Why I am an atheist – Summer

I’m sure you are more than flooded with posts to this category, and probably still being flooded more and more each day. As a sociology student, I absolutely love reading the various ways people came into atheism in our religious soaked culture. After some mulling it over, I decided I wanted to send mine is as well. I don’t know if it will ever get posted, but I still wanted to add my story to the pile. You should consider compiling all of these into a book. I know I would read it!

I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, in a small yet deeply religious town, in the heart of Oklahoma. Obviously, Christianity was presented to me as the only possible way. But, I was lucky. During my childhood I had an uncle who doted on me, having no children of his own, and often stepped in to provide babysitting and care when other family members were busy. My uncle never made noise about his beliefs, mostly, I believe, because that would have cut him out of the family and community. Whatever he believed, I’ll never know. What I do know is that he loved planting seeds of doubt, oh so subtly, in my head. He had two loves in his life, science and history, and he took every moment to go off on long-winded rants about both, usually in ways that would cause me to doubt the myths I had heard without causing suspicion from the believers.

I remember one beautiful starry night, in mid-December, he woke me up in the middle of the night to pull out the telescope and gaze up into the sky. He told me about the constellations, who they were named for, and what they had done to deserve such a special place. As we talked about ancient myths and the cultures of those myths, he threw out a jewel. Sometimes women got pregnant outside of marriage, but that could have been very dangerous for them. Wouldn’t it be safer to simply say “God did it”, whomever that God was, then to risk death? With the story of the virgin-birth of Jesus around me at that time, he managed to put doubt into my head without actually bringing up Mary or Jesus. It was sneaky, and beautiful.

When I was finally old enough to toss off Christianity, I flung myself into paganism. My reasoning, as cloudy as it was, made sense to a young girl who was trying to escape. One, the brand of Christianity I was raised in was very, devoutly anti-women. At my church, women and girls were to sit in the back of the church and be silent, rising shortly before the men to assemble in the kitchen area and prepare the after service meal while the men and boys got to hear the just-for-them sermon. Suddenly coming across a religion, as fuzzy as that term might be, where I wasn’t seen as chattel was breathtaking. Finally, I was an equal person! Secondly, my uncle had tempted me into looking at the history of Christianity, and a lot of what I read showed me that they took a lot of their ideas/beliefs/traditions from pagan religions at that time. To me, if Christianity had to steal these from the pagans, the early Christians must have known that these pagan religions were more true, more right. They wouldn’t have stolen from them if they were not superior in some way. (In my defense, I wasn’t a wand waving, spell casting pagan. I looked down at those types as ignorant. I was more of a history book reading pagan, believing there was some “greater power” that didn’t need our worship and was more concerned with the big picture than our puny, little selves.)

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself a young mother who was desperate to give my kids the education I felt I had missed out on. In order to teach them better about the world, I knew I had to understand it better. So I threw myself into the subject that was glossed over so much when I was a kid: science. Again, I was lucky to have an uncle that secretly brought me books and pirated videos of Sagan and Hawking when I was a teen, but I wanted my kids to be exposed to these types of ideas at a younger age, to not have to overcome a decade of religious brainwashing first. As I began to look more into these areas in order to break them down for my kids, I started to understand something. I held on to paganism because I needed a Why. I needed something bigger than myself, bigger than the whole of humanity, bigger than the universe, to give meaning to it all. I conceded that such a power might exist in such a way that our current scientific abilities were not able to detect it, but I still felt that it was there. Because it had to be there. Because there had to be a why.

As soon as I realized that was the reason I held on to some belief, I felt foolish. There doesn’t have to be a why, random things happen all the time for no reason. Finally getting that let me toss of what was left of my beliefs and accept that I’m an atheist. I think my uncle would be proud.

United States


  1. Gnu Atheist says

    You’re right, Summer. There’s already quite a pile of these essays and I’m sure that PZ has only posted a small percentage of the total so far. I’m beginning to find some of them tedious and a bit, well, sounding like all the others.

    Yours, however, was engaging and uplifting. I think of myself as the uncle in your story. I’m the heathen in a family of devout Catholics, so I try whenever I can to subtly influence my nieces & nephews (& their kids) – always careful not to be too blatant. I even bring my telescopes!

    Thanks for your story. Perusing the mundane ones is worth it for finding the occasional gem.

    Portsmouth, VA

  2. generallerong says

    Wow, Summer, once I started reading your account my eyes were glued to the screen. Thanks for writing this.

  3. says

    Yes! Yes! Yes! “As soon as I realized that was the reason I held on to some belief, I felt foolish. There doesn’t have to be a why, random things happen all the time for no reason. Finally getting that let me toss of what was left of my beliefs and accept that I’m an atheist. I think my uncle would be proud.”

    Yes!!! There doesn’t *have* to be a *why*! Nature *is* as nature *is*, there is no *why*, at least, not in the theological sense. Some people cling to this *why*, and take comfort in myths, legends and, as Sam Harris says, “Iron Age Fairy Tales”.

    I’m with you, Summer. I left Catholicism behind, but not until I was in my late forties…and I’m educated, trained and employed as a scientist! I unknowingly subscribed to Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” via my ignorance as a Catholic. Having cleared my head of religious nonsense, I stand with you and all freethinking non-believers!

  4. =8)-DX says

    “Random things happen all the time for no reason.”

    Exactly, it’s almost mystifying the way people who are clearly intelligent fail to understand the meaning of the word “random” by blatantly assuming a nonexistant “why”.

  5. says

    If PZ does eventually compile this into a book, you should help edit. Writing style and all made it a captivating story.

  6. TimKO,,.,, says

    Summer, it wasn’t that long ago I referred to myself as pagan. There were three reasons:
    *It made conversations much shorter and perhaps gained a modicum of respect as opposed to “atheist”
    *I’m an outdoors person so I essentially “worship”
    *But mainly it just caused self-amusement