1. Manual Goldsenshower says

    Wt mnt! Ddn’t y sy lswhr tht s yng kd y nvr blvd th “strs” nywy?

    Y hv t B blvr bfr y cn dcnvrt.

  2. says

    The Washington Post’s request for spiritual stories cited in your deconversion story reminds me so much of Al Franken’s request of Bush administration folks for their favorite abstinence stories.

    I’m not yet deconverted completely, but I appreciate your concise story.

  3. says

    I always feel so left out when I read deconversion stories. I do have a similar experience. It isn’t really about religion, but I think it has some similarities. I used to be very interested in UFO’s and the paranormal (and still I suppose, I like to read about ghosts and UFO’s, but I have a different perspective on the stories now), but then I started reading about how science really works, reading books by Carl Sagan and other skeptics, and realised how poor the “research” I had read about was, and that it was only tried to take the form of science, without the substance and strength of real research. And now I’m a very happy, rather skeptical physicist.

  4. Sean says

    Your deconversion story is great.

    When I was younger, neither of my parents was religious. I never grew up with any of that baggage. Sometimes I would end up in a church like after spending the night at a friend’s house. I always felt bad for letting my mind wonder and ponder during the prayers.

  5. Steve LaBonne says

    I distinctly remember one fine day when I was 12- up to that point I had been a good little Catholic, though not to the point of wanting to be an altar boy or anything like that- during which it suddenly occurred to me that Christianity was in no way more credible than any other body of ancient mythology. That was it, and I never looked back. Guess the “programming” didn’t take root very deeply, did it.

  6. says

    My third-grade teacher, Mr Waltrowitz, was a former Baptist missionary who’d tamed heathens in New Guinea before coming to my school.

    After he was caught reading the bible to us every afternoon, he was forced to switch to the Chronicles of Narnia. I found those books more believable than the Old and New Testaments.
    And unlike Aslan, Jesus doesn’t have big-ass fangs and a bitchin’ mane.

  7. Jud says

    Hey, PZ, it’s your blog, but just thought I’d register my personal opinion that discussions of religion/atheism, conversion/deconversion, etc., aren’t nearly as interesting as science. Of course one sees a lot of confused thinking along the lines that science ought to/has to serve a religious world view, but ISTM criticisms of the religious aspect of that confusion don’t help to clarify matters as much as good explication of the science.

    Yeah, I know it’s fun, but….

  8. Russell says

    When I was in graduate school, I encountered quite a few people who had left the religion of their parents, but who had taken up some less traditional ideology, such as Objectivism or Marxism. I wonder how many people go through this, as they are leaving religion behind?

  9. Steve LaBonne says

    Russell, I’ve often thought about that sort of thing. As far as I can tell, many, probably most, people seem to be endowed, or cursed, with an innate need to “believe in something”- to surrender oneself to some all-encompassing ideological system, whether it be a religion or a quasi-religion like the ones you mentioned. To those of us who seem to have been born without that faculty it’s a deeply puzzling phenomenon.

  10. G. Tingey says

    Russell’s point is a VERY good one.

    Far too many people don’t leave religion, they just switch.

    Why do you think the catholic church and the CP are so similar and hostile to each other, and why people switch memberships of those religions?

    Rather than realising that the whole thing is a load ofcodswallop?

    Not that I should talk, having had a very narrow escape from semi-fundamentalism, long ago.

  11. Caledonian says

    Actually, I suspect most people never abandon pre-determined ideological positions. At best, they eventually settle for an ideology whose dogmas are superficially the same as the positions of actual rationalists.

  12. says

    Well, my parent were early diciples of BF Skinner and naturally I was raised in a Skinner box. Of course I thought this all normal, but for me my deconversion was later in a high school biology class, and because of my reinforced skills in all areas of science, my teacher, Mr. Burrhus Frederic gave me many extra credit projects that allowed me to spend all my free after school time in the lab, this pleased me to no end, that is until that day, it was late one Friday evening when all the other students were attending the football game, I was in the lab cleaning up after some of Mr. Frederic’s research experiments, so I was alone, and in my zeal I began testing the flash points of various chemicals that I had gathered from the store room. It was all so exciting, but what I didn’t understand was fire point, so even though I devised a makeshift Pensky-Martens Closed Cup flash tester, it was the ethoxyethane that prompted my deconversion. Since that night I abandon my Skinner box and moved in with a roving band of hippies, who like me, would never step into a Lab again.

  13. David says

    The short version of my deconversion: I went to confirmation class forty years or so ago and listened to the pastor explain my beliefs. After two sessions I walked out and have not been able to take religion seriously since, despite extensive exposure to religious thought and considerable study of intellectual history, including the great theologians and philosophers of religion.
    I have to say though, since this ties in with the previously heavily commented thread, that while religion is completely nonsensical to me, I have known many intelligent and decent people who are religious. I have been in graduate seminars with Jesuits, I work with a pentacostal, I encounter the profoundly religious (and the superficially pious) everyday. I find their faith neither more nor less bizarre than belief in homeopathy, astrology, or other such oddities.
    As David Heddle would remind us, this should not be surprising because religious beliefs (at least ones like his) are not expected to make sense to those who have not seen the light and found faith. I don’t want to start another round of Heddle contra mundi because it is unproductive. He is normally a civil poster (until provoked) but his arguement comes done to the t-shirt slogan “It is a (insert name of subculture) thing; you wouldn’t understand.” Sincerely felt, but not conducive to reasoned dispute. So David, if you are reading, this is not an attack, just a recognition that we have too little common ground in these areas to make discussion worthwhile.

  14. Steve LaBonne says

    Well, my parent were early diciples of BF Skinner and naturally I was raised in a Skinner box.

    You know, I can almost believe that- it would certainly explain a lot…

  15. says

    My father was a minister, and a socially prominent and respected one at that. And a dynamic speaker, with a broad background of life experience (commando in WWII), physically powerful (cycled across Canada), and overall overwhelming in all of his capacities, if you were his child.

    So I grew up a PK (preacher’s kid), going to church and Sunday School and being involved in all church activities. Yet I was always reluctant in my belief. Looking back on it, even when I was six, I found all of the “we are unworthy, O Lord” and the other self-hating mantras of Christian dogma fundamentally offensive. Plus I began reading science fiction, which opened up worlds of new possibilities neither mentioned nor implied in the Bible.

    One fine winter’s night when I was twelve, I was walking across a bridge over the frozen Bow River. It was cold, -15 F. The air was pellucidly clear. Thousands of stars filled the bowl of the sky, all of them, to my mind, bloated and fecund with the possibility of strange life and intelligence. And I asked myself the dreaded question (dreaded, of course, and deliberately avoided for years because it would put me in conflict with my father): Do I believe in God?

    And the answer was clear. No.

    As I saw it, the God humans have created is SO MUCH SMALLER than the universe we see, even imperfectly, that I found it offensive, both intellectually and emotionally, to place such fundamentally silly (yes, silly) mythological and irrelevant constraints on my observations, reactions, and speculations.

    I already had not believed in God for some time, but I finally admitted and embraced a larger and a richer view of experience.

  16. says

    I went to confirmation class forty years or so ago and listened to the pastor explain my beliefs.

    Yeah, that was probably a factor in my deconversion, too — I left the church partway through confirmation classes. It was a little weird to go in every week and be told that because I was a Lutheran, I believed in this article of faith and that miracle, and I didn’t. It was the first I’d heard of many of these things!

  17. Steve LaBonne says

    As I saw it, the God humans have created is SO MUCH SMALLER than the universe we see, even imperfectly, that I found it offensive, both intellectually and emotionally, to place such fundamentally silly (yes, silly) mythological and irrelevant constraints on my observations, reactions, and speculations.

    EXACTLY! That people imagine they’re escaping the pettiness of their lives by collapsing this vast, infinitely strange universe into the frowsy little anthropomorphic corner that their stunted imaginations are able to inhabit- it’s intensely disturbing and frustrating to see.

  18. speedwell says

    Looking back on it, even when I was six, I found all of the “we are unworthy, O Lord” and the other self-hating mantras of Christian dogma fundamentally offensive.

    Yeah, me too… I was about that age when I was allowed to read along with Daddy out of the hymnal when the Presbyterian congregation rose and chanted how nasty and low they all were. He says I looked at him with a hurt and shocked expression and said, “I did NOT do that!”

    I remember thinking that part of being a Christian must be making sure you sinned in all those horrible ways so that you wouldn’t be a liar when you told God in church you were sorry for having done them. In the meantime, I figured I was off the hook because I was just a little kid.

  19. speedwell says

    That wasn’t my deconversion story, by the way. I was pretty devout into my 30s. I was a “good girl” and believed what I was told to believe and was really good at rationalizing it. What happened to make me change my mind is a long story, but briefly, I just basically grew up.

  20. Alex says

    “…collapsing this vast, infinitely strange universe into the frowsy little anthropomorphic corner that their stunted imaginations are able to inhabit- it’s intensely disturbing and frustrating to see.”

    Great sentiment Steve. Wonderfully worded.

  21. Kseniya says

    I don’t have a real “deconversion” story, no epiphany, but here goes…

    I cannot honestly say I’m an Atheist, but I can’t bring myself to go to church anymore (and a very friendly, low-key, liberal Episcopal church in New England it is) despite the beauty of the place and the obvious goodness of the people who perform and attend the services. The rituals seem empty and I can’t recite the Nicean creed, because to do so is, for me personally, to lie. I don’t believe those things, and can no longer in good conscience pretend that I do.

    My experiences are similar to those described by Hairhead, though my dad is not a preacher – he’s an agnostic, which describes me pretty well too, I guess. I’m twenty-two years old, the eldest of three. I am a strong supporter of the freedom of (and from) religion and complementary secular government as envisioned and espoused by Jefferson, Madison et al.

    At thirteen, at the recommendation of both my parents, I read Clarke’s Childhood’s End and could never again see “god”, the universe, or humanity’s place in it in that tiny little anthropocentric way that most earth religions do. If that’s enough to send me to Hell, then I hope to see all y’all there at the gates (the mouth? LOL) to greet me in about sixty years.

    Here’s another quote for your database, PZ. Maybe you have it, but I haven’t seen it pop up yet.

    It is the final proof of God`s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us. -Peter De Vries

  22. carlman23 says

    I was raised in a small Canadian city, in a community that was predominantly French-Catholic. In my childhood, I’d always been a rather “black or white” about things (i.e. either I’d be really into them or completely agnostic). So much so that my parents actually began to worry that I was spending too much time praying (2 hours before bed; I’m not making this up).
    Anyways, this continued on until high-school, when I began developing a love of science and reading in general. I quickly began to have doubts about my faith when I realized that the “Good Book” was inconsistent and contradictory and that its account of creation was contradicted by scientific evidence.
    The real kicker came when I went to a funeral for a classmate who’d, quite sadly, committed suicide. The Priest conducted a normal Catholic funeral (despite the fact that everyone understood that the student was irrevocably going to Hell) until he began his sermon. He explained that the reason that this tragic act happened was because of… (are you ready?) The local mall, the concept of “high-fives” and a neighbouring city where less people were Catholic. Apparently we spent more time at the mall than church, “high-fives” were a form of idolatry and this other city was corrupting us through some unforeseen agent of doom…

    It was too much, the whole enterprise collapsed for me. I honestly think that that funeral created a few atheists out of believers…

  23. Johnny Vector says

    No organized religion ever had any hold on me, but I did have a strong desire as a young child to believe in something outside the mundane physical existence. UFOs, some kind of mind over matter, or whatever. The real release from all that was when in my early teens my mom, a librarian, gave me the book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved, written by another librarian.

    It finished opening my eyes to the fact that the Bermuda Triangle stories (and, by implication, the rest of the woo-woo stuff) were presented as only highly-selected facts, distortions, and just plain lies. There’s only so many times you can compare the “…disappeared without a trace!” of The Legend to the “Witnesses on shore reported a huge fireball, and several life jackets were found amid the oil slick the next morning” of contemporaneous newspaper reports, before beginning to think the errors are not accidental.

    I’ve been all Randi-ish and Penn & Teller-y since.

  24. Rien says

    So why this assumption that atheists have converted? I have never ever believed in any gods, not even when I was a kid and went to the boy scouts that had prayers and stuff. It just made made me feel silly. But then, my parents never went to church so I guess I was lucky that way.

    Guess I did believe in Santa though.

  25. says

    I remember when I began to consciously think about these questions. As a child, I loved reading mythology (and being rather bloodthirsty, apparently, I much preferred the Norse myths to the Greek ones).

    Anyway, I asked my mother one day, “What’s the difference between mythology and religion?”, and she answered, “Religion is true; mythology isn’t.” Trying to figure out what THAT meant caused the first cracks to appear in the edifice.

  26. Rey Fox says

    Wish I could say that there was one blinding moment of revelation for me (it makes great copy, don’t it?), but it was fairly gradual. I never could quite see religion as spilling over into the rest of the week from the stand-up-sit-down-stand-up-kneel ritual of Mass. I had some Catholic guilt around age 10 or so, but never enough to derail my more important mission in life of having fun. I was also interested in science and dinosaurs and geologic time, and so I never could quite reconcile that with biblical history (to paraphrase Hairhead, there’s a much bigger world out there outside Christianity). Around age 13 or so, I blithely declared myself atheist, but still went to church for another five years for Mom ‘n’ Dad’s sake.

  27. Stogoe says

    I don’t have a neat, poof moment, much like many people here. I suspect most ‘conversions’ and ‘de-conversions’ are an accumulation of lots of events. Perhaps it was reading Greek mythology in school and wondering why these stories were ‘made up’ while Jesus’s were ‘really really real for real’. Maybe it was seeing Christians act just like everyone else while constantly talking up how much different and better they were. Maybe it was being forced to church on the Sunday after 9/11 and seeing the hate and bigotry still spewing from the pulpit. Maybe it was having to leave a Boy Scout outing early so I could go be ‘confirmed’. Maybe it was wondering what would really happen if I denounced my faith during the confirmation ceremony besides a few gasps and shouts of ‘heretic!’.

    It’s a long road, and I’m not near the end yet. Heck, I don’t think this road ever really ends. I’ve had a lot of shackle-loosening moments, but no one single moment when the lock clicked open. Maybe that’s just me.

  28. Steve LaBonne says

    So why this assumption that atheists have converted?

    Not so much an assumption as a simple statistical likelihood given the obsessive religiosity of US society- most people will have had parents who were religious and will have been on the receiving end of some childhood religious indoctrination.

    Like you, children of non-religious parents- my daughter, for instance- won’t need to “deconvert” (unless they’ve been unlucky enough to catch a religious meme from some other source). But such families are a pretty small minority in our benighted land.

  29. Steve_C says

    Sure you can. When you stop going to church and choose not to participate. PZ stated it happened for him when he was going through confirmation classes. He bailed out.

    I don’t see any inconsistencies with that.

  30. says

    carlman23: As a fellow Canadian, I’m curious. Do you mind sharing with us when and where that was?

    I have no real deconversion story. I just slowly jettisoned more and more beliefs. Even when I was six or so I wrote a god-is-an-extra-terrestrial story, though.

  31. says

    I never believed, but my disbelief worried me. After all, everything else I was taught at school was true, wasn’t it? [I’m in the UK. God bothering is on the curriculum.] So sometime around the age of eight or nine I asked my mum whether she believed in god. “No” she said. I can still remember the feeling of relief that I wasn’t alone.

  32. carlman23 says

    In the interest of anonymity on the intarweb, I’ve tried to be vague. However, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to say that I’m from Moncton, New-Brunswick (An east-coast province that borders Maine for all people unfamiliar with the region). The “devil-city” was Miramichi. New-Brunswick, though Northern by American standards, bears many parallels with the American “South” as it is a) poor, b) deeply religious and c) socially-conservative (all by Canadian standards). I have to admit that having moved away from there, I’m not surprised that many people never “de-convert”. When you live in a bubble-world where everyone shares your religious beliefs, teachers talk about god in school, and every-single person is of white European descent, there’s nothing to challenge your convictions and nothing to dispel the illusions you’ve created for yourself.

  33. Xanthir, FCD says

    Like several others, I didn’t have a deconversion experience. I went to church when I was a little kid and went to a private Christian school through first grade. After that, though, I just… stopped. My mom and grandma (who I lived with) were not very religous, so belief never got brought up. I gradually drifted into a state of agnosticism, which became firmed into atheism after I read some more and stopped being a relativist.

    My grandma believed in quite a bit of woo stuff with Edgar Cayce and UFOs, though. I was all over that stuff for some time. I can’t recall when I finally realized that it wasn’t real – it may have been a gradual slide like the religion bit.

    My wife’s family *is* very religous (though they know and understand our position, and are cool with it), so we go with them to church for the important things like the Christmas service and the important choir functions (which they are in). I find it beyond entertaining to fill in all the hymns and chants with fantasy gods, and pretend I’m at an actual service for them. It’s all in my head, but it makes it all easily bearable.

  34. speedwell says

    I find it beyond entertaining to fill in all the hymns and chants with fantasy gods, and pretend I’m at an actual service for them. It’s all in my head, but it makes it all easily bearable.

    Awesome, Xanthir, can I play? :)

    Uh, so much for “growing up.” lol

  35. wyomeg says

    Thanks for alerting me to the invite, PZ. I’ve never shared my story and it feels good!
    My Sunday mornings since age 14 have been so better spent than the first 13 years!
    I still like the xmas music and the candles, though…

  36. Christ says

    I don’t remember a time when I really believed in gods. Like someone up thread mentioned, I went through a phase with mystical critters. Ghouls, vampires, aliens & etc., but I never quite fell all the way in love with them. I knew they were imaginary, as I know all gods are. Humans baffle me no end, especially in their herd form.

  37. says

    There is a little conundrum here. I was brought up in the Lutheran church, but it was more of a default position. Do children really believe, ever? Did I deconvert, or was I just idling along, and only in my teenage years actually thought about it, and made a decision? “Deconversion” might be the problematic word, and what we’re actually getting at is how we established our identities as atheists. (I also don’t think young kids can be called atheists, anymore than we can call them Catholics or Moslems or Protestants.)

  38. j says

    Really? I think atheism is a default. All infants are born atheists; they have no concept of a higher being. It would be an implicit rather than explicit atheism, but it is atheism nonetheless.

  39. Magnus says

    I guess I’ve allways been an atheist at heart, but as a you cub in kindergarten i wanted to believ what the grown ups told me. That lead me to accepting stories about jesus and his fantastic achievements. When i was about five or six i declared my self a six day xtian, not being religious on sundays so that I didn’t have to go to church.

    My parents always were quite atheistic although I’ve never really heard them express it explicitly. My mother were and is quite allergic to religious nonsense, but she never gave me any guidance in any direction. I don’t think her position where that well though through.

    My father did quite early introduce me to the illogic of the bible, although in retrospect I don’t know how good a role model he was (and is). He do believe in UFO’s and have read alot of Erich von Däniken, engulfing all that kind of nonsense. And once, while trying to comfort me about the death of my grandmother he expressed a personal belief in a spiritual afterlife. I think the parental influences can be quite damaging even if they are atheist, especially if they aren’t well thought through.

    In fact i think my real deconversion came quite recently from a position as an atheist postmodern relativist.

  40. says

    carlman23: It’s good to see other people from New Brunswick reading this blog. I’m from Fredericton myself (though now in Burnaby, BC).

    I can understand what you mean about Miramichi, and probably the entire surround region. My mother’s family is from the area, and having gone there often I have experienced much of this insular little world many people live in.