I am an atheist because there is no god.
I was raised in an increasingly religious environment–the parents I grew up with took us to church every week (Catholic & eastern Orthodox), and they sent us to Catholic schools. I listened, I tried to believe, I memorized everything they told us in Religion class & tried to understand how people believed it.
But I could not believe.
After my parents split up, my mother became gradually more religious. Here’s the fun part: I am autistic & have temporal lobe epilepsy. My mother went from a bit off to absolutely convinced that I was possessed by demons. Eastern Orthodox don’t even really do the exorcism thing-certainly not the way evangelicals do-but I had not one, not two, but three exorcisms. Being waterboarded with holy water is still being waterboarded. Could any really loving god allow this, or my mother’s increasing use of church and marathon prayer sessions as punishment? I’m thinkin’ not.
So I survived years of abuse because “god told me to do it”. No god I knew or was told about would do that, but I kept trying to believe. I got straight As in religion class. We had to pass a religion test to graduate high school; I scored high enough to get “advanced scholar of catechatical knowledge” on my diploma.
Yet still I had doubts.
That summer I went to an Eastern Orthodox church camp to coach Special Olympics for a week. Being teenagers, all of the volunteer coaches snuck out of our cabins and stayed out way too late. I was surrounded by kids with whom I should have a lot in common, except they seemed to have no doubts at all, while I saw all the ritual as a routine, but nothing that meant anything to anyone but the people doing it.
It hit me that I am an atheist that summer. We were laying in the outdoor volleyball court looking for shooting stars. It was beautiful-I had never seen so many stars, and had certainly never seen so many shooting stars. We were all very quiet except for the occasional muttering about the beauty of God’s creation–and at that moment I knew, absolutely KNEW, that there was no god who put all those stars there. There was no god who made us and the plants and the stars and the things so far out we did not know about them. It was so vast and beautiful that saying some guy in the sky (but not really the sky-some kind of other dimension or something) put them there just for us was far too conceited and just didn’t make sense. There’s so much out there humanity may never experience, and no one put it there, and that was far more awe inspiring to 17 year old me than “goddidit”.
I was born an atheist, I couldn’t learn not to be, and reality is so much cooler anyway.