Free to Think and Question

(Via Peter White)

I was raised a good Christian in a place where religion was a way of life. I lived in the province of Quebec which, at the time, was almost a theocracy. The laws of the province prevented the dissemination of birth control information and divorce was not possible. As a result Quebec had the highest birth rate in Canada. I was a member of a small minority of people who spoke English and were Protestant. I never understood why French speaking Catholics hated us as a group and I had to defend myself from attacks both physical and verbal.

I was as fervent a believer in God and Christianity as anyone. I loved the idea that there was a being who loved me and protected me from harm. I felt safe as long as I knew God was on my side and I tried hard to behave in a proper Christian manner.

Around the age of 9 I started to notice things that didn't make sense to me. The people who were teaching me to be a good Christian didn't seem to follow their own rules. I was not treated especially well by any of them. I thought they must be either very stupid or insane. How could anyone risk an eternity in Hell by not following the rules that God made? Since I was much younger and probably not as smart as any of the ministers or Sunday school teachers I reasoned that something else must be happening.

After a year or so of trying to figure out why the people in my church didn't practice what they preached, the reason struck me one day. They didn't want me to treat them the way they treated me. Then it started to make some sense. The threats of eternal damnation were their protection from evil.

Over the next 5 years or so I noticed more and more things in all religions that made no sense. I had the privilege of attending school with children from many countries who belonged to many different religions. That gave me a perfect opportunity to make comparisons. I had a few friends who were very interested in religion and we spent a lot of time reading the Bible. We stumbled on many passages that nobody in church ever mentioned. That made me even more suspicious of religious teachings.

By the time I was 15 I had become absolutely convinced that no religion had any basis for its beliefs. I rejected any supernatural explanations for what we see in the universe.

During my last year of high school I went to live with my older sister and her family. My sister's family were Jehovah's Witnesses and tried hard to convert me. We had regular debates on many subjects and I had to do a lot of research to defend my beliefs. As a result my atheist position became increasingly solid as one religious argument after another was shown to be false. I have continued looking into religions and to this day I have not found a good reason to believe the teachings of any one of them.

The Road to My Deconversion

(Via Derone T. Pugh)

The origin of my Atheism or deconversion, as I like to refer it, was a long and rocky road. I was baptized at the tender age of six. This marked my indoctrination and allegiance to an organization and doctrine, that at the age of six I had neither the knowledge nor maturity to understand and decide if I wanted to be part of. However, I did not begin to see the light until a couple of years later. I began my journey on the road of Atheism at about the age of nine in a church in which my grandfather was the Pastor. I can remember walking into the church and looking up and seeing a painting of what was suppose to be Jesus, which depicted a Caucasian male with long dirty blonde hair and blue eyes and a radiant glow around his head. I asked my self, how would we know how he looked? The church in which this painting was housed was home to an African-American congregation, which in large part, was comprised of the poor and down-trodden of a Southern California African-American community. These congregants prayed fervently to their Jesus, danced and gyrated around the church, sweating and moaning with the occasional outburst of an “yes lord” “Amen” and “thank you Jesus” while my grandmother banged away on an old slightly out of tune piano, my grandfather stood in the pulpit intensely beating and rattling a tambourine and I rocked out on the drums. All of this occurred during what is called the devotional portion of the church service and it went on until it reached a climax or fever pitch. Now as I reflect on the emotional intensity of the congregants during the devotion, I realize that the devotion possessed what I think is the emotion that one would have for a lover. That is, the outpouring of emotion had, what I realized after my first sexual encounter, produced the type of loyalty and attachment that one would have for a lover. Please understand, I am not doubting the sincerity of the congregants or my grandfather, they all were certain that they were doing the work of the “Lord.”

After the devotion period, began the fleecing of the congregants, that is, the tithes and offering were taken up. My grandfather would open by saying something to the effect, “the Lord is good and has been good to us. It’s time now that we show our appreciation to the Lord by doing what he commands us to do, ten percent of our income is to go to the Lord.” I began to ponder, if God created the earth and the entire universe, what would such a powerful being need with some measly pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents printed on them? It was always during the fleecing of the congregants that I began to wonder and doubt. For why would an omniscient, omnipotent, and loving being want to obtain the money that his poor and down trodden children so desperately needed to acquire the bare necessities to survive on this earth?

Another point of contention I had with the Christian doctrine at the age of six was the idea of the Trinity. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of there being three persons, beings, or “spirits” in one. I can remember sitting in the church pew during a sermon in which the preacher explain the concept of the Trinity. To say the least, his elucidation of the concept was inadequate. I attempted to mentally visualize the concept but could not. I left that sermon being more confused than I was before I heard it. My reading and attempting to understand the Bible led to even more doubts and confusion. I asked myself many times during my childhood, why is god so confusing and mysterious? Why does not he reveal himself to the faithful? Why is Revelations the most gloomy and depressing portion of the Bible? I never took any consolation in the Book of Revelations. In fact, I take even less consolation from the Bible as a whole being an African-American and reading that god supposedly cursed the darker nations of the world through the curse of Ham (son of Noah). This god is not as just as his worshipers boast. What is even more absurd is the reason why this god cursed Ham, for seeing his father (Noah) naked. Naked!!! Even at nine years old, I found the propositions in the Bible absurd and the people around me in church credulous. Nonetheless, I feigned belief through cognitive dissonance and for fear that I would be shunned by society and my family.

However, around age 15 I began rebelling and told my father that I did not want to go to church anymore which resulted in my being kicked out of my father’s house. And no, I was not the prodigal’s son; I did not return to my father’s house, I went to live with my mother. At that point, I rarely if ever attended church again.

At the age 18 I entered the Marine Corps and found many people which held faith important part of their lives. However, of all the people in the world, I think it is the combat soldier that needs something to hold on to during perilous times. In any event, it was during my enlistment in the Marines that I began to seriously call into question the existence of a god. In August of 1990, my unit received orders to deploy to Monrovia, Liberia and do a partial evacuation of the United States Embassy and evacuate some American citizens and augment the security of the embassy. Liberia was in the midst of a civil war and to borrow a phrase from the great 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the people of Liberia were reduced to a “state of nature” in which every man was for himself. During that operation I witnessed some of the immoral expressions of the human psyche come to fruition; and I wondered, if a god who is omnipotent, loving, and just exist, how could he allow people to perpetuate and live in such horrific conditions? I witnessed children starving, heard people being tortured and executed and many other immoral acts being committed all in a quest for power. This experience shook me to such a degree that I left Africa with a very small measure of belief that a god exists than when I had arrived and even less confidence in humanity.

What solidified my deconversion or atheism was my study of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Southern California and meeting an unrepentant Atheist who I will refer to as JH. JH was a graduate student and was one of the nicest, most intelligent, and most well read people that I have ever met in my life. Through JH I met other Atheist who shared the same characteristics. One common thread that ran through all of them is that they did not have to believe in a god to be moral people. They cared about their fellow students, the environment and the poor. I enjoyed very much having my beliefs challenged and engaging in intellectual discussions. To say the least, the university environment was refreshing. It was after reading Hobbes, Hume, Socrates, Machiavelli and many other great philosophers that I realized that the internal struggle that I have had since childhood had been pondered over many times before by people who had the intestinal fortitude to challenge the common assumptions and authority of their day. Shortly thereafter, I read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Suddenly, a new world was open to me. I became aware that it is okay not to believe and have doubts about things which there are no evidence for. That is, those things which people hold sacred became perfectly fine for me to question, doubt and disbelieve. After reading more philosophy and the works of Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris and learning how to think critically, I realized I had been finally set free from the debilitating, controlling and irrational belief in a god.

One thing that I have become conscious of is the day that I admitted quietly in my mind that it is plausible that there is no omnipotent being who intervenes in human affairs, which was around December 2002, is the day I began to take charge of my own life and take responsibilities for my own actions. It is this realization that led me to go back to college which ultimately resulted in my attending the University of Southern California. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. Presently, I am working, my wife and I are raising five children as freethinkers, and I am applying to law schools. Thanks for reading.

An Atheist Blossoms

(Via Andrew)

In the beginning there was the Book, and the Book was by God, and the Book was about God. In the end, it would be the Book that would lead me from God, and then from any god. But lets not get ahead of ourselves…

I had the boring stereotypical white-bread, middle-class upbringing, complete with church and/or Sunday school most weeks (and let’s not forget Christmas Eve). This included being only one of two kids in my fifth-grade class to memorize each of the monthly bits of indoctrination (all the books of the Old Testament in order, anyone?), but hey, there were prizes on the line! I was even an acolyte for several years, lighting candles and carrying the cross ahead of the choir as they entered and exited the worship area.

It was never really an act of faith, though. I made the motions; I sang the songs; I spoke the words; hell, given a minute to think back, I could probably still spit out most of the Lutheran liturgy that I had memorized by repetition. But I never really had any sense that it was at all meaningful. That’s not to say I doubted the existence of God, though, because, like a good little Christian, I never questioned it…or anything.

This continued through the start of my high school years, when my mother decided to go back to school – in her case, a seminary. Like any good kid, I did my duty in this situation and began to look up Bible passages that might cast doubt on her decision to become a minister. (“Look mom, it says right here that women shouldn’t speak in church!”) It was here, seeing the utter stupidity of so much that was ensconced in that book, that the seeds of doubt were planted.

Those seeds, however, wouldn’t begin to sprout until several years later. I was working in an internship in Iowa one summer, and bored as someone could be. Thinking about the doubts that had started to grow some years earlier, I decided to do the unthinkable – I bought a Bible and began to read. And I read…and read…and read. And the only conclusion that I could come up with was that there was no way that what was in the book could be true at the same time that mainstream Christianity was; the two were just too far contradictory.

Now that the doubts had sprouted, it would only take the triple threat combination of water, fertilizer, and time for it to bloom. In this case, the water came in the form of a battery of European, Western, and World History classes and the fertilizer in the form of Comparative Religions classes. The history classes, in showing the rise, spread, and abuse of Christianity throughout Europe and the West, opened my eyes fully to the farce that it is. Nietzsche was right, it is the religion of the slave, and the masters of Europe used it to strengthen their hold over their chattel. The comparative religions classes cemented my feelings that all other faiths were equally absurd.

So, that’s how it came to pass. No sudden break, no big moment, just the ordered progression from doubt, to dissatisfaction with organized religion, to rejection of the faith of my parents and my society, and finally to a rejection of faith in its entirety. Just, that is, the ordered, logical progression of one who thinks and reasons – and, after all, that is the domain of the atheist, is it not?

The Story of My Disbelief

(Via Jaakko Wallenius)

I have in this blog repeatedly pointed out the importance of the indoctrination that is done in the early childhood in transferring the religious beliefs. This is in a pivotal point in Richard Dawkins work.

My lifetime of atheism is certainly in some part based on the fact that I have not been subjected to any religious indoctrination in my early childhood.

I grew up in a family where the relationship with religion or church was quite indifferent. In both my parents families there was a strong tradition of activism in the Social Democratic movement which can in part explain this neutral attitude towards religion, even though both my grandmother’s were devout Christians.

I did not however receive any atheistic teaching or even had any knowledge of its existence in my childhood. My parents had very typical Finnish relationship with the religion. They followed the traditions, but they held a definite aversion towards any preaching or even religious way of thinking.

I doubt that a crucial thing in my own development was the thing that I never received teaching in religious matters before reaching the regular school-age, which is six or seven years in Finland. My mother was a housewife and so I never did go to kindergartens that are giving religious teaching in Finland, nor did I attend any Sunday school.

I suppose that the religious teachings received later in the school had much less impact, when there was a definite lack of the religious teaching most people receive at an age when they are not able to think for themselves at all.

Our family was on the other hand not against religion in any particular way and so I attended the regular religious teaching given to almost all children in the Finnish schools.

Even so, I remember thinking that the stories in the Bible were just another collection of bedtime stories, and I remember slightly wondering why this kind of series of clearly made up stories is taught in the school.

This early wonderment changed however to active resistance in the early teen-age. I can’t really say what caused this change. I only soon found out that I did spend the hours reserved for religious teaching thinking about arguments against these patently false and unhistorical assertions that were given as facts in this class.

The history part may have been crucial in my development, as I did nurture an everlasting love for history from the tender age of nine or ten, when I did first read the 600 pages of Pocket World History, admittedly skipping the dull parts dealing with culture. After that I read practically everything in our local library that had anything at all to do with history.

I did not receive any direct atheistic influences in the real life, but the clear antireligious tendencies in the modern world literature must have made on impact also on me. Besides history I spend my spare time mostly by reading contemporary American and Latin American literature. From the older literature especially George Orwell’s earlier works had a great impact on me.

I remember clearly that my first antireligious thoughts were formed when I realized that Christianity condemns to oblivion also those who have not had a physical opportunity of even hearing about its teaching.

I must admit that in high school I was the favorite pupil of our teacher of religion. He represented a very modern view of Christianity and she had great appreciation for the fact I had even thought about this kind of things in any way. My classmates were clearly only extremely bored by the whole thing with religion.

My views were maturing during these formative years and in my 18: t birthday I severed my formal links with church for good. In Finland a child is not allowed to resign from the membership of the state church without his or her parents’ permission before the age of 18, but I did at very moment it was possible.

After high school the matters of faith did disappear from my life quite totally for a very long time. Quite simply there were no more situations like the religious teaching at the school where you had to take any stand in these matters.

My atheistic views very not in any way changed in the years spend in studying political history, sociology and political science in the university. On the contrary things learned in these fields gave a new understanding the underlying causes for religions and new information of their negative impact in the humanity.

During my years in university I did not once meet a fellow student who would have been interested in religious things in any way or who would have professed open religious beliefs of any kind.

I do not even remember of ever conversing about religious or atheistic matters with anybody during these years, but my memory may be failing me, as alcohol may have been involved in these extended conversations.

Not even on a single occasion I did I have any need to openly defend my atheistic views as these matters simply were not important in this group of fun loving young people in the Finland of late 1970:s. In the same vein I did not feel any need to present my own views to anybody.

I have never based any of my views of the world on how popular they would have been in the time. Therefore I did not have any need to convert anybody to my own views.
By this time I had a brief but very tempestuous political career in the Social Democratic student movement. Politics was soon so much more fun than studying and the studies were soon left to a zombie status.

After the rollercoaster ride of this rather short-lived political career was over, I had to find a new livelihood, as starting over of with my ailing studies did not seem a locking prospect anymore.

I turned to journalism, as I had liked writing all my life and my background did give me qualifications for just that profession.

My first steady job as a journalist was in a quite large newspaper in the western coast of Finland and there I met for the first time a person with real and open religious beliefs for the first time since listening to my teacher of religion in the high school many years earlier.

I remember seeing her as a person with a severe disability. The fact is that you are constantly checking your way of speech and things you are saying when in presence of a person with a major impediment, even as this is not a thing you should do… In the same vein I remember carefully watching my language in a strange way when this person was present.

The person in question was quite nice and charming young lady, but very soon I did find our seeking other company. The human being is just built so that a person prefers a company where you can be the person you really are and you don’t have the think about hurting the particular beliefs of any person.

It gives a good picture of the status of religious life in Finland, if a person can live to be nearly 30 years of age before meeting a person with strong religious beliefs. To come to think of I have not met many such ardent believers in the newspapers I have worked even after that.

A little later I moved for a spell to my original little hometown deep in the inland to work in the local newspaper there. There for the first time in my life I met a genuine young person under my own age, who would profess a religious belief. I had by then already come to believe that the young people would not fall for this bag of old tricks anymore.

This person was however an exception as religion played no part in the life of the people in my age group even in this a little already shrinking old industrial city with paper mills and one big company.

Al these years I did from time to time think about the origins of religious thought and reasons for their continued existence in a world where the made up explanations of the world are no more needed, when we have the science to give us all the explanations we need.

In the autumn of 2006 I listened to a collection of lectures in IT Conversations –Podcast series. By chance one of the lectures was Sam Harris and after listening to that lecture I suddenly realized that I was not alone in the world with my line of thinking, but there are others who had been thinking just the same things as I had.After Sam Harris I found rapidly also Richard Dawkins and his work.

The next big thing for me was the ‘06 version of Beyond Belief –conference. I did watch the those whole 15 hours of wonderful lectures and debate with growing enthusiasm.

By then I had already ordered the books by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and the Beyond Belief –videos were soon accompanied by a tough selection of atheistic writing.

After that I have read the works of Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Michel Onfray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Pascal Boyer, Nicholas Humhprey, Scott Atran, Victor J. Stenger among others. I am step by step getting a clearer picture where atheistic thought is today and what are the challenges ahead.

How Love Trumped God

(Via Erica)

Aside from sporadic Sunday church attendance in childhood, I was pretty much apathetic to religion or atheism until the age of 14. When I started high school, one of our marching band’s part-time assistants was a youth pastor at the church of Christ across the street from our practice field. He invited everyone in the band to football game “after-parties” at the church, complete with free pizza and a dunk tank inhabited by our associate principal, so I started going and got to know (let’s call him “Brandon”) pretty well. In the course of chatting, I mentioned some issues with my boyfriend at the time, and Brandon suggested I stop by his office after school some day to talk. This was the beginning of weekly chats that lasted the entire school year and a few weeks into my sophomore year.

We’d always start out talking just about life in general – my boyfriend and what sexual things we did or didn’t do (and Brandon would always point me to the most chastity-inspiring bible verses he could find), how school was going, whether or not I was contemplating suicide that week. He became a great source of strength for me in a REALLY rough time in my life. All of my best friends from junior high had turned on me and started harassing me that year for a meaningless incident that escalated due to pure peer pressure. Brandon even drove to my house in the middle of the night once when he thought I was seriously considering killing myself. I wasn’t, but I sure thought I was at the time. I had attended a few Sunday services and considered joining his church. I bought a study bible. I became close enough to his family to visit him and his wife in the hospital when their son was born on my 15th birthday. But the more Monday afternoons I spent in his office, the more our discussions turned to god, and the more our time was spent reading bible passages.

While these were comforting at first, I started to come to our meetings with lists of questions, and Brandon started pointing me to the bible’s answers. I had issues with a lot of these. Brandon would even joke that I was the exact opposite of most of his congregation – I could grasp the intellectual aspect of the religion, but had problems with the faith. Two points in particular caused cracks in my fledgling belief that would eventually lead to me rejecting religion entirely. First of all, Brandon’s church believed that women shouldn’t speak in church, and that they should submit fully to their husbands. Brandon pointed me to bible verses stating specifically that women are the “weaker vessel” in marriages. I may have been in a fragile emotional state and desperate to believe anything, but there was no way in hell I was going to swallow that load of shit. This answer, of course, led to the question, “what about gay couples? Who submits when there isn’t one man and one woman?” Brandon’s following statements about the sinfulness, vulgarity, and necessary christian intolerance of homosexual relationships are ultimately what led to my rift with religion. He understood right away that I had problems with this, and tried to remedy the situation by informing me that all major religions believed that homosexual relationships were wrong. This further weakened any hold I had to faith – because whatever I could suspend logic to believe in, I could never, NEVER believe in or have any respect for a god who would make any kind of mutual, non-harmful love a sin.

Pretty soon the school year ended, and I had the entire summer to research atheist as well as christian and all other sorts of religious websites. I had a few other trying personal and family issues that summer, all complicated by the fact that I was depressed, but I came out stronger in the end. I started 10th grade wiser (yes, you may laugh about the idea of a 10th grader being wise, but it’s a relative term in this case) and more skeptical. I still met a few Mondays with Brandon at the beginning of the year, but my schedule didn’t allow for our talks as easily. Over the next 2 years, my faith completely dissolved and led way to a zealous love affair with science and reason. As my depression was successfully treated, I came to realize how my state of mind had opened me up to ideas and beliefs that seemed utterly ridiculous to me when I was healthy. I learned how religion mirrors the cycle of addiction and codependency. I started talking very frankly with my parents, particularly my mom, about religion, and found out that they’d always been mostly agnostic too. They’d purposefully never shared their religious views with me or my brothers because they felt we should develop our own belief systems – a technique I will absolutely continue with my own children. Most of all I found it impressive that I’d independently reached a very similar position on religion to what my parents believed.

In college, my views were bolstered in the small, private liberal arts school environment, and probably also due to spats with my Catholic roommate. I joined the gay-straight alliance and became a very active straight ally, and fair legal treatment of lesbians and gays still tops my political priorities list. I’m a bit less irreverent now than I was in college, but my flippant preacher’s-son-turned-atheist boyfriend is doing his best to correct that. =)

Atheism is like a liferaft in an ocean of religious despair

(Via BiMamaFeminAtheist)

This story was originally posted on so references to fundie trolls are intended for that audience.

I was born at home in January of 1983. Six of my grandmothers eight grandchildren were born this way (the other two are adopted). My parents split up before I can remember, and my mother went back to school to get her degrees (ending up with a PhD). So my grandmother was my primary parent (although mom did live in the same home). My grandmother, who I have always known as Giggy, was both devout and insane. She made the rules and meted out the punishments. In the late 1970s she wrote a Xtian bestseller about the end times and promptly retired from nursing, a job she hated. After a few years of notoriety and fame in the Xtian fundy world (then known as charismatic) she became a "spiritual midwife", urging women to forgo traditional prenatal care and instead root out "defilements" in their lives that might cause a less-than-perfect birth experience. This is the world I grew up in: no Smurfs, Care Bears, or Fraggle Rock. No music outside of church and church choir. No movies till they'd been broadcast on basic TV and then recorded and edited by my grandmother (heavy on that fast-forward button through any bad language or dirtiness). No public school till 4th grade, when my mom graduated and we moved out of state to get away from Gig.

I was sheltered from typical childhood experiences like trick-or-treating (evil and pagan) and Santa (a threat to the "true" meaning of the laughably, equally pagan Christmas) but instead exposed to horrors like medically unassisted home births. I remember being maybe six years old, coloring in the dining room of a stranger's home for hours and hours and hours, when suddenly my grandmother pulled me into the bedroom where the birthing was taking place. There were complications, and my grandmother seemed to think God would be more amenable to the prayers of a child in this case, so I was brought in the room to lay hands on the laboring woman. Her baby was premature and so small. I don't know now how it turned out later in life. We were just there for the births, as far as I know. My grandmother wrote another book, this one non-fictional (supposedly) about her experiences in the "home birth ministry". This one has sold all over the world. My grandmother was invited to speaking engagements across the US and as far away as Perth, Australia to tell people how they weren't real Xtians if they didn't put ALL their faith in God. Did I mention we weren't allowed to lock our doors? Because that would mean putting our faith in things of this world, like man-made locks, instead of in our heavenly provider and protector.

We did not go to doctors. I got into the typical childhood scrapes, bruises and cuts. I also remember stepping on a rusty carpenter's nail in my cousin's back yard when I was about 5 and it going clean through my foot. No tetnus shot for me! Just prayer. It was the one-size-fits-all magic bullet. And it was all about manipulating God to do what He promised in that book of his. We had this huge wooden door hanging on the wall in our entry room, that my grandmother had painted blue, and had written the names of God from the OT in white paint (Jehovah Rapha, Nissi, Shalom, etc.) If you want a pop-cultural figure to relate her to, I offer Becky Fischer of "Jesus Camp" fame. Actually, watching that whole documentary was like some weird flashback, and what has triggered me writing this story.

So here was this incredibly "Godly' woman, well respected in the Xtian circles we saw (fundamentalist charismatic crazies), who would beat the shit out of us, supposedly because we were "in rebellion" and our "Adam nature" had gotten out of hand. Also that whole crap about "spare the rod, spoil the child". Gee, thanks Jesus, way to give child abuse some real religious authority! Fucker. But the weird thing was, for all the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical abuse, this was also the woman who would comfort me. When I had nightmares (which was frequently) she would rock me in her chair and sing Xtian hymns/lullabies about the peace of God to me, and hold me till I felt better, long after the age where I no longer comfortably fit in her ample lap.

My family was actually a bit open-minded in a close-minded way when it came to various denominations. We were non-denominational because NONE of them had enough "faith" as proscribed by Gig, but to get us out of her hair she'd happily send us to every single VBS (Vacation Bible School) in town: the Methodist one, the Mennonite one, etc. and we were involved in children's choir at the Baptist church.

In second grade I stopped being homeschooled and started attending a local private Christian school (I believe Church of God, but I'm not sure). This meant Bible class (easy for me, as it was all we GOT at home), typical school subjects, and of course Chapel on Wednesdays. I was friends with a girl who lived down the block my age, and I remember one Wednesday going to her house after school. Her dad said she wasn't home, but I could come in to wait and watch TV with him till she got there. He molested me. I will never forget that it happened on a Wednesday, because that's why I was wearing a dress that day. I'm older and now more about perverts and I'm pretty sure he would have tried at some point anyway, but as a kid, I associated it with being a girl and wearing a dress. That went on for over a year, till I finally broke through the "don't contradict your elders" teachings enough to tell my mom what was going on.

Being raised the way I was, I thought I was dirty, sinful, "impure" and above all, not a good woman. What man would want me? Also, I overheard the doctors (first I EVER saw was a freaking gynecologist doing a PAP smear on me at 8 to verify I had indeed been violated) telling my mother I would never bear children. This is all really painful to type, but I must get it out.

During this same time my older brother was getting into trouble with the law and at school. Mostly kid stuff, like shop lifting from the local 7-11, but also some kind of frightening things, like homemaking his own weapons. One day when I was in third grade a police officer came to my school to ask me questions about my family, because my brother had called child services to report we were being abused. I was so hurt that my willful, rebellious, sinful brother would dare make such accusations against our loving and godly grandmother! I still feel sick about not defending him. My family responded by shipping him across the country to go live with our stoner ex-Xtian dad.

Anyway, a few months after this my mom graduated with her doctorate and got a job very very out of state and we left. Now came public school, which I was totally unprepared for. Educationally I was actually ahead, but socially I was years behind. Imagine sending a five year old to fourth grade; essentially that's where I was socially/emotionally. I got picked on and bullied terribly. I remember the girl with leg braces picking on me, since it moved her a notch up the social ladder (she'd been at the bottom till I came). It didn't help that I had ingrained exceptionalism and elitism that belonging to a cult gives you, that totally out of proportion to reality arrogance and ignorance.

But I didn't think I'd been raised in a cult, just in church. We still attended church up north, though oddly enough my mom, sister and I each went to our own. I went to a local Community Church, my sister went to youth group at a Methodist, and I believe my mom attended Presbyterian singles group. I liked the pastor at my church because he was gentle and none of his sermons were about hell. During the three years we lived out of state, we still came to live with my grandmother over the summers, so we could spend time with our cousins, etc. She was no longer physically abusive and was a lot more relaxed about things like food (I remember eating nothing but Pillsbury Strudels for over a month one summer) but still crazy restrictive on others, like "secular" music.

One summer, she had a two-week long tour in Australia, and my aunt was left in charge of us. There was an incident where she got nutty and decided that either my sister or I had stolen some of her French chocolate liquors (ew). So she locked us in my grandmother's room with Bibles and assigned us to look up and write out passages about our sin. The truly hurtful, insane and FUCKED UP part was that she assigned us different sins - I was declared a "thief" and my sister a "glutton". Now, if it was the same crime we were both accused of, stealing and eating nasty boozy chocolates neither of us wanted (and to this day, in talks with each other, both deny having done it - I believe her) wouldn't we have gotten the same punishment? Just another example in a lifetime of screwy dogmatic child abuse.

A few years later we moved back to my home town for good. I started spending weekends at my grandmothers, and started working for her ministry. I would mail out her books and newsletters, type, file, etc. I also built the "ministry's" first website and blog. I actually got a lot of really good skills and training from that work, but in retrospect wish I had not done anything to help advance her unhealthy message. I was really starting to believe the things she said, right down to where doctors did more harm than good and people shouldn't expose their kids to those egotistical perverts. (She really hated being a nurse.)

Thank God for high school (ha!). I went to a school for the performing arts and was suddenly and joyously exposed to all those heathens I'd been warned about - people who openly practiced witchcraft, lesbians, actors, stoners, EVERYONE! It was glorious and wonderful. I had my first girlfriend, I found my first truly close friends. I had a little bit of breathing room, for a few hours a day, to be as weird as I wanted or needed to be. I think it's what saved me from being completely racist, sexist, and anti-gay. My grandmother certainly put forth a concerted effort to indoctrinate those principles into me.

After that I was never a "good Xtian" again. I still went to church, meant it when I sang and worshipped, etc, but I had sex when I wanted, experimented liberally with drugs and alcohol, and listened to rock and punk and rap and just everything that had been denied for so long. It was my own stumbling renaissance.

At 17 my mom kicked me out of the house for stupid shit, so I moved in with my dad (whose sole purpose is apparently to be there when my mom gets sick of us, but I'm grateful to him for that at least). I messed around with ecstasy (yuck) and was consequently hospitalized for suicide attempts twice. Then I got alcohol poisoning. My dad's girlfriend decided I was a liability who would have to go. In order to persuade my mom I was "worthy" of coming home, that I was truly "repentant" I had to go to a Christian cult detox FARM in Texas, where all the animals had biblical names (swear to mythological creature). It was insane. They were trying to cast demons out of me and after four days of this I finally just started faking convulsions to get them off my case. They also took my science fiction books from me, told me I was a whore because my belly button showed in some of my tops (it was AUGUST and where I'm from that means skimpy tops, sexuality aside), etc. But they did let me keep smoking cigarettes, oddly enough. Anyway, after a few weeks of that I got to move back in with my mother for a few months until I could afford my very own mobile home.

Flash forward a few years of this mildly uncomfortable double life (though really, only mildly) and you'll find me pregnant by my loser alcoholic boyfriend. What does the family say I should do? Marry the jerk, of course! So I waddled down the aisle at seven months pregnant and promised "till death do I part" in front of an Anglican priest. That same priest just a few months later had the decency and good counsel to tell me I should consider a divorce; he saw what my family wouldn't - he was a raging alcoholic and extremely emotionally abusive. So, less than three months into my marriage, with a broken ankle and a six-week old infant, I dipped.

I went back to my mom's house. She wouldn't help me pay for getting a cast, so I hobbled around without one, caring for my son as best I could. Only within the last few months have I seen how unloving that was - for her to watch me in deep physical pain every day, but do nothing. But then, she had experience with the matter. Between the ages of 14 and 18 I spent almost all my time with a dislocated hip. It could easily have been treated by a doctor, but instead I was forced to suffer godawful pain for a religious belief she no longer even really held. I think she had just decided i was "faking it" (like when I told her I was suicidal and she said I was being "dramatic" or when i told her I was bisexual and she told me it was a "phase"). I smoked a LOT of pot both as a teenager, and as a new mom, something I'm not very proud of, but the only way I knew of to deal with the physical and mental pain.

When my son turned two I went back to college. I fell in love with two subjects, American History and Middle East Studies. I was fascinated by the convoluted situation in Israel/Palestine and the role that religious extremism played in sustaining the conflict and hiccuping attempts at peace. During a class this Spring in American History from 1800-1850 we learned about America's two "Great Awakening" spiritual revival movements, and the genesis of a lot of our homegrown cults: Jehovah's Witness, Latter Day Saints/Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists. We also read a fascinating book on the Oneida Utopia and it's narcissistic-personality-

disorder poster boy, John Humphrey Noyes. While all my classmates were saying "What a load of bull! Who would fall for this crap?" and "This is weird! This is bat shit!" I kept thinking "Why does this remind me of my childhood? Why does this all seem so familiar?"

So, one night a few months ago, I Googled my grandmother's name and the name of her ministry. Pages and pages of links came up, but the mostly fell into two categories: 1. Xtians and others refuting her teachings as dangerous and/or unbiblical, and 2. newspapers about cult deaths and medical negligence deaths, of people who had read my grandmother's books. One story, for anyone interested in Googling it themselves, was about the Attleboro Cult. After reading my grandmothers book on home birth, this small "home church" group went round the bend and turned into a full blown cult. One of the female members told another woman that she and her 4-year old son should stop eating and only drink almond milk. The little boy slowly starved to death in a house full of food. I still can't think about that kid without crying, and regretting all my complicity with the lies my grandmother spread so far and wide. (Though others with far more power are to blame also: she appeared on 700 Club and Pat Robinson, as well as Jim & Tammy Faye's PTL.)

Within a few hours of looking at link after horrifying link, I learned of people on four continents who had died following my grandmother's reckless "spiritual' advice, including an Australian woman who died in childbirth and an African couple who refused to get HIV/AIDS treatment because they believed if they just "prayed and had faith" God would heal them. (He didn't.)

That was by far the biggest blow to my spirituality I've ever faced. Coming to grips with the fact that I was raised in a cult, that my grandmother was a cult leader, that her wackiness didn't just hurt me, but killed innocent children halfway around the world. I'm not exactly over it yet. I think a lot of years of therapy are in my future. But the word "cult" was helpful, because it gave me a place to start. I researched cult characteristics, watched "Sorry I knocked" videos on YouTube, donated to (for sexual abuse victims of Jehovah's Witness' "pedophile's paradise"), and protested against Scientology. I started to look at all these religions I could clearly see were crazy. I knew the stories of Joseph Smith and Edward Miller and Brigham Young and John Humphrey Noyes and L. Ron Hubbard. They all had a lot in common with each other, and with my grandmother. Deep personal dissatisfaction and insanity. Untreated depression, and I'd wager a lot of serotonin imbalance all around.

This led to a greater questioning of my own dormant religious faith (I'd kept my son out of church semi-instinctively; like not trusting myself to find a non-abusive boyfriend, I don't trust myself to find a non-abusive church). Everyone on here has great sites they can link you to, but for my did the trick. It confirmed what I was already beginning to believe (that God is imaginary) and gave me the push I needed to go ahead and let myself explore atheism further. I'm reading a wonderful book now "God is Not Good: How Religion Poisons Everything" and it's just incredible. I watched "Jesus Camp" and I swear I want to go kidnap every one of those kids and put them in "normal" homes where they won't be brainwashed into believing they are inherently sinful, evil, and wrong and that their natural desires prove they need a mythical hero to die and rise to save them from that same mythical God's curses.

Atheism is like a life raft in an ocean of religious despair for me. I look at my son everyday now and I am so thankful that he won't be subjected to the torturous childhood I had. I teach him to love himself, that his body is wonderful and his own, and that he should be proud of his accomplishments. I do not present fairy tales or mythology as truth to him and frankly, I'm not sure I'll tell him about Santa either. I don't know. My son is very bright but delayed in expressive and receptive language. In a lot of ways, I feel really blessed about this. He is catching up fine, but it gives me extra time to just *enjoy* him for who he is, and not for what he says or how he performs. We love each other so much. And I would never, ever, ever worship a God that would condemn him for hell for dying too young, for refusing to kneel before a tyrant, or for possibly being gay (who knows, he's 2). i don't yet get the great "Why?" questions or the screaming "No!" fights either; instead I see a child who does not question the nature of good and evil, of his own "immortal soul" or heaven and hell. He lives in the here and now, and that gives me great inspiration for how I can live my own life happier than it has been so far.

Thank you for this forum, and for letting me ramble on so long. Tears are streaming because I feel so glad to get this all out. Oddly enough, i do still love my grandmother. I'll never leave her alone with any child, but I forgive her for what she did to me. She is on antidepressants for the first time in her life, and has become a different person. I see now how much of her insanity was truly just that, chemical imbalance that is behind most insanity. What she did to me was awful and it will probably take me a long time to move completely beyond it, but I have the rest of my life to myself, with no God horning in on my happiness.

And to all the Xtian trolls - I *know* my Bible, so don't tell me to read it. I won a Bible Bowl trivia contest against kids twice my age when I was 7. It's not that I don't know it, it's that I don't believe it. I'll let other members explain to you why it is so improbable; this story was personal and not theological. Again, to the webmaster and other ex-xtian members, thank you for letting me get this off my chest.

It's my Life

(Via Daphne)

I am 14 and I never knew what atheist meant. I thought it was something like communism and stuff like that =] I never really "believed in god" but my dear friend did and she took me to church on the rare occasions. I never liked it or understood the point. Mostly I went to the arts and crafts thing with the younger kids and made interesting things...

I remembered one time when I was around 7 or 8 I got worried for some reason (I don't remember if it was because I had done something wrong or if I was afraid I would be alone or something) and I asked my mom one night if bad people went to heaven and she said "everyone goes to heaven" I was intrigued by this idea and I kept asking things like what if they robbed a bank? What if they murdered someone? What if they murdered Everyone!? Same answer every time =]

My mom is an atheist and I like it that way. I like it at my house because I'm pretty sure if I wanted to go to church every Sunday my mom would have driven me there. If I wanted to be a Hindu she'd support me all the way. I think every parents should be like that. Let the kids decide when they're old enough if they want to go to church or not or if they want to be Muslim and pray everyday.

I am proud to have no religion. I'm gonna make up my own scientific one with the big bang theory and evolution... I guess that's just the same thing as science though... A couple of my friends are worried that I wont get to go to heaven with them and I tell them what my mom told me..."Everyone goes to Heaven" XD

Atheism not Porn

(Via Susan)

I was an "active" member of our fading Southern Baptist Church back in the 1970's. It pleased my mom to no end that I attended Sunday service (twice) and Wednesday night service. As I said the church was fading, very few young people and about 200 old people (mostly women). I kept my nose clean, mumbled along with others, played piano for some of the Sunday school classes, and just tried to fit in (and stand out, as I am an outgoing person). I was interested in cults (still am)and never ever heard of someone not being a believer in God in some way or form.

As I got older I started to question why I did not seem to feel the same euphoria and blessings that others did. I prayed all the time asking Jesus to show me a sign that he was listening to me. I pretended to hear God talk to me, and even got Baptized (never had it done all these long years). I was SURE that after the Baptism I would "feel" something, but nothing ever happened. I had no thoughts of skepticism, or Atheism or actually anything but wanting to experience what everyone else was experiencing.

It came to a head when our pastor asked everyone to wear these little buttons that said, "I've Found It!" (I think they were green). I did not want to wear it because I had not "found it" I was still looking for it (check behind the couch I can hear you yelling). I found all kinds of excuses for not wearing it, my pastor kept asking me why I kept forgetting it or losing it, finally after he had given me several I just knew something was wrong with me. The program finally faded and they stopped wearing them, but it had already forced me to face the reality that I was having trouble believing.

I wish I could remember where I heard about Atheism, I must have been about 17, but it was profound. The idea that people did not believe! Wow! I could not discuss this with my mother (My dad was an nonpracticing Catholic, and we never talked about religion). We did not have that kind of relationship. I wish now I had gone to my Dad, he used to read the Bible and my mom told me much later that she feared he was a non-believer. One of my mom's greatest fears when my dad was alive was that he was going to hell, as a teenager I had serious problems with this, and did not like this option for my dad who seemed to be a "moral" person.

Anyway, somehow I got a hold of the word Atheist, I do remember looking it up in the Encyclopedia (we didn't have the Internet back then folks) I went to the library and found Madeline Murry's book "Why I am an Atheist". That was jaw-dropping in my world. I checked that book out several times (always sneaking it between other books I was checking out so the library staff didn't notice). Thankfully my sister had moved out by this time so I had a room to myself, imagine me sneaking this book into my room, hiding it in my closet. Then sneaking peeks at in while still in the closet, I was afraid my mom would find it if I left it in my bed. I have no doubt that it would have been horrible for me if found, I can't imagine my mom finding porn or having to chose between the two as the most horrible. I guess I could have said that the Atheist book was for a school project, but if she didn't believe me I would have been in big trouble (I don't even want to think about it).

Somehow I grew up and managed to get a hold of other writings, and selected the term "Agnostic" to reflect my beliefs. I didn't want to make waves, and this sounded so much better, also most people didn't know what it meant. I started trying out my new beliefs on select people, and did okay. Much later I came out as an Atheist. My mom found out somehow, I was a mother and living with my then husband at the time, independent of her. I talked to her about some of the problems with the Bible, and she got upset for attacking her and her religion (its never okay to do that, but always okay to attack Atheists in their mind). In fairness to her, she had never had her beliefs challenged (I suppose) everyone was always a Christian or a non-Christian never a non-believer.

As a new mom I toyed with the idea of making my kids more "moral" and sending them to Church. My non-religious husband who never took a stand on anything said that he had turned out okay, so why make our children attend church. Very good decision. My sons are now 20 and 17, very much atheists. I read whatever I want now, and my kids and I discuss all kinds of topics.

I became friends with my mom about 6 years ago, we spent quite a lot of time together, never best friends, just her closest friend. We never discuss religion, but avoid that topic. One year at a fair she went up to a booth for Women's Right to Choice and told them, "good job" and bought a button from them. I was so proud I had no idea how she felt about that issue.

The last 3 years my mom's health is fading, I moved her into my home, and took over her care. Her quality of life improved a lot (socially) and she was the queen of our household. Today, she is 85 and dying at a rest home. She had been in and out of the hospital and rest home, we always hoped she would come back to us, but the doctor said to prepare ourselves. Her body is just giving up, she was so active and alive. But I am not sad, I know I did the right thing in giving her these last few years.

My siblings may experience guilt after she dies (for not spending enough quality time with her) but I don't. I made YouTube videos of her, and put her in our family Christmas photos, we even had a neighborhood Christmas party at my home last year so she could socialize with everyone. If my kids do the same for me when the time comes I will be very happy. My best friend, (a Creationist Christian) has told me on two occasions that she thinks I'm one of the moralist people she knows. She even told all her church friends that she can't understand how I can be an Atheist. "Too bad", she says that "I'm still going to hell". Fine with me, at least I can hang out with my dad.

Now I find myself planning her religious funeral, am in the process of talking to Pastors, and writing her obit. Her church friends (probably don't know) that I'm a foaming at the mouth Atheist, I will not disrespect them and her by making my feelings known. But I bet I will get some interesting comments on my Christian attributes once they pay their respects in a few weeks.

I have not read any of the other "coming-out" stories yet. Wanted to get mine in before being influenced by other stories. Looking forward to reading them today

there and back again

(Via George Evans)

I was raised in the middle part of the last century in a small town in remote rural Missouri. I wanted to be part of the community, so I joined the church when I was eight or nine. (We had attended services faithfully for my whole life). As I grew older, things didn't add up, though. How come there were all these different brands of faith, all claiming to be the one true faith? How come things were such a piece of shit at home? I grew outspokenly skeptical, and soon I was labeled as the village atheist; as a teenager squadrons of churchgoers would appear at my door to convert me whenever a roving evangelist hit town. It seemed funny at the time.

About the time I finished high school, though, my life went through a period of crisis. My girl dumped me, I was into a lot of sixties stuff, and the Jesus freaks were in town. The Jesus freaks included some people who I had thought of as cool, and joining them seemed like a way to shut down mentally and let someone else do my thinking for a while. So I did. Not wanting to do anything for halfhearted or insincere motives, I brought myself to be the most sincere, committed, heartfelt, Jesus freak that I could be. I moved into a commune, started prayer groups (that, sadly, continue to this day) and evangelized on the streets, converting many of my friends. Years went by, and my fervor (i.e., fanaticism) only increased. Then, my family physician persuaded me to go to medical school. He had known me as a bright young man, and he thought I would make a good physician.

At his suggestion, I went back to college to take an undergraduate degree, but soon I found things that were deeply disturbing to my faith. The first of these was when I took zoology, and we dissected the fetal pig. During the examination of the surface anatomy, I was stunned to see that our (female) fetal pig had a clitoris! I knew that the only function of the clitoris was to give sexual pleasure- but only humans needed a clitoris, since we were the only animals who had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so only humans had free will. Animals had sex out of instinct, not by choice; yet the undeniable presence of the porcine clitoris suggested that animals acted from motives like our own.

As I continued my studies I encountered over and over evidence that challenged what I had been taught about my faith. In physical chemistry and cell physiology I learned that living things weren't anything but bags of chemicals that obeyed the same laws as non-living systems. Comparative anatomy showed how much more likely it was that widely different creatures had evolved from common creatures over time, since they were so similar (and would work so much better with a few design changes; e.g., the human sinus system). Studies of the laws of thermodynamics showed that it was inevitable that complex systems would arise from simple systems, just as eddies flow upstream in a river's overall downstream movement, entropy increasing in the total system. I don't remember any sudden moment when I realized that I had been transformed from a religious zealot into an atheist, but gradually my faith evaporated. What remained has been a source of confidence and peace. Life has only the meaning we give to it. There is no permanence. We are grass. I've found this enormously liberating, but also somewhat isolating, since there are so few that share this outlook.