Charles' Story

I was raised as a Christian, but never really felt a "relationship with god". I basically ignored my own faith for a while, but never thought about giving it up. Then I began dating a girl my sophomore year, and she happened to be pretty serious about religion. One day she was telling me about her church experience, and brought up speaking in tongues. Now, I had grown up in a relatively moderate church, and tongues had never even been mentioned. So my first thought was, "that sounds like a cult activity". So I began thinking, and realized that large organized religions are indeed nothing more than overgrown and somewhat domesticated cults. It took me about 3 weeks of confusion to come to that, but I can proudly say I did so by the power of my own mind, without even reading any of the wonderful books available, such as the End of Faith or The God Delusion. I read those months later, and of course my atheism was strengthened. I live a happier life now, knowing I only have a short time on Earth to positively affect it.

A Godless Life

(Via Christ Davis)

I have been atheist my entire life, as far as I can tell. I remember in Sunday school when I was six or seven, being more interested in the pronunciation of the multi-syllabic names. I also remembering that the books I was reading from the library were better written. My mom had been teaching me words since I was about ten days old ( really, only a slight exaggeration ), so I guess the see-spot-run level indoctrination was transparent. In any case, by the time I was eight years old I was allowed to opt out of that, although we still attended services every week for political reasons having to do with my Father’s job aspirations. All I was expected to do was stay awake; my mind was always far away.

Over the years I was pestered by various entities who had possession of my case file to attend the church of their choosing, mandatorily. If I asserted that I had no religious beliefs I received a stock-issue look of bafflement. The annoyance of hearing regularly that “of course you have to choose a religious denomination, it’s for your own good” from the pig-ignorant sociopaths that controlled my existence was only exceeded by my anger over their refusal to allow me access to books worth reading. They certainly facilitated my rapid flight into the sub-basement of my mind, where I remained, pissed off, for entirely too long. Bastards.

I have to say that I have known quite a few religious folk over the years who were decent, sweet and kind to me. I spent a significant amount of time at a Catholic Worker soup kitchen in California, which was run by a group comprised of Jews, Buddhists, various flavors of Christians and many uncategorizable malcontents and nutjobs. I never had to fear proselytizing from anyone, except the anarchists.

Since 1998 I have been closely associated with A.A., but these days I do not have to sit still for any earbanging from evangelists. I have been around long enough to establish my bona fides. I live in a relatively small city, of which the recovery community is an insular fraction. Mostly, people don’t care about my atheism; Some get this pitiful scared look on their faces, if they don’t know me well. Some get angry because I am undercutting the absolutism of their interpretation of A.A.

I have read many, many books on religion and atheism. I have another on order now. Through all of these books, and the sometimes contentious, stimulating conversations I have had with people I have never been able to understand why anyone could believe in any of the gods they were loyal to. This bafflement I expect to continue. I get the need for community and ties to like minded people, and to an overarching philosophy, but gods, well I don’t know…

Thanks for your attention. Or, perhaps, Wake Up!

Journey of an Atheist

(Via vjack, Part I)

I've really enjoyed reading personal accounts from several atheist bloggers about their journey from religion to atheism (e.g., Steve Wild at, so I figured it was time to share mine. If nothing else, it will be a good excuse for some self reflection around how I came to believe what I do.

I was raised in the Methodist church by parents who were not particularly religious but who thought that it would somehow be good for me to be exposed to religion. They also attended church for the social networking, but the primary reason was that they wanted their child exposed to it.

My earliest memories of religion involved fear. Like our primitive ancestors, I was afraid of the unknown. As a young child, just about everything is unknown. Added to this, I was a bit more neurotic than most. I prayed because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't. Nobody really threatened me with hellfire and damnation; it was just the idea that if there was this invisible man in the sky with all these amazing powers, I better not disappoint him. My prayers were never about asking for crap I wanted and almost always attempts to prevent bad things from happening.

Entering public school (on the West Coast) exposed me to a couple of new ideas. First, I learned that religion was something that was considered private. One did not generally discuss it or hear about it at school. This was very different from experiences I would have later in Mississippi, and it set me up to believe that everyone would regard religion as a rather personal matter. Second, despite the rather private nature of religion, the children generally assumed that everyone was Christian. This type of Christianity in no way resembled the evangelical freaks I would encounter later, but there was surprise and sometimes ridicule for the children who did not identify as Christian. Subtle as it was, the expectation that everyone would fit in did include religion. I had friends of all different Christian denominations (including Mormons), but religion was almost never discussed.

Church was a formal, stuffy affair where children were expected to behave themselves. At this particular church, young children were dismissed mid-way through the service and before the actual sermon to go to Sunday school in another building. I guess the adults realized that we weren't going to understand the sermon (they were right about this). We were always relieved when it was time to exit the sanctuary and head off to Sunday school. I remember very little about Sunday school except that it involved a lot of singing, was always more focused on the younger children, and that I was happy when it was over.

(Via vjack Part II)

During my junior high years, my attitudes toward religion began to shift as a result of several factors. First, as my self-confidence gradually improved, I found myself praying less frequently. Since my primary motivation for prayer as a young child related to anxiety, it is not surprising that prayer ceased to be relevant as anxiety was no longer problematic. Second, my classmates increasingly viewed religion and religious persons as worthy of ridicule. Being "bad" was cool, and being a church-going "goody-two-shoes" was not. Cigarettes, heavy metal, and MTV became part of the context. Third, I became increasingly bored with church. Every Sunday I tried to think of creative ways to be permitted to skip church. Although I could tell that my father would have preferred to stay home and watch football, my mother continued to insist that it was good for us.

My boredom with church gradually turned to intense dislike and eventually hatred. It was completely irrelevant to my life. When I forced myself to pay attention, I noticed one contradiction after another. I looked around and found myself wondering why the people in the room didn't seem to live their lives in accordance with what they supposedly believed. What hypocrisy! Sunday mornings brought frequent arguments with my parents, as I was no longer afraid to criticize what I saw as a major waste of time. Somewhere around the end of junior high and beginning of high school, my parents finally decided that I was old enough to refuse church if I chose to do so. I would go willingly on Christmas eve, Easter, etc. but that was plenty.

The culture of high school was similar to junior high (i.e., excessively religious kids were often the butt of jokes), but there was an important difference. For the first time, I was exposed to evangelical Christianity (e.g., "Don't bother to ask her out - she's one of those Bible thumpers."). I had a close friend during this time whose parents were both pastors at an evangelical church. While he was anything but religious, he was required to attend a church where speaking in tongues was common. His parents would later burn his heavy metal record collection, conduct a full-blown exorcism over him while several parishioners held him down, and eventually throw him out of their house.

By this time, I had discovered politics, science, and philosophy. As I found myself in agreement with my parents' moderately liberal politics and was excited by learning about world history, science, and philosophy, religion transformed from a well-intentioned waste of time to something much more sinister. Faith demanded blind acceptance of things which had been disproved by science. History demonstrated countless atrocities committed in the name of religion. Philosophy showed that morality need not derive from religion. Perhaps most significantly at the time, my increased exposure to politics convinced me that the overwhelming majority of people who called themselves Christian were hypocrites because any true Christian would be a strong advocate for social welfare and would oppose the greed of big business (this was happening in the Reagan years).

(Via vjack, Part III)

As high school graduation neared, I found myself becoming more liberal than my parents on most issues (e.g., I supported the legalization of drugs, animal rights, and became quite concerned about the environment). I saw no use for religion, but my feelings toward it were considerably less hostile than they had been previously. I saw it more as a waste of time than a destructive force. My feelings toward most believers could be described as a mixture of pity and disdain.

Under the guidance of my parents and a few influential high school teachers whom I trusted, my college application process focused on private liberal arts colleges. I had the grades to get in, and my grandparents were willing to help considerably with the expenses to fund what they saw as a superior education. I was in complete agreement with everyone advising me that a small liberal arts college offered too many advantages to pass up (e.g., small class sizes, an opportunity to work closely with faculty, higher academic standards than state schools, etc.). The fact that all the liberal arts colleges I was considering were religious institutions did not bother me because all the ones I applied to played down their religious origins and emphasized the quality of the education they provided.

I ended up at a liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest with a student body of approximately 4,500. The influence of religion turned out to be something of a paradox. Most of the faculty were either openly atheistic or so quiet about their religion that one could not guess what they might believe. The students were another matter entirely. I would say that approximately 50% of the student body were conservative Christians. Still, conservative Christians in the Northwest are nothing like those in the Midwest and Southeast. They had no interest in converting anyone; they just preferred to hang out with their own kind.

Academically, I was drawn to psychology, philosophy, and law. The pre-law program was fairly weak, so I ended up majoring in psychology and minoring in philosophy. I absolutely loved the liberal arts perspective of encouraging students to expose themselves to a wide variety of subjects. I took courses in biology, anthropology, art, and even religion (Christianity and Buddhism). Outside of my major, my favorite courses by far were the philosophy of religion, a survey of Buddhism, and an advanced philosophy seminar on identity and the nature of persons.

After reading Bertrand Russell, I fully embraced atheism and was quite open about this during at least 3 of my 4 years in college. I regularly debated Christian students, wrote most of my philosophy papers on the flaws of religious arguments, and had several great discussions with peers and faculty on the subject. I felt truly alive during this time and experienced virtually no meaningful consequences from my openness with atheism. There were plenty of rational students around, and my circle of friends was large.

In retrospect, the lack of consequences for being so open seems surprising. Of course, the culture of the Pacific Northwest is extremely different than where I live now in Mississippi. But I don't think that this was the only factor. My mindset at the time was very different than it is now - much more idealistic and carefree. I suppose it would be accurate to say that any rejection I may have encountered due to my atheism simply rolled off my back so that I barely noticed it. If someone didn't like my viewpoint, that was their problem, and I never dwelled on it. I guess you could say that I felt much more comfortable in my own skin then than I do now. But that will have to wait for the next part of this series.

(Via vjack, Part IV)

Where the third part of this series left off, I had graduated from high school and entered a private liberal arts university in the Pacific Northwest. Attending this particular Christian university turned out to be exactly what I needed. As I described in my previous post in this series, I received an outstanding secular education in this context, studied Christianity from both a theological and philosophical position, and honed my critical thinking and debate skills. I read Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Thoreau, Freud, and of course, Bertrand Russell. It was Russell's excellent Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects that gave me permission to fully reject Christianity and helped me understand that I was certainly not the first to do so. By the conclusion of college, I was openly atheistic and experiencing the joy of finally breaking free of religious indoctrination.

I graduated with a B.S. in psychology and acceptance to a Ph.D. program (also in psychology) in the central U.S. Since I knew I wanted to go the distance for the Ph.D., I saw no reason to wait. I left for the graduate school the summer after graduation. In retrospect, it might not have hurt me to do a bit more growing up before beginning graduate school, but I felt like I needed to capitalize on the momentum I had built up in college and keep going while my motivation was high.

I would not be exaggerating to say that nearly everything about my new graduate program was a shock. My life changed so dramatically at that point that I would end up becoming a very different person than the one who had just completed college. Relevant to my purpose here, I will focus on only one aspect of the transition - my exposure to a very different view of religion than anything I had previously experienced.

The community in which I resided was much smaller and more conservative than the area I had left on the West Coast. Religion was still a rather private matter here, but it was certainly more prevalent. However, this shift was trivial compared with what I experienced in graduate school itself. Not only was I the only atheist among my peers, but I would soon learn a very difficult lesson about my chosen field of psychology which continues to affect me to this day.

An important part of my training involved multiculturalism. This is typical in the helping professions because programs are faced with preparing students who may have had rather limited experiences with diverse groups to competently provide services to members of these groups. To my amazement, religious belief was considered part of multiculturalism in the sense that perceived intolerance of religious beliefs was considered as unacceptable as human differences based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. For a more in depth discussion of multiculturalism, political correctness, and religion, see my previous posts on the subject.

As you can imagine, this put me in an excruciatingly difficult position. It was made clear to me that successful completion of the program would depend on my ability to keep my disbelief to myself. Trust of my peers became an issue, as I learned that statements I had made outside of school got back to a professor. Clearly, this was not a safe environment to be open about atheism. I became increasingly depressed, withdrawn, and distant. I convinced myself that this had to be a fluke of this program and couldn't possibly reflect the field as a whole. I was determined to soldier on, bury my atheism, and refocus my energies on my studies. I would succeed, but success would come at a price I am only just beginning to understand.

(Via vjack, Part V)

When Part IV left off, I was in graduate school and struggling to come to terms with a form of multiculturalism that insisted that religious belief was on the same level with race, gender, and sexual orientation. On one hand, I was told that I was being evaluated on my openness, willingness to self-disclose, and exploration of how my beliefs impacted my work with others. On the other hand, I learned that hard way that questioning someone's religious beliefs equated with criticism of someone's race - it was a a marker of serious intolerance. To survive this program, I would need to bury my atheism and profess respect for religious belief.

This bind was nearly intolerable at times. I vividly recall turning in "personal reflection" papers where we were supposed to discuss our racial, ethnic, gender, and religious identities. When I disclosed my atheism in one of these papers, it became the subject of intense class discussion. As the only atheist, I was expected to defend why I rejected religion without saying anything even mildly critical of religious belief! My peers seemed to think that my very presence in the program was a threat to their spiritual well-being. I became increasingly isolated. At least one professor penalized me for being intolerant because she felt that atheism was per se evidence of intolerance.

I made it through the program and completed my Ph.D. but not without lots of second thoughts about what I was doing and why. Looking back on it, I suppose I can almost see a valuable lesson about society's tolerance of atheism. As I moved to Mississippi for a job, I would be surrounded by Christian fundamentalists. Perhaps it was a good thing that I learned how to conceal my beliefs about religion and the importance of doing so.

Mississippi is by far the most conservative place I have ever lived (or even visited). Nothing I had previously experienced prepared me for the degree to which religion is part of public life. Within weeks of being here, I had been approached by complete strangers in the grocery store and at the gas station with some variation of, "Hi there! What church do you attend?" My ex-wife was repeatedly told by strangers that she was going to burn in hell after she indicated that she did not attend church. She was also subjected to mandatory prayer meetings at work and persistent invitations to attend church with her boss and his family. Our next door neighbor never spoke to me again after I politely told him that we did not attend church. I was invited to church by nearly every co-worker, secretary, pest control technician, and delivery person I encountered. I know this is hard to believe if you haven't been here, but I am really not exaggerating any of this this in the slightest.

I know full well that the obvious question is why I am still here. There are many days when I ask myself the same question. If it wasn't for loving my job, really liking some of the folks I work with, and the feeling that being settled (even in a place with many negatives) is better than the hassle of going through the academic job search and relocation processes again, I would have left long ago. Other perks include the winter weather, the cheap housing, and the small town atmosphere.

But if I am honest with myself, I suppose I must admit that another reason I'm still here is that I've made a lot of progress learning to become comfortable in my own skin, less concerned with what others think, and more willing to be true to myself even when it is unpopular. I've gained something intangible from struggling against Christian extremism while being in its heart. I'm not saying I don't still have a long way to go, but there has been movement, and I suppose that is what keeps me going.

An Admission

(Via Evan)

I am atheist.

Okay, so I know this comes as no surprise whatsoever to any of my friends. The point is, I've not said it before in a public forum. The reason is that I have hopes of running for political office at some point down the road but conventional wisdom holds that openly non-religious people cannot get elected to major office in the USA.

Doubtless there are atheist people in political office right now (with ~14% nonreligious in the country, and a higher proportion of atheist among the educated, statistics insist that some have even made it to Congress at some point), but they either lie about their beliefs or avoid talking about it.

At some point recently I decided that if I can't be honest and run, I'm not going to. So I felt like making a clear statement and getting it out of my system. Is that weird?

Anyway, there you have it: I limit my beliefs to those things that can be convincingly demonstrated through evidence and reason. In my opinion, the supernatural entities of all religions I am aware of (past and present) fail those tests. Therefore I believe them to be fictional and will retain that belief unless the weight of evidence and logic manages to convince me otherwise.

I'm not the sort of person who will put down others for their faith, but I also don't have much patience for people condescendingly telling me I am wrong, or that I am going to hell. My standards of evidence and reason are quite strong, and you are welcome to try to use them to convince me of my error. People have managed to convince me to switch beliefs before on other matters, so it's not even impossible.

The Making of an Atheist

(Via David Yanez, 12-14-2003)

I’m writing this in response to several insinuations over the years that since I am an Atheist that I’m incapable of grasping how a spiritual person sees life and the bigger picture. Or that I’m incapable of grasping the idea that there exists something higher than myself or that there is something higher than man.

I’ve even been accused of being an Atheist just for the sake of being different.

Being an Atheist doesn’t mean one has abandoned their moral conscious or that they’ve lost the ability to feel compassion or wonder and amazement for life. Atheists are not unfeeling and single minded. The only difference between us is that you believe in a God and the Supernatural and I don’t plain and simple.

This is my attempt to shed some light on what makes an Atheist or should I say one Atheist tick and to give people a better understanding of who we are. It is also meant to give hope to people who are without hope and who are contemplating suicide and to people who are having doubts about there spiritual beliefs and don’t know where to turn to.

What do you do after being raised to believe in something wholeheartedly from the time of your birth, only to have that belief ripped from your heart and your mind by your own self, because to continue to believe in it would be living a lie? How do you replace such a big void left by uninstalling a particular program in your mind, which to that day was an essential component to your development as a human being? I was raised like most people to believe that our lives were looked over and cared for if we believed without question and loved unconditionally a Supreme Being, which most cultures refer to as God. I was led to believe that this God had the power to grant us happiness if we led a good, just and compassionate life. I was led to believe that this God was the ultimate power that existed and should be feared as well as loved and adored, otherwise you’d be condemned to eternal misery by the same Just, Compassionate and all loving God. This belief was installed into my mind without any say on my part because I was just a baby without a choice. I was only a child, innocent, impressionable, and oblivious about life and the world around me. How could I know what was good for me or not. These beliefs are forced upon us all before we are old enough to determine on our own whether they are credible or not. This belief was as natural to me as walking and breathing. To see me as a child no one would ever question my beliefs in the Almighty or my spirituality. I was raised to be a respectful, just, compassionate, loving, forgiving and open minded person who would never harm another person or animal out of hate or self gain. These beliefs defined me as a human being, at least that’s what I thought or was lead to believe. How could billions of people be wrong? My beliefs were as much a part of me as an arm or a leg. How can one rip off their own arm or leg? Some people would say, “ Well, when your old enough to make your own decisions, you can believe what you want ” By then it’s too late for most people. Their minds have been made up for them. They’ve already been brain washed. Why should they change their beliefs? Their lives revolve around these beliefs. Are these beliefs in divinity and the supernatural inherent to mankind or are they popular ideas passed down through each new generation. Morality and ethical systems have evolved for thousands of years, granted religious beliefs have contributed to our ethical culture but do we now need to be religious or spiritual in order to be good, wise and moral people? Most people depend on these beliefs for comfort and morality even though deep down they have their doubts. They would rather live a lie than to rip out their religious beliefs. It takes a lot more than just lack of evidence and plenty of credible philosophical and scientific theories to abandon a belief system drilled into us for thousands of years. Some people are strong and secure enough to accept their doubts and make the transformation with out any trauma to their psyche. But for others it would take a traumatic experience to make them abandon this security blanket belief, as in my case.

As a child I needed to understand. I needed to understand the universe, but the fear of death kept me a loyal subject to God. I’d say my prayers every night, asking for protection, for my family and for myself. Occasionally I’d ask the questions, Why? Why God? What’s it all about? But like always there was never any answer. But I was loyal, because I loved my family and would say my prayers for God to protect them. I was loyal because that’s what my religion taught me: To love God no matter what. No matter if I couldn’t see him. No matter how bad things were in the world. No matter if he didn’t answer my prayers. I loved him because I feared him. I loved him because I feared death. But most of all I loved him because I loved my family more and he had the power to protect them. I refer to God as a he only for convenience and because that’s what I was led to believe at the time. I grew up depending on God to watch over me. In a sense my religion conditioned me not to depend on myself but to depend on God. God will provide. If you had a problem all you had to do was pray for his help. Religion taught me to be weak and dependant on a being that gets off on having people worship him. I was already shy and insecure. I have no doubt that my religious beliefs contributed to this. So many people depend and structure their lives around this belief that has never been proven to exist. Like so many people I was hooked, addicted, conditioned and dependant, on something called God to guide and direct my life. Like so many I had lost the ability to due for myself: To take charge of my own life: To make my own future. But when I was seventeen I hadn’t yet come to this realization and then Marguerite came along. She was everything I ever dreamed of. I was hooked. I was in love. I had found someone to love more than my family, more than myself, more than my God.

She was an artist like myself and incredibly intelligent, beautiful and full of life. She taught me to savor each new day because tomorrow may never come. She said an accident or catastrophe could strike us down at any moment. She was contemporary, open-minded, sensitive and compassionate. When I looked into her eyes I could see so much more than just her big brown eyes. I could see her mind her consciousness that which made her unique in this world and I was in love. I had put her up on a pedestal and didn’t know how to tell her how much I loved her. My shyness and insecurity kept me at a distance. As much as I loved her, I feared the thought of being rejected by her even more.

My shyness is most likely genetic but my insecurity is environmental and cultural in the making. My insecurity was a product of the way my life unfolded. I had no power to control the way my life would unfold. As people we can only direct our lives in a certain direction but we can’t control the outcome of our attempts. Until then through no fault of my own, my life had unfolded in a way that had left me shy and insecure. As much as I wanted to change I didn’t know how. I asked God repeatedly to give me the strength to tell Marguerite how I felt about her. We had developed a good friendship and I was afraid of losing it by telling her how I felt. As high school graduation came closer and closer I practiced in my mind how I would tell her: How I would ask her out. It was so easy in my mind or in front of a mirror, but in person I froze. I would come so close to asking her out or telling her how beautiful she was, but that was as close as I would get. And I grew to hate myself for it. Why couldn’t I be more of a man I told myself? What am I afraid of? Please God, I would beg, Please God give me the strength to tell her, I’ll never ask anything of you ever again, please don’t let me lose her I would say. The thought or option of our remaining good friends after graduation never even crossed my mind. I was blinded by love. I wish I had seen the option of a continued friendship, but that’s not the way my life would unfold.

Looking back and carefully examining why I was so insecure was probably a result of having been discriminated against throughout my childhood. I guess I was just too sensitive. So many years of defending myself and my family from bigots had made me strong and defensive but had also taken its toll on me in the form of this insecurity. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t want her to find out who I really was, or who my low self-esteemed mind thought I was at the time. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t want her to see my true self, complete with a closet full of bad memories, pain, loneliness, embarrassment and insecurity. As High School graduation approached my mind became more and more fragile, hoping for an intervention from God. Please God, please, would ripple through my mind, please help me to tell her that I love her, please. Graduation came and went and Marguerite had become my biggest regret. It would have been so easy to just say; “Marguerite, can we keep in touch after high school?” But my blinded love and new hate for myself let her go with out even trying. She’s better off without me I convinced myself. She was so beautiful and smart and perfect in my eyes, how could she ever love me back, and then she was gone. In the years that followed I did make attempts to befriend her again but that overwhelming sense of insecurity had so much control over my mind that I failed miserably in my attempts. She had become my biggest regret but in the long run had become that which set me free. Free to think for myself and place my destiny in my own hands. I thank everyday that our lives had crossed because I don’t know if I would have had the courage to free myself if not for her coming into my life.

After High School graduation the pain that followed would be unmatched to this day. The pain that followed would change my life forever. How could you do this to me God? I said to myself. I loved you all my life God. Why are you punishing me so? Why God? Why? What did I do? I loved her! I loved her with all my heart! These thoughts and pain raced through my heart and mind until I couldn’t stand it any longer. All I wanted was for the pain to end, even if it was with my own hands. How else could I make the pain stop I asked myself? Death was the only answer, Suicide. I didn’t want to live any more. I hated my life. But most of all I hated God. And with a desperate attempt to gain control of my life again, I reached into my heart and mind and ripped out every trace of my God. I cursed him without fear. I cursed him for my loss. I cursed him for my life. But most of all, I cursed him through my ignorance.

As time went on my hatred subsided. How could I hate something that doesn’t exist? If I continued to blame God, then I would be acknowledging that he does exist, so I stopped the blame and stopped believing in this fictional being which had so much control over my life. Now I was a person without religion. I certainly wasn’t going to continue to call myself a Catholic. Although I stopped believing in God, for a while I still held on to the notion that we had souls and that they survived after our deaths. It was hard to let go of that last bit of fear. That’s what it had to be, the fear of death and the need to survive it. Science, Philosophy and the quest for knowledge helped fill the void left from my lack of religion. Bertrand Russell finally put an end to my belief in a soul that survives our death. I soon replaced the soul with the mind and later with the heart mind. I continued to be shy and insecure but at least I survived one of the causes. I survived Religion, but would I survive Nature and its unpredictability? Could I survive the damage Nature has already inflicted upon me? Or the Damage I have inflicted upon myself. Could I be content with just living for the sake of living? Could I just watch as Nature unfolded the Human saga? How could I be content when so many were not? So much suffering, not enough justice. Why? What’s it all about? I needed to know. I needed to know the big picture. Was there a big picture? I needed to understand Why? How? And for What purpose?

We as human beings have been asking questions from the beginning. We are bewildered at the site of something we cannot explain and when we cannot explain something we have the habit of placing it in a category outside the Natural World. Our primitive ancestors could only imagine the real workings of Nature and were amazed and frightened at the same time. Our ancestors were at a threshold in our development as a species. For the first time we came together as a species and tried to explain the inexplicable and in the process had created something unique to our species, the need to be Enlightened and Culture, unlike anything we’ve seen in the Natural world before.

At some point in time, ancient man made the transition from mere existence to intellectual curiosity about his origins. At some point in our development as human beings we developed a primitive sense of good and evil, right from wrong, concepts that we’re still developing. We inherited our emotions, from our animal ancestors. It has been observed in the animal kingdom that higher animals mourn and show grief after a close relative or mate passes away. I believe emotions played a vital role in the development of our intellectual curiosity about our own origins. They laid the foundations for our primitive religious beliefs. I believe emotions, intuition and or traumatic emotional experiences have been catalysts for some of the most intellectual leaps in mankind. Even a chimpanzee has a primitive sense of right from wrong, compassion, good and bad. I don’t know when animals made the transition from instinctual behavior to having emotions. I don’t know whether an insect avoids a praying mantis out of instinct or fear, probably instinct. But a dog definitely runs from a vicious larger dog out of fear. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to notice that. Emotions especially fear, have helped us survive by keeping us away from life threatening situations. Isn’t it possible that grief and or a depressed state of mind or loss of a loved one could have triggered an ancient mans mind to ponder about his existence or role in this Universe?

Ancient man also took the notion of destruction, which occurs naturally in Nature and associated it with man. Man had become a destructive force. We had the capability to be destructive to the enemy, which was a good thing for ones tribe, but when we killed one of our own for no good reason then destruction took on a new meaning, we called it Murder, and the act Evil. Murder with out good cause became the origin of evil. Murder as we describe it has been observed in the animal kingdom as well. Chimpanzees have been observed to murder other chimpanzees for no good reason other than they were from a different clan. We call this behavior evil because we as intelligent beings need to put a face on deliberate destruction but its actually just another name for destruction, which has been around from the beginning of time. It’s woven into the fabric of the Universe and is as much a part of Nature as is the need to exist. We’ve used the term “Nature is cruel and relentless” to describe it but in actuality it’s not cruel or relentless, they are only human words that describe its destructive aspects.

In the beginning, religious or spiritual thoughts were just questions in need of answers. Ancient man philosophized about Nature and our role within it. We were passionate about our interpretations of it, which became our beliefs about Nature and its inner workings and our place within it. We were for a while in harmony with Nature or should I say considered ourselves part of the Nature World. We held respect for the animals that we hunted and held respect for the mighty forces of Nature as well. But eventually as our cultures evolved so did our emotional minds. Our levels of emotional capacities had reached our present day capabilities. Our intelligence was at its peak and we understood what we were feeling. Of all the emotions we are capable of, Love and Fear are the principle emotions that jumpstarted our search for the Spiritual. Love and Fear had caused us to shift our beliefs away from the Natural World and into a Spiritual one. Nature could no longer give us the answers we hoped were true. It could not console our griefs nor could it dispel our fears, but only add too them the more we were confronted by it. We had grown to cherish our loved ones and couldn’t stand the thought of losing them forever. We could not accept death as our final conclusion. Love was too strong a bond to let go of our loved ones and Fear too strong to let death be the end of us. We were intelligent, conscious, loving and compassionate beings, how could the Natural world be all that is? We asked ourselves. We must have thought that since man was superior to all the other animals then he must be governed by and would suffer the fate of a Superior Nature, The Super Natural.

Our quest for the spiritual is an admirable one but let us not forget why we search for it. Let us not forget that Love and or fear were the roots of our spiritual beliefs.

Love is a feeling an emotion so much a part of who we are that without it we would be lost and vulnerable as a species. It’s as much a part of us as our arms or legs. We love instinctually and desire it wholeheartedly. Love can maintain, transform, and or end ones life. Love is by far the most powerful human and animal emotion that has ever evolved. It has been and continues to be the key to our survival.

Love is just one of many natural emotions that we inherited from our animal ancestors which has helped us survive and evolve as human beings. Without it compassion would not have evolved. Mates that love one another are more likely to survive than those who don’t, because they look out for, care for, protect one another and in some cases give their lives for one another. Children whose parents feel genuine love for them are more likely to survive than those who are not loved by their parents. A form of love also exists in the animal world although some might argue in its more primitive state. An adolescent chimpanzee was so despondent by the death of his mother that he fell into a deep depression and died a month later lethargic and weak. A mother bear will risk her life to defend her cubs from a strange and aggressive male bear. A mother Elephant risked being drowned by mighty floodwaters in a desperate attempt to save her calf caught in a torrential current of floodwaters. Most mothers in the animal kingdom will risk their lives in order to save their offspring. Scientist will say that’s a purely instinctual behavior that animals evolved. They will say that animals protect their offspring because it’s an instinct that has helped them survive. It’s obvious that these behaviors are the roots of the emotion we call love. What about compassion? What advantage is it for a mother rat to adopt newly born kittens and bird chicks? Or for pigs to adopt newly born puppies? What advantage is it to spare the lives of your enemy? And or turn the other cheek when struck? Emotions like love, hate, fear, sadness, compassion, desire, jealousy, etc… have evolved for millions of years, as have biology and culture. They are the reasons we are still alive today and are the key to our future survival. You cannot ignore that animals feel emotions. To what extent we don’t know. We’ve inherited our physical traits as well as our mental and emotional traits from our animal ancestors. We’re not that far above the animal kingdom, we’re only a few genes apart. We’re only two genes apart from a chimpanzee. Just because we’re capable of love and compassion doesn’t mean that we couldn’t have inherited these emotions from our animal ancestors or that they don’t possess these emotions themselves. We are not above Nature. We are part of Nature. Nature is within us. Scientists and people of faith who can’t see this are prejudiced by their own belief that humans are superior or above Nature. Until we accept our humble origins and put our selves back in the Natural World, Intellectual, Social, Cultural and individual progress will be slow coming. Love is not what makes us Human. Love is what makes us Humane.

Our search for the spiritual began with curiosity, which is common in higher animals but with man curiosity lead to a search for knowledge and understanding of the Natural World and ourselves. This knowledge helped us survive in a world full of dangerous and sometimes inhabitable environments. With our new found knowledge also came emotional and cultural awareness, which laid the foundations for our spiritual search. The religious systems and spiritual beliefs and practices that followed, brought man together as a species and has helped us survive and evolve into beings capable of living in huge cities. With all these people living together, cooperating and sharing with one another, the individual gave way to the whole, to the survival of mankind. Although most of us tend to live as individuals and guide our lives for our own purposes and for the ones we love, we are not aware that we are contributing to a larger being. Each new generation adds unwittingly to the larger organism called the Human Race. Our Culture has evolved into a survival mechanism. It’s a glue which holds individuals and communities together. It’s many cultures contributing, changing, and sometimes damaging the bigger Culture of the Human Race, which in turn may ultimately contribute to the Culture of Intelligent beings throughout the Universe.

Environmental conditions, genetic variety, big brain size, Intelligence, knowledge, emotional awareness, spiritual quest, the Human Race, have all contributed and will continue to contribute to the larger picture. Not to Heaven or Hell, nor a supernatural existence but the one true existence which we are all a part of, Nature. Nature is not a religion or a spiritual belief; Nature is all that exists and that which does not exist. Nature is this Universe or Universes and everything within it. Physical laws, gravity, parallel universes, multiple dimensions, dark matter, empty space, dark energy, unexplainable phenomenons are all part of this existence which is the Natural World. I believe everything evolved from one initial chaotic vibration of harmonious Nonexistence or Nothing. Even if this Universe is part of a chain of evolving universes or if it’s one of billions of other universes, they all evolved from the one initial chaotic vibration. How? Chaos theory comes to mind. The concept of Nothingness or Nonexistence has been around for thousands of years. It’s a concept which most people find hard to imagine and almost impossible to explain. It’s the opposite of existence. The question whether true Nothingness has or can ever exist will most likely never be answered but with a little imagination one can imagine it. Can you remember what you were in the time before you were born? Nothing. You’ll be the same when you die, Nothing. Your atoms existed before you were born and will continue to exist after your death but that which makes you a conscious living being will be gone. You will cease to exist. Close your eyes and imagine a solitude so vast, black and eternal. Without light sound or cold. Without anything that we know in existence. Without energy or matter. Take away all, which exists, and that which existed in the past. Take away the cosmos. Take away your mind and the consciousness of the world. Take away the concept of solitude, which cannot exist in the infinite void of nothingness. Nothing, absolutely nothing, no Gods no Demons no Supernatural. Imagine a time before time without time. There are no equations that can describe it. No words no pictures. We can only assign it certain characteristics in order for our minds to imagine it. Let’s assign Nothingness the characteristics of a System. It’s the most basic, simple, homogenous and deterministic of all systems. Chaos theory says that any system can undergo an instant of chaos, or behave chaotically. Anything that is deterministic can behave chaotically. It’s deterministic in that it is and will always be nothing. An infinite void of nothingness with no size, shape, mass, time or dimensions, a perfectly smooth consistently empty expanse, infinitely small and infinitely large, unable to resist loses control to Chaos. Why? Why not? There is no answer to Why? It just is.

Mine is not a spiritual belief but an educated guess, a gut feeling, an intuition. Similar to Super String Theory but with no single unified equation that explains it all, rather chaotic and uncertain and unpredictable. You cannot predict Chaos, you can only make calculated predictions as to how it might or might not unfold in the future. This initial vibration was chaotic and inhomogeneous and interacted with itself. No longer was their nonexistence, but that which exists, that which vibrates. An instant of Chaos was the catalyst for existence. When Nothing shook, it took on form and dimension, even multiple dimensions. Vibrating space-time had come into existence. From the interaction of these vibrations in this primitive space-time came a variety of vibrations and frequencies interacting violently with one another coming together with the help of a primitive or early form of gravity. Collapsing in on its self, vibrations colliding, merging and creating energy. No longer able to resist gravity, collapses into a singularity and explodes into the Big Bang. Individual particles were formed from energy made of vibrations coming together possibly by quantum gravity. Particles that were close to one another distorted Space and let gravity bring them closer, joining them, creating the atom. Countless numbers of atoms coming together so densely packed fused with one another to form stars and heat and light and the elements, exploding and coming together again. Elements came together with the help of gravity to form communities of elements called molecules. Molecules came together again with the help of gravity to form dust and planets and continued to come together to form DNA and cells. Things that came together formed more complicated things. Chaos gave way to order, which gave way to complexity, which gave way to variety. Cells came together to form organisms of cells or communities of cells, which became life forms, which became a variety of life forms. Life forms became species, which came together to form communities of species. Within these complex communities of species arose intelligence and self-awareness. For the first time Nature could experience its own existence. Owing its continued existence to the coming together of its parts from one beginning, from one seed, evolving into everything there is. We are one and interconnected with everything that exists. We all have the same ancestors and the same beginnings. We come from the same seed. We are intelligent individual beings that are part of a much bigger existence. We owe it to our selves and to Nature to work together like the atoms and cells in our bodies do for us. We as intelligent beings need to come together and work towards the benefit of the whole in order for the individual to be possible. As individuals we need to remain true to our individuality while belonging to a community, in doing so the community will synthesize our contributions. Nature encourages the coming together of its parts as it does variety and individuality, which are catalysts for change and adaptability in order to ensure its survival. It’s not intelligent but rather an existence, which has evolved from the some of its parts working together. Other failed Universes in which its parts didn’t come together due to slight differences in size or energy or temperatures were unable to produce stars and atoms and life and just faded away into the vast expanse of empty space.

In Nature no amount of science, religion, philosophy or equations can predict exactly in which direction the individual branches of a tree will grow or whether the tree as a whole will grow in a usual healthy manner. Neither can we predict exactly the way our Universe and our lives will unfold. We can trace our existence back to a single seed like the tree but we can’t predict exactly how that seed will unfold or whether it will survive. With Unification theory, Scientists think that they will be able to predict all that is if they find the one unifying equation. While I think it is an admirable attempt, and much new knowledge will come from it in the future, it likens itself to the quest for the spiritual. It’s a quest for answers, which we want and hope to be true rather than answers that are true, which is what science and philosophy are about. Ultimately we may not understand everything, but we can sure give it a try. Our destiny is not made up for us. We can only direct our lives in a certain direction but we cannot control the outcomes of our attempts. Neither unified physical theory nor ultimate spiritual belief can change the fact that we exist now in the present. They can only be a guide as to how we live now and in the future.

Do we now need to be religious or spiritual in order to be good, wise and moral people?
In the past religions were responsible for instilling morality and codes of conduct on us. Since then Educational systems have evolved in order to teach our children how to survive in the natural world and how to be productive in and tolerated by our society, which is the human world. Laws have evolved in order to enforce codes of conduct, moral and ethical, accepted by the majority and should continue to evolve in order to protect the rights of the individual and the society as a whole. Governments controlled by the majority and not the few and powerful should provide security to all its people by enforcing the laws and should attempt to implement means by which its people can enjoy personal freedom, health, education and the quest for happiness without fear or oppression. It also has the obligation to preserve the Natural World in which we live and be care taker to all it’s inhabitants. Parents and Family should provide education, moral values, love and compassion that promote a healthy mind to develop into a good wise and moral person. Taoism had the right idea in that it showed us that there is a way. The way of Life is an unfolding journey through Nature or Existence with obstacles in our paths and that which will destroy us. We must now choose the right path the right way in order to ensure Natures survival.

For What purpose?

In order to exist and multiply so that future generations of living creatures, intelligent or not, also have the opportunity of enjoying and experiencing what it is to be alive and ultimately conscious. We must treat life as though it were the ultimate experience, not a supernatural life but this life, one full of the potential to be free and happy. The key word is potential. We are not born happy; we are born with the potential to be happy. We have to strive for it. For many, life is too hard or too painful to endure existence, they cannot enjoy life due to many circumstances natural or man made preventing them from doing so. We have a moral obligation to help all enjoy life and to be happy. Our lives have the potential to be Heaven or they have the potential to be Hell. To be alive and conscious is the closest we’ll ever get to Heaven but it can also be a living Hell. Knowing this, I still choose to live.

Yes, I am what the word Atheist means, in that I don’t believe a God or the Supernatural exists. I can’t prove there is no God and I don’t think I should have to disprove what there is no good evidence for. The burden of proof is on those who do believe. If believing in a Divine Creator or the Supernatural can make your life happy and fulfilled, then by all means continue to call yourselves spiritual, but don’t judge others harshly for not believing the same. There are no words that can describe how I feel about this wondrous existence, all I can hope is that these words come close. I’m not spiritual as the word is defined but I do feel a connection to and have a deep respect for everything in the Natural World and my Ethical standards are as high and perhaps higher than the standards of most. I’m not a saint nor am I wise or all knowing. I don’t seek to be different for the sake of being different. I have as many flaws as the rest of us, possibly more. I’ve loved and I’ve lost, I’ve desired and attained and lost again. I have given away and been given to. I’ve hurt and have been hurt. I’ve been idle and self-loathing, drunken and content, lonely and miserable, good and bad. I’ve been sorry and have been forgiven. I’ve been wronged and have forgiven. I’ve been on the edge of insanity and have come close to losing that which I am. But of all the things I’ve been, I’ve never been completely without hope because my will to exist is stronger than all the pain I have ever experienced. When I was seventeen and abandoned my belief in God the only thing that kept me alive was Hope and my will to exist. As much as I loved Marguerite my life would go in a different direction and I had to adapt in order to survive. Since then I have fallen in love again. I loved my ex-wife more than I could imagine, much more than Marguerite and would also suffer the pain of losing her. Pain is a reminder to us all that our lives are headed in the wrong path or have experienced an obstacle in the road. Pain gives us hope that someday the pain will be gone and that we are still alive to feel it. Hope is what gives us strength. Hope is not Faith but an expectation or desire that things might get better if you try really hard to improve your situation and that those you love and your fellow man will be there to help you in your time of need. Hope gives us purpose and direction, to do in life what we could never do in death. To be open minded, compassionate, unselfish, forgiving, curious and loving. To exist, to live, to let live, to enjoy life and to care for those who can't enjoy life, to learn, to create and to contribute, to oppose oppression and fight injustices, to love and to be loved.

Don’t worry about were we go after our deaths but rather how we live this life and live it as though there were no other.

Until it's path is over run with obstacles too great for it to overcome,

A flame will burn everything in its path if only to exist a while longer:

As does the Universe burn the boundaries of nonexistence,

Until nonexistence finds its way in and slowly consumes the fire,

The expanding fire, from within and from without.

We live in the mist of an ancient battle between existence and nonexistence. We are one of the results of this battle. Without Nonexistence, there would be no Existence and without Existence, Nonexistence has no purpose. It’s this battle between these opposites, in which one destroys the other, which is the creator of us all. Destruction and Creation are intertwined with one another. It’s sad, but I believe it to be true. We must accept our personal inevitability and do everything in our power to prolong and enjoy our time and ensure that Life and Existence does not lose the battle.


(Via A.)

I used to fret a lot about what to believe. How, given the multiplicity of belief systems and ideologies, could anyone possibly make any sense of it all? How could you decide? Everyone argued the same facts differently or presented a different set of facts or reasons justifying their position, and I, stuck in the middle, didn't know what to think. Ultimately, I felt doomed to having either no opinion at all, just picking a convenient belief system and sticking to it out of sheer stubbornness, or spending the rest of my life flip-flopping without any rhyme or reason. Oddly enough, I convinced myself that I was okay with that. After all, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," right? Why not content myself with that and stand wherever I happen to fall at the moment?

This didn't satisfy me though. I felt there had to be a basis for believing what you believed. I felt there needed to be some fixed criteria at least for believing what you believed at any given moment even if the contents of your beliefs changed over time. But what?

It took about a year of therapy and some reading suggested to me by a colleague, but eventually I found the answer. It started out as a small hint. Something I picked up in a book and some articles I read. I didn't particularly like the consequences of this new approach when I thought about it, but the idea intrigued and fascinated me beyond the point that I could ignore it. Frankly, it scared me, because I knew it would change who I am and how people saw me. Yet, at the same time, I felt I had to try it out. As I look back now, I'm almost embarrassed at how obvious the answer turned out to be.

Quite simply, I decided I would no longer believe anything for which no evidence existed. What's more, I would no longer build my life around any ideas or beliefs that could not be supported by evidence. Rather, I would rely on myself, my intellect, and what I could see, feel, taste, touch, and justify through reason.

It hasn't been easy. I've experienced some guilt, and I still struggle to avoid old ways of thinking. And, to be frank, I've been so shy about coming out of the closet that I even still attend mass. But even if I'm sitting in the church pews listening to a sermon, I think to myself, "Do I really believe that?" Sure, I may think the priest has made a good point about morality, but the supernatural gobbledygook sounds just plain silly to me. I take whatever I find useful from a few different religious traditions, but I don't buy into it all. I find practical value in the community and thinking about the fact that there are more important things in life than what our consumer culture preaches, but I don't believe any of those things come from a supreme being or from any kind of supernatural order. I do or believe certain things because they work, not because the imaginary "Big Guy Upstairs" expects it of me.

Furthermore, I refuse to believe that a supposedly kind, merciful, and loving god would insist that anyone refrain from using their intelligence. That a god who cared about people would be so emotionally manipulative as to author or inspire scripture that the evidence clearly contradicts simply to test us. And, failing that test, he will send us to hell. That seems cruel and manipulative. If a person did that to their own child, we would call that person a sadist. If a man did anything like that to his wife, we'd consider him an abuser. Yet religion tells us this is the basic modus operandi of a god who allegedly loves us.

Think about this. Most christian denominations consider it a sin to question their theology. Totalitarian governments do the exact same thing. Only instead of threatening you with jail or torture, religion threatens you with eternal damnation in the fires of hell if you refuse to tow the party line. That's not hope, charity or love, folks. That's manipulation and cruelty. When you raise a child that way you're basically using guilt to cripple a child's intellectual curiosity. I can say from first hand experience that it is very difficult to understand just how disturbing this kind of thinking is until you manage to step outside of it yourself. It's the stuff fascist dictatorships are made of.

I don't dislike religion or religious people. Actually, almost everyone I know and love practices religion in one way or another. I fact, I think religion can, in some ways, serve a useful function in society. While I'm not out to ruin anyone's Christmas dinner or anything, I refuse to let fuzzy thinking infect my brain or otherwise indiscriminately drink the Kool-Aid served up by organized religion. I stand on my own two feet, listen with my own two ears, and use the space in between to make up my own mind.

I believe that life came about through evolution. I believe the world started with the Big Bang. I think science can and will explain our existence on this planet, and relying on science and its methods is the best way to make decisions about our individual and collective lives. We are mature enough as a species to think for ourselves without resort to myths that purport to explain our origins and guide us into the future without the support of physical evidence. I believe the answers to life's big questions will be discovered through the scientific investigation of nature.

Cris' Story

Unlike most of the stories I've read through here, I actually enjoyed going to church. I was brought up since I was a baby in church. God existed.

I went up to the alter to get saved during vacation Bible school at about the age of 9-10. I was baptized in an Assembly of God church at about 11-12. The 3-4 years I spent in this church represents my most "holy roller" period.

The Assembly of God church is one of the pentecostal "singing in tongues/dancing around/getting slain in the spirit kinds of churches. I can look back and see that my "evidences" for belief came from the psychological effects of the emotionalism in the services. We had a full band with electric guitars and drums, singers and sweaty crying preachers, we didn't bother with singing out of old fuddy duddy hymnals, we sang short "praise songs" with endlessly repeating choruses. In short: We were mesmerized by the rhythms and emotional appeals and that created at minimum, a meditative effect of euphoria, to at worst- virtual hysteria. To a bunch of good, god-fearing folks, these emotional effects were evidence of God's spirit being around us.

Everything that entered my senses was processed through the Christianity filter. If something didn't fit the system, then the old catch-all phrase "God works in mysterious ways" was applied and the offending bit was shuffled away to the back of my mind.

The only doubts I can remember during my youth were basically:

  1. Why are there other religions?
  2. Why do good people that are not Christian have to go to hell?
  3. How does one know beyond a doubt that they got saved the "right way"?
  4. Is there any way to loose salvation?
Now I also had a problem in that God simply never answered any of my prayers. I might have "felt better" or "had a feeling" or something like that but I never ever received an undeniable reply from a source beyond me. I do not include this in my doubts above because I thought this was my fault until I lost belief completely.

As for the contradictions in the Bible and theology- I could not see them. I literally had no idea that there were problems in the Bible. I was a "Cherry Picker" when it came to reading the Bible, I liked the New Testament in general for the happy lovey dovey parts and disliked the Old Testament because of the "begats" and wars and general harshness.

So fast forward a bit, after I left the AoG church, the strength of the emotional hold it had on me slowly faded. I moved to another state to live with my Mom. My Mom formulated her religious ideas through various ideologies and ideas she passed through or studied in the 1960's, and finally decided on her "own view" rather than attending or associating with any certain religion or church. This was a big difference for me as I had grown up in a completely Christian environment up till this time. I had access to her books on various religions and philosophy and this was literally the first time in my life when I had an opportunity to learn these things.

We went to church a handful of times but it was like experimenting, we went to Primitive Baptist churches mostly (the exact opposite of a pentecostal church including no musical instruments, old fashioned pews and shape-note singing).

Although most atheists will look at leaving one church or religion and jumping into another as pointless and silly, It had a good effect on me: I became more and more open to different ideas and philosophies and became less and less a fundamentalist to the point where my religion was worn down to practically nothing except for a vague belief in Christianity and God.

At this point I left religion and church completely and started playing in rock bands and trying drugs,etc. I "knew" I was a "back-slider" but I just didn't want to think about it anymore. I looked back at the old days and remembered all the great times in church back at my AoG church, but I also remembered how I came off that high during the week and I would end up miserably praying over and over and over (almost constantly at times) for God's help. I also remembered how depressed I would get on a regular basis and it always seemed to have something to do with religion or belief- So I simply turned that part of my life off for the next 10-15 years.

To wrap this up, about 2 years ago I was fooling around on the internet, looking for interesting things to read to pass some time, when by chance it popped into my head to search for the phrase "preacher turned atheist".

One of the first results that came back was the Freedom From Religion site, in particular the story of Dan Barker. I started a little guiltily reading some of the excerpts from his book on the site and there was a feeling of excitement that started building in me:
This guy not only asked the same questions I always had, but actually searched for the answers and found them. I had put religion on hold because my mind could not take it anymore, but it took the rise of the internet and the ability to study anything I wanted to know before I could actually give my mind some hard evidence and facts to smash all the wishy washy contradictory and confusing beliefs that had been unchallenged defaults since childhood.

Over a period of about 2-3 months I studied religions, philosophy, I went on Christian/atheist discussion forums and learned. My mind was like a vacuum , I could not get enough. So here it is two years later and I look back and realize that my problem with depressive episodes disappeared with religion. This is something "God" could never fix. Apparently "God" may have been the problem all along...

So here I am a non-believer, I've been pretty open with my Mom and a few close friends but pretty much anyone else has no idea of my "defection" I still go to church a few Sundays a month! (am I insane?) no, I just happen to like some of the people, I play in the church band, the pot-luck dinners. I will eventually stop going, but baby steps aye?


(Via Poodles)

Sometimes memes can give you some motivation to write about something that should have been written a long time ago.

I think deconversion stories are important. I think they can be helpful to those rolling on the edge of atheism, scared or uncomfortable to take those last steps. The internet is a great tool for people looking for like minds and helpful information; I wish it had been around when I was reverting back to my birth state of atheism.

So, since I am “slow like that” sometimes, here is my story of losing religion.

I was born an atheist, in a catholic hospital here in Salt Lake City. Shortly thereafter I was taken to New York, where my family is from, to be baptized into the Catholic Church. I have godparents and all. My mom has never been baptized anything, my grandmother is a non practicing Episcopalian, and I don’t know what my father was. I grew up going to church with my Italian grandfather. I was a very good catholic. I went to church, I went to catechism, I studied hard, I passed my tests and I did my first communion. I sang in the choir (really I can’t sing, I kinda feel bad for them for that). I said my prayers every night “now I lay me...” and I paid the money my grandfather gave me to put in the basket.

During my youth, since my mom wasn’t stuck on one religion she let me go to Sunday school and church with my Mormon friends sometimes too. That was one religion I always found loony, but entertaining.

Around the time I was to start preparing for my confirmation I had mostly stopped going to church. Pretty much because I was too lazy to spend my Sunday doing that.

When I got to high school in the late 80’s I had a friend who began asking me about the Catholic Church. He became interested in converting to Catholicism and he wanted me to help him. I knew this meant I would need to get confirmed. I began that road, it included a lot of reading, including, finally the bible, cover to cover, not because the church wanted me to, they really didn’t, but because it was important to me. Somewhere along the way, I started reading the road signs. Not the big jesus billboards they want you to see, but the little sticks with the mile numbers on them. I finally had to tell my friend that I wouldn’t help him because I couldn’t be catholic any more, it didn’t make any rational sense.

I then began a search to find out who and what I was. I went to many churches and studied many different religious texts. Not a one of them struck me as “real”. I continued my journey on into college, pretty sure by this time I was an agnostic at least.

In my last years of high school and early college, I fell in with the “Goth” crowd. We went to the local “Goth” hang outs (The Ritz, The Palladium and others). There my journey took me on a tour of Wiccan. My best girlfriend is a witch. I have spoken of her here. In the end though I thought that crap too. My best guy friend is a gay return LDS missionary, nothing like a little diversity.

During college, part of my studies included history and how it related to theater. That got me turned on to studying how religion and history related to each other.

I finally got it.

I knew I was an atheist by this time, and I finally got why. It was like a huge light bulb had been turned on. I understood why we have religion and how it was once a necessary evil that helped people try to explain the unexplainable in the only way they knew, but that it was never real or true. Now though, we know how the sun rises and how earthquakes occur, I am still in awe at how religion is still so important in our society, and continues. Money and power perhaps.

I met my husband my last year of school. We met at a birthday party for a mutual friend. We had nothing in common, except we cared for each other. There were two things I had to be clear with him from the beginning if ours was a relationship that would work, I was an atheist and wouldn’t change that, and I didn’t want children and wouldn’t change that either, so if he had a problem with either of those he was barking up the wrong tree.

We got married in April 1996. It was important to him to get married in the Catholic Church (because it was important to his parents). I could pretend; (um, hello, theater major). Since I had once been baptized in the church it was pretty easy, surviving the weekend long marriage retreat at the nunnery was not. It involved a lot of eye rolling and tongue biting.

Then came the wedding. Every god promise that was made had my girlfriends in my line giggling; I still think I owe them for that.

Sometime after that I told my family what I was. I didn’t sit them down or anything, it just kind of “came up”. My grandmother still thinks that it isn’t possible to be an atheist because “everyone believes in god” and my grandfather is in denial. My mom doesn’t really give a rat’s ass. It just isn’t worth arguing about with them.

I am like most atheists I know, in person and online, we are good people. We pay our taxes, we take care of our families, we donate to charity and we do these things in the name of Jesus Christ amen. Oh no wait, sorry Mormon Church flash back for a moment. We do these things not from fear of a deity that isn’t really there, or because if we don’t, Santa won’t come and give us presents. We do them because it is good for society, and it is good for ourselves. Our lives like any other can be snuffed out in a moment. We know there isn’t anything else, so we have to make this time great.

Coming Out a Second Time

(Via Pink Atheist in Albuquerque)

I broke my mother's heart in 1995.

I remained chaste and virginal until the age of 27. Hard to believe, I know. But for all of my sexually mature life, I had harbored the secret that "dare not speak its name". At least, that's what it was called a long time ago. I didn't have horrible parents from a fundamentalist religious background. In fact, I was baptized and confirmed a cradle Episcopalian: one of the more progressive members of the protestant family (or it used to be). I was even from Dallas, which though in conservative Texas, is still a pretty hip metropolitan area. But in March of 1995, inexplicably, it was time. It was time to end the lies and be honest about who I am, and possibly be hated for it, rather than loved for who I am not. So, in a period of a week, I came out to everyone. Friends, family, cashiers at the grocery store...ok, I hope I wasn't that bad...but it was a huge burden lifted, and I was happy about it.

As time passed, I got a partner, we adopted a son, and we all attended MCCA. I loved the fellowship of the people there, and I was happy to make my partner happy by attending. But deep inside, I knew as I always had, that I was yet again a liar and a fraud. I was pretending to be a believer in God, though I never really had been.

I grew up thinking of church as a place to go be uncomfortable in dress clothes, and to have potlucks. If the nonexistent god can be thanked for anything it is for deviled eggs, despite the irony in the name. These are the things I miss about church, and I wonder sometimes if the reason so many still cling to church is exactly because of that...we have become strangers to one another in our neighborhoods, and church is now the socio-worship center. I probably think too much, though.

In 2002, I embraced my atheism internally. But I realized that the price I would pay for coming out atheist would be further isolation from the remaining friends and family who had stuck by me the first time I came out. I was also unsure how my partner would take it. He eventually showed me his Christian nature by cheating and walking out on me and our son for a teenage meth addict, then dragging the druggie to church, I guess to ask for forgiveness from god. Knowing I needed no god to be the moral person I was, I decided that it was time to move on. I quit attending church in the summer of 2003. I miss some of the people there.

As time has passed, I found more confidence in who I am, but I have found that the coming out process as an atheist has been slower. I found the Brights, and discovered a like-minded group of people with a much more positive attitude than I have ever considered for atheists. I eventually had the Bright logo modified a bit and tattooed on my left arm. My mom has seen it, and all i told her was that it is a "sunrise from space, symbolizing the age of enlightenment". Technically, that's true. But I left the deeper meaning out of the conversation. She would never try to have an exorcism performed on me, or disown me, but she would spend many more sleepless nights than she already does praying for my "soul". Unless she finds out inadvertently, she will never know this secret.

I won't break my mother's heart again.

From Altar boy to Atheist

(Via Vince, Part I)

Before I begin, a quick disclaimer. No, my religious world views were not shaped by Father Friendly Fingers touching me in my naughty spot, nor was I the victim of insufferable corporal punishment in Catholic school. The title of this post reflects that I was indeed an actual altar boy. Believe it or not, I actually had quite a positive experience in parochial school and I credit them with planting the seeds of my skeptical nature and logical reasoning abilities.

Now onto the story of my fall from grace.

I suppose to some extent I have always had serious misgivings about god. I was born into a catholic family and attended catholic school, but whenever I thought about god, it didn't make sense from the beginning. I was taught that god is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving entity. He created the heavens and earth and all its life just for us and gave us dominion over it all. Wow, so far so good right? Here is where it gets a little weird. This wonderful god has only one caveat for us to heed and then we will enjoy all the wonderful benefits of heaven for all eternity. We have to praise him .

I always thought it awfully silly that this omnipotent, omniscient god would: A) give a flying shit what we do, B) punish us for eternity for not giving him praise, and C) have some sort of insecure need to receive our undying praise in the first place. In my freshman year of college I wrote an essay about my views on god and characterized him as reminding me of Stuart Smalley, a character with serious self-esteem issues from Saturday Night Live. I wrote that I could picture him in heaven looking at himself in an ethereal mirror and giving himself daily affirmations, "I'm benevolent enough, I'm omniscient enough, and doggone it those sheep-like bipeds down there really like me!"

I vividly remember being in 7th grade religion class when one of my classmates raised the question about other religions that believe in god but not in being catholic. I would be lying if I told you I could remember her exact response, but to paraphrase : "We believe that our doctrine is correct and not believing in this in its entirety is to deny god and the truth". My teacher's answer started a chain reaction of thoughts in my head. Denying god seems like a pretty big one up there on the list of sins. Would all non-catholics go to hell? Dosen't seem right that you could be a devout Jew, Muslim, or Protestant, live a pure and chaste life, and not make into heaven on a 'technicality'.Shouldn't somebody tell those other religions they are wrong and save their souls? These thoughts rattled around but were soon overpowered by other thoughts that frequently pervade the mind of 13 year old boys. The groundwork for my atheism however, was laid.

During 8th grade, religion was taught by Sister Geraldine. She was a particularly gregarious and thought provoking teacher. The latter trait she exhibited too well it seems in my case. Suddenly I found myself, almost on a daily basis, asking the "hard" questions during religion class. Looking back it seems I was destined to be a White House staff reporter. Many of my questions had to do with biblical stories and the seemingly inconsistencies a big one was reconciling the whole thou shalt not kill thing with say,... anything in the old testament. Try as she might to satisfy my inquisitiveness (read: pain in the ass-edness) She never quite answered my questions. She tried the old "Many of the stories are symbolic and should not be scrutinized literally" defense. I wasn't buying it. This raised more questions than it answered. If not all the stories in the bible are true then who is to say any of it is an actual account of anything? Who gets to decide which bits are what we should believe in and which are just allegorical? On what authority? If we are picking and choosing then how could this be the word of god?

My Doubting Thomas routine continued throughout the year and culminated (not surprisingly- looking back) on my being sent to meet with the monsignor of our parish-one rather physically imposing Father Craven. I supposed I deserved it, I mean I was rather disruptive in her class with my litany of questions she really couldn't answer. In addition to this I had a particularly bad habit of being "talkative" during class and the combination landed me in the most undesirable position of having to "go see the monsignor". I was rather intimidated by his large presence. As I recall he was about 6'6 280lbs (I'm sure in reality he was much smaller but I was in trouble and as everyone knows, disciplinarians always grow in proportion to the trouble you are in) His size, combined with his booming baritone voice, had me fearing for not only my eternal soul, but my hide as well.

Thankfully, after reprimanding me for constantly interrupting Sister Gerri's class, he relaxed his stern demeanor and became rather friendly and easygoing in an avuncular sort of way. I started to tell him of some of my difficulties understanding things in religion class and he listened patiently. He initially offered some of the same explanations that my teacher had but I wasn't going to be assuaged that easily; since I no longer feared for my life, I was free to be the inquisitive pain in the ass again. He tried to answer some of my questions about the veracity of some of the bibles stories I wondered about. He did most of the talking (occupational hazard I guess) but each point he made just led to more questions on my part. As I recall I was only in his office in the rectory for about an hour, but the good father taught me a lot. Not so much about religion, but the wonderful rhetorical tool of the Circular Argument. Or in logical reasoning it is known as the fallacy of petitio principii, or more commonly, begging the question. Here is how it basically went:

Me: "How do we know anything in the bible is true?"

Msgr: "You have to have faith my son."

Me: "Why should we have faith, Father?"

Msgr: "Because the bible tells us so."

Oh, well, since you put it that way, it is as clear as mud! We went around and around in this Abbot and Costello manner for a bit until finally he advised me to go home and pray and things would become clearer as I got a little older. To this day I am not exactly sure what I was supposed to be praying for- Faith? seems like the old circular bit again!

I left there feeling confused and uneasy. Had I just beaten a professional member of the clergy in a religious debate? Surely that couldn't have happened. I must have missed something; maybe I am just not smart enough. I mean so many, many people for thousands of years have believed in god I can't be smarter than all of them.* God has to exist. I am definitely going to hell! Just great.

The good father was right about one thing; it all became much clearer as I got older.

*For the record, I don't think that people who believe in god are all morons. I do think however, that religion incubates, in some people, a particular kind of stupidity of the most dangerous type.

(Via Vince, Part II)
So there I was, 14 years old and rapidly arriving at the conclusion that religion was pure bunk. How did I come to this conclusion? At the very core of my reasoning there were a few facts:

  1. Just about every group of people that ever lived had their own version of religion. Each had its own god, gods, or goddesses. There were hundreds of religions out there and they all had different beliefs.
  2. Each one of these religions believed that it was the correct and true view to have- most preached dire consequences for not believing. This never sat well with me. What about all those people who live isolated in deserts or jungles that, through no fault of their own, never were exposed to the "right religion". It didn't seem fair.
  3. I was raised in, and indoctrinated into, the catholic faith; I was told that this is the one true path to salvation. Furthermore not adhering to the prescribed rules would end me up in a place called hell.
I suppose I should have felt pretty fortunate that, through sheer dumb luck, I was going to be among the few chosen for salvation. (provided I lived by the rules, that is) But I didn't feel so lucky. I had a pretty good grasp of math, even then, and understood basic probability fairly well. Chances were, that the religion I was taught, and followed up to this point, would be turn out to be WRONG! Statistically speaking, most people were going to go to hell for believing the "wrong religion"; and god- at any one point, only had a small fraction of the people following his 'true' laid out path. This was a big red flag for me.

The fact that each religion can point to another and dismiss it so quickly as wrong but still hold onto their particular beliefs is a bit of a non sequitur to me. Each religion explains the divergence between its beliefs and the beliefs of other religions as either: the other guy was primitive, got it wrong, made it up, or is just plain crazy. Ask any Christian, for instance about the existence of Ra, the Egyptian sun god, and they will quickly dismiss it as the superstitious invention of an ignorant populous.(I would wholeheartedly agree) What I found hypocritical was I was taught that Hercules, Apollo, Mars, and Zeus et al. were just mythological "false gods" and rather silly, primitive ones at that. It is nonsense to believe that a god sat in the heavens and hurled lightning bolts to mortals he was displeased with, or that his son was a mutated winged horse. But isn't it also nonsense to believe any of the following:

  • We are all born with the burden of original sin because a talking snake talked a woman into eating a piece of fruit from a magical tree.
  • A man invoked god and an entire sea parted and allowed him and his people to simply walk across the ocean floor and then allowed the waters to destroy their pursuers.
  • The son of god was born to a virgin, was executed, rose from the dead, talked to some people while dead, ascended into heaven, and because of this we can now all enjoy an eternity of bliss in an invisible paradise.
  • An angel appeared to an Arab merchant and through a series of conversations dictated the Koran upon which Islam is based.
  • An angel appeared to a convicted criminal and instructed him to dig up a set of magical artifacts in New York including golden plates that had Egyptian inscribed on it. He then used these magical artifacts to translate the plates and produced the Book of Mormon.
Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black! If each religion is considered false by most every other, then it seems to follow that all of them are false; to say nothing of the incredible claims that lay at the heart of their faiths. Why are there are so many religions then if none are true? The answer is pretty obvious.

(Via Vince, Part III)
So why are there so many religions if they are all wrong?

Every culture known to man, at one point or another, invents (or steals from another culture and modifies) its own mythology/religion for several reasons. Not least among these is to 'explain' the things that they did not know. When those needs went away, as in the case of gaining scientific knowledge that explain natural phenomena, or a more fashionable belief came along, that religion died out. Everyone has heard of Zeus, Odin, Jupiter etc., but I'm sure there are hundreds that you haven't heard of precisely because they became obsolete. It is not hard to see that these gods and religions were invented by man. It isn't such a huge leap in logic to see that ALL religions were thusly invented.

This was the beginning of my "descent into atheism". Did I go on a killing spree or start robbing banks? No. I still have the same basic values I did before. Am I unhappy, hopeless, or afraid now since I can't rely on my invisible god to watch over me, grant me wishes, or reunite me with all my lost loved ones in heaven? No, I am a pretty happy guy. What then do I think will happen when I die? I have no proof about what happens when we die (neither does anyone else) but I have no good reason to think anything will happen. I suppose I will just cease to be. This is not a bad thing. It kinda makes you try to 'get it right the first time' and focuses your energy into living life. Plus, I have the added bonus of not wasting any of my time constantly praising or worshiping anything. It is actually quite liberating when you look at it that way.

There are tons of other interesting topics to discuss such as morality, whether religion is a positive or negative thing today, politics and religion, science and religion, etc. etc. but I just wanted to write this as an introduction of how I began to arrive at my views. Hopefully some of you will have comments and opinions to share or debate...stay tuned.