Why I am an atheist – Stacey Cooney

I was raised as a Roman Catholic but honestly, only in a vague way. My mother never went to church until she married my father. My father is religious, says the rosary before going to bed, but also hated going to church, especially if there was singing. (Mostly he’s just an old Yankee curmudgeon who doesn’t like people in general.) My parents worked at a state hospital that was basically a nursing home. My mother and I would go to services at the hospital where I would help out with the giving of communion by giving the patients cups of water. It was service to me. I wasn’t an alter girl officially. I just liked helping people and helping to put away the church items-snuffing the candles and playing with the wax and such.

I officially became an atheist around 6th grade. I realized I really didn’t believe in anything I’d been learning about in CCD or heard in church. It didn’t hurt that I’m chemically sensitive and the church we started going to around that time used incense and we always managed to sit near someone who bathed in perfume. I spent a large amount of time standing in the foyer with time to think. For me CCD was basically school…you read the textbook, did crafts, took tests, memorized things…got grades. Standard school stuff. I think the thing that stuck with me, and really cinched it for me, though was this ridiculous explanation of “Hell” from ‘Father Mike’ (clearly one of the new school priests). He said that Hell was like an ice cream shop where all your favorite flavors were present but the spoons were too big to use and no one would help you. I still remember this vividly to this day. It was the stupidest thing I had heard up until that point in my life.

After I told my parents they were, blessedly, totally supportive. I’m sure they were disappointed but they knew me well enough to know that I meant what I said and would only change my mind if I came to a new conclusion. Again, it didn’t hurt that the Deacon of the church called my parents on more than one occasion to try to convince me to come back. (I’d left right before the final test of the CCD year and the year before confirmation classes.) My mother tried to explain that I’d stopped believing in God. He didn’t seem to care…as if it were not an issue or that he was sure I would change my mind.

I’ve never looked back. I think I’m one of those people who didn’t have the ‘god gene’ or something. I don’t think I ever really believed. I don’t ever remember fearing hell or worrying about sinning. The thing I remember from my childhood is spending years making sure my hair was over my ears before I went to bed because I saw Star Trek, the Wrath of Khan too young and feared insects would crawl into my ears if they weren’t covered. That was my Devil. The dreaded earwig. I still get an instant fight or flight response if I see one.

Stacey Cooney
United States


  1. Carla says

    If someone had told me that hell was a ice cream shop with ice cream I couldn’t eat, I’d still be a Christian. That sound awful.

  2. stonyground says

    I’ve heard that thing about the spoons somewhere before. I don’t think it was about ice cream in particular but food in general. Everyone had a long-handled spoon that it was impossible to eat with and since everyone there was totally selfish it never ocurred to people to feed each other. This, I think, tells us more about how religious people see outsiders than anything else.

  3. lexie says

    I’ve heard something similar to the spoons story too but it was a story for kids about how helping each other is important and was with chopsticks and general food rather than spoons and ice-cream.

  4. Agent Silversmith, Post Palladium Isotope says

    If I’d seen the Night Gallery episode “The Caterpillar” earlier than I did, the same thing might have happened.

    Gotta love the amygdala, sounding alarms long after your rational mind has concluded there’s nothing to worry about.

  5. Mr. Mattir, MRA Chick says

    I sort of like the spoons parable, if only for the idea that cooperation and mutual care make the world a nicer place. Of course, cooperation and caring are, at best, uncorrelated with religious affiliation or belief.

  6. camelspotter says

    Spoons! That must be why they think Martin Luther is going to hell. He just wants to look at the spoons:

  7. camelspotter says

    o_O hmmm, I didn’t think it was going to embed the whole video. Sorry to be a screen hog…

  8. AlanMac says

    Earwigs!!! gaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHaaaaaaaaaaa…

    (runs by, dives out window)

  9. Rip Steakface says

    The thing I don’t get right off the bat about the spoons analogy: why don’t you just hold the spoon closer to the “cup” of the spoon, farther up the handle?

  10. zxcier says

    Who needs spoons for ice cream, especially if it’s hellthousand degrees just dive right in!

  11. julietdefarge says

    “Altar,” not “alter.” An altar is that big buffet-sized thing the priest puts his knick-knacks on; “alter” is a verb meaning “to change.”

  12. Ogvorbis: Insert Appropriate Appelation Here says


    The allegory of the spoons sounds an awful lot like libertarian utopia. All individuals. No one will stoop to helping anyone. Hell, in other words.

    Thanks for the essay, Stacey. Your parents showed wonderful humanity.

  13. Stacey C. says

    @julietdefarge #13

    Woops! But in my defense, I haven’t been near an altar in ages. ;-)