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Sep 12 2012

Why I am an atheist – Helen Nicholls

As a young child I used to wonder why I existed at all. The thought made me dizzy. I considered the only answer I knew, that God had created it but it was not satisfactory. I also thought about death. I remember the moment I realised that one day I would die and that when that happened my consciousness would ceased and I simply would not be. The thought overwhelmed me and made me feel sick. I clutched at the easy answer; that I would go to Heaven. In order to believe that I had to believe in God as well and so I did. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It is only with hindsight that I realise that it was the fear of death that made me push away all my doubts.

My family was not particularly religious. However, I was given a children’s Bible and I used to read it. In the UK every state school is required by law to hold daily assemblies of a Christian character in which pupils engage in an act of worship. This means that from the age of four I regularly told by my teachers that the world was created and controlled by an omnipotent deity. When I had doubts I reminded myself that my teachers seemed to believe it was true.

For me religious observance was always a very private matter. I used to pray each night but never told anyone that I did so. My mother once suggested that if I wanted to go to church our neighbours would be happy to take me. I never did. I hated being in church because there was always a nagging voice inside me that said it was all nonsense. I tried reading the Bible but it was very different to the children’s version and there was so much that troubled me. I chose Religious Studies for GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-level (ages 16-18). The subject was fascinating and well taught but it only gave me more reasons to doubt. I found I could only really discuss my religious beliefs with my Jewish and Muslim friends because etiquette dictated that we never criticised each others’ religions. If I talked to Christian friends they would express doubts similar to my own.

My progress towards atheism was gradual and painful. I accepted that my Christian beliefs did not correspond with any denomination and later rejected Christianity entirely. I tried to make myself believe that there was some kind of god and that death is not the end but it was wishful thinking. I drifted into agnosticism and then to atheism. At the age of 23 I started a relationship with an ardent atheist who is now my husband. I started to read his collection of atheist books, starting with The God Delusion. By this time I had accepted that there was (probably) no God and I enjoyed reading them. They gave me the confidence to describe myself as an atheist.

I had always imagined that rejecting religion would only bring despair. In fact it brought relief. A lot of internal conflict was resolved when I stopped deceiving myself. I no longer had to fear everything that made me doubt. I still do not like to think that death is the end but accepting it brings me a lot more comfort than pretending it isn’t true. Acknowledging my atheism has been a liberating experience. 

Helen Nicholls

4 comments

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  1. 1
    lesherb

    Hi Helen,

    I think religion was initially created by human beings because of a fear of death. I am like you. I couldn’t pretend to believe in something just because I preferred believing in an afterlife.

    I still worry about dying but since acknowledging my atheism, I don’t worry about spending eternity with religion. Can you imagine how boring the afterlife would be? It would make those church sermons seem exciting!

    £eslie

  2. 2
    pedantik

    Helen: I loved the last paragraph. That eloquently states the way many of us religion refugees feel. Very well put.

  3. 3
    redwood

    Nice writing, Helen. Sad as it may seem, some people I know are afraid of the liberation of no god. It certainly improved my life.

  4. 4
    Post-Redneck

    I’ll add myself to this one. I doubted the bible early but the fear of death was too great. The funny thing is, my preacher said we would not remember earth. As I got older, I realized that the only difference in this view and atheism is the lack of hell.

    Fantastic. Atheism is far better and easier for me to accept. No faith for 14 years and counting.

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