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The Bible Set Me Free

Blame it on my parents. They always told me to “think for yourself”.  I doubt they ever considered what would happen if I really did that. Now, I suspect what they meant was, “Think what we tell you but do it in your own words.”

Too late.

When I was 13, I began to question everything and soon the total absurdity of religion became apparent. Because I have been “encouraged” (forced) to read the bible several times, it was easy for me to see the contradictions in the book, what christians professed to believe, and how they really lived. When I refused to go with them to their church, they said they would “make me go.”

I asked them, “How are you going to make me? How will forcing me to attend church change my mind?”

Already, their attitude was starting to harden me against everything else about religion they would tell me. Their next idea was to have their minister talk to me. I told them it was a waste of everyone’s time. They persisted and had him come to the house to “talk some sense into me” (as if that ever works for anyone). After about 15 minutes of him quoting the bible to me and me pointing out that he was either wrong in his quotes or showing him how it said something else in another place, he became very angry and told me I was going to hell. I suspect it was because I knew the bible better than he did and was, at age 13, able to prove how ridiculous his arguments were.

I told him, “If there is a Hell I’ll see you there. Save me a nice place, OK?”

He said I was an impertinent, disrespectful child. By then, I was angry myself and for the first time, I told a christian that he was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. My parents insisted that I apologize. I refused and left the room to a lot of yelling and threats. For the next four years, I heard about this at least once a week. So the night I graduated high school, I left my parent’s home and didn’t see them again for well over a year. By then, with the credits I had accumulated in high school and summer school, I had completed a couple of years of college.

Fortunately, I was able to pay for this myself.

I was entering the army and wanted to try to make peace with them, but had to listen to the same old recriminations and arguments again. The next time I saw them was two years later when I was getting married. After several years of an on-again, off-again relationship they finally agreed to just not discuss it any more. I’d like to say that worked, but  subtle hints slowly became outright condemnation. Then I took a job transfer from Ohio to Arizona, so family meetings were rare enough to become occasions for something other than contention.

I do have to say that I appreciate the other things they did for me, like encouraging my education and equipping me with the work ethic and attitudes I needed to survive and thrive at that early age. In those areas, they were excellent parents and I am grateful for those things.

What did I learn?

Even your family can turn against you if you refuse to share in their illusions. There are times, if you are to become your own person, you must stand firm in what you know to be true.

My name is Brandon and I’m a 25 year old humanist. Most of my life I’ve lived scared to truly be myself due to social, family, cultural pressures. Not too long ago I decided it was time to take control of my life as my anxiety issues were getting far to hard for me to handle. One of the first things was to no longer hide my true religious views (basically atheist but refer to myself as non-religious), and then to also no longer hide anxiety issues. I do feel more freedom than I’ve ever had but now I also fear for my future. A large part of my personality is based on open mindedness and freedom of expression, yet I don’t feel that this is possible for me. I long for a life where I can use my knowledge, rare personality, and unique views in their full capacity, and not be subject to group think. I’ve recently been working very hard to be active and network until I land in the right place.

Have you navigated through things like this? Honestly I’ve grown so much yet I’m at a point where I need guidance.

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 guess becoming an atheist started when I was little, I just didn’t know it at the time. I was too young to understand, so I just went with what I was told.

All my family is Christian, my aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, mother and father. They are all Christian, some more religious than others.

When I started school I was sent to a Catholic school until first grade. I moved many times to different schools which opened me up to different ideas and helped me become the accepting person I am today. From a to a public school, to a private school, to a different public school, then back to the first public school. Finally, to the public school I go to now, I have been at since sixth grade. I am in tenth grade now.

I developed a logical way of thinking over time. So as I grew older and went to church, I would always ask many questions on what was being preached in the church and taught in sunday school. As a child none of the answers seemed to make sense but I just said “okay” and went with it. Even now they don’t seem to make sense.

One question that went through my mind was, “If god is the nicest being in the universe why would he send people to hell. Even if they have never heard of him and have done nothing wrong?”
I would always end up with the same answer, “God sends them signs so they can see that he is there.” For me I have never seen signs of this god except a person telling me he is there and telling me that the bible is all I need. To me this is not a sign. It’s just something someone says and the bible is just a story made by a person like everyone else.

What really pushed me was when I went back to my first public school. I was bullied and I was an outcast. The people I called friends pushed me away and I was alone. People said, “Pray to god, stay faithful, ask for forgiveness, you’ll be happy and god will help you be happy.” I prayed to god for love and to find someone outside of my family that would care, but nothing and nobody came. I was alone the whole time and it changed me. I was not a kind person for a long time. I stayed in the dark and did not take care of myself. I felt I was not worth it. By believing in a god I was only being hurt. I prayed when I could have done something to make life better for myself.

I was frightened of the idea of being alone when I moved to the school I am in now. But this is where I was told of the idea of an atheist, and where I came out as one. I have many friends and people accept me as an atheist. I became a better person and found myself. The mean person I was is gone and a nice person replaced it. I didn’t need god to do it. I just had to do it myself. People do look at me weird and judge me. But I’m not them and I don’t worry. I have the people I need in my life. I have a friend for life. She is Christian but she doesn’t judge me. She likes things with crosses and I don’t. So she told me to look at them as lower case T’s. I have an amazing boyfriend who is also an atheist. We have been dating for almost a year and he has very much opened me up to being an atheist and not letting what other people think get in the way of what I want for myself. My family did reject me when I came out. My mom wanted to force me to church and youth group. Any of the holidays my family celebrated they wanted to exclude me from. My mother even told me I had no love, was not caring and was a terrible person just because I believed in no higher being. I was able to rise above this and think better of myself, rather than what she thinks. Mean spirited people are all over the world and these people are also in every religion. I am not one of them.

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.