(Via Ed Elfrink)

I am an atheist because of my kids.

I decided that religion is an important topic and if I was going to teach my children about it or take them to church, I should research the matter.

So I read the bible, "The Case For Christ," the "bible for dummies" and decided the evidence for any god is just plain not there.

The next book I read was "End of Faith" by Sam Harris and found it was the only book about religion that made any sense.

I now subscribe to the Richard Dawkins agnostic scale of belief where 1 is belief there is a god and 7 is belief there is definitely no god. I'm about a 6.9.

Take care!

A Pre-Schooler's Journey to Disbelief

(Via Elles)

I often get asked why I’m an Atheist. That’s why I’ve decided to go ahead and do a post for Coming Out Godless and for this blog so that I can just give people linkage and they’ll know.

I was a child of Atheist parents. I, like all other children, came into the world with no concept of God whatsoever. I was unaware of my parent’s lack of belief for some time, though.

When I was… well, I don’t remember at all how old I was, I went to a Montessori school for pre-school. The teacher was a very nice evangelical Chinese woman. It was there that I first learned what God was.

I was excited my first day there. There was loads of fun games to play, nice people to play them with, picture books…

And then we sat down to lunch. I was ravenous, so I went ahead, opened up my lunchbox, and started shoveling food into my mouth.

“What are you doing?!” came a harsh whisper. I looked up from my food to see everybody’s heads bowed along with the teacher.

“She hasn’t finished praying!” said another child.

It was then that I learned that there was somebody called “God”. God was an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent being. He created us, protected us, and watched over us, sometimes granting us prayers. Cool!

I remember two major falsehoods they taught me there. God and Santa Claus. Santa Claus I debunked sooner. My first Christmas after learning about him, I was laying awake listening for him. When I heard a sound outside my room, I snuck out to be confronted by my Dad. Wasn’t much of a mystery how the presents got into the house the next day…

But God I believed in for a while.

Not only was the teacher at my pre-school teaching us about God everyday and making us pray, but my mother would take me to church. It’s not that she was a theist. She couldn’t care less whether I believed in God or not. She wanted me to go to church so that I could understand American culture.

I still remember the song I learned on the first day there. “Jesus loves me this I know, because the Bible tells me so.” And why do we know the Bible is true? Because it says it’s telling the truth. And how do we know the Bible is telling us the truth about telling the truth? Because it says… When I grew up and became more educated I learned that the term for this is circular reasoning.

At the same time, I started reading a lot. My favourite books were about science and… dinosaurs! I dunno if I became interested in them after I was obsessed with Land Before Time or if I became interested in them because of Land Before Time. Either way, dinosaurs were really cool… except… they were dead. Quite a shame but… wait a minute… If God created us and the dinosaurs, and God protected us and loved us because we were His creations… Why would God have let the dinosaurs go extinct?!

This bothered me and kept me awake during nap time. It made no sense.

Columbine happened a short while later. If God was protecting us and loved us, why would he let something like that happen?

Then there was another paradox that really killed God for my pre-school brain.

If God wanted us to believe in him, and he made us, why not make us so that we already believed in him? Of course, he apparently gave us free will to choose, but I wasn’t born with a conception of who God was. Why not instill in me at least some knowledge that he existed so that I could rebel against him if I chose to?

And then I said to my parents “this religion stuff is really stupid” or something to that affect.

I’d like to say I’ve been an Atheist ever since but in 4th grade I tried praying to God to help me on math tests. It didn’t work. I’ve been an Atheist ever since.


(Via Ted Goas)

I hope my testimonial is short and to the point. I was raised by two educated, traditional parents in the New York metro area of the U.S. I was introduced to, schooled in, and eventually confirmed Lutheran. At no point was I ever enthusiastic about my religion or going to church. But like many others I took religious teachings at face value, went through the motions and believed what I read in the Bible.

But then I went to graduate school, which turned out to be my turning point. There I learned to question things, filter out bad information, ask for proof, and basically ask "Says who?"

During this time I watched a documentary and heard this quote from Michael Shermer: "Smart people come to revisit things they learned for not-smart reasons," or something to that effect. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It made me realize that children can't control how we're raised. But we can re-evaluate what we were conditioned to think. After doing so, my story is probably similar to many other testimonials on this site. I converted to militant agnostic / atheist. My fiancé and I constantly research the subject of skepticism (in which the topic of religion naturally falls) and publish our findings on skepticalmonkey.com.

The testimonial of an atheist geek...

(Via Rocky Oliver)

I have been an "out of the closet", publicly avowed atheist for many years. But I didn't start that way. Being Southern I was raised, as most people are down here, as an evangelical Christian - my particular flavor was Southern Baptist. I even attended a Christian school for 2.5 years (middle of 5th grade through 7th grade). One of the important tenets of Southern Baptists, and Christians in general, is the concept of a "testimonial" - an explanation of your faith and how you came to be a Christian. You are encouraged to share your testimonial as a part of "witnessing" to others in order to tell them about Jesus and (hopefully) "save" them.

I began to think about this, and realized that everyone - all of us - have a "testimonial". We all have a story of how we have come to believe the way we do. Some of us are still on the journey, and our testimonial isn't complete yet; while others amongst us are strong in our beliefs and convictions and, with the exception of some minor revisions along the way, our testimonials are pretty much complete.

Now I don't know about you, but I love to hear the testimonials of others - how, and more importantly why, people believe the way they do. I find these stories fascinating, and I have also found that often our stories are more alike than dissimilar, and the most fascinating part is how we can have common stories that wind up in such different places.

This blog has been a place of open, civil discourse even about the most controversial of topics - and this is something I have come to love. I thought it would be an interesting topic to provide a place for others to share their testimonials - their stories of the journeys to their current state of belief - without the fear of persecution. I would love to read your stories, and I think others would be interested as well. The only rules are that the discourse must remain civil, and while I encourage the asking of questions I will shut down any personal attacks immediately (I don't think it will happen, but I want to state that up front just in case). So, let me begin, and then you can share.

As I stated earlier I was raised as a Christian, a Southern Baptist. My mom is actually pretty accepting of other beliefs, but I was more influenced early on by the family of my step mom. She's the one that paid for me and my step sisters (at the time) to attend Forrest Hills Christian Academy. At that time I really "got into" being a part of this school and church. I manned a "prayer line" at times, I attended mission trips, I went to visitation, prayer service, and Sunday services. I was a model young Southern Baptist.

But during this time I began to have a nagging questioning voice in the back of my head. The more I got into my activities the more I began to question why we did what we did. I kept suppressing this inner doubt, and talked to ministers about it, but I still had doubts.

In 8th grade I began a search on my own for my own answers. I spent hours in the library (remember, this was in the 1970s, the internet really wasn't available as a tool back then) researching the history of Christianity, and reading the beliefs and histories of other religions. The more I read, the more enlightened I became. Then when I was 15 I decided to give religion and faith one more chance. My friends and I would go each weekend to a different church/temple/synagogue to explore the rituals and services of others, experience first-hand the people in the church, and try to discover, first-hand, which place - if any - felt "right".

I continued my reading and studying, and my discussions with my friends, and around 16 I finally realized the truth - I am an atheist. I was still enthralled with the histories of religions, but I realized that I was more interested in those histories - the "why" people came to their beliefs - than I was in the religion itself as a path to enlightenment. The moment I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist I felt that this was the "right" answer for me - I felt I was being honest with myself, and that this was who I was.

Some of my friends became more, shall we say, "aggressive" in their atheism - the lashed out at other faiths, specifically Christianity, and I felt that wasn't right either. I told them that just because we don't believe doesn't mean that others shouldn't believe - and that everyone had to find their own answers to what makes sense for them, and what makes them feel complete. I must admit though that I did feel some animosity towards some specific churches - there was one called Chapel Hill Harvester that was very aggressive in their recruitment of teens at my school, and they (I believe) brainwashed the teens into blindly following them in lockstep. They convinced a couple of my friends into burning their rock-n-roll records and Dungeons & Dragons books (one of my friends finally realized this was silly, and is now an atheist as well), and I felt that this place was a harmful place that taught hatred and not thinking for yourself over an exploration of faith. Incidentally the leaders of this church have been brought up on charges for various things over the years (Bishop Earl Paulk and his brother, to name a couple).

So, I spent my late teen and early adulthood as an atheist. I continued to read up on religious history, mainly Christianity, but I didn't attend any services or anything like that. Years later after I was married and had kids my wife and I realized that we needed to find someplace for us to attend. Why? Because we're still in the Deep South, and down here the second question you're asked is "what church do you attend?" after "What's your name?" Those who answer "I don't attend church" are often subjected to witnessing, aggressive questioning, etc. During our search for a church we could attend without feeling like hypocrites we found Unitarian Universalism. UU is a place where we can be whom we are, without feeling like hypocrites. UU is a place where our kids can learn about other religions objectively, and can have a sense of community as well.

So now I am a Unitarian Universalist, and an atheist. I even taught Sunday school as an open atheist, because that's acceptable as a UU. I am comfortable with who I am, and I feel that we are teaching our kids to respect other religions, to explore and learn on their own, and to find answers for themselves - and that their answers may be different than mine, and that's ok too. My kids have a healthy respect for other religions, and they understand what most of the other religions believe - so when they are exposed to it in school or with friends, it isn't "new" to them.

I also defend my Christian friends, quite aggressively, against others who attack them. Why? Because as a UU and a human being I believe that we all have the inherent right to explore our own path, find out own answers, and be able to believe as is right for us without fear of being attacked. And to this day the only time I have a problem with anyone is when they try to force their beliefs upon me and my family - and luckily the Christians I know agree with me that this is NOT the right way to do things.

And before you ask, yes I associate with many Christians (almost impossible not to in the US, ya know?) - and they all know I am an atheist. What I find is that all of the Christians I count as close friends have one thing in common - they hold a deep respect for the beliefs of others, and they all "live their faith" - they are all living testimonials to their faith, and their lives are good examples of what their beliefs are - they live their beliefs. Devin "Spanky" Olson is an example of this that you may know. Also one of my closest friends that I hang with locally is a devout Christian who listens only to Christian radio, is very involved in his church, and who really does live his faith. We have great discussions, and we have learned a lot from each other - and I believe he has a newfound respect for me as an atheist because I have shown him that you can be a "good", "just", and "moral" person without having a belief in a deity. I believe we are each better people because of our personal friendship, and the friendship of our families.

With apologies to John Lennon...The Long and Winding Road

(Via Sean Boyd)

As a youngster, moving frequently and seemingly without purpose, I probably felt more tied to what my parents believed than a lot of kids, even when those things didn't necessarily make sense to me. It was an element of stability for me, I suppose. So I had a smattering of Sunday School here and there, and my mother in particular was always looking for the One Big Thing that would change all our lives for the better (Eckankar, anyone?) So, sophomore year of high school, my parents discovered the Seventh Day Adventist church. I was only 13, and still didn't really question them about a lot of things, and they seemed to think it was a great thing, and I jumped in head first along with them. And it was great...for about a week or two. Turns out, I saw many inconsistencies that no one else was willing to address. Aside from the whole disregarding science when it was convenient to do so attitude, these self-proclaimed "chosen people of God" (and they do believe that) were easily seen as flawed and weak as anyone else. They tended to judge others on their dress, their financial status...in other words, they were human. I'm not saying they were bad, as a rule, just that they weren't better. But this, to me, seemed to be an important criterion: shouldn't people with a "superior" faith system somehow end up as better people than those without said system? I rapidly grew impatient with the hypocrisy, the intolerance, and started finding excuses to not go to church. More importantly, in my eyes, I stopped tithing: no more free ride for this church. At the time, I rationalized it by saying to myself that God would undoubtedly not let people starve because I stopped giving money to the church.

By the time I went to college (a few years after HS) I had officially left that church behind, and wasn't quite sure what I believed. I don't recall there ever being a single moment at which my beliefs changed, but I know that I started grad school with a half-hearted belief in something (whatever something was) and finished grad school a fairly rabid atheist. At one point in grad school, after a stint in the hospital (turns out that working 16 hours a day for months in a row without much of a break isn't good for one's mental health) a "friend" in my department told me that, in his beliefs, that such mental illnesses were often (if not always) caused by demon possession and he'd be praying for me. It was not April 1st, and he was not joking. He also proclaimed (at another time) that he was so blessed that everything he'd learned in college did nothing but reinforce his faith in his personal savior. This is the crux of the problem with religion in general: the twisting and ignoring of evidence to support irrational beliefs. I couldn't believe that someone earning a graduate degree in mathematics could honestly believe the Earth was only 6,000 years old. Whenever I truly stopped believing, this was the first time I realized it.

So, I finally, after a long stretch, came out of the atheists closet. I heard the usual "you'll burn in the lake of fire" from mom, but I suppose I expected that, given how rabid her feelings for JC truly are. I find myself annoyed at baseball games, having to sit through "God Bless America" which is jingoistic BS, and has nothing to do with baseball, when last I checked. Now, for instance, when Jehovah's Witnesses stop by to see me and give me nice things to read, I try to return the favor by having things for them to read...excerpts from various materials from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for instance. And I realize, more and more every day, that I and the roughly one in six people in this country whose beliefs have more to do with rational thought than faith in an old book, are seen as morally deficient in some respect. Because we don't believe in the Big Sky Daddy, we can't openly state our beliefs and expect a whole lot of acceptance. We might have religious friends who, while they like us, might quite well hold the belief that we are destined to burn in hell, no matter how good we are here on earth. Love the sinner, hate the sin, and all that rot. What about love the sinner, regardless? With more apologies to John Lennon, wouldn't "all you need is love" be a better manifesto for life?

Sometimes, it's bitter, lonely, frustrating to feel so out of touch with those around me. But I don't think I could have it any other way.