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How I Came To Be an Atheist
How I Came To Be an Atheist
By Tom S. a.k.a. Doubting Thomas

"That's me in the corner,
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion." - REM

I am an atheist. I am without religion or belief in any gods. If only my younger self could hear me say this now, I'm sure I'd not believe it. I always thought an atheist was some evil person who didn't go to church and was going to go to hell when they die. I didn't want to be one. Yet here I am, obviously with a very different mindset. It wasn't something that just occurred overnight, but took years and years to make me change my mind. This is my story.

Being born into a Catholic family, baptized within days of being born and literally indoctrinated into the Catholic faith from a very early age, belief in God was simply a fact of life. I believed very strongly in God, Jesus, Mary, and the bible stories that I grew up on. Questioning the truth of any of it was not only discouraged, it was just something that you didn't do. After all, why would my parents & family lie to me?

Being the son of devout parents who insisted on attending mass every weekend, I was always dragged along even though as a child I always hated going. Let's face it, Catholic mass is not the most entertaining time a small child could have, let alone keeping the mind of an adult occupied. For the uninitiated, Catholic masses basically consist of reciting prayers one knows by rote memorization but not understands the meaning of, a couple bible readings, and a long, drawn-out homily by the priest. A few more memorized recitations and it's time for wine & wafers, then everyone leaves and pretends to like each other until they get home.

Worse, being a child in the 1970's meant that our priest was of the "old-school" variety who believed that the only way to conduct mass was to drone on and on in a monotone that which, if it did not put parishioners to sleep, would at least cause them to go into a trance. So, as a child my mind constantly wandered, and this condition continued into adulthood. I am the type of person who needs constant mental stimulation, and if I am not receiving it I will make it happen on my own. Consequently, I didn't pay much attention to what the priest said, though it wouldn't have mattered much.

Perhaps this was the first, hairline crack in my faith, or maybe I always really just didn't "get it" about Christianity. Again, I firmly believed in Jesus & God, and believed that Jesus would return to earth some time in the future. And, being Catholic, I also believed strongly in the devil, and as a child was always frightened and nervous about being a good enough person to get into Heaven. But overall, I always thought there was something "weird" about religion, or I think maybe it was the fact that the whole supernatural aspect of religion is what gave me the weird feeling. I mean, when you base your belief on a book full of talking snakes, bushes, and other bizarre occurrences, it's hard to not feel a bit strange about it all.

Perhaps it was that I thought that the whole God vs. Satan idea was frightening. I just wanted to live my life, why did I have to be in the middle of that battleground? I was always an inquisitive person, and I remember at a young age wondering why I was on this earth. I wondered, why did God make me? I didn't ask to be born, so why should I have to be in the middle of this good vs. evil struggle? Hearing some of the verses in Revelations about the destruction of the earth didn't help much. Of course it did enter my mind why the all-loving God I believed in would cause such terrible things to happen, but being brainwashed since an infant I figured he must have his reasons.

Of course, as a good Catholic boy I had to attend religion classes. I did follow the stories & such but even after years and years of religion classes I don't think I fully understood everything about the bible, the Catholic faith, or Christianity in general. Of course, when you have numerous different teachers each with their own ideas, it's hard to know exactly what you're supposed to believe. I don't fault myself for this, however, when I take into consideration all the different religious teachings of all the different Christian denominations in existence. As I was to learn later, everyone interprets the bible differently.

Perhaps an example of this were the people who professed faith in their religion yet did not practice the teachings of Jesus. They would attend church (perhaps to keep up appearances) but yet held such bitter hatred for others (as well as me personally) that I couldn't understand how they could have such a dual mindset. On one hand, love thy neighbor, but when you're out of church hate their guts. It just didn't make sense to me how anyone could think that they were fine upstanding people.

Yet, I didn't let the nasty people deter me. I prayed constantly, even though God didn't follow through all the time. Or even half the time. It's hard to say exactly what percentage of my prayers came true, but there were many unanswered ones. This was very disconcerting for me, since I did read in the bible that if you ask God for something, it will happen. I always had to make up reasons as to why this or that prayer didn't come true.

As a teenager, I always had a fascination for ghosts, ESP, UFO's, Bigfoot & Loch Ness Monster, and other paranormal beliefs. I had dreams of being a parapsychologist and studying things of this nature. I read numerous books on these subjects, but always kept an open mind as to whether or not they actually existed or not. I didn't know it at the time, but this was my first step into critical thinking and using the scientific method.

As a young adult, I found myself in Scotland visiting Loch Ness. I met with a Loch Ness researcher involved in trying to find "Nessie." My eyes were opened when he told me that every photo of "Nessie" was faked, and he showed me several examples of how they were done. And the famous "flipper" photo was computer enhanced, when the original photo looked just like a huge white blob. He also disproved several Nessie claims, such as there being caves under the water where a huge sea monster could hide (in fact the walls of the Loch slope gently together as one would expect in a valley lake), and that if there were tunnels leading to the sea as many claim, the lake would be drained in short order since it is very high above sea level. I came away from Loch Ness with a new way of thinking. Critical thinking and the scientific method had taken hold. To this day, I don't believe there is any pleosaur in Loch Ness like popular legend has it, but I do believe that some people see something which they can't identify, but the idea of a pleosaur or other ancient dinosaur somehow surviving the meteor crash or whatever catastrophe killed all the other dinosaurs around the world just seems silly.

I still very much believed in God at this point, however, the cracks in my faith would soon widen. I was further introduced to critical thinking skills when I used to read & post to alt.folklore.urban. I learned about urban legends and soon realized that most of what I thought I knew was really untrue. Just because good-meaning people forward you an email or tell you a story of something that happened to a friend of a friend doesn't necessarily mean that it really happened. At the time I didn't realize it, but this parallels belief in religion. Just because a caring friend or family member tells you about Jesus doesn't make it true.

Not long after, I discovered the Skeptics Dictionary online at www.skepdic.com. Reading the articles on many of the paranormal beliefs I was interested in and having them explained in a logical manner really opened my eyes and furthered my mind toward healthy skepticism. I still read up on various paranormal beliefs but still made myself believe in God. While I respected non-believers' attitudes, I still stuck with my faith.

I may have been still faithful, but at this time I wasn't going to church any more. It was hard enough making myself go because I found it so boring & monotonous, but with shift work making it difficult, I just didn't want to go. My wife continued to attend mass, though as time went on she went less & less. On occasion that old Catholic guilt would raise its head and she'd have to go, and on rare occasions take me with her. But I felt like I was just going through the motions. I believed less & less in the doctrine, and found the rituals like making the sign of the cross & genuflecting before the altar silly & needless.

Eventually, I had to own up to myself and realize that I was an atheist. I think what finally forced me to this realization was by reading statements on some atheist websites and looking up the information for myself. Reading a claim that Jesus promised to return in his disciples' lifetimes and then reading it in my own bible really clinched it for me. It isn't in just one passage, but several. I also realized that there are many, many contradictions in the bible, starting from the two separate creation myths in Genesis. I soon came to the realization that the bible was written by ancient superstitious men, and no inspiration by God is evident. I soon realized that I should not be basing any belief, let alone my entire life, upon a book so flawed.

Once this happened, it was like my eyes were finally opened. It was like a whole new world opened up to me. Everything made such sense! I no longer had to come up with reasons for unanswered prayers. It made more sense to realize that there is nobody out there controlling the universe while answering prayers if they agree with his plan. The whole bible makes far more sense when you realize that people were just making it up, which explains all the contradictions in it. God makes far more sense when you realize that he was just made up by man, and not the other way around. I no longer had to feel tied down attending church every week or the guilt when I didn't go. I no longer had to live in fear of offending a supposedly "all-loving" god who sends people to hell for minor transgressions. I could finally just live my life without having to follow silly little rituals. It was this epiphany which led me to my current state of non-religious belief, one which I feel far more comfortable with than my previous religious convictions which kept me shackled to an anachronistic belief system.

My main fault at the time was that I hadn't discussed my crumbling faith with my wife. I did tell her, after we talked about the then-recent California supreme court ruling over removing the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. She reacted very much the same way I'd expect if I had told her that I was a devil worshiper and liked to eat babies. She was understandably upset, and went to a local priest to talk to him about my losing my faith. For some reason, he told her that this is a symptom of an unfaithful spouse, and she grilled me to make sure I wasn't having an affair. I was angry at the accusation because I had not and will not ever be unfaithful to my wife, and I was angry both at the priest for making the claim and to my wife for trusting him more than she trusted me. But eventually to her credit she became more comfortable and accepting of my lack of faith, even though to this day she would prefer that I start believing again and go back to the church. I told her that this is a definite impossibility unless God himself comes down from heaven and not only show me that he exists, but that he is worthy of worship and why I should choose this or that particular church in which to worship him. The main problem with me becoming religious again is not that I "chose" atheism, but rather it was a logical conclusion based on the lack of evidence for any gods. It's kind of like when you turn 12 years old and realize that Santa Claus doesn't exist, but was really your parents putting presents under the tree after you went to bed on Christmas Eve. You just can't force yourself to believe again.

Shedding religion has had a number of positive effects on me. I am no longer judgmental like I was before, a trait which I received from my devout mother, and one which my (very devout) mother-in-law certainly possesses. I am now more accepting of people who are different and have different views from my own. My politics have changed as well, since when I was religious I was a right-wing conservative, but once I took religion out of politics, my political view became more of a centrist, Libertarian view. I believe in individual rights and freedoms up to the point where they interfere with others' rights and freedoms. I no longer feel it necessary to limit certain rights because of an irrational belief in a deity based in an ancient book of superstition.

Sometimes I wish I had been raised atheist like so many of my lucky atheist friends, but perhaps I was lucky to be raised as a Christian since it does give me insight into how they think. It also gives me a bit of armor against Christians who claim that atheists just haven't heard the good Word yet. No, I've been there. I was just as fervent as you, but I wizened up. Of course, they may try to claim that I turned into an atheist because I either am angry at God or wasn't a true Christian to begin with. I just have to laugh at such accusations, because it shows their ignorance as to what real atheism is all about. It is not ignorance of the bible which caused me to lose my religion, but studying the bible in depth which opened my eyes.

Only a few of my family members to this day know that I don't believe in their Christian god. Even though I would prefer to be able to live openly as an atheist, I do not because I live in the bible belt, and Christians are still not accepting of atheism. So I must continually hide it from most people, though I am far more open about it now than when I first realized I didn't believe any more. But I would not go back. Even though I realize now that there's most likely no afterlife, I am OK with it. There's not much I can do about it anyway, no matter how badly I'd like there to really be a heaven. But what this tells me is that we must make the most out of life while we're here, since we only get a short time to enjoy it, and only one shot. It's this freedom which gives me hope for myself, knowing that I will not have to waste my life groveling for the affection and approval from a deity which in all likelihood was invented by ancient man to keep his fellow man in line.
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