As someone who was a very religious (but not fundamentalist) Christian before becoming an atheist, I am drawn to other similar conversion stories. Daniel C. Maguire, a professor of theology at the Jesuit Marquette University has written a book Christianity without God: Moving beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative describing his own similar journey.
I have not read the book but did come across an interview where he describes what made him into an atheist and give up the priesthood. The process starts when you decide to reject one aspect of dogma because it is just too much and then the whole edifice starts to crumble because of the removal of just that brick.
I started out as the absolute true believer. I believed everything the Vatican taught. One of the things that helped me was working in a parish. I started to meet real people and to discover that some of the things I had just gotten good grades on were dead wrong.
When you do realize that something is wrong in a system that you thought was airtight, your first impulse is to say, “Well that was the only thing wrong. They were wrong on birth control, but the rest of the structure is fine. God, Jesus, everything else is fine.”
But you’ve been shaken at the foundations and you’re more open to finding more problems in the system. So it was a progressive thing that moved me toward atheism. I finally decided with this book to spell it out in detail.
He points to fear of life not having an external meaning as being a prime driver of belief in god.
I think the main passion of the conservative mind is fear and there’s no greater fear than that the universe is without meaning. That chaos is our destiny. So I think the God concept is very consoling.
I think he is right. I have spoken before of the fear of dying and facing the unknown as a major factor in keeping people religious. The fear of a lack of meaning to life is related to the fear of dying but is more general.