I can accept myself again

Sent in by Ellytoad

Before I begin, I want to point out that I am, indeed, an ex-Christian, so forgive some of my terminology here.

Do you know what my least favorite Christian teaching is? It is the one that states how Jesus could have smited all of mankind off of the face of the earth for our evilness but instead, out of the pure generosity of His heart, decided to die for us instead. Yes, the belief that fills so many Christians up with tearful thankfulness used to make me think I was totally worthless. Such a feeling is apparently a healthy one in Christianity's eyes, because it means knowing just how ugly and deserving of Hell one's soul truly is.

After a time of wallowing in this state of mind, I began to realize that mankind was far more innocent of its "sinful nature" than my former fellow believers would have me think. There's two details that brought me to that conclusion; one, we were born with the weakness of sin inside of us, and two, it is apparently impossible for us NOT to sin, so we are basically born screwed. Unless we died as children, and therefore never having committed the crime of reaching the age of accountability, we have personally hammered Jesus to the cross ourselves. Without knowing it.

The problem is, when I told all of this to a fellow Christian on a message board one day, he became angry. He accused me of refusing to take responsibility for my own wrongdoings, saying that it's "always someone else's fault" and generally missing my entire point altogether.

It's a pretty weird spot to be in... being incapable of being entirely sinless but being completely responsible for every last thing, even stray thoughts of envy or anger. And then getting told that you deserve hell and are nothing but crap who was just given the gift of redemption because that's just how nice God is... yes, I'd say that really sucks.

I'm so glad I'm free of that now, and can accept myself again. I can look at my "nails through the hands of Christ" simply as mistakes to learn from, not things to beg for forgiveness for. I can stand on my feet and hold my head high... not with pride, but with confidence in my own true individual value.

Thanks for reading,


I thank a nun for freeing my mind

Sent in by Mary S

Being the offspring of Polish and Italian parents it was a given that I should be raised Catholic.

My brother and I attended Catechism on Wednesday afternoons while we attended public school. When I was eight years old I somehow got the courage to ask the nun how different languages came about. I already had an idea of how it happened, people moving around, etc. Well, she proceeded to tell the story of the Tower of Babel and how God got mad so he changed the languages so they couldn't yell down for the tools needed. At the tender age of eight I just wasn't buying this story, I wanted a more realistic answer.

After that I just daydreamed in Catechism class and never heard another word a nun said. I don't think an eight year old has a grasp on what the meaning of a god really is, but it's safe to say I never believed in a god, and to this day am very thankful to that nun who gave me liberty to my mind.

Since then I question everything -- how and why, mostly.

I don't even remember her name, but I do thank her for freeing my mind.


Sent in by Richard L

I find no evidence of an omnipotent omniscient deity participating in my life or anyone else's. I find no evidence of a deity intervening in history. Natural disasters, diseases and famines (events over which humans have no control kill people regardless of their faith or philosophy.

The burden of proof rests with believers to show their God is real. If faith is your only evidence, than you can't expect those who trust empirical evidence to share your belief.

Creationism is a futile attempt to reconcile the Bible with science. Proponents peruse scientific literature for disagreements about evolution, between scientists who agree that the Earth is billions of years old and the human species a member of the primate genus. Creationists refer to statements in the Bible that they believe reveals something that science “rediscovered” centuries later, but their examples are easy to debunk by a knowledgeable skeptic. The Bible cannot coexist with science in a rational mind.

I see no evidence today or in history of miraculous signs. They would violate physics and therefore can’t be expected to be real. Jesus promised his disciples they would be able to do such miraculous signs (even ones greater than he performed). I know of no missionaries today who have healed the blind and deaf, or the lame or those infected with HIV or Ebola. The black plague spread across Europe killing millions of Christians. Why couldn’t the “saints” of that day stop this scourge? The answer is a simple one: such acts never occurred because they are impossible.

The power of prayer to heal illnesses is due to the power of positive thinking.

I walked away from alcohol and prescription medication abuse at just the time I was strengthening my conviction as an atheist. I had just be laid off, but found a good job two weeks later. I was an “atheist in a foxhole” and got out without Jesus. It took great will power, but I did on my own. That’s how I lead my life today. I live my life focusing on what is real and on things I can control, without relying on faith. We all have "day to day" faith in things, but the FAITH of religion to me overstates its usefulness.

I find Heaven, Hell and the Biblical God to be human inventions. This deity has all the characteristics of an iron fisted tyrant who shows mercy to his followers and is vengeful toward those who defy him. I suggest the same for Zeus, Osiris, Allah, Vishnu and other deities throughout history.

An atheist's confession

By Bob P

I talked to God.

I waited… and waited… and waited...

No answer.

God must be busy, I concluded. Adults told me that God always answers prayer. That's OK, I'm still young, I thought.

So I talked to God again…

and waited…

and waited...

Perhaps God doesn't listen to young people?

Then I began to wonder, who does God talk to? Who was the last person to whom God saw fit to communicate? Back then, I was a boy scout who had earned my God and Country Award and was a member of the Methodist Church. The church had youth activities and I rather enjoyed that. At about the same time, I received my Eagle Scout badge.

At age 16 I was able to talk my folks into buying me a car. It was an old 1931 junker that took constant maintenance; I became quite proficient at keeping it running on a small budget. It had a rumble seat, and that was kind of cool in 1950. By 1951, I had overhauled the engine, rewired it completely, and had it running quite reliably. Because of my Boy Scout background, I was able to get a Saturday job delivering flowers in a 1950 panel truck. In 1951, along with two friends, I was able to get my amateur radio operators license (which I have to this day). Life was getting better, and God had nothing to do with it.

I discovered that my two friends with whom I had earned my amateur radio license were atheists. The gears begin to grind: Did I really ever believe in a god, or was that just fulfilling what adults thought I should believe? I thought I believed in God, but I never had the sense I was being constantly watched, nor did I ever feel any guilt for doubting. Perhaps I was really a doubter all along. It all became blatantly obvious: man creates the gods for power and control, and god is just the mechanism used to perpetuate it. It's all a SCAM! It provides a comfortable living for a bunch of holy men too lazy to be plumbers or too dumb to be lawyers! What's more, it’s not only a scam, it’s the PERFECT scam. It can promise anything, it delivers nothing, it begs instead of working for its money, it's not taxed, and it's perfectly legal! At the same time, the 'sheep' of the flock are happy with the situation! How do you say, "Thank yew Jayesus?"

I would have considered taking up the ministry, but I could never have contained the laughter.
So here I am, some 55 years later at 73 years of age.

Was I ever sorry I gave up religion? Not in the least! For the last 20 years, I have become an open and outspoken atheist. I'm not sure how many people I have acquainted to the process of reason, logic and science over blind faith, but I believe it's more than a few.

Someone once told me I wear my atheism on my sleeve, I had to correct them by explaining I PROUDLY wear my atheism both on my sleeve AND on my cap.

The only real truth

Sent in by Margaret J

It was a cloudy, dreary fall day in November of 1971. I was an American spending my junior year of college in Avignon, France. The French guy I was dating, so to speak, decided to take me to a nearby tourist site – Mont Ventoux. He was from an unusual sort of family anyway and it was determined that his younger sister would accompany us – her function being a sort of chaperon.

Well, my date Michel drove while his sister sat next to him in the front seat of his faded gray “Deux Chevaux.” I was relegated to the back seat. All along the forty-five minute or so drive to Mont Ventoux, Michel and his sister sparred verbally with each other as a brother and sister might. Soon disinterested in their discourse, I turned to my own thoughts. As the drive wore on, those thoughts gained depth and turned to the issue of religion.

I had been raised a Catholic in a nominally Catholic family. By that I mean, that lip service was paid to the rules of the church and avoiding sin and such but I never got the notion there was any feeling behind any of it. I didn’t sense any religious feeling at home, and I certainly didn’t sense any such thing through all my years of Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school or even the first years of college.

During my high school years, freshman religion classes focused on de-mythologizing all the years of Catechism we had so meticulously memorized in grammar school. We were taught that there was no such literal place as heaven or hell (they were states of being,) that Jesus was only figuratively the son of God (anthropomorphic language) and that the bible taught only stories, not the literal truth (it taught history, not science) I took all this to mean that all the years of study in elementary school were for naught. Nonetheless, I was excited to learn about the possibility of a new, more mature form of religion. I could hardly wait for the next year when they would surely teach us the real truth!

Well, to my extreme disappointment and confusion, in following years, the religion classes contained only courses on family life, comparative religion and the like. No Catholic truths were ever disclosed to us. By the time junior year rolled around and we were supposed to be choosing a college, all I could think was that despite eleven years of Catholic school to date, I was being seriously left in the lurch. I had been stripped of all I was taught to superficially believe and nothing was left in its place. For this reason, I felt my main task in college would be to study religion at a higher level so that I could finish my education with a solid base on which to live the rest of my life.

Enter the Catholic University of America. The high school guidance counselor demanded that my parents appear in his office to discuss my choice of college. He told them in no uncertain terms that it was a “radical institution” and maybe dangerous. This was the late sixties and I suppose my parents assumed he meant politically radical. He didn’t elaborate further and my parents had confidence I was not at risk for politically radical behavior so I set off for Catholic U. with their full approval.

Well, my early years at college included a couple of religious experiences that seemed to deepen my faith – the original type taught in grammar school.* (see below for details of some religious experiences) But all the while, the theology and philosophy courses that formed the equivalent of a college minor encouraged us to question everything we had ever been taught. Theme papers were assigned on religious topics and we were informed that if we quoted catechism answers we would fail the course. The professor wanted original, personal thought. Many of the theologians we were assigned to study were essentially non-believers. Their logic was carefully digested and elaborated upon. It was also during these years that I acknowledged to myself some examples of extreme hypocrisy among many of the traditionally religious people I had known - women I remembered from my hometown, who would so piously walk down the aisle from Communion each Sunday that you could just about see a halo above their head, who would then turn around come Monday morning and tear a fellow member of the Margate Mothers’ Club to pieces behind her back. Meanwhile, the people I genuinely admired most seemed to be those who felt no need for church. Much of this information I was carefully sealing away in some corner of my brain but I still held on pretty tightly to the original religion I had been brought up in.

Fast forward to that fall day in Avignon. I was a French major you see. It was part of the mission for that year to become as French as possible; to leave behind as much American-ness as possible and truly assimilate another culture. I was only just beginning to get into this by November. But, well that trip to Mont Ventoux, with the interminable car ride and me being left out of the conversation (argument) found me at a point where I had already left behind a lot of the normal cues to behavior and belief I was brought up with. The theology courses at Catholic U left me with a lot of questions I had dared not articulate even to myself while existing in the confines of my birth culture. But spared of all the habitual cues to thought patterns I was accustomed to and being in a culture that largely upheaved my own anyway, I spent that time in the car to Mont Ventoux ruminating over all the religious concepts to which I had been exposed to date. I allowed my logic to take me wherever it might.

Suffice it to say that I had gotten into that car as a traditional believer and I walked out essentially an atheist! In under an hour I had decided that logic and reason trumped fourteen years of religious training. There was and could be no such creature as the God of the catechism classes. No angry punishing God who would condemn you to eternal damnation if you were accidentally hit by a car on your way to confession with a mortal sin on your soul. No being in the sky who would grant your most meager prayer if only you had been good enough. I decided that no such God was necessary. No such God was possible. Yes, there was evil in the world, but there was too much good for an angry punishing God to have created it all. And if there were a supreme being, he or she could not possibly harbor such petty, human emotions as the God I had been taught about. That God could only have been conjured up by man, a figment of human imagination.

Most of all, I decided that to live a good life, it was up to me. It was not dependent upon whether I could commit sins and then get to confession in time to have them forgiven. How about if I just lived by a standard where I didn’t do wrong things?? If I avoided doing the things I considered wrong simply because it felt better to do the right thing, I didn’t need to concern myself with eternal punishment or reward. If I didn’t believe there was any life after death, how could I care about reward vs punishment? I decided the only thing that counted was the here and now; that life right here on this earth was an incredibly gift. It was gift enough that if only I took every opportunity to make this of this life the best I possibly could, then if by chance, there was an afterlife, no sort of god up there could fault me for the use I had made of that gift. I would determine my life’s course and as long as I followed my own conscience, I would always know I had done my best.

So I had taken a huge leap before stepping out of that car as an atheist! But you see, that moment did indeed represent my very first step toward personal growth. It was my first step in taking an adult level of personal responsibility for my life. I was not waiting for God to show me the way. I knew it was up to me. Now I know a lot of traditionally religious people are going to point fingers at me for showing false pride, and such. Well, I just want to point out that that I knew immediately this was a very serious step. It meant there was no God to fall back on in times of strife. If it was all up to me, then that would apply to the adverse circumstances as well as the good ones. I could tell at the time I had made a decision that required great strength and determination. It was uncommonly liberating to be freed of the fear of inadvertently transgressing on one of the “little” laws of the church, missing Mass, not going to confession. It was very empowering to know that this decision meant there would be circumstances wherein I could not rely on the rules of the church to determine my choices in life. I would have to figure out each situation as I went along. It felt good! It felt scary – but I was ready. I plowed full speed ahead.

In retrospect, thirty-five years later, I realize that my decision that day was just the first of many growth steps I have taken since. The belief stance I took allowed me to seek further growth opportunities and further truth all along instead of being close-minded and self-satisfied that I had the only real truth all my life. It led me to a point where I could appreciate others points of view and others’ beliefs. It has been a blessing beyond compare and I have never for a moment regretted leaving behind the God I learned so much about in Catechism those early years of Catholic school.

For other stories and surrounding commentary, see my blo: BeliefStagesandGrowth.com

God: a figment of the imagination

Sent in by Ziggy Blacktail

I grew up in a secular home (my parents are lapsed Catholics but that's beside the point) so the religion was never pushed on me. I remember back in the fourth grade when someone told me about the truth about Santa Claus, I didn't cry (yes, I believed in Santa Claus until I was 10. I mature slower than most people). I remember thinking it made perfect sense. I applied the same concept with God and felt the same.

I started to doubt Atheism during the last two years of college and decided to give Christianity a chance. A couple of factors caused my doubts and pushed me into Christianity. First, I had a girlfriend at the time who was Catholic. She surprised me when I first learned this because she seemed normal...normal in a sense that her opinions weren't limited to the confines of a certain book and she wasn't fanatical about her beliefs (do bear in mind, I never knew anyone personally who believed in this religion growing up). This led me to asking questions about her religion that she was happy to share. Another factor was my college education. As an English major, I encountered biblical references in almost every literature class I took. This led me to start reading the Bible. These two factors brought me to ask Jesus into my heart as they say in Christianese. I settled on the sect of Catholicism (yes, I believe Catholics are Christians despite what some Protestants think) because my girlfriend and my family background was supposedly that (I vaguely remember doing something Catholic when I was eight involving first communion). I read up on it and became interested in it and joined the Newman Center during my last year at college. I also joined a Non-Denominational Protestant ministry that one of my roommates in my last year at college was the president of and encouraged me to go when I told him I believed in Christ.

Although I enjoyed doing things in both ministries, it wasn’t long before I started doubting Christianity. My belief in Christianity started falling apart after my girlfriend and I broke up. We were in a long-distance relationship and it was impossible to see each other. In addition, I was interested in another woman who went to the Newman Center at my college. Although she felt the same about me, she gave me the "let's just be friends" after our first and only date. It was around this time when I realized that a) I can't figure out what God wants from me because I thought he wanted me to be with either woman at some point...or even be friends with them for that matter ( I don’t talk to either woman anymore – they both estranged from me) b) I never heard God speak to me but he seems to speak to everyone else (I never considered the option that people were faking it).and c) I started feeling like I was cursed because it seemed like God didn't care about my needs despite what I've read in the Bible. I also started doubting some of the teachings of Catholicism (like Peter being the first pope even though James was shown as the leader of the first church in Act 15).

I fell away from Catholicism a few months later and tried non-denominational Protestantism for a brief period. my roommate and people in the other ministry were all too pleased to convert me when I ranted about it with them. I confused my emotions here with what God wanted for me. I quickly ended up hating non-denominational Protestantism more than Catholicism. While I did enjoy the richness and depth of the Catholic mass until I grew more and more inattentive during the masses, the non-denominational mass (or service as they put it) was nothing more than a two hour ego-stroking session by their pastor who I swore preached the same exact thing about "you just have to have faith" the two times I there and nobody said anything. I could've tried the other 30,000 sects of Protestantism, but I started to ask myself why are there so much sects? Why did God allow all of these sects to form and thrive despite them having conflicting theologies? This never bothered me before during my Catholic, I believed in the Vatican II doctrine that salvation is possible outside the church and I didn't start questioning the belief until this point.

This led me to believe Christians don't have their act together at all and God must be nothing more than a figment of their imagination. If God is real, then why all the confusion? And why won't he speak to me still and tell me clearly what he wants from me instead of having me confuse what he wants with my self-delusion? I started noticing around this time the reason for the many sects may have something to do with Christians being selective readers. (Just look at Calvinism vs. Arminianism. They use different passages in the Bible to back up their claims.) This eventually brought me to question if Jesus really is the Jewish Messiah and wondered if the passages in the Hebrew Bible used to support him in the New Testament resulted from selective reading by its writers. I looked at certain passages with a more critical eye like Isaiah 7:14 and noticed it was predicting the birth of King Hezekiah in its original context and the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 seemed to refer to the same servant in Isaiah 41 (identified as Israel).

I lost my faith after those readings. I denounced all three members of the Holy Trinity and God did nothing to stop me. He didn't punish me for me it either. I’ve returned to my former Atheist viewpoint since feeling more at peace with myself. One last thing I should mention is some Christians argue that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. Even if that's the case, relationships require open communication and making me play guessing games is not open communication. This made me realized I was right in first place -- he was never there. A brick wall would make a better deity because I can see it and know it won't do anything for me.

Well, that concludes my deconversion story. Accept it or leave me alone.

I realized that God does not exist

Sent in by Kyle

Hi. My name is Kyle, I live in Austin, and I am a former devout Christian.

I grew up in a semi devout family. By semi, I mean that my grandparents on both sides were extremely religious, but my parents were not too religious. I did the whole CCE Church deal on Wednesdays as a child, and went to Church on Christmas, but that was about all.

However, once I became about 15, I started to study more about religion. This was my Confirmation year for the Catholic Church, so I started wondering a bit more about why I was Christian. And, I ended up becoming extremely devout. Every week I would now go to Church with my grandparents on my mom's side, and I became extremely religious. My grandpa on my dad's side is a Protestant Pastor for the Church of Christ, and so I talked with him all the time, about theology, the Bible, and anything Christian!

So, to sum it up... My parents were not really religious, but when I became a teen I became extremely religious. My grandparents were religious, and they always took me to Church functions, and all that.

So, I stayed extremely religious all through high school, and then my Freshman and Sophomore years of college. I had read the bible many times, did the Rosary daily, you name it!

Now if you know about Austin, you will know it is a very liberal city. Liberals all over! So during my years, I met many open homosexuals, and all that. In college, I met a very good friend of mine who told me he was gay.

Now this friend of mine (who I will call J) is the nicest guy I have ever met. He is such a great, loving person. And, he is gay. And I just asked myself "Why would God send this dude to hell for being gay!" It just made no sense to think about such a nice person going to hell.

So, I started questioning the ideal of hell. And then, many more questions popped up. I started readings some atheist books. I began to look at the skeptical approach to not just Christianity, but God in general.

So, questions filled my head. And I was worried about all these questions. I could not sleep at night. So, I just kept thinking about it for about 3 or 4 months.

Then, I decided that theism was not right. I just found that the Bible is a book that is nothing beyond human comprehension, and was just not satisfied. I learned about a lot of pagan roots in the 3 abrahamic religions, and learned a lot of skeptical approaches to different aspects of religion. I studied other religions during this time.. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Ositris, you name it..

And, I just could not believe in a God anymore. I just realized that God does not exist.

For a few months it depressed me. But, then I became more appreciative of life.. this world is so amazing, and I am just so glad to be here.. It is great to see how this world works, without thinking of some "loving God".

I just graduated from college, and I am now a happy atheist. :)

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Don't listen to your head. Listen to your heart

Sent in by Colin E

I was raised in a home where my parents called themselves Christian: we were members of a protestant church, but I do not think that any of us took religion too seriously. Us children were sent to Sunday School every week to get proper religious instruction, but my parents never tried to encourage me or my sister to dedicate our "lives to the Lord". Moreover, being a white South African child in the heyday of Apartheid, with the church I attended openly supporting the Apartheid government, my parents did tell me to take whatever that church teaches with a pinch of salt: they certainly were not supporters of that regime, but all white South Africans in the '70s had to keep up appearances, or face at best ostracism, or at worst criminal prosecution.

This all changed when I turned 15: my sister was invited to a charismatic/fundamentalist church service, and I tagged along, mostly because I was promised that it was a good place to meet girls - and I was not disappointed on that score. What I did not expect was the message: it was a powerful message to begin with, delivered by an extremely charismatic speaker. The message was that there is a god who so loved the earth...need I go on? It seems that everyone on this site has heard that song sung a million times. Also, this fundy church did not support apartheid, strange as it may seem.

All the religious instruction that came before seemed to fall into place. I thought I had found truth: truth in the sense that everything in the Bible is true, and meant to be taken literally. All of a sudden, things changed. I now intended to dedicate my life to the Lord, become a minister/pastor, prepare my body and soul for the Rapture etc etc. It was at this point that my schoolwork started suffering: why work hard on any secular ambitions when the good Lord may decide any day now to just whisk his chosen away to have an eternal party in Heaven? What a lovely excuse for mediocrity.

All through the next three years I did my best to be a good fundamentalist Christian. I managed to offend a lot of other Christians (of the non-fundy variety), not realising that I had become a self-righteous prick, thinking that I was doing the Lord's work, and therefore could not possibly be wrong. But deep down, I suspected that my faith was not what it should be.

One fundy principle is that when one asks, one SHALL receive. I was asking, but I cannot say that I was always receiving. Instead of realising at that point that maybe everything in the good Book is not true, I blamed my own imperfect faith for my non-receipt of what I was asking. This only made me act more fundy than a South-Alabama Republican preacher-man. But a small part of me thought that there were some small cracks appearing in the powerful message that I received when I was 15 years old.

I started questioning - but very carefully. I was afraid of offending the spiritual giants that I associated with every Sunday.

I started reading - any kind of Christian literature that I could get my hands on. I cannot claim to be as well read as the webmaster, but I came close. My problem was that I was prepared to reason from Christianity, but I was not prepared to reason about Christianity. The reason for this was simply that Hell did not sound like a good place, and I did not want to go there.

I also had long religious disputes with my father. He never bought into the whole fundy thing, even though he called himself a Christian. This too made me think: my father is a very well educated man, and an extremely logical thinker. All the best arguments that I managed to learn from my reading of Christian literature (and fundy literature by such notables as Kenneth Copeland and Mike Warnke) could not sway him - my father seemed to have no trouble puncturing my windy pomposity with needle-sharp logic. I had, and still have, a lot of intellectual respect for my father, even though he is now almost 80 years old. I had to start thinking: if even I, whom I would have liked to think was guided by the Holy Spirit in my discussions with my father (yes, I used to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit before every debate I had with him, and I thought I could feel said Holy Spirit infuse me with eloquence) could not sway him, perhaps there was something wrong with my message?

Having decided that the rapture may not happen anytime soon, I finally paid a bit more attention to my academic pursuits, and went to university, studying law. Back then (in 1988), it was compulsory in South Africa to achieve a certain proficiency in Latin as part of legal studies. I found that I excelled in the Latin language, and changed to Latin as my non-legal major. And if one wanted to do a postgraduate degree in Latin (something I started to consider at this time) one had to study Attic Greek as well - which I was happy to do. This is also the original language of the New Testament: in time, I was able to read the New Testament in the language it was written. Oh boy.

The fundy church I attended was fond of explaining concepts of their particular brand of Christianity in terms of Attic Greek. For example, they taught that the Greek word for non-physical love (agape) was a word coined (by God) especially for the purpose - that it was a God kind of love. WRONG! They also claimed that the Greek word for life (zoe) had Christian connotations. WRONG again! I had to ask myself: were the followers of the God of Truth actually lying? Nothing new about that, the history of the Catholic Church is full of examples of this, but these Catholic bashing fundys as well? Is this possible?

I first tried to tell myself that they were honestly mistaken. The councilors at church could not give me a logical explanation for this - their arguments ran along the lines that they were not scholars of dead languages, but men (and women) strong of faith, and perhaps I misunderstood the Attic Greek language? After all, nobody speaks it anymore, so perhaps Paul meant it the way the church teaches it? You will not believe how much this dismissal of my seemingly insignificant objection bothered me. Those who claim to represent a God of truth, justice, love and apple pie cannot explain a simple linguistic nuance, guided as they are in all things by the Holy Spirit?

For the first time, I really started listening to the altar call at the end of every service on Sunday nights: don't listen to your head, the pastor said. Listen to your heart. He said this every single Sunday, and I never realised that he was asking me to switch off my brain - and I willingly did so!

I was still a little afraid of going to Hell, so I kept trying to hold on to my rapidly diminishing faith. What finally swung it for me was a work of fiction. The book is called Voyage, by Steven Baxter. I do not know if the story he relates in this book is true, being written as it is in a what-if novel, but I think it is worth repeating:

After their landing on the moon and subsequent successful return to Earth, one of the astronauts (it was not Armstrong, and I cannot remember if it was Aldrin or Collins) went on a world tour, giving lectures, making speeches etc. His travels took him to Nepal, where he addressed a class full of schoolchildren. The schoolchildren kept asking him whom he met on the moon, who was there. He kept giving the same answer: he met no-one there, no-one lives there. The kids seemed puzzled by his answer.

When he finished, he left the classroom, but remained just outside the door - long enough to hear their teacher tell the children: "You must not believe him, he is wrong." He could not understand why she would tell the children this - after all, the moon mission was well publicised - so he asked around. He found out that the religion of those children taught that one ascends to the moon after death, hence their questions to him about whom he met there - they actually thought that he would answer that he met their dearly departed family members and acquaintances there.

My Christian friends smugly told me that there was a religion that did not stand up to the scientific test. I was not so smug: my religion (Christianity) also did not stand up to this test. Moreover, my religion came from the same source (old men who wandered the desert/mountains, catching too much sun and writing down their hallucinations). The good part is that it eventually cured me of my fear of Hell: if the Bible is fiction, then so is Hell.

I find that I cannot blame Christians for misleading me - I was only too happy to be misled. Moreover, most Christians truly believe they are doing the right thing in seeking converts and saving souls. One can only hope that they will switch on their brains at some point - and I mean that quite literally. We cannot force them to open their eyes and see the truth - one only needs to browse this site to see how true that is. While I fully understand the anger on these pages, my advice is to let go of it and I know it is not easy. It took me about 5 years to let go of that anger. But once you do let go, you realise exactly how full your life can be without any God to spoil it for you.

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I tried to believe, but...

Sent in by Josh

I cannot say I ever was a true Christian. I grew up fascinated by religions, and fascinated by the natural world. My family showed me Carl Sagan's Cosmos at age 5 and later The Demon Haunted World. I loved Sagan's expansive view of life, his respect and tolerance for the wisdom gained through religion, and his staunch support of empirical evidence and the scientific method. I consider myself thus a Sagan-style agnostic. Show me the evidence!

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, optimistically:
And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

What can we do to ensure his optimism continues to shine? I believe it is up to us. We must speak a unified voice of reason louder than the voices of fundamentalism speak various voices of dogma in disarray. We cannot afford not to speak out. And, we must do it with greater patience, poise, reason, and compassion than fundamentalists, and we must reach out to moderates, the kind of people who fully accept the germ theory of disease rather than the demon spirit conjecture. They do have ears to listen. They mostly use religion as a community-building tool, and it does great things for them in that regard. Yet, none of them would trust a doctor or mechanic that advised them to simply and only pray for a severed limb or a flat tire. No fundamentalist would think this either, yet they compartmentalize their beliefs in so many other areas.

As for my background, I tried so very hard to believe in some kind of literal interpretation of the Bible. I took a 13-week Bible study course a few years ago, but I always told the class leader something like "The historicity question is what prevents me from 'accepting' Jesus as a divine being that created the universe."

I really enjoyed the "fellowship" aspect of people just coming together regularly and supporting each other as friends, and I think that this is the best thing about religion and religious communities. But, I did not like the lack of open discussion and the lack of skepticism. I just could never see any reason to believe that those events depicted were literal, physical events that took place. There is no way to distinguish those claims from the claims of Muslims or Hindus or anyone else that lived in the days before widespread acceptance of science and empirical methods. When you ask them why prayers don't heal accidental amputees, (more at http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com) you get indignant looks or snide comments, yet if prayer can affect cancer, then I find it a fully reasonable question to ask whether it can affect accidental amputees too. Call my reasonable, call me inquisitive, but don't call the question crazy, because the question is perfectly within reason and everyone knows it.

I worked at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years and learned up close how peer-review and empirical evidence is used to guard against self-deception. What could be more certain than the fact that people make mistakes? Even religions accept this fact. Thus, true science must be peer-reviewed and undergo blind and double-blind experiments. I knew people who traveled to Africa for public health projects, but still there were people there who believed that demons and curses caused illness, rather than bacteria. Reason is not easy, science is demanding on minds and hands, but as Albert Einstein wrote:
"One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike -- and yet it is the most precious thing we have."

While my immediate family is not religious, I have a large extended family that is moderately religious, and even had one very loving person try to convince me about Jesus and the accuracy of the Bible recently. She means well and I love hear dearly, but I do feel it is my right to speak my mind and not let the rising tide of fundamentalism sweep away the first amendment and other freedoms.

I don't like the growing walls between religious and non-religious people. I appreciate Hemant Mehta's approach, from http://www.FriendlyAtheist.com, in which he actually goes and speaks with churches and religious people. I want to do something similar. I love people and I love open discussion. I don't mind if strangers try to convince or convert me, so long as we have some ground rules of civility and respect. I don't hope to change anyone's belief, only to educate them about the other side of the story.

Yet, at this time I do feel a bit discouraged and down because of the trends and world events. I love life and love my family and friends, and I don't want to see our freedom swept away by fear and dogma. I can hardly believe that Thomas Jefferson's hopes of reason sweeping away superstition are not actually coming true. I've written much more about Jefferson and others on my blog .

Those who enjoy Sagan may also enjoy this essay I wrote about him.

Anyway, just another human grounded in the real world, a world full of superstition and unreason.

I'd appreciate any kind words of encouragement and support!

Thank you

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Inconsiderate, unthinking and heartless...

Sent in by Jo

I was raised in the church by my mom, a single parent. We went to church most of my life, but not always consistently. Although my mom is not a "churchy" sort of personality, her faith in Jesus and God are very strong. So I was raised with an open minder parent but also a very spiritual and superstitious parent.

Luckily I was always educated at school to think for myself. During elementary school I was in the gifted program. In middle school I left this program to be a "regular student." I didn't do so well as a regular student. I became a rebel of sorts, refused to go to church, experimented with all the taboos. Finally after my freshmen year in high school I decided to leave that behind, throw away the cigarettes and become a born again Christian. I studied the bible and was very dedicated to this life, that I genuinely felt saved me.

My life was good for awhile, though I felt plagued by guilt and confusion over the things I read in the bible. My youth minister tried to explain to me that I didn't understand grace. Which is what my mom still believes to this day.

Being a convinced, determined and faithful Christian at the time helped me in many ways I am thankful for. It helped me to become more disciplined at school and also learning about faith in god helped me learn about faith in myself.

I ended up getting a scholarship to an excellent university partly because of my religion and faith. However that same University experience and time allowed me to learn and question, which is partly how I gradually moved away from Christianity.

Now I am mostly newly atheist, though their are still shreds of agnosticism in me.

My most recent experiences with atheism include reading Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, which I am so thankful for as a resource for disbelief and on a more negative side receiving criticism from my brother.

When I recently told my religious brother that I am atheist, He basically told me that he believes in predestination and if god wants me to be on his side I will and if he hasn't chosen me then he hasn't chosen me. And very kindly he let me know that all I think about is myself because I am living for myself and that must be a sad life.

Right now the only sadness in my life is my grandpa who is in the hospital and my older brother saying something so inconsiderate, unthinking and heartless to me.

But I have learned to have confidence in myself and I'm tough. The only understanding of grace I was ever missing was grace for myself!

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