Why I am an atheist – Pris

I was born in Austria to Roman Catholic parents the summer of 1983 and baptised in autumn. We moved to Germany when I was one. I still live there.

We didn’t practice religion at home.

I received the standard Bavarian religious education, which is very thorough.

I went to first communion and confirmation, even became an altar girl and stayed one for years.

Despite all this I’m an atheist. What happened?

Indoctrination failure.

When I was little, god existed for me on the same level as creatures from fairy tales. When I got a bit older I learned that god was this all powerful being that made everything. For some time I even prayed regularly because due to horrible teachers my live at school was terrible. Praying didn’t help.

I always watched the news with my parents, and there are always a lot of bad things happening in the world. I started wondering about how this could happen if god was all powerful and good. Later I learned that this problem was called theodicy.

Another big problem was the existence of hell. If god forgives everything, what does hell exist for?

And don’t get me started on Pascal’s wager.

The older I got, the more inconsistencies I found.

My parents raised me to respect every human being and taught me that there was nothing wrong with being different from the norm in any way. All religious doctrine I ever met went against that.

When I got interested in politics and human rights, all respect for religion went out the window. According to most religious doctrine I’m a second class human or not human at all. Just a mobile incubator.

When I turned eighteen I went to the city hall and left the church. That’s how you have to do it in Germany. I received a letter from the local parish asking me to reconsider, which I ignored.

These days I see myself as a humanist. I follow Kant’s categorical imperative. ‘Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.’ That is all you need to be good.

To all those reading my ramblings:

Study philosophy, you don’t need to do it in depth, but you will see that religion isn’t needed to be good.

Study history. Pick one region and see how religion influenced conflicts and daily life. Take a hard look at the ‘divine right to rule’.

Study your religion, its history and its philosophy.

The most important thing I ever learned was this:

Think for yourself. Don’t accept anything at face value. Always ask questions.

Pris
Germany

Comments

  1. echidna says

    Thank you, Pris.

    The older I got, the more inconsistencies I found.

    And you knew that inconsistencies mean that something is not quite right. If everyone understood this single principle, it would be make a big difference to the world..

  2. Gordon says

    I left the catholic church before they swung the doors shut. Lucky I didn’t hang about.

    I was offered a meeting to discuss it. What was there to discuss? The fact that I hadn’t considered myself catholic for ages while they’d dishonestly kept me on the books to boost their numbers? Or child rape? I wasn’t interested in anything they had to say other than “we have taken you off our books”

    They know counting bodies in pews on Sundays would make them look as irrelevant as they actually are!

  3. Hazuki says

    Interesting bit there about the categorical imperative…I would argue that a) it reduces to the Golden Rule and b) it’s still a level “above” the root of morality. Nothing at all wrong with it, just that I think it’s not the foundation of morality yet :)

    I’m glad to read so many successful “escape” stories, and wish it were as easy for me. Stay strong!

  4. pedromonardes says

    I’m also an atheist and almost for the same reasons, but if it was hard for you in Germany let alone how hard it was for me in Latin America, the paradise of catholic church!. However, I’m out now, and glad to be.

  5. says

    If god forgives everything, what does hell exist for?

    According to the Christian Death Cult, scientists go to hell after they drop dead.

    When I moved to a small town in western Illinois I expected everyone there to be Christians, but when I asked one person if he was worried about going to hell, he said “I want to go to hell. That’s where all my friends are.”

  6. Kevin Alexander says

    The problem that I have always had with the categorical imperative is that it seems to leave a loophole for horrid behaviour.

    If I were a fundie who wanted to live a fundie life I certainly would want everyone else to as well.

  7. Murifex says

    @ Pedromonardes: I really wouldn’t describe it as “hard” here in Germany, and i can’t find any point in Pris story where she says so.

    Nevertheless, Pris seems to still live in Bavaria which is roughly the german equivalent of Texas.

  8. malefue says

    @Murifex: well, it’s “hard” in the sense that you have to jump through some bureaucratic hoops to not be officialy counted as a catholic. here in austria it’s a bit easier, write a letter to your municipal administration and that’s it. although there’s a catch in some sense: to get a written confirmation of your leaving the church, your have to pay a fee. but normally you won’t need that anyway.

  9. redwood says

    “Think for yourself. Don’t accept anything at face value. Always ask questions.”

    Great closing line. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more of us did this? Okay, it might be a bit noisier, but there would be a lot less religion scattered about like rotting cheese.

  10. rad_pumpkin says

    Speaking as a German who had spent just shy of a decade living in Texas, you have no idea how lucky you are. Xianity has been relegated to the role of tradition in most of western Europe. While that means that religious classes are mandatory (you may freely switch to an ethics course, at least in the schools I attended), stores close on Sunday, etc, there isn’t any serious effort to make it a “xian nation,” like there is in Texas. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve made some great headway over the past few centuries. Now if only the bells from that wretched church down the street would fall under noise prohibition laws…

    Thanks for reminding me about the leaving church bureaucratic malarkey. I should get that taken care of eventually. Don’t want my taxes to finance the kiddie fuckers (aka catholics), now do I?

  11. says

    Pris, thank you for your story. You showed a great deal of intellectual courage and honesty. Congratulations on your bravery in standing up to indoctrination and telling them, “Hell, no!” and for following through with the administrative details.

    Rad_pumpkin, please get that done on Monday!

  12. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Take a hard look at the ‘divine right to rule’.

    The divine right to rule, more commonly called in English the “divine right of kings,” was the excuse used by autocratic monarchs to justify anything they did. The rationale was the king was directly chosen by god and therefore subject to no Earthly authority. Thus the king could ignore the will of his people and the aristocracy. The idea implies that any attempt to depose the king or to restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and is sacrilege. It was taken to extremes by such monarchs as Louis XIV of France, who declared l’état, c’est moi (I am the state), and Charles I of England, who believed that even disagreeing with him was a sin.

    When the Pope ruled a large part of Italy, divine right to rule was embodied into Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church has never abandoned the idea.

  13. says

    Thank you, Pris. It is certainly encouraging to hear stories of people who managed to get out of the church, and who had their right to self determination recognised. When I applied with the Declaration of Defection, before Ratzinger cowardly bolted the door, I received no reply or acknowledgement of any sort. I did my part, it was signed and witnessed, so as far as I am concerned I am done with them, but I would not be surprised if the church is hanging on to me, so desperate are they for power and numbers. Knowing our bishop and his significant willful ignorance, I am sure the non-reply is not merely an oversight – he and his office seemed entirely unable to respond to any criticism of the Catholic Church in Scotland. Instead he could only ever spend his time preaching on TV and to the newspapers about how terrible any and all anti-discrimination legislation was, unless of course it was legislation to prevent discrimination against Catholics.

    ‘Indoctrination failure’ seems to have been the order of the day in my education. Everyone I know who survived the school has done so with their faith in god significantly shaken or gone and their faith in the church absolutely destroyed. It probably did not help that from the top down, the response to honest questions and debate in Religious Education was to administer punishment exercises and kick people out of class if they did not simply agree with the dogma laid before them. I had one friend who was removed from RE class and forced to spend 3 hours a week standing in the corridor, despite having asthma, because the fact he was asking questions was ‘endangering the souls of his classmates’. Cowardice, bullying and intellectual dishonesty seem to be the hallmarks of Catholic power.

  14. Erp says

    When the Pope ruled a large part of Italy, divine right to rule was embodied into Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church has never abandoned the idea.

    With one change, the Pope claimed the right to depose kings something that the various kings disagreed with even when Catholic.

  15. Kemist says

    I had one friend who was removed from RE class and forced to spend 3 hours a week standing in the corridor, despite having asthma, because the fact he was asking questions was ‘endangering the souls of his classmates’. Cowardice, bullying and intellectual dishonesty seem to be the hallmarks of Catholic power.

    Eeeesh.

    I had RE class, since where I come from if you went to public school you either went to catholic (french) or protestant (english) school. Those were only recently changed to “linguistic” school boards (there still exists a law forcing french-speaking parents to send their kids to french school, but that’s another story).

    I remember RE as being this boring, unchallenging class all the kids despised (we used to call it “relish”) in which some batshit-insane teacher would talk to us about the nice jeeebus.

    What’s quite hilarious to me now is that it was normally the very same teacher who got to teach us sex ed. And we didn’t have the abstinence only schtick – we had everything from the pill, IUDs, homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation, abortion and even demonstrations on how to wear a condom.

  16. sumdum says

    Wasn’t there also some idea that says you should only wish for a law which would be fair even if you were subject to it ? Something like that, I can’t find the right words..

  17. Ben says

    I’ve missed a few weeks of Pharygula-

    Looking over the many letters of ‘Why I am and atheist’, the question occurred to me: Has there been a suggestion by anyone, including PZ, that a collection of these conversion, ‘realization’ or ‘enlightenment’ stories be published in a book?

    I think perhaps others out there who may be having internal doubts about their God, faith, religion or the supernatural in general, could benefit from the strength of the personal experiences of those who have shaken off the influence of supernatural indoctrination/religion/faith, with its sham, illusion (and subsequent disillusion), while showcasing a personal dawning of the power and clarity of science and the natural world. Perhaps more books of this sort, from a very personal ‘everyman’ perspective may connect as well, if not better than, so many correct and well-meaning, but more authoritarian sources.

    Comments???

  18. says

    When I turned eighteen I went to the city hall and left the church. That’s how you have to do it in Germany.

    Wow – that’s one jarring little factoid. Wonder what it would take to get that changed!

  19. raven says

    Think for yourself. Don’t accept anything at face value. Always ask questions.

    Quoted for truth.

    One other. Don’t follow leaders. Bob Dylan

    Blindly that is. As social omnivores we always form up into groups as a way of getting things done. Always keep a wary eye on the leadership. You (almost) always have the right to opt out or just say no.

  20. says

    @Kemist – I was lucky, I had the actual RE teacher and our classes were much like yours, pretty dull and just telling us some of the nice stories about Jesus. Apparently he fed lots of people one time, so he’s obviously all loving and infinitely generous, even if he lets millions starve now. We also learned that genocide is wrong and the church thinks cannibalism is wrong too, even you’re starving and have a fresh corpse available. Not sure why these two life-lessons were so emphasised, but oh well. My friend unfortunately had an English teacher who taught RE a few hours a week, and he was a bit of a zealot. There certainly was no sex education in the school, though, other than the pure mechanics of “put this bit in this bit and a baby results” (girls were also told a little about periods, but boys were removed from the class and told nothing, because I suppose we never are supposed to know anything about how women work) and the only mention of any form of birth control came when this English/RE teacher convinced my friend’s class that condoms allowed HIV through its pores and were not only evil but useless.

    Unfortunately my friend believed it for years (he assumed they would not tell such a blatant and dangerous lie) and, engaging in some at-risk behaviour for a while, I am worried at how close he may have come to serious consequences because of the dangerous dishonesty of the Catholic church and its agents.

    Wish I could say this was all in the ‘bad old days’ but I graduated in the mid 00s.

    @Ben – sounds like a good idea to me. A mixture of celebrities and regular people from all sorts of backgrounds telling their stories could make for a rounded and insightful book that would help anyone struggling with doubt to understand they are not alone and there isn’t something wrong with them.

  21. Anders says

    I like Marcus Aurelius: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

    It seems to me to short-circuit Pascal’s wager

  22. Zugswang says

    Wow – that’s one jarring little factoid. Wonder what it would take to get that changed!

    There’s a lot of goofy crap like that elsewhere, too. You have to formally arrange to be declared a conscientious objector in the US, in case they ever decide to return to forced conscription. This involves providing evidence that you are opposed to war on moral grounds.

    If you were baptized as a Catholic, you can also file a letter of defection to an official in the parish that has your baptismal records, so the church will formally recognize your willful apostasy in its records.

  23. maddog1129 says

    When I turned eighteen I went to the city hall and left the church. That’s how you have to do it in Germany.

    Wow – that’s one jarring little factoid. Wonder what it would take to get that changed!

    Actually, I think there is safety in having it done at City Hall. I don’t know if I could trust the Church to really delete someone from the rolls. I like it better that there is someone neutral keeping score, as it were.

  24. raven says

    The Catholic church is an odd one.

    They are very secretive and authoritarian so no one really knows what is going on internally.

    What we do know is they cook their numbers so that they can claim lots of people and appear more powerful than they are.

    From the way Pope Ratzinger is running around and a lot of their statements, it seems obvious that they have lost a lot of people and their shakedown money offerings in the USA. As to how many, no one who knows is talking.

  25. Anj says

    I suspect that some of us lack the proper neurobiology/chemistry/whatever to be willing consumers of religion. Maybe there is a “skeptic gene”?

    On the flip side are people who always look for spiritual meaning and if their first choice doesn’t satisfy then they try something else and so on and so forth. Much like an addict will often look for a replacement to the substance that they gave up, there is a deep craving in those who tend to spirituality that they need to fill.

    …I had a thought – Does believing something count if you never take any action on or because of the belief? Does belief count if it has no effect?

  26. raven says

    I just checked some numbers on Catholic numbers.

    According to survey data, the RCC has lost 1/3 of its US membership.

    According to the RCC, they gained 1% last year.

    A huge inconsistency. The RCC only counts baptisms and won’t take people off the rolls. So the only way they can go down using their method is if we have an all out nuclear war.

  27. ikesolem says

    John Landis, noted horror film director, recently did an interview on CNN (he’s an atheist) where he talked about religion. I’m not going to post a link, because the segment is prefaced by an ExxonMobil ad hyping the tar sands pipeline, but here’s what he said about where religion comes from:

    “What I’ve discovered is what people are most afraid of – the unknown. We’re terrified, as a species, we can’t deal with what we don’t know. For instance, people are not afraid of the dark. What they’re afraid of is what they can’t SEE in the dark. So if we don’t know, you know what we do? We make it up.”

    “That’s where religion comes from. Nobody really knows what happens when you’re dead. So, what happens when you’re dead? We invent religion, we’ll invent heaven and hell. And if that’s not good enough, we’ll have zombies and then we’ll have ghosts, and whatever. But we make it up.”

    As far as what John Landis finds frightening?

    “People are capable of terrible things, and they scare me to death. I mean, we have movies like Psycho, Norman Bates, or Hannibal Lecter – movies about psychopaths, and they’re real, they exist. You know monsters come from inside us – that’s why Satan or the Devil or demons, I think it’s funny, but at the same time it’s the best excuse ever. ‘Not me! The Devil made me do it!’ I mean, I think it’s like, incredibly clever, it’s a way of, [brushes off shoulder]“

    These are very good points – religion exists because of childish fears (1) and as a means of abdicating responsibility for one’s actions (2).

    If you view it all as fantasy, however, it actually becomes kind of entertaining, in the same way that other fantasy literature is. This is what the authoritarian religious crowd really hates, too – casual, lighthearted, humor-laced dismissal.

  28. says

    @19 Ben:

    Not sure if you know, but this is “Why I Am An Atheist” 2.0. The first campaign was from a freethought newspaper in 1903. I compiled them in a book called Letters from an Atheist Nation that is about 340 pages for 121 letters.

    -

    PZ says that he has well over 400, so it would be quite a tome if it were published. But maybe there needs to be a Letters from an Atheist Planet?

  29. Kemist says

    These are very good points – religion exists because of childish fears (1) and as a means of abdicating responsibility for one’s actions (2).

    I would add a bit of (3) also :

    a means of giving yourself importance and significance.

    I mean, look at all these pathetic “spirit warrior”, “battle between good and evil” and end of the world scenarios in xian culture. These people do realize just how pointless and insignificant their existence actually is, but rather than shrugging and making the most of it, they take refuge in fairy tales telling them how very special and chosen they are, even if to do so they sacrifice what would be a rich and interesting life to the stiffling boredom of prayer, self-denial and submission.

    Not to forget xian “music”.

  30. uncle frogy says

    Anj asked “Does believing something count if you never take any action on or because of the belief? Does belief count if it has no effect?”

    I do not think you can have belief without some kind of action. Belief is an action all by it self even if any action is only within the believer. Belief changes how you interpret the sensations you experience including your thoughts interpretation is an action.

    reading these essays is good I marvel at how concise they are. I could never put it my own personal path through understanding into so short an essay.
    In fact finding and reading this blog has led me to think about how I understand things in a different way. Now I am looking at how I see things in relation to my own past and how all these things relate to the general conservation of other people. I have until lately found it better if I just kept most of it to myself fewer irrational arguments with desperate believers.

    I can’t wait until we see the RCC claiming some large numbers of believers with empty sunday mass and are forced to advertise for midnight mass on Christmas and Easter just to any audience all.

    “Come to the midnight mass experience the tradition!”
    (in the same loud booming voice that announces the drag races with reverb and all)

    uncle frogy

  31. Dez says

    Dear Pris:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am very curious as to why the German government requires a trip to City Hall for someone to leave (and one might safely presume, to join?) a church.

    I imagine this is for demographic reasons?

    However, I agree with the poster above who said it seems more trustworthy to have an independent office, and not the Church itself, to keep track of these things.

  32. crowepps says

    Actually, I think there is safety in having it done at City Hall. … I like it better that there is someone neutral keeping score, as it were.

    The reason asking to be taken off the list is done at City Hall in Germany is that the government of Germany collects 9% of income tax from Germans who were registered as belonging to a religion (usually as children) and then sends the money to the appropriate religious authority, Catholic or Lutheran. The amounts involved are staggering:

    If Zapp were also to succeed with his strategy in the last instance — that would likely be the beginning of the end of the 5 billion Euro church tax that the state collects every year for the Catholic dioceses. The Protestant church could then hardly stay out of a debate about its own 4.5 billion Euros.

    http://concordatwatch.org/showkb.php?org_id=1551&kb_header_id=33981&kb_id=35601

  33. Ben says

    @30 Thomas Lawson:

    Thanks for the info. I’ll check out your link. I agree, a volume (or three, or four ?) with a header ‘Letters from an Atheist Planet’ might be a long but interesting survey, and add a significant viewpoint coming from a more ‘grassroots’, experiential and personal perspective. Thanks again.

  34. raven says

    government of Germany collects 9% of income tax from Germans who were registered as belonging to a religion

    This is due to a treaty between Germany and the Vatican signed in 1993. The Reichskonkordat. It was signed by…Adolph Hitler and Pope Pius XI. Thanks Adolph.

    The Reichskonkordat was the Nazi bribe to the Catholics to not bother them while they set up their totalitarian state and gassed millions in death camps. It managed to survive WWII and is still the governing law in Germany.

  35. raven says

    I checked on google, and wikiquote says that quote is probably not from Marcus Aurelius.

    Were you there? LOL /creobot

    So what. The sentiment and point are independent of the author.

  36. crowepps says

    As I recall, the other part of the Catholic’s quid pro quo in the deal was control of the schools, in which they promised not to undermine the ‘ideals’ of the Nazi government.

  37. says

    The reason asking to be taken off the list is done at City Hall in Germany is that the government of Germany collects 9% of income tax from Germans who were registered as belonging to a religion (usually as children) and then sends the money to the appropriate religious authority, Catholic or Lutheran. The amounts involved are staggering:

    And the best thing is that the churches don’t even reimburse them properly:

    This amounts to 4.2b € a year for the Catholic Church and 3.7b € for the Evangelic Church (Lutheran/Reformed). For this, the various state tax authorities are compensated with 3% of the collected tax in average. A small price to pay in order for not having to collect those taxes by themselves.

    raven,

    This is due to a treaty between Germany and the Vatican signed in 1993. The Reichskonkordat. It was signed by…Adolph Hitler and Pope Pius XI. Thanks Adolph.

    I would somewhat disagree. The Reichskonkordat only guarantees the right of the churches to levy the tax. But not that the state has to play taxman for them. This is something the current state governments could stop if there was enough political will.

    Also to all German Catholics leaving the church for tax purposes: you should be aware that this doesn’t necessarily count as excommunication, i.e. you might still be counted as a member in the statistic. To “really” leave the Una sancta is notoriously difficult.

    http://www.kath.net/detail.php?id=26757

  38. Caleb Caldon says

    Thank you so much for contributing Pris.

    I’d like to voice my support for the idea put forward by Ben and Thomas Lawson. The more the better. I love that PZ started this here on his blog and I’d like to raise the chances of someone seeing this material out there in the non-digital world as well.

    I’d also like to add that the Categorical Imperative and the rights based approach is not complete without some influence from the Utilitarian approach. There are always situations where it would be immoral not to violate a right. It’s some balance in between that is important to find. I don’t think this conflicts with the idea of Humanism but I could be wrong.

  39. Poggy says

    I find it very interesting that Europe is supposedly so irreligious, yet there are so many religious traditions here in Germany, no longer done for God’s sake, but done for the sake only of the tradition. I love the holidays and festivals, but I do wish the shops were open on Sundays.

    @rad_pumpkin

    I live in Bavaria too, and those bells drive me insane! – Especially when they ring first thing on a Saturday or Sunday and I’ve been up late the night before.

    The funny thing is that my mother, who lives in Australia, tells me that what she really misses from her childhood in Germany is the sound of church bells. :/