(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.