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What Convinced Me — And You

Greta Christina wants to hear the stories of those who left Christianity. So here’s mine. First, a little background. My father is an atheist. My mother was a sort of vague, new agey “there’s something out there greater than us” kind of theist. And when my parents divorced when I was 8, I went to live with my father, who remarried a couple years later to a Christian. And he basically sold me down the river, agreeing that I would go to church with her (I say this jokingly; I’m actually glad he did it).

To make the first part of this long story shorter, I became a Christian before long. I was even one of the “core group” of the local Youth for Christ. And I really believed it. After all, I was surrounded by good people, authority figures, and they wouldn’t tell me something that wasn’t true, right? Everyone around me seemed to believe it and I just assumed that it must all be true.

And my father did not try to talk me out of it. He never even mentioned it. When I sang in church, as I often did, he would come to see me. But we never talked about the subject. I knew he was an atheist but he never tried to tell me why or make me question my faith. I asked him about it much later, after I’d deconverted, and he said, “I just figured that I had raised you to think for yourself and had given you the tools to do so, and eventually you’d figure it out.” And he was right.

The questions began at about 16 — shortly after I’d been baptized, ironically. I wasn’t baptized as a child, so I did it on my 16th birthday, in a swimming pool at the house of some friends who went to the same church. The place where that house sat is now a Walgreens. That church was a Methodist church, but this was right around the time my stepmother changed to the Assembly of God. I went with her for two weeks and decided that was way too crazy for me. But I think that’s actually what started me questioning things. There were such starkly different views even within Christianity, which meant there were other ways of thinking about the subject — something I really hadn’t considered up to that point.

I decided to go find my own church, foregoing both the Methodist and the Pentecostal churches I had been in. And I settled on a Church of Christ — to be honest, it was mostly because I knew the daughter of the pastor and thought she was cute. And it was at that church that I really began to ask questions, mostly of the youth pastor, who was not very well prepared to answer them. He kept referring me to books by apologists like Josh McDowell, whose answers just didn’t make a lot of sense for me. After several months of my annoying questions and his even more annoying inability to give reasonable answers to them, the youth pastor finally just gave up and said, essentially, “Go find out for yourself.”

So I did. At that age I was far more advanced in terms of my research ability than the average teenager because I competed in debate. The Western Michigan University library was like a second home to me, so I started looking for stuff to read about it — not the Josh McDowell stuff, real scholarship like Bruce Metzger’s work on the development of the New Testament and books by real scientists instead of creationists. And that was pretty much the end of Christianity for me. The whole process took less than a year and a half. By the time I graduated high school, I was a non-believer.

There wasn’t any great trauma in it for me, no dramatic cries to God to show himself to me. I started my research thinking that it would confirm my faith and it did the reverse. And that was okay with me. What mattered was that I was following the evidence where it led. The critical thinking skills that I had developed early on and that were strongly reinforced by my experience in competitive debate had prepared me for it; I just had to reach a point where I was mature enough to break away from the social setting that reinforced the false beliefs I had accepted.

So what was it that really did it for me? Science was a big part of it. Though the Methodist church is considered a relatively liberal denomination, the Christianity I was taught was fairly fundamentalist. The flood was a literally true story, as was the creation account in Genesis — and it all happened in the last 6,000 years. So when I learned that the evidence is strongly opposed to that idea, I had no fallback position. It was either true or it was not, and the evidence was very clearly on the side of science.

But it wasn’t just the historical evidence. One of the huge sticking points for me was the barbarism of the Old Testament god. This was one of the questions I kept asking my pastors and getting ridiculous answers to. I just could not reconcile the vile things allegedly commanded by God in the Old Testament with the notion that God is the source of morality. Why would God command, for example, that the sins of the father are not to be visited upon the children and then strike down David and Bathsheba’s child for their sin?

Probably the single biggest passage that did it for me was Numbers 31. This is the attack on the Midianites. The Israelites believed that two Midianite women had “tempted” two men to worship their god instead of Jehovah. As a result, Moses commanded — supposedly because God told him to do so — that all Midianites be slaughtered. Except for the virgin females, who were divided up among the soldiers as the spoils of war. And it occurred to me that this is something that even Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin didn’t do. Even Nazi Germany didn’t force the women they’d conquered to marry the men who had slaughtered their fathers and brothers. That’s how barbaric it was, it went beyond anything even the worst human beings would do. And this is the same being that supposedly commands us to love one another and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us? It just didn’t add up for me.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

Comments

  1. wscott says

    Side note: You often cite your debate training as having helped you develop your critical thinking skills. But my experience with debate (which were more limited than it sounds like yours were) was almost exactly the opposite. It wasn’t about determining which side was right; it was all about winning the argument, crafting a convincing argument to convince others (and yourself) that your predetermined position is correct, and then defending that position unto death. So I’d be curious what about your debate training was different and how you feel it helped you develop critical thinking skills, instead of just making you a better arguer?

  2. anandine says

    My parents were about like yours. God was not a topic of conversation in our house, so in the third grade, when Jessie whatsisname was fighting some other kid in the hall, and Mr. Smith, the principal, stepped in and asked what it was all about, The other kids said, “Jessie said I didn’t believe in God.” Mr. Smith said, “Now, Jessie, I’m sure everyone believes in God.”

    I wasn’t sure what this God he was talking about was, but I was pretty sure I didn’t believe in it, and now, 60 years and umpteen philosophy courses later, I see no reason to question that decision.

  3. says

    I remember clearly when I “got it.”
    I lived in a household where we got two daily papers and two weeklies — believe me, a rarity in the south Ga. town where I was raised. Anyway I read an article about some South American tribe that had recently been “discovered.” So I asked the SS* indoctrinator if people who had never heard of Jesus would go to hell. She replied that “everyone has heard about Jesus,” so I told her about the South American natives. She said that they would indeed go to hell if they had not accepted Jesus. Even at the age of 10 or so I realized that was a fucked up deal.
    Before that I’d been vaguely unsettled about the song that includes the words, “red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight” in a Southern Baptist church where racism against blacks was not even thinly veiled.

    * Sunday school

  4. says

    wscott wrote:

    Side note: You often cite your debate training as having helped you develop your critical thinking skills. But my experience with debate (which were more limited than it sounds like yours were) was almost exactly the opposite. It wasn’t about determining which side was right; it was all about winning the argument, crafting a convincing argument to convince others (and yourself) that your predetermined position is correct, and then defending that position unto death. So I’d be curious what about your debate training was different and how you feel it helped you develop critical thinking skills, instead of just making you a better arguer?

    For the same reason that law school helps you develop critical thinking skills even if those skills can also be used to defend false positions. You have to be able to distinguish between the game of debate, which does require you to defend opposite positions, and the real world where you should only defend positions you believe to be true. What you learn in debate, as in law school, is how to construct a logical argument, how to find the logical weaknesses in an argument and so forth. Those skills can, of course, be used for good or bad. But that has little to do with the fact that the activity does help you develop them.

  5. MikeMa says

    My best friend growing up was part of a devout catholic family. Church every Sunday, all the good holiday rituals, the works although no indoctrination aside from invites to holiday services at their church (oooh, pretty lights).

    My friend was one of the most academically gifted people I ever knew and we’d often stay up late arguing positions on all sorts of subjects. The only time I could consistently get the better of him was over religious dogma. He’d argue the ‘party line’ but I could tell his heart might want to believe but his mind wasn’t fooled. I had already moved from agnostic to the atheist precipice. His lack of conviction was what pushed me away from religion completely. Thanks buddy.

  6. says

    I can’t really contribute. Both my parents had been raised Catholic and gave it up before they got married. They’re pretty sure my aunt baptized me but that’s about it. So I’ve never believed in any gods or seen the need.

  7. says

    I gotta thank my mother, who prevented my father’s side of the family from dragging us into Catholicism. Her jokes about church and church-goers had us in stitches many a Sunday morning.

  8. Michael Heath says

    The evil a supposed god supposedly commands done in stories like Numbers 31 is near-infinitely closer to perfect goodness than the evil the Bible has God promising to do when he dispenses eternal punishment to some humans. Even if the set of condemned humans was a total population of merely one individual or one living thing capable of conscious suffering.

    That for me was the first conclusion the Bible’s primary premises was bullshit concocted by people who weren’t even all that bright, especially when it come to understanding infinity to the level a kid can understand. The first three clues which led this conclusion was:
    a) people procreating in spite of the unacceptably high odds that some of their progeny would be condemned to eternal punishment,
    b) claiming a holy, loving god who condemns even some innocents to eternal punishment – including the unborn or recently born,
    c) the sentence, eternal punishment, is near-infinitely worse than the summation of the most evil any one individual or all of humanity combined has ever committed, which relative to the sentence is near-infinitely closer to perfect goodness.

    It’s some combination of infantilism, nihilism, hatred, idiocy, and delusion for anyone to sincerely believe in a monotheistic/trinitarian god is who is moral and loving in spite of also believing God will dispense eternal punishment to even one living thing.

  9. says

    For me it was the hypocrisy of many of the people I went to church that got me. I went to Christian schools all of my life except for a brief two year period where I went to public school and the way my fellow students treated each other, and later acted in high school in regards to sex, alcohol and drugs, really bugged me. I had few problems with sex, alcohol and drugs, unless you indulged on the weekends and after school while standing up in front of your school and to give a talk on sober living and how you proclaimed to resist temptation with God’s help. The hypocrisy was so thick that one of the people I respected most in high school was a girl in the class a year behind me who was an unrepentant sinner and athiest, happily indulging in her boyfriend, pot and booze, but at least she was honest and upfront about it, not trying to hide it or be something she wasn’t. This grew worse the older I got and was exposed to more of the church, including some abuses, as well as religion as a whole.

  10. says

    I was raised Cath-O-Lick and considering childhood abuse at the hands of a great uncle and being cursed at by the monsignor of my parish when I was eleven or twelve, I’m just surprised it took so long to shuck that jive.

    Several of my siblings are more than a bit devout, but as long as we don’t discuss religion or politics we get along fine. It’s not worth ruining an evening for a bunch of people to HAVE to be right. This doesn’t mean I won’t drop all pretense of civility if they say something egregious.

  11. says

    Except for the virgin females, who were divided up among the soldiers as the spoils of war. …That’s how barbaric it was, it went beyond anything even the worst human beings would do.

    This is sort of beside the point, but that kind of behavior was not exactly rare over the course of ancient history.

    God just so happened to command the Israelites to do what stronger tribes have always been inclined to do to weaker tribes. What a faker!

  12. Aquaria says

    I didn’t grow up in a super-religious family. After my parents divorced, my mother had all of us move in with my grandparents, and they never attended church. Never. My mother was more…influenced…by her peers and would take us to church every now and then. It was always a disaster. I think I’ve told the story about biting the preacher when he touched me. Just a hand on my shoulder, but I hated him and was terrified of him. The thought of him touching me freaked me out. So I bit him, and ended up hating him more than ever. My opinion of preachers would never recover, really.

    Since I was living in East Texas, though, I considered myself a Christian, by the barest of threads. Everyone was Christian. So I must be one…right?

    When we moved to Tyler, it was just after the desegregation order, and the school districts were drawn a little crazily. There was a school close enough for us to walk to, but we were bussed to a dangerous neighborhood several miles away. There were people buying and selling drugs right outside the campus, hookers walking home in the morning after being on the stroll all night, knives and guns–on an elementary school campus! The school was just terrible, academically, too. So my mother put us in a Lutheran school. If only she knew…

    Every morning, we had religion class. We also had homework to read X number of chapters of the Bible every day (it varied). This was really stupid, because someone like me would actually read it. And I was starting to get the idea around Genesis 5, that God was nuts.

    Not long into the school year, I was doing the assignment from the religion text book. It was about the Ten Commandments, and I’d finished, but had noticed that there were notes to an Appendix in the back, for further reading. I flipped back, because sometimes stuff was in there that we’d be covering later. That’s when something there made me pause: The reason not to have any other gods before YHWH was because he was a jealous god, and gave the reference, Exodus 34:14. I’d paused because, all my life, I’d been told, or witnessed other children being told, not to be jealous of what other kids had, that it was wrong to be jealous. But here was a religion book telling me that God was jealous. And God wouldn’t be bad or wrong…would he?

    I decided to look up Exodus 34:14, and it confirmed what the book said. I didn’t know what to think. What was in my head scared me. I asked my mom: “Jealousy is wrong right?” “You know it is. I’ve told you that, lots of times.” “It’s always wrong?” “Always.” “There’s never a time when it’s right?” “What have you done?’ “Mom! I’m serious! Is there ever a time when it’s right.” “No, never!” “So people who are jealous are wrong, right?” “Yes–Look, I’m busy–” “But it says here that God is jealous. Doesn’t that mean God is wrong?”

    I got a smack and told not to say that ever again.

    I asked at school. I got told that god isn’t bad, ever, and I got detention for two weeks. But the nagging question was always there: Is God wrong?

    Six months later, my mother started dating an atheist. She would marry him, eventually. But in the meantime, I had no idea what an atheist was. He told me.

    “You’re not afraid of God?”
    “I can’t be afraid of what’s not there. Have you seen him? I haven’t!”
    “You don’t think he will send you to hell?”
    “He’s probably not real, so hell probably isn’t real, either.”

    Everything you could throw at him, he had an answer for, stuff that made everything I’d ever been told look…stupid. And crazy.

    This was electrifying stuff. This was someone who might understand why Exodus 34:14 bothered me. So I showed him my homework book and the passage, and told him why I was bothered by it, and all that had happened when I asked about it. He told me that I had been right to ask, and that it had been wrong for people to be upset with me for asking–quiet, Aquaria Mom. He also explained a lot about contradictions and hypocrisy. Then I was pointing out other things that had been bothering me, and he could explain all that, too.

    He told me something I’ll never forget: But don’t take my word for it. Question everything. Never take anyone else’s word for it!”

    With that, I looked at the bible with new eyes. I started over at the beginning, and “read harder”, as I’d called it, then questioning, double-checking, looking up, and often being horrified at what I was reading.

    I was an atheist by the age of 12.

  13. says

    For me, I didn’t go straight from Catholicism to atheism. But what turned me away from my religion was frequent readings of the Bible where I noticed that the god mentioned therein repeatedly engaged in activities that would be considered immoral or a crime if done by humans. I realized that it was a human invented god and I could no longer believe in it. I did believe in a personal god after that for a while longer, until eventually I came to the conclusion that no one was listening.

  14. karawalker says

    I grew up in a pretty strong Christian home and did the whole “asking Jesus into your heart” thing at the age of 5 (which looking back on it now, is utterly stupid…I was simply doing what I thought my parents wanted me to do as most kids that age). We did the whole going to church every Sunday thing. When I got to be high school age I decided that the church I was attending with my parents wasn’t doing anything for me and I wanted to go somewhere else that I liked and felt like I actually got something out of. My mom protested as she felt church was a “family thing.” I thought it was stupid b/c I felt like I was actively trying to understand Christianity and what is taught and I wasn’t anything from my current church.

    Anyway, when I turned 18 and moved from WA state to Indiana for college that’s when I stopped going to church. Then I found myself somewhere in that crazy college experience and realized I was gay. This was probably the start of what made me walk away from Christianity. I didn’t agree with the way most people I knew who were Christian interpreted the passages in the bible relating to homosexuality. I started to realized that the Bible is really just an ancient book written by man and translated who knows how many times over who knows how many thousands of years. I just couldn’t believe in the Bible anymore or anything it said. I couldn’t believe in organized religion at that point because I’ve seen it do more harm then good. That’s not to say that there aren’t great churches out there who I truly feel exemplify that love and compassion aspect of Christianity, but I just didn’t want to be part of the organization anymore. I still believe there are some great stories in the Bible and yes it has some great lessons, but that’s where it stops. I still believe in a creator of some sort, a higher power, call it whatever you want. I don’t know if I believe in the Christian God necessarily, but I believe that something is out there.

    I think even if the whole gay thing hadn’t come up, I would have still found myself where I am. Church and the whole religion thing just never felt like it fit to me. I’d go and see people moved enough to lift up their hands to God or what not, but I never got that out of it. Frankly, I always found it to be a bit corny. I also don’t know how the whole religion thing stuck with my three other siblings, but never stuck with me.

  15. says

    My story is boring. I was raised Episcopalian by a mom who probably made us go to church more for the social aspects than anything else. I do not recall ever truly believing in God. I learned from a very early age that God doesn’t perform miracles or answer prayers or talk to you no matter how nicely and fervently you ask him. If he exists he does not appear to care about you at all, which is the opposite of what you’re taught. I also had a hard time making sense of the stories we’d learn in Sunday school. I recall once asking my mom how the whole Adam and Eve thing could be reconciled with the existence of dinosaurs. I got a very unsatisfactory answer about a “day” in the Bible possibly being millions of years long, which even she didn’t seem to find convincing.

    I continued being nominally Christian but not thinking much about it until I was about 15, and started learning science, and then decided that the whole thing was for the birds. It was not a particularly difficult or heart-rending process. But it was somewhat liberating.

  16. says

    @ karawalker

    “I grew up in a pretty strong Christian home and did the whole ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ thing at the age of 5 (which looking back on it now, is utterly stupid …”

    I did that at 15 after I had realized religion was all a sham. Here’s why. My mom was giving my dad such grief over the issue that he promised to buy me a car on my 16th birthday if I went through the baptism bullshit. Which he did. Well, actually I was a few months shy of 16 when I got the car.

  17. Ben P says

    I don’t know that I have a really clear personal philosophy re: religion. I’m obviously not a religious person otherwise I wouldn’t come here a lot. I’m pretty rational and I have a strong distrust of fundamentalists of all stripes, but on the other hand, I had a professor for several classes in college who was both a Methodist pastor and a practicing zen buddhist (and had actually studied Buddhism seriously at a Monastery in Japan for a period of time) whose worldview I admire quite a bit.

    As for my story. I grew up in a Lutheran family, although nobody was terribly religious when I was young. (the Christmas/Easter sort). We also moved a lot for a number of years so maybe it’s just that there were no churches that made an impression on me.

    My dad was not quite an atheist, but was a physicist by training and came from a family of scientists and engineers so I learned a lot of science at a young age that really kept me from believing wholly in the fairy tales we got in Sunday school.

    However, at some point my mom became involved in more fundamentalist Christianity reading and watching things like “prophecy in the news,” and picking up a lot of crazy YEC views. I ended up going to a church of Christ high school, which in this area is a step more conservative than the southern baptists and go so far as believing that even anyone who practices infant baptism isn’t a “true christian.” (thereby excluding most mainstream denominations). We got a lot of apolgist stuff, but it’s pretty easy to see the massive holes in those arguments if you don’t approach them with the view that the underlying premise is true and they’re just justifying it.

    Once I graduated and went to college, I never really made any conscious choice about rejecting that belief, but I drifted away from that crowd pretty quickly. (which frankly wasn’t hard because it seems the average expectation was that you’d be married and having kids by 20, so not a lot of them stuck with the college crowd).

  18. says

    I should also add that seeing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell spew crazy shit on the TV when I was a teen also did a lot to convince me that religion was false. Way to go, guys!

  19. ouabache says

    So what was it that really did it for me? Science was a big part of it. Though the Methodist church is considered a relatively liberal denomination, the Christianity I was taught was fairly fundamentalist. The flood was a literally true story, as was the creation account in Genesis — and it all happened in the last 6,000 years. So when I learned that the evidence is strongly opposed to that idea, I had no fallback position. It was either true or it was not, and the evidence was very clearly on the side of science.

    I might as well have written those words myself. I grew up in a Free Methodist church and had the same experience. The church’s official positions are very different from what is taught from the pulpit. My deconversion was identical to yours. I went searching after science and found the claims of Christianity to be lacking. Even read a couple of Josh McDowell books before finally giving up on whole thing. I should go reread some of his books to remind myself how awful his theology is.

  20. wscott says

    You have to be able to distinguish between the game of debate, which does require you to defend opposite positions, and the real world where you should only defend positions you believe to be true.
    Thanks for the response. I’m afraid my debate experiences emphasized the former to the exclusion of the latter.

  21. Vall says

    I see many similarities with these stories and my own. My parents weren’t strongly religious and by the time I was 8 or so we really never went to church.

    Karawalker @14 mentioned asking Jesus into your heart. I remember when I did that as a kid, I was disappointed because nothing happened.

    Not being forced to go to church is probably what saved me. That, and being able to tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Even as a kid I knew that if a god wrote a book, it would be better than the bible.

    After high school I joined the Navy. There is a lot of paperwork in boot camp. It’s not all push-ups and eight-count body builders by the hundred. Anyway, faced with the religion form, there were boxes to check for just about all of them, including “none.” So that is the one I checked.

  22. The Christian Cynic says

    The Western Michigan University library was like a second home to me, so I started looking for stuff to read about it — not the Josh McDowell stuff, real scholarship like Bruce Metzger’s work on the development of the New Testament and books by real scientists instead of creationists.

    I’m not familiar with the late Dr. Metzger’s work except indirectly through the writings of Christian apologists like Lee Strobel, but I’m curious as to what in his writings made you start questioning. Everything I’ve read about him (and again, my info is all secondary) has led me to believe that Metzger largely affirmed the accuracy and authenticity of the New Testament writ large and that it was his protegé Bart Ehrman who took his textual criticism to more – shall we say – skeptical conclusions. I recognize that I might not be getting the full picture, though, which is why I ask the question.

  23. The Christian Cynic says

    Vall @23:

    I’ve been reading these over the last few days. I haven’t seen “angry at God” yet.

    I would be surprised if you saw any of these responses, for several reasons: 1) I genuinely think that there are very few atheists out there who deconverted for such reasons, 2) it is unlikely that such people would hang out around FTB, and 3) if there are any around here, they are not likely to pipe up about it because they would receive an intense amount of scrutiny (except maybe – maybe – if they were a regular commenter). So while I don’t think that this is a common reason for deconversion, self-selection bias would be as likely a candidate for the absence of such responses as the actual absence of people with that reason.

  24. Pinky says

    As a child I was like a lawn mower with a fresh, clean spark plug that would not run (although on a few pulls of the cord it sounds like it will catch) because the fuel is too contaminated.

    Life made better sense without the contamination of religious dogma.

  25. says

    I grew up with my nose buried in science books and regular trips to a science museum. When I was eight, the idea that you couldn’t know things without evidence was pretty ingrained in my head, and I realized that I had indirect evidence of Santa Claus, but none of any kind of miracle.
    Oh, and about half a year earlier, I’d stumbled onto the problem of evil on my own and received a thoroughly unsatisfying answer.

  26. dingojack says

    Vall – allow me to quote Aquaria (#12):

    “You’re not afraid of God?”
    “I can’t be afraid of what’s not there. Have you seen him? I haven’t!”
    “You don’t think he will send you to hell?”
    “He’s probably not real, so hell probably isn’t real, either.”

    Angry with god? Why would I feel angry toward a fictional character?*
    Dingo
    —–
    * Angry at the evil done by the adherents of god(s), sure, unfortunately that is very real indeed!

  27. Vall says

    Dingo hit it right on. That was kinda my point. I don’t think that person exists, but I’ve been told to my face that “angry with god” is the REAL reason. I respond, no, I’m not mad at Santa either.

    TheChristian Cynic has a list of reasons why that person hasn’t commented here. One reason not in that list is that “angry with god” person doesn’t exist. I think even soft christians believe all atheists are mad at god. Remember, you can’t spell believers without lies and evil.

  28. Freeman says

    I walked away from organized religion as soon as I got out on my own, and never looked back. I grew up in a fundie family, church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday, Christian schools, the whole works. My parents are still very active in the church (Dad is an elder and treasurer) and my little brother teaches at a Christian university.

    I grew up on a literary diet of “Sugar Creek Gang” books and Jack Chick style tracts (one in particular I recall denied the existence of dinosaurs), which my parents unquestionably accepted and encouraged me to do as well. Of course I couldn’t just blindly accept what I was being told in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    A huge turning point for me happened after a Sunday evening service in my mid-teens. Some guy I’d never heard of was making the rounds speaking at churches, claiming to be a famous ex-rock-star that came to Jesus. He played a couple of 2-string chords real loud (scaring all the blue-haired ladies and causing me and my brother to stifle giggles), short unfamiliar riffs, to cement his ‘authenticity’ with the crowd, and went on to tell us that rock and roll was Satan’s evil music designed to subvert the youth. He said he had attended Black Masses at record pressing plants where Satan-worshipers cast demons into the vinyl. He claimed to have led record-burnings all around the country and that it was not uncommon to hear the screams of demons being released from the vinyl as the records burned. No Shit. And people actually believed it and scheduled a burning for the next Wednesday night meeting. My parents were sane enough not to take us to the burning, but they did go through our record collections and tossed out a couple of my brother’s Carpenters(!!!) albums because they had cover songs of the Beatles(!!!) on them (Help! and Ticket To Ride). No Shit. That experience sent up huge red flags for me.

    My parents are not insane or stupid by any measure, but to me this reaction to that ‘sermon’ was both. To see first-hand how actively practicing blind-faith acceptance of the unprovable and unfalsifiable on a highly regular basis can, out of sheer habit, lead sane, intelligent people to the blind-faith acceptance of other things they so obviously should be questioning, convinced me that organized religion can be dangerous and unhealthy to it’s participants. I mean c’mon, if you’ll fall so hard for something as crazy as that, what won’t you fall for? All one has to do is frame their message in such a way that they’re telling you something that you already want to hear, and anything that supports that gets swallowed up hook, line, and sinker right along with it, no matter how crazy or unlikely.

    The other thing was all the scandals. We were regularly changing churches because some scandal would inevitably come up every few years, always involving sex or money. Organized religion is well-attended by hypocrites, and I’d rather not be part of that crowd.

  29. martinc says

    My parents were both hard-core Catholics: they led the singing at Mass, they did readings, they were on committees. They first met each other at the Aquinas Academy, and we had books by Aquinas and Teilhard de Chardin on the proofs of God on the shelves at home.

    About age 12, it just occurred to me that the way we were learning things in school, where we’d not only learn facts but also how to analyse whether information was true, was the opposite of what we did in religion class, where we were encouraged to just accept and not question. I began to question what we were spoon-fed.

    That was enough. Simply getting to the point where I could question God’s existence at all led me to atheism: the complete absence of evidence made it clear there simply wasn’t a God. In addition, I was reading a lot of science books, and the picture they showed of the universe having underlying structures that made things LOOK designed when they weren’t certainly helped.

    I wasn’t courageous enough to come out and say “I’m an atheist” (my 12yo cousin on the morning of her confirmation told her mother “Mum, I don’t believe God exists. Are we going to go through with this farce?” and that was the end of it), but eventually my parents became aware of my views. They dealt with it by pretending it hadn’t happened, or that it might be a phase I was going through and would go away. My mother insisted that if I were going to live in her house, I had to go to church. This led to the sort of farce my cousin avoided: each Sunday I would get up early to go to the early Mass, ride my bike around the shops for an hour and come home. Mum occasionally asked which priest had conducted Mass, and I’d pick a name at random. Eventually I named a priest who was away that week, and got in trouble. After that the weekly cycling hour still continued, but now I would stop by the church, peek in, and remember the priest.

    This of course didn’t fool my mother for a minute, but somehow she seemed to think that forcing me to do that much was Catholic enough. After a few years, she realised it wasn’t a phase, and without ever addressing the issue I stopped going to Mass. Apart from funerals, I have not been back since.

    I completed 13 years of Catholic schooling without ever having the intellectual courage to stand up and announce my lack of faith to the faithful around me. Occasionally I’d make some comment that would make other kids realise I didn’t believe, but the other kids were NOT hardcore Catholics: they were just kids who had never thought to question the whole ethos their parents and community had presented to them. They weren’t more moral than me (in fact probably worse on average) and they knew far less about Catholicism and Christianity than I did.

    My brother and my sister and I are all atheists. My mother still leads the singing at Mass, but she’s admitted to me recently that she no longer really believes; she just goes for the community aspects.

  30. The Christian Cynic says

    TheChristian Cynic has a list of reasons why that person hasn’t commented here. One reason not in that list is that “angry with god” person doesn’t exist.

    That’s blatantly false – my first reason is that I think such a person is rare. (My other reasons were to suggest that the absence of such a person responding to this here is unlikely anyway even if such people exist.) I won’t say that such a person doesn’t exist, though, because frankly, people of any ideological persuasion can be irrational, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a few such individuals. Also note that the question isn’t necessarily about atheists but about “non-believers in religion” (I used “atheist” above for convenience”), which seems to me gives some wiggle room that would allow this without major cognitive contortions.

    Remember, you can’t spell believers without lies and evil.

    I’m going to peeve for a moment: I think this kind of statement is immature and pointless. But additionally, it is almost trivially easy to disprove them; for instance, you could spell believer as creyente, credente, croyant, Gläubiger, etc. (You never specified “in English.”)

  31. dingojack says

    CC – actually you simply can’t spell ‘believer’ without ‘lies’ and ‘evil’, since ‘believer’ is the word you are trying to spell, and since that word, by definition, contains the subsets ‘lies’ and ‘evil’.
    The abstract concept known as a ‘believer’ however …
    :) Dingo

  32. Vall says

    I apologize if I’m not communicating clearly. My remark about believers (with an “s”)was childish. It is a true statemt though. I realize with only 26 letters in english there will be funny combinations, like this one. So it isn’t as trivial to disprove as you think because it is fact. Creyente only has an e and an r in common so I don’t see your point. I concede inappropriate sidetrack and won’t bring it up again.

    On the “angry at god” matter, I would like to defend my position. Your first reason says that person is rare, not “doesn’t exist.” Those two things are not the same. Others here as well as myself have pointed out an atheist can’t be angry at something that doesn’t exist. So from my point of view, you are proving my point by not grasping it.

    I don’t want to push this too far because I don’t want to be the guy that argues the “definition” of atheism. So for civility sake, I’ll concede. I would like to see a post on your thoughts. What are your beliefs?

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