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Why I am an atheist – Robert Light

I’m an atheist because I was born that way.

My parents were not church-goers, but I was christened in the local Church of England, because that’s what my family did. My mother, in particular, was quite happy for me to be given enough information about the church to “make up my own mind”. When I was old enough, I went to Sunday School. I don’t remember particularly liking it or disliking it, but I didn’t have to go too many times before my parents let me stop.

I remember being given a illustrated book of Bible stories when I was about 8 or 9. I liked the stories, and read them a few times. But all the time, I had this feeling that said: “But it’s not true. It’s just made up. Why would people believe in this?”

When I got to be a teenager, I had a small Pascal-style crisis of faith (not that I had heard of Pascal, of course). I wondered to myself about what would happen if I was wrong. If there was a God, and I did not worship Him, I would go to hell. Hell was pretty scary. So I considered going to church and going through all the right motions. But I couldn’t. I figured that I just plain didn’t believe, and if a God existed, he would see through any pretend worship. So I decided to just go ahead living without God – because what else could I do?

I worried less and less about it, but it took me until my early twenties until I finally got rid of the last vestiges of doubt. That happened when I was speaking with an atheist guy I worked with about life after death. He brought up the topic of religious belief in the afterlife, and I jokingly said something about “just in case they’re right”. He looked at me and said, “No – they’re wrong.”

Something clicked when he said that, and I realised that of course “they” are wrong and “we” are right.

Now, I can back up my feelings with all sorts of logic and rationality, and lots of information that I have learned at Pharyngula and through the writing of Dawkins, Hitchens and so on. But I still think that I was just plain born as a non-believer.

Robert Light
Australia

Comments

  1. =8)-DX says

    Heh, Natural Born Sinner.
    Very inspiring, I envy you because I wasn’t born that way (I had God drummed into me from the first conscious moments).

  2. hoverfrog says

    Wow, I could have written the exact same story apart form the Christening and Sunday School.

  3. bayesian says

    I recognize myself partially in Robert Light’s account. Unlike him, I was brought up in a strict Christian environment. But when I started to doubt, at about age 10, Pascal’s wager bothered me, even though just like Robert Light I didn’t know who Pascal was. For several years it stopped me from advancing further. I went through a phase where I tried to go to church, pray double-time and say all the right things (according to the religious teachers) to myself and others. But pretend worship and pretend conversations with God does not increase belief. At the end I came to the conclusion that threatening people to believe something does not make that something more believable. Indeed, if this is supposed to be perpetrated by a just and loving God, it strains believability past its breaking point. Anyway, thanks to Robert Light for sharing his story (and by doing so allowing me to chime in).

  4. Moggie says

    Isn’t it odd how many adults profess to find Pascal’s Wager compelling, when even a child can see through it? In my case, my Pascal moment came at age 11 (like Robert, I didn’t know that there was a name for it). I saw immediately that it was a lousy argument, and I’m still surprised when anyone suggests otherwise.

  5. says

    But I still think that I was just plain born as a non-believer.

    Of course everyone is born normal, without supernatural fantasies. The brainwashing comes later. Without the brainwashing I bet most people could not even imagine the bullshit Christians and Muslims believe. Without this child abuse religions would go extinct in less than a century.

  6. ConcernedJoe says

    Pascal’s Wager is so stupid at so many levels. One does not have to be a master logician to see through it but one does have to get over one’s “innate” superstitious inclinations to discard it. We have good evolutionary impetus to fear what others tell us, or even just suggest to us, to fear.

    So it does not take much for our mind to get the heebie jeebies but it takes lots of thought and fortitude to let reason and rationality rule. We all can rationalize that walking under a ladder will not bring good or bad luck – but the meme is powerful and even very rational people may just avoid doing it even though they know it is silly of them intellectually.

    Religion – being the con game it is – has always exploited this instinctive tendency toward fearing things we’ve been told to fear that we cannot just definitively disprove out of hand.

    Religion is really a criminal con-game enterprise at its core. It has a veneer of respectability only because PEOPLE are basically empathetic and/or sympathetic, and even generous especially within a tribe and religious societies do provide infrastructure that exploits that too.

    And that is the rub – it is ingrained in our societies that religion is the about the only vehicle to deliver the best in us. That is factually tremendously BS too. But it again is a powerful meme and one that an atheist must overcome – the “look at all the good religion does” BS .. verses the “Stalin was an atheist” false implied equivalency.

  7. amstrad says

    I don’t think that Pascal intended his wager to be used as a proof for existance, but rather as a demonstration of deriving meaningful information in the absence of certainty. In other words it was his attempt as a mathematician to explain pre-Bayesian probability in terms that laypersons might understand.

  8. says

    Pascal’s wager, fear of hell, whatever you call it, must have worked a good deal better before there were thousands of sects and conflicting claims. OK, Blaise, but while I’m praying to Jeebus to avoid hell, Brahma’s getting rather pissed (or, the Homer Simpson quote).

    That’s sort of what opens the West to unbelief, the Reformation plus running into people all over the world with entirely different gods. Because then you want to show that your God/beliefs are true, your holy book won’t do it (unless possibly it has miraculous information in it, which it doesn’t), and you have to do it using evidence. Then there’s no evidence.

    Fear of hell lingered, if at a relatively low level, for years after I was pretty sure it was all bollocks. I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it even if I were terrified, as I wasn’t, since I couldn’t come up with any evidence of “which was the true god” even if there were one.

    Glen Davidson

  9. raven says

    The whole central idea of xianity is stupid when you look at it objectively.

    1. God is all powerful, omniscient, omni-everything.

    Why should it care one bit whether we “believe” in it’s existence? I have no idea whether my cats, friends, and family “believe” in my existence. Don’t much care either, as it would make no difference.

    2. If the gods really cared about us believing in their existence, they could, you know, show up every now and then.

    The xian god would have it’s own TV show, Youtube channel, radio show, and web site. It would have left a concise intruction manual, understandable, and written in modern languages instead of a kludge like the bible.

    The gods do nothing in the real world, far less competent and active than even a 3rd grader.

  10. raven says

    God is all powerful, omniscient, omni-everything.

    Why should it care one bit whether we “believe” in it’s existence?

    This is BTW, something xian scholars sometimes wonder about.

    There is a theory that Paul and his contemporaries hijacked xianity.

    It started out being about Jesus’s teachings and ended up being about believing jesus is god.

    Jesus taught a philosophy of life, Paul created a religion.

  11. KG says

    I don’t think that Pascal intended his wager to be used as a proof for existance, but rather as a demonstration of deriving meaningful information in the absence of certainty. – amstrad

    Then he failed. I’ve wondered whether he intended its obvious idiocy as a coded message to posterity that he knew religion was complete bullshit, but had to pretend otherwise. Probably not, though.

  12. says

    if you serve anything if your life as your god how are you able to call yourself an atheist?

    in science we study to answer questions. most of them come from some unexplained thing programmed into us called imagination. so if you still practice biology then you have unanswered questions about life… no?

  13. KG says

    Just me,

    if you serve anything if your life as your god how are you able to call yourself an atheist?

    Who are you addressing? What evidence do you have that any atheists here serve anything in their life as their god?

    in science we study to answer questions. most of them come from some unexplained thing programmed into us called imagination. so if you still practice biology then you have unanswered questions about life… no?

    Yes. Did you have a point? Because if so, you haven’t made it yet.

  14. says

    so if you still practice biology astronomy then you have unanswered questions about life the cosmos… no?

    He has a point. What are we thinking, doing science when there are unanswered questions?

    (hint: IDiots don’t delve into the unknowns, rather like, oh, religion…)

    Glen Davidson

  15. raven says

    troll:

    if you serve anything if your life as your god how are you able to call yourself an atheist?

    This makes no sense and you are an idiot.

    Who says “we serve anything in our lives as our god?”
    We don’t.

  16. cag says

    I have doubts. Your essay has increased my doubt. I am now at the point where my doubt is turning to certainty.
    I highly doubt that religion has anything to offer any rational human. If someone wishes to worship the “creator” of the ebola virus, I for one would question their sanity. A god who would create the Earth before the Sun is like a carpenter who would build a house starting with tiling the roof. Someone who would believe that the Earth was created before the Sun is practising wishful thinking.
    Wishful thinking sums up religion, I doubt no more.

  17. says

    He brought up the topic of religious belief in the afterlife, and I jokingly said something about “just in case they’re right”. He looked at me and said, “No – they’re wrong.”

    Something clicked when he said that, and I realised that of course “they” are wrong and “we” are right.

    There is something about such a confident assertion that moves people on the edge (people with enough knowledge and experience about something to be highly doubtful of its worth) to evaluate things more critically and can break them out of bad thinking habits.

    Perhaps it’s because we expect others who are so confident to have thought about it long and hard and have sound reasoning behind their assertion and so it lets us stand back further than before when we look at our ideas. Maybe it’s the novelty of an idea so clearly, succinctly, and powerfully stated that moves us.

    Whatever it is about such confidence, atheism is one idea that greatly allows for it. Atheism really does feel like a breath of fresh air compared to the old stodgy wish-wash that you get as the “reasoning” behind religious assertions.

  18. Lion IRC says

    If everyone is born “that way” (atheist) where does theistic indoctrination come from?

    Atheism has been an available menu option for 50,000 years +/-

    If I was born to atheist parents and lived in a village of paleolithic atheists, where did the tribe’s witchdoctor come from?

    And even if it came from an outsider, surely we arent gonna let some wandering shaman into our peaceful atheist village life.

    Anyone who wanders into our atheist camp site and says …”Tiamat decrees that you all obey me” is going to get thrown off a cliff and the last thing they would hear as they fell was….”get Tiamat to tell us himself”.

  19. says

    If everyone is born “that way” (atheist) where does theistic indoctrination come from?

    Seriously? You’re actually trying to conflate individual religious indoctrination with ancient cultures struggling to understand a baffling world?

    Seriously? That’s really lame.

  20. Zinc Avenger says

    amstrad, 11:
    if you serve anything if your life as your god how are you able to call yourself an atheist?

    in science we study to answer questions. most of them come from some unexplained thing programmed into us called imagination. so if you still practice biology then you have unanswered questions about life… no?

    It’s like the words are there but any attempt to interpret them results in a divide by zero. My best guess is “science… Therefore GOD!”.

  21. raven says

    moron troll:

    If everyone is born “that way” (atheist) where does theistic indoctrination come from?

    Usually from the parents.

    The number correlation with what religion people are is what religion their parents were. Xian families produce xian children, Moslem families produce Moslem children.

    Backed up by the larger society and often by the local governments. And quite often by a lot of cold steel, hot lead, and the occasional burning at the stake and hanging.

    Xianity has recently lost its most powerful tool for keeping the religion going. The power of the hangman’s noose, stack of firewood, and gun. Without being able to use physical force it just seems to be dying out.

  22. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If everyone is born “that way” (atheist) where does theistic indoctrination come from?

    Cultural attempts to explain the unknown, and maintain tribal cohesiveness. All cultural. You know that liar.

    Atheism has been an available menu option for 50,000 years +/-

    But not necessarily approved by the two powers that be in a culture. The warlords and the shamans.

    If I was born to atheist parents and lived in a village of paleolithic atheists, where did the tribe’s witchdoctor come from?

    Previous witchdoctors and apprenticeships. What a fuckwittted idjit you are.

    And even if it came from an outsider, surely we arent gonna let some wandering shaman into our peaceful atheist village life.

    What an asshole of a statement. Any shaman can wander in. If it has conclusive physical evidence it isn’t a liar and bullshitter like you are fuckwit, we might even listen to what it hass to say. You have had your chance, and you couldn’t prove your imaginary deity exists with solid and conclusive physical evidence. Typical of liars, bullshitters, and delusional fools like yourself.

    Anyone who wanders into our atheist camp site and says …”Tiamat decrees that you all obey me” is going to get thrown off a cliff and the last thing they would hear as they fell was….”get Tiamat to tell us himself”.

    Now you finally said something true. We don’t deal with liars and bullshitters like yourself. So, fade back into the bandwidth with the other liars, bullshitters, and delusional fools who can’t show conclusive physical evidence for their imaginary deities.

  23. anthonyallen says

    Robert,

    Your story parallels my own on so many ways that it’s almost like you took it right out of my head (can we share the Million ;) ). From the non-religious, yet still-believing parents, to being given the freedom to be given my own choice, to the crisis of “non-faith.”

    One major difference is that I never found an atheist friend in my 20’s, I was still fumbling with the idea until I started reading Bad Astronomy a few years ago and Pharyngula after being pointed here from there.

    Thank you for sharing, Robert.

    -A-

  24. scifi says

    Robert –

    Good to hear a history that closely parallels my own. No religious upbringing, still ‘Christened’ (to keep the conservative grandparents happy that their white AS daughter had married a coloured immigrant from a different ‘religious’ background.)

    Had a moment of wondering “what if” which dissolved pretty quickly when introduced to the batshit crazy of my (white AS) cousins’ religious beliefs and the nuttiness of having to cover my head and not point my feet at the temple’s altar when it came to my dad’s family’s beliefs.

    What cemented it for me though, surprisingly, was my R.E teacher. Good bloke and, apparently, a lay-preacher. He was also the school photographer.

    Very open in discussing religion and culture and didn’t seem to be your typical god-botherer, even awarding merit certificates on essays, including mine, on why I didn’t believe.

    I think it was all a front. Not long after I left school, his house was raided and he and his wife exposed as major players in the swinging scene, photos an’ all – and I don’t mean musically! Even quoted as saying “I’m considered quite a stud” – my R.E teacher – hilarious.

    Like you, Robert, I am as I was born.

  25. ConcernedJoe says

    Raven #25 “Xianity has recently lost its most powerful tool for keeping the religion going. The power of the hangman’s noose,..”

    Perhaps – but I think “god is dead/dying” more because:

    (1) god is more and more obviously impotent or at least extraneous to life and the questions we once answered with “goddidit”

    (2) that for all practical purposes god seems unnecessary and/or wholly unreliable while modern man-made technology and science has such greater utility

    (3) and that the prescripts of organized religion seem so silly in light of rational thinking and modern society; for a simple illustrative example: the RCC’s contraception hangup

    I think many modern people (but people that really do not think about it critically with real knowledge) cling to the notions of some higher power so they can make sense of what THEY perceive as awesomely unexplainable; they also find some comfort in feeling that some “Deepakian” notion of universal connectivity and inner power exists and they are part of it.

    Hence at least a Deist mindset will persist for a bit longer.

    And the comforts of the society of religion (e.g., still in some USA regions for some people “only the church” provides a caring “family” and a respite from a sometimes cruel life) thus religion remains appealing and sometimes seem necessary.

    But these two impetuses are losing ground too.

    My point is: modernity and a broader more knowledgeable perspective, and more confident and assertive independent thinking, and governments run by and for the people, have proven themselves more powerful than god and religion. To me god started to become “dead” way before all the coercive tools of religion were striped away. And they still have tools left even in USA! But inch by inch god and religion has lost ground and will continue to lose ground as we became enlightened and independent thinking in a societal sense.

  26. Elaine Kilshaw says

    Everyone who says there is a god who created the world and human beings do not believe in evolution. They do not want to understand it is easy an d because their brains cannot see that the bible is the most wicked book I have ever read. Ask believers about certain passages they do not know what you are talking about when it comes to the teachings in it to kill millions if they are unbelievers in this wonderful ‘god’,I do not want to destroy anyone and only try to do good to help others in this Wicked world. children being killed as witches, men torturing others and enjoying it. If I had created this I would have topped myself by now.