Why I am an atheist – Karen Locke

I grew up Catholic; my mother was a moderately religious Catholic and my father was a totally disengaged Lutheran, so Mom was more-or-less in charge of my religious upbringing. I attended Catholic elementary and high schools, mostly because the public schools in my city were so horrible. So I did get a fairly thorough religious education, but it was a distinctly liberal one; in the ’60s and ’70s California Catholics, and their schools, were definitely liberal. They taught me about social justice, and the “sanctity of life”. The former stuck with me. I first started questioning the latter in high school, because I couldn’t see a small bundle of cells as a human being, and I watched an aunt die bravely but horribly painfully of cancer. I began to see abortion and euthanasia as not universal evils.

In college I attended the local student Catholic center for awhile, then got busy and slacked off. I met my future husband, who came from a Nazarene background (though he wasn’t particularly religious) and he despised all things Catholic; he’d been taught from childhood that Catholics were all ritual and not True Christians. So we were non-religious together though the rest of college.

During all this time, from childhood, I was suffering from mild, undiagnosed depression. After we graduated and married, we started attending a non-denominational Christian church. Oh, how that church experience fed my depression! Every Sunday I was told what a sinner I was, how unlovable I was, how it was only by God’s grace that I could be saved. By this time the depression was progressing, and I was telling myself that I was no good; hearing it from the pulpit just confirmed it. By the time Husband insisted we stop going to church because every sermon made me cry, I was deeply depressed. There were other contributing factors to deepening my depression, too, especially work, where goals were always set that no one could achieve. I was baffled as to why they didn’t fire me. In truth, I was one of the highest-performing engineers in the department. But I couldn’t believe that then.

Finally, when I became unable to work, I was diagnosed with and treated for depression. It took awhile, but I began to see myself and the world in a reasonable way. My successes became things to celebrate, not deprecate, and my failures not catastrophic, but something to be learned from. I started re-thinking everything, including my religious beliefs. Gradually I began to wonder why I believed in a 2000-year-old collection of stories from ancient sheepherders, and why I believed in such a malevolent, narcissistic, sexist God. But I still had a soft spot in my heart for the death and resurrection of Jesus.

What really broke it for me was when I read a book (can’t remember the title) on archaeology that provided a reasonable alternative to Jesus’ death and resurrection, suggesting that his friends conned the Romans into letting him off the cross before he was dead and leaving medicines for him in the tomb. Then it was they, and no angel, who came and rescued him a few days later.

That was the end of my religious belief. It helped, too, that my husband had migrated to atheism a few years before.

Now I’m a reasonably happy atheist, glad that I no longer have to worry about an afterlife, and determined to make the most of the life I’ve got. That determination led me to abandon my original career, take care of my parents during their last years, and then go back to grad school (MS) to take up a new career… which, at age 52, is a very scary proposition. But once I figured out I’d regret NOT doing it on my deathbed, it was something I had to do. I want to leave with no regrets.

Oh, and I’m more of an advocate for social justice than ever.

Karen Locke
United States

Why I am an atheist – Sarah Tullen

PZ- you asked us why we’re atheists. Well, I’ve never been anything but an atheist, so that one’s no great mystery and no great story, but I thought I’d let you know why I’m the kind of atheist I am today; an active, informed, out-spoken one rather than an apathetic “live and let live” one.

I have the great fortune to be one of the “never indoctrinated” among the atheists of today. I was born an atheist, and my parents simply never mentioned religion to me. I grew up in Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family, and I barely knew that religion existed. I recall once my mom explaining that “bless you” was a polite thing to say after people sneezed, and that saying “Oh my god,” could be offensive to some people, but never did she explain why.

With no preconceived notions about religion at all, I got to meander wherever my growth and development took me. I quite naturally prayed once when my hamster was lost- not to any god in particular, but just to the general universe. When I was five I was convinced that I could fly (probably from a dream) and when I was seven I thought if I found the right muscle to flex and focused on it very hard I might develop magical powers. My mind and imagination were given room to battle as I was allowed to explore within the confines of my own intellect, and I very naturally (and through much observation, trial, and error) developed a sharp sense of logic and a tendency to think critically about everything that was said to me. Regardless of where my mind went, I was never led there or pushed there; rather I got to evolve there as my brain and body grew. 

A defining moment for my atheism happened when I was 18. I don’t think I’d even heard the term atheist by that point, but I unabashedly was one, and was happy to discuss it, but I wasn’t bothered by the existence of religion and hadn’t given any particular thought to it. My best friend was a Mormon at the time (she later became an atheist), and that meant nothing to me, and neither did any other religion. It was about this time that my dad, who had drifted more toward new-agey, yuppee crystals, affirmations, and Deepak Chopra kind of hoo-doo, enrolled me and my brother in a program called Rising Stars. It was NOT a religious program, if that’s what you’re thinking, but it was every bit as illogical, irrational, and cult-like in its design, and I will never until the day I die stop seething about the fact that this program ever existed. I’d always been happy to argue and debate when people were willing, but Rising Stars is what convinced me that it’s important to openly challenge bad thought processes where you find them.

Rising Stars had several different programs you could enroll yourself in. We were enrolled in the teen program, which is designed to “de-program” teens and free them from their “social contracts” so that they can be free and live to their full potential, etc etc. Insert buzz words here. It was supposed to help teens open their minds and know themselves better, I guess. My dad had already taken an adult class and was very impressed, so, despite my skepticism (I was already happy, knew myself well, had no problem being myself around others, didn’t feel peer pressure, etc), he pushed us to do it, and I decided that it was just for a few weeks and I could do it since it made him happy. 

Our first day we all sat in chairs before a small stage and were compelled to walk up on the stage to tell the group why we wanted to be there. Not why we WERE there, but why we WANTED to be there, a subtle distinction that was obviously important to the directory, Dorothy. There were a couple stock answers, a few “I just want to know myself better” answers which Dorothy praised, and then a girl came up and gave the answer Dorothy was clearly waiting for.

“Why do want to be here?”

“I don’t. I’m here because my parents made me.”

Dorothy leapt upon this answer; she’d clearly heard it before. Are your parents here? No. Then they can’t be stopping you from walking out that door, can they? No. Well then, the only thing keeping you here is you, so you must be here because you WANT to be here! The girl didn’t know what to say…I’m sure it didn’t ring true- she could tell that she really didn’t want to be there- but this woman had talked her into a box! If she didn’t want to be here, then why hadn’t she left? Could it be that she really did want to be there? She didn’t know where to go next, and Dorothy, radiating satisfaction, invited the next teen up there with a little admonishment that none of us would be there if we didn’t want to be.

What a load of crap! When it was my turn I walked up and gave the already “debunked” answer…I didn’t want to be there. This lady actually smiled condescendingly at me and said “haven’t we already demonstrated that that isn’t true?” No actually, we hadn’t! She’d taken a confused, inarticulate girl and wrapped her in a thread of poor logic that she didn’t know how to work her way out of. I addressed myself to the other teens in the group rather than to her. They were the ones who needed help. 

“I love my dad. This program really means a lot to him and he wanted me and my brother to go through it, enough so that he was willing to pay for it. I’m here because he asked me to be here, but that’s not the same as wanting to be here.” I explained that when we love people we will often do things that we don’t want to do if it will ensure their happiness. “What’s stopping me from walking out that door? Not a desire to go through your program, but a desire to make my dad happy.”

It was the first time in my life I’d had to defend myself on anything, and under the pressure of being on the spot, in front of a crowd and before an increasingly hostile adult no less! I was pretty pleased to find out that I could articulate a thought in those circumstances. It seemed that not many people could. What I’d said made sense to the teens, and Dorothy couldn’t say anything against it. What was she going to say? No you don’t love your parents? No we don’t do things we don’t want to do out of love? She had nothing. After me, there were a number of kids who simply said, “yeah, what she said.” This woman did NOT like me after that.

So there was incident number one. There were several others over the next few weeks, and though I didn’t always win every battle, it gave me the opportunity to cut my teeth under fire. I never knew when I’d have to defend my position or argue against some terrible line of reasoning. Ironically, she used peer pressure against us, she locked us into OTHER social contracts (hilarious since we were supposed to be breaking free of those), she used logical fallacies to trap us, and even used music to manipulate our emotions. The constant sense of manipulation was the most irritating and let me to be critical and outspoken whenever I had the opportunity.

They gave us a partner and compelled us to make solemn vows to our partners that we would never miss a class or be late. Of course we got stuck in traffic one day, we were late, and we were confronted by our partners. They had been taken aside, asked how they felt that their partner had BROKEN A SOLEMN VOW, and generally coerced into feeling awful, and then they were sent to tell us how we’d made them feel. After talking to my partner for seconds it was apparent that he didn’t feel bad at all. We both recognized that it was a bogus vow in the first place, but he did beg me not to be late again so that he wouldn’t have to have “the talk” with Dorothy or her minions.

Once we were supposed to be talking with a partner about a time when we felt like a “victim” and one of her minions- a Rising Stars Teen Graduate just a year older than me- came over, interrupted me, and asked me why I couldn’t let myself be loved…that one allowed me my first chance to look someone in the face and tell them that they needed to leave, a thing I was just too polite to do in the past.

There were maaaany other stories, but my favorite came toward the end of the program: We were told that graduation was being held two weeks after the program ended, and of course we had been made to VOW that we would attend. Well, they had admitted a 12 year old boy from Arizona…the kid tried to explain that he was going back home next week and wouldn’t be there for the graduation. Dorothy fixed him with her condescending smile and asked him one of her “coup de grace” questions-

“If I kidnapped your mother, was holding her hostage, and told you that I would kill her if you didn’t get back here for graduation, wouldn’t you find some way to get here?”

Yup. That’s what she said. She went on.

“Wouldn’t you hitchhike or sneak on a plane, or find SOME way of getting here? Well then, it must be possible for you to get here. Therefore, you CAN be here for graduation.”

She told this freaking’ 12 year old to run away from home, hitchhike if need be, to get to this stupid graduation, get piece of paper, and then find a way to get back home, all to fulfill the piece of crap “promise” he had been forced to make.

I had no chance to confront this one, and I had no chance to confront Dorothy the way I wished I could have, but I was given a crash course like I’d never experienced in watching someone use terrible logic to manipulate people who didn’t know how to follow a line of reasoning, let alone articulate it. The seed of anger that was planted in that program has steeled me. Critical reasoning and communication are THE most tools the human race has, and if you don’t know how to scrutinize information, come to a conclusion and communicate your thoughts effectively, you’re making yourself vulnerable to logical fallacies and manipulation by others who will take advantage of that fact.

Now I’m 27, a music teacher, married, and about to become a mother (just 4 weeks!). My opinions about communication have helped make me an effective educator, and my beliefs about critical thinking help me always try to improve in all aspects of my life. Over the past several years I’ve started paying attention to politics, religion, and the world around me; I listen to podcasts, read articles, educate myself, listen to others, and constantly practice my skills at coming to a position on a subject and then articulating that position effectively.

The teacher in me makes me want to help others improve their communication and critical thinking skills too- I like to help the person I’m talking with articulate their thoughts so that we can both see step by step where their logic is strong and where it is weak. I use every tool at my disposal in communicating my thoughts and helping others to see my line of thinking. I use humor, logic, evidence, anecdotes, thought experiments, Socratic questioning, gentle nudging, biting sarcasm, innocent unobtrusive inquiry, etc etc, but I do not ever stop a conversation so long as I feel like effective communication is going on.

Speaking of which, I believe I’ve talked enough about myself now.

Sarah Tullen
United States

Why I am an atheist – Kathleen DiRocco

I am an atheist for a few reasons. I love science, if I had my way instead of going back to school for nursing as I am now, I would be going back to be a paleontologist, preferably wanting to study the Cambrian explosion (I heart trilobites!) I also love reason and explanation of things with facts and truths as opposed to blind faith. As a child I grew up in the Catholic Church and was taught that if you were really quiet go would talk to you. Well I would sit there and be as quiet as I could get and nothing. I remember telling my sister and brother that this was stupid when I was in the sixth grade, that this makes no sense benediction, mass, the body and blood becomes him. I was being told cannibalism was awesome! As time went on, I figured that god really could not exist for many reasons, hell I was taught in school evolution and only learned about creationism in the Ken Hamm and Kirk Cameron sense was when I went to High School at Girls High. I thought these girls were insane. Who would honestly believe the Earth was 6000 years old? They would tell me how did we come from monkeys and even in high school I tried to explain the whole common ancestor thing but it was like talking to a brick wall. I refuse to a part of a hypocritical group of people such as Ken Hamm and Kirk Cameron, the oh god loves you but only if you do ABC, let’s put people to death yet lord help you if you have an abortion. Hypocrites such as these fools elect people and worship in a sense Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ricky Perry, George Bush, etc. Supposedly men and women of god yet since these fools really never read Jesus’ teaching, they are the opposite of what Jesus taught.

I absolutely love science. I can watch any program on the evolution of life on Earth. I also love going to places to actually see these things. My favorite places to go include the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Smithsonian, the Natural History Museum of London and also took the time to actually see Lucy, aka Australopithecus afarensis, in New York (why did it not come to Philly I will never know.) I can see the history of life on this planet in fossils, I can look up in the sky and see how vast this universe is and while I do not understand physics, I feel biology makes more sense to me anyway(I am team Biology, my sister and dad team Physics.) I own a trilobite fossil, ammonite fossils and would love one day to own a larger trilobite fossil. I think learning about Anomalocaris is more interesting than being told if I don’t sew my seeds I will go to hell. I also look at some of the smallest living things on earth and technically nonliving things. Viruses and bacteria in my opinion explain more about life on earth and how it evolved, especially since we got those fun loving antibiotic resistant strains and how viruses technically are not even living things. But trying to explain that to creationist or theists is like trying to get a two year old to understand this as well, but they are more receptive to this thinking.

I find when someone tells me they are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, etc I look at them and think how sad. Why do you need to identify yourself. I don’t go around screaming HEY look at me I Heart trilobites! When I hear those words come out of their mouths I think how it like the blind leading the blind, how a grown adult can really think that there is some old white guy sitting on a throne and that one day they will be next to him. I love challenging them by asking what makes you really think you are going to heaven? Of course they start quoting stupid crap, saying that they believe in Jeebus because of their faith, because God is everywhere etc. Well I usually say, so is oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc. I get tired of arguing at times, because I think I get more of an intelligent response from my dogs then these folks. It is a shame because I have meet some nice people of all faiths and nonfaiths.

But in the end, I am an atheist because I know that there is no god. No proof that is tangible, no concrete evidence to prove otherwise. I have known this since I was 12. I also have known that I am good without God.

Kathleen DiRocco
United States

Why I am an atheist – Anonymous

I became a Christian in fifth grade at ten years of age. I had been attending a Christian school for a few weeks by that point, but I wasn’t exactly a practicing Christian. I was sitting in my “science” class as the teacher gave a lecture on the age of the universe, the Bible and its correlation with science, etc. Her misinformation eventually got to me. I became a Christian right then and there, believing fully in the many pseudoscientific claims that my teacher had made.

I am now very relieved to say that I am, in fact, an atheist – due in part to Prof. Myers. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

As a new believer in Christ, and a frequent internet user, I began to come across challenges to the veracity of the Christian faith online. It was inevitable that I would soon find some sort of weird Biblical explanation to this “dogma” that scientists were proclaiming. Indeed, one day I discovered the lectures of one Kent E. Hovind. My mind was easily indoctrinated by Hovind’s BS, and it remained that way for years.

During this time my religion troubled me very deeply. I didn’t want the rapture to occur – I wanted to stay here on Earth, to live, to grow. My search for truth was shrouded by religious presuppositions, which undoubtedly led to many sleepless nights as I wondered how certain facets of Christianity could be true in light of reality. I was being internally tortured by the ideas that had been planted in my head, and I lived in fear of the wrath of God.

Thankfully, everything changed. One day, I discovered a collection songs on Youtube – the Symphony of Science. Each song was composed of remixed snippets of audio and video from various shows, presentations, and talks relating to science. One of these songs was entitled “A Wave of Reason,” based on a talk given by Dr. Richard Dawkins. The musical piece was essentially about skepticism and reason.

My discovery of this song was the spark that led me to investigate further into science and the natural world. I watched the entirety of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos during this time. My search pressed on as I came across lectures and discussions by Dawkins, Sam Harris, Prof. Myers, and many others.

As I became more and more educated, I saw more and more flaws in religion. And eventually, thankfully, relievedly, I shed the childish concept of religion that had held me captive. I am a much happier individual because of it.

Thank you, Prof. Myers, for playing a vital role in my leaving religion. I cannot thank you enough.


Why I am an atheist – Ric Baker

I am an atheist because I got lucky. My luck came in two forms: good parents and an education in critical thinking. First, my parents had a large hand in developing my atheism. No, please don’t think that my parents “indoctrinated” me into atheism like religious parents indoctrinate their children into their superstitions. In fact, the opposite is true. My parents protected me from indoctrination. Like almost all people raised in the United States, I was reared in a relatively religious community and was surrounded by believers. Now, having grown up in the North East, my community was not nearly as rabidly religious as some, but I still felt the pressure to conform to religion as a child and felt the fear of damnation. But when others would try to indoctrinate me, my parents would subtly counteract it by explaining that what they were telling me was not THE way to believe but merely one among many ways that people believe. By simply exposing me to other religions and beliefs, I was able to see that none was more rational or believable than any other.

I was also naturally intellectually curious, and I always loved reading From a young age, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. This trend continues to this day and led to my being thoroughly educated in critical thinking and philosophy. In fact, I received an MA in Philosophy with a specialty in critical thinking. Anyone who has not been indoctrinated, who knows something about critical thinking, and who has read widely is bound, in my opinion, to come to become an atheist. And thus I did. My atheism is indeed deeply rational and scientific, but I do recognize that I was lucky to reach this conclusion based on the preparation I was given in my childhood.

Ric Baker
United States

Why I am an atheist – Leslie Klug

I am an atheist because the god stories I was raised with (Protestant Christianity) were so contrived. The story of Christ having to live here as a man, be persecuted for his philosophy, tortured and killed, then resurrected and returning to heaven just so we, his creation, could go to heaven is ridiculous.

If there is a god and he’d have periodic communication with humanity explaining the rules for entry into heaven, I’d go along with it. Asking me to believe a multi-thousands of years old collection of books which claim there is a god is just not going to do it for me. On top of it, this book collection (Bible) tells stories which are supernatural (talking snakes, great flood, parting of the sea) which go against the “rules” of the natural world which this god was supposed to have created.

It would take me multiple pages to describe all the scientific evidence against a creator and I am not even a scientist. I don’t get comfort from stories. I get comfort from facts.

Leslie Klug
United States

Why I am an atheist – Pris

I was born in Austria to Roman Catholic parents the summer of 1983 and baptised in autumn. We moved to Germany when I was one. I still live there.

We didn’t practice religion at home.

I received the standard Bavarian religious education, which is very thorough.

I went to first communion and confirmation, even became an altar girl and stayed one for years.

Despite all this I’m an atheist. What happened?

Indoctrination failure.

When I was little, god existed for me on the same level as creatures from fairy tales. When I got a bit older I learned that god was this all powerful being that made everything. For some time I even prayed regularly because due to horrible teachers my live at school was terrible. Praying didn’t help.

I always watched the news with my parents, and there are always a lot of bad things happening in the world. I started wondering about how this could happen if god was all powerful and good. Later I learned that this problem was called theodicy.

Another big problem was the existence of hell. If god forgives everything, what does hell exist for?

And don’t get me started on Pascal’s wager.

The older I got, the more inconsistencies I found.

My parents raised me to respect every human being and taught me that there was nothing wrong with being different from the norm in any way. All religious doctrine I ever met went against that.

When I got interested in politics and human rights, all respect for religion went out the window. According to most religious doctrine I’m a second class human or not human at all. Just a mobile incubator.

When I turned eighteen I went to the city hall and left the church. That’s how you have to do it in Germany. I received a letter from the local parish asking me to reconsider, which I ignored.

These days I see myself as a humanist. I follow Kant’s categorical imperative. ‘Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.’ That is all you need to be good.

To all those reading my ramblings:

Study philosophy, you don’t need to do it in depth, but you will see that religion isn’t needed to be good.

Study history. Pick one region and see how religion influenced conflicts and daily life. Take a hard look at the ‘divine right to rule’.

Study your religion, its history and its philosophy.

The most important thing I ever learned was this:

Think for yourself. Don’t accept anything at face value. Always ask questions.


Why I am an atheist – Dave H.

I am an atheist because I started outside religion, and I have never found a reason to go inside. Religion was a non-issue during my formative years, and over those same years and beyond I have never heard an argument for religion that ultimately did not reduce to “Because I/he/they said so” or something similar.

Those “profound” rituals that form a central part of so many people’s lives are only confusing or ridiculous to those of us looking in from the outside, just as the rituals of one religion look ridiculous to the followers of another. The “sense of community” that people find in their religious groups, I have found in my peers, coworkers, friends, and humanity at large. I have never found a need for religion in my life; I do not need nor want an imaginary friend in my life, I have enough real ones.

Finally, the petty tribalism that religion engenders, defining “us” and “them” based on what and how you worship, is a divisive force that our collective society, already shot through with divisions both real and imaginary, doesn’t need. If we truly seek cooperation instead of conflict between all the diverse members of humanity, we need to tear down or fill in every boundary we can. We need to act in this world, not waste our time in pointless pursuit of some imaginary next one.

Dave H.

Why I am an atheist – Charles Miller

I am an atheist because when I was a child, my parents read to me (and later with me) every night before I went to sleep. Some of my earliest memories are of Joseph and his Technicolour Dream Coat, of Rudyard Kipling’s Elephants Child and the Cat who Walked by Himself, of Midas and his Golden Touch. If I was ever told one of that lot was more true than the rest, I can’t remember it. I am an atheist because I can not comprehend how an adult living in the modern age, confronted with the plenitude of myths that purport to explain our existence without foundation in evidence or even simple plausibility, can pick one and say “that is the truth”.

Charles Miller

Why I am an atheist – Doubting Thomas

Well I am one because that’s what you call someone who is not a theist, whatever you think that is. So I don’t believe in gods because I don’t see any need to. It seems that the only thing different between believing and not believing is that not believing means you get to do what you want on Sunday and you don’t have to do all the other stuff believers believe they should do. Like be bored to death in church and hate others because they don’t believe what you do.

Everything else is the same. The supposed god does not in any way affect what goes on. He does not answer prayers or intervene in floods and other disasters. He doesn’t reward good behavior. Same result as not praying or not believing.

Someone, Voltaire I think once said, “If there were no god it would have been necessary to invent him”, possibly so, if your goal was to control people. I don’t need that; I’m not a king or government. And since I don’t care for any more authority than is necessary, I don’t see the need to maintain the invention.
I discarded belief in god because it was worthless. The days when an espoused belief was an asset are fading. Politicians in this country still can’t get elected without it, but I’m not a politician. There are other human interactions where ‘having religion’ is still looked on as a plus, but I choose not to get involved with many of those and when I do, such as at funerals and weddings, I just keep quiet, or sit with my sister and laugh and make jokes.

Oh, and last but not least, believing in gods and all those made up stories about him just seems stupid. I mean, none of it holds up to scrutiny. It’s all silly nonsense.

Doubting Thomas
United States