The God Delusion) but I always worry that people are generally too stupid to make good use of reality and that we may all be better off if we give them some nice, clear rules and regulations to live by. I really go back and forth on this one. I'm looking forward to your further thoughts on this one.
Wow! Great story!

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