How did I become an Atheist?

Sent in by Star Umbehant

A Christian friend of mine recently asked, “What led you to your current beliefs?” Here I will try to describe the evolution from my Christian childhood to my current state of atheism. I can’t, of course, cover everything – but I will attempt to touch on the most important aspects.

To say the least, my childhood was rough. Granted, it could have been worse – a lot worse – but it was bad enough. I don’t have many memories up until the age of six. That was pretty much when the shit hit the fan. My younger brother, age four, was hit be a car while riding his bike. I won’t get into the horrific specifics of the day, or the following months in the hospital, but the events left his body broken and he was in a vegetative state for four years until his death. It was also around this time that I was sexually molested by my uncle although I wouldn’t realize the full implications this would have on my childhood until later. It was also around this time that my mother had her first mental breakdown and was labeled manic-depressive, later to be renamed bi-polar. This also was the start of a constant state of anger and resentment my parents held for one another during the rest of their broken marriage.

You could say my doubts started then. I was taught that Jesus was a loving man who loved little children. I was taught that God loved his people. I wondered why God could let my only brother get hit by a car. Why that God could then let him live for four years, my mother constantly praying and faithful to the very end. Where was my guardian angel when my uncle was taking “naps” with me? Why didn’t God help my mommy and daddy when they were screaming at each other? Why did God allow my mother to see things that weren’t there?

These questions tugged at my heart through childhood. But every Sunday morning I would be assured that “God is an awesome God.” I sung in the choir. I attended youth services on Wednesday nights. I was in Christian musicals and went to vacation Bible school every summer. I recited loved Bible verses and played the bells in musical productions. I honored my mother and my father. I prayed to God every night. I was a good Christian. When my youth ministers asked me to repent because they knew I was not being the good Christian I should be, I cried and repented. I had entertained doubts. I had laughed when one of my friends had made fun of someone. I had felt anger and hate in my heart for someone who had taunted me. These were bad things for a good Christian girl.

I grew up listening to Christian music. I remember a specific incident in middle school in which we were supposed to pick a song and do a “music video.” Most of the kids formed groups and did popular, secular songs of the time. I performed an Amy Grant song that I practiced constantly for day in and day out. I thought the choreography rocked. I was totally unprepared for the laughter and the teasing that followed for weeks after the performance. Even though these children were Christians who went to church, I was mercilessly tortured because I had sung a Christian song by Amy Grant. I didn’t know any other music. From the music I did know, I thought it was the coolest. I started to realize then that there was something I was missing from life; something that these other children were privy to.

My parents originally met at a Bible college and my father attended seminary while I was growing up. He was a hospital chaplain for a short time, and then in my ninth grade year he became a Southern Baptist preacher. The year he became a preacher is the year I started having even stronger doubts about Christianity.

I formed fast friendships with a group of outsiders at my high school. They were hoodlums and smokers, but they were real. They were passionate. We would hang out every morning before school and sometimes skip it altogether. We would go to a coffeehouse, play dots and talk about existentialist ideals all day. We would listen to Pink Floyd and occasionally watch A Clockwork Orange. Eventually I was moved to a different high school where I would meet my future husband.

Robert was the first person I would actually have debates with who didn’t believe in Christianity. Sure I had posed questions to my parents, but they believed in Christianity and always had an answer.

I was in constant defense of Christianity and God in my discussions with Robert. But in my mind, I doubted my own defense. Christianity began to look even more and more irrational to me. It was at this time that I read my first science book for fun – Cosmos by Carl Sagan – this book literally changed my life. When you begin to realize just how large the universe is, and just how small humanity is, it changes you. My whole perspective on life changed.

I was doubting Christianity at this point, but it still had its claws in me. It’s hard to un-brainwash yourself. I had been taught that dinosaurs and man roamed the earth together. I had been taught that Noah’s flood caused the great geological miracles of our times. I was taught that the Bible was the literal word of God. I was taught that God had a plan and that everything in my life was happening for a reason. So I was still a Christian, but of a different breed.

During this point in time a tragedy happened upon Robert’s family – the death of his brother George. I had formed a relationship with George and we had talked about his beliefs in God – or rather his lack of beliefs. He wasn’t a Christian and I questioned the location of his soul – was he now in hell? My mother assured me that he was most certainly in heaven because he had only been a child – fourteen years old. But this brought up even more questions – who gets to decide at what age you need to be to accept Christ and be saved at death? What about the people who are never exposed to Christianity? What about the people who actually got to SEE God? How was it fair to the people who had to accept blindly on faith?

My parents and I moved 400 miles south and I found a Christian church that catered to the kind of people I like. It was a youth ministry for goth-types and hippie-types such as myself. I met up with some older friends and we got along splendidly. Here I found a place where I could have my cake and eat it too. It is interesting how I always seemed to have sexual conflicts in my childhood, from molestation to almost-rapes and other things I don’t want to mention. During this time my youth minister pressured me into having “sexual relations,” if you will. He was adamantly sorry – but I never attended the church again.

It was after this that I encountered the new age revolution and began learning about the “healing” properties of rocks and crystals, the power of our own minds, hypnosis, dreams, etc. During this time I also read up on Buddhist and Hindu beliefs although neither struck my fancy. I did however like the tenets of Wicca. “Live and let live,” try to be kind, enjoy the spirituality of nature, oh yeah – and do fun rituals that are basically elaborate prayers. I learned that these types of prayers didn’t work either.

During this reflective time in my life I would not only realize how vast the size of the universe is, I would realize HOW LONG the universe and earth have been in existence. I would realize that humanity is but a speck of time in our long history. How could we be the realization of a creator if we didn’t come until much, much later? How could Christianity be right when there were thousands of gods and religions that came before? The great expanse of all these things shaped my beliefs.

While I studied Wicca, over the course of a few years, I came across a wonderful book, The Magickal Year by Diana Ferguson. This book described how Christian holidays were based on earlier Pagan holidays and described the mythological tenets of religion. After reading this book I was finally able to throw off the lingering shackles of Christianity. Not soon thereafter I gave up religion of any kind and realized that my life was not any less wanton for lack of spirituality.

I guess I went around for several years calling myself an agnostic – or pretty much ignoring what I was at all. Spirituality had lacked to have meaning in my life and I didn’t really pay it any mind. But society had a way of shaping the person I would become today.

I began to see in the news – accounts of groups of Christians getting together and rallying for the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in public classrooms. I felt inner outrage at the thought. They wanted to teach the same lies and bullshit that I had been fed my whole childhood – in public schools. When you have been lied to your whole life – you can’t help but feel some sort of resentment for the people who spread such lies.

This initial outrage led me to form more specific beliefs about the non-existence of a god. I became more interested in scientific pursuits and have since decided to become a science teacher in high school. Richard Dawkins is my new hero.

I haven’t even discussed my love for evolution and what affect that had on my previous beliefs. There is no way for a rational individual to deny evolution. It is a fact of life. There is evidence for it everywhere. If you deny the evidence and reality of evolution, how do you determine what reality is? If evolution is not safe from irrationality, what is? You can irrationalize-away anything. For me, I cannot equate the scientific facts of astronomy and the “big bang” (or however the start occurred,) geological time, anthropology, biology and more specifically evolution – with the existence of a god.

The fact that I don’t believe in a god means that I call myself an atheist. It doesn’t make me less moral, or more evil. I love my children; I want good things for humanity. I don’t have a desire to maim or kill, rape or plunder. I want to make a good mark in this world and be remembered for my kindness and intelligence. I was born an atheist, and I’ll die an atheist.

Joined: 5
Left: 18
Was: Southern Baptist, Baptist
Now: Atheist, Mother, Free-thinker
Converted because: Religion of my parents
De-converted because: Realized the irrationality


Ian said...

Very, very well written Star. Thank you for posting your story. I'm sorry about what you had to go through, but i'm glad that life is apparently better for you now.

Nvrgoingbk said...

tHi Star, and welcome.

I loved your post. It was moving and intelligent. I too was molested at a young age by my brother for years.

All the questions you had growing up were the same that most of us here have had. Religion seeks to stifle free thought, individualism, and sincere inquiry. It can not stand up to scrutiny.

What kind of God would allow your brother to remain like he did for four years with a mother keeping vigil beside his bed praying for a miracle? I mean, really, why would a loving God allow it and what good came of it? It put strain on your parents, on their finances, on their faith, and on their marriage. It caused you to begin to doubt....There are so many reasons why a loving God should have and would have healed your brother if a loving God in fact existed, but "he" doesn't, and if "he" does, than how do we derive our morality from a God like that? Why would he chose to arbitrarily answer only prayers that can't really prove that he exists? Why not heal an amputee and grow him/her a new leg?

It's all so ridiculous. If a god exists, it hasn't chosen to reveal itself in any tangible form to any man. If I were God, I would want to live among my people or at least be accessible. I would want to touch little children, and I would want them to see my face and my love for them in my eyes. I would stop sitting by while thousands of children die of starvation, rape, cancer, molaria, childhood diseases, birth defects...I would let the world know just which religion was correct so as to clear up all the misunderstandings and wars. I would answer the prayers of a mother praying for her four year old son for FOUR friggen years or at least explain to her why I wasn't going to, so that she didn't have to live the rest of her life wondering if she had enough faith or if she had a hidden sin that kept her prayers from being effective. If I was God, I would have taken your brother quickly, so as to not break up a family in the long run, make parents doubt their own faith, or make them suffer as they hope year after year that this will be their year for a miracle.

I am angry with a world that perpetuates this lie. I am angry that their make-believe sky daddy wouldn't heal your brother, because he was too busy answering their prayers for finances, or for their cancer to be healed while they sat at the oncologist's office recieving chemotherapy just in case he doesn't come through ("IT'S A MIRACLE!")

I feel deeply for your pain and for the long road you traveled, mostly alone. If there is a god, she will not punish us for seeking the truth. As far as I can see and until I am proven otherwise, there is no benevolent, omniscient, bearded god in the clouds, and I shall remain, as you, an athiest until I die. It's how we all come into this world until we learn of Jeebus, the HOLY SPOOK, the Babble, and Yahoo-I mean Yeahright-I mean, Yaweh.

I hope to see you post from now on. You're bright and articulate and have relevant knowledge and experience on the subject to say the least.

I am glad to know that you will be teaching your child/ren to think for themselves and will go on to teach young minds the same. Good luck in all your endeavors.

Thanks again for the post

Anonymous said...

Very touching and actually your doubts about your previous religion are the same ones that i have. i am not a Christian and always hated it when Christians try to preach to me because they sound so high and mighty.

Anonymous said...

I could never presume to understand the pain you have gone through. I am so sorry.

I must ask the question, however, why you believe "there is no way for a rational individual to deny evolution" while at the same time irrationalizing away "however the start occured".

Can something come from nothing? That would indeed be irrational.

webmdave said...

The evolution of life and the beginning of the universe are two different topics -- two different sciences.

Your question doesn't make sense.

However, no one knows how the universe began. Not you, not anyone. Since the answer to the question, "How did the universe begin?" is "I don't know," that doesn't suddenly mean that Jesus is a god.

If I were to say, "I don't know where love comes from," that wouldn't mean Jesus is a god either. If I were to admit, "I don't really understand how electricity works," Jesus would not suddenly become a god, either.

I hope you understand the point. Ignorance of how the universe began proves absolutely nothing about anything. God doesn't "by default" become real because there are some things we don't know.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous asked, for possibly the billionth time, "Can something come from nothing?"

For possibly the billion and second time, YES, IT CAN, AND IT DOES.

Please learn something about 20'th century physics. Here are some links I recently collection for a reply in another thread. Look them over and then come on back if you have questions: zero-point energy, vacuum energy, vacuum fluctuations, empty space, etc. etc. etc.


Anonymous said...

zero-point energy, vacuum energy, vacuum fluctuations, empty space?

This is a theoretical mojo - make something come from nothing in the real world and you'd be the wealthiest, most talked about, largest story in the history of recorded media.

webmdave said...

Likewise in regards to showing us your invisible friend, anony-bot.

Since your invisible friend IS REAL! PRAISE GOD! Then showing him to us should be relatively simple.

I expectantly await.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: "This is a theoretical mojo - make something come from nothing in the real world and you'd be the wealthiest, most talked about, largest story in the history of recorded media."

Okay, Anonymous. Come on back once you've read some of the links I provided. We can then discuss the physical evidence if you like, and why you think your intuition trumps quantum mechanics.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

I'm endlessly amused by this. Notice the pattern that this always takes (for anybody who's been keeping track or cares):

Fundy: Something cannot come from nothing!

Me: No, that's not true. There is much physical evidence to the contrary, and here are some links...

Fundy: But... Something cannot come from nothing!

Me: (shrugs)

What can I say? These guys just seem to know it all, and without visiting a lab or even cracking a book. I can't understand why physicists don't simply ask the fundies how the universe is put together; that way they wouldn't need to conduct elaborate experiments, write peer-reviewed journal papers, etc. Seems a lot easier, no?

freeman said...

Hey Jim,
You seem to forget that their god has "placed" all this evidence on earth so that we will find it and question our beliefs. It is his/her/its way of testing its creation. If we believe in the data he/she/it has falsified, then he/she/it will torment us for all eternity! ;)

No matter what evidence slaps them in the face, it is either god testing them or the devil deceiving them. So in effect, fundies spend their entire life with their fingers in their ears shouting la la la!

Anonymous said...

"...fundies spend their entire life with their fingers in their ears shouting la la la!"

I had a similar image in my head. Don't forget eyes clamped shut and little feet stamping! Sheesh.

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