Why I am an atheist – CM

Like others, I was raised in a fundamental Christian household, first as an Independent Baptist and then a Southern Baptist. We went to church at least three, sometimes five times a week. I was a good girl, very obedient and believing, but I remember being thrown by a Sunday school teacher’s answer when I asked where your soul was – floating above your head, she replied. So I was a bit skeptical of souls from third grade on. (Side note – I reasoned there was no santa when I was five because santa’s presents were addressed to me in my dad’s handwriting. Ditto with easter bunnies and tooth fairies. I wasn’t completely naïve, just when it had to do with religion.)

I excelled in everything God- and church-related; I wanted to be a good example of a Christian from an early age. So after I was saved at four years old I worked hard to learn as many Bible verses as possible, to be obedient, to witness to my friends, to hand out popsicles at the park on hot days, etc. One of my proudest moments was when I won my state’s Southern Baptist youth Bible Drill contest and got to go to nationals. I taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School from high school on, sang in the choir, helped lead our music program while in college. Over the summer of my junior year of college I married the pastor’s son, my high school beau (because God told us to get married), and we led the youth group together, intending to go to seminary after a couple years. At this point I had been part of the church for twenty years and it was the source of all of my comfort, friends, fun, and work.

My changes started while in high school. I was convicted over and over that I wasn’t “truly saved” and spent many nights and mornings desperate and crying while studying my Bible. One day something clicked, I forget what it was, but I had an “experience” that I thought was salvation for real, so I got re-baptized. A year or so later my new year’s resolution was to understand how salvation works, so I spent a lot of time analyzing Bible verses and reading Christian authors. Except that things started unraveling. I gave up the notion of the soul entirely, then later miracles, then prayer. By the time I got married in college I believed God had pre-ordained everything and didn’t interfere with the world, because that wouldn’t make sense. An astronomy course my senior year of college opened my eyes to actual science and messed more with my already-hanging-by-a-thread belief system. It didn’t help that my husband was a philosophy major who discussed logic puzzles with me every day. So for a year my beliefs came undone as I watched, helpless, rationalizing everything in an attempt to hold it together. Then one day I narrowly avoided a car crash and realized I hadn’t prayed. It’s impossible to describe the floor falling from under your feet , the helplessness. I knew I didn’t believe in God anymore, but had no idea what to do. My husband was headed to seminary, my church was my lifeline, my whole life revolved around God and Jesus.

After some months’ awkwardness, I discovered my husband had also stopped believing in God. We finished up at the church and fled town within a year, anxious to separate ourselves from religion. Now I had no friends or family, no work, only a husband who was as unhinged as I was. Lots of alcohol, some counseling, and ten years later, we’re still together. It’s a rare thing to have a friend who shared such an experience.

So why am I an atheist? The short answer is because I finally saw my religion for what it was: a confusing set of beliefs that made no sense once carefully considered. That said, I would not wish this experience on anyone. Sure, I consider myself more moral and caring than I ever was before, but I also lost all my friends and am still rebuilding the trust of my family and my husband’s family. In the end, it’s worth it to be a rational person, but I will always feel haunted by my past and have regrets.



  1. rjlangley says

    What nigelTheBold said. I was expecting you and your husband to part ways acrimoniously and for you to be left on your own and felt relieved to hear you were able to stick together through it all. I think this is my favourite of this series so far. Best wishes.

  2. julietdefarge says

    Stories like this remind me how necessary it is to be out as an atheist. Any flak I might attract is less important than the opportunity to talk to and help people starting to pull away from religion.

  3. says

    If it’s any help, try not to think of those years as “lost” and a time to regret. Think of your experience – difficult as it was – as a time of learning. Atheism is as much discovering what you are not, as it is discovering what you are.

  4. Porco Dio says

    Wot? The pastor’s son is an atheist?

    I’m guessing the pastor is too lol.

  5. pipenta says

    Reading your piece, I thought I knew where it was heading when you said you married your high school sweetheart because it was god’s wish. So many of our stories about our experiences involve pain because of things said and done because of religion. But when wrote that your husband was discussing logic puzzles on a regular basis, I felt a flicker of hope. Because religion doesn’t hold up to logical examination. Not all marriages are worthwhile, but it is a happy thing that you both were able to weather the change from an immersive religious life to standing on your own in the world of reason.

    I agree with the earlier poster that atheist friends are desirable. What’s more, I’m sure you already have them. But it is understandable that you would want to reconnect with the people, some of them anyway, from your old life. If there are people that you loved, that loved you, the connection was a human one. If they are capable of accepting your atheism, then why should you lose them as friends? What’s more, they know you, they know you are a ethical person. You are representing for the atheists. And just doing that makes it easier for the next person to step out of the smog of religion and take a deep bracing breath of reality.

  6. grumpyoldfart says

    I also lost all my friends

    Christian love and tolerance – often preached, seldom seen.

  7. Michael says

    “but I will always feel haunted by my past and have regrets.”

    If you don’t mind me asking, what would you have done differently?

  8. says

    Loved this one. It really makes me mad that these letters are being missed by so many people, ignored by others, and still incomprehensible to the occasional Xtian troll. They’re so great. So human.

  9. grumpy1942 says

    CM:”I also lost all my friends.”

    If you ran away from your old life, you may well have deserted some friends. But those who forsake you for your lack of belief were never friends in the first damn place. They were ‘fellows in Christ’, which is the shallowest form of friendship.

  10. pedantik says

    Wow. Very powerful testimony, CM. It’s hard to let go of the bitter regret of how your life could have been without the poison of religion; believe me, I know, and many of us are still working that out. The loss of friends and, in some cases, family is especially traumatic. For many of us, however, that’s the high price we pay to escape our mental shackles.

  11. says

    CM, your essay is so moving. I am so happy to read that you and your partner made it through that experience together. The last paragraph made me tear up. I think you got to the truth of the myth that “atheism causes loneliness”. It isn’t the atheism, it is the price theists force atheists to pay for leaving the faith. It has to be a sucker punch to the heart, gut and psyche – what is love, really, if it can be withdrawn so thoroughly based upon lack of a shared belief in a specific mythology?
    I’m writing about coming out as an atheist – may I have your permission to quote from your essay?

  12. says

    CM, I, too, am thrilled that your marriage held up. Props to you both for not staying in the closet to please your mate’s family.

    If one of your new atheist friends flipped to God, would you shun them? I thought not. Give yourself a break.

  13. Rich Woods says

    I am deeply impressed by the fact that you and your husband stayed together through the changes and experiences you describe, given your respective backgrounds. It says more about the character of both of you than any handful of words spoken in front of an altar at a young age could predict.

  14. Rich Woods says

    Oops. I apologise if I used ‘young’ in an inappropriate way there, from the perspective of my own age and cultural norms.

  15. scottportman says

    This was a beautiful essay. I was not raised religious, so I can’t know for sure how unsettling it is to leave it all behind and to have that sense of vertigo or that loss of family and friends. It’s wonderful that you and your husband were able to communicate and support each other through this, and I’m sure I’m not the only one reading your essay that wishes you many happy years and much joy together.