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What Convinced You? A Survey for Non-Believers

Change your mind
If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

Was there one particular argument or incident or experience? Or was it more of a general softening of the ground, with lots of different factors adding up?

And have you ever convinced a believer, or helped to convince a believer, that they were mistaken? If so, what was it you said or did that convinced them?

I’m asking because of a recent comment in this blog. In response to my Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God post, Nine commented:

I am often confronted with impatience when I begin to use the words “logic,” “reason,” and “evidence.” Theists argue, “you can’t use reason to explain everything, particularly God!” It’s senseless. It’s so senseless, I am often struck speechless by its senselessness. Lately, however, I stumbled upon this quote:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” –Galileo Gailiei

I feel like I have something to go on now, but how do you respond to this rejection of logic and reason in general?

A fair question, and one that in recent weeks has been much on my mind. How do you debate, or try to convince, or in any way engage in fruitful discussion, with someone who doesn’t value reason and evidence and doesn’t find them convincing?

Brain_with_symbols
My usual response is to point out the limitations of irrational intuition; to acknowledge its importance in human experience, but point out that it’s really only valid for matters of opinion and subjective experience, and that logic and evidence are demonstrably better tools for understanding questions of what is or is not objectively true in the real world. (Questions such as — oh, I don’t know, just for one example — God’s existence or lack thereof.)

In other words, when a theist says “you can’t use reason to explain everything, particularly God!”, my response is, “Why not? We use reason and evidence to explain everything else about what is and isn’t true in the real world. Why shouldn’t God be included?” (With the possible addendum that, “The only reason you think your faith shouldn’t have to be supported by reason or evidence is that… well, that it isn’t supported by reason or evidence.” A topic for another day.)

You can't change my mind
But of course, this point is itself an argument based on reason and evidence. And therefore, it’s not likely to convince someone who already thinks reason and evidence don’t prove anything. And Nine is right — it is completely frustrating to debate someone who knows their belief isn’t rational and just doesn’t care. (Almost as frustrating as it is to debate a believer who’s convinced that their belief really is rational.) I’ve written about this before: religion has at its disposal a large number of powerful defensive tropes, defending it not just against criticism but against the very idea that criticism is legitimate, with circular reasoning that’s very aggravating to an outsider but that at the same time makes it stubbornly resistant to change.

And yet…

Most atheists and other non-believers were, at one time, religious believers.

Including me.

And we got over it.

How did that happen?

Armor
How did our armor get penetrated? How did it happen that our rationalizations — either convincing ourselves that we were being reasonable, or that it didn’t matter that we weren’t being reasonable — became visible to us, and no longer acceptable?

One of the reasons I so stubbornly persist in making argument after argument against religion — apart from the fact that I’m having barrels of fun with it — is that I was myself persuaded to abandon my religious beliefs by good, rational arguments. Or at least, I was persuaded to seriously question my religious beliefs by good, rational arguments. So I know that, at least sometimes, it can work. And while I don’t know if my own arguments and debates have ever convinced any particular person I was debating with, I have heard people say — about both my blog and other atheist blogs — that being a lurker on the sidelines of these debates has made them rethink their own beliefs.

So I guess this is my market research, my focus group. I want to know what works and what doesn’t.

So I’ll ask again: If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

And if you’ve ever convinced a believer, or helped to convince a believer, that they were mistaken, what was it you said or did that convinced them?

Skeptical inquirer
I’ll get the ball rolling. For me, letting go of my belief in the supernatural was a long process. But it started when, almost by accident, I started reading Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I’d seen arguments against spiritual beliefs before — I was a religion major, for Loki’s sake. But the fact that the S.I. folks took spiritual beliefs and subjected them, not only to argument and logic, but to rigorous, carefully controlled, scientific testing… that was a big deal.

It’s not that they disproved any particular strong belief of mine. I didn’t believe in astrology, or faith healing, or hardly any of the specific beliefs they putting to the test. But their work took religious belief out of the realm of “things you can never be sure about one way or the other, so it’s therefore okay to believe whatever seems to make sense to you” — and put it squarely in the realm of “things that are either true or not true.” And it gave me tools for critical thinking as well: a better idea of what did and didn’t constitute a good argument, and an increasingly improved nose for bullshit.

And it did it over, and over, and over again. Calmly, and reasonably, and relentlessly.

Bell brain cut
So there was no one argument that de-converted me. But there was definitely a body of argument that softened the ground, made my belief a lot less deep and a lot less certain. And so when I had my big Your Consciousness Is A Product Of Your Brain experience — in my case, going under general anesthesia — I had a whole new context to put the experience in. A context that was a lot more consistent than my spiritual beliefs… and that didn’t require any of the rationalization and evasion and flinching away from the evidence that I’d been doing to support those beliefs.

(This is a fairly quickie summary, btw. If you’re curious and want to read about my deconversion in more detail, you can do so in my How I Became an Atheist, Why I Became an Atheist series.)

So I think this is why I’m so attached to making and pursuing atheist arguments. I don’t know if any one atheist can persuade any one believer during any one argument. But I know that lots of atheists making lots of arguments over a period of time can, at the very least, make a dent. And for me, the very fact of religion and spirituality being explored as questions of fact that can be rationally debated and supported or contradicted by evidence… that made a huge difference.

But that’s just what worked for me.

And so now I’m back to my question:

What worked for you?

If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

And if you’ve ever convinced a believer, or helped to convince a believer, that they were mistaken, what was it you said or did that convinced them?

And if any of my arguments helped any of you change your mind and let go of your religious beliefs… please, for the love of all that is beautiful in this world, will you tell me what they were? I’m dying to know.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t think anything ever changed my mind. I went for about 15 years, off and on studying and trying to practise different religions to see if I could find one that was a fit. However, I always found at least one aspect that made the religion unbelivable.
    I liked the compassion part of christianity, but not the people. I liked the natural aspect of wicca, but not the idea of gods that, being forces of nature, were too capricious to merit worship. I liked the mood of taoism, but not the reliance on simplicity. I liked the creator god is evil or stupid part of gnosticism, but had trouble with the aspect that life was the fake reality.
    Eventually, I just realized that I didn’t believe any of it, and no religion could make me a better person than my honest search did. That search translated perfectly to secular humanism.

  2. John B Hodges says

    I did help to convince at least one person that Jesus was not the son of God; I know this because they commented on an essay of mine in their blog. The essay was about the ethics of Jesus; I went through the four gospels and collected everything Jesus was reported to say about what we should DO, and abstain from doing. I found that there was an underlying logic to it; see the essay at http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/JesusEthics.htm
    In my own case, from age 17 to 27 I went through a series of religions, starting with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and ending with a Hindu sect called Ananda Marga. I followed the guru of Ananda Marga for five years, and ultimately concluded he was faking it and left. Losing my faith was like losing a leg; I looked for another religion to believe in for three years , but I wanted one that could give solid evidence of its truth, and none could. Against my will, the feeling began to grow in my gut that I wasn’t GOING to find one that could offer solid evidence; I was slipping into agnosticism. Atheism was a serious possibility, so I went to the local University Library and checked out some books to refresh my memory (I was an atheist in my ‘teens as a side-effect of being an Objectivist.) The arguments were impressive, so I returned to atheism at age 30 and have been learning more about it ever since then.

  3. says

    Although I used to be a Christian, the main argument that has always bothered me was the injustice of divine judgement – Someone makes the world and everything in it, then gets His knickers in a twist when some of it doesn’t turn out as He wanted.
    I managed to mostly ignore this problem while attending church, until I went on a youth group holiday. The sheer quantity of preaching I was subjected to during this time bored, puzzled and frustrated me in equal measure. I still didn’t get any satisfactory answers, but I could no longer ignore the problem, so I drifted out of the church group in frustration.
    I don’t think my reasons were especially carefully considered or rational – I only discovered proper atheist arguments later – it was frustration and boredom that made me leave.
    Thanks for your post Greta, you’ve once again inspired me to write something related on my blog.

  4. ErinM says

    It was a slow development that began with a statement and ended with a question.
    The statement came from my Old Testament professor, when he said that we would analyze the text without bringing faith into our interpretations. Until that time, I had not imagined there was a difference between “faith” and “what the Bible said.” Eye opener.
    Everything I spouted by rote memory each Sunday then went under the microscope, and I was soon a Deist, where I lingered for five or six years.
    Then, seven or eight years ago on a Deist discussion board, someone countered every explanation of Deist philosophy with “But how do you know that?” until logic finally broke through that last, thin membrane of wishful thinking.
    It was “How do you know that?” that deconverted my husband, a deed for which he has never quite forgiven me.

  5. says

    I’m possibly the wrong person to be commenting, because I haven’t been convinced yet, but I keep reading atheist blogs on the basis that if there are arguments out there that will convince me then I jolly well want to hear them.
    The arguments that I find most difficult to reconcile myself to are the incompatabilities of different religions, and the question of how I can infer anything about how to live my life from a non-testable hypothesis.

  6. Eric says

    I decided to actually read the Bible from cover to cover. I admit, I was nowhere near an adamant believer. I believed in the divinity of Jesus, thought there was a god, a heaven, a hell and the like. But it wasn’t a major thing and I largely didn’t care. So I was curious what my religion actually said and what better way than reading its holy book, right? Naturally, I started with Genesis. I was disgusted. I could not accept that monster as God. The god I was taught about was a loving, caring god, not the monster portrayed in the OT. I out and out refused to worship such a being. I didn’t know what to call myself, but I knew I couldn’t be a Christian. Ever.
    I started reading a bit more about religious philosophies and I stumbled upon agnosticism. I wasn’t ready to call myself an atheist yet. But, agnostic, I could do that. The last couple of years I realized that even though I have agnostic leanings, I was an atheist. I was just too afraid to admit it to myself.
    As far as looking at other religions, I did, but none of them could overcome the burden of proof and I only assumed Christianity because that is what I was taught at an early age.

  7. Heather says

    It wasn’t an argument that persuaded me away from my faith, it was a series of emotional experiences. One of the primary benefits of religion espoused by believers and non-believers is comfort. In times of pain and stress and grief, the belief in a personal, benevolent, all powerful deity with a plan that will some how make it all ok someday is comforting. But I hit a time of extreme distress, and I prayed and turned searchingly to my faith and found… nothing. No comfort, no warm fuzzies. I felt my pain exactly as it would feel were there no caring deity there to help me with my suffering. That was the crack in the ice that led to me to look at the situation through the lens of reason.
    My first shift was to a belief that nothing about religion could be proved or disproved, and so the best way to judge religions was on their utility – how they help us have better lives. It was a very slow march from there to the conclusion that religion offered almost nothing I couldn’t have as good or better without the beliefs.

  8. Roi des Foux says

    My de-conversion was a two- step process. I was born and raised Episcopal Christian. Some time during my teenage years, I was starting to become troubled by the diversity of Christian beliefs. Some Christians were ok with homosexuality while others thought it was the single most horrible sin, some Christians were ok with pre-marital sex and others were only ok with post-marital sex if you didn’t enjoy yourself and were trying to get pregnant. I wondered what you had to believe to be Christian. When I was 17, I decided that the answers must be contained in the Bible, so for the first time in my life I sat down and started reading the Bible.
    Whoo boy.
    Before, I believed that God was good, and that God was described by the Bible. After reading only a single Gospel, I realized that those two beliefs were incompatible. I’d heard the readings in bits and pieces, and they had been troubling me for years, but I was always able to put them out of mind or rationalize them. Reading it all at once presented too large a problem for that tactic to work. I sat down with my priest and talked to him (mostly about Hell). Nothing he said was satisfactory, so I left Christianity, although I still believed in a good God.
    Step two took place a few months later. Over time I realized that the only reason I believed in God in the first place was because for my whole life, everyone around me had told me that God existed and I should worship him. I called myself an agnostic of a while, before admitting to myself that I really was an Atheist.

  9. Kirk says

    Well, for me, I grew up in an area of the country where evidence for the fact that the Earth is very old and wasn’t the same as it is now lies under my feet. You can go to some places and pick up crinoid fossils by the pound. And the key turning point was realizing as a teen that it’s inconsistent to point to Genesis and say “that’s metaphor an myth” while pointing to the resurrection of Christ and say “that’s a historic fact.”
    But in regards to the issue of logic of belief. I have to fall on the side of several other agnostic-atheists and say that I don’t find the a priori arguments against the existence of God to be compelling. I consider pragmatic materialism to be a reasonable default position, but I don’t feel there is an ironclad argument against religion.
    The best argument I make for my position is living well.

  10. says

    Well, it’s simple, really: I didn’t feel that there was a god, in my gut. When I was depressed and suicidal, I could never bring myself to do it, because I was never sure that there was an afterlife. Everything else I did – reading the Gospels, looking at the churches and their members to “know them by their fruits” – was almost an afterthought. There just isn’t anything about my life experiences that speaks to the existence of God, or anything else supernatural.

  11. says

    For as long as I can remember, I’d had questions about god/what I was supposed to believe as a Catholic. These were both logical and emotional problems I saw… why would a good god let x happen?… etc. I never liked the “part of god’s plan thing” because it seemed to me that there had to be some things bad enough to NOT be in his plan.
    I always thought/was told that questions like these would get answered, or at least easier to deal with, as I got older or as my faith got stronger. But they didn’t. I became incredibly religious after a “religious experience” early in high school, but after a brief period of forgetting about the questions, they bothered me more than ever. Because now I was SURE, 100%, that god was there, and that he was important to MY life. So now these questions weren’t just curiousities, they were pressing matters that kept me up at night.
    Slowly I became more frustrated by my own questions, and more angry about hypocrisy and intolerance in my own church. That led me away from Catholicism. The same process led me away from wishy washy non-denominationalism, which is where I went next. I spent maybe a year thinking “well, maybe there’s something, but I don’t particularly want to deal with the idea” before a new friend asked me what I believed. I couldn’t tell him, because I didn’t know. He was an atheist, a term that had always had bad connotations for me, but an idea that I honestly felt I could agree with.
    So I journaled. I read books. I hopped online, discovered atheist blogs. Eventually I realized how comfortable I was with this idea. It made sense, it didn’t keep me up at night, it seemed to be where I was always heading. It fit.
    And so here I am. Ex-crazycatholic, reader of an excessive amount of atheist blogs, member of a Non-theists club on campus. And very, very happy about how things turned out.

  12. says

    I was raised a Lutheran without much fuss; I even helped with the youth work for a couple of summers, but never came into contact with any theology beyond trace amounts.
    Then, over the years, I noticed that Erich von DÀniken, despite the entertaining nature of his alien stories, wasn’t someone to be taken seriously. Neither the ghost tales I so liked and that so many sources so credulously trumpeted: entertaining, sure, but not real. And miracle healing? Oh, please.
    Finally, when I was a healthy science-loving skeptic about quite all other things, I noticed I hadn’t thought about one: namely, God. Probably because I’d never really seen or heard of anyone beyond some nutbag French philosophers who didn’t believe in Him. (Her? It?)
    However, once I thought about it, such a creature seemed no better than the Cottingley fairies, homeopathy or Santa Claus. And thus, with a thought and a smile at my inattentiveness, I stopped believing in God.
    A few months later I bought the God Delusion and that was the last nail in His coffin.

  13. sterculius says

    For what it’s worth, I can honestly say that I never bought the religion concept.As a child, I found adults confusing. I couldn’t understand why they insisted in professing adherence to behavior and beliefs that struck me,in all innocence, as preposterous and without basis. For the longest time, I assumed that when I “grew up” all would become clear. Bottom line is that I never “grew up”. In fact, after I’d reached what I thought was chronological maturity, I had the nagging feeling that I was a sham and that everyone else knew something that had somehow eluded me, until I realized that other people had no problem accepting as true, concepts that I felt made no sense. Especially, in regard to religion, while it was clear to me that the emperor had no clothes, most people had no problem drinking the kool-aid, to mix metaphors. I was born into a nominally catholic family, and during the early 1940’s, when I was a child, the acceptance of religion was virtually universal so,I always felt like an intellectual maverick, and in many ways,I still do. While I would occasionally engage in conversations about religion with theists of varying stripes,it usually became apparent that logic was irrelevant to their beliefs, and that they would become uncomfortable and sometimes even unstable upon being encouraged to employ reason on such an emotionally charged topic. Often, I felt that their dependence upon their religious convictions was such that I would be doing them a disservice by disabusing them of their illusions if I were successful in so doing.

  14. says

    My family was never particularly religious but Christian religion was still a small cornerstone of my life. However, many things I learned in school about science and the way it clashed with the bible started to shake that not-heavily-secured belief, as early as middle school for me.
    I have to admit, studying history in later middle school and high school is what really made it seem increasingly ridiculous to me that anyone could put faith in their religion. Looking at history puts SO many things into context! There are so many religions, so many languages, so much history completely misrepresented in many of them… and so much history obviously affecting the way religion was created at the time. It seems ludicrous to me that when we have science and history we decide to use faith instead. Faith that has had revolutionary changes many, many times and barely holds onto what it was when first founded. And yet, people say they are following religion as it was meant to. How? How the hell are you arrogant enough to believe that??
    That’s where the shaking came for me. Religious arrogance began to seem astounding and impractical and unlikely. I shifted from a mild believer to a bit stronger agnostic. But I was still not a true atheist until I read Douglas Adams’ “Salmon of Doubt”. Honestly, if I wanted to convert anyone, I’d pass them that book and tell them to read several very important bits. That’s what did religious faith in for me. Admittedly, it wasn’t a huge change from my ‘meh, religion’ view, but I still hold that he has some of the most human, simple, humorous arguments that a layperson might relate to, as opposed to some other atheist writers who tend to be too condescending, imho.
    (I’m looking at you, Dawkins!)

  15. says

    For me, the “moment” wasn’t a rational process at all, though it did follow years of exploring religions in both a rational and emotional way. I was simply sitting down to think one day and realized that I don’t *actually* believe there is a God. I wanted to, and my life was built on the hope of a spiritual world, but I didn’t actually believe in it. Realizing that meant radically restructuring the way I think about the world and my place in it. That was a personally rewarding challenge, but also a painful one.
    I don’t personally try to talk anyone out of their beliefs. To be honest, even though religion may contribute to many problems, I rather think most of the problems would be there without religion–we’d just find some other excuse. Additionally, belief in God helps people deal with the struggles they face in their day to day lives. I think about my mother, for example–to me, trying to convince her that there is no God would be nothing short of cruelty. It would break her heart if she allowed herself to entertain doubt that my father, her only sister, and her parents were in heaven and that she will see them again one day, and that God is watching out for me and my brother who she loves so deeply. So yea, I do think she is deluding herself, but I suppose it’s her right to do so.
    I grieved really deeply when I realized I had “lost” my tenuous faith. I still grieve sometimes and wish that I *did* believe in something spiritual. And though I am glad, too, that I have found my own internal resources to deal with life’s struggles, I am happy to let other folks believe whatever they need to believe to get through the day.
    That said, I also choose to surround myself (with the exception of my mother, ’cause, ya know, she’s my sweet, silly mom) with folks who DO think logically, most of whom are atheist or agnostic. I have very little *personal* tolerance for folks who don’t seem to be using their brains, so I just choose to not include those folks in my inner circles. So though I don’t try to change others’ beliefs, I do *screen* folks by paying attention to what they believe and how they use their brains.

  16. says

    I never believed in God. Never gave the issue much thought (I was thankfully raised quite secularly.) In high school, sparked by classmate’s comment, I dabbled briefly in Buddhism. I found it interesting but I couldn’t buy reincarnation. I gradually because what I’d call an unexamined atheist- I knew there was no God, because it was so bleedin’ obvious, but I had done absolutely no intellectual examination of the topic- from either side. As my anger with organized religion grew, I realized I had to know my shit in order to dismiss their inanity as arrogantly as I had been.
    So I started reading. First The God Delusion, and I quickly fell in love with biblical criticism (esp. the documentary hypothesis). I planned to read some religious apologetics, but I never got around to it- I found myself reading popsci instead. I was actually agnostic about the big bang (I thought it sounded kinda ridiculous) until I read a few books about it. And then I was like omg science! It works, bitches! They know what they’re talking about! There’s all this evidence that they use to reach these nonintuitive conclusions. And now I’m just baffled how people settle for the silly explanations religions give. I find their content and messages to be simple, boring pap. And it’s so obviously the product of human minds. Also I need to mention Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach for convincingly demonstrating that consciousness is a natural phenomenon.
    Of course, this doesn’t really count, since I was an atheist to begin with. I know that people always find a way to inject their god into cosmology. But learning about the big bang- falling in love with the scientific method at work- finding a beautiful, nonintuitive, parsimonious explanation for the universe- I feel my materialism is fully justified. This is a natural world, and if you have an argument to the contrary, please show me the money.

  17. Elaine says

    It was really simple. I was reading fark.com and someone said (of war and religion), “My invisible friend can beat your invisible friend with one hand tied behind his back.” I felt a little “pop” in my brain and that was it.
    As for arguing with people about it, well, I always disliked missionaries, so I don’t feel compelled to convert people to my P.O.V. My dad’s a little disappointed and said some Bibley things, but I said, “I love you, but I’m not convinced.”

  18. Christine says

    I’m kind of in the same boat as a couple people who’ve said they never really bought it. I was raised in a fairly devout Catholic family, but even as a kid I don’t think I really believed most of it. I followed the rules, I said the right things, because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. A couple times my sort of non-belief slipped out, which led to some awkward conversation with my parents. (“Of course God has a hand in everything, including who we carpool with! What’re you talking about?” “Uhm…”)
    I still believed in god and an afterlife, though. Even when I was 13 and my mother died, I still thought there was a god– just that he either a) hated me personally or b) didn’t care. There were, literally, hundreds of people praying for my mother to recover, and she didn’t. One would think that experience would have pushed me into agnosticism, but I still held onto the belief that there was an afterlife and my mother was around in some spiritual way.
    In high school, I discovered the idea of deism, and latched onto it for the next couple years. It fit perfectly into what I wanted to believe– there was an afterlife, there was a god but he didn’t intervene in life, and thus organized religion was worthless and unnecessary.
    Around the end of high school, though, I started to realize that there wasn’t any good evidence for any of the god/spiritual stuff. So I started thinking of myself as an agnostic, because it still kind of gave me an out. “Well, I don’t know either way, so it’s okay if something does turn up, ’cause I never actually said it’s not real, right?”
    Then I hit college, and started studying religion and politics. My distaste for organized religion only grew; in addition, several of my friends were professed atheists, and a whole slew of atheist books were published. I read them, plus a bunch of science books, and just kind of… basically admitted what I’ve known all along, I think. There’s no good evidence for a god, or anything supernatural. It was hard to really accept that, because it brought up all kinds of issues with my mother’s death, and realizing that I will truly never see her again was incredibly hard. But I’m being honest with myself and the world I live in, and I’d like to think she’d be proud of me for that, at least.

  19. Lyra says

    I’ve told this story around the interwebs a couple times, so you might have heard it, but I’ll go ahead and tell it again.
    My boyfriend came from a very religious family. He wasn’t a nutso fundamentalist like they are, but he did believe in god, and his family had given him a very robust faith shield. Any rational arguments just bounced right off.
    Eventually I realized that arguing with him about why he shouldn’t believe in god was getting us nowhere, and just putting our relationship under unnecessary stress as he got irritated by my haranguing and I gradually lost respect for his intellect. I thought about it and realized that a lot of my frustration was because, as a lifelong atheist, I just couldn’t understand how he could possibly believe this stuff.
    So, I started asking. Why do you believe in god? Where do you get your premises? Is this really the simplest explanation for this? And so on, and so on. His answers were totally unsatisfactory, but I didn’t tell him that. He’s a bright guy, I’m pretty sure he was aware of it. However, after several conversations of this nature, he still wasn’t budging.
    So I thought way back to my early teens, when I had been a true believer, not in god but in UFOs and all that stuff that they talked about on the X-Files. When had I stopped believing in that stuff?
    It hadn’t been an instant of clarity. What had happened was, David Duchovny left the X-Files and the show started to really suck. I stopped watching it, and soon afterwards I stopped thinking about the paranormal altogether. A few years (!) later, I remember glancing at my “I Want to Believe” poster and thinking, “Huh, I guess I don’t believe in that stuff any more.” It was as simple as that: taking a break from the whole thing did more to “deconvert” me than any arguments could have.
    Remembering that, I tried my third tactic with my Christian boyfriend. Having familiarized him with the arguments against, and gotten him thinking about his arguments for, I left it at that. I noted the date and resolved not to bring up the subject of his own belief (ridiculing other people’s beliefs was still fair game) for a whole year.
    At the end of the year I tentatively broached the subject, and much to my relief his response was the same as mine had been so long ago. “Huh, I guess I don’t believe in that stuff any more.”

  20. Cher says

    I lost my belief mostly in my 30’s, but I would say that I have become a devout non-believer in the past 5-10 years. In the past, I was quite the Catholic, but as time went on I couldn’t understand how most of the crap in the bible could possibly be true/have relevance to us. So ancient sheep herders didn’t want you to wank off. Big deal!
    Part of this change was due to a solid scientific education, the lack of churchiness in most of my friends in Toronto (having moved there from a small Catholic town) and increasing skepticism/cynicism as I grew older.
    Of course, exposure to skeptical folks in websites such as yours, Greta, helped me feel less guilty for believing as I did. I am glad I can put it all behind me. When I was a kid I was easily scared, and would scare myself silly with thinking about demons and God and punishment. Who needs the stress??

  21. says

    I discussed part of how I deconverted in my first blog post. I think the turning point for me was that as I kept reading, I realized that “not all the problems described by the atheists’ side were canards from ignorant non-experts.” Of course, there is the matter of what started me reading in the first place, which was (1) that I had doubts, and (2) that I figured that if my beliefs were true, then they should stand up to scrutiny.

  22. says

    I wanted to believe in God, not necessarily a particular religion, until I was a young adult. I think all of the horrible things that happen to good people in this world surely made me wonder. 9/11 and learning more about Islam REALLY made me question God and what religions can do to a group of people. That was enough for me to completely denounce religion and the thought that some being out there was watching all of this and letting things happen if he was all powerful and could potentially stop it. Also, I’ve always been a very practical thinker, can view the bigger picture and have learned to only trust facts and things I see with my own eyes.

  23. says

    Wow, I didn’t expect to inspire a new post from you, Greta. :) I feel like I’m contributing! After I posted that comment, I actually did run across your <a href="http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/05/a-different-way.html&quot; limitations of irrational belief post. But even then, a theist can reject all of that. I guess that’s when we throw up our hands and move on.
    Thank you, everyone, for all of the feedback. It gives me some hope. The few patterns I can pick out are these: (1) deconversion tends to happen over time, (2) doubt of some aspect of religion forms a crack in the ice, (3) exploration of that crack in the ice leads to full deconversion, (4) embrace of reason and/or science helps a lot. There are relatively few single “deconversion experiences” here. So even if it appears that you aren’t making any dents in the shield – keep on chipping. The crack in the ice is either already there or will hopefully form eventually, with your help.
    I hadn’t thought about my own “deconversion” in much detail, actually. I think I will go blog about it now. :)
    Thanks again, Greta & Community.

  24. Rieux says

    “There can’t be any such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ without God.”
    I heard that line (for the first time? I’m not sure) as a 17-year-old exchange student in Germany, during a discussion session that the local CVJM (read: YMCA) club had set up for high school kids, including the members of my host family, in the basement of the local evangelische (Lutheran) church. Those zany Germans!
    The liberal Protestantism of my upbringing had been melting for a few years by the time I showed up at that CVJM meeting; in hindsight, my theism was on its last legs already. Actually, I think the thorough liberalism of the clergy who taught my Sunday School and confirmation classes back here in the U.S. (they absolutely bent over backwards to avoid nasty fundamentalist messages and interpretations and to endorse ones that were more in keeping with modern science and ethics) delayed my deconversion by many months.
    The two clergymen (one Protestant, one Catholic) who attended the CVJM meeting that evening were much like my ministers back home: genial, liberal, quick to concede respect for other viewpoints (including skeptical ones) rather than stand and fight. And that last was tested, because the meeting included three or four staunch, open skeptics among the students in attendance.
    Besides the minister and the priest, the only person at the gathering who was over 20 years old was Jochen, a big 30-something guy who was a CVJM administrator/youth group leader/etc. He had no time for the clergymen’s passivity; frustrated by the nonbelieving kids who were spouting off, he declared adamantly that “There can’t be any such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ without God.”
    I remember an internal feeling of utter revolt–that’s just obviously not true. I barely said a word during the entire discussion (it was being conducted in fast, colloquial German, and I felt lucky to be able to keep up with it just listening), but I walked out of that building and realized that I didn’t believe in God.
    Unlike the squishy liberal Christianity I grew up in, that statement in that discussion presented me with a picture of reality that I flatly knew to be false. The shock of that moment forced me to face squarely the doubts that had been eating away my (largely unexamined) faith for a long time.
    It was a few years later that I went to college–and, not incidentally, onto alt.atheism–and started finding plenty of words to put to my beliefs and doubts. That night in Germany, though, was the crucial moment for me.
    It occurs to me now that, had I been born ten or so years later, the Internet would have changed this story drastically. Rather than waiting until I was 17-19 to stumble onto both hard-core fundamentalist Christianity and serious, well-thought-out atheism, I would have run into this stuff online much earlier in my life. Possibly this is hindsight bias talking, but I suspect I would have dumped Christianity at a much earlier age in that case. Hell, my guess is that that CVJM meeting is now reenacted over and over again, thousands of times a week, in chatrooms and blogs all over the ‘Net. Goodness knows that there are plenty of Jochens around, only too happy to present questioning kids with a stark (read: crazy fundy) picture of what they’re considering.
    Am I off base in hypothesizing that the Internet has caused atheism to grow at much faster rate over the past decade or so than it ever had before?

  25. says

    I am not an atheist, but this is the story of how I lost my faith in the version of Christianity I was introduced to as a child:
    My parents were not “believers”–my father had grown up with a secular humanist, Randist mother, and my mother had left organized religion and become “spiritual not religious,” namely dabbling in paganism and the New Age. However, the town where I grew up was filled with religious conservatives, and nearly all of my friends were fundamentalist Christians. Naturally I was invited to scads of vacation Bible schools, Sunday schools, Wednesday night groups, which my parents more or less blithely sent me off to, not having much of a concept of Biblical literalists and young earth creationists. My unchurched soul, especially as I was part Jewish, was in hot demand.
    And I got saved – over and over again. I went up for altar calls, accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and personal savior, I prayed over the “God so loved the world…” verse, and I felt absolutely nothing. I knew everyone else had this feeling of being convicted in their sin and being set free, of being loved by this Jesus guy, and I felt nothing at all. I could not make myself believe, and I knew what the consequences of this were: being written out of the Book of Life, cut off from the mercy of God, and condemned to the lake of fire forever. I was told that if you prayed hard enough, surely you would be given faith, and I remember lying prostrate on the floor, begging for faith and being terrified of hell.
    Faith in JC never showed up, and the more I thought about it, the more dissatisfied I became with the prospect of eternal damnation. If I could hear the message and want to believe and still be lost, what about people who never heard the message, or lived before Christ? I never did receive any satisfactory answers on that account. Finally, one day while sitting in an Easter service, I realized that I absolutely did not and never had believed in model of salvation and substionary atonement that I had been sold all these years, and that it made no sense to me at all…
    So at about age 13, I set out on a quest for Truth whereby I would examine every major religion that I could and found out who was Right. And here I am, in the academic study of religion, though said quest did not exactly turn out as I had hoped!

  26. Ainuvande says

    I was young. I was in second grade or something, and in my Sunday school class we were learning about Heaven and Hell. And they were all “good christians go to heaven, bad people go to hell.” Now, I had a bunch of friends who were Jewish or some other religion I was unaware of, or simply a different branch of Christianity, which I hadn’t realized yet fell into the same umbrella religion. So the first question out of my mouth was “what if you’re a good person, but you don’t believe in God and Jesus?” And the answer of course was “If you don’t accept Jesus as the savior of humanity, you don’t get in.” And my second-grade brain said: THAT’S NOT FAIR!!!! THAT’S NOT GOOD, OR GREAT, OR JUST, OR LOVING!!!! THAT’S MEAN!!!
    I tried to understand how other people and other religions dealt with the fact that they all said that different gods were the right one. And very quickly came to the “what if nobody’s right?” question. Which is a lot to deal with as a grade-schooler. But then I realized: Santa and the Tooth Fairy aren’t real. The muppets are puppets made up by a really really cool guy. Dragons and unicorns don’t exist. There are not monsters under the bed. Nobody believes in the Greek gods anymore, but we still use their stories (or at least my parents did) to teach morals. Jesus is the same way. It’s just rules of how to live in a big story. And I continued going to church because our minister was a good storyteller, and I could respect that (and it was a fairly liberal church, so it’s not like they were regularly talking about people being damned).
    Of course, by the time I hit middle school, I’d hit that cynical “religion is a form of social control” stage. I’ve explored different religions, but I like to read. Give me text, and I devour it. So I find the flaw in your religion, or it feels too much like a fairy story, and I’m gonna be really amused, and I’m gonna learn a lot about it, but I’m not gonna believe it. I’ll prob’ly mock it. I’ve researched a lot of sky fairies, but ultimately, knowing that they were sky fairies people made up, I couldn’t suspend disbelief. And I read some bad sci-fi. But people believe some really weird stuff.

  27. CaseOne says

    On An Unrelated, But Interesting Note:
    You know what’s an interesting exercise, at least for me?
    Thinking about something completely unrelated to religion, something where you know, scientifically what’s going on. Like computers. Computers are some of the most frustrating devices in the known universe, and pretty much everyone who uses them has probably, at some point or another (or more likely many, many points), become tremendously angry at their computer in a manner that doesn’t really make sense; yelling at it as though it were actually some kind of conscious entity trying to thwart your every move.
    I find the idea of a God a “comfortable” idea, in the sense that when I think about it, even though I don’t actually believe in God, it feels incredibly easy and natural to have that belief. Which is kind of unnerving, really, me being an atheist. The idea of believing in a God seems capable of completely circumventing my intuition about the truth or falsehood of ideas. And that disturbs me.
    But something I’ve realized is that, in fact, that’s true of things I can more confidently disbelieve. I find that conceiving of an evil, conniving personality inside my computer, attempting to thwart my every move also dips into that reflexive lapse in my intuition about the truth or falsehood of ideas. It feels relatively easy to believe in spite of the fact that it’s completely wrong. It doesn’t slip past my true-false intuition as easily as the idea of God, because I have more conviction that the idea of a personality inside my computer is false. Nevertheless, modeling belief in unseen entities being responsible for what happens in various situations in life…it’s an intriguing mental exercise.

  28. says

    I don’t think there were moments where “everything unravelled”.
    There were many stages of (eventually) going “well, I guess that doesn’t really make sense”, but it sometimes took a while before I went even the single further step of “therefore, in the absence of some solid evidence, I must lean toward rejecting the notion”.
    I was fortunate to have exposure to someone who was openly skeptical about a whole lot of things as I was growing up (including stuff that caught my attention – I was fairly uncritical of a lot of wooish nonsense as a young teenager); the attitude eventually started to seep in.
    Slowly over time (and having done much more reading), I became more solidly skeptical, and readier to simply reject things that people I liked accepted.
    But I claimed to be an agnostic for a good long while before I simply said to myself that it wasn’t that I didn’t know, it was plain that I didn’t believe, and that I was therefore an atheist. No statement or action of anyone else that I can recall triggered it, even in the preceding days.
    I was by myself at the time it happened.
    Though I had said the words in my head, I deliberately made myself go back and say it again out loud, as a clear and unequivocal admission, at least to my own self, that I had really taken a step of admitting my position – not simply toying with thoughts.
    What a relief it was! It was nearly a quarter of a century ago now.
    Though I have revisited the evidence (or lack of it) many times since, and have considered apologetic arguments intended to overcome objections in spite of a lack of evidence, I have never had a moment of serious doubt since.
    I don’t think I have ever convinced anyone else. I’m not sure I want to convince anyone else. At best I’d like to help people be able to think about things clearly, and make up their own mind.
    I may have influenced the thinking of a few people in minor ways, and I have certainly exposed people who were apparently trying to think about some issues to books they might otherwise not have read (so for example, I recently loaned a colleague who had some questions relating to biblical origins and provenance a copy of Bart Ehrman’s book, which she found fascinating).

  29. says

    I was lucky; I was done in by rational argument.
    I could have been angry with God, or wanted more freedom, or disliked Christian hypocrisy, or had atheist friends, or gotten tired of not hearing from God.
    A few years ago I listened to a radio show called The Atheist Experience and all the atheist arguments were clear and simple while the religious arguments were weird or unfair. That started me questioning.
    I read lots of philosophers and apologists, and I never heard a good reason to believe in God.
    So I had to give him up.
    I was sad at first because I thought atheists had no purpose or meaning in life.
    Well, that turned out false pretty quick.

  30. Cwarren says

    My own deconversion started at the age of 12, with the realization that there existed many other religions. (Oddly enough, I had only been exposed to Christianity) With the knowledge that there existed many other competing belief systems, it became immediately evident that it was absurd to simply assert that WE were right and that the others were obviously wrong, and going to hell. The mere knowledge that there existed theological competition in the here and now, was enough to cast a pall over my faith. I became insatiably curious about what other faiths had to say about the universe.(A very sore point with my mother) In an effort to bolster my own Christian position, I read the bible. I found out that God REALLY, REALLY, had it in for us. Floods, plagues, genocide, cities burnt to the ground, humans turned to pillars of salt, and then…. the grand finale… the book of revelations. The prick was going to destroy the damned earth (possibly any day now), and judge people based on a criteria that I knew to be morally repugnant, and then simply discard them in the cruelest way possible. That did it. A full reading of the bible was enough to make me think that perhaps non-existence would actually be better that his eternal promise. Beyond that point, an interest in science, and philosophy, and an unswerving desire for the truth, acquainted me with the proofs that took me beyond mere skepticism and revulsion. I honestly am appalled when a Christan truly KNOWS their bible, and still believes it is the inspired word of the creator of everything. Yuck!

  31. Renee says

    I’ve never been religious, but I was open to the idea of a lot of woo as a teenager and took an agnostic position.
    What moved me to a skeptical and atheist position was a combination of things. Firstly, I started taking philosophy classes. I got familiar with logical thinking and reason, but I didn’t think to apply it to my own beliefs.
    Reading your blog got me to think about the logic behind my own beliefs, and start applying all of the stuff I’d learnt in class. The thing that really convinced me was your post on the 100% solution. Sure, maybe we can’t conclusively prove the non-existence of the supernatural, but given the implausibility, it seems reasonable to infer that it doesn’t, especially given its implausibility. Reading your story about becoming an atheist helped too.

  32. says

    I’ll keep this short: Like many, my belief in the supernatural faded over time, going from fundamentalist christian to open-minded christian, to a sort of ecumenical take on the supernatural, to a sort of pantheism.
    Also, even as a kid I had funny little religious paradoxes, like “Jesus is coming back sometime between now and infinity. Thats a one in infinite chance of him coming back, as far as we can tell.”
    There wasn’t a single argument that made me an atheist, but there was a final nail in the coffin: Daniel Dennet’s book Breaking the Spell, which not only demanded that religion be tested, it proposed several theories to explain religion’s natural origin. And they were all more tight and consistent than the religious ideas themselves.
    I remember thinking, we don’t know where religion came from, but observation of it makes a hell of a lot more sense than intuition.

  33. says

    Transitioning away from Catholicism toward agnosticism was a long process for me, but two particular pieces really stand out. First, completely randomly, I saw someone define “agnostic” in a post to a totally unrelated mailing list. Previously, I had heard the word defined incorrectly and never really identified with it, but when I saw that definition, it prompted me to do some more digging. It was not a trivial moment in my life. It was MAJOR. Suddenly, I was like, “THAT is ME!!!!! That describes me EXACTLY!!!” After that moment, I think there was no going back. Since that time, I have tended to lean more and more toward actual atheism, but I still primarily self-identify as an agnostic secular humanist.
    So that was the END of the process for me. The beginning is tougher to pin down, but it has generally to do with two things. First, there was the hypocrisy I kept seeing among religious people. It didn’t seem like they were reading the same Bible I was reading. Second, I could not get over the logical inconsistencies of my religion, and when I questioned people (parents, CCD teachers, priests, etc.), the answers they gave me were unsatisfactory.
    Among the biggest issues I had was the cutoff point between who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Heaven and Hell are two extremes. One is eternal happiness and peace, the other is eternal suffering. Yet somewhere, there has to be a cutoff point– a line between who goes one way and who goes the other way. My problem then became with the guy just a hair on the wrong side of the line. Not the serial killer or the pederast, but the person who is JSUT a SMIDGE more evil than the person right next to him who got into heaven when he did not. How is that fair? I’ll answer my own question: It’s not. It’s insane. No deity that would operate on a system like that deserves my loyalty, even if he does exist.
    When I posed that question, the answer I got had largely to do with the Catholic sacrament of confession. If you confess your sins, it’s like they never even happened, so the cutoff line becomes irrelevant.
    That was NOT helpful. It turned me away from religion even more. Let’s take the hypothetical example of Joe and Steve. Joe is a morally upstanding, self-sacrificing, ethical person. He is honest and works hard, is good to other people. He is patient and forgiving and kind. He does not hurt others. But he happens to be an atheist. When he dies, he goes to Hell because despite being a wonderful person, he didn’t believe in God.
    Steve is a serial child rapist. He is responsible for the sexual assault of ten children and the murder of six. He has brought nothing but pain and suffering to anyone who has ever known him. He develops cancer, and on his deathbed in the hospital, he makes his last confession to a priest and is forgiven. He dies, and goes to Heaven.
    Is that fair?
    What if the priest got stuck in traffic and didn’t make it in time to hear Steve’s confession? Is THAT really what should decide who goes to Heaven and who does not?
    This kind of nonsensical stuff, which nobody in my religion could adequately explain away, is mostly what led me away from religion. It just made no logical sense.

  34. Leo says

    If you’ll accept a response from a former Catholic, currently a non-religious weak deist, I can lay out my journey in four steps.
    1) Catholicism has two advantages over Protestantism when it comes to just completely chucking religion. The first is Papal Infallibility. Once I found myself in disagreement with the church over birth control, which was presented by the church as the infallible word of god as spoken through the pope, the entire structure just collapses. You can’t go halfway and compromise with this. It’s like that one potential science experiment where the brick floats upwards instead of crashing to the ground; it singlehandedly overturns the doctrine. You can’t claim infallibility then fall back on human weakness as a defense like the Protestants can; you’re simply full of crap.
    2) Secondly, the Catholic church had their Galileo moment of scientific embarrassment and worked through it by denying the literal interpretation of most of the old testament. The church had already taught me that the bible was largely a collection of mythology, literature and oral history that needed much interpretation in order to be understood as the word of god. So when I determined in step number one that the interpreters were full of crap, scripture ceased to have any basis in authority. The decentralized Protestants can always switch to another preacher, or to themselves, as the source of authority when confronted with inaccuracies and contradictions. For Catholics, Papal Infallibility means game over once you disagree.
    3) At this point I’m on my own regarding what god might or might not be like, and I reject the “life is a test” theodicy to the problem of evil on the basis that: I’m a pretty good guy, and any god worth his salt would have to be at least as good as me, and I would never burn babies in hell, or create eternal punishment in the first place, or create a test where I don’t clearly provide my students with the answers to the test first (and let them know what subject the test will be on), or send them to burn in hell for failing such a test, and so on.
    4) The final step for me was when I clearly understood how much the Christian god was just an anthropomorphized version of ourselves imbued with superhuman powers, with all our human weaknesses, created in our image in order to make each particular religious sect feel “special” in spite of the hard to explain difficulties of life. For an infinite being, the god of religion is so small. Jesus of the new testament is so small for an infinite being. Half infinite plus half human is still infinity, but Jesus never approaches his infinite potential.
    I’ve not taken the strong atheist position that god can’t or doesn’t exist. I’m open to the possibility that it might exist, but if it does exist, it appears to be beyond both my capability to detect and/or interact with it, and beyond my imagination as well, and is therefore of little or no consequence for this life. If god exists, considering the paucity of evidence it has offered on its own behalf, if god is at least as good as me then it won’t give a shit what I believe or don’t believe about it.

  35. says

    I’ve been atheist for as long as I can recall. I’m the youngest of four, raised in Berkeley in a secular-humanist household. In second grade I had a flash that there was no god and that it was all a bunch of hooey. I’m very grateful that I didn’t have to purge my mind and thinking of god issues.
    Oddly, though, all of my family members besides me have, as adults, chosen faith-based lives. My parents are Buddhists for 40 years; my oldest sibling dabbled in Scientology; my other brother is Orthodox and my sister is Reconstructionist (a branch of Judiasm). Equally odd, though, is that none of them believe in god. They just like the devotional life and the community it brings them.
    I believe that when I die I’ll rot and be recycled into into a tree or some such. I’m fine with that.

  36. Patrick says

    I can point to two things which allowed me to find my way out of religious belief. First, the catholic schools I attended that taught the basic religious stuff, but also science (and evolution) as well. Also, greek and roman mythology, which provided me with a pretty clear analogy once I started my outright doubting in high school. This was a public school, and the second major factor in my escape. We were given the opportunity to take “independent study” science courses, where I eventually found scientific writings by intelligent individuals who dismissed the idea of religion, seemingly free from the fear of “damnation.” The discovery of these scientists, and other students with some intelligence – not necessarily atheist but at least not in thrall to religion – made a huge impact on me.
    It had gradually occured to me that the whole religion thing was too similar to those myths I had studied, and too obviously created by human beings as substitute explanations for natural phenomena not yet understood. I knew at last that I could follow my own reasoning, and not be afraid anymore. It took a little while, of course, but I’ve been secure in my atheism since the age of 16.
    I’ve never tried to de-convert anyone, usually wanting simply to avoid a pointless argument. I did recently employ a simple but effective rejoinder to the “I just feel that it’s true” god argument: “What if I feel that it’s not? Doesn’t that count?”

  37. says

    I didn’t have any kind of road to Damascus moment. My religious beliefs eroded, one by one, over a period of years, until one day I glanced back and realized (not decided, realized) that I didn’t believe in any kind of god anymore.
    I did have two small flashes of revelation, though: when I was in college, there was a preacher who’d stand on the library steps and spout Ray Comfort-style ignorance and superstition. After listening to him one too many times, I decided that if that was Christianity, then I wanted nothing to do with it.
    I believe he’s still active. Every so often I try to look him up, to see if I’ll have a chance to thank him in person.
    I started casting about for a new religion, and settled on Taoism for a while. It appealed to me because it didn’t have any miracles or other fundamental opposition to science.
    And then I had my second spark of revelation: at some point, I’d run across an FAQ that defined atheism simply as the lack of belief in any gods. And one day I realized that that definition applied to me.
    For that reason, I think it’s important for atheists to come out of the closet (though, like Dawkins, I’m not going to out anyone). The reason I’d been looking for a new religion in the first place was that I thought everyone was supposed to have one. It had never occurred to me that one could simply not have a religion. I didn’t realize that was one of the options.

  38. says

    There were a number of factors for me. It probably started with the hypocrisy of Christians who didn’t act according to their own standards. Fat, self-satisfied priests mouthing platitudes. Heinlein pointed out that “the bible is true because it says it’s true” is logic for suckers.
    But in those days the news media solemnly gave lip service. Finally, finally, I heard rumors that there was no historical evidence for Jesus ever existing.
    The churches rejecting female priests didn’t help–I wasn’t going to support them. Then I spent a long time away from the church because I wasn’t complying with their rules and couldn’t claim to be penitent.
    Meanwhile, the desperate, twisted logic of believers began to disgust me. How could you find the truth if your reasoning was “Heads He wins, tails we lose”? It was clear that people were fooling themselves.
    Oddly, the final nail in the coffin was probably finding out that the biography of Jesus was written long after the Acts of the Apostles, when everyone who had known him would be dead. And that the very first mention of Mary and Joseph was in a letter from a bishop around A.D. 70. It seemed pretty clear that the details were fanciful additions.
    And was a long essay, “Of Myths and Men,” comparing Jesus to other hero myths… 22 out of 25 common points were present. It became more and more clear that Jesus was as real as Paul Bunyan.
    The fresh air blowing through the Internet, the fanaticism of anti-choice people obsessed with controlling other people’s sex lives (but wanting abortions for themselves or their daughters), and the idiot pronouncements of public figures, all helped me to shake the last cobwebs out of my brain. Now, I hope, I’m rational.

  39. says

    Masturbation, in my case. I discovered it accidentally one night, didn’t really know what happened. I soon figured out what it was and that the church said it was a sin God would send me to hell for. And I thought “oh, bullshit!”

  40. drdave says

    Fifty years ago, I gave up the ghost. Poof. At the age of sixteen. Having been brought up in a variety of protestant churches, I had long considered the actions of the members, and observed the gulf between words and deeds. So I abandoned the childish things.
    My mom was a fabulous artist and my dad is a good scientist. The real world was far more interesting than fairy land.
    Eventually, I married a radical Catholic lady, and we have gotten along quite well for the past 40 years. She has all but abandoned the church. Its just habit now. Comfortable habit.
    The past decade has convinced me that the fundamentalist spirit, wherever it is found, is a profound danger, and I have taken the atheist position a bit more seriously.
    Monday, two delightful old ladies showed up on my doorstep, carrying their bibles. We had an intriguing hour long conversation. Of note, they condemned “Chritianity” as a perversion of the bible. An interesting angle. So they would advance a biblical point, and I would discuss the historical nature of their evidence. They would move the goalpost, and I would offer a rational explanation for their belief. They were unfazed by logic. We parted, and they promised to come back.
    My wife scowled slightly, implying I had beaten up on two innocents. I think all three of us had fun.

  41. Lisa says

    Woah, lotta comments. Guess I don’t have to worry about standing out and being read. Ha ha.
    I was once a little Catholic schoolgirl, going to a little private school and learning the Bible as well as science; actual science, not bs pseudo creationism, even. I didn’t think of the two as exclusive, in fact. For starters, it was a monk who had named the basic block of life a ‘cell,’ because they reminded of the neat little rooms all the monks live in.
    I was in 2nd or 3rd grade when I realized, Jesus sounds like a great guy, sound philosophy, but people are twisting his words for selfish ends. Just a seed of doubt in the church itself, not in God or religion as a whole. So when a pastor said something, I didn’t just turn off my critical thinking, which, apparently, means I never had ‘faith.’
    Second blow was in my teens, my mom joined a few different religions to find fulfillment, which didn’t actually work. My dad took us to United Methodists during that time, who are very laid back and say any good person can go to heaven even if they aren’t our particular sect. So I began to stop thinking of one particular vision of God as important, but rather how they lead people to be good to people.
    That’s just like Secular Humanism, except with an unknowable Deity behind it. Agnostic Humanism? Since I didn’t know, I just did what seemed right. It was a very gradual slide towards atheism.
    I still think some churches do more good than harm, with the communities they form.

  42. Jim H says

    It was progressive…
    1) Growing up Catholic, there was, of course, a lot of authoritarianism. Growing up (mostly) after the Vietnam war, there was a lot of anti-authoritarianism–for example, my father is on the record offering any necessary assistance in avoiding the draft. With my (still-Catholic) parents teaching me to question authority, the Pope didn’t stand much of a chance.
    While that got me out of one church, I can’t say it made me a non-believer.
    2) By education, I am an engineer. Lots of science courses in college, of course. Over time, especially influenced by this grounding, my view of life has become more and more mechanistic. I have no idea how a brain thinks and controls a body; but I do know that a brain DOES do those things. [Proof: we’re all familiar with brain damage. If you don’t know someone personally, there’s always the unfortunate woman in Florida who was the subject of that ridiculous activity in the US Congress a few years ago.] No immaterial “soul” seems to be required…
    These things left me open to:
    3) I was about 35 when a good friend, an atheist, was stricken with a terminal disease. He and I were having dinner, discussing a novel he had written (ironically, the subject of the novel is immortality). When the conversation wandered to death and “what’s after”, Scott’s calm acceptance of his belief that the answer is, that’s it, you no longer exist; while he happily grabbed his remaining time, helped me accept that I believe the same as he. Scott quoted the 26th quatrain from the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam:

    Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
    To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
    One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
    The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

    Wow–that got more personal than I intended. But then, it’s a personal subject, isn’t it?

  43. says

    Reading the Bible with an open mind convinced me there is no god.
    I finally stopped making excuses for all the blatent contradictions and horrible lapses in morality by God. I just read it, and realized that if there is a god, he wants absolutely nothing to do with that over-2000-year-old piece of crap.
    Since I already didn’t believe in any other god, not believing in the Christian God just eliminated the last one for me.

  44. bdack says

    There were a lot of things that influenced me to atheism. The first was a Bible class in my parochial high school that was basically just memorizing a list of “proof” Bible verses for various beliefs. It seemed ridiculous that so many of the proofs were just little details from stories in the Bible. It seemed dumb that God didn’t make himself more clear.
    That got me reading the Bible to figure out what it really said, and of course that exposed me to the failed prophecies, brutality of God, general nonsense, and immorality that I had glossed over in reading the Bible before.
    So for me it did not start with logic and reason proving that there was no God. It started with realizing the Bible couldn’t be the work of a perfect God because it was so messed up, and then trying to figure out which world view made the most sense. Atheism, or the view that there is no cosmic plan or divine architect, was the only one that made sense given the way the world is. The problem of evil can only be answered by atheism.
    So in summary:
    1. Realized the Bible was flawed.
    2. Atheism is the only honest answer to the problem of evil. Unless there is an evil or incompetent God somewhere.

  45. says

    It’s hard for me to unravel the story of my deconversion, because there were so many lies to myself involved.
    I was raised in an upper middle class white family in South Africa. God was always a given. It was natural and expected to say “God Bless” at the end of conversations. I never met anyone who was openly atheist or agnostic.
    It sometimes bothered me that all those other religions out there were wrong, and God was condemning a lot of people who were good, but just believed something different. My mother took a deist-ish approach to the question, telling me that if they were good and moral people, that they were all on different paths to the same goal. Living in eternity with a God of love. I accepted this explanation.
    We moved to Australia when I was 13, in 2000. It was a hard time in our family. I started questioning a lot of the things my parents had taught me, like what constitutes good manners, what appropriate behaviour was, whether adults deserved my respect due to their age rather than their actions.
    All but one of my new friends had no particular religious affiliation. A few dabbled in Wicca. At first I was pious, stating that they were all going to be damned to hell. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t respect my knowledge that they were all wrong.
    I started to question my religious beliefs. The wicca stuff seemed fun, and harmless. I kind of wanted to believe it. I started reading up on my religion, the internet was priceless in this. I was too ashamed to admit this to my mother, but I was in a strange place where I still prayed on occasion but didn’t rationally believe in it.
    Then September 11 came round. I used this as my excuse for not believing in God anymore. It felt so good to come out of the closet. How could god allow something so awful to happen? I’d never believed in a God that intervened in human affairs, in a clockwork orange-esque way. But I pretended I did, and my parents sent me off to talk to someone who gave standard apologetic arguments and I was free to embrace my non-belief.
    Once again, the internet was my saving grace. My family would treat me as if I was mad and it hurt, but there were people who thought like me, and I could at least argue to the point where my parents got angry and uncomfortable.
    I then went through my ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’ ‘religion is the cause of all world problems’ sort of phase. I was highly influenced by the punk scene. I recognise that that is not an argument against the truth of religion. An idea may be truthful, regardless of the pain it causes. And people do good and bad things, regardless of their religious affiliation (though it does suggest that the religious are not privy to a source of moral righteousness.)
    At the same time, I wanted something to believe in. One of the things that interested me was Erich von Daniken’s work. I aimed to study genetics to work on his theories, but ended up as a real scientist and a comfortable atheist.

  46. Donna Gore says

    When I was in high school, I began to see that the things I was taught in Sunday School and the facts of reality just didn’t add up. It was a slow and painful process, too long a story to get into here, but the beginning of it was this: “Kind loving Father + dead child” = ??? it just didn’t add up.

  47. Karen says

    I know this is long past finished, but I was moved to write a small something.
    It is the problem with animals. Being told by a well meaning Christian that my pet had no soul and therefore in heaven there are no animals. I was a little girl and my cats meant a lot to me, and as an adult I love my dogs and see in them a consciousness, that though it may not be virtuous, is similar to mine. I could not imagine a loving God could be so petty as to allow me to go, but to not allow me a companion. I don’t want to go to a heaven without dogs, cats and all the wonderous variety of my planet.
    That was the first crack in the armor of theism. It stuck with me for a long time, and as I grew older and read Dante’s Inferno and saw how Dante tried REALLY hard to make Hell ok for virtuous pagans (really it reads like “woops, sorry we scholars really really like Greek philosophers, but they aren’t Christian, let’s pretend), there was another crack.
    Then, a friend miscarried a baby and someone on a forum made a statement about “God wanted a little angel to be at his side”, I think that was the last straw. Why would God be so cruel and unjust as to break a woman’s heart this way? Why would he kill a little baby? It all struck me as so two faced, false and even, dare I say it, evil.
    I also cannot stand predeterminism in all of its “This was meant to happen, it is God’s Will”. Then why strive for anything? Indeed, has all of our civilization just been vanity, should we just live in our own filth and die?

  48. Helena says

    When I was nine years old I had been raised in a conventional protestant religion (United Church of Christ). I had never given the slightest thought to the reality of the doctrines taught or anything like that. Then I read Chariots of the Gods–yes you read that right. That immediately impressed as a more powerful explanation of the events recorded in the Bible than the one offered in the Bible, particularly becuase it seemed explain all mythologies equally. After that , it was a matter of considerable fine-tuning.

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