Why I am an atheist – pedantik

It took me a long time to jettison the religious beliefs that had been instilled in me from my early youth.  While my father, an ordained deacon, was almost silent on religious matters while at home, my mother made certain that I knew of her beliefs every day.  She taught sunday school to teenage girls in our local Baptist church, and pressed my brother and me into attendance whether we liked it or not.

Mom was ecstatic when I finally had my conversion experience at 16, but soon became concerned when I began to parrot the more extreme views of our church youth group leaders.  They were very dogmatic and uncompromising in their views on religious doctrines, and told us that the members of nearly all the other churches in our town were bound for hell.  They went into a jingoistic frenzy when the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis erupted.  The bellicose tirades they launched at this outrage were a sharp contrast to the God of love that my mother had always taught me about.

Fortunately, I majored in biology and chemistry in college, which helped me develop critical thinking skills.  I slowly began to realize that there was a lack of internal and external consistency in all the religious teachings I’d heard all my life.  Despite these doubts, or perhaps to overcompensate for them, I became even more zealous in proclaiming my beliefs.  I still cringe when I recall what an irritating, legalistic prig I was during that time.

So, I continued to attend church while in college.   I also visited friends’ churches with them, and found that they, too, believed that they alone were the ‘real’ Christians.  It seemed they sincerely derived the same comfort and joy from their beliefs as I did from mine; yet I had been taught that their heretical views meant their eternal doom.

This, I think, led to a decisive epiphany for me.  I had observed that, even within evangelical Christianity, there were sharp doctrinal divisions between churches; yet they all were reading from the same guidebook!  There was no objective way to determine which, if any of them, was really reading it correctly.  I remember hearing a number of very heated arguments between different churches’ members on various doctrinal points.  Each of these opposing viewpoints could be ‘proved’ by citing one’s own select scriptures.  Every church believes that they alone have all the answers.  From listening to the arguments, I saw that the differences of opinion weren’t so much that one person has any more or less insight into the ‘true’ meaning of the scriptures.  They simply believed what they had been TOLD to believe, and the groupthink was enforced through the social interactions within each church.

You would think that an omnipotent God would be able to make his will perfectly known to his followers.  Instead, what we have is a cacaphony of thousands of different sects and denominations sniping at each other, each proclaiming its own monopoly on the truth.  What we do NOT hear is God proclaiming which churches are right, and which are wrong.

If God were omniscient, he surely would have known ahead of time that there would be division, ostracism, persecution, even wars waged over differences of opinion on scriptural meanings.  And all of this among people who sincerely sought to know and obey his will.  Why then didn’t God make his will more clear to us?  Certainly he would be capable of doing so.  When I asked a minister about this, he told me that the Holy Spirit was here to guide our understanding of God’s word.  But if that were true, then why were there such divisions between people who all sincerely sought to know his will?  Why would he set this whole catastrophe in motion, knowing fully well how it would play out?

The other issue that I couldn’t reconcile was the injustice of eternal torment for nonbelievers.  I challenged a Sunday School teacher on this point, asking him how God could condemn people for rejecting a messiah they’d never even heard of.  He cited a passage in the first chapter of Romans, which states that God’s message is manifest in nature, so nobody has any excuse for their lack of belief.  I started thinking that one over, and wondered how anybody could think that was logical.  If the message of Christianity was written in nature, then why was there even a need for a Bible, or for evangelists?  When European explorers encountered new cultures, they found that the natives hadn’t already figured out this “obvious” gospel.  How could a supremely wise and compassionate God condemn people for failing to see a message that he knew they wouldn’t see?  A message that, in fact, wasn’t there to be seen?

Abandoning my former religious beliefs wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t painless.  I’m especially glad to be free of the cognitive dissonance inherent in trying to hold onto archaic beliefs and attitudes that belong on the dungheap of history.  I’m not yet ‘out’ as an atheist to many of my friends and family;  They still remember what a self-righteous asshole I used to be.  I can easily imagine them saying that I’ve just fallen into yet another fanatical phase.  What would I say to that; this time, I’m REALLY right?  So for now, I’m keeping my deconversion mostly to myself.  This self-imposed silence frustrates me, though, when many of my Facebook friends frequently post religious inanities.  I just bite my tongue, and remind myself that I was once there also.



  1. says

    Mainly the reasons I turned from Christianity as well; I was more aloof and less zealous, but still devout, until I started living abroad. First in Catholic Countries, then Buddhist/Confucist (that should be a word, though it isn’t). Plus the fact that God’s plan for world domination included the brutal economic system of colonization.

  2. Owlmirror says

    I can easily imagine them saying that I’ve just fallen into yet another fanatical phase. What would I say to that; this time, I’m REALLY right?

    You could say that this time, you’re more confident of your base assumptions, and of your reasoning from your base assumptions.

    For example:

    “A God that was (a) real and (b) benevolent would not want sectarian divisions among religious adherents, and would provide revelations/communications that would clarify which interpretation was correct. But there are many sectarian divisions — so the premise that God is benevolent and real must be false. It might be that God is not benevolent, but the simplest conclusion is that God is not real.”

    And so on.


    Confucist (that should be a word, though it isn’t).

    Since the philosopher was called “Confucius”, and the belief system/philosophy is called “Confucianism”, the adjective that refers to the philosophy is “Confucian”.

  3. yankonamac says

    Thanks, Pedantik. This read like a chapter out of my own life, too–the more I thought about and analysed the religion I professed to believe, the less I believed it but the more mouthy I became about it. In true “I think the lady doth protest too much” fashion, I think I really was trying to hide from my community and myself my scepticism, a ruse which finally collapsed when I was about 18.

    If you live in a small town in the American south, it might be a good idea to only come out as an atheist after you move a few thousand miles away. Local reactions to knowing there’s a heathen in their midst can range from harassment, shunning and nasty gossip to God’s Gentle People threatening to run you out of town, burn your house down, rape you or cut out your heart. As someone who grew up in a town with more churches than street names, all of which believed all the others were going to hell, I promise no good or benefit will come of outing yourself or discussing the logical fallacies of theism with people who don’t want to understand it.

  4. pedantik says

    You don’t play fair, yahdah; hurling the scriptures at me. How can anyone hope to dispute it? The word of Gaw-ud-uh is sharper than a double-edged sword and you’ve left me bleeding profusely.

    Or, maybe not so much.

    You’re demonstrating how well the church culture beats out of its victims the willingness to raise even basic questions about its teachings. If your god is so secure in the truth of his words and actions, then why shouldn’t he encourage honest examination? As Thomas Paine, said, “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry”. So, yeah, I’m asking why I should have continued to give this shit any credence. If god has an answer, he knows how to contact me.