I am interested as to how atheists come to their confindence in a godless universe. As I mentioned on another post, I was raised in a ‘bible belt’ labelled region where belief in God is really the only reality I knew of. Everyone else was ‘wrong’. There is so much guilt that gets taught with theology and I feel sometimes like I could benefit from some good ‘atheist couselling’ When I think rationally about the world, I don’t see how a God can exist, and at the very least if there is a god, how we could claim to know anything about him/her/it whatever! But yet being told from a very young age about the man in the sky who sees everything you do and will demand you answer for all come your death…. well it’s a hard thing to shake try as I might. As much as I don’t believe it, some of the guilt remains to be fought. Does anyone else have a similar situation - personally, I only know one person who was not raised a Christian. That’s crazy right! Anyways, I’m really interested to hear how you came to your world view - were you raised that way, or did you work it out yourself….?
I was raised by an angry recovering Catholic, so I got very little religious indoctrination. I went to mass with my grandparents, and I always found it a pretty bit of theater but utterly unconvincing intellectually. So being an agnostic (not technically, though in most important respects, an atheist, but that’s an argument I’ve already had elsewhere, and you can read about it in other threads if you like) comes quite naturally to me. Now, the religious or spiritual impulse is still present, and I often feel the need to thank someone for what I value in the world and the urge to plead with someone for help with what I don’t like, but I treat such feelings sort of like the impulse to have that third piece of chocolate cake for dessert—natural but controllable and ultimately not very important impulses.
Oddly, my wife was raised in the heart of the bible belt, and her father and brother are both fanatical evangelicals, yet she has always been unconvinced any of the mythology was real. Her only “scar,” as far as I can see, from her early indoctrination is an irrational anxiety about cinematic portrayals of the Devil and his minions. I think one’s ultimate ouotlook on such things is a complex interaction of temperment and experience, and while trends are certainly present (raised assx a true beliver=more likely to be one than those raised as atheists), it’s pretty hard to predict where an individual will end up.
Congratulations on being brave enough to stick with what feels like the truth to you despite your early experiences!
I once converted to Christianity… for a week. I had a Christian friend in math class who kept trying to get me to convert, and finally, one night, I somehow gave in. I’m pretty certain that it was probably something I ate that was blocking the neurons in my brain that controlled my logic. I have no idea what happened but I converted. And I was serious about it! I even got mad at my friend because she didn’t believe I actually wanted to be Christian. I went about wearing the crucifix for a week… And then…
I saw the first three episodes of the ninth season of Stargate: SG-1, realized that religion was the root of all evil, and no longer was Christian.
Yeah. I was Christian for a week and then Stargate saved me.
I still have no idea what happened to me in that week or why I did it, but I’ve sort of been thankful of Stargate since then for keeping me from going about being Christian. I figure I would’ve come to my senses sooner… or later… But still…
I don’t know, maybe my hormones were out of whack or something. It’s not a week I like to think about because that would have to be the single most illogical thing I have ever done. I really want to kick myself for doing it now.
J Free, I suggest you go back to a 4/14/07 thread by Sam in this sub-forum. He lists about a dozen very good refutations of theist “proofs” of the existence of god. You also may want to go back to the third page of Introductions to read my history. I don’t want to repeat it here, but I was fortunate not to have any early religious indoctrination and went through a couple of steps to get to my final atheism.
Up until the year after I got out of high school, I was an agnostic, but when pressed would cowardly say I was a deist, because “It’s a miracle we’re here at all.”—I thought that theistic evolution, that a God may have jump-started evolution [abiogenesis] was a rational proposition.
2 Augusts after I got out of high school (15 months) I discovered podcasts. Simultaneously I learned of Skepticality and thought it was cool. One of their early interviews was with Michael Shermer. They also mentioned Richard Dawkins.
In my Composition II class, I was trying to pick a skeptical thesis (inspired by recently stumbling upon Bad Astronomy!) for an assignment when I came upon an essay entitled “What Shall We Tell the Children?” by Nicholas Humphrey. It’s a fabulous read, go ahead. He mentioned Richard Dawkins, too, as well as Daniel Dennett and David Attenborough.
So when I started listening to Skepticality, I hit the library. Hard. I read every book Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer have written, and eventually got around to reading some Daniel Denett. Talk about jumping in head first! Attenbourough I like to watch on YouTube. I even read (and kept the books long overdue) Steven Pinker. Skepticality pointed me further to James Randi, Jennifer Michael Heicht, and through their associative links and looking for other podcasts, Richard Carrier, Massimo Pigliucci, Center for Inquiry, Rational Responders, Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Atheist Experience, Atheist Viewpoint, Steven Pinker, the non-prophets and more.
When I realized how vacuous my only reason for brushing with deism was, I became a strong atheist. That was it. All through high school, since I made myself known as a skeptic I was assaulted with invitations to Evangelicalism, Wicca, and Buddhism (preppies and goths and emos, oh my!). But when every single thing any of them ever said about science, religion, “spirituality” and reality was patently false, I tuned it out. Now I had to face the fact that my deism was cowardice. And I’m proud to say I came through the shock of it well.
Then last year this whole “Intelligent Design” debacle started up, with growing media coverage and then the Kitzmiller trial. I realized I had heard of Intelligent Design before, long long ago at the boards at bolt2.com. Shit, I couldn’t believe people would by this crap. But then long ago, I pretty much did. Fuck.
Now because of that, I’m very active in skepticism, atheism, and the defense of science, and I have come to recognize that religion is bad, by its very nature.
Growing up, my family identified itself as Catholic. My great-grandmother referred to my mother as “that Papist girl” as my mother grew up in a Catholic family and my father’s family was Episcopalian (what I like to refer to as English Catholic Lite). However, for reasons to which I haven’t really been privy, my parents decided to raise my sister and I within the Catholic Church so that we would as my mother put it “be exposed to something” and then, when we were older, we could “choose to accept it or not.” The kind of Catholicism we were raised around was fairly wishy-washy and quite benign.
We sang a lot. That seemed my family’s main motivation in attending mass. I still have rather vivid memories of Gary Penkala the church organist playing Preludes and Fugues by J.S. Bach and pieces by Buxtehude on the pipe organ and unleashing paeans of sonic joy that I loved. But that’s what was great about mass. That was it: Music.
The remainder of the time I spent in fantasy land, either bored because of the stodginess of the place or frankly skeptical of the kinds of claims that were being made to us at CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) which would be known to Protestants as Sunday School. During the homily (sermon) which follows the reading from the Gospels, I would usually leave to go to the bathroom because of the sheer weight of turgid logorrhea cascading from Father White’s or Monsignor Flemming’s mouths. It was just too much to handle, so I’d go splash water on my face or something to keep myself from fidgeting endlessly. Sometimes, I’d stare through slits at the front of the pew and imagine I was in a submarine looking out at the ocean with sharks, barracuda, dolphins and orcas swimming by.
In CCD I just checked out. The stories just didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. I wonder a lot about the Noachian Deluge and the fate of the dinosaurs. Well, that kind of wonder and the question, “Where did the dinosaurs go?” was answered very clearly in books that I read starting at the age of about three or four. My parents remember me saying Ornitholestes (it means “bird stealer”) and things like that at the age of three. I very clearly remembering learning how fossils were made over vast spans of time. Those spans didn’t mean a whole lot to me, but I knew that dinosaurs and humans never lived together and, frankly, there is nothing in my imagination that would make me happier than to have the experience that Dr. Grant has in Jurassic Park when he sees a Brachiasaurus and then looks beyond them to see the herds of Hypsilophodonts all grazing. Really, that scene has made me cry. Besides the joy of genuine connection with other human beings (musical, fraternal, familial or erotic) there is nothing I can think of that would make me happier. CCD had no answer to that question and seemed to make up other “just so” stories about it. Have faith and always believe as a child does.
Well, this child had lots of questions. And, I might add, I had lots of answers. I’ve always been a bit of a know-it-all when given the opportunity. Most of my life, I’ve enjoyed learning things. Yes, my mid- and late-teen years did not work so well that way, but most of the rest of the time I’ve done alright. Anyway, the combination of extroversion, self-assuredness and a desire to learn have made me blabby. Noticed?
At some point, I believe it was in 6th grade, I thought that CCD was an inordinate waste of time and simply started skipping. This was as much an oppositional personality thing as it was simply thinking that we were being taught a lot of hocus pocus. My sister and I had two neighbors…well…we had lots, but two sets that bear on this story. The Westermans were a fundamentalist Christian family and the Devons were atheists.
The Westerman’s son Elliott is one of my best friends to this day. I love him very much and I love his whole family. We used to go to church, an Assembly of God, with him sometimes. It was pretty fun because they were loud and laughing and singing and waving their hands in the air and Elliott and I enjoyed that aspect. It was fun because it seemed so light-hearted. But their pastor, Pastor Beasely was his name, was so transparently full of it. I don’t have particular memories of his sermons but I just remember thinking that while their church was pretty fun, his message was completely devoid of any merit. It just seemed as if people repeated, “Yes Jesus. Praise his holy name. Thank you Lord for the gift of salvation.” This went on ad nauseam and even to my pre-adolescent ears it sounded devoid of any real merit. In fact, it was stupid.
I even went to a Christian camp with Elliott – Camp Kanesetake. It was kind of fun but the last thing that happened was a revivalist meeting that was so crazy. If you’ve seen Jesus Camp or any of its excerpts, you know what I mean. Preceding this, I remember some of the other kids giving me a hard time about liking heavy metal. Really…what’s not to like? Anyway, I thought this was kind of silly. But then at this revival meeting, the whole room was brought into this torrent of emotionalism at the peak of which we were to accept Jesus into our hearts. I did this. It would be unfair for me to assess at this point how sincere this was given that I didn’t give it a second thought the next day and had only cursory spiritual thoughts for the next seven years. The most convincing argument to me was an appeal to popularity that credulous teens might buy. “How could so many people be wrong?” I was a reluctant agnostic.
The Devons had a son named Taij. I remember when I was a kid, probably seven or so, that Taij said that he was an atheist which meant that he didn’t believe in God. I have to say that that position immediately made sense to me. Additionally, Taij was into Dungeons and Dragons which was great. Here was a game where we could engage in the fantasy of our imaginations and it claimed absolutely no universal truths. It was pure fantasy. Magic is cool. But it’s not real. It’s something you engage in your imagination. The Bible, as Mrs. Westerman or Msgr. Flemming explained it was a bunch of magic too but it was supposed to be real. I didn’t really get it. Plus, D&D was fun. Church made me want eat my hands for some stimulation.
From 6th to 12th grades my favorite classes were science and music courses. I only sparsely liked the others. Astronomy, geology and biology were the most interesting. These are sciences with grand gestures and they all seemed to tie back to my love of dinosaurs. Rocks held dinosaurs. Astronomy tells us about the birth of the universe and tells us most clearly about the narrative of everything. Whoa. Biology. Well, dinosaurs were animals and they had died out. What did some of them become or what took their places? Nonetheless, the Theory of Evolution was interesting to me when we covered it in 10th grade and I loved anatomy, shark dissection, phenotype vs. genotype, the function and action of the mitochondria and a fantastic report I did on the King Cobra during which I illuminated my class on the family of snakes called elapids. It was great. Nonetheless, I won Biology Student of the Year.
But all of this instilled in me a sense that the world was explainable and testable. It also proved to me how provisional our understanding is. I think that at some point as I was learning about elapids and colubrids and was looking at the family tree of reptiles and realized that this line extends back to well before the birth of the dinosaurs. I had known that before because I had always been into pre-Triassic amphibians like Eryops which was an early transition. But learning about snakes showed me how the family trees radiated. Cladistics and phylogeny made this all work for me and even took me back to my childhood and connected with that first love, dinosaurs. The incredible radiating tree of life was really cool and not divine. The fact that it wasn’t divine just fed my oppositional nature too because I could feel intellectually justified in being blasphemous.
So up to this time, I basically had little understanding of why anyone would seriously believe in God. At the same time I was earning my bio credentials (which I really didn’t pursue much further in labs or anything) I was half-assedly trying to get confirmed as a Catholic. Really, I just want another middle name like Martyrs of Uganda or Wenceslas. How cool would that be Peter Dawson Martyrs of Uganda Buck. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnel’s. I got thrown out of confirmation class though…a story for another time.
Fast forward again to my twentieth year. Lots of parties. Lots of inebriation. Needless to say, I had a “conversion” experience. I lived with a guy named Jeff who was certainly able to whisper things into my ears about a purpose-driven life and the will of God and how Jesus talked to him…as I was unable to maintain a human existence. In short, I had an existential crisis during which I felt morally bankrupt and devoid of any kind personal meaning, primarily because I was pissing it all out of me with all of the beer and gin I was drinking.
Sitting on my front porch, deep in a silent and dejected state and pondering my place in the world, I had felt like some divine wind was blown on or over me. Really, it felt as if I was very small and that there was something much bigger than me out there. Now, had I had that experience three weeks prior to this, I would have thought about it fairly rationally, but I didn’t and Jeff was there to give a convenient God answer. It worked and took me a good year or year and a half to completely get out of it. My girlfriend at the time definitely slowed it down.
Nonetheless, I had a few weeks of zealous certainty that all of my friends were going to burn in hell for their heathenous ways and that my sister was going to burn in all eternity for her homosexuality. That one, I think, was the first to go.
Actually, I’ll tell you some things that really made me think that belief in God is kind of senseless and they are actually my tests of the senseless. See, if God is a great magical being that provides people like Jesus or Jeremiah with magical powers then maybe he would give me some too. No dice. I tried to dominate cats. Really. It’s sort of embarrassing but it was a test right? It didn’t work. So I reduced the criteria to just direct communication. I hoped for a personal message of absolute clarity. No dice. So, I am neither crazy nor imbued with divine magical powers. D&D is just D&D. I am not a jedi.
But what really destroyed my ever-dwindling faith? I took an Astronomy class, a class on Evolution, Ecology and the Environment and, most importantly, Biological Anthropology. Week after week, I learned again about the systematic investigation of nature in a way that was so incredibly satisfying. Back again to genetics and Mendel and the radiating tree of life and deep time and the beautiful haphazard elegance of the universe. I read Stephen Jay Gould, Jack Horner, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Richard Fortey, Daniel Dennett, and Carl Sagan and classic Lucretius and some David Hume. Given the new findings of neuroscience and explanations about consciousness I find no place for the soul and certainly in all of the world, I find NO justifiably believable evidence for belief in heaven, hell or gods in general much less the gods of any particular faith. It’s really all become rather bananas to me. Their mark on me has been indelible in no small part because it reinforced an already hearty respect for rationalism and evidence that is tempered by a strong dose of impulsivity.
Today, I would say that I am a quite spiritual philosophical naturalist and existentialist. I seek out joy and meaning but will never settle for any “just so” stories. Things needn’t be inordinately complicated; but they can’t be “because God did it.” That is a non-explanation.
The first religious person I met was in Spain at the age of sixteen. I was born in Czechoslovakia where religion practically ceased to exist. When I arrived in Spain I was shocked to discover that people still practiced this middle-aged nonsense. But I fell for pseudoscience à la Däniken, “Dr” Moody, and others. It took me awhile to get away from it…
Sometimes I feel bad, but only because I can’t tell my mother and her sister I don’t believe. I think they have an idea because my mother keeps cornering me and demands to know what I believe. Sigh. I give her lipservice just to keep from being persecuted. They are the insane fundies who like to judge and condemn. I try to avoid them like the plague so I don’t have to deal with that crap. Reason and logic does not work with them. I say anything educated and they blame getting a degree at a secular college was the cause of what they know for sure I currently believe. Even refutations get them going and make them worse. They are the insane ones you can’t win against. Thus, I avoid them and when I do see them- like at a funeral or something, I avoid discussing religion with them IF I can. Same when they call me, but it seems I end up getting a sermon from them for whatever reason they can come up with.
I only feel bad because I can’t seem to tell them I don’t believe and don’t want to listen to their hellfire damnation crap. Of course, if I did, they’d get worse. So, I avoid them. I think it’s all one can do.
Thanks for all the replies! These links and suggested readings are all very helpful and will give me somewhere to start. I just picked up Carl Sagan’s ’ The Demon Haunted World’ from the library this week after listening to Ann Dryan’s podcast on the new book and I’m just getting into it.
The strange thing is, even though I am inspired by what I am reading and really just enjoying the freedom to another point of view and the *gasp* blasphemy of toying with the idea that there is no god, I have twenty years of associating all my decision making, outcomes of others’ decisions, emotions, memories, etc. with this idea of one god being the cause of it all, and my whole life being a part of his will. To try and separate those things now is what I am finding difficult. Like a survivor of a some sort of concentration camp, I am now trying to rediscover my identity and my worth. Experiences I have had are still extremely valuable to me - but they are starting to mean something different - I really don’t know how to explain it. The closest thing it feels like is coming out of an abusive relationship, something I’ve also experienced. My illusions were exposed and I began to notice how I was being deceived into thinking that this was what I deserved, and what reality was for me. After the relationship ended, I knew it wasn’t really love, because of the way I was treated, but there was still some kind of recovery involved during which process my self-esteem had a chance to rebuild, and all that good stuff. Leaving the church has felt so much like this it’s crazy. i recognize all these feelings of suddenly realizing you’ve been manipulated and controlled with your own consent. I think it will just take time for me to intenalize my new ideas. It’s been a process thus far, just trying to train myself to think for myself. What an ordeal. It sounds kind of stupid I guess. But my goal in life has always been to grow and never stop learning and looking for the truth and I think it’s this outlook that has enabled me to get out of the hold religion had on my life. I’m determined to fight. And in a community like the one I am in, it is definitely a fight. We’ve talked about moving, but our family is here, and my parents aren’t super religious, never went to church or anything (just sent me - figure that one out). And we have a lot of great friends most of which are Christian, but also very open-minded and non-condemning.
thanks anyways, for replying and reading my rambles! I am really enjoying reading the stories.
Great topic, Free. I think CFI could use more conversion stories to market ourselves just as religionists do.
My parents were “nothings.” We were so out of the religion loop that we weren’t even cool enough to be agnostics or athiests.
I was 9 or 10 and many of my friends were going to Sunday School, so I’d asked mom if I could go. Fine by her, so she set me up in some mainstream Protestant denomination; I don’t think she even knew which one. I went for maybe 8-10 sessions; it was more like day-care than church. But I wasn’t getting the Jesus thing and couldn’t relate to the teacher who was a heavy-set lady who needed to bathe more often.
Newspapers were still being sold on the corners in those days and my friend, whose name really was Craig Lord, though no relation to the other one, sold the Sunday papers. One Sunday I came home and mom asked about Sunday School. I told her I didn’t go because I was hanging out with Craig. I was casual about it. In my mind I had volunteered for Sunday School so it was okay to un-volunteer, wasn’t it? But mom, who was usually pretty good about these things, got upset. “What were you doing with Craig?”
“Selling papers and playing dice,” I answered, honestly. She got more upset and went into wait-until-your-father-gets-home mode. By now I’m kind of moping at the kitchen table. Why am I in trouble? Why is this being escalated to dad? Sunday School isn’t even real school, etc., etc.
Dad comes home. Mom rats me out. Dad joins me at the table and asks me to show him what I was doing with Craig. I pull the dice out of my pocket and shake them out a few times. Dad scoops up the dice and says emphatically, “That’s not how you do it! Here, let me show you how.” Mom does a double back flip, but eventually calms down. And that, friends, was how my religious education ended.
My Mom took me to Methodist church and Sunday school every week, but my Dad always stayed home and used house-cleaning as an excuse to hide his atheism.
When my parents divorced, my Mom married an atheist and never went to church again. My Dad married a methodist and started attending church religiously. My Dad even tried to have a serious talk about my soul and the afterlife with me one day. Thanks, Dad. I’ll try to completely forget that you were an atheist for my entire childhood.
Incidentally, my Dad has recently pulled back from the darkside with the literature of Dawkins and Harris, and he is always the first to groan when I’m excited about something like “Loose Change” or acupuncture.
My childhood best friend was an adolescent skeptic, and we would often have conversations during sleep-overs where we would cast our doubts on the whole God thing. Even challenging God to give us signs that he existed. There were never any signs, except for the one’s in our imagination.
Around the age of sixteen I was really impressionable and dated a girl who was lost in a fairie world, where she believed she was a tree spirit and that she was a God, who was able to create her own universe with it’s own laws. She was a genius, and I was in love, so I just believed everything she said with very little questions. In college, I backlashed against this kind of romanticism.
I’ve only recently become interested in skepticism through a friend who listens to all the podcasts. I’m still adjusting to all the logical fallicy arguments that seem to stop conversation cold. But, I’m slowly becoming more and more sucked in to this little world.
My parents were both brought up Catholic, but my father had a few bad experiences with priests as a teen ager (not sexual). The first weekend after they were married, my mother got up and started to get ready for church. She asked my father, who was still in bed, if he was going to get ready to go to church. He said, “No, I’ll be here when you get back.” Being a newlywed, she got undressed and hopped back into bed. That ended my religous education three years before I was born.