Here are some narratives site visitors have sent in. Thanks so much to all who participate. Again, anonymity guaranteed to anyone who wants it.
Gary, a former Jehovah’s Witness
I’m a 39 year old former Jehovah’s Witness. I stopped believing in that faith in my early twenties, though I did not completely remove myself from the church until my mid 30′s. This was largely due to the fact that my wife, who I had married when we were both faithful Witnesses, was still quite active in the church, and I didn’t want to damage our relationship. When she hit her own difficulties reconciling faith with fact (without any intervention on my part I must add), I encouraged her to follow her search for truth. It eventually led her to agnosticism, if not outright atheism, and I was finally able to come out of the closet.
The story of my progression from fervent evangelical to atheist is not very exciting. I grew up in a household where every member of my family was a Jehovah’s Witness. I went to the meetings, and was encouraged by my family to ‘progress’ in my faith. This meant ever growing participation in those meetings by giving short talks and answering bible based questions. I also spent some portion of my weekends in the door to door ‘Witnessing’ that the group is so famous for. I read the bible and studied and received a great deal of praise for my precocious ability to master religious dogma and arguments. When I was 18, I began going door to door full time as what the Witnesses call a ‘Regular Pioneer’, or someone who commits to spending 1000 hours a year in the witnessing work.
It was at about this time that the first doubts began to creep in. Part of what made me so good at mastering my religion was my voracious appetite for reading, especially science and history. Although as a Witness I was not encouraged to pursue ‘worldly’ education in college, I still educated myself constantly with reading and research. Initially, this was done with the intention of using my knowledge to defend my faith against worldly wisdom. Unfortunately, I was unable to deal with the growing cognitive dissonance created by trying to reconcile my religious beliefs with the mountains of evidence I was uncovering that directly refuted those beliefs.
I have a quote here from Chapter 4 of Bob Altemeyer’s book, The Authoritarians, which really resonates with me:
“What then gnawed away so mercilessly at [them] that they could no longer overpower doubt with faith?
Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens of [them] that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.
Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to [them] as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.”
That quote explains almost exactly what killed my faith. I had been told all my life that my religion was The Truth. Now I was discovering that so many of the things I’d been taught to believe had no basis in testable fact. The Witnesses are Old Earth Creationists, who believe God created every animal and plant according to “its kind.” They reject outright the concept of evolution, or that man is not the special creation of God. But I couldn’t find any evidence to support this claim that made scientific sense.
And when it came to history, I found that many of the Bible’s claims regarding historical events are outright mythology. There is simply no evidence of a global flood, or of the Israelites being captives in Egypt, or of Herod ordering the murder of every two year old boy when Jesus was born, or even of the Romans requiring the Hebrews to return home for a census so that Jesus could be born in that manger. It was all fabrication, mythology, stories. And yet, so many of the “Truths” I had been taught were built upon these feeblest of foundations.
An example is the Flood. Jesus spoke of the flood as an actual event in the New Testament. But it is absolutely clear from the geological record that no such flood ever occurred. Now if Jesus is some sort of supernatural god-man, the first born of almighty God, and had a pre-human existence with his father before being sent to Earth to die for us, why does he think there was really a flood?
The answer is obvious and devastating to faith. He wasn’t, he didn’t, it’s all made up.
That was the wedge that split my faith apart. Now that I am free to do my research and self education in earnest, I find only reasons to grow ever more materialist and naturalist. I find no evidence of any sort of supernatural, much less evidence of an all powerful and interventionist god. I’m fortunate that my wife made that same leap all on her own, and has joined me in leaving behind the superstitions and embracing reality for what it is.
We wasted a lot of time on myth, but we’re using the time we have left well. My wife is studying for her Masters degree in Architecture. When she’s finished, I will be going back to school to study History (my first love), and eventually try to get a Phd in pre-classical history, specifically Babylonian and Assyrian. Digging into the real Hebrew history instead of the Old Testament myths led me to a love of that time period.
The only member of my family to speak to me in the last three years is my mother, and she just sends me emails filled with anguish and guilt trips. I was barred from visiting my nephew, the only child of my deceased sister. My wife and I were both cut off from all of our former friends, and are just fortunate enough to have made a whole new circle of friends in the last three years. We were threatened with ‘disfellowshipping’, even though our only crime was not believing any more. If that had happened, I wouldn’t even be getting the guilt trip emails from my mother.
My wife hasn’t been quite as cut off from her family, but she was informed that she is no longer on the list to take care of her niece because she wouldn’t raise her as a JW. So we don’t see that kid any more either. We don’t have kids, so our nieces and nephews were the only kid family members we saw.
All in all, once we came out of the closet were were totally cut off from nearly every aspect of our former social circle: all of our friends, and nearly all of our family.
Of course, it’s because ‘they love us, and can’t stand to see us giving ourselves over to the world.’ Right. Christian love for you.
Here’s a condensed version: I was born and raised Jewish. We were a moderately religious family. I grew up and married a Catholic girl. After we had kids, my wife left the Catholic church but sometime later became involved in a “non-denominational” Christian church. While these tend to be kind people, their religious services and activities are not for me – and not only because of Judaism! Their calling to Jesus and prayers, etc., seem to be everywhere and all the time.
My wife and I had decided before we were married to raise any children we had as Catholic, since my wife was more of a churchgoer than I was a synagogue-goer. But after she became a new kind of Christian, I became uncomfortable with all the books on belief in our home, the religious music CDs, the church activities that my wife and the kids attended 5 or so times a month, the special events/retreats my wife wanted to attend, and so on. One day a few years ago we had a real dust-up over how much I disliked the level of religiosity in our home.
One thing I did subsequently was begin studying Torah with a rabbi and getting more involved in my local Jewish community. My feeling was that my children should know what Judaism actually is, not what Christians or others say it is. Through these activities, I ended up in touch with an internationally-known rabbi. He was seeking assistance on a book he wanted to write, and I ended up with the job. The book was about the religion and science wars. The rabbi had debated and participated in debates with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Atkins, and many others. He wanted to talk about these debates, the current state of the debate, the flaws in evolution, the merits of design, the need for theism in morality, a defense of Judaism specifically, and a refutation of common atheist claims.
For about 8 months, I read everything I could on every side of the issue – the science, the philosophy, the religious perspective, and so on. I wanted to incorporate everything. What ended up happening was that I saw so clearly how religious subscribers argued, particularly about science. The main thing I saw in religious arguments was evasion of clear questions raised by the other side. Do I even need to go into detail about this? My assessment was that atheists and scientists sought to get to the heart of the matter, while religious arguers sought to undermine the credibility of their opponents while quoting the Bible as if it were an authority on whatever was specifically being discussed.
So, here I am trying to ghostwrite a book in religious apologetics while concluding again and again that the religious argumentation was not sound or honest. My employer was an abrasive personality anyway, but we clashed regularly on items. I fumed about it on my blog. I finished the manuscipt in December and now just wait to see if it will ever be published.
Am I an atheist? I think that there’s probably no deity, that the Bible was very probably written by mere mortals, and so on. Am I Jewish or still Jewish? I don’t know. I really think labels tend to be harmful at a certain point. I always have found Judaism interesting as a body of knowledge and practice. It’s a personal and emotional gravitation, not a faith-based one.
I can share additional and new details, if you are at all interested, but this is essentially my story. If I am an atheist, it’s ultimately because I think atheism probably matches reality. It doesn’t make my life at home any easier, but my home life is actually quite good and I wouldn’t want it thought that my marriage is fraught with conflict. We have a strong disagreement in the atheism/religion thing, but this is really a rather self-contained element of our life together.
Anonymous– half-Catholic, half-Jewish
I went to Hebrew school, but mine was more focused really on learning Hebrew, even if it was to learn to prayers.
The kinship I speak of is one of a cultural, intellectual Jew brought up in America. We are marginal outsiders peering in, and being on the outside and our cultural and history has been a blessing in the form of unique insight into average American culture, and a curse from the ignorant Mel Gibsons.
I was born of a Jewish mother and a “Lapsed” Catholic father. My mother was a reform denomination Jew, and me being born to her makes me a de facto Jew. I went to Hebrew school, attained the age of reason at 10, remembering quite clearly that the idea of God made no sense and that I was an Atheist. This was with my father on a ride back from Hebrew school, and remember the whole conversation vividly. While I reject the notion of God, I loved the Jewish culture and immersed myself as much as possible in it.
By 16 I had read more books then was healthy, on all sorts of religions, picking through them for gems of wisdom and morality. The Librarian was amazed and my mother proud that I read from Huxley on “Agnosticism” to “Zen Buddhism” and Zoroastrianism (Freddie Mercury of Queen was one.) with the whole alphabet of religions, with their histories, customs, origins, beliefs, and noted the common threads.
By 20 I had completed college and took up to 400 level philosophy classes with a degree in Psychology and History/Political Science as my private university didn’t offer philosophy as a major. After that education sprint, I arrived where I am now on religion. To coin Michael Shermer, I am “Militantly Agnostic: I don’t know, and you don’t know either!!!”, with a bent towards the Deist/Pantheist god of Jefferson, Paine, Einstein, and Spinoza. This by far is much more atheistic then anything else. If their is a God, I believe he set up the universe in the big bang, and set the laws of physics (Physics is a hobby of mine, and the fact the certain built in numbers of the 21 or 22 constants we know of are so finely tuned that being from just .001% off wouldn’t allow stars to form, thus no matter heavier then the less then 1% of lithium made in the big-bang, thus no life), and isn’t interested in human affairs- IF he even knows of our insignificant existence or cares. I’m also inclined to believe in a Deist god for the unmoved mover argument, but when you couple this with my faltering to Einsteinian/Spinoza’s “religion”, and then add in the militant agnosticism, many consider me an atheist.
I am an avid learner, an autodidact, and an ethicist. I focus on the human mind in social interactions, and deal in evolutionary psychology. I also have recorded observations of my dealings with a tricked passover invite from “Jews for Jesus”, the eager eyed leaps of my Evangelical friends father when he found out I was a Jew and the constant Christian attempts to convert me because of my Jewish heritage in particular, my name which allowed me to be a stealth Jew, the anti-semitism I’ve encountered when it was known, and the number of encounters when dealing with others, as I’m a marketing director and work in sales, I use my gregarious nature and charisma and note that the clients always assume that I’m of their faith depending where I am, if in a Hindu neighbourhood they assume I’m Hindu, Muslim if in one of those, and Christian most of the time.
I hold onto this while still clinging strongly to the Jewish culture. I don’t believe in Yaweh or any personal god, but keep Kosher. I observe the holidays, try to go to temple even (more to be around culturally my own kind). The only non-Jewish things I do is hold the sabbath and the prohibition on interfaith marriage- what any reformed Jewish temple acts like. Sometimes I even dye my hair black, an unconscious attempt I noticed, when separated from Jewish peers to long to tap into my Jewish “roots” ironically.
But, I’m well educated, well articulated, can write well, and communiate even better, and am interested in making it into your book, even as a citation.
An Elder in the Local Church
This is my story, from preacher’s kid to secular humanist, for what it’s worth.
Although I was raised in the church, and attended services and or classes at least once a week from infancy through high school, I cannot really say that I was “indoctrinated. ” My father was a minister in a small West Texas church, but he was far from fundamentalist in his approach to religion. He was far more intelligent than I gave him credit for in my youth, and he was extremely well read. Books from the TCU lending library arrived in the mail weekly. While church going was expected, I was never forced to believe in the supernatural stories of the bible, including the virgin birth, turning water into wine, etc.. It was generally assumed that Jesus was, in some nebulous way, god’s son, but the idea of a god who personally intervened on our behalf in this physical world was, while suggested, not explicit. (My father even one time thought it would be an interesting experiment to test the power of prayer by having two garden plots next to each other in the church yard, and having a group of people pray for one of the plots to do well, and measure the productivity of each. To this day, I’m not sure how he thought such an experiment with turnout.)
I went to ostensibly a “Christian” college, Texas Christian University - which turned out to have a most liberal approach to religion, only a single religion class, a survey of world religions, was required. I joined the university church, primarily because I enjoyed singing in the choir. My attendance rapidly faided as the demands of my premedical curriculum increased. Although I graduated as a scientist with degrees in chemistry and biology, a serious examination of my life that might have been prompted by more involvement in the liberal arts, particularly in history and philosophy, was pushed aside (something in later life I came to regret). Afterwards, medical school, military, training in three different medical specialties, and raising a family were all time consuming, and continued to over ride the deeper thoughts and confusion simmering below the surface.
By the time I was 50 years old, I finally had to admit that I was no longer (and had actually for many years not been) a “religious” person. At that time I was an elder in our local church, but I was standing in front of the congregation saying things which I truly did not in my heart believe. I finished the year as an elder, refused to accept any more appointments, then walked away, never to return to any congregation. About that same time, I stumbled across a small book, ” A Humanist Anthology; from Confucius to Attenborough“. Wow, this was a true enlightenment! This is the stuff I should have been reading back in college when I was focused on very little except chemistry, biology and mathematics. This book should be offered reading in every high school.
I felt I had lost too much time, and almost frantically I began searching for more. I read everything from the essays of classical philosophers such as David Hume and Voltaire, to the contemporary writing’s of Dawkins, Sagan, and Russell, and many books and essays in between. I am now 63 years old, still reading, and I am so thankful I finally had my awakening while I still had time to make use of that awareness.
Of course, this new awareness came with another problem, and that was how to”come out” to my family and friends. As it turns out, either through our discussions or simply through her own initiative, my wife had quietly followed the same philosophical path. We are emotionally and psychologically in close alignment, so it was no real surprise to me. Had I been willing five or six years ago to confront my religious friends, I would probably have been unpleasantly militaristic about it. I have since learned from people such as E. O. Wilson and Niel deGrasse Tyson that it is not really necessary, or even desirable, to be confrontational about ones beliefs. My close friends are mostly religious (though not all), and they seem to have sensed that I was a nonbeliever, even before we openly discussed it. After I admitted/professed my unbelief, they were usually curious or defensive rather than angry. On the other hand, it was surprising (though it should not have been) how many of my friends and acquaintances are also nonreligious. It seems we are a very quiet, though substantial minority.
I find myself much more comfortable with my life, my understanding of my existence, and my ultimate death than I was 15 years ago, something that religion never gave to me. It is interesting that my children who are now all in their thirties have all reached this same place, and much earlier than did I. Although we did take them as young children to Sunday school (something I feel guilty about now), it seems that they paid more attention to my own life and beliefs rather than what was said in church. Though nonreligious, they have the highest ethical-moral standards, have empathy for unfortunate persons (and animals), and are acting responsibly to try to preserve the health of our planet. I would like to take some credit and consider them my legacy, though I probably don’t deserve as much credit as I think I should.
I read about the book you’re writing in Free Mind, the AHA
publication. I am a humanistic Jew (affiliated with the Birmingham
Temple in Detroit and the Society for Humanistic Judaism). I was
raised secular but very culturally Jewish, in the Workmen’s
Circle/Arbeter Ring. As a young adult I was always Jewish, but
didn’t know what to do with it. When I was 42, we finally joined the
Birmingham Temple, and found that Sherwin Wine gave words to my
thinking. I’m now about to turn 69.
That’s the short version of my story. If you’re interested in hearing
more, please let me know.
I saw your comment on Dec 2, on Christopher Hitchens blog. I have to say, he, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson are my real heroes. Oddly I don’t really like Richard Dawkins, nor how he puts things, but Hitchens’s acidic, caustically funny, sarcastic irreverence so matches me- even if I am in violent disagreement with him on about 20% of things.
But I love your Idea of a bob and feel a certain, kinship with you? I went to Hebrew school, but mine was more focused really on learning Hebrew, even if it was to learn to prayers.
The kinship I speak of is one of a cultural, intellectual Jew brought up in America. We are marginal outsiders peering in, and being on the outside and our cultural and history has been a blessing in the form of unique insight into average American culture, and a curse from the ignorant Mel Gibsons.
So, I have my story, if you are interested in it. I’ll gloss it over, and you can decide if you want more detail in my story. And I must confess, being in this book would be a total and complete honour, and admittedly, would have a bit of vanity in it, for who doesn’t pine for their piece of immortality, even if it’s not in the heavens, but I’d rather it be in a book, something that I revere more then most other objects of matter.
I was born of a Jewish mother and a “Lapsed” Catholic father. My mother was a reform denomination Jew, and me being born to her makes me a de facto Jew. I went to Hebrew school, attained the age of reason at 10, remembering quite clearly that the idea of God made no sense and that I was an Atheist. This was with my father on a ride back from Hebrew school, and I remember the whole conversation vividly. While I reject the notion of God, I loved the Jewish culture and immersed myself as much as possible in it.
By 16 I had read more books than was healthy, on all sorts of religions, picking through them for gems of wisdom and morality. The Librarian was amazed and my mother proud that I read from Huxley on “Agnosticism” to “Zen Buddhism” and Zoroastrianism (Freddie Mercury of Queen was one.) with the whole alphabet of religions, with their histories, customs, origins, beliefs, and noted the common threads.
By 20 I had completed college and took up to 400 level philosophy classes with a degree in Psychology and History/Poli Sci as my private university didn’t offer philosophy as a major. After that education sprint, I arrived where I am now on religion. To coin Michael Shermer, I am “Militantly Agnostic: I don’t know, and you don’t know either!!!”, with a bent towards the Deist/Pantheist god of Jefferson, Paine, Einstein, and Spinoza. This by far is much more atheistic then anything else. If there is a God, I believe he set up the universe in the big bang, and set the laws of physics (Physics is a hobby of mine, and the fact the certain built-in numbers of the 21 or 22 constants we know of are so finely tuned that being from just .001% off wouldn’t allow stars to form, thus no matter heavier then the less then 1% of lithium made in the big bang, thus no life), and isn’t interested in human affairs- IF he even knows of our insignificant existence or cares. I’m also inclined to believe in a Deist god for the unmoved mover argument, but when you couple this with my faltering to Einsteinian/Spinoza’s “religion,” and then add in the militant agnosticism, many consider me an atheist.
I am an avid learner, an autodidact, and an atheist. I focus on the human mind in social interactions, and deal in evolutionary psychology. I also have recorded observations of my dealings with a tricked passover invite from “Jews for Jesus,” the eagle-eyed leaps of my evangelical friend’s father when he found out I was a Jew and the constant Christian attempts to convert me because of my Jewish heritage in particular, my name which allowed me to be a stealth Jew, the antisemitism I’ve encountered when it was known, and the number of encounters when dealing with others, as I’m a marketing director and work in sales, I use my gregarious nature and charisma and note that the clients always assume that I’m of their faith depending where I am, if in a Hindu neighbourhood they assume I’m Hindu, Muslim if in one of those, and Christian most of the time.
I hold onto this while still clinging strongly to the Jewish culture. I don’t believe in Yaweh or any personal god, but keep kosher. I observe the holidays, try to go to temple even (more to be around culturally my own kind). The only non-Jewish thing I do is hold the sabbath and the prohibition on interfaith marriage- what any reformed Jewish temple acts like. Sometimes I even dye my hair black, an unconscious attempt I noticed, when separated from Jewish peers to long to tap into my Jewish “roots” ironically.
But I’m well educated, articulate, can write well, and communiate even better, and am interested in making it into your book, even as a citiation.
Please get back to me Madam Trachtenberg. I wish to know the verdict on this.
P.S.:I get the sense you are a cultural Jew as well. Odd isn’t it that we feel a certain kinship. I guarantee that when you saw the Passion, Gibson’s torture-porn, you thought it was antisemitic, but our Christian cohorts didn’t- their eyes saw what “Christ suffered for them.” You know what I mean, and it’s an odd Social Psychology fact of that irrationial kinship. I could go on about it and hypothesize on it, but you’ve got a book to write. Good luck no matter what even if you don’t grace me, or my name unto the pages.
When I was a kid my great uncle Alec died. I was very mad at that and began to turn against God in those days. I guess the problem of theodicy weighed on me when I was young.
Reading Ayn Rand further cemented my youthful atheism. She is a charismatic character and a gripping, compelling writer IMHO.
Now things are a little different. One incident that shocked and even frightened me was when these talkradio females were having their gay houseboy comment on channukah during the channukah season. Before the gay houseboy could comment, lightening struck the radio station transformer and knocked out the radio station. This incident also frightened the talkradio females and they put off having the gay houseboy comment on channukah.
What disturbed me even worse was the behavior of so many of my fellow atheists. Now a great many of them are appeasing Islam. This is quite annoying since atheism is supposed to be based on reason and logic and we have the spectacle of atheists supporting the most illogical and anti reason of the three major creeds. The Jews listened to Maimomidies (sp) who admired Aristotle somewhat and the Christians had St. Thomas Acquinas — but the Arabs/Islamics refused to listen to Averros and retreated into primitivism and savagery.
Maybe because of those two incidents I am a closet agnostic now — I’m not sure. The spectacle of atheists pairing up with Islamists make me quite bitter and annoyed.
In short, I went from Christian, to skeptical theist, to deist, to agnostic, and finally, to (agnostic) atheist. I don’t claim to KNOW there isn’t a god because claiming to know something for which I have no evidence is bad science (I find it highly unlikely there is a god, but I accept the possibility that there might be some divine influence – maybe).
I guess my de-conversion started in the summer of 2008 and gradually proceeded from there. I suppose even as a child I began doubting, but never really took it too seriously. I was raised to believe in the Abrahamic God and to believe that Jesus was his son. I was raised that way so I was that way. My family wasn’t really religious. We never all went to church. We were what you’d consider “lukewarm Christians”.
Well, I began attending a Christian college, and I decided I wanted to be a better Christian. So, I started going to Bible studies and such things. The first one I went to left me in disappointment. I always left them full of guilt, and sometimes just plain angry and offended. Their god is very offensive. I was highly offended when they told me their god was sending me to hell for doing things like not believing that everything happens for a reason, not publicly speaking my beliefs, not desiring to have children, and other small things.
The concept of objective truth drove me up the wall, too. It was either right or it was wrong. I found it so funny that these people were preaching objective truth, but yet their own religion had split into thousands of denominations over the years because of disagreement on what the Bible says. So, they claim that truth is objective, even though their own interpretations of the Bible have been very subjective. It’s self contradicting.
I never was an advocate of objective morality. I think that morality is relative to a person’s circumstances. I’ve always been a very straight laced person. Even as an atheist I hold very high standards, but only for myself.. I don’t expect everyone else to follow them, because that’s just silly. Not everyone grew up the same way I did. Morals are not “one size fits all”.
These hardcore Christians I was with DO NOT like that idea at all. There is only one law, God’s law. Morals are absolute and objective with them, which I think is just dumb. It is a primitive way of thinking. Objective thought has done nothing for our species. Just open a history book. The Crusaides, the Inquisition, child molester Catholic priests, Islamic terrorists… Objective morality is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.
I’ve always had problems with dating. I am just a very different person. I was as a theist. I am as an atheist. I have had to go through public school with asperger’s syndrome. In addition to that, as I said before, I’m very straight laced. The thing that is the real kiss of death with my dating is the fact that I don’t want children. I will not date a girl that wants children, because I see no point in setting myself up for failure. I’d like to get married eventually. It’s not on the top of my list now (I’m a college freshman), but eventually.
I thought I was successful last summer. She didn’t want children, and shared my moral upightedness. She was a very deep and insightful person, too. But I knew that something wasn’t quite right at the same time. She was always very shy around me in person, in spite of being talkative on the phone when we were some distance from each other. It was almost as though she was a different person. She later admitted to being uncomfortable around men.
We ended up breaking up. I realize I’ve left some holes in that story. In a nutshell, her discomfort around me was becomming emotionally draining for her, so she figured it was better we weren’t together. I thought it a smart decision on her part, but of course I was still upset.
I later learned that when she was only seven, her own father sexually abused her.
My faith was put to the test in a way it had never been before. Why would God put such a nice person in the hands of such a horrendous human being? There was no reasoning behind it. I was always taught to believe that bad things happening to good people were just God testing our faith, but I could not rationalize this.
Later that same year, I read the Bible (I had to for a class). I had never read it that much. It was then I learned how repulsive it was. I had just witnessed this “god” putting an innocent person in the hands of a perverted father and an apathetic mother, and now this god was telling me in scripture how low I was, how people simply deserve bad things in their lives because some woman from a rib ate a magic fruit after being convinced by a talking snake. It was just repulsive. Then we get into the conquest of Canaan, which is just full of merciless slaughter. The New Testament is just as repulsive. Jesus tells people to amputate themselves, sexism is prevalent, etc. The very idea of that level of grotesque violence that is in the execution of Christ being the only thing that will convince Yahweh not to torture us forever is repulsive. The idea of Hell is repulsive.. I don’t even think that the sick pervert father of my ex deserves Hell. He should certainly be punished, but being tortured for all eternity is just excessive.
My deconversion was pretty much complete after reading this filth in Christian scripture. The Abrahamic God is morally bankrupt. The Bible is logically flawed. Christianity, along with all other religions, is a crock.
I came across your website via a post that was made to the Tri-Atheists Yahoo! group. I applaud your goal of compiling the personal stories of atheists in America and am very interested to see the final product. My story is not going to be as compelling as others’ I am sure, but you are welcome to use it if you would like.
To start with, my father’s family is Lutheran, but I have never seen him attend any sermon, nor heard him speak much about religion in general. I actually just learned within the last week that two of his brothers (my uncles, obviously) are proponents of the young earth theory. Although I have never discussed it with him (and I am 35), I would guess that my dad is also a non-believer.
My mother however was raised in a Catholic family and when I was born I was also baptized and took first communion within that religion. The same holds true for my 4 siblings – two brothers and two sisters. My mother took us to church regularly when I was a small child and the whole family was still living at home. However, there is a significant age gap (7 – 9 years) between me and my two older brothers and one older sister. They eventually moved out on their own and it was just my parents, myself and my younger sister living at home. At about the same time, my mother became disenchanted with the church. I don’t believe that she has ever lost her faith, but she grew tired of the pleadings for donations at every mass or church function. So we stopped attending when I was about 11 or 12 years old and she did not start attending regularly again for about 15 years. Thus I was never confirmed into the Catholic church. Attending mass was always a bore for me anyway, so I was not unhappy with this turn of events. When I was old enough to make my own decisions on whether or not to attend, my choice was to stay home
I attended public school in (removed city) North Carolina. I am very happy to say that I cannot recall any instances of religion (other than Christmas, Easter, etc…) coming up in school except in historical context. (I graduated in 1991.) The more and more I learned in school, the less and less I believed in the biblical stories I had learned in church; there were just too many holes. I never had an epiphany or anything like that, my atheism developed the same way I assume that many theists developed their beliefs – slowly and over time.
Through my young adulthood my atheism was never an issue. I attended (removed university name) University for 5 years and I cannot recall ever having religion as a topic of discussion among me and my friends. Knowing that my views were in the minority, I never broached the subject. If there were religious discussions around me, I would keep quiet. Looking back on it now I would guess that it was because I was afraid of ostracism, but I don’t remember ever thinking specifically along that line.
Towards the end of my young college years I started ‘experimenting’ with psychedelic drugs such as marijuana, LSD and psilocybin. I stopped going to school (with just under two semesters left to complete) and got into the restaurant business where my views were not as radical as they were among the general population. My peers during my 20s tended to also be into the drug lifestyle and also to be more open minded when it came to personal beliefs. Again, it was not a common topic of discussion, but when it did come up, many of my friends at that time definitely described themselves as agnostic and leaning towards atheism. It was sometime during my mid 20s that I started labeling myself first as only an agnostic, but then finally as an agnostic atheist.
During all of this time I was a single guy. I never dated, but I had many, many people that I considered friends. I can’t claim that my religious views were the cause of my lack of dating; I am simply just a very shy guy when it comes to dating. I ended up seeking counseling because I was so depressed at my lack of intimate personal relationships. When I was 28, I did finally meet and started dating a wonderful young woman who is 8 years my junior. She is a Christian.
When we first started dating this subject of course came up. She said that her belief was a personal relationship with god and that my non-belief was not a problem. Having grown up in a very loving family where my mother was religious and my dad was not (and they just recently celebrated their 45th anniversary), I absolutely bought into the fact that this difference in views could be overcome. I fell madly in love with her and she with me and we dated for a little over 4 years. During that time, religion was never an issue. We would discuss it every once in a while, but was never a cause for argument. She was a progressive Christian and did not actively attend any church regularly, nor did she preach or proselytize any time that I can remember. I also thought that my atheism was a personal subject and did not attempt to push my belief (or lack thereof) on her, or anyone else for that matter.
And in the end, it was not our different religious views that broke us up, but it was the deal breaker. While breaking up with me, she let me know that if we were to continue our relationship that we would certainly encounter other problems as all couples do. She said that at those times she would have to turn to her religion to help her through the rough times and that she didn’t think that our problems would ever be resolved in her mind if I wasn’t a part of the religious solutions. (I cannot say it as clearly as she did because I just don’t have that mindset.) Had she not said that, I would have fought tooth and nail to continue our relationship. I was in love with her more at the end of our time together than any time previously and it was still growing. But I could not in good conscience continue to be with her knowing that she felt this way. I could not lie to her and to myself and convert, nor could I bring myself to attempt to dismantle her beliefs. So we broke it off. I don’t want to go into too many details regarding the break-up, but I knew it had to be a clean break so I ended up moving back to NC (from Colorado) within just a few weeks. Like I said, I loved her very, very much and I know she felt the same for me, even when breaking up. Had I not moved away, I know in my heart that we would have gone into a cycle where we would continuously be getting back together and breaking up – not healthy for either one of us.
That was almost 4 years ago and it still breaks my heart to think about it. I am still very shy and have not dated since then. There are many reasons for that, but some of it has to do with the fear of getting into a similar situation. I cannot see myself ever seriously dating a theist in the future. And being in the bible belt here in NC, it is not that common place to come across women with similar views to mine. It’s a tough situation to be in. Not only am I already a shy guy, but I now believe that nearly 90% of women are incompatible with me just because of their belief in god. I’m not saying that I couldn’t be great friends with a theistic woman, I am already. But such relationships will have to remain strictly platonic.
Since I have moved back to NC I have become less scared of my atheism. I don’t often bring up religion as a topic of discussion, but when it does come up, I am no longer afraid to let others know my views. I have since learned that many of my high school and college friends, with whom I reconnected upon moving back to NC, are also agnostic and/or atheists
I also finally told my mom. She was understandably upset, but I was able to convince her that even though I don’t share her beliefs I am still a responsible, moral person. I have also learned over the last few years that my brother is a proclaimed atheist. My other three siblings still profess belief, though I would not consider any of them overly religious (even my brother who at one point attended a Catholic seminary for a couple of years). My younger sister is the only one who goes to church on a somewhat regular basis.
So all in all, I am lucky when it comes to my atheism in that it has only had one severe consequence. But it was a doozy. The one real intimate relationship I had in my life was destroyed due to difference in religious beliefs. I even attempted to seek the advice of a priest as to how I might be able to reconcile with my ex-girlfriend. It is a story with boring details, but suffice it to say that my mother set up an appointment with a priest in her church. I waited until 20 minutes past our meeting time and he never showed. Nor did I receive any sort of communication expressing regret at the missed appointment. That incident has only served to make me more jaded towards organized religion.
Closet Jew, Fundamentalist Christian
I have a twist on the usual story of persecution. I was raised in a Jewish home, with all of the traditions, festivals, etc., but I was never allowed to enjoy it due to the fear of Nazis coming to get me. When I say Nazis, I mean the actual WWII-type storm troopers coming down my street in 1960′s SE Florida. My family had major hang-ups over this subject and I think it was due to my dad being abused as a child. He grew up in Louisville, KY in the 1940′s and Judaism and Nazis played a part in his abuse. I’ll spare the details. We had this “fortress” mentality – I remember displaying a menorah at Hanukkah and worrying about being “caught.” So, after my bar mitzvah, when I was asked if I wanted to continue on with Judaism, I jumped at the chance
to leave the “mark” behind. For 5 years, in middle and high school, I kept quiet about religion, always fearing people would “find out” about me. I told them I was German or Austrian. Of course, with a last name like mine, I’m not sure who was fooled.
The biggest insult growing up was to be called a “Jew-boy.” It was synonymous with “worthless.” I joined the military and got involved with fundamentalist Christianity. I got baptized and was hanging around with people who thought that if a man parted his hair in the middle, it meant he was gay. The fear of others thinking that I am gay is another issue. I floated around different non-denominational Christian groups for a few years. Then I decided to become Catholic. I think I was looking for a religion that was the “best” religion out there.
There are two facets to all of this: my level of religiousness – how often I go to church, and how much I believe in god. My “faith,” if you will. That hasn’t really changed. I’ve never really believed in god; the whole time I was a fundamentalist/Catholic I never felt particularly close to Jesus, but my religiousness has gone up through the roof and down to nothing, depending on the time. The more religious I was, the less questioning I did. When I was in my 30′s, the “Catholic” years, I conveniently stopped questioning things altogether.
About three years ago I was in a near-fatal accident at work where I fell 12 feet and hit my head on concrete. I was out of it for 5-1/2 weeks, in the hospital for 8 weeks and in rehab for 6 months. Happily, I only have minor residual effects, but the first 4 weeks after my accident, when I almost died, are blank. No light at the end of the tunnel, no Jesus, Allah, god – nothing. I’ve spent the last 3 years keenly feeling my own mortality. I started to wonder why I am so different from the dog and cat I live with. When they die – they’re just dead.
No kitty or doggie heaven. What about mountain goats, etc? What about my severely disabled daughter? Why is she disabled? She was that way at birth, so she did not *do* anything to deserve it. I’ve heard many
reasons, but none of them are satisfactory. No one can tell me that a “loving” god is putting her (and the rest of my family) through all of this.
I started to look at things beyond my own mind and my own world and found no basis for anything beyond us. Once I got past the fundamentalist Christian fear of hell, I felt so free. I have been in fear (well, terror actually) since I was about 5 years old. Now I suddenly don’t feel that fear anymore. I don’t have a need for a “reason” for everything. There doesn’t have to be a “plan” for me. I tell you, if this is someone’s idea of a plan, they are one sick motherf****er.
I find it interesting that my cousins are Jews and *enjoy* the customs and holidays. People here in South Florida wear yarmulkes around town. Kids – *kids* – wear them to school. I could never do that. I’m studying to be a graphic designer and the most I could do has been to design some t-shirts with Jewish designs on them. And I actually showed them to people in class. Well, I wasn’t carried off to a concentration camp. I am toying with the idea of Jewish Secularism. I think you mentioned something about the “rich cultural heritage” of Jews, but it’s only been in the last 2 years that I admitted to myself that my heritage is that of Polish Jews. At 46, I’m struggling with this email, because it says “I’m Jewish.” Two days before my accident I had a dream about being murdered by Nazis. It seems that a lot of atheists are fleeing from repressive Christianity or Islam. I’m fleeing from my paternal grandparents’ insanity.
Richard is a former Mormon
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
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