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Dec 21 2011

Why I am an atheist – Holly

I am an atheist because, if I am to be an honest person, it is the only way I am able to be.

When I was struggling with trying to be Christian in my early 20′s, other Christians who knew I was struggling would tell me to “have faith” and “it will come with time” if I just believe. I was subtly told that I was over-thinking the whole question. (What does it mean to “over-think”?) I tried to be open to God, but I couldn’t stop “over-thinking”. I pleaded with God to reveal himself to me and wondered what was wrong with me that he never did. I wasn’t even asking for much of a sign–I didn’t want a burning bush or a miracle, I just wanted a feeling like so many Christians I knew claimed they had–a feeling of knowing the “truth” and knowing that God was there with me.

I never got such a feeling and I slowly came around to the idea that maybe there was nothing wrong with me. Maybe the reason I wasn’t picking up God’s signal was not because I was a poor receptor but because he wasn’t actually there. The moment I let myself think that, I was on a very quick path to atheism. My “eureka” moment was not “God does not exist” but rather, “I don’t have to believe in God.” It seems obvious to me now, but at the time it was a real revelation (so to speak). I started to see faith for what it is: not the noble, humble position as it is touted, but a lie to oneself–deliberate deceit self-imposed in order to believe in something that’s not true.

I’ve recently become not only an atheist, but an “out” atheist. I talk about it with the religious members of my family. I say it outright if someone asks me if I belong to a church. I updated my facebook “philosophy” to read “atheist” (this was surprisingly difficult for me for whatever reason). I’ve even told a handful of my students when they’ve asked. This newfound zeal came about this year when my husband and I started looking for resources on raising our 3-year-old daughter without religion. We want to raise her to not be afraid–of being different, of being creative, of being smart, of being rational. And so I had to stop and examine how I was living my life and I saw that I had been hiding. I didn’t believe, but I sometimes pretended I did to avoid conflict. I was noncommittal or weakly compromising at best and untruthful at worst, and I don’t want to raise my daughter to think that’s OK.

I became an atheist to be honest with myself and so I had to come out as an atheist to be honest with others.

We teach by example, so I’m working to be an example worth learning from.

Holly
United States

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Glen Davidson

    Have faith == be biased. I never could quite see how this was supposed to be a good thing.

    I was told to “read the Bible,” but that I should do so only under the “Spirit’s guidance.” Uh, yeah, the Bible leads to “truth,” it’s just not a truth that can be investigated critically (even though critical evaluation of other religions was great).

    Faith, the exaltation of intellectual dishonesty.

    Glen Davidson

  2. 2
    Gary Hill

    Holly – A very cogent read. I’m happy you’ve found the psychological space to be comfortable with who you are.

    It struck me reading your essay that it was very similar to what a gay friend once told me about his journey to being comfortable with himself. How, as a teen, he tried to be straight for years but it just wasn’t working, and the one person he confided in kept telling him to stick at it.

    Your comment on Facebook was very telling. I’m so glad I was brought up in Australia where a person’s religion is just not an issue – it’s sad when you have to feel brave enough to write ‘atheist’ on facebook.

  3. 3
    rabblerouser

    Excellent post, Holly. I can echo your experience of wondering “what’s wrong with me” in regards to gaining a faith. I remember lying in bed at night when I was 9 or 10 years old and praying for God to come to me and feeling miserable when nothing happened. My later teens through my mid 30s were spent trying to rectify the science I was studying with the religion I was trying to practice (mostly to appease my spouse and family).

    One day I said “enough.” Why should I try to force science and religion to agree in regards to fundamental questions (e.g., how did the universe originate, how old is Earth, where did life come from, etc.). Science has the answers to most questions; religion has very few but answers but when they’re lacking something is usually invented as a cover up.

    Now that I’ve rejected the poison of religion my greatest challenge is how to be truly tolerant of those that continue to practice it. I get irritated these days when I see references to religion in the press. Granted, most of the time what’s being done in the name of god and religion is toxic but I wonder if we ever come to a point where those of faith and non-faith will be at peace with one another?

    I think the greatest document ever written is the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights is the greatest assemblage of human collective wisdom one could ever ask for. Freedom from religion and freedom of religion are equally important values. How long will it take to remove religion from public places where it doesn’t belong and have it replaced with rational thought and reason (which do belong in government)?

    Tolerance of all views, values, and creeds is what this country should be all about. Sadly, we still have a long road ahead of us.

  4. 4
    Nick Gotts

    I think the greatest document ever written is the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights is the greatest assemblage of human collective wisdom one could ever ask for. – rabblerouser

    A statement of faith if ever I saw one. Neither has prevented the capture of all the country’s political institutions by corporate power, nor the widespread destruction of protections from arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and torture.

  5. 5
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    I think of overthinking as a form of second-guessing: I’ve come to a reasonable conclusion, but instead of either acting on it or putting it aside until I get more information, I go in circles.

    At worst, I make the decision (something like “I will take the 3:00 train”) and then spend a week fretting that maybe it would be better to travel at a different time. Not because I have just learned that the 3:00 tends to be delayed, or been offered something to do if I arrive earlier, but because the decision was close in the first place.

    It doesn’t apply to what you’re talking about: they wanted you to stop before you reached a conclusion, and when you still had relevant facts and ideas to include.

  6. 6
    steveatone

    This article is a good one to read:

    http://www.nerve.com/dispatches/sharlet/sexasaweapon

    Basically, Christian men want to hang out with other men, doing manly things and homosexuals have ruined their fun because it makes them seem poofy. There’s a whole movement within Christianity trying to navigate this.

    A world where being gay wasn’t seen as shameful would, of course, be the solution for everyone. I mean … presumably they’ll figure that out sooner or later.

  7. 7
    derekharding

    I love this line. “Faith: deliberate deceit, self-imposed.”

  8. 8
    Rey Fox

    A statement of faith if ever I saw one. Neither has prevented the capture of all the country’s political institutions by corporate power, nor the widespread destruction of protections from arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and torture.

    Well, no document has the power to withstand a concerted effort by a lot of self-interested powerful people to ignore it.

  9. 9
    Margaret

    What does it mean to “over-think”?

    When I accuse myself of this, it is Vicki’s meaning: second-guessing myself. When others accuse me of this (though I think they said “over-analyze” rather than “over-think”), they mean to think (or analyze) something that one should just feel.

    Holly, that’s a really great article and I’m sure your honesty with yourself will lead to your raising a good Hitchling.

  10. 10
    jeffreynordstrom

    Thank you for articulating my own experience so clearly.

  11. 11
    unclefrogy

    “”And so I had to stop and examine how I was living my life and I saw that I had been hiding. I didn’t believe, but I sometimes pretended I did to avoid conflict. I was noncommittal or weakly compromising at best and untruthful at worst”"

    I do not like to admit it but that is more true for me than not. I have tended to “soft sell” my understanding when the subject would come up I would often give an answer that was often deliberately obscure instead of clear and honest. I did not really want an argument but the truth was I did not believe in the reality of any gods and I still don’t.
    thanks for the great essay
    uncle frogy

  12. 12
    Thomas Lawson

    Great post, Holly. This is the exact sentiment in my book. Stop pretending, America, you don’t have to anymore. I want people to think of atheism and picture Holly, or see their kind war veteran grandfather, or anyone else they assume is a Christian. Then I want them to reassess whether Christianity has any redeeming qualities left for this century, or if it had any from the start. I want them to wonder where all of the privileged white males in 1903 got the idea of rallying for civil rights for minorities and reproductive rights for women, because it certainly wasn’t from the Bible. (They got them from their wives and sisters, obviously, and from witnessing the injustices of slavery.)

    .

    Honesty is the best policy. It’s not just a saying. Terrific entry.

  13. 13
    speedweasel

    Fantastic post. In my top 3 WIAAA posts so far.

    Courageous stuff, Holly.

  14. 14
    plonchitis

    Thank you all so much–it’s wonderful to read your comments and feel so supported. This community is fantastic!
    Also, “Hitchling” might be my daughter’s nickname for awhile =)

    Holly Fearn

  15. 15
    Don F

    Well said, Holly! I wish I had your courage, but I don’t. I left the church years ago when I realized I didn’t believe any of it (I was teaching a Bible class at the time — nice, huh?) and haven’t gone back, except for the occasional funeral or wedding. I tried and tried to believe, but it never “took” and I still don’t understand how religious faith is so pervasive.

    I wonder what holds me back from being more honest. Maybe it’s the word “atheist” that can be so loaded. Or a feeling of “us vs them” that makes me want to avoid conflict at any cost. I have a nominally believing wife (although she’s church-less too), but we almost never talk about our differing beliefs; again, to avoid conflict.

    Not too long ago, a cow-orker said something like, “We’re all Christians here, and . . . ” which gave me a chance to set the record straight, but I just held my tongue and turned my attention back to my work (or maybe the Pharyngula blog; who knows?) and let the moment pass.

    Ah well; maybe someday . . . .

    (I *like* “Hitchling” too!)

  16. 16
    alexandra14c

    I liked this, Holly! I love reading about the common experiences atheists have.

    I remember wishing I knew what it felt like to really know God. I’ve come to realize that I do feel that, but not for a god, but for science. Knowing the truth about how the world functions is fantastic and I really feel deep in myself that it is true and wonderful.

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