Your Moment of Unbelief May 14, 2008

Your Moment of Unbelief

Commenter Viggo the Carpathian poses this question:

“What, if anything, was your defining moment of unbelief?”

I was raised Christian and my moment came at the point of trying to join a church. They asked me if I was transferring from another church and I said, “No.” They said, “It’s a profession of faith then” and made a mark on their little form.

I froze on the words “profession of faith.” I never went back. I have not been to a church since.

When did you know you were done with religion?

(For what it’s worth, that may not necessarily be the same moment you became an atheist.)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • The Unbrainwashed

    I hadn’t thought about God for awhile. Then when the evolution-creationism debate was heating up in late 2004, I simply thought: Wow, God doesn’t exist.

  • Siamang

    “If anything”, I’ll take as meaning that sometimes we can’t boil down things to any one thing. My change in belief was gradual, and not necessarily based on any one event. Given that, if I had to choose one thing, it was when my grandmother died.

    I wrote a whole spiritual biography here. Let me quote the relevant part.

    I can’t tell you exactly what it was going on in my life that caused my change in thinking from that. I sometimes think that these changes happen and we just assign them to big events in our lives that are happening at the same time. But the big thing was, my grandmother died.

    She died of lung cancer, in the hospital. And I was there, sitting with her, holding her hand when she died.

    It’s in that moment that mortality ceased being a theoretical concept.

    If you’ve never been with someone when they died, I’ll tell you what you do, you watch them. You watch their eyes for any sign of relief or revelation. You wonder if at the instant of death, you’ll see a flicker of the life beyond reflected in their eyes.

    Well, I can tell you, it’s nothing like the movies. Nothing happened. No magical moment of release or awe. Death is, at its core, ultimately a physical process. The one thing I was utterly struck by was how completely non-spiritual the entire process is. Not to be gross, but It was like a bowel movement: A thing so utterly real and mundanely physiological that I simply could not attribute a spiritual meaning to it. It was the least spiritual thing I’d ever witnessed. It was a physical thing, blunt and forceful and completely without meaning. It was like dropping your car keys–no deep philosophy, no esoteric intellectual rationalization, no moment of psychic clarity– just the time before and the time after, and the difference between the two.

    So I came away with that and dealing with the terrible grief for the loss of my grandmother, whom I loved to the core. Since my childhood, she was probably my favorite person. It’s a painful thing to lose such a part of ones life. I think I had to get past the rawest part of that pain before I could reassess my beliefs. But I think that all the pieces were in motion at that point.

    I kept dealing with her death, and the idea of death in general. As I dealt with it, I felt that it was terrible how death is hidden in our society. We have these gatekeepers who keep us away and explain the whole thing. We had a minister speak at her funeral, and he explained the whole thing. Only he wasn’t there. I was. I was the one who held her hand, and kept telling her I loved her as she passed. The minister wasn’t there. He didn’t know or have any idea, any better than I did as to what happened to her in that moment.

    I think that in a year or two from that point, it all had to come down for me. Just the whole elaborate tabernacle of religion had to come down, because I saw in that moment that nobody knew anything. People made it their profession to say they know. They read ancient books, and prayed, and said they had the answers. But I could tell, they didn’t know more than I did. And they said “oh yes, I know. I have deep understanding of the Truth of God.” and all the while I could see right through them. It was like a four year old child saying “I understand all about calculus.” Many of them FELT they knew, and the more self-assured they seemed, the more I could tell that they hadn’t a clue.

  • Sea

    When I was Confirmed they told me I had become a soldier of God, and that really bothered me. I’m a pacifist; I can’t be a soldier! I was already starting to think that the Catholic Church was rather silly, and this phrase, soldier of God, made me feel it was dangerous too.

  • My parents changed churches when our old church got into “The Toronto Experience”. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, but suffice to say, it’s some serious Newage woo (

    Our new church was a Northern Charismatic Baptist church. That meant the musical portion of the service was pretty rockin’, people would dance in the aisles and there was the wacky “slain in the spirit” stuff.

    Well, as a bit of a rock violinist myself, I joined up with the music ministry. It was a ball- my first time seriously performing on a regular basis. And we sounded good. I loved it. And the congregation loved it too. They kept coming up to me and telling me how god had given me a gift, that I was so blessed, etc. That my music was wonderful praise to god.

    Sometime in that period, I realized that I wasn’t praising god. I was there for the music. I was there to play, and just enjoy playing. I didn’t care for their compliments, I didn’t care about spiritual matters. I just wanted to play.

    Mind you, that was a long way from my “moment of unbelief”. That was my moment of de-christianization. A year or two after that, I went whole hog into the occult. I mean, I was seriously crazy- talking with demons and spirits and all manner of nutter things. Of course, I was in a doublethink phase- because I really did believe that it was all in my head, but also that what was in my head was impacting the outside world. It’s hard to explain in retrospect, but whether it was true or not was less important than the experience. In a way, I was still rocking out to the music in church.

    As time progressed, I became less and less impressed with the dramatic froofery of my occult maundering, and instead took a more balanced alchemical view of it. I didn’t really think it was real, anymore, but it was a cognitive game that I could play to make things happen in my own head.

    And then I just stopped playing that game in favor of other ones.

  • Dylan Armitage

    Even though I was raised Episcopal, I had never felt any sort of presence from any spiritual being. Sure, I could “masquerade” as having done so (at the time I felt that I was at true believer). Even when I went to Catholic school and had my “anti-Christian” phase during the 8th grade, I still managed to receive the “Best Christian Values Award” of my graduating class.

    I had always asked people how they knew that God was with them, and the typical response was along the lines of “I feel it in my heart.” Well, my heart had never felt anything. In fact, I couldn’t even feel my heart, aside from it beating. And when it was explained to me that the heart was a symbol representing the emotional part of the brain, I still felt nothing.

    I never felt God’s presence. Not even when I was a child and would cry when praying (can you blame me? I wanted to be like my parents) for God to show me some kind of sign, anything that would leave me without doubt.

    Then one day in Sunday School we were told about how we’re not supposed to put God to the test. So that ended that. And I thought “how convenient. A god that I can’t feel says that I can’t put him to the test to see if he’s even real.”

    So it didn’t take much for me to realize that I created an artificial sense of a supernatural presence and that in times of need the real presence that I did feel were my friends and family. That realization was brought on my a binge drinking experience at the age of 16, which led to a 5-hour “worship session of the porcelain god.” 😉

    I had also always had qualms with the whole fossil record (well, dinosaurs, since that was really all that mattered when I was a young child) and the fact that no prehistoric creatures had been mentioned in the creation story. And no one in the 18 years I’ve been searching has answered that question for me.

    And when I really started reading about it, a purely natural world wasn’t so hard to grasp. After all, there would be no hell in it, which was really the only factor keeping me from becoming atheist.

  • Josha

    There was a moment for me when I realized I didn’t want to be a part of the Catholic Church, or any church for that matter. It was a build up of things that ended in one late night conversation with my 2 Christian roommates.

    They believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that good people go to church. I wanted someone to talk to about my doubts so I told them, confidently, that I didn’t believe that Jesus was divine, performed miracles, or died for our sins (I was going back and forth on the question of god at this point).

    They reacted strongly. Asked me why I would say something like this and said that I had hurt them. I cried because I didn’t want them to think I was a sinner or a bad person. I felt horrible inside, especially the way they looked at me and refused to listen to me on the subject anymore.

    I went into my room and realized how silly it was to be upset simply for thinking something and questioning. I never wanted to feel ashamed for having doubts or being skeptical. After that I never went back to church (on my own).

  • I don’t think I qualify for this one, considering I didn’t know “JESUS CHRIST!!!” was something other than something to shout when you hit your finger with the hammer until my dad explained what Christianity was in about second grade.

  • Julie

    I was watching television only a couple years ago. I turned on the TV and it was like a beam of horror entered the living room. I could not believe what was going on in Iraq. I didn’t even understand it, fully, because the whole thing just confuses me and I don’t follow the news like I should. But suddenly people killing each other over religion just seemed so outrageous and sickening to me. I realized in some fundamental way that I could never believe in any religion.

    I was brought up atheist / agnostic, so it wasn’t a major turning point. Most of my friends are agnostic or non religious or atheist, so I didn’t have to really reject anything. I just suddenly, fully and deeply got it that I was totally against religion, totally disbelieved it all, and I thought it was just the worst thing in the world. Believing in irrational things seemed like the ultimate evil to me.

    And then I started reading Dawkins and Hitchins, Ayan Hirsi Ali, and it was just like reading my own thoughts. No big surprises at all. No major revelation. But previously, I had always felt that religion was okay for some and had elements of truth in it or something. And I more and more felt that it was just a veil of lies and I didn’t want any part of it, and I wanted to be out about that. I still hear people say how much their religion comforts them or means to them, and I just don’t hear it the same way I used to hear it. I used to hear it and think it was probably true for them, so whatever. Now I hear it and I wish I could rescue those people. I feel they are still living in the Matrix or something. I guess I want to save their souls, in a way.

    I try to focus on being a good person instead of convincing other people. I just think example is better than argument. But I am much more open about my atheism than I ever have been.

  • I was probably in the third grade at the time I was praying one night and thought, Wait, this isn’t working, because there is no God.

    I do not recall giving religion any further thought for many years, and I was certainly not exposed to (either in written work or spoken by someone) nor even knew the words “atheism” or “agnosticism”, before the “defining moment”, and until many years afterwords (probably eighth grade).

  • I think my moment, if I had one, was when I simply considered the possibility of no god. Previously that notion didn’t even occur to me. But as my intellect developed, I kept coming up with questions that I could not answer given the top-down design-driven-universe framework that was set up in my mind. Things that everybody has trouble with – why is there evil, why do innocent people suffer, why are there so many different religions. As soon as I opened up to the possibility of there not being a god, everything had a viable explanation that didn’t require any cognitive gymnastics to accept. I had a model that fit the evidence, and has so far stood the test of time.

  • Siamang,

    I just wanted to tell you what a great writer I think you are. You put your whole self into your writing in such an unashamed way, and I admire that very much.

    But how do you know for certain there was no spiritual experience that took place with your grandmother? Only she can know, don’t you think?

    Absolutely no physical change took place when I had my own experience four years ago. If another person had been in the room, they would have no idea anything happened at all.

    That said, if we’re speaking of religion, I wrote the following words on 10/14/2007:

    I’m taking my mask of religion off.

    Religion is not good for your health.

    I feel a strange sense of peace.

    That was the day I almost walked away from Christianity. But oddly enough, I ended up only walking away from ‘religion’. And to this day, I find myself standing on the edge exploring the boundaries and finding that they are not God’s boundaries but man’s.

    Coincidentally, the day before I wrote those words, on 10/13/2007, I wrote the following:

    I just remembered that I never did get to discuss I Sold My Soul on eBay book. I had so many thoughts, and I was looking forward to it. Oh well.. It was very interesting and gave me much insight into the mind of an atheist. Hmmm…. that word doesn’t sound so offensive to me anymore. Amazizng!

    How about that? That was before I ever visited FA.

  • Julie Marie

    I didn’t have a definite moment of break away from religion, but a series of tentative steps – questions that had been pressed down, finally timidly asked, and then much brisker, bolder steps – determined to get to the bottom of my belief system, dig the divine out from under everything that had been piled upon it.. The blow that cracked it all open for me was really seeing, for the first time, the hate-filled, angry attitudes of many who professed the love of Christ. Church leaders, respected people….but hard hearted and mean towards those who didn’t conform. And I thought about what Jesus said- “by their fruits you shall know them” and I thought – dear God, I’ve got it all wrong!

    And then, (I know I’ve told the story before – but here it is again) on Ash Wed 2006 the children’s ministry taught my impressionable, tenderhearted, innocent 3 year old the cruel crucifixion story. I couldn’t explain it to him in any way that made sense; I couldn’t look into his big confused, scared eyes and make it okay. All I could say was “some people can be very mean – that was a long time ago.” You are safe, Mommy and Daddy are safe, and that will never, ever happen again. And I thought, how DARE they do this to my baby? What has taken over their senses to tell such a brutal story to a 3 year old? That sure isn’t the gentle spirit of God. I was done with religion at that point, although I didn’t know it then.

  • Julie Marie

    Linda said,

    May 14, 2008 at 9:38 pm


    I just wanted to tell you what a great writer I think you are. You put your whole self into your writing in such an unashamed way, and I admire that very much.

    I’ll second that!

  • ryot

    When I was young (we’re talking kindergarten-elementary school) and went to church, I never really thought of God as anything more than a long fairy tale, but still went because we played games and got snacks after church. I actually started taking a long look at my spirituality when I reached middle school, when the churches really start preying on fears of rejection and being left out of the cool kids’ make-out parties. There was a whole church center with basketball courts and videogames and pizza every week. You weren’t cool unless you went.

    So I tried really hard to be a part of this group, I went, played games had fun, but it just seemed horribly wrong. We were taught, like most evangelist children, that accepting Jesus was the only way to salvation. But how in the world could that be? There were good people all over the world who weren’t Christians, and surely they went to heaven. When I’d ask this question to my parents or pastor, I’d never get any real answer, usually it’s something like, “Well that’s what missionaries are for.” If I’d question what happens to the people who the missionaries never reach, or the good people who aren’t Christians, I’d be told not to question such things, or I’m too young to understand. I could not take worshiping such a charlatan.

    The fatal blow was dealt when my aunt died of breast cancer. The first time she was diagnosed with it, she survived, which only helped to reaffirm my faith, but when she died, I couldn’t handle it. She was the quintessential “good” person. A humanitarian, mother, nurse, and just a caring person. She had faced many hardships, but never seemed bitter, just happy. If there was one person we need more of on earth, it was her. Why would a loving god take away such a person? None of it ever made sense again after that.

    I haven’t even touched on the whole homosexual thing, but that’s a different story entirely. Well, not really, but I’m going to stop here, anyway.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    @ JJ Berg:

    You were raised in an atheist household? From what I’ve heard, that’s pretty uncommon.

  • Amy

    I didn’t really have any one specific moment where I realized that I was an atheist, but there were two notable things that happened to me when I was a teenager that began my ‘downward spiral’ into atheism.

    The first thing that happened was I started dating a self-professed pagan. Now, I think paganism is as solid as christianity, but it was actually my first experience knowing someone relatively normal who believed differently from me. It taught me that people can believe in something other than god and still be decent.

    The other thing occurred when I was at summer church camp at the age of 14. My Southern Baptist pastor was there with me and I asked him why the creation story in Genesis didn’t make a mention of dinosaurs that lived for millions of years. He said that the 7 days of the bible were not necessarily a literal 7 days, that they probably spanned millions of years and the dinosaurs were a small glitch in all that went on.

    Looking back, I suppose it’s surprising that he didn’t try to bullship me with the ‘fossils are fake’ argument.

  • I had moved to California with my husband and we were trying to find a church. We went to one a few times and then one night when we went they had The Power Team — a group of Christian body builders — “ministering.” We managed to stay for the whole service but when we got in the car afterwards, we both cracked up laughing. Mr. Writerdd said “How about we take a break from going to church for a while.” And that was that.

    Becoming an atheist was a separate experience.

  • Eighth grade field trip to Washington DC. I don’t remember how the conversation started or what was said exactly. It might have started with the hotel room Gideon Bible. I said something then one kid asked me if I believed in either God or Christianity or the Bible, and I said no. I believe his question was phrased more as an exclamation “You don’t believe in…?!?!”, like he never thought it was possible to not believe in his religion or at least never met anybody who didn’t.

    I guess this isn’t really the moment I realized I was done with religion. This is the moment I realized that I might have some real problems with religion. Or at least it’s adherents.

    I can only remember going to church once since my family moved down to Georgia from Ohio when I was four years old. I remember going to church in Ohio more frequently, but apparently the Methodists just aren’t that good at indoctrination. I’ve never believed a word of it. I knew all the common Christian stories. And I also knew all the common Superman stories. I thought they were roughly equivalent. It wouldn’t be until social studies class in middle school that I would learn more about religions. And also, coincidently, mythologies. I thought they were roughly equivalent. I learned, however, that not everyone agreed with me. (Okay, seemingly, nobody agreed with me.) I wasn’t the kind of kid to press such matters.

    If you remember the topic “What Role Does Personality Play in Belief/Skepticism?“. I scored I=100%, N=50%, T=100% and P=11% on the Myers-Briggs test. I’ve never really been the type to ever talk to anybody or have any friends or even leave the house. So, yes, it really did take a decade in sort-of-rural Middle Georgia to get into a conversation about religion with someone. That conversation was my defining moment of unbelief. But it was not when I knew I was done with religion, quite the contrary, it was when I knew I had started something.

    So, in conclusion, I don’t think this topic was meant for me. Sorry for wasting your time. (But I typed this, so I’m going to post it.)

  • Justin S

    I wouldn’t say there was any one defining moment. I was raised in a very religious household, but I guess I never really felt “the power of the spirit.” I was always bored out of my mind in church as a little kid, and then as I grew older I still wasn’t getting much out of the services. I kept waiting to have that spiritual feeling, the feeling where you know God exists and you have absolute faith, because you’ve felt His presence, but it never came. Eventually I just grew out of religion entirely, because it wasn’t doing anything for me.

    I’m glad I did, though, because I have since been able to accept and embrace my homosexuality and become a proud liberal, fighting the good fight for equality and against ignorance. I haven’t once regretted leaving behind religion. My parents still don’t know I’m an atheist.

  • I am soooooo glad I was not raised in a religious household.

  • I was raised in an extremely fundamentalist home, so shaking off my religion was a difficult process. I remember telling God that I didn’t believe in him (it seemed to make sense at the time) when I was 13, at a Christian youth retreat. But letting go of religion altogether was frightening, so I became an agnostic, though I was still very serious about finding “The Truth”, which was why I had left Christianity in the first place.

    My moment of unbelief finally came when I was 15, standing on the train with my friend, talking about religion. Unlike myself, she had been raised in a family completely absent of religion. I told her that I was an agnostic, and though I didn’t believe in the Christian God, I believed in something. She told me then, point-blank, that she really didn’t think there was a God at all. That really struck me, and I realized that I didn’t believe in anything either. I was clinging to a higher power because I was scared, but I was living my life as if there was no God. What I really realized at that moment was that a world without God was exactly the same as a world with God, except much better, actually, because I didn’t need to worry about the afterlife. It was a true Occam’s Razor moment, and such a relief.

  • Jeff

    I was raised Roman Catholic. Never really felt any sense of wonder about it- I think my parents had me baptized just because it was expected, and more or less I followed along. Just a placid kid without much to say about it.

    My great aunt, Elizabeth, was a nun and we were very close. In many ways she was the driving force of my intellectual growth as a child. I don’t recall her having ever spoken a word about God to me, but she shared her deep, persistent and outwardly secular wonder in the world around us, her love for knowledge and for discovery. She was in her seventies and yet I still regard her as more a thoroughly modern, person than most people I know.

    Inevitably she grew old and dependent. The church took her in as her illnesses piled up. I visited her at the convent-headquarters (I don’t remember the real name of the place- this was in French and a decade ago) and had never seen her as stifled and bored. I had been told that church was good for the spirit, but it was clear to me that it’d broken hers.

    I will be the first to admit that the convent was capable of the kindest of charities, but seeing Elizabeth starve spiritually and intellectually shook my faith in the rightness of it all, in the very frequently-expressed idea that without God we are adrift. That woman loved philosophy and science. They sustained her. And apparently they did not survive when the church came around to save her.

  • I went to this huge religious conference that was being held at the University of Arizona when I was serving time in Catholic High School. It was a conference designed to teach young high-schoolers how to spread the word of god to those who were lost. Workshops, communal praying, the whole bit.

    The tipping point for me was when we were in the university’s auditorium, and the priest revealed the “body of christ” in the monstrance while walking up and down the rows of the auditorium. We were all on our knees, bearing the pain of the cement floor, me, looking forward to him getting back on stage so I could sit back down. He came up our row and the girl in front of me immediately slammed her body back in her chair, back arched, hands gnarled and starting breathing heavily. I don’t remember if she was “speaking in tongues” but I do remember thinking, “this is a bit dramatic.”

    Ever since then I always wondered if she was being a drama queen, or if possibly she was so excited or anxious it threw her into some sort of grand mal seizure. This girl could have been having a legitimate health issue and we chalked it up to god.

    It was just one of many nails in the coffin for religion in my life.

  • at the age of 8 yrs old when I said my God was colored – a colored man and I was warned with a fierceness never to say it again. Why? Cause God would send me to Hell for eternity….whatever.

  • philosophia

    I remember the moment I gave up on religion quite distinctly. It was around fourteen years ago, at a Sunday School picnic in the local park. There were these underground drainage pipes in the park that had openings at strategic points and were fenced off with wooden railings. Of course, all of us kids were extremely fascinated by these and took it in turns to check them out, until our Sunday School teacher caught us and told us off big-time. Since there was no possible way we could have fallen in, and my mum and the other helpers were right there, I was totally indignant about the whole thing. It was fun, dammit! Why was this bossy woman always trying to ruin my fun? I decided then and there that religions and religious people were totally stupid, and refused ever to attend Sunday School again.

    What? I was six. It seemed quite logical at the time XD

  • Krista

    It was a drawn-out process with more than one defining experience.
    When I was thirteen I stopped believing for a week but my environment was unlivable as an atheist so I basically re-brainwashed myself into believing again.
    When I was nineteen I spent a few months searching and came to the conclusion that Christianity was bullshit. About a thousand questions had been going through my head for a year or so and I couldn’t ignore them anymore. By then I was close enough to being an adult and being old enough to escape my family to embrace this. But I considered myself an agnostic.
    More recently – and I really can’t say when – I’ve become an atheist. It was pretty much a slow realization with no defining moment.
    I’m putting all of this simply but the experiences were extremely emotional and terrifying for me. It was traumatic but I’m so glad that I did go through it and have finally become a person who knows what happiness and peace is.

  • SarahH

    Mine was slow, but the first time I remember questioning my fundamentalist church’s beliefs was when I was around age 7-8 and I asked my pastor why God told David to kill so many civilizations of people – even the women and the babies. He spouted off something about God’s greater plan, but I was really dissatisfied. I was bored a lot during sermons and tended to keep my Bible open in my lap, reading it over and over. The more I read, the more I was disturbed.

    The clincher was a missions trip I took when I was 14. Our goal (in the country of Zambia, in rural areas) wasn’t to help the people there with any physical aid at ALL. It was simply to pass out Bibles and sing worship songs at schools. It was revolting.

  • I grew up going to Catholic church because my mother went – that was about it. I don’t remember her showing any real religious fervour, none of the devotion I would later read about or see on TV. I was an altar boy for a while, which was like participating in a weekly stage performance, but I do not remember Believing with a capital B. (Don’t worry – our church was too small to have its own resident priest, so I was never at risk of kiddie-fiddling.) After my mother died, just before I turned 13, the sole reason I had for going was gone.

  • Claire

    Sometime when I was about 10 or so, I came across the story of Abraham, and I thought about it on and off for most of a week ( a loooong time in kid time) and the more I thought about it, the more it offended me. He was actually going to kill someone, not just anyone, mind you, but his own child, just because someone told him to. It was the single most immoral act I had ever heard of.

    Even though I was already an atheist and figured that it probably wasn’t true, the fact that anyone could think that was a positive story that we should learn from, and even worse, a good story to tell children, made me realize that I was done with religion, the bible, churches, and anything else under that umbrella.

    It also made me realize that I was anti- any kind of moral authority, and anti-military, since if it’s not right to kill someone because god told you to, it’s just as wrong to kill someone because a person told you to.

    Religion, the military, whatever, it doesn’t matter – it’s wrong to hand over your conscience into anyone else’s keeping.

  • Maria

    I’ve been battling skeptism my whole life, denying it and pushing it down. when the debate about it became more forceful in 2006, it got harder and harder to deny it. then one day I snapped-a superstitious relative called me and told me I didn’t have a disease I’d been diagnosed with (that had been proven by symptoms, exams, and several medical tests) b/c an astrologer had told her so. An astrologer! Something inside me snapped and I couldn’t deny it anymore. I said “I just have a real hard time swallowing this stuff”. I’ve been pretty agnostic every since.

  • mikespeir

    Believe it or not, I was writing a novel. I already had 324 single-spaced, MS Word 12-point pages. It was going to be a big book. I had just completed a chapter where the preacher explained the meaning of the Gospel to our heroes. Frankly, I thought I had done an uncommonly good job on that: brief, but thorough and perspicuous.

    That’s as far as I got.

    I was lying on my bed one night trying to figure out how to finish up when it hit me like a revelation: “You know, I don’t believe this stuff. And I don’t have to!

    It was that last part that lifted the tremendous weight from my shoulders. I understood at last that I had been struggling for some years to make myself believe what I was increasingly finding unbelievable. I won’t say it was all honey and marshmallows after that. Some of the most soul-wrenching times of my life followed. But those passed.

    Frankly, I sometimes catching myself wishing there might really be a god–somebody to thank for taking me out of that mess!

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    Thank you all for your responses. I have enjoyed reading them all – even the ones that did not apply. I have struggled a great deal with my unbelief and its good to know that I am not alone or a freak.

    The defining moment I stated in the original question was the last straw. I was slipping further and further away for years.
    In 1989, mother grandmother (who, like Siamang’s, was extremely important in my life) died. She went through a prolonged and drawn out deterioration where she wasted away to nothing and then suddenly just stopped. My parents rationalized, when questioned by a confused young son, that her suffering before death must have been a punishment from God for not being good enough. (The rational being that if you are saved, God can’t punish you after death, so he has to torture you in this life) This did nothing to help my faith. If she wasn’t good enough I was doomed.
    In 1991, my father died very suddenly of a heart attack. I was told how he achieved such great peace and was such a blessing to people in the hospital. He was heralded as the greatest of Christians. All my siblings and I knew was that he was gone at last and the tyranny of our youths could end. I was plagued by nightmares for months that he was still alive. I looked at how he really was and how my grandmother was and the way ‘God’ dealt with them and I was horrified.
    In February of 2002, my closest brother and best friend died at the age of 28. He was a truly great person and the one true example of what a Christian is supposed to be. He never judged anyone and helped everyone he ever encountered. He was the one true thread holding me to a faith and a God that I resented. When he died and I was told by so many people that he was taken because he was too good for this world, I nearly screamed. I, if no other needed him – it was unfair to the extreme. If it was a random occurrence I could deal with it, if it was the act of God, I could not.
    I still held on to my religion at least to some extent after that, trying harder to learn and understand because I had to come to peace with why God would take my one support, my one strength, my one real tie to him.

    Then the pastor I had grown up with, the spiritual leader since childhood, the man heralded as the greater theologian and servant of God in generations was diagnosed with alzheimer’s and was reduced to a dribbling incontinent shell. He still lives on year after year as a hollow and empty wasted body with a near dead mind. He can’t even remember his own son most days. I thought back to my grandmother and father and came to the conclusion that either God does not exist or God is the most ruthless, sadistic motherfucker that ever lived.

    And still it was not until a Methodist deacon said “A profession of faith” that I just walked away.

    I really wish I had gotten there earlier.

  • Cindy

    I stopped going to church years ago, didn’t really buy the whole Christian thing since high school. But I gave up on the idea of a deity when I heard the story of a little girl killed by the spare tire from the back of a passing SUV as she stood by the side of the road while her parents changed a tire. Why that tire had to fly off at that moment and take that trajectory destroyed any suspicion I might have had of a caring deity.

  • you can find the story of why I left religions, (all of ’em – was born and raised a muslim, converted to christianity and now, just an uber bitchy agnostic) HERE.

    I’m not a christian (anymore), but to be fair, The Hol(e)y Koran is filled with as much BS as the Bible, maybe even more.

    Why don’t you post some stuff against other religions here? Christianity is not the only religion in the world, so it’s about time you post the lies of Islam, Hindu, Shinto, Judaism, Confucianism etc.

  • infideljoe

    I would have to say I lost believe in any god in high school while having to
    watch film footage of the holocaust. It just didn’t make sense that a loving
    god could allow this to happen, when he had the power to stop it.

  • Chuck

    I never really “believed” growing up. It all seemed like made-up stories to me, about as real as cartoons. But the defining moment came when I was in high school and one of my best friends suddenly went hardcore Christian (for a girl) and told me that scientists had faked dinosaur bones. That’s really the moment I remember as, “There is no way I will ever believe this crap.”

    The good news is that the girl dumped the friend, he regained his sanity and now he’s basically an atheist. So all’s well that ends well!

  • I had considered myself a Deist for a long time, and was always interested in religion as a point of study rather than of practice. I had remained a deist for so long because I needed to reconcile my existing view of the origins of the known universe. In order to do that, at the time, I needed a God. So one day, I woke up in my dorm room and the sun was shining in the window. I looked out and realized, for the first time, that I didn’t care anymore. The origins of the universe were unimportant to me and therefore I didn’t need God to explain anything. I had moved a necessary being to a a contingent being and had, thus, allowed for this being to be dismissed. In a sense I came to atheism through apathy, but it was the most illuminating epiphany of apathy that I’ve ever experienced.

  • I’d been leaning agnostic for a bit before this moment, but this is the point that sealed me on my road to unbelief.

    The girl I was datign at the time was VERY Catholic. We’re talking family of 9 kids, pre-Vatican II, OLD SCHOOL Catholic. We got into a discussion about heaven and hell and I asked her if I was going to hell since I am not really a believer, maybe a theist, didn’t know.

    She hesistated…. looked at me very confused… and couldn’t answer.

    At that moment I’m thinking, what sort of supreme being would send someone to eternal torment just because they choose to not believe (or believe differently) but otherwise be a good person, upstanding member of society, etc?

    That cemented it for me.

  • JB

    I was always a skeptical kind of person, so it was inevitable I would question and later reject my religious upbringing.

    But I remember the exact moment when I became an official non-believer. I was standing in church reciting the Nicene Creed with everyone else, and
    thought, “No. I don’t believe any of this.” It was so against everything else I knew and thought and felt to be true. I suddenly became very self-conscious standing there, listening to everyone reciting this declaration of belief as if they were trying to convince themselves. The whole thing became very uncomfortable for me. I was not at all where I belonged. That was it. I knew at that moment I was not and never could be a religious person.

  • Tim Plausible

    The internet was the final straw. After years (and I mean years, 15 or so since childhood) of drifting away from belief while living in the southern US, but feeling like I was the only person in existence who ever thought that way, my early forays into the internet brought me face-to-face (though not literally) with the fact that I was not alone. Somehow, reading even one other person’s confident assessment that belief in god didn’t make sense made me feel ok. Made me feel normal again.

    I was reading The Skeptic’s Dictionary ( – actually, while doing research on debunking UFO conspiracies – and read the entry on god. I don’t know why that simple little entry made the switch flip, but it did.

    I never looked back.

  • stogoe

    On the Sunday after the September 11th attacks, my mom called me and laid a guilt-trip on me to get up and go to church. So I got my ass up and headed over to a church just off campus that I’d never been to but I saw a flyer for in the dining hall. I guess I expected a sermon about ‘compassion and grieving’ but what I got served was ‘brimstone and vengeance’. That was the moment I knew that I was done with religious institutions. So it’s my mom’s fault I fell into apatheism, the starting point of my journey towards reason and nontheism. But I don’t think I’d ever tell her that.

  • I had always been told that the Children of Israel had the power of God on their side in all things. It’s pretty clearly said in Romans 8:31: “What shall we then say to these things, if God is for us, who can be against us?”

    So… nothing can be against God. Then I read Judges 1:19: “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

    So… nothing can be against God except for chariots made of iron. At that moment when I formulated this in my head, I was no longer a believer. In order to be an educated Christian, you have to complete so many mental gymnastics that the absurdity of it all becomes plainly evident. I was 24 at the time.

    Since then, I’ve promoted skeptical and free thinking.

  • Tom in Iowa

    Great question – for me it had been building for a while.

    I was working on the VBS at our church (teaching 4th graders), and the whole theme was soldiers for Christ (Armor of God, etc…) which really bothered me (we were supposed to make the children afraid that Satan was hiding behind any tree, and they had to be ready for battle in God’s army at any moment; “God’s soldiers reporting for duty, SIR!”), but I stuck with the lesson plan since it wasn’t my show.

    At the end of the week we were supposed to pray with the children individually and get them to invite Jesus to come live in their hearts. The entire week had been building to this moment, we’d been trained that this was the focus – this was what it was all about. We were told that thousands of children had come to Jesus through this program, and it was the most important thing that we’d ever do as VBS/Sunday School teachers.

    I was skeptical of the claim – but went along. Then one girl I sat down with said to me “Jesus must be really tiny.” I asked her why she thought that. She said “because we learned in school our hearts were the size of our fists, and if Jesus is going to live there with the blood and everything, he has to be really, really tiny.”

    I realized then and there that the whole week had been for nothing – these kids didn’t get a thing of this whole experience, and none of them were even close to getting the symbolism. All it was for them was the songs and the crafts.

  • Ironically, my moment of “unbelief” came when I was at a Christian youth group camp. They whisked us off to these beautiful remote resorts where you could grab enjoyment from any outdoor activity. Volleyball, waterskiing, mountain biking, hiking, among plenty of other leisure sports. It was lots of fun. At least until the sun went down and we all had to hold hands, sing, and say prayers. My second night there, I didn’t want to go to the holding hand/prayer ceremony but they forced me. And I thought “Hmm. That’s odd,” but I went willingly because my Christian guilt set in. By the third night, the clarity of the situation began to set in. Why were they being so nice to us? Why was I lucky enough to have this awesome place where I could do whatever I wanted with my friends without cost? Because there was a cost. That cost was my obedience. My servitude. And it dawned on me. They were basically bribing us to be there. So when I figured this part of it out, it dawned on me that potentially the whole thing was a hoax. So I went to my camp instructor and told him how I was feeling. He was kind but couldn’t come up with any logical reason why he believed in God other than “it says so in the bible.” And when I pressed him for more answers that didn’t involve “the good book,” he had nothing. I was in awe. Struck with both fear and empowerment. Un-belief.

    Right then and there, I was stripped free of the bondage of the catholic church and have been a free-thinker since. I look back to my experience at the camps and feel both shame and hope. Shame that most people will never break from the bribes of Christianity and hope that those who do, will help this world in any positive way they can.

  • I noticed that the term “mental gymnastics’ has been used several times. That is a pretty good description of what I felt like I was going through when I tried to reconcile my observations with biblical ‘truth’. It may be more accurate to call it contortionism though.

    I actually heard my childhood pastor say on more than one occasion that, ‘if you see one thing, hear one thing and the Bible says something else, the Bible is right’. That takes some real limber thinking. I suppose with a mind that narrow it can’t help but by flexible.

  • Nancy

    I was raised attending church. First a Presbyterian church with my parents and sister and then a few years later when I was probably 10 years old, I was invited by a friend to visit her church. It was a Baptist church. We rode the church bus together. Before long, the church bus was picking me up at my house. I cannot remember if the friend even attended anymore. My family never attended this church. I received a Holy Bible for attending some consecutive number of weeks (I didn’t know they handed out bibles until the Sunday school teacher presented it to me) and won a huge stuffed green donkey for taking the most visitors to church (I didn’t know there was a contest until the week before they presented me with the toy). I wasn’t attending and taking friends with me to win stuff. My sister thought I was crazy. I wouldn’t listen to anything on the radio because I had been told it was a sin. I read my bible, did bible worksheets that came to me in the mail, made posters of the Ten Commandments. I was really consumed by it. I was “saved” and baptized at that church.

    Then when I was 11, my grandfather suffered a heart attack, was hospitalized for several days to a week, and was due to be released when he suffered another heart attack and died. The next Sunday after his death that I attended that church, the visiting Sunday school teacher told the class that if a person is sick or hospitalized that god is punishing that person for some sin that person committed.

    I was only 11, but I knew that to be a crock. I never attended that church again. My mother made me tell the bus driver why I wouldn’t come back. He said that person who said that was wrong. But I refused to go back. That was 31 years ago. Other than a handful of times when I attended my Grandmother’s church with her on Palm Sunday (because it made her happy), I’ve not been to church.

    That is where my journey into unbelief started. The older I get, the more convinced I become that “religion” and belief in an all powerful, all knowing god is something created by humans to give themselves some explanation for why we are here. I don’t require explanations. I am here. There is no god.

  • Tom in Iowa

    Viggo – I’ve always liked the term “Mental Gymnastics” but I like your “contortionism” better. As in leaving you twisted when you’re done with the exercise.

  • Karen

    Two salient moments stand out for me in the course of a long period of re-examining my faith (along with many other things in my life) about 6-7 years ago.

    One was watching “The God Who Wasn’t There” and hearing Richard Carrier explain that all religious people have “spiritual experiences” and if we’re going to base belief in god on those experiences, we have to assume that they’re all valid. Or we have to reject all of them. There’s no accepting some (the Christian ones) and rejecting others, if we want to be intellectually honest. That was the beginning of the end of my Christian belief.

    The other was during one of those long, harrowing “dark nights of the soul” when I was lying awake thinking over my whole religious life, and praying, and getting no response that I could say wasn’t coming from my own subconscious. Suddenly, the thought popped into my head – for the first time in my life – “What if there is no god? Maybe the whole damned thing is just made up!”

    That completely shocked me. It was like the floor dropped out from under my bed. I had never, ever considered that and yet immediately I knew that it was right. I can’t say I never looked back, but that was the beginning of realizing I am an atheist.

  • Robert


    Ah c’mon guys. Admit the real reasons you rejected God!

    1) You secretly hated Him.
    2) You wanted to live a life of sin.
    3) You wanted to rebel against God.
    4) You were never True Christians ™ to begin with.
    5) You’re degenerate, sinful creatures, so who’s surprised you rejected His Holy Word.

    Did I miss any?

    In any case, wonderful thread. My own long journey toward atheism began when I was a teenage Mormon. The thing that always nagged me about Mormons, even as I was about as practicing as I ever would be, was their hypocrisy. Intellectual doubts about their claims emerged even then. I drifted away from the religion, but retained some semblance of God-belief for some 10 years. The Mormons, however, continued to count me as among their members, until I finally got fed up with the occasional calls and asked to be formally removed from the rolls. That opened the floodgates to a full-fledged inquiry into Mormonism, and I was both flabbergasted and intrigued by the huge disconnect between what I had been taught and the “real story.” Most of what I read was penned by Christians, who critiqued Mormonism from this perspective.

    But then I noticed something. The same types of arguments used by Mormons to defend their religion were the same types of arguments used by Christians (and other religions) to defend theirs. This led to a lot of investigation into the origins of Christianity as well as the arguments for a god. I was firmly persuaded by the skeptics’ arguments because they made so much more sense and had great explanatory power. I didn’t have an “a ha!” moment, but the last vestiges of god-belief were wittled away during my research, until at last I realized that “atheist” best describes my views.

    I now sometimes look at various theologies and marvel how anyone cannot view them in the same way most people view Scientology: a bunch of crackpot ideas which defy any sort of logic, reason, or common sense.

  • There wasn’t one single event. But a major milestone was when I realized that a lot of people smarter and more accomplished than me were routinely spewing ludicrous BS for the sake of maintaining the fiction that it’s the height of reason to cling to an imaginary friend. And when their interlocutors failed to buy those arguments, then the smart and accomplished people would immediately switch their tones from high-minded persuasiveness to sly and vicious put-downs of their interlocutors’ intelligence and morals.

    I watched it happen to other people for years and didn’t put 2 and 2 together. Then it happened to me, and suddenly 2 and 2 made four.

  • My church had just installed a new screen and projector. As we were singing the usual happy “Yay Jesus!” music, I looked over and saw everyone in their seats, not moving, heads craned up toward the screen, mindlessly singing. It was really unnerving. It was then that I realized that they were all brain-washed. They would do whatever that screen told them to do, regardless of how ridiculous. I never went back.

    I don’t know the exact moment I became an atheist. It went from “there is a god, but maybe not Christian,” to “there is a overarching pantheistic god” to “there’s probably no god.” over the course of about five years or so.

  • Darryl

    I eased myself out of faith through prolonged doubt. But, the clincher was when I decided that I did not want to be separate from the rest of humanity any longer, and that everyone else is just like me.

  • If everyone here would give permission — this would make a good book. Something like a big coffee table book with cool photos that artistically relate to the words.

    I’d buy it for everyone on my Christmas list.

  • “If everyone here would give permission — this would make a good book. Something like a big coffee table book with cool photos that artistically relate to the words.”

    I like the idea… do I get a cut? LOL

  • RobL

    My moment was when I was about 12 and attending LDS Sunday school. It was explained to me that there are three tiers of heaven, and no matter how good you are if you are not LDS you cant make it into the #1 group. As I started asking questions along the lines of “what kind of god keeps good Chinese out of the #1 heaven simply because they are unaware of our church” I started getting some angry looks from the teacher. At that moment I realized it was just a bunch of nonsensical crap.

  • Karen

    Did I miss any?

    We have attempted to compile the definitive list on this topic over at the deconversion blog. I think we’ve got more than 30 explanations we’ve heard so far.

  • 2) You wanted to live a life of sin.

    That describes Lee Strobel, at least so he said at least twice in his book The Case For Faith. “You’re an ass”, I thought about him the second time he described, in greater detail, why he was “an atheist” (he reminds his readers that he was one at least 15 times).

    Me, my morality grew during my unbelief (which I would refer to many years later as “atheism”), as much of my life growing up I was an unbeliever. I never felt this “pain” and “confusion” that many people have felt when they were on the verge of and after “losing” faith, and when I gave up belief in God, I didn’t have that intense feeling of “liberation”, that I can now do what I want, no matter how bad, come over me.

    When I gave up belief in God, I just went about my life as I normally had, curiously exploring the surrounding area of my apartment, staring at the bubbles in the puddles resulting from the raindrops from the window inside my apartment, accusing girls of possessing “cooties”, arguing with another kid to give back my Stegosaurus dinosaur toy, and going over to my friend’s house to play the new NES that just came out, and years later spending much of my time in the libraries, quietly drawing pictures of future societies, eagerly awaiting school to end so I could watch the original Power Rangers, and even many years later flirting with the girls, playing basketball every day after school with the guys, studying hard to maintain my grades, stalking the bookshelf “halls” of the Barnes & Noble every other week, and browsing the Internet message boards.

    I’m 20 years old. I’ve never smoked, I’ve never drank alcohol, I’ve never gotten in trouble with the police for anything more serious than speeding, and I’ve never harmed a soul.

  • Susan

    This one still hurts.

    I worked for a small Catholic college. My supervisor, much younger than me, and I became close friends. When she had to go into the hospital with kidney problems or when she decided to attend night classes, I looked after her dog, collected the mail, etc. When she had to go for nasty gastro tests, I drove her there and made sure she got home safely. When she and her husband found themselves stranded after a car breakdown 100 miles from home, I drove up to bring them back. I was told many times that Jesus wanted to talk with me. I resisted because she had become heavily involved in the “Jews for Jesus movement,” and had told me a couple of times that she was worried about my soul. I assured her that I was not. I was and am aware that I am a kind and nonjudgmental human being who doesn’t particularly like organized religion.

    She had encouraged me to take on more job responsibilities and told me several times about the promotion I would receive. One day. after lunch with school clients, she announced in a staff meeting that she had hired a search agency to find someone to fill the job which she assured me would be mine. I had to approach her after the meeting and ask. Her response was, “Jesus told me that you don’t belong here anymore.”

  • Eelco

    When I was about 8 or 9 I was praying one night when I realized that I really wasn’t doing this because other people (my teachers) were telling me too. And then all the doubts I’ve had, like why would this God be so pathetic as to even care about who believes in him (her?) or not, and if it is so important why not equip us with the right brains for the jobs etc, and that big question ‘but who created god’, that all came together and I realized it christianity was just a bunch of crap.

    I’ve always thought that the rest of the world would figure out pretty soon with education and average wealth on the rise. Alas, it seems to go the other way, even in Europe (where both Christianity and Islam are strongly on the rise).

  • “If everyone here would give permission — this would make a good book. Something like a big coffee table book with cool photos that artistically relate to the words.”

    I like the idea… do I get a cut? LOL

    Of course!

  • Claire

    Chocoholic said,

    Why don’t you post some stuff against other religions here? Christianity is not the only religion in the world, so it’s about time you post the lies of Islam, Hindu, Shinto, Judaism, Confucianism etc.

    It’s not the only one?!?!?!

    Seriously, we would if we had the background. Most of this blogs’ readers and posters are from the US, a christian-dominated country. Even though it isn’t supposed to be a religious state, it sometimes feels like one. We write about what we know.

    I do wish we had more people with different backgrounds like yours to join in the conversation and fill in the blanks….

  • Will

    I stopped believing way before I read this:

    “It’s true, that which I have revealed to you: there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all A Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but You. And You are but a Thought-a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”

    -No .44 The mysterious stranger, Mark Twain

  • I stopped believing way before I read this:

    “It’s true, that which I have revealed to you: there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all A Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but You. And You are but a Thought-a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”

    Wow, that is the saddest, most pessimistic thing I’ve heard lately.

    I’m really sorry you feel that way, but consider the following statement which my 14-year-old son told me just the other day:

    “I used to be afraid of death. I was frightened by the thought of you guys (mom and dad) getting old and dying. But I now realize that everyone must die. How can I live if I’m always in fear of dying? I really think that if you believe there is nothing after death, then there will be nothing. I think that whatever you believe becomes your truth.”

    I learn so much from my own kids…

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