Atheism and Recovery – What if I didn’t have a mental illness?

I became an atheist early in my recovery and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in my twenties. Dealing with psychosis was confusing and frightening but when I tried medication everything changed. I had always been skeptical but when I experienced hallucinations that were spiritual in nature I was left with a lot of questions. A moment of clarity came when the anti-psychotics kicked in. My hallucinations aren’t real – and neither is god. I was always looking for an explanation. I just never considered the explanation to be a mental illness. My diagnosis came with some relief – this is treatable.

That moment of clarity flipped a switch and I declared myself an atheist. Years of suffering came to an end with a simple solution – medication. 

But what if that moment never came? What if I never had a mental illness? Would I still be an atheist?

First of all, my husband asked me this question and it is so hard to picture. My mental health symptoms started in early childhood so I really don’t know any different. I am not my illness but it is still an important part of me. It often explains why I do the things I do.

My journey to becoming an atheist may be a little unique, but I still believe even if none of the mental health issues happened, I would still be an atheist.

I’m a curious person – it’s always been in my nature to question. I questioned the existence of god in childhood and the judgmental people in the town where I grew up definitely made me question the goodness of Christianity. Mental illness or not, I always knew I didn’t want to be like them. Questioning at that time came with a lot of guilt and fear but I feel no matter what I would have ended up with the same conclusion – I am an atheist.

Were there any specific events that led to your atheism? If those events hadn’t happened, do you still think you would be an atheist?


  1. John Morales says

    “But what if that moment never came? What if I never had a mental illness? Would I still be an atheist?”

    I don’t find counterfactuals to be particularly useful.

    If you were different, you’d be different. That’s tautological.
    So, if what had not happened had not happened, subsequent events would be different.

    “Were there any specific events that led to your atheism? If those events hadn’t happened, do you still think you would be an atheist?”

    Observation of reality, the dawning realisation that goddists were hypocrites, the very silliness of the concept were my impetus.
    But those are general, not specific. So, technically, no.

    Those events being the actual lived reality which did actually happen, so the counterfactual where they did not happen would require a different reality to ours.

    I don’t know any saints or zealots, but I do know a lot of goddists. All hypocrites.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    “What if I never had a mental illness? Would I still be an atheist?”

    I think if you’d never had a mental illness, you wouldn’t have been religious in the first place.


    My parents were raised in a conservative christian church. They met at a small religious college. Out in the adult world, they both were through with fundamentalist religion, and my dad was through with religion in general. In deference to my mother, my father said a prayer at dinner time (always the same words). My mother read us bible stories, and I came to know the bible better than almost all of my churched friends. But we didn’t go to church. In high school I would walk by the room where the christians met after school and feel a little creepy. But I never found a need for religion in my life. My moral code is founded on the logic of the golden rule (no not that other golden rule, I mean the original one). I study religion because it is part of the human story. I am female, and am disgusted with the use of religion to suppress women. I found in 35 years of practicing law that the clients who came to me wearing their religion on their sleeves were always part of the problem. I have known a few people who built their lives around a quiet faith that compels them to dedicate their lives to making a better community, and I respect them. Early in my college years I divided the functions of religion into parts: 1. save your soul, 2. unify your community and support each other. 3. present a set of rules for living which have evolved through history. I don’t need a church for me to do parts 2 and 3, and if there are souls, or anything else beyond observed reality, then no rational god is going to send me to an eternal lake of fire for singing the wrong songs, so I’ll stay with focusing on leading a productive, happy, moral life. I do allow for unknown unknowns, and therefore do not say I am an atheist, since I don’t deny the possibility of unknown entities. And I’m not a searching, unsettled agnostic. Mostly, religion is just not relevant to my life.

  4. netjaeger says

    Howdy and I hope you are well.

    Dunno. That is, speculating on my life and it’s many things, both lucky and not, leaves me right here.
    It can be a hard place to be, imho.

    What do we do? Good question to keep on asking, again imho.

    You, me, others have all made it till the hope of tomorrow. We got lucky. Got no choice, LOL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *