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I have been desiring a comfortable place to communicate honestly my reasons for coming out of the faith. Thanks to the “Not Alone Project” for being that comfortable place! Though I have been meaning to write a post about my long journey to becoming an atheist months ago, I admit I have been dragging my feet. It has been a long difficult process, and I have found it hard to put my journey into words. So, even though it’s hard… I will saddle up and share the story of how I lost my faith.

A BRIEF RELIGIOUS HISTORY

Religion, Christianity in particular, has almost always been a very important part of my life. I was involved in Christian groups through church and school since I was in middle school. When I went to college I got very involved in an interdenominational Christian ministry through my university. Completely separate from my church involvement, I attended weekly worship nights, regular prayer meetings and if I wasn’t leading a weekly bible study, I was certainly attending one. I discipled multiple young women, studied and memorized scripture, and met with accountability partners to attempt to remain pure and “on the right path”. I could continue to share about the different aspects of my religious background but to sum it up a bit more quickly, God and Jesus were the center of my activities, my thoughts, my conversations, my life. If I wasn’t a true and devoted believer, nobody is.

QUESTIONING SIN

I would say that my deconversion from Christianity began about 8 years ago, in early 2006, when I was newly married. We moved into a small basement apartment of a house in “Old Town”. Several people lived upstairs and across the hall in the basement there was one other apartment next to ours. That’s where Nick lived. Nick was purposefully and awkwardly funny, he introduced us to the world of Ultimate Frisbee, and frankly he turned out to be a great neighbor. We swapped keys at some point and if we were out of town Nick would sometimes call and say, “Can I borrow some milk? O, and can I hang out and watch the game at your place?” And he offered the same hospitality to us. That’s really the best kind of neighbor.

The first time we had Nick over for dinner we initiated our common ritual, praying before the meal. Right after the prayer Nick said, “So, you guys are Christians, huh? You ever seen Broke Back Mountain?” I laughed at his intentional prodding but even though I hadn’t seen the movie, at the time the idea of a film “promoting homosexuality” made me feel uncomfortable. I certainly would struggle to admit it back then, but I was homophobic and I thought homosexuality was a sin. I believed you should love the sinner and hate the sin of gay sex. In a later conversation Nick, my husband and I got into a more in-depth discussion about being gay and there were a few things Nick said that struck a chord with me, big time. He said:

– Most of the stuff that is in the bible makes sense to me because it usually forbids hurting someone in some way, but I’ve never understood what it says about being gay… if you’re gay, you’re not hurting anyone.
– Imagine if we lived in a world where the “normal” or common thing was to be gay and everybody discriminated against or looked down on straight people.
– Why would someone choose to be discriminated against by choosing to be gay?
– Why would god let someone be born with homosexual tendencies and then punish them for those tendencies?

Huh, I had never thought of it from that point of view before. It’s amazing how these questions planted a seed in me that I mulled over for years. I really struggled with the thought that I was discriminating against people who had done nothing wrong, even if my discrimination was frowning at them in silent judgment of their lifestyle. But on the other hand, the bible was the infallible word of God, it was God breathed! My insides were telling me “I don’t like this dogma that I have been brought to believe about gay people” but the bible was telling me “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? … Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men … will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

My response to all of this was: well, I will just set those types of verses aside and try not to worry about them. At this time I didn’t fully throw them out because that begs the question, what other verses can be thrown out? This was the start of my cognitive dissonance and for the time being I was able to keep my doubts at bay.

QUESTIONING GOD

Gradually, over the next 5 years I transformed from a conservative Christian (biblical inerrancy belief and devout religious practice) to a liberal Christian (personal biblical interpretation and relaxed religious practice).

But then, at the end of 2011, the floodgates opened and the questions just started flowing. Below are some of the things I could not reconcile with my god belief. Keep in mind that I may have asked some of these questions earlier in my life but this was the first time I asked them without assuming I already had the right answer from god.

– Why are there so many religions? There are many good people of various religions but they can’t all be right. If I put my belief in the wrong god, yet I live a good, well-intentioned life, why is it justified for me to go to hell for eternity?
– How is it that god is all knowing, all powerful, and all good and still he allows evil?
– Eternal torture for not believing in the right god is an exceptionally vengeful punishment, is it not? Eternity is a REALLY long time.
– It’s self-centered to look at my situation and say, “I am so lucky to have been born in this day and age in America, thank you god”, when so many terrible things have happened and continue to happen all over the world. Why does god allow all the terrible stuff to happen to people yet he gets credit for a successful surgery completed by a trained medical doctor?
– Why does god get credit for things that have another explanation?
– If I don’t know why something good happened, why should I just assume “well, it must have been god that did it”? If I attribute good things to god, why don’t I attribute the bad things to him as well?
– Why is it necessary to “catch ’em young” (teach religion to our youth)? If something is true it shouldn’t matter when or how someone encounters it, it’s still the truth.
– When I look around and see beautiful and magnificent things in nature, just because I don’t understand the mechanisms that happened over time to make it happen, why should I attribute it to a god?
– Why does the holy spirit say contradictory things to people?
– Why does the bible contradict itself?
– How is a bible verse good evidence for god? Why should I believe the bible just because the bible says so or Christians say so?
– Why does god need our financial help to do his work?
– Why is god so sneaky? Why doesn’t he just reveal himself to everyone on earth and save us all?

LETTING GO OF FEARS AND FAITH

I spent months wrestling with many of these questions and working through my fears. While some may be able to come away from all of these questions with some justification for god, ultimately, I can no longer suspend my disbelief. If I am to put my trust and belief in a god, I need sufficient evidence that such a god truly exists. So far I have found no such evidence.

A big thanks to Nick for helping me start to question the bible. An even bigger thanks to my husband for helping me question throughout the entire process. Lastly, I am grateful to myself for resolving to say to god, “If you are real and you created me, I trust that you want me to freely use my god-given brain to question and process information in an honest way, without fear”.  It was that statement that allowed me to let go of my fears and ultimately be set free from the chains of religion.

Carl Sagan’s words resonate deeply with me as I share my story. He says, “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.

Thanks for hearing my story!

I know I am a confirmed cynic.

Three of my grand parents died at a younger age than I am now. Both my parents died at a younger age than I am now. My two younger sisters died at a younger age than I am now. All passed on under the care (?) of qualified medical practitioners, at least two of them in monstrous distress, degradation and indignity. Against all such expert practitioners advice, I am the only one of my family who smoked and I have enjoyed the occasional alcoholic drink. As a child I was exposed to the sun ‘as a source of ‘Vitamin D’, as my mother was medically advised, now I have skin cancers and scars galore. I ate eggs because they were ‘good for me’, then was abstained from eggs because of ‘heart attack risk’.

I ate red meat because it was ‘good for me. but am now warned to limit it because of indeterminate ‘health risks’. I am injected every so often with Vitamin B12, and I am told a good source of Vitamin B12 is eggs or red meat. I took ‘Statin’ drugs because they were ‘good for me’, I stopped taking ‘Statins’ as they were ‘useless’, I am now taking ‘Statins’ because they are ‘good for me’ I spent a lot of my work and private life handling Government authorised and promoted asbestos plus many other deadly poisons, fertilisers, fuels and other substances. I survived working in dangerous Government regulated industries such as mining, road transport, electricity generation supply and distribution. In all the fruitless parliamentary discussions I have seen lately there is an insistence that I am not qualified to make a rational or sensible decision about myself. (But of course they will canvas, grovel and accept the vote of an irrational and non-sensible voter.)

Weird thing is that I have obviously made enough rational and sensible decisions to have lasted for the past seventy plus years. This is despite the fact that I have lived constantly hands on with lethally dangerous things such as petrol, electricity, town and bottled gas, motor vehicles, sail and power boats, and a variable medical advice industry, Is it any wonder I have doubts, most of all that if I decide life is not good, I have to seek the acceptance of a committee of total strangers, all younger than me whose results to date in my family is pretty darned poor. Also I wonder at the usurpation of my rights by various religious followers who haven’t woken up to the fact that they are a minority in the truth of our total population.

The discussions I have seen lately are purported to be leading to so called ‘conscience’ votes but seem to lack any form of conscience apart from ‘follow the party line if you want your election funding and assistance.’ All that I want is the right to make my minor choice and decide whether I want to get some simple clean end of life products and/or whether I shall even bother to take them. All that I want is the freedom to choose, and let me carry the can as always. Being a doubting type I can’t help but wonder if it is that filthy four letter word makes these suggested types so heeded.

Sorry, in case you are wondering, the four letter word I had in mind is FEES.

My family and I are from San Antonio, Texas.  Please publish my posting.  My Preferred name can be used.

Over the years we’ve been involved in a few Christian churches ranging from the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Baptist Church, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Ultimately we found ourselves flustered with all Christian churches and found ourselves fairly closely in line with the beliefs and values espoused by the Unitarian Universalists. We also came to the realization that we were frustrated and discouraged with most any religious organization or association and moved away from any church or association.

We have issues with atheism and agnosticism, since those terms infer negative or undefined views. We began exploring other views and ran across Humanists and Free Thought philosophies. Interestingly Free Thought movements within the United States evolved into the Unitarian Universalist Association. The definition for Humanism from the American Humanist Association is “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Again a negative perspective (without theism and other supernatural beliefs) instead of focusing more on the positive. We feel like we relate to some of the Humanists views such as “Secular Humanism is a life stance that focuses on the way human beings can lead good, happy and functional lives.” The problem we have is that we don’t necessarily feel we need a church or association to help us lead the life we aspire to. That’s my question. Why do I need to be labeled? Is that for my benefit, or for others?

Why am I atheistically inclined ?

During World War 2 my father was serving in the army and I was enrolled, at the age of 5, at the only pre-school available, one run by a sect of the Roman Catholic church.

Family legend told me I had been christened in the Prestbyterian faith. What faith a pre 6 year old has is still beyond me.

At this pre-school my fate was sealed by a simple error by my mother in sending me to ‘kindy’ (short for kindergarten) as we called it, with a meat filled sandwich for mid-morning recess ‘play lunch’, shock/horror, on a FRIDAY. In those days it was considered sinful and wicked or something to eat meat on a Friday. Years later this prohibition was repealed and meat on Friday became religously acceptable. Go figure?

I was dragged out in front of the class, my pants were pulled down, this was in the days before small boys owned underpants and I was beaten, bare backside in front of a mixed class, with a wooden ruler, by a floor length black robed Irish nun. This raised bruises etc I have been told. I was then deported to the adjacent church to repent my sins, damned if I knew how, and to wait till the school session was over. If I recall correctly I was also supposed to ‘confess’, again I did not have a clue.

Needless to say I did not return to pre-school but hung out till the next year when I was old enough to go to the local State Government run non-sectarian school.

At this school we suffered ‘scripture’ every week which was conducted by religious people of the local Protestant faiths. As I remember nearly all of the children had to attend these sessions with the notable exception of a couple of Jewish and Indian sub-continent or something children of wartime refugees. We did so envy them.

Now my uncle was a pastoralist and a former headmaster. He mentioned ‘in-breeding’ on occasion and the perils it caused the stock.

At ‘scripture’ one day the local Presbyterian pastor was carrying on about Adam & Eve and also Noah and the Cain & Abel legend when I covered my juvenile self with glory by questioning the probability of incest and the perils of inbreeding plus the impossibility of a human race, as he made no mention of any available female companions for said boys.

Talk about bringing a tempest down on my, about 10 year old head. I was cast out, never to return, and wound up with the ‘heathens’ in the library to the envy of my mates, most of whom did not have the guts or ignorance to do the same.

To this day I have not seen any reason to back away from my beliefs and adopt these illogical religious stupidities.

In a lot of ways I think coming out of religion for me was the typical progression of curious and academically minded kids raised in a loving and reasonably permissive home. My parents are fundamentalists, creationists, tee-totallers and extremely active in their church, but I wasn’t completely sheltered as you might expect someone raised in that environment to be. They encouraged us to doubt, genuinely confident that Christianity is true and right and congruent with reality. They really seemed to expect that a reasonable person who earnestly seeks the truth will unavoidably end up believing exactly what they do, so to them Christianity was the one religion that could feel free to allow its followers to freely doubt their beliefs.

So I read. I read my bible, to be sure, and I read some apologetic literature, and I read tons of fiction. I loved reading, I loved learning, and I loved to think through and discuss what I found out through the world of books. I suspect that, in the internet age, a child like that is bound to at least escape fundamentalism, if not their religion entirely.

I was still thoroughly devout when I graduated high-school, and decided to do a year of bible-school while I considered my career options. At that point in my life, a bible school is the last place I would’ve expected to plant real seeds of cognitive dissonance, but knowing what I know now about biblical scholarship, it makes complete sense. It was quite a conservative and fundamentalist school, but even so, they presented the scholarly opinion on a number of issues, and even the more conservative scholars can’t respectably represent fundamentalism within academia.

Sometimes, we were even presented with certain (significantly de-fanged) atheist arguments in order to prepare us for when we would encounter them outside our little Christian bubble. Despite my eagerness to be convinced by the Christian responses, I couldn’t help being underwhelmed by many of them.

Then I went to University.

I did a broad Arts degree, and though it hasn’t really done much for me career-wise yet, I’m glad I made that choice and don’t hesitate to recommend it. I can point to a few courses that were particularly poignant in my deconversion process – anthropology, philosophy of mind, ethics – but at least as important as any of these was the general sharpening of my reasoning, research, and critical thinking skills. I learned how to properly make and analyze arguments, and how to get to real knowledge and assign appropriate confidence levels to my beliefs.

I look at my escape from religion as a triumph of curiosity and education. I am grateful to all of my teachers, including my parents, for encouraging my love of learning and pursuit of knowledge.

I’ve seen many people describe crises of faith and destabilizing moments or periods in their transition out of their childhood religion, but it wasn’t like that for me. It was a gradual erosion of particular beliefs thanks to an accumulation of new knowledge with a firm epistemic basis rather than faith.

I didn’t embrace the “atheist” label until after graduating with my degree from Grant MacEwan University. I came across r/atheism on reddit and began to dive into the information and discussions I found there. I’ve since become more anti-theist and unashamedly vocal about it in conversations online and in person. I never announced it to my family exactly, but it became clear to them all over the course of a number of conversations. My mother was particularly disappointed and we got into some spirited discussions, but I was never really concerned about my relationship with my family being badly impacted. It has been affected, no doubt, but I always knew we loved each other enough that they could look past even this difference of opinion.

My anti-theism is only a single facet of my life right now, mostly expressed through my Twitter account. You can find me @BlakeSeidler actively seeking out conversations with believers and fellow atheists about various philosophical, ethical, or political matters. My efforts are disproportionately directed at theists I encounter who seem to be at some stage of the journey I went through myself. I try to avoid being antagonistic, but I think there’s room for various approaches in the battle against the virus that is faith.

To all my fellow deconverts, I hope you take the pursuit of knowledge seriously, enjoy the freedom of living without a celestial overlord, and never forget…

you’re not alone.

Blake

Atheism: It Just Fits

I haven’t written about my atheism and how I arrived here since I started this blog several months ago. I’ve often wondered why I haven’t the desire to do so. In those times of consideration I’ve come to the same conclusion. That my lack of belief in gods, the supernatural, miracles, divine intervention, prayer as a useful tool, and so on is truly a well-reasoned and thoroughly analyzed understanding of reality. The peace this feeling has given me is so deep that I find it challenging to describe. What I can tell you is that it just fits. Beautifully.

All of the dependency on God that I had for much of my life has been erased. At first I felt a great sense of loss. Feelings of disorientation, resentment, and nihilism loaded my mind. I had so much I needed to work through. I was audibly irritated for a while. I know I hurt and jarred many with my commentary and rhetorical questions. My sarcasm was in high gear. A clear sign of my hostility toward the fact that I had been indoctrinated as a child and forced to shuffle along with the herd, being kept in place by those who saw themselves as deserving of that level of authority over me. I didn’t shuffle passively. I’ve always been curious and certainly felt and continue to feel entitled to ask questions. My stance on perceived authority has been and remains rebellious. This pattern became super loud now that I had the atrocity of religion in my sights.

I see religious indoctrination as an act of violence against humanity. To take a new and currently forming mind of a child and mold said mind to suit the needs of a cruel, all-encompassing machine is most unethical. Add to that the seduction and consequent assimilation that is exercised and cultivated by religious enthusiasts toward adults who are in seeking mode and you’ve got a big old ball of horrifyingly injurious human behavior. The potential achievements that can come from the human mind should be nurtured and encouraged vigorously. Religion and its supernatural cousins stand like a concrete wall between potential and its realization. This is completely unacceptable. Of course I am aware, and have been since my early teens, that religion came about as a form of government. Boundaries and rules are necessary for a productive society. But truly, people, we’re way beyond the point of needing government to be driven by religion now. It’s simply absurd.

When I first began using twitter I was tweeting about politics, news, and the bullshit that goes along with all of that. Eventually I bumped into one or two outspoken atheists and I felt like I had struck gold. Intellectual and emotional gold, that is. As I watched them go head to head with theists I was comforted to see that there were many more minds out there that shared my world view. At that point I was already beyond my nihilism by approximately two years. I had offered my family and friends, some religious, my renewed exhilaration for life and all the contemplations that created it. Some were excited and some were disturbed. It made no difference to me. I knew I had made my way to the true beginning of the rest of my days. So I tossed myself into this lovely sea of free thinkers with complete abandon. As I made my way around the atheist section of the twitterverse, I found that what I had to say and what I had learned was nothing new. I found this to be an amazingly beautiful sensation.

Now more than six months later I have found myself in a space in my real life where it’s not even necessary to discuss my atheism unless I’m involved in a civil debate more often triggered by questions about my perspective from theists. On twitter I see these debates being handled rather well. I enjoy seeing the different styles of those I follow and applaud them whenever I have the opportunity. My interest has rested, temporarily, in the area of intellectual, psychological, and emotional empowerment. I find that the more one feels their own worth, the closer they get to utilizing reason and logic to find their way through life and all of its challenges. The continued use of reasoning often allows for a more developed and tempered recognition and use of emotion. If one can set up this sort of mental foundation they are more likely to think independently and ultimately will offer a greater contribution to themselves and the world around them. I have no desire to remove anyone’s coping mechanisms prior to giving them the opportunity to at least grasp the notion that there may be another way. Religion, faith, prayer and the perception of an all-powerful being looking out for specific humans are all common coping mechanisms. Albeit primitive but nonetheless utilized by many to ‘get through’ life. Life isn’t something to get through. It’s a beautiful mess of fun, fearful, risky, indulgent, satisfying, challenging, and sometimes-brutal experiences, all to be relished and appreciated. I wouldn’t want to pray my way through such an incredible and fleeting experience. Would you?

I’ll continue to express my opinions and share my experiences as I see fit. That’s the reward of becoming and being a free thinker. As for the strong foundation I have built as I moved along the path to atheism, it just fits. And I’m realistically certain it will remain.

Be sure to follow Jen on Twitter @jen_august. Also follow her blog here.

 

My name is Kevin, I am a high school senior, and I am an atheist. My reason for submitting this story is that I haven’t seen any posts from fellow students, and I know there are many out there that are looking for some reassurance that they are not alone in their day to day struggles in being nonreligious, and I know from experience that hearing the “good news” so to speak from a fellow student is beneficial, as it was for me.

I come from a small town of Lexington, in the thumb of Michigan, on the beautiful shores of Lake Huron. I’m sure nobody reading this post has heard of it, it’s a very small town, so small that they school must combine the two neighboring towns of Croswell and Lexington, hence its name, Cros-Lex, as well as a great amount of the surrounding rural area.

I want to emphasize the diminutive size of the community because it contributed a great deal to the “aloneness” I felt in my coming to atheism. A rural community, as many of you are aware, is not often accepting of the kind of free-thinking that fosters ideas, such as atheism, that challenge long-held beliefs and traditions. And when an individual comes to such ideas, they are often made to feel isolated, as I was, and I’m sure many of my fellow students out there do as well.

The road to atheism wasn’t simple for me. It was a constant struggle starting back in the Catholic elementary school my parents put my siblings and I through. When I’d ask an honest question about some church doctrine, all I would receive was the old, ironed out responses of “god loves you” or “it’s a mystery”. And, like every other 10 year old, I would accept it as such, although I harbored grains of salt with them.

Through middle school, my first experience with public school, I was exposed to so much more than what my sheltered life before had prepared me for. My natural reaction was to hold close what was familiar, religion. However, the closer you hold something, the closer you can examine it. And we all know that religion has a tendency to crack under examination, even that of a twelve year old. But still the natural clinging to what was familiar kept me in the church.

High school was where the major transformation happened, as with many people. Sophomore year I gave up my Catholic label in favor of Agnosticism, and by my Junior year I accepted myself as an Atheist, but I held these beliefs in for fear of the repercussions from both the community and my still Catholic family. But I couldn’t hide them forever.

And the repercussions came! I first came out to various friends and in casual conversation with people to get myself used to the feeling. I received many dirty looks, many accusations of being a Satan worshiper, and was ostracized by the community in general. And to this day I still get odd looks from teachers when I omit “under god” from the morning pledge.

When I came out to my parents I had to face many facets of adversity I never experienced before. At first my mother wanted to throw me out of the house and take away any family money. She backed down from this, but she works to make me feel unwelcome in the house. Immediately after she bought many religious symbols (statues, prayer cards around the house, and even handbags) and made sure we were now going to church every Sunday. My parents both informed the aunts and uncles, and a few close friends, making sure I was there to be stared at. My only solace, as far as family goes, is that I’ll be off to college soon, and moving out.

I didn’t loose hope though. Upon coming out to my community, I discovered which friends were true, several of who also came out. I also found solace in a wonderful girlfriend, with whom I’ve been with for nearly a year, who has also come out as an atheist.

My message to my fellow non-believing students who are still hiding their beliefs, or have come out but don’t know where to go is that there is nothing to fear. Even if adversity is all you see when peaking out of the close door, you may be missing the full, wonderful picture of life after religion. For your own sake and the sake of others who may be hiding in your community, open the door, come out and allow others to see what an atheist looks like.