Why I am an atheist – Thom

I must have been about five when my brother and I built what we thought would serve as a handy container for Santa’s collection of assorted vintage beers. Apparently we got it into our heads that he was an avid drinker. It was a cardboard box with a cut-out reindeer head taped to the side, a feat of what seemed at the time an achievement of artisan carpentry that could have provoked Jesus to throw his messiah badge away in lugubrious defeat. In retrospect it was probably a bit naff. Our parents were now faced with the question of what to do with it on Christmas Eve. In the end they settled on the plan to forge a note from Santa claiming that he thought is was so good, he didn’t want to separate us from it, and so had it magically duplicated, and kept one of the duplicates for himself.

You could probably imagine our reaction the following day. “Holy f**king shit! This object before me is ostensibly some product of MAGIC! Jesus s**tting Christ! Am I to understand that Santa, patriarch of the expatriate leprechauns, magically duplicated his Christmas present!? I don’t f**king believe it!” Well, I did believe it, but at the same time I was aware of the fact that if it hadn’t been true, I would still be faced with the exact same spectacle. And why for that matter did Santa think I would have any need for a beer crate? I didn’t drink; I was five! In fact, as far as lets-make-our-kids-believe-there-is-an-obsessive-compulsive-inverese-burglar charades go, this was spectacularly lazy one. But anyway, I’m veering off topic.

It was probably only a year or so later that I learned that none of it was real. Rather than being disappointed or confused, I was rather relieved. Never having witnessed magic before, that Christmas served as a sort of experiential anomaly. It may have been round about this time that I realised there could be no such thing as magic.

So where does God fit into all this? Well, to tell the truth I wasn’t all that interested in him. My father was (and is) a geologist, so I grew up with tales of Palaeozoic fauna, rather than burning bushes, and never questioned the possibility of the Genesis myth, not that I had any idea what Genesis was. When I was eventually introduced to religious myths they were treated no differently to Grimm’s fairy tales. It was only in my early twenties that I discovered that as someone who didn’t believe that this bollocks was true, I was in a minority. But having been brought up in a devastatingly secular environment with a scientist for a father, I guess there wasn’t a chance in hell that I would be anything but an atheist.

So my descent into atheism wasn’t all that interesting; nothing involving a priest, a discarded and bloody candlestick and a weathered note from a long-lost, presumed-dead relative. In retrospect, it was a rather dull affair and probably not worth recounting. Oh well.

United Kingdom


  1. eclectabotanics says

    More anecdotal evidence that we’re all born atheists and pattern seekers, natural scientists. You have to be indoctrinated into the crazy if it’s ever to take hold in your mind.

  2. julietdefarge says

    Your parents created a bigger problem for themselves- if Santa could magically duplicate stuff, then there was no excuse for not bringing the bike of your dreams.

    Your assessment of Santa as a toper was logical, possibly based on observation of other fat, red-cheeked men. As kids we all heard the quiet jokes and comments about men of similar appearance.

  3. hexidecima says

    good story. I really really believed in Santa for far too long, to the point of being *sure* I heard hoofsteps on the roof and sleigh bells. When I lost belief in that, I’m sure it was the being of the end.

  4. says

    I’m just going to hazard a guess here but, is your Dad a beer connoisseur by any chance? And could he have perhaps put the idea in your head that Santa might like a nice vintage beer left out for him? But instead you missed the hint and went for the beer container angle instead? Just wondering… :-)

    Nice essay though. I like your writing style.

  5. says

    “I must have been about five when my brother and I built what we thought would serve as a handy container for Santa’s collection of assorted vintage beers.”

    If only more stories began this way, the world would be better place. Or at least a drunksantaclauseier place.

  6. Aratina Cage says

    lets-make-our-kids-believe-there-is-an-obsessive-compulsive-inverese-burglar charade

    I really like that reframing of the Santa tale. An “inverse burglar”. It’s so true! He sneaks in, takes your cookies and milk (or beer) and gives you toys and other nice things in return, all done in the most festidious way possible for someone breaking into your home. Thank you, Thom.

  7. catwhisperer says

    I know of a village not far from me where a whole generation of kids believed in santa for rather longer than they should have, because someone’s cows escaped late one christmas eve and trampled all over the village… leaving “reindeer hoofprints” on various front lawns.

  8. yankonamac says

    What an enjoyable posting. I enjoyed reading it–not dull at all! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Jem says

    Your writing style is great. Definitely one of the most enjoyable and humorous ‘Why I am an atheist’ posts.

  10. Cephas Borg says

    Wow, it doesn’t always have to take 25 years of lost Sundays, Lenten fish, novenas, bad Good Fridays, the loss of innumerable “friends”, a rift with my parents that only dad’s heart attack last week started to “repair”, and soul-searching so deep I found a polyp on my descending colon*…

    Thanks so much, Tom, you made my day mate, that was a wonderful tale well told! (And belated thanks to PeeZee).

    * That happened to be directly below where my soul was located at the time… :)

  11. Koshka says

    In retrospect, it was a rather dull affair and probably not worth recounting. Oh well.

    Maybe compared to some other horrid stories dull but I liked it.

    And Santa Clause “sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when your awake”.
    I am pretty sure this is also known as stalking.

  12. Dr. Pablito says

    Just ‘cos I’m a Dad, that’s just the cutest story ever. I introduced my boys to the tradition of leaving a nice glass of bourbon out for dear old Saint Nick, and maybe a scotch if grandpops is with us…

  13. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    The Santa that visited us likes sherry, apparently. Thom’s Santa was endowed with much better taste! Still, it’s something to consider in the unlikely event that I reproduce… Hmm, maybe a nice G&T? :-)

  14. louis14 says

    Enjoyed reading that Thom. It’s funny – I know a lot of people who’ve come to atheism via a path that included the realisation that Santa isn’t real. For myself, I don’t remember actually believing in Santa.

    My elder sister may have given the game away when I was very young perhaps, but as far back as I do recall, Santa was just a game played at Christmas. I knew it was mum or dad who stole into the room at night and put the presents there – and I would try to stay awake to catch them, but never managed it.

    Atheism was a different thing that happened much later, mainly due to Religious Education lessons being waffly, inconsistent and mildly baffling, as opposed to all other lessons that were a clear and structured exposition of applicable knowledge.

  15. ricko says

    That’s got to be easily the funniest one of these I’ve read, and I’ve read (as near as I can tell) all of them.

    “I didn’t drink; I was five!”

    That one has me slapping my knees! Oh, man.

    I had a mother who is from Scotland and my Dad was dead by the time I was five, (in fact he died just before Christmas when I was two); and mine wasn’t a scientist, he was an ex-Air Force guy from Baltimore… But…

    As I learned about this, by seven or eight, I just got mad that he hadn’t “come back” to me in a dream, or whatever. I figured he was truly dead and there wasn’t any way he was going to break the barrier. Priests or not.

    At that point I became an atheist, and I spent my time studying dinosaurs.

  16. catwhisperer says

    “I know a lot of people who’ve come to atheism via a path that included the realisation that Santa isn’t real.”

    That backs up a theory of mine… my almost-six-year-old nephew recently brought up the matter of god. He told me that god makes weather happen, and he made people. After some discussion about things that are definitely real, definitely not real, and anything that may fall in the area between the two, I resorted to telling him “always remember, god is just as real as father christmas”

    I figured that would ease him into it nicely.