All too often I hear people say, "I was an atheist when I was in college/younger/a teenager, but then god found me and I became a christian." In my experience, the Atheist community consists largely of people over 30 and I think that A/N reflects that. Along with the testimonials of alleged "ex-Atheists" it would appear as though there is a narrative within the christian community that Atheism is a young persons belief, and that the increased wisdom of many years leads to a conclusion that god exists. That conclusion is usually based on things like a "gut feeling" or "some of the unexplainable things I've seen", or "how life seems to work its self out".

So what gives A/N? How many of us were "converted" when we were young and maintained our beliefs and how many of us took many many years to dis-believe. Also, why is it that people who profess to atheism in their youth eventually join a church? I suspect that the answer is more complex than the simple need for a security blanket.

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Perhaps it's simply a definitional problem. Maybe these "former atheists" don't really know what atheism is. Maybe they were just "backsliders" who rejected God's authority, but never really rejected the very concept of God. Maybe that's why so many religious people think that atheists are Satan worshippers or otherwise "evil"--they can't imagine the idea of there not being a god, so they think atheists fall into the camp of those who simply don't submit to God, who arrogantly assume authority over their own lives. People like that can easily fall back into submission to the imagined authority of God, because they never really doubted his existence. Once they get over whatever tiff they were having with God, they blindly stumble back into his smothering embrace.

This would also explain the theist's dismissal of atheism as simply being "mad at God" like a petulant child. They don't seem to grasp that atheists by and large have outgrown the need for a supernatural babysitter. Religion is an adolescent mindset. Atheism is the grownup, responsible approach to life--we admit that we're on our own and have to make do with that. What's more, as Annette points out, it's not like we have a choice--we go where reason takes us in the search for truth (aka reality).
People who "were" atheists are either lying or went back to church because having children reminded them that they were cowards.
Yes I see that in the theological arguments as well most of the time.

The question is, why do WE see it and they do not?

Because we have a "higher" power in our life that we call truth. And it doesn't matter what the truth costs us, even if it costs us a dream of an eternal life. That's a pretty darned big thing to give up, for the sake..of something even bigger. Athiests deserve to pat themselves on the back for this to a degree, even if no-one else sees what we are doing.

We demand truth from ourselves as well as from others. We question our own motivations and are usually quite brutal toward ourselves(more than we are to anyone else). We do NOT want to lie to ourselves, because if we later realize we have..then our faith is based on a lie. We cannot do it. (Actually we can, just not about religion).

This is why we see what we see during these religious philosophical arguments and they do not.

This is what submission to a higher power really means. And athiests are very, very good at it. Religious people are also quite good at it, we just do it at a different level I think. And since all people are different, I don't presume that all believers are the same, nor are they all dishonest. Athiests can also be dishonest about many things in life, so we can't get too cocky about this.

Cheers
I see my post was a little ramblish, I was tired.

But if you look at these "former" athiests, what you will probably find is an individual who lived their life in accordance to nothing other than their own will. They lived day to day, in accordance with their whim. Of course a life based on nothing other than what a person desires from moment to moment is a very chaotic hectic life.

When these chaotics realize that their lives are complete hell, they MAY recognize their need to change. (I can give you a real life example of one such individual if you'd like). But they simply don't know how to. So they turn to religion, which gives them a set of rules to live by. Surprisingly, these rules WORK. This is why they become SO adamant that the rules of religion must be followed. They have realized what us athiests knew all along. That you must place something in your life, above yourself if you are to live a life with any integrity or decency at all.

I call these people, the chaotic non-believers. Unfortunately they are lumped all into the athiest bucket.

This is why, when they come across skeptics, being naturally narcissistic they believe that ALL individuals who do not support the God Hypothesis..are, JUST LIKE THEY WERE!! ha.. They are big on absolutes. They are HUGE on rules. They agree completely with an "objective" moral argument, because without something other than themselves to determine their morality, they will (and have already shown) they will do what they want. Religion. Is an escape from the chaos of their former undisciplined and selfish lives. They think we will do the same. They do not understand us at all.

This is one thing that I have tried to explain( and occasionally succeeded) to believers is that an athiest, which I'll call the "skeptic athiest"(as opposed to the chaotic athiest), is that the skeptic, submits to something bigger than themselves, just like the believer.

We don't wake up one day and decide yes..it's AWESOME that one day I'll blink out of existance and it's FABULOUS that the universe is ultimately meaningless. No..we dont' do this. Who would?

We choose truth and love for our fellow man and within these boundaries(higher powers we submit to), we reject religion.

It's tough to sell to those that simply don't want to hear it, but every now and then you will come across a believer that will listen and they may even acknowlege it, because they have come across really lovely athiests.

And if you really want to push the religious angle(which may be a bit decietful but I don't really think so). Since the athiest lives a life dedicated to truth and love for their fellow man, if they "submit" to love and truth, and IF there is a God that represents these things, then Athiests are in fact submitting to God. They just don't use religion to define their lives and do not think that religion is the best representation of truth or love.

As you can probably tell, one of my "hobbies" is to try and explain athiesm to the religious crowd. I try and understand where they are coming from and use religious terminology. I'm not however, religious(just in case you are thinking I am :P ) and I almost alway's end up sounding patrionizing anyway. It's a difficult level of communication and it's very hard for athiests to understand these people who really never followed any rules at all.

Cheers
Well put. The toughest thing about expanding the Atheist movement is the fact that we intentionally do not replace religion with an equally comforting set of memes. Most people eventually end up asking the "big questions" of life, but they just don't seem to have the guts to find the answers themselves. As for those Atheists who never took the time to think about where the universe came from or what happens when they die, they are usually so filled with self loathing that their fragile emotional foundation is fertile ground for fundy indoctrination.
Well, I'm only 18 (still in the summer before college), so I have no idea what is going to happen to me after today, but I can say for sure that I will never become religious again, barring the god(s) him/herself/themselves revealing themselves all over the world to everyone. I'm not a trendy-atheist, and I'm serious in my not having a religion. I was never actually religious and my parents were only culture Catholics (they did the religious stuff out of culture), so I never had the pressure put on me to be religious. I became an agnostic long before I even knew what the term meant. I'm the real deal.

Having said that, I do know that many people do things just to rebel, not really believing in what they're saying. Music, tatoos, skateboarding, and much more, atheism is just another addition to that list for them. Unfortunately, because of this, they never seriously think about it and then, when they leave their parents' home and go into the real world, they go back to what their parents taught them.

I doubt there aren't many more reasons why people go back to religion.
Wow, I was exactly the opposite of this. Raised very much under fear of God and denied my disbelief. I tried hard to convert and convince Myself! Now I'm deep into adulthood and still get a tiny tingling feeling when I use the word Atheist to describe myself. No rebellion here, just sincere honesty that religions make no sense whatsoever.

OTOH, my verrrry close relative is now evangelical because she finally stopped being bad. No more smoking, drinking, fooling around, sex, drugs, rock n roll, etc. I also think of Bart Simpson's stated plan of living as he pleases, then performing a "presto-change-o death-bed-repentance."
Just because one is an atheist does not mean one understands religion. Those who are born in religion know why they got out, but those who have less structure don't know anything about it. Christianity has been converting adults for centuries, and has some seductive, if irrational, logic behind it.

If you want an atheist to stick to atheism, you need to have an atheist who understands religion, the history therein, and the logical mistakes made by believers( personal experience, authority, morality etc.)

Many children are raised without religion, but also without any religious education, and therefore are not vaccinated against the supernatural. If you want to protect your kids, you must explain religion to them and why you do not believe in it, but why others have over the years.

Only critical thinking skills can prevent mistakes like believing in faeries, unicorns and Gods. These skills are rarely taught, and most of us learn them the hard way by being born into them and then stumbling out.

Also, people hate to backtrack and admit they are wrong. As I was raised Christian, I can just blame my parents and be done with the shame of stupidity.
'Only critical thinking skills can prevent mistakes like believing in faeries, unicorns and Gods'
I agree josiah - atheism is a non-belief. We wouldnt know not to believe in something unless we actually understood what it was we were being led to believe in the first place.
Kids need to be taught critical thinking skills long before college or university. That would give them the best heads up in many areas of life - gullibility in terms of political or religious propaganda or even being suckered in to some cute-jingled TV ad.
Ooh, a two parter.

First: From the first seed of doubt to a concession, roughly three and a half to four years from Conservative Catholicism (I went to the church where Harvey Milk's killer went where the congregation would occasionally mark the anniversary of the passing of the killer and not Harvey Milk [I don't know how long they continued the practice, I left that church when my family moved]; to this day that disturbs me) to outright atheist.

Second: I suspect that the more reasonable answer is that those "youth atheists" were non-critical atheists i.e. having considered the existence of god had rejecting it vs. simply dismissing it.

Not going through the exercise of understanding why the god hypothesis is a necessarily bad one leaves one vulnerable to parents and clergy etc.
My response: I was a Christian until I was 16. At that time I began to ask questions. Coincidentally it seems to be about the same time I began to get the hang of abstract and critical thinking.

Of course the answers are probably complex if looking at a large groups.Looking at the individual,it may be as simple as having gotten away from arsehole parents and needing a guiding (even directive) parent figure. In my experience a lot of atheists come from dysfunctional families IE. Neither dissent nor independent thinking was permitted,and there may have been violence or some other form of abuse.That does not imply a belief system: An atheist from a fucked family may become a theist as easily as the other way around.
I was an open atheist from birth growing up in a intolerent mormon town that considered me unacceptable sploch in their land of lincoln. I was kicked around (literally) by my peers until one day I moved. Ya getting knocked upside my head everytime someone wasen't looking was fun! Don't see why any kid woulden't want to experience that... What a cool fad that was.

Unless you yourselves have been all alone in a violent christian community then you don't deserve to talk. The only solace I had was accepting parents. With out them I probobly would have killed myself.

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