Why I am an atheist – Anonymous

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t suffer from what was later diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. Imagine being a child (even under the age of 5) and being so depressed that suicide seemed the only option. I was raised as a practicing Christian. My mother took me to church every Sunday and I took in what was said. I believed that the way I felt was a punishment or moral failing from God for some failure on my part. I tried very hard to be “good.” When I reached middle school the illness reached its height. During my years in the fifth and sixth grade I was suicidal daily. Everything felt dark and unchangeable. I carried a piece of broken glass with me at all times so if the pain became too much I could slit my wrists at any moment. This was when the bipolar aspect really kicked in and I had psychotic symptoms. I thought people met and planned on ways to get me to kill myself; the blood couldn’t be on their hands. If people were talking and laughing as I went by, it must be about me. I redoubled my efforts to be good, even though the whole religion thing had begun to seem suspect. I clearly remember sitting in pew somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8 and thinking, “this just doesn’t make any sense.” Luckily for me, I was born with a very scientific mind. I always had questions and logic and science seemed to me to be the best paths to a clear answer. Initially these took the form of me questioning what was wrong with me, why was I a suffering? Between 5th and 8th grade I researched mental illness and determined I was suffering from either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I still believed, even with my scientific views, that my illness was my fault. The religion in which I was raised seemed to imply I simply needed to try harder and become a better Christian. I tried to reach out for help from adults, but my fear that my illness was brought on by myself precluded me from doing so. As I grew up, I began to question even more. I was always interested in astronomy and physics and they focused my mind on science and the scientific method. Despite my illness, I excelled in school. I moved on through high school and began college. I finally was able to ask my parents to send me to a psychiatrist. After trying several drugs, I found one that keeps the demons mostly a bay. I married a wonderful man. I continued schooling and received my AA, BS and recently my MS.

There is simply no way there is a god. Why would a god allow a child to suffer in the way that I did? Why would a god allow any child to suffer from disease, neglect or abuse? These were the initial questions that started my atheism. I always found the basic Christian tenets iffy at best, even when I was very young; but I thought it must be because I was not trying hard enough. As an adult, I now easily state my atheism when asked. I am surprised at how many people ask me, “but what happens when you die?” I find their fear of the unknown a poor basis for believing in a deity. I have experienced fear in my life, but I still look out at our amazing universe and am at peace with the idea that I may never know all the answers. And that’s ok.

United States


  1. Rip Steakface says

    Pastor Whackjob, the problem is your god is supposed to be omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. If god is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, why do people suffer? Not even Christian people have no suffering. If Christians never had any problems in life, ever, there’d actually be some evidence for your god in that. However, clearly, Christians face suffering on a basis equal to the rest of the population.

    If your god really did love his followers, really was powerful and all-knowing, then he would protect them, give to them and generally leave some measurable presence from those things. Nothing of the sort has been found.

  2. KG says


    Your courage and endurance are remarkable: it must be bad enough to be afflicted with a serious psychiatric condition; but to be told, in effect, that this is your fault is truly terrible – that you have gone so far to overcome this is inspiring. I’m sure the great majority of posters here wish you all the best for your future.


    You really are a disgusting excuse for a human being. You quite clearly have no spark of decency in you, no compassion whatever for human suffering.

    This atheist believes there is no God on account of the fact that there is suffering in the world?

    Unimpeachable reasoning, at least if we assume, as Christians claim, that “God” must be both omnipotent and benevolent to be worth the name. Such a being would obviously have created a world without suffering if it created anything at all.

    Do you realize that the Christian religion is founded on the passion and crucifixion of an innocent man?

    Yes, vile, isn’t it? According to Christianity, this omnipotent being chose to have his son tortured and murdered, when he could simply have put everything right with a click of the divine fingers.

    Suffering is part of the human condition because of original sin.

    More of the unspeakable vileness of Christianity. Punishing people for something a distant ancestor did would be utterly evil. Moreover, if the Christian God existed, then, being omniscient, it would have known very well how the beings it created would behave, and yet still, Christianity teaches, punishes all their descentdants for it. Why do you worship evil, pastorscumbag?

  3. federicobar says

    @pastorwinthrop: Except for some serious physical pain that has lasted maybe a week in total, on two occasions, suffering has not been part of my life, does that mean that I am not human?
    Two months ago, I enjoyed my 80th birthday. Would you please tell me if I can still expect to be punished for YOUR original sin? The thing is, I am not aware of my original sin.

  4. alektorophile says

    Thanks for so neatly summing up your beliefs: to quote Darwin, it is indeed a “damnable doctrine”. I find the mental contorsions believers go through to explain pain and suffering in the world always incoherent, sometimes humorous, and more often than not, creepy. Your specific set of beliefs fits all three.

    Really there are only three ways to look at it:
    1-Your god exists but is impotent;
    2-Your god exists but is not lifting a finger to help the suffering;
    3-There is no such thing as a magic bearded guy in the sky.

    If (1), really, why bother; if (2), fuck the bastard; and if (3), which given the evidence makes the most sense, why not try to help and make the world a better place instead of wasting everybody’s time with your evil mumbo-jumbo?

  5. kemist says

    Suffering is part of the human condition because of original sin.

    Let’s do a thought experiment.

    I bring you in court and sentence you to be tortured to death. The whole proof has no link with anything you actually did. It’s about your great-great-great-great grandfather who stole an apple from his neighbor’s orchard as an innocent child.

    Would you call this justice ?

    Why then do you call it so when your psychopathic god does it ? If you are not a psychopath yourself, you’d call any human who acts like your supposed god does an evil sadistic monster.

    The only reason you might somewhat excuse the behavior is if you considered the person didn’t know any better because of age, mental defect or illness. In other words, that this person is not responsible for his/her acts.

    So, the question is, why does your god gets off the hook for highly unethical behavior ? If you consider that this being is omni-everything, shouldn’t it at the very least, fill up the human minimums for ethical behavior ? Excusing your god’s failure to fulfill the bare minimum of human ethics then amounts to saying that it is not responsible for its acts.

  6. James C. says

    From what I’ve heard, religious piety + mental illness = a really nasty feedback loop that ushers in a living hell for the poor unlucky person afflicted with both.

    Between that odious doctrine of original sin and the impossible-to-follow laws of biblegod (lust is adultery and anger is murder, for one,) Christianity is premised on beating out all your self-worth, then replacing it with the Christian variant (which is a terrible little thing that demands perpetual joy no matter the circumstances.) I’m sure that does wonders for a vulnerable person’s mental health.

    I’m not an expert, but I wouldn’t be surprised if religion flat-out causes something similar to “mild” OCD in vulnerable people that would be cured by leaving religion, or at least becoming less religious. A commenter over at Love Joy Feminism posted an experience like that, and it wouldn’t be incongruous with my own experience (but I certainly hesitate to call it OCD.)

  7. Randomfactor says

    According to the Christian position, mankind suffers due to god’s Original Landscaping Error.

    About time he owned up to it, no?

    Anonymous, thanks for writing this. Religion obviously played a huge role in CAUSING suffering in your case; it did nothing to alleviate it.

  8. says

    Thank you for your story. I agree religion+mental illness is a terrible combo. It seems that faith is little more than wilful ignorance.
    And Jamesc- I’ve often wondered about Islam and it’s Obsessive Compulsive prayer 5 times a day schedule.

  9. boadinum says

    Pastorwinthrop is a troll, beware.

    To anonymous, your story is beautiful and revealing; beautiful because you have overcome mental illness and religious indoctrination and have become a wonderful, functioning human being; revealing because you have embraced the only means rational people have to understand this amazing universe…logic and the scientific method.

    All the best to you and yours.

  10. lizdamnit says

    Anonymous, thank you for sharing your story – I admire your determination to overcome what brought you so much pain.

    *scrolly, scrolly past the trolly in the first comment* Yeah, whatevs with that, your post rocks :)

    “I find their fear of the unknown a poor basis for believing in a deity. I have experienced fear in my life, but I still look out at our amazing universe and am at peace with the idea that I may never know all the answers. And that’s ok.”

    Excellently put! I also wonder about the prevalence of fear as a motivator in religious communities or for herding the skeptics back in. How can that possibly be a good way to bring up a kid, or conduct life as an adult? There’s so much to inspire wonder and so much beauty *right here* (even with all the shitty things humans do) that I can’t fathom why people would feel the need to poison it.

    Anyway, thank you!

  11. says

    Pastor Winthrop is no longer welcome on any of the “Why I am an atheist” threads. Any further intrusion of his godbotting ass into these discussions will lead to me lopping it off. Furthermore, any more babbling about the “Kingdom of God”, “Holy Spirit”, or such similar fucking bullshit will lead to a peremptory banning for proselytizing and stupidity.

  12. clarysage says

    Thank you, Anonymous, for your cogent and moving essay. As a child going to church, I wondered how god could allow the devil to inflict not only Job, but his entire family, with suffering (he let the devil kill Job’s kids!) just on the whim of a bet that Job wouldn’t talk shit about god. Who wants to worship a god that inflicts random pain on his/her creations? I have to admit that I thought Pastor Winthrop’s comments were the work of a facetious atheist until I got to the last line. “Do you realize that the Christian religion is founded on the passion and crucifixion of an innocent man? Suffering is part of the human condition because of original sin.” Pastor, you make my point for me.

  13. procyon says

    @PZ What about continually posting 4000 year old tribal scriptures that are imbued by magic with everlasting truth as proof of one’s position? Would that be OK?

  14. says

    “Why would a god allow a child to suffer in the way that I did? Why would a god allow any child to suffer from disease, neglect or abuse?”

    That really resonates. I have never believed in God. But when I think about how I would explain why I know God does not exist I come up with one thing. My girlfriends Christian stepfather repeated raped her from the ages of 5 to 15. And yes, on several occasions it was on Christmas by the tree.

    Really? God is going to let this monster rape a kid on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Well I prefer to believe there is no God than to believe in a God like that.

  15. says

    It’s probably a little mean of me to post this, as pastorwinthrop has been threatened with the banhammer for proselytizing, but:

    What’s this “original sin” thing again? Six thousand years ago, one of our ancestors listened to a magical talking snake and ate from a magical tree put there by magical God who only wanted the best for his children but wanted to tempt them anyway. So she committed a sin, even though she had no capacity to tell good from evil. Is that the story to which you refer?

    How is this flawed? Let me count the ways.

    One. It’s quite obviously a myth, and at odds with the co-myth that comes in the same book of Genesis.

    Two. How can someone sin, when they do not know the difference between good and evil? That makes no sense. That’s like telling a child not to touch a hot stove, but not giving them the information necessary for them to discern a hot stove from a cool stove. It makes no sense, even within the context of the myth.

    Three. Why is the child responsible for the sins of the ancestor, again? It makes no sense to punish someone for the crimes of another.

    That leads directly to:

    Four. How did the Christ’s crucifixion pay for other people’s sins, exactly? That would qualitatively be no different than me choosing to take the electric chair in place of another, on the condition that the convicted person accept my sacrifice. Never mind that Christ supposedly never sinned. (Though wrath is a sin, and he sure was pissed at both the money lenders in the temple, and at the fig tree he cursed.) That’s just a facade for the basic flaw in the premise: one cannot pay for the crime of another. It just doesn’t make moral sense, in the same way a child cannot be held responsible for the sins of the ancestors.

    Those are the three basic flaws of the premise of original sin, and a bonus logical flaw for salvation through some mythical Christ character.

    People with higher quality intellects than pastorwinthrop have struggled with the problem of theodicy. Blithe assertions of original sin and ultimate salvation are incoherent in the face of the logic behind it.

  16. concernedjoe says

    I must say I do NOT think the argument “how can there be so much suffering if there is a god?” is a definitive path to the conclusion “there is no god/supernatural”.

    I think that the only thing this path serves is to cast doubt on the ever popular definition of god we western moderns are feed. Yes evidence abounds and is obvious; evidence that shows incongruity with that wishful thinking definition. But to use this line of argument any further opens a flank to some version of “god is Lucifer and one only need to look at the cruelty around us to see that!”

    I think the ancients recognized the paradox and had more than one god to cover all bases as religious dogma. Abrahamic religions tried to step around it in similar fashion with the fallen angels but got boxed in by their omni-everything definition spunned by wanting to be the best god on the block.

    Simply I think our modern solid argument centers around this: we are atheists because we do not see any evidence nor need for god or supernatural by any definition. Natural causes and natural science explanations serve us quite reliably and well, and NO god of any type seems to have a hand in anything once examined. We don’t believe in gods any more than we believe gremlins cause blown head gaskets or St. Christopher saves lives. No need to act (thought and/or deed) infantile or crazy it boils down to.

  17. cag says

    Bastard pedo pastorwinthrop #1 – until you can prove that your god exists (or any god exists) and the outcome for those who pray is better than those who don’t, stop proselytizing here. Thanks PZ for putting him on probation.

    The use of “pastor” in a non-sarcastic way does not gain you any points in this venue. It is the same as calling yourself prevaricatorwinthrop. Go preach to those who willingly drink the kookaid Kool-Aid.

  18. KG says

    But to use this line of argument any further opens a flank to some version of “god is Lucifer and one only need to look at the cruelty around us to see that!” – concernedjoe

    But then you come up against the “Problem of Good”! Would an evil god create a universe with so much good in it? Or indeed, any at all. As you say, you need a pantheon, or at least a good god and an evil one, or one morally ambiguous god. I think all these have been tried.

  19. lilya says

    Thanks for sharing your story, Anonymous.

    I’m an atheist with OCD (mostly obsessive, rarely compulsive) and your story feels familiar. I’ve had OCD symptoms from an early age but my disease really took hold at 12. I wasn’t raised that religious but I had strong religious obsessions in my teens and early 20s. God and the Bible scared me shitless: the whole book was full of stories of God making people do things they didn’t really want to (Abraham? Mary?). I couldn’t see God as a benevolent being, to me he was a big bully who did whatever he wanted with people and their lives and made them obey him. When I was obsessive, I could think nothing else than God doing something similar to me and taking away my control over my own life. That was a very, very scary and lonely place to be – probably the closest feeling to hell I’ll ever experience.

    What helped me was therapy, right medication and becoming an atheist. I read the whole Bible from cover to cover in my early 20s during a period when I was mentally calm, then I read bunch of books about the history of the Bible (Bart Ehrman comes to mind) and came to the conclusion that I had no reason to believe anymore. Now, I’m married, have a college degree and a job and am doing so much better. I still get symptoms occosionally but becoming an atheist gave me a peace of mind and a rational, sensible world view.

    For some of us, religion doesn’t bring peace but sadness, terror and loneliness.

  20. Margaret says

    Anonymous, thank you for your moving story. You show amazing courage in overcoming such problems.


    I must say I do NOT think the argument “how can there be so much suffering if there is a god?” is a definitive path to the conclusion “there is no god/supernatural”.

    The non-existence of all the possible gods but the one(s) that we are indoctrinated with in childhood tends to be trivially obvious to most people. The problem of evil leads to the conclusion that the tri-omni god that most of us in the Western world are brought up with does not exist. It’s hardly surprising when someone fails to mention the easy conclusion that there is no evidence of any other possible gods after talking about the emotionally painful process of throwing off their childhood indoctrination.

  21. unclefrogy says

    as pastorwhimpy said but not to clearly pain and suffering is not just allowed by god because of “original sin” but is demanded by god.
    If any of that twisted crap is real then clearly god of the bible is really the evil spirit himself saying one thing and doing another, Ghee that kind of reminds me of …….

    A. thanks for your courage both in fighting for sanity and the courage to tell us about the struggle.
    You remind me how crappy religion made me feel all the time.

    uncle frogy