I am an atheist because I was born that way.
I grew up in a Catholic family. Not crazy fundamentalist Catholic or anything. We were a liberal family, but we went to church every Sunday, said grace at dinner, and all of the other calendar related business that I can barely remember. Outside of weddings and funerals I haven’t attended a church in over twenty-five years, so the rituals are fuzzy.
My father was on the parish council and the Knights of Columbus. The priest was a friend of the family. Most of our friends were from the church. My family’s social life revolved around church events and church friends. They were good people, and the priest was funny and warm and adored by the congregation. There’s no twist where he turns out to be a molester, he was a genuinely great guy. His style on the pulpit was not fire and brimstone, he was more of a love your neighbour type, with frequent amusing quips and puns.
I sang in the choir for a while and served as an altar boy. I took communion, did confession, and confirmation. I did all of this while not believing in any of it.
I have a memory from when I was a small child. There’s a part of the mass where the priest has a large version of the communion wafer, and he uses it for saying the magic words about the body and blood of Christ. He breaks the wafer and it goes into the chalice, and then for communion he’s giving out the small wafers out of the same cup. So I thought the big wafer magically turned into all of the little ones, that god did that. One time I mentioned that to my dad, and he set me straight. So I asked him, if god didn’t do magic, how do we know that he’s real?
I honestly don’t remember the answer, but I do remember that it was unsatisfactory to me. It didn’t shatter me, or even bother me, not that I remember, nd we’ve never discussed it again. But from that time on I understood it all to just part of the social structure. We do the rituals, say the words, hang out with our friends. I later became an alter boy because my friends were and it gave more opportunities to hang out with them and goof around. I knew that some of the people there seemed to actually believe the stories, but I regarded them as somewhat foolish, and assumed most people were like me, going through the motions and not talking about it because that’s just what people do.
The priest I mentioned above died of cancer when I in my early to mid teens, to be replaced by a more fire and brimstone type. A serious minded jackass who liked to talk about abortion, birth control, and sin. I started skipping church at any opportunity I could get away with, and by my late teens had stopped even pretending to go.
Later on as I became an intellectually minded (and somewhat pretentious) youth, I had long discussions about religion with anyone who could bear it, and never hesitated to say I was an atheist, and to back it up with all of the arguments of logic, science, and later some study of philosophy.
But I hold that I have always been an atheist, because the only time I believed God was real was when I was young enough to think there was undeniable proof for all to see, and I wasn’t aware that there was anyone in the world who doubted it. Logic and science didn’t drive me away from religion. Nor did hypocrisy or the crimes committed by religion. I didn’t reject religion. Religion never had the slightest hold on me in the first place. Despite being raised in its warm bosom, it was never my mother, and I always knew it.
If I tell this to believers I like to cap it by saying I’m an atheist because God made me that way. I know it’s cheesy, but that kind of talk is meaningful to them, so I figure it helps drive the point home.