Why I am an atheist – Modulous

My parents were Church Of England, mildly practicing (more my mother than my father). My grandparents were strongly practicing C of E (as strong as that gets anyway – that is they went to church every week and all that).

However – my father works in oil and his job took him around a lot of places including the Middle East, the Caribbean and now, Louisiana. So there were lots of ideas flying around when I was a kid. My first school was a ‘Gospel School’ (I was the only white boy in the whole school!), and my leaving present was the Good News Bible with a picture of the island the school was on.

So lots of religion. I simply took it for granted that God was up there and was looking over me and out for me. I often had dialogue with him.

My first clash came when that common childhood fascination with dinosaurs and my insatiable appetite for facts came into confrontation with the first page of the Bible. When I brought it up with my parents they explained the basic Theistic Evolutionist position. It took a few months, but I managed to massage the cognitive dissonance away and so it remained until I was about 11 or 12 years old.

It was at this point that I first learned that there were other forms of Christianity, lots of them, and I was told outright that I was ‘Church of England’. It seemed a little odd to be told what I believed in this way, and it seemed odd that there could be so much disagreement about things.

So I picked up the Bible again and started reading. I realized that the book was very very boring. I didn’t care who begat who! Why should I? I put the book down and shelved my concerns under ‘Things other people have figured out’.

Over time, doubts still continued to gnaw at me. Why was I so sure my beliefs were the right ones, what if someone else had it right? Every time I felt these things I was crippled with guilt. I felt myself either being told off by the Holy Father or simply that feeling you get when your mother says, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.”, the feeling was terrible.

So I started comparing other people’s beliefs. My Grandmother, though a dedicated Christian had a veritable library of strange and esoteric Eastern religious concepts with strange New Age stuff. So I read about Lobsang Rampa, and everything ever written by Betty Shine. There was more besides – and these ideas resonated with me so much more than the Christian belief did.

At first I tried to merge them together so that I need not throw anything out, but that became more and more difficult.

Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t sure what religion I was, but it definitely wasn’t Christian and it was oriented more towards the East. Then my parents started talking about a Confirmation ceremony and I realized that I didn’t understand what ‘vow’ it was that I was supposed to be ‘renewing’ and that I didn’t feel comfortable making a promise that I didn’t really understand.

I was also at this time reading other books in my Grandmother’s awesome library, including books on British Law. One such book said that a child has autonomy to choose their religion when they reach the age of 16. This I did on my 16th birthday, advising my parents that I no longer wished to identify as a Christian – I went on to say that I didn’t wish to receive gifts at Christmas etc, but they told me that they would be giving them to me anyway.

I wandered about the map as far as definitive alternatives. I played with some form of Buddhism or another, including a long period in Zen, a long period of New Age Healing/spiritualism nonsense, and then a longer period self identifying as a ‘sannyasin’ via the cult leader Osho.

When I was about 18, a few friends of mine were talking about how they were having combat on the Astral plains and how they were engaged in a spiritual war with various people and melding that with some kind of neo-pagan stuff. It seemed so transparently silly to me, but I realized that my own beliefs were also pretty silly when I held them up to the very same scrutiny. So I went through a confused period once more.

Then I had a divine revelation which lead to me throw away all of the previous beliefs and follow a supernatural variety of pantheism, which was gradually stripped down to straight atheistic pantheism with a brief peculiar blip of believing in Islam (actually it wasn’t really Islam, it was a fake version of Islam).

I self identified as pantheist for a few years, but that seemed to lead to confusion, and then Dawkins started the Out Campaign and I realized that the most unambiguous description for my position with regards to religion was ‘atheist’. Still people get confused – I’ve had friends say disparaging things to me/about me. Things got better after I defended my position without fear, and now the issue is simply not discussed most of the time.

United States


  1. FossilFishy (Lobed-finned Killer of Threads) says

    So, uh, was your long period of Zen a moment of inertia?
    ….right, I’ll get my coat…

  2. eclectabotanics says

    The idea that people must believe in a supernatural diety and follow rules and rituals is the oddest thing about human culture. It leads to so much lying and excusing away obvious contradictions. The superstition causes conflict and prevents people from learning the real origins of life and the earth. To what end? How do people continually convince themselves that the religion of their parents is the one true religion? They can’t all be. Thanks for these thoughts on a Sunday, Modulous. I know you had no idea when it would run, but it seems appropriate as moms all over the world are stuffing cranky kids into stiff clothes and dragging them out to church like little ornamental offerings. I guess it’s better than being an outcast in the calculations of most people.

  3. says

    I’ve noticed it happens a lot in these ‘Why I am’ posts that a person will be discontented seated at the table eating the one thing that the waiter brought them, probably because the parents ordered it. The stuff quickly becomes unsatisfying to the point of becoming tasteless. They get up and look at the smorgasbord and take a nibble at a few items. Many taste relatively interesting at the first bite, but when the person sits down to taste them again, and really analyze the flavor, the stuff has suddenly turned to unpalatable slop. After a while the person realizes that the whole smorgasbord is complete slapdash shite the cooks have thrown together to appease the masses who don’t particular delve too deeply into what they’re eating or being fed. A larger and more curious hunger has caused the person to leave the restaurant entirely and discovered a chocolate shop next door, and everything tastes so much sweeter.

    A closer glance will also reveal a wide trend for the patrons of the chocolatier to have science books about them somewhere. Can’t eat them, but it’s the best food for the brain that was curious enough to leave the crappy buffet restaurant in the first place.

  4. julietdefarge says

    Is it common for people in the oil industry to hold “the basic Theistic Evolutionist position?” It seems so very odd to me, given that biostratigraphy is essential for finding the oil in the first place. (http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fosrec/ONeill.html)
    What do they think about global warming? As people intensely concerned with the history of the earth, surely they must be aware that what we’re doing to the planet right now has disturbing similarities to what happened when a plume of magma torched a coal seam in the Siberian traps, causing acidification of the oceans, etc.

  5. says

    The end point of Modulus’ essay brings up an aspect of religious deprogramming that exposes the worst about religion. You’re the one who has made a decision based on wider enquiry and critical thought processes applied towards your original belief system, yet the cretins around you have the gall to treat you as the “evil little thing,” as if being told what to do without questioning pastors and priests (and witch doctors and Scientology auditors) was a good thing.

    The ‘new’ in the new atheism is nothing but someone in turn saying “And what the hell’s the matter with you?” after suffering the slings and arrows of institutionalized idiocy followers deriding you for daring to not be an unthinking dupe. Religion has this built-in barrier of bullshit that will default to playing the poor victim if anyone dares question it from without. It is a growing development for someone to dare throw questions back, and to dare offer up resistance to the bizarre entitlement culture surrounding religions.

    This growing resistance to that overblown sense of privelege is used as another weapon by the devout to say that WE are being the mean and thoughtless ones, even if our resistance is offered in the most mild forms. There’s a lot that religion has to answer for, but the practices of verbally (and sometimes physically) castigating someone for disbelieving in religion has to be fought as vigorously as possible. It is the over-reaction of the religious to simple de-conversion that is bringing about angrier and angrier response to their foolishness, and requiring us to have even a better understanding of their belief systems than they do themselves.

    When confronted by the people around you with anger and derision and epithets, hit back, and hard, with your knowledge, and start the angry line of questioning the other way. If knowledge is power, and your nay-sayers have refused to expand theirs, we know the ultimate outcome will be in your favor, as you get the pests off your back and plant the seeds of critical questioning in those around you. It doesn’t hurt to have gained a little respect in having stood up for the information you fought hard to achieve and not being another easy victim of the unthinking bullies and puppets of oppressive religious dogma.

  6. Erp says

    @3 “Is it common for people in the oil industry to hold “the basic Theistic Evolutionist position?””

    I don’t see why not. Note that the Theistic Evolutionist point of view is that scientists are completely correct as to the age of the earth and the universe, evolution, etc.; except, God is either working behind the curtain or has rigged the rules so that man will appear. There is no global flood, seven literal days of creation, etc. or most other supernatural events in the Bible. Things get a a bit dicier when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus.

  7. coragyps says

    I work in the oil industry, and there are plenty of young-earth creationists in the biz. God put that oil there during the Flud, don’cha know……

    Many, many of the people that are in the business of getting oil out of the ground are as ignorant as toddlers in New Jersey as to how that oil got there. Many of them are also global-warming denialists, too: that’s Republican dogma, after all, and I think I’m one of the three people in the Texas oil patch that voted for Kerry and Obama.