Negative Revelation

People will say they believe in god because of a convincing personal experience – the argument from personal revelation.  Interestingly (to me at least) googling this phrase yields mostly atheists talking about debate, but one highly ranked result is theist-on-theist bloodshed.  Some creep saying why “jesus personally told me it’s cool to be trans” is not legitimate because it’s an argument from personal revelation.

As for me?  I long ago decided logic and reason and debate are not much use against theism, or even advocating atheism.  Motivated reasoning is strong.  Your case can be ironclad and even if the theist is stumped, in that moment, they weren’t convinced in their feelings, which is the only place that ultimately matters.  Time erodes the momentary uncertainty you induced, and within a week they don’t even remember the particulars of what you said.

And even when somebody does say they were convinced by logic, which came first?  The logic or the feeling of the logic’s legitimacy?  There’s a tension in that, and probably more factors that fed into the conversion than the rationale alone.  Not to say you should give that all up forever, just that you understand why it’s not as effective as it should be, if we were purely rational agents.  And more than that, to preface my own personal revelation.

Personal revelation for a theist is a feeling or vision that powerfully convinces them of a god’s reality and effect on their own life.  While as an atheist I would never experience a convincing vision – I’d sooner assume I was having a neurological problem – I can get a powerfully convincing feeling.  If that counts as a personal revelation, then I have absolutely come to atheism by way of personal revelation.

For a lot of years I identified as agnostic, because verifiable knowledge coming from fallible grey matter seems logically impossible to me.  But I had a strong feeling of philosophical materialism, and that feeling alone pushed me away from that shyness.  Yeah, I’m an atheist.  Now the only thing keeping me from saying that with pride is the behavior of famous atheists, haha.

One time when I was homeless child – maybe seven? – my family was temporarily staying in a hotel, and got our hands on some free bibles.  Hey, that’s kind of exciting.  Free stuff.  The thin paper and tiny print was interesting, the bold assertions within more convincing than the mealy-mouthed version that made a pre-school atheist out of me.  So I played at being christian for a few days.  I don’t remember what made that fall away – boredom? – but I do remember it was a thorough rejection in the end.

I’ve always had a strong feeling of the material reality around me, and its indifference to my desires.  Might be why the idea of levitation appeals to me, as a primal emotion that escapes from the otherwise constant feeling of literal gravity.  This feeling has reached peaks, moments of reality so stark and cold that I had no choice but to believe in my heart that god doesn’t exist, that magic doesn’t exist, that humans have no inherent connection that bridges our experience of life – nothing but imagination and the broken working of society.

These are the moments of negative personal revelation, when UnGod came unto me in a cloud of nothing and I received his word and his truth.  I’ve mentioned a few in my blog history, see which ones you remember!  Roughly in order,

One came when I failed to graduate high school, and everyone disappeared into their adult lives, whatever those would be, reminding me that I have no social importance except that which I painstakingly create and maintain.

Several came over the years, whenever the religious tried one-on-one to get me to feel what they feel, in parking lots and bus stops, and almost always in cold dark weather.

One came when I first had major surgery and experienced nonexistence under anesthesia.

One came when Child Protective Services took my first niece from my dad, because the jesus nazis from rural minnesota were more amenable to keeping her dangerous sociopath mom in her life.  That was the most direct confrontation with human evil I ever experienced, and had me dig under my fingernails til they bled.

One came while walking home from work at Pizza Hut, and made a foolish deal with the devil, because the unmagic of the world was so overbearing in that one random moment.

One came when my worst girlfriend ever dumped me and I took it poorly, gradually burning away every romantic instinct I felt until that version of love was fully dead to me.

One came on a vacation I took alone to a cold place in the dead of winter, again well exposed to my complete insignificance.

Loneliness is a recurring theme here.  I wonder that the most religious might be the most socially insulated?  That doesn’t track with the image of the average saint or prophet.  But loneliness, and even sadness, doesn’t count for all of it.  I’ve just had a profoundly, deeply, overpoweringly mundane life.  Not mundane as a synonym for boredom, just for the material, the earthen, the real.  The wildest moments gravity was always with me, telling me what’s up, and more importantly what’s down.

I am an atheist because that’s what my experience of life has told me to be, and nobody was there to give me the cultural static that would drown out or pervert that experience.  Negative revelation.


  1. lanir says

    I think I came to atheism in a different way than GAS did. I started out with religion in theory all around me. Not very much at home outside of prayer at dinner but my parents believed and they sent me to religious schools and made me go to mass every week.

    But none of this resulted in anything positive for me. The good things and good people in my life had nothing to do with religion other than me meeting them in some of these places – but only because that’s where I was. In contrast a whole lot of bad stuff got thrown my way by my asshole parents, other children supposedly being taught the same morals I was, and school administrators (some of whom even had direct ties to the church).

    I don’t think anyone in their right mind could have had my background and come away believing in any of this stuff. I sincerely doubt any of the people who caused me issues really believed in all this either. They may have had a version of it in their head but it sure as hell wasn’t the one they tried to teach me. None of them ever seemed to feel bad for doing the things they did – they only felt bad when consequences came from it.

    One of the steps along the way was interesting (to me at least). There was a period when I was in high school and was thinking more about philosophy and how I approached the world around me. I had this idea to think of my perception and beliefs about the world as a sort of flat plane, like in geometry. Too few points and the plane can shift and move. It can be anywhere. (In geometry at least,) three or more and you’ve anchored it and know where it is. It’s relatively stable and more points just add more solid support or maybe refine it in a way that it no longer needs to directly rest on a point it had been anchored to before. I forget what most of mine were but one of them was a dead cat I was dissecting in an anatomy lab. It lasted for half the year I believe. My family didn’t have a cat, so I only knew them in passing but I really liked animals. I was closer to them than I was to people and they were a whole lot more dependable. It made an impression. So for me this was a sort of low grade mental static of the horror variety. But it was also a clear example of what we’re all really made of and how we all work. At least to whatever degree a high school student can extrapolate that from a corpse.

    It wasn’t too long after that I began looking into Wicca. I liked a lot of it and it meshed some with the type of fantasy stories I’d used to escape my problems for a time. But after seeing how truly hollow and rotten at the core one religion is, well… It’s hard to just believe in another thing you just have to believe in without evidence. So I ended up an atheist.

  2. Bruce says

    GAS, your experiences could also be described as direct physical observation of the absence of any god acting in anyone’s life, ever. Which might fit under evidence, as opposed to revelation. Of course, as you indicate, the biggest key is the emotional experience of being aware of this, so it’s still a revelation, as well as being observational evidence.

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