Why I am an atheist – Tom J

At some point in my teens I became rather disenchanted with being Catholic. Well, not with all of Catholicism. Mainly I was disappointed over the sacrament of Confirmation. All my life my parents and elders told me God was real and that Confirmation (“bierzmowanie” as they call it in Polish) was going to prove it to me. The Great Catholic Bishop James Timlin traveled all the way down from Scranton to anoint my fellow Catholics and me with the Sacred Chrism and make me a man in the eyes of God. We were all going to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally the moment came. One by one were brought before His Excellency, The Bishop.

He made his rounds to all us who spent the last decade learning and preparing for this second baptism. While I waited, I imagined what it would be like to finally meet YHWH in person. I pictured lots of singing and soft lights. Those around me straighted up as His Excellency approached. At last, it was finally my turn. He said some words of prayer. I responded. I closed my eyes and I was ready to faint and receive the gifts of the Almighty. “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” I felt a greasy thumb smear a rough triangle across my brow. I closed my eyes tighter, waiting for the Holy Spirit to make himself known. I took several slow deep breathes in anticipation. The bishop moved on to the person next to me and the cycle repeated. I looked to the left. I glanced to the right. Everyone had shiny, sticky foreheads that fittingly smelled like church. Just prior to the mass, all everyone was talking about was how much cash they were getting from their relatives for being confirmed. Cash was nice, but I felt no Holy Spirit and I was let down. Maybe the Bishop was just bad at anointing. Maybe I didn’t say the words sincerely enough. Whatever the reason, it didn’t happen to me. I must have dropped the Gift of the Holy Spirit or something.

A girl from school invited me to go to her Wesleyan youth group several times and I got to see how Christians discuss the Bible. Catholics don’t discuss the Bible. The Catholic Brothers and Fathers tell you what the stories are and what they mean. It was nice to have an interactive forum for a change. However, they never discussed the parts of the Bible where the morally questionable stuff happened– like the part where Lot is seduced by his daughters (Genesis 19:30-36) or where bald Elijah gets Yahweh to send two bears to kill the youth that mock his lack of hair (2 Kings 23-25). I didn’t know about these stories either so selective teaching is alive in well not just in Catholicism..

A pivotal test of faith for me came when I saw an TV ad for a debate about God in 2007. It was to be on ABC’s Nightline. Martin Bashir was going to moderate a debate over whether God exists.

It featured the somewhat famous actor Kirk Cameron and YouTuber Ray Comfort proclaiming that they would demonstrate evidence that God exists. The other debate team was two people named Brian and Kelly from some obscure organization called the “Rational Response Squad”. Who were these damned dirty atheists claiming there was no YHWH? Those fuckers– how dare they challenge the evidence of God! I genuinely was excited to finally see evidence, at long last. I wanted once and for all know whether my mom and dad’s religion had something to it. I wanted to be a better Catholic and this was the incentive for me to finally grow up and be responsible for my sins and fell the power of the Holy Spirit.

The promos of the debate promised that Ray and Kirk were going to prove God exists without invoking scripture. I was finally going to see this for myself. I missed the original broadcast of Nightline because of my work schedule, so I caught the debate as clips posted to YouTube. The opening statement from Ray left me aghast. His claim was that “using eyes that see and a brain that works” we can see that we are standing on God’s creation. A creation needs a creator. Therefore, YHWH exists. Creationism. Plus he threw in a sermon about sinning while invoking the ten commandments (from scripture). The same shit I heard all my life. The bit about buildings needing builders and paintings needing painters, was trumped in grade school science class when we learned the Earth’s creation is plausibly explained by the process of accretion. No YHWH required.

Brian and Kelly didn’t even need to say a word. To me, they already won. Kirk and Ray were the best that religion had to offer on national television? Brian and Kelly went on to point out the philosophical and logical flaws in Ray’s and Kirk’s arguments. Atheism trounced the foundations of YHWH so soundly, I could not ever go back to believing in that bat shit craziness anymore. Only then did it make obvious sense why the Holy Spirit didn’t visit me at Confirmation. For the first time I saw truly rational people telling the religious, to their faces, that they were not only full of shit, but that their burden of proof is not met by a self-contradicting bronze age tome cobbled together by a committee who performed the miracle of turning monotheism into polytheism by inventing the Trinity™, a concept which oddly is never hinted at in said tome.

In the years since then I’ve enjoyed watching guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens debate creationists and apologists in the dozens of YouTube clips available on the subject. Not once has any of the religious put forth anything credible to show the existence of their deity. The burden of proof has always been on theism and their burden is no longer mine.

Tom J
United States


  1. rodriguez says

    This is a great description of Catholic confirmation: I felt a greasy thumb smear a rough triangle across my brow….Everyone had shiny, sticky foreheads that fittingly smelled like church. If you take away the music, there’s not much left but this stuff.

  2. says

    There have been several stories where someone expected some “religious experience” and it failed, so…

    And that makes me think that it makes perfect sense to expect something from religion, and when I and others fail to get any sort of promised “experience,” why should we believe? But then, what do you tell those who do have those religious experiences?

    Sure, others don’t, yet I wonder how that’s going to be any “argument” to them. It is an argument, all right, it’s just that they aren’t at all likely to recognize it as such, since they have their “touch of God.” Calvinists have their “out,” as well, which is that some are chosen, others aren’t. Pathetic for many reasons, one of which is the true Scotsman fallacy, however I can’t help but think that those thinking that way who have the “spiritual experience” aren’t at all likely to question the explanation that seems to work for them.

    My guess is that those who have the (non-psychedelic) spiritual experiences aren’t all that likely to be persuaded that those aren’t genuine “proof” of divinity. They’re flattered at their “specialness” and get off on the “spiritual experience” as well, and so have little personal need to question it.

    Maybe hearing Cameron and Ray blithering stupidly would be the closest they’d come questioning the meaning of their “touch from God,” at least if they were otherwise fairly rational thinkers. They’d be easy to dismiss as well, though, so one wonders if understanding the weakness of any “spiritual experience” is likely for those who enjoy and value it.

    Glen Davidson

  3. dearania says

    When I had my bierzmowanie, the archbishop pressed so hard I thought I would fall over. If my sponser hadn’t been there pushing me in the other direction I probably would have. xD

    Until I saw that Tom J was from the states, I was convinced he was from my old church. I guess Polish churches are the same the world over.

  4. Anisopteran says

    The burden of proof has always been on theism and their burden is no longer mine.

    Beautiful turn of phrase, Tom.

  5. says

    Why my Confirmation approached I had been a closet unbeliever for years, just going through the motions until I got up the nerve to out myself to my parents. So I wasn’t looking for any spiritual whatsis, I just wanted to be able to add a cool-sounding extra name. And I figured I had a great one all picked out – my Dad’s middle name, Merlin.

    This didn’t go over too well, as apparently Merlin is not considered a saint by the Catholic church.

  6. cag says

    Glen D #2 – I suspect that there is more “fake it till you make it” by believers. The church, built on lies, depends on lies to survive. That is why they must devalue the lives of its parishioners so that when nothing happens it just builds the guilt and desperation. There is a purpose to “you didn’t pray hard enough – you weren’t devout enough – etc. etc. Blame the victim. Who among us couldn’t “talk in tongues” by faking it just like the believers? Who couldn’t say they were “touched” without feeling a thing?

    Liars lying, how novel.

  7. wpjoe says

    cag#6 and Glen#2,
    Of course you can have an emotional reaction to the situation and feel that you were touched even if it is all in your mind. It has been almost 20yrs since I believed the malarkey, but I remember feeling something was happening to me. Also at the time, I could pray and when I reached a conclusion, I was sure God had told it to me. The power of self-delusion is immense.

  8. drummer25 says

    I had almost exactly the same disillusionment at my first holy communion after being confirmed at the age of thirteen. I peeped threw my fingers at the moment when the priest raised the chalice to the alter for the blessing and transubstantiation, expecting to see a halo of divine light or at least something extraordinary. Nothing! Then I began to notice other things: the priest’s cassock was frayed at the hem and his shoes weren’t polished – things you’d expect to pay attention to in the presence of the almighty. I’d had doubts since my mother told god was everywhere and knew everything. But it was at my first confirmation when the doubts were confirmed and the scales fell from my eyes. Amen!

  9. dust says

    Tom J said

    The burden of proof has always been on theism and their burden is no longer mine.

    I like this, thanks for your story.

  10. StevoR says

    I wanted to be a better Catholic and this was the incentive for me to finally grow up and be responsible for my sins and fell the power of the Holy Spirit.

    And behold the power of the holy spitit was indeed felled! ;-)

    (Sorry to pick on typos here, I’m a dreadful typer myself, but that couldn’t resist that one as kinda funny and apt.)

    Like quite a few others, I’ll second that last line as one that really rocks and works.

  11. says

    Thanks for the positive comments.

    My parents were born in communist Poland and they fled to America (where I was born) in the 1970’s. To them and many other natives from Poland of that era, communism and atheism are synonymous. The election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II and the fall of the Soviet system during his reign gave the Church an incredible amount of credibility. To many, it was Pan Jezus that brought down the atheist commies.

    But still, I often wonder why the same people who cast out the Soviet system don’t see that the totalitarianism that made their lives Hell was modeled after the very religion they credit for saving them from it. My best guess is that the church now only rules them 1 hour a week instead of 8 days a week like back in the Soviet days.