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From: "Dan Lewandowski"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Saturday, January 27, 2001 8:05 PM

http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/carl-sagan-tribute.htm

Open Letter To Ann Druyan, The Planetary Society and the innumerable fans of Dr. Carl Sagan,
by Dan Lewandowski
submitted as a De-Conversion Story by the author

Dear Ms. Druyan,

It has been one of my goals for the past two years to contact the people who had a major impact on my life and thank them. I've been able to do that with a few of them, some of them in person, and each instance has been an enriching, joyful experience. I regret that I did not contact you and Dr. Sagan before I awoke one morning to the news of his death.

I knew of Dr. Sagan's illness from reading his account of his medical trials in Parade magazine, but he was so optimistic in that article and during his live interview on Nightline earlier in December, that I was not sensitive to how fierce a battle he was waging. My wife awakened me on the morning of December 20th to make sure I heard the news in the gentlest manner possible, because she knew it would devastate me. My holiday season was a somber one, including not a few futile attempts to force a smile and hold back tears.

A few mournful days later, approaching midnight, I went outside to get a breath of the crisp winter air and to see the last full moon on a Christmas Eve I will probably ever see in my lifetime (the next such event is not scheduled for about another century) and atmospheric conditions had created a big brilliant and beautiful rainbow halo around the moon. A window had opened in the clouds, as if to provide a clear glide path for Santa, that allowed me to see the effect with a few stars in the clear dark background. I admired the beauty of the picture for a while and began to think about the physics behind what was happening and admired the subtle splendor of it all. I then realized that I had Dr. Sagan to thank for the understanding of much of what I was perceiving and for the ability to preserve a sense of awe integrated with that knowledge. I pondered, as I'm sure Dr. Sagan must often have, the eternal mystery of how some of the star stuff of the universe had exploded into being, and evolved to the point where it could contemplate its own beauty. This fundamental mystery calls like a siren's song to the curiosity of its created creatures.

A human being is, one might say, a star's way of thinking about a star. Not that I think stars are literally alive, but my sense of connectedness is a very different outlook from the false duality of material and spiritual that my conservative religious upbringing had ingrained in me. One of the quotes included in Cosmos that stuck with me is "No one has lived longer than a dead child, and P'eng Tsu [the Chinese equivalent of Methuselah] died young. Heaven and Earth are as old as I, and the 10,000 things are one." -- Chuang Tzu, China about 300 B.C.E. Reading the works of Dr. Sagan slowly created cracks in the foundation of my thought paradigm, sometimes collapsing whole pillars, but always replacing them with different but even stronger cornerstones on which I could build. And so it went for decades as I continued, reading from right to left.

During this long period, I was constantly trying to smash the square pegs of what I was learning from science, sociology, psychology, history and comparative religion into the round hole of my conservative Christian paradigm. Often I had to chalk up contradictions and paradox to the idea that God could understand how it worked even if we didn't. That's not terribly difficult to do if there are no clear answers to be found or if one's understanding of either science or church history and theology is modest. I didn't have anything close to a healthy tolerance for ambiguity, and when one is faced with the choice between a compelling rational explanation and a deference to supernatural intervention, it was almost impossible for me to ignore the rational option, which created even more tension and synthesis with my theological viewpoint. Choosing scientific and rational explanations would be called "nature eating up grace" by Francis Schaeffer and "deferring to Occam's razor" by scientists; choosing God would be called "a spirit filled stand of faith" by my fellow Christians and "promoting the God Of The Gaps" by scientists. My research was forcing more and more deeply rooted foundational choices, but I kept looking for a way God could be vindicated and harmonized with my scientific understanding. I wanted a solid, absolute, once and for all answer.

This all caused a great deal of mental anguish, depression and confusion. The tension only increased over the years, and it affected my life in almost every way. I reached the point where I was bordering on biochemical treatment for depression because my mind was always wrestling with philosophical problems and not getting acceptable solutions. Julian Huxley had a similar experience, which he described as developing a "thought tumor." A more contemporary metaphor might be a thought virus, not unlike a computer virus that stacks up an ever expanding spiral of self referential nested processes. Even when I wasn't consciously working on these problems I think my subconscious was working on them and slowing down my entire thought process. The solutions I did come up with tended to produce more, and further reaching, questions rather than resolutions. The unsolvable mysteries kept coming. As I approached a critical transition point in my thinking, I began to write out the questions I was confounded by. The list went on for pages of compressed computer type. No wonder I felt bogged down.

I had read, listened to and watched hundreds of religious books, audio tapes and videos, and sat through many more classes on the questions I was struggling with, trying to find answers. Most of the church friends and teachers I asked responded by saying, "I never thought about it" or "It's too frustrating to think about" or "That's the first thing I'm going to ask God when I get to heaven." Or they would recite meaningless aphorisms like Mark 10:26-27, "With God all things are possible." Many didn't even know what I was talking about.

Making matters worse was the dismissive and often hostile and denigrating attitude toward secular writers like Dr. Sagan and others which discouraged me from looking for answers from them. These so called "critics" were cast as shallow, bitter individuals who were out to destroy Christianity or find a way to excuse themselves for their moral guilt. When I actually took the time to explore the issues from their point of view I realized they were mostly just reasonable people that would like to believe in miracles as much as anybody but there were these serious problems with the Christian paradigm that had to be addressed and often there were other more reasonable explanations for the mysteries and miracles upheld by the church.

Thanks to Dr. Sagan's relentless efforts to bring science to the public, I had many chances to read and watch Cosmos and some of his other works. Often when I had been channel surfing or seeking other books in the library, his name would keep popping up and every time I watched or read something with his name on it, I was struck by the intense feeling that paying attention to what he had to say was a very enlightening, rewarding and worthwhile endeavor, and that I needed to do more of it. Every time I did, I found that my mind seemed to gain clarity and insight. Even a few of my questions were being answered or rendered moot. The answers were not always what I wanted to hear, but they were so powerful in the way they made sense and fit the evidence, I had to accept them.

One of the engaging aspects of Dr. Sagan's work was the comprehensive inclusion of the human experience described as he tried to explain and apply science. Nothing in his description could be called dry or boring. He was willing to include himself in acknowledging the emotional aspects of the human experience of science, and in explaining why what he was talking about affected us all in much the same way, be it fear of the unknown, loss of a loved one, the desire to blame our shortcomings on outside forces, awe at the order and complexity of creation, the frustration of not finding the answer one expected to find, the desire to be special and be connected to a higher intelligence, the natural human tendency to jump to the wrong conclusion because it seems natural or because it's what everybody else thinks is true. I found in Dr. Sagan a man who spoke to me as a fellow traveler in life. He was not at all the dangerous threatening force he was portrayed to be by the religious leaders I had been listening to.

He made science apply, not just to sterile laboratories, but to the development of all human culture since Democritus first smashed a pebble on a rock in ancient Greece and wondered how many times a pebble could be smashed before the fragments could no longer be divided. I learned about a noble enterprise that had something to say about life and consciousness throughout time and space, and opened my mind to ideas that were more thrilling than many of the concepts I had learned in religion, some of which had begun to seem banal in comparison.

Ideas, such as the vast explanatory power of evolution and genetics which you and he elaborated on in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, that shattered the teleology of Pierre Teilhard DeChardin that seemed so comforting to me as a compromise between science and my religious beliefs just a few years earlier. The counterintuitive developments in physics especially since the 1920s, the vast increase in historical knowledge of biblical time periods in this century from archeological discoveries, the increased understanding of psychological and sociological behavior of oppressed people across time and across cultural boundaries and the understanding of how various kinds of mythologies rise and fall to explain many of the same themes throughout history has shed a tremendous amount of light on how the universe functions and how its inhabitants have tried to plumb the depths of the mystery of existence. I eventually reached the point where I became convinced that man's present knowledge was sufficient for me to dismiss the church's traditional rendering of God. I began to open my mind to other science writers and revisit my notes from my high school and college science courses.

Dr. Sagan's work was not the final thrust that broke me free of the gravitational bond of my religious superstitions (John Dominic Crossan supplied that), but it provided both the launching power for the ascent of my journey of intellectual restructuring, and a joyful place to land when my soaring cerebral flight found its new perspective. What a joy it was to vindicate that little nagging voice that kept me searching, probing, asking questions, courageously admitting to the flaws in my previous reasoning. I consider Dr. Sagan to have been a foster parent to the orphaned child of my curiosity.

There are so many gifts Dr. Sagan gave to me and the whole of the human race. Some are as concrete as the hardcover versions of his books. Some are as abstract as the power of reason and his positive vision. He supplanted the belief, borne out of fear, that the world was about to end, with the hope for man's journey to the stars. He imparted the desire to make the most of this life for the good of all mankind in the here and now of our existence instead of waiting for some "pie in the sky when you die by and by" superstition. I'll carry with me always his challenge to use my human volition to create meaning out of a neutral universe by doing something meaningful.

If I had the chance to go back in time, I would have said these things to him directly:

Thank you, Dr. Sagan, for your healthy, positive approach to life and the enthralling dreams you dared to dream in Pale Blue Dot; For the grand sweeping perspective you enlightened the world about through Cosmos; For the critical thinking toolbox you put on permanent loan to us in The Demon Haunted World; For each of the candles you lit in the darkness when you brought your thoughts and those of the great men of science to the public. Thanks for enhancing my vocabulary with all the new words I got to look up in the dictionary which I found to be a necessary companion to your books. I learned to always keep one at arm's length when reading your latest release. Thanks for everything we have yet to experience of those projects that were in progress when you died. I look forward to learning from them as well. I look forward to sharing your legacy with all those young people who soon will come of age and learn of your work for the first time, along with the great names in the history of science. I look forward to watching the upcoming Cosmos For Kids with them. Thanks for telling us about the postcard from the passenger about to board the Titanic, which you kept on your bathroom mirror. I made my own version of it to remind myself how precious every day is. Thank you, for changing my life.

Before I finally submitted this letter, I scanned through every one of Dr. Sagan's books that I could find, and everything I have written about my experiences and intellectual journey during the last few years, and I wanted to include it all. I looked through books he recommended in his books for relevant and poignant passages to reinforce his eloquent statements, and I wanted to include them all. I listened to my favorite music and found many passages of melodic poetry that harmonized with his philosophy, and I wanted to include them all. In the war on fear, superstition and ignorance which he waged so valiantly, he overwhelmingly won the battle for my mind. So much of his work is now a part of me that I often have trouble telling where my thoughts start and his end. And I wish I could include them all here.

Instead, I urge all who read this, to make it a priority to pick up any of Dr. Sagan's works, be it video, audio, book, film or CD ROM, and experience the brilliant candle of science in your own life. Then share it with as many people as you can.

Dr. Sagan died having accomplished more than most men could in ten lifetimes, and with some dreams unrealized. Some day I will die, no doubt with a few unrealized dreams of my own. Hopefully, I will have made a small difference toward advancing the human race toward the maturity of his vision in my own small way.

We must come to grips with the fact that we have no absolute or privileged frame of reference in this universe and that is one of the common threads that ties all of the human race together. The more this realization enlightens the population, the better the chances that we will start treating all our brothers and sisters peacefully, and as equals to be valued and appreciated for their diversity. None of us knows all the unimaginable symbiotic, serendipitous, synchronistic energies and ingredients which were necessary to evoke this miraculous blossoming of dust into the unique beauty of being. Nor whether, if ever, in some unknown eon to come, it will awaken again to the same unanswerable questions.

Still, we must not be shy about giving ourselves a little credit for developing as far as we have. We have discovered, and with a mix of fear, courage, hope and wisdom, embraced our independence and loneliness. We have made many mistakes. We are fragile and possess the capacity for self destruction. But there is also much that is virtuous about us. We can look as far as our faults, or we can look beyond them so that our vision is almost as encompassing as the universe itself. We can decide that there is a future for ourselves and move toward it with whatever strength we have, perhaps as far as the distant stars.

In this beginning is the future. May the day soon dawn when all the people of Earth come to know it is morning in the universe.

Dan Lewandowski
Wichita Falls, Texas

Graphic Rule

From: "Matthew Wong"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Tuesday, January 30, 2001 5:23 AM

I apologize for this lengthy story, but I wish to explain as much of my de-conversion as possible so that any not-quite-yet-atheist people out there who read it may identify with it and make the same wonderful choice that I did.

I am 19 years old and I am confident in my choice of atheism for the remainder of my life. When I was a young boy I grew up in a fairly non-religious family. My grandfather was not a fan of "that religious stuff" and my father was raised similarly. My mother had attended Sunday school as a child but was not a real Christian by any means. However, when I was young my mom enrolled me in a Catholic school for Senior Kindergarten, in fact, pulled me out of public school to attend it. The only thing I really remember about St. George's on the Hill was that my neighbour was my french teacher and my best friend from up the street went there too. I remember chapel on Friday and the only thing about that I remember is that one of the disciples of Christ had my name, Matthew. I returned to public school again the next year and religion was left alone for the next 10 years or so.

When I was in high school I turned to religion. I don't know why exactly, but I decided to read a bible that I found from somewhere and wear a necklace with a little cross on it. I read a passage every night, said a sort of un-conventional prayer, and went to sleep. I would always pray extra hard whenever my family flew on a plane, which was often since my dad worked for an airline. I considered myself pretty serious about my version of Christianity. I always did my best to be moral, make the right choices, and do the right things. I've never smoked, done drugs, had sex and until recently, didn't even swear that much. But as the next few years went by, I realized that all of those choices and decisions were made by me, not by my choice of religion. Doctrine had no bearing on how I behaved, it was just what I thought was right.

As I got older I made a lot of different friends and I really enjoyed myself and had a great time in high school. I was actively involved in student council, sports and all sorts of clubs. I'm pretty much mentioning this for the benefit of anyone who would suggest that atheists aren't normal. But it always troubled me that my best and closest friends were real devout Christians (I am lucky that they are very good, moderate people who don't believe in preaching). When i would pull up to school early and see them doing a morning prayer around the flag pole (it was a public high school but the Christian fellowship did that occasionally) I was mostly like "hmm, whats this then?". It troubled me because I was wrestling with my own religion again. I had recently been praying hard for some things, reasonable things, and was hoping God would deliver. But He did not, so I wondered if my prayers were too unreasonable or something. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that my prayers were going unanswered because...there was no God. That was about when I started to analyze my own morality and life choices and see that religion had nothing to do with it. I stopped wearing that little cross.

The differences between my friends and I came to a head probably around last year. I was in my last year of high school and by this time, had made the friends I knew would be with me into the future. However, one of my dearest friends and I were talking one time and I asked her to tell me what she and the other Christians thought of me. She told me that she prayed for me and prayed for me to believe in Jesus and then I would be saved. I completely exploded. She didn't realize it but her praying, while good intentioned, implied something offensive and absolutely repugnant. I considered myself a good person; a good, honest, honourable person. And yet, despite all this, I needed "salvation". She didn't realize it, but she basically just said that me being who I was, was not good enough because I didn't believe in her God. We didn't talk for a week. I felt awful. I really missed her friendship and all the great things she was in my life. I appologized to her and told her that while I was sorry for what I said, I was not sorry for what I believed. I told her that true friends care for each other regardless of their differences. Again, another point to show that atheists aren't heartless. Anyway, we made up and fortunately, the big fallout with my other close friends, who were Christian, didn't happen. Later that year, I became really attracted to one of my close friends who was Christian. I liked her for a very long time and I suppose I always will. But a part of her rejected me for all time because I was not Christian. She didn't like me back and was afraid of becoming involved with me because I wasn't Christian. She just wanted to be friends but would pray for me. It hurt a lot and it hurt a lot to think that she thought I would go to hell. But over time, that was probably what drove me quite away from religion and made me surprisingly more tolerant. It drove me away because I couldn't believe that any religion that supposedly advocated fairness and good-will towards men would frown on her for being with a non-Christian. Then again, this is the same religion which says God hates homosexuals (his own "children") and that Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, et al, are all wrong, despite the millions of believers they have (there are obviously more examples). Anyway, the situation made me more tolerant because I was happy to know that this super important part of her life was being shared with me. I took the good intent for what it was and ignored the implication, because she only meant it in the good sense.

High school ended and I stayed friends with the same people because they were still great people who loved me all the same and I will always appreciate their friendship. I am lucky that we were all able to keep religion out of the relationship. Out of high school though, and all the religious emotional spots i was involved with, came my most important revelation. Religious people are supposed to take God and Jesus as the most important people in their lives. This means that they take them higher than their own families. If I marry a Christian (which I won't) for example, me and our family would never be the most important thing in her life. I can't accept that. That is not right. I am real, our children would be real, we would all be here with her, yet, God would supercede us. Whats more important than family? Apparently, God is. Well, not in my life it won't.

I took first year philosophy this year and I am doing very well. Part of it is because I can write reasonably well, but most of it is because I have a strong position on the existence of God and can argue it well. Thankfully, most of first term is about that. But with learning about Betrand Russel, David Armstrong and others, I am more confident then ever about there not being a God. I hate how deep down it keeps me and my friends from being as close as we could be, but I would never give up my intellectual independece or free thinking approach to life for anyone. I enjoy being a good person, on my own account, too much to give that up.

One last thought, especially for those American politicans and right wing zealots: All religious people may be moral, but not all moral people may be religious.

Take care and best wishes to my fellow atheists, I hope you all live long lives and continue to fight the good fight

Matt Wong, Ontario, Canada.
A friend to atheists everywhere.

Graphic Rule

From: "sjsimons"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: My testimony
Date: Wednesday, December 06, 2000 7:26 AM

"Satan, come into my life and take control, I give my soul over to you!". That's what I said about two years ago for the first time -- it was the final step in making a psychological break with my superstitious past. Of course I didn't really believe that Satan would take control of my life -- that was the whole point. Up until that time there had been some residual fear that it might be true. It took four years as an atheist for me to get to that point -- and by the way, I haven't grown horns, my voice is no deeper and I haven't killed any cats lately.

There were many milestones and many long miles in my walk from the ignorant contentedness of fundamentalist Christianity to the clear light of atheism. Like the time I finally admitted to myself that all the small facts and conclusions and radical thoughts that I had accumulated over the previous five years actually amounted to me being an atheist. That realisation took me almost unwillingly out of the guaranteed love and safety of Christianity, into the hazardous but quietly exciting world beyond. Admitting to my wife-who had guessed as much but did not understand at all -- proved very hard. Not being understood by my wife, parents and close friends, all of whom were Christian, and realising that my long time companion and confidant, Jesus, was just an imaginary friend played havoc with my mind. I suffered bouts of depression for a long time. I really thought that if I simply told other Christians what I had found, they would slap their foreheads in realisation that I was right. I was forgetting that it took me years to come to that point-that the mountains of misinformation and psychological garbage that clutter a fundamentalists mind are not easily removed. I have come to realise that most of them are irretrievably locked in.

Going back in time, another milestone was when I sat on the lip of a slide in a children's play ground at 11 o'clock at night, my preferred time and location for intense personal prayer with my saviour, beseeching God to show me more and more of His truth and to guide me in His ways, and to remove any impediment in my life -- no matter the personal cost -- that might be hindering His work in my life. On this particular night, in the middle of my prayers, an insane thought struck me and I said "I've got a funny feeling that you don't exist, God". And although the thought had crossed my mind a few times before, it was never like this, it was the first time that I and actually contemplated it as a real, scary, possibility. However, I continued my lifestyle -- praying, witnessing, raising my hands in earnest and sincere praise to God in church services and home fellowships and all the other activities that an "on-fire" Christian indulges in -- but it was the start of the end, which saw me admit, some three years later to being an Atheist.

A few things had cumulated in my wild, unforgivable thoughts that night in the park, not the least being a course in Old Testament studies that I had taken at a fundamentalist Bible College a year before, where I came in contact with true Biblical scholarship for the first time -- and if you consider that I have been brought up in Biblical scholarship since I could first understand my mother tongue, and that at this stage I was 30 years old, this is no small thing to say (my father has been a missionary and pastor all of my life). At the start of the course I was amazed and appalled at the number of liberal Biblical scholars, why, in any serious journal all you got were these liberal snakes, undermining the truth with their high and mighty notions of Biblical interpretation -- truly Satan's agents. In class we would laugh at them, and postulate on what evil character flaw had caused them to take such a wicked path. By the end of the course, I quietly admired them, their clear logic just made very good sense. I became an ever so moderate liberal. It didn't clash with my fundamentalist lifestyle, because I believed God would take care of the Biblical problems, all I had to do was trust him.

There were many more such milestones in understanding. The actual transition was slow and painful. I have ended up a little bit shaken by it, but relishing the freedom. I am free from fear of evil and punishment, free of Dogma, free to think on my own, free to set my own path. I am now very happy with my choice in life -- and that was to follow the truth no matter the consequences -- as the Bible so rightly says :-'the truth shall set you free'.

-- Stephen S.
Perth, Western Australia.

Graphic Rule

From: "G Markee"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Sunday, January 28, 2001 3:13 AM

I am 43 and was raised in Northern Ontario where religion is always there. If it is not Catholic, then it is some branch of fundamentalist protestantism. Early in my high school years I found myself falling out of the "faith." At one time I had considered a career in the ministry, but that was dashed when the asking of a simple question lead to a "crisis of faith." I dared to ask why there was evil. There was no answer. By the time I left high school, I was not of any religion.

I left any semblance of the church after a wave of fundamentalist conversions took most of my friends in the mid-seventies. I studied everything from Satanism, existentialism, Buddhism, and anything else I could find that would give me answers. There were none. I studied everything I could, but if anything, I remained an agnostic, what I used to call an I-couldn't-give-a-damnist .

That changed when I hit my thirties. Two things helped push me into the atheism camp for good. One was the writings of Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Objectivism. The other was when I got married to my wife. The marriage was fascinating. She was catholic and they would not marry us because I would not participate in any of their counseling or agree to convert, or agree to assign our future children to the church. For the first time I realized how deeply engrained the demand for conformity to religion was in our society. I hated it. And then when my first daughter was born, she was baptised catholic at my wife's request and I agreed. The rite is appalling, the words insulting. I was furious and swore that I would never do that again.

The writings of Ayn Rand, such as Atlas Shrugged, the Fountainhead, and others made me take a look at the whole process of reason and belief from a totally different perspective. It made me realize that I had the right and the responsibility to think for myself. This does not mean that I took the philosophy of Objectivism at full-value.

Of course, what made the transition all the more easily was the advent of the internet. It made accessible the writings of so many philosophers and writers that it was hard not to develop into a critical thinker and a non-theist. It made me realize that there are a lot of thinkers out there.

For the last decade I have worked at a catholic hospital in downtown Toronto. I have seen the hypocracy of those who maintain a christian mission statement. I have seen the eroding of the rights of women by those who profess love and understanding. I have seen the horrific practices of the (in)Human Resources Department that has forgotten that the employees are people. I have seen things that make me ashamed to work there. But in the long run, it has made me angrier, and more determined to fight for the right of people to think. It has moved me from a quiet atheist, to one that actively promotes the philosophy of reason.

G Marcaigh

Graphic Rule

From: "kesey"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Friday, January 12, 2001 6:39 PM

I've read some of the other deconversion stories, and decided to add my own here only because it differs in some important respects from the others. I think that the path to my deconversion is one that is accessible to others, and I think I can offer some suggestions to anyone else seeking to confirm and strengthen their nonbelief.

Mine has been a total and complete transformation from a devout Roman Catholic to an anti-Christian.

Notice that I do not claim to be an atheist. The path of my personal deconversion is such that I don't feel the need to decide whether or not there is an entity that resembles god. I only feel compelled to resist the silly anthropomorphic authoritarian religions that describe reality for most of America and much of the world.

The high point of my "faith" came when I was twelve. At the time I was an altar boy, and I served mass about once a week in the morning before going to school.

Without going into lurid detail, a few years later I found myself in the most dire circumstances. Strung out on drugs, out of work, without a friend in the world to turn to. Finally, I sought the help of Jesus.

I remember the day I went to the church and performed the 12 stations of the cross. I earnestly and humbly sought god's guidance. Not necessarily his help or his intervention in my life, though that would have been nice, only some sign, some fragment of guidance for my life.

There was, of course, nothing.

Fast forward. After a few years of such seeking I found myself at the university studying biology. But, my obsession with god led me to turn away from biology, because evolution was implicit in much of what was taught there, and without the help of the fundamentalists I had decided that, though the theory seemed rational to me, it was the work of the devil.

The devil being all-clever and ruthless was willing to go to any ends to destroy me, I was convinced. While I might not be able to find the logical flaws in evolution that was only proof of the devil's ingenuity and resourcefulness.

I recount this absurdity only to show you how totally brainwashed and hopeless I was.

But turning away from biology meant that I had to find a new academic discipline to get my degree in, and I ended up in economics.

I was in economics only for a degree to get into law school, and along the way I decided that I would temper the purely business oriented curriculum I was to follow with some of the historical and philosophical roots of economic theory. This led me to take a course in modern philosophy.

It was in modern philosophy class that I encountered the thinkers who gave my first reliable purchase to stand against the propaganda I had been indoctrinated with all my life. The first of these was the English philosopher David Hume.

I remember being struck by the fact that Hume had the courage to publish unabashedly atheist essays at a time when this probably put him in danger of his freedom, if not his life. And Hume cut god off at the knees. His prose was clear and easy to read, and it was the first real nurturing of my doubt that I had found to read.

We live in a totalitarian Christian culture. We don't even realize how frequently and insidiously we are assaulted a hundred times a day with subtle bits of propaganda designed to reinforce the Christian mythology. It's the very framework of our society, and trying to escape it is a bit like trying to escape oxygen.

Reading Hume was the first clear, reasonable, and irrefutable objection to the tenets of Christianity I experienced, and the experience was like waking up from a dream.

Hume awakened me, but I was still groggy. Then I met Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzche turned Christianity inside out. He showed me how Christianity was not only untrue but despicable. Nietzsche, you will recall, is the man who declared that "God is dead" in the 19th century. This was a bit of an understatement. Not only is god dead, but we should have killed the bastard a few centuries ago.

Fast forward. mid 1980s. In spite of my awakening, I still have some occasional twinges of god consciousness. How can I help it when every time I turn on the television here in the bible belt some bellowing, sweating preacher is exhorting me to praise jesus? There are churches on every corner and the whole town shuts down on Sundays so that everyone can go to church.

I am an atheist, but not a very secure one. But light comes into my life. I meet someone who shows me the way out of Christian darkness, without even trying.

A woman, and a virgin.

She is an international student from Thailand, in the US to study for her masters degree. Being from Thailand, she is a Theravada Buddhist, and quite comfortable and secure with her beliefs; beliefs I later learn tell you essentially to do the best you can not to be a jerk because there is a strong possiblity that you may be coming back around for another go at life on earth, and that in all probability there is no free moral lunch. You will have to reap the consequences of your actions.

Or maybe not. As we become better acquainted I learn more and more about Thai Buddhism. It turns out that while most Buddhists believe in reincarnation and karma, if you read the Buddha's teachings you discover that most westerners are mistaken about two crucial points.

First, Buddha never claims to be god. He explicitly states that he is not god in fact, and further says that whether or not there is a god or an afterlife is irrelevant to what he is teaching.

He also says that Buddhism is shareware. Try before you buy. If you don't like it, or it doesn't work for you, fine. Forget about it. If you like one part of it, good, keep that. In any case its all up to you. Its not his business or anyone else's what you choose to do.

In fact, Buddhism teaches tolerance for other religions, and includes among these religions the religion of nonbelief. About the only thing Buddhism seems to get very serious about is the importance of compassion for all living things. I observe my girlfriend practicing this tenet when she traps cockroaches under cups, and then throws them out the door of our apartment, instead of smacking them with a shoe.

Occasionally she leaves one under a cup though, and it expires from lack of food or oxygen. We lift the cup a few days later to find the cockroach on its back with its legs in the air. I find this hilarious, while she doesn't quite share my mirth.

Nonetheless, she couldn't care a less whether or not I am a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Zoroastrian, or a devil worshipper. Nor could her friends. And yet, they are the most unfailingly polite and hospitable people I have ever met.

Time passes. My girlfriend and I have the opportunity to observe many ridiculous Christian spectacles together. She is more bewildered by Christians than offended or angry with them, although they seem to flock to her like flies, feeling it their duty to convert her from godless heathen Buddhism to Christianity.

She is particularly puzzled by the bellowing, sweating preachers shaking their bibles at the camera whom we see occasionally on Sunday morning television. "What is he mad about?" she asks me, or "Why is he so upset?"

I tell her I don't have a clue.

As we become closer I begin to see the "world", i.e. the US, more and more through her eyes. Among the many unusual and offensive things perhaps the most inexplicable is Christianity.

Why is it so intent on harassing people into its ranks? Why is it so loud and obnoxious? Why does it insist on shouting down every possible alternative? It seems like a "truth" which is highly insecure and unsure of itself, which can only be content and satisfied with the obliteration of any alternative.

This is not surprising on reflection, since the history of Christianity is littered with nothing if not the bodies of hundreds of thousands of unbelievers who have been slain, tortured, extorted, and otherwise compelled by force and coercion to submit to it.

Fast forward. A few years later I visit Thailand. I am struck immediately by the Thai monks that one sees everywhere. These are the most respected people in Thai society. They have renounced all possessions and worldly pleasures to seek enlightenment. Voluntarily.

If they ever change their minds they can become normal guys again, with no stigma at all attached to their reentry to secular life.

I could go on, but the bottom line is that while I am singularly impressed with the elegance, tact, and tolerance with which Buddhists practice their "religion", if one chooses to call it that, I conclude that in the main I don't buy it.

But I respect it. I confess this to all that I meet in Thailand. And this is fine with them. Their only demand with respect to their religion seems to be that I treat it with polite respect, since it is after all one of the foundations of their society.

This mainly entails not doing things like climbing up on Buddhas statutes and declaring myself the son of god while in a psychotic rage, as one deluded American Christian felt compelled to do a few years ago.

The Thais found his need to do this hard to understand, since public proclamation of one's belief doesn't really make sense to them. They could only understand it as incredibly bad manners and disrespect, perhaps caused by this strange religion he had been indoctrinated with. I was inclined to agree.

The present. My girlfriend went back to Thailand years ago. I am not a Buddhist, but I find the beliefs of Buddhism very interestingly in accord with some of the principles of quantum physics, and I have a few Buddha statues around my house.

The peaceful repose assumed by the Buddha in these statues emanates an aesthetic that I find calming in a hectic Christian world. The Christians annoy me now more than ever at times, but sometimes when they do I glance at the meditating Buddha statue and realize that the annoyance is all me. It's my choice whether or not I want to let the morons bother me.

So what are the great suggestions I promised at the beginning of this spiel? Simply these: Realize that you live in a Christian environment where Christianity is thrust, slipped, poked, inserted, wiped, smeared, misted, painted, washed, sprayed, blown, rubbed, ground, and forced into you, on you, over you, under you, through you, and around you continuously.

You're going to have a hard time countering this indoctrination without a continued effort on your part to resist it. Acquaint yourself with every resource at your disposal, and surround yourself with protection against reinfection.

And finally, if you can, immerse yourself in another tradition, so that you can gain a perspective from outside Christianity. Be reasonable about this though. Don't become so enamoured of your new perspective that you get carried away with it. Use it only as a tool to distance yourself from the all encompassing smothering milieu of Christianity.

One way to do this is to acquaint yourself intimately with a non-Christian religious tradition. A sure cure, provided you have the means, is to go live in Thailand, or Burma, or India for a while.

If you don't have the means to do that make the acquaintance of some people from these countries and get to understand the world as they do. Christianity is a virulent evil that propagates itself over the planet like a social black plague, wiping out more tolerant and tolerable traditions in its path.

It seeks nothing less than the Christio-Americanization of the world into one great market for American goods and ideas.

We sometimes hear about endangered species. Alternatives to the Americo-Christian world view are being extinguished and coopted at a much greater rate than any animal species is disappearing. And if they succeed in exterminating alternatives, where will there be left to hide?

Graphic Rule

From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: My deconversion story
Date: Wednesday, February 21, 2001 2:22 PM

Hi,

My name's Rob, I'm 19 and am a student at Nottingham University. I was surprised to find an Atheism site as I've always found people with similar views didn't tend to talk about it that much.

My Mother is a Roman Catholic and pretty much bases her life on her beliefs. My father isn't but my parents are divorced and I've live my whole life with my Mother and two brothers. I grew up the same as her and went to mass every Sunday -- I can remember wanting to devote my whole life to it when I was younger, and become a monk or something, it made sense at the time as I was always told nothing else really mattered anyway.

But when I was about 14 I was put in to be confirmed and had to think about the whole thing. And I found that the Bible and teachings seemed to be very confused and didn't really make much sense, the difference between God in the Old and New Testaments for example where God changes from sending down fireballs on sinners, to a nice, non-judgmental 'I Love You' type Another big part was my Mother, who completely relied on her beliefs to live, and told us all these nice religious messages, and then would do the complete opposite. Also a priest who came round to talk to me about it, looking really bored, and just lied, not about God. Because you are meant to write to him to be confirmed but I never did, and the first thing he said was that from my letter he got the feeling that I really really wanted to be confirmed.

I found church quite boring anyway, so I found that when I just didn't believe anything that was being said anymore I refused to go.

Then when I was 18 my Mother moved to Northern Ireland and I stayed and went into boarding at school, it was a Protestant school and I was made to go to chapel. Other religions, Sihkism, Buddism, etc., did not have to go. I was 18 and I'd decided very firmly that if there was a God then religion wasn't the way to go about it and I found being forced to go to chapel deeply distressing and I now feel sick or stressed whenever there's any sort of religious current in anything.

I have found that particularly Christians are extremely judgmental of my beliefs and me because of them, in spite of the fact that this is actually the complete opposite of what Christianity is meant to be about.

I think very strongly that everybody should be free to form their own beliefs, whatever they are, and that they should be respected.

Graphic Rule

From: "George L Miller"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Monday, February 19, 2001 11:59 PM

THIS IS ONE BRILLIANT SITE!

It's 1967, I am a 24 year old school teacher. My younger brother is killed in a car/motorcycle accident. The man driving the car that killed my brother was in jail for having put his wife up in a poker game. The driver of the car that killed my brother had also killed four people in another car accident previously.

This was BEFORE helmets. My brother's head was smashed from behind. I wrote to an old boyfriend telling him about my brother's accident and death and how it occurred. I did not know that this old boyfriend was an atheist. He never told me. Anyway, after he received my letter he responded in this manner. "IF THERE IS A GOD, HE MUST BE THE DEVIL WHEN THE GOOD DIE YOUNG AND THE EVIL LIVE ON TO SPREAD THEIR SEED!" What stood out to me was the phrase, IF THERE IS A GOD! I never thought about that. I was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran, sang in the choir and belonged to Luther League as a teen-ager. I never thought about religion at all just lived day to day doing what my parents expected of me, I guess.

Then a few years later this same boyfriend left some books with me. He was travelling. He asked me if I would keep them for him. Since I liked to read, I read all those books, and also the newsletters he left behind. The books were, Mark Twain's, Letters From the earth, Thomas Paine's, The Age of Reason, and Joseph Lewis's, The Ten Commandments. And the newsletters authored by Joseph Lewis contained the arguments for and against the existence of God. Everything the freethinker said made sense. Everything the religionist said, was based on faith. I had to keep reading though because the fear of a hell had been drummed into me. It took me about three months to give up religion. I finally got it through my head that just flesh and blood people wrote the Bible and put the words of their god into his mouth.

Today I am almost 58 years old and I am still an atheist and always will be. It would be totally impossible to be anything else. Nothing else makes any sense.

Thanks,
Sheila E.

Graphic Rule

From: "Eric Fontaine"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Tuesday, February 06, 2001 2:34 AM

My story is simple. I've always known, in some sense or another, that I was an agnostic. I was actually raised in a somewhat christian household. My parents took me to church, and I learned about their god.

But the big 'mistake' they made was sending me to school. And not just any. But really good schools, where I learned the scientific method and other guiding principles that I learned to base my thoughts on. As I child, I loved to read books about dinosaurs. I never could resolve when, exactly, god made the dinosaurs. And how come Adam and Eve never saw one? Anyway --

So for years I floundered. I had no scientific evidence that god existed. And yet everything I was taught in church was in conflict with what I learned elsewhere.

Recently, I met someone I could relate with. A co-worker (actually a subordinate of mine!) who was VERY outspoken started talking to others in my extensively Christian office about his views. His brazenness bolstered my confidence. So I recently started doing some research. Mostly on the 'Net. I hesitate to use the word "revelation", but I've read so much material in the past fours days (literally volumes upon volumes). Every discussion thread, every letter and essay. Every shred of scientific fact (either for or against). It's really been crazy (my wife thinks I'm truly nuts now!). Needless to say, my logical side decided to make a clean break.

It's so obvious to me now that I can't imagine how I ever let myself consider otherwise. I've been particularly interested in recent articles and postings from people who have detailed their accounts of how they had to tell their friends, family, and associates about their views. It's truly incredible how closed-minded the general population is.

It's personal, as well. I have a very devout mother and stepfather who have become deeply religious over the past few years. I was scared to tell them about my rather large tattoo. They are going to absolutely shit in their pants when they hear this. I was trying to figure out how I'd break this to them. It's really tough to decide between potentially alienating your most loved relatives, and letting them remain in the 'dark ages'. I almost think they will have a hard time reconciling how an atheist can be capable of love -- I'm sure most of you out there can relate to that sort of mentality.

Anyway, after many days of reading, I was inspired (yes-atheists can get inspired, too!) to take a few minutes a relay my "deconversion" as it were. It's not glamorous or sexy. It's actually very simple-just take the time to lay out all the facts and think rationally about what, exactly, you as a person believe (or don't). When you do that, everything else just falls into place.

So keep promoting rational thought. And ethics. And just plain good sense. You don't need a god of any sort to think for yourself.

Sincerely
-=Eric Fontaine=-

Graphic Rule

From: "David Mace"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Sunday, January 21, 2001 3:39 AM

I distinctly remember as a child reading a 'Bible for Kids' before kindergarten, and honestly believing in Christian things. We had neighbors around the block who were (looking back) heavy handed 'born again' religious people, and they would invite us over for 'parties' and actively proselytize. Initially, it worked. I remember at first grade, I believed to the point where I wouldn't play 'airplane' because it looked like a cross. A pity. I was having fun until that thought popped in.

Needless to say, over time my attitudes changed. Whenever I went into a church, I felt fairly 'left out'. I could never follow what hymn was supposed to be sung, or what Bible reference the 'boring guy up front' was talking about. My dad wasn't much of a 'church-goer', and my Mom seemed to think it was for our 'own good', though we only really ever started going to church after she got sick from leukemia, and was going to 'Make Today Count' and other such meetings which describe themselves as 'support', but seem to be about religious indoctrination and prayer for comfort. Eventually she got sicker, and nobody else in the family really wanted to get up early on Sunday and get bored for several hours either. I think I really did blame 'god' for her death, but I can't say that's what truly 'did it' for me. Everyone had palatable explanations about 'her time' and 'mysterious' or whatever.

All of my times in church have been accommodating people who wanted me there. I never felt a particular draw to it. Weddings, funerals, baptisms, 'please come', etc.

In the Air Force, during BASIC TRAINING it was actively encouraged that people go to church, and they could socialize there and have some free time on their own. If you didn't go, you stayed behind and did 'details' (busy-work like picking cigarette butts out of gravel). I went once, and chose to stay behind and do 'details' afterwards. It was less work than trying to stay awake through a sermon. I rather resented this policy at the time, but I knew enough keep quiet about it.

I really can't look back and draw a defining line. The impact church made on me decreased over time as my own impressions of the world and somewhat cynical nature took better hold. I had my own opinions about the world. They grew steadily less main-stream and popular, and diverged steadily from what they 'should be'. I do recall teasing someone who was 'born again', and he was insisted that the only way to understand the Bible was to take lots of pieces of it out of context to derive meaning. I couldn't get it through to him that you can make a book say anything if you take bits and pieces out of context. I opened a technical manual (a book in this case describing computer maintenance) and delivered a sermon to him based on randomly chosen words and phrases. He didn't seem to appreciate this. Even at this time, I wouldn't allow someone to tear pieces of a bible (a book after all) to bits in a motel.

One year I got appendicitis, and after several weeks in the hospital (leaky appendix), I went with my neighbor (who insisted I come and drove me there) to his church. Once again, it was the same business. At least they had a big projector so you could read the hymns. This church felt distinctly uncomfortable. Like I was an outsider. Maybe I just don't like crowds. Maybe I wasn't there for my own reasons.

When I read the 'Principia Discordia' (just do a web search for it), I think that actually 'did it' for my atheism. It put religion on terms which I could finally look at impartially, with humor. I decided I could be my own 'Pope', too. Suddenly religious arguments made 'sense', in that they were unfounded.

I got into trouble with 'active' atheism, when I got in a BBS debate with a minister. My company email address was in my posts, and the minister used it to show I had been making a 'negative image of my company' by posting my lack of credulity in religion. I was 'warned', (most of us laughed out loud after the meeting) and I stopped posting there, or using company email accounts. He certainly taught me a lesson! Don't be outspoken unless you cover your tracks. The fundies will hunt you down to persecute.

I did get around to reading a bible. That pushed me completely out of religion. I was merely wishy-washy, and 'soft' atheist, but I had some healthy skepticism going. I needed to 'know my enemy', so after I had read some interesting articles about cults and such things at 'http://www.religioustolerance.org/', and learned of various indoctrinating procedures (the 'Watchtower' people kept coming to visit every other week, and I was annoyed and wanted to learn something about them), I decided to just pick the book up and read it. With exceptions, much of the 'Old Testament' was a painful bore to read, like a history book, but the new testament really jumped out at me. It directly contradicted the old testament, and abandoned 'historical' dialogue for one that tried to sell. Why are there multiple Jesus stories that flat-out contradict each other? The inescapable answer for me was that it was a way to 'pick your favorite' Jesus and stick with him. Jesus is nice, Jesus is mean, Jesus is naive. Pick your favorite and we'll hook you with it. Subtle, effective, and even in the doubtful case it was not designed to be so, it is used that way.

Today, I see it as 'infinite claims need infinite proof', or 'eternal claims need eternal proof'. If "God Almighty" revealed himself to me today, I couldn't believe his claim if he performed a hundred miracles right before me. He could show me a beautifully crafted documentary about why he created the universe, and even show himself doing the creation, and it could be fascinating, but it would prove nothing. Images can be faked. He could prove himself to be a very powerful being, with technology beyond my comprehension, but it wouldn't make him 'THE GOD', or even 'A GOD'. Just someone making an insupportable claim in an attempt to coerce or exploit me. If not just now, then later. I can only anthropomorphize such a 'deity', and humans lie, cheat, exploit and violate every commandment they hold dear to get their way, therefore such a being would tend to have ulterior motives to make such a claim. Too bad that in creating the universe, by definition nobody in it could have existed to witness it, and nobody who vouches for it has any more credibility.

I have limited faith and infinite skepticism.

I have enough faith to try a new tea if a friend says it's good, and maybe swallow some minor scientific or technical explanations with the standard grain of salt (knowing they are often disproved over time, or misunderstood by those who explain it).

I have enough skepticism to realize that minor products making huge claims are almost always BOGUS (like magnets and crystals can cure 'any-and-all ailments').

I also know that people find it easier to pass on obviously faulty information than to verify it themselves. Every single chain letter I have ever received has confirmed this. Each one has been sent to hundreds of recipients, and forwarded blindly again and again with all the recipients' email addresses on it (SPAMMERs will get these as well, and harvest the addresses, BTW). A simple Urban Legend or Chain Mail search zaps these letters every time. Even just popping up 'Google' and typing the title in will typically yield a hundred hits proving the kid was found, or 'cancer boy' is healthy and a full-grown MAN who wishes people would stop sending him cards, or that 'Nieman Marcus' never had a cookie recipe. Is it so unlikely with phenomena that reveals willful human ignorance at such a scale, that similar people don't pass on their religions at face value?

And thus GOD said, "Forward this letter to at least ten people, and he shall reward you in heaven, but FAIL and thou shalt surely burn for eternity!"

-Amen.

Graphic Rule

From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Wednesday, December 06, 2000 6:04 AM

My de-conversion story.

I was raised Christian and attended church till I was about 6 or 7. It turned out that a child-molesting pastor preaching his imprisonment couldn't keep his hands off the innocent, little children. That place was hell. The "bad man" was sent off to prison and the church was shut down. Theist's say we have free-will and we are only human. No, you are Christian. I've evolved to call myself human and I am the one who specializes in the impossible.

Chris

Graphic Rule

From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Thursday, December 07, 2000 1:57 AM

As I was growing up in Sweden, I was very fascinated with the tales in the Bible. My parents (both atheists) gave me a children's version of the Bible when I was 9 years old and I thought it was the most exciting stuff I had ever laid eyes on. Fortunately I started reading some of Jan Guillou's books a couple of years later and I realized that they were more enjoyable than the Bible since they were not so far-fetched (they only deal with a secret agent that can single-handedly take over China with rubber cement and a blow-pop).

I am grateful for believing the stories in the Bible when I was little because I feel this meant I had a calm childhood without any earth shattering events that made me grow up faster.

Once I did grow up I started studying the Natural sciences at the local Gymnasium. After 3 years of intense studying it was clear that my eyes were opening wide and that it would be impossible to ever shut them again. For the next couple of years I believed in some kind of higher being just to cover my own ass just in case there was a Hell. At least I had sense enough to see that if there was a God, he would never send half the earth's population to burn just because they believe in something else. After my 20th birthday I felt that I had finally grown in to my own skin and all my adolescent insecurities were gone. Now I was ready!!!!!!!! Once my fear was gone everything was easy to accept.

It was a scary, naked feeling at first, realizing that I am on my own and I better make the best of the one chance at bat I have. I have been a nontheist now for three years and I feel better every day. I found out that there is a Heaven but not your everyday Bible-thumping heaven: My heaven is the circle of trust and comfort I have created with those close to me and together we walk through life. No crutches are needed and we stroll hand in hand down a short(bumpy)road, pausing as often as possible to smell the roses as we gently approach the End.

Graphic Rule

From: "Andrew J. Milne"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Sunday, December 03, 2000 10:56 PM

I'm Canadian, currently living in the US, and working as a systems analyst.

I didn't become an atheist through revolution, but through evolution. I don't have a precise date for my 'deconversion', but can put my formal declaration of atheism back at least ten years now. The complicating factor is, I was active in the church for a long period during which I really didn't believe a word of it any more, but I felt a lot of social pressure not to proclaim my atheism. I was, thus, effectively in the closet and still attending for some years prior to the date I cite above.

My parents and myself were churchgoers throughout my upbringing, in the Anglican church, and religion was a going concern in our lives, though we did have lives beyond it. I attended Sunday school, sang in the choir, went to Bible studies, so on, and in my early teens, went to confirmation class. In these classes, as in school, I was a model student, as I was a precocious child -- I grasped the basic tenets of the theology just fine, thanks, and the idealized philosophy of the religion did to a degree appeal to me, and struck me in part as wise (love your neighbour, and so on). But I could never really convince myself of any literal reality behind all the obvious myths I was being taught from, and though I'd never have really dared say so at the time, I couldn't honestly say I ever really believed in any of the supposedly miraculous stuff literally. My god was really rather a deist one from the beginning. And I yearned (the word is entirely appropriate) for more exposure to clearer thinking than the muddleheaded logic I heard weekly in this strange little corner of the world, which seemed so much at odds with the more logical way I think I always naturally reasoned. It seemed to me Christianity had some good ideas about how to live, but none of the mystical bases of those ideas seemed believable or reliable to me, nor did I respect the shallow reasoning arriving at the ideas, which usually amounted to little more than a divine admonition. Though this was prior to any formal instruction in logic, I suspect I was just naturally a logical sort of child. And the bizarre events of biblical stories, and the general incoherence of the reasoning increasingly suggested to me that whether or not Christians know how to live, I could not share their credulousness in the matter of the basis of their faith.

Somewhere in the mid eighties, my parents became very involved in charismatic movements that were moving through their church at the time. It distinctly changed the character of what religion meant to us as a family, and I can't say in my gut I found it positive. The idea of having some kind of conversion experience became very central -- they had all these renewal retreats and the like -- I'm sure you know the culture. And we started saying rather earnest graces at every meal. As noted previously, as the more mystical elements of the religion were those that most annoyed me, I didn't much like it, but felt if I was to be a good person, I'd try to meet this challenge, and join in the spirit of the occasion.

I sang in the choir through this time, and attended Christian youth groups. Eventually, when these groups too got involved in the charismatic movements, I did go to one of these retreat weekends, but have to report that again, I experienced nothing, despite feeling I probably should. Again, I have to suspect it's just my nature -- I was a born atheist stuck in a Christian world -- just not innately suggestible, after it all. These retreats really can be designed to make it easy -- late nights bordering on sleep deprivation, constant singing, and rather blatant pressure to go up and declare you are 'born again' or something. I liked the company of the people I went with, but found the bluntly shallow appeals to 'accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and saviour' frankly rather tacky, after all. I liked the dignity and the ritual of the Anglican church, I liked some of the poetry and philosophy of the Old Testament (in a nuanced way, I still appreciate some of the existential angst of Ecclesiastes, for example, as I did then), but there was none of that reflective, thoughtful quality here in this overly lit hall full of overly enthusiatic airheads. Nonetheless, to what is now my shame, I did go up, in the final service, and thus declare my fealty, but again, I felt nothing remarkable. It's what the others were doing, and I played along.

Throughout this, my secular intellectual development proceeded on a parallel track. I always read voraciously, from all sources, and admonitions from my more alarming friends that 'such and such isn't a Christian work or idea' only increased my appetite for it. I loved poetry and music, excelled in science and mathematics. I was a solid writer (and would later work as a reporter for some years). And owing, I think, to my very limited respect for the intellects of the people who might admonish me about liberal interpretations of what the Christian religion should be, and in part, to my own natural rigour, I rebuilt my faith as I went so it would not get in the way of my own discoveries of reason and of the natural world. My god remained entirely deist, my interpretation of the miraculous passages metaphorical. Wherever my own reason, the methods of science, and my own experiences might be perceived to conflict with my religion, I reasoned my religion must give way. I liked how reason and evidence gave me something consistent and coherent to work with, arguments to marshall that I respected and could describe to others without embarassment. I liked how the approach of science just felt to me so much more robust, so very open-ended, in contrast to the strange, delusional quality of religious apologetics. My knowledge of various Christian approaches to knowledge was deep enough to know that there are many warnings in the writings about this sort of 'intellectual pride', but I was already nursing a suspicion that these probably had to be there, considering the slipshod quality of the construction of the arguments Christians are taught to respect as bases for belief. As always, I felt my mind required evidence and reasoned argument on all matters, and I enjoyed its employment too much to allow anything to get in my way. Eventually, inevitably, my religion became a very abstract construct, which just sat there, with little consequence for my behaviour outside a loose ethical framework.

Rapidly, then, I began to see I could rebuild this very framework as well from reason, editing as I went. I realized that, given freedom to consider it, there was little profound or original in the teachings Christians so revere, even if some of it was not without utility. Some edicts, like treating our neighbours as kindly as ourselves, also followed from observation of what makes relationships work. I realized even more critically that I had much more confidence in my sense of what is wise this way, through having worked it out myself, rather than having to be told by anyone claiming omniscient inspiration. My religion began to seem merely superfluous, and I began to regard the time I'd spent reducing it to that level of harmlessness as something of a waste.

Finally, at around the age of twenty, I called it official, at least to myself. Despite having had a decade or so of my precious life to to work on me, nothing I had come across in the Christian religion had changed my growing certainty that all of the mystical claims -- including, of course, the very existence of god -- were simply fictions. I could not miss that my current conceptions of them were only now so harmless to the intellectual freedom I had begun to prize above all else because I had edited them to render them so harmless. More importantly, I had began to realize I did not like what the habit of unreasoned belief seemed to do to human minds, rendering them pliable, and even, frequently, lazy. I did not like what I saw of abstract belief systems in the world, and their terrifying malleability, to justify almost any behaviour, however brutal. I saw much unreason inspired, I thought, by the original credulousness encouraged in people who learned religion at their parents' knee, and decided, finally, that though it had seemed a mere harmless decoration to me for a time, mystical faith was irrational, and probably too dangerous a pet to keep around. Most importantly, though, when I was honest with myself, I realized, I now believed none of it. What, after all, can one make of beliefs they are given in totality on mere authority, that then must be so entirely changed and watered down to reconcile with your own reason and observations? Why should any part of so obviously flawed a construction have been originally true? I realized, finally, I did not believe it was. Occam's razor gave me the reason and the tool I needed all by itself, but honestly, I'd have been happy to cut it away from me in the end, however it was to be done.

I threw out the cross I had been given after the revival movement, and burned (yes, literally) my bibles, telling myself, if I needed such works for later academic research into the religion, I'd get them, but I didn't like having the muddleheaded pile of nonsense on my otherwise proud bookshelves, where anyone might imagine I have more respect for it than I do. I have to tell you, the sense at the time that the warmth from that fire was probably the greatest good that book had ever done me felt then, and still feels, when I remember it, like a profound freedom.

I began declaring my atheism openly not long after, to all I knew, when the occasion called for such directness. I tried to live as my reason advised, and put my priorities in fighting for what to me seemed should be the paramount values of a man who knows there are no gods to help us, and that credulousness among the human species is a lurking Achilles heal we must learn to recognize and work around. As a reporter, I tried to work to unmask the sanctimoniously fraudulent, and to oppose the rise of unquestioned ideology, wherever I saw it. I still maintain that the rise of ideologically based economic doctrines (the latest being monetarism, as allied with neoliberalism and neoconservatism) are among the most frightening threats in this regard. The mystical religions, I have to say, in my experience, do present threats, and by their very prevalence do encourage muddied thinking, but they're far from alone as the promoters of abstract and ill-considered ideologies now.

My parents, sadly, were among the last to know of my atheism, though they were proud of my brief career as a reporter. I knew it would hurt them. My mother, in the interim, had become an Anglican priest (they allow this in Canada), comparatively late in life.

I told my father first, and he failed to pass it along to my mother, probably for the same reason I had so long avoided the subject with her. I told her last year, when what seemed like more than clear enough hints in my writing (I wrote a work called The Devout Atheist at one point, and she did read it) and behaviour (I rather adamantly refused to attend church or participate in prayers) failed to make an impression. Perhaps, she so much didn't want to know, that I had to make it explicit. And I do feel I had to make it explicit. I still reason it's an article of honesty -- that though it may hurt her, the honesty between us is worth more.

She seems to be dealing with it adequately, though she did cry at the time.

For my part, I've never been happier, though the term sounds strange. I wouldn't quite say my atheism makes me happy, the way religions claim to. I do feel that untramelled intellectual freedom has opened my mind to wonders I could never have so fully appreciated were the stultifying banality of the traditional myths still hanging over them like a cloud. Just as so many years ago, my skin crawled for some vague reason at the very cheesiness of the attempts to convert the young wholesale in the charismatic manner, my skin still crawls when I hear the wondrous complexity of the modern world ascribed to the wisdom of some god or other. I find myself thinking, it is such explanations that dull us, quiet us, prevent us from looking further. This world is here, let us explore it. Let us not make such banal exultations that subtly put it beyond our potential understanding.

But skepticism, atheism, the freedom to explore, these are part and parcel of the same thing for me. The mere habit of reason may have brought me inexorably to this place, but frankly, I can't complain about the scenery. To me, Russell still said it best:

Thanks, that's all.

Graphic Rule

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