What Religion Were You Pre-Atheism? March 2, 2009

What Religion Were You Pre-Atheism?

A new study by the American Jewish Committee reports that Jews are less likely to switch faiths than Catholics or Protestants.

With 76 percent retaining their faith, Jews are more “religiously stable” than Catholics (73 percent); and while eight in ten Protestants remain Protestant, specific denominations retain a much lower percentage of members — as low as 16 percent in one case.

You can read the entire report here (PDF).

Despite the “stability,” the overall trend is that more people are leaving their faiths — whatever they were — to become non-religious.

So let’s ask the question:

I’m an “other.” What were you?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David

    oops. I voted here and at the polldaddy site and it counted both

  • My parents kindly decided not to raise me within a religion despite them both coming from Christian backgrounds and my mum still being a believer. They did introduce me to church and sunday school so at some point I did believe in Jeebus and all that but I don’t count it as being Christian since it was before I had the ability to actually think about it and question it. There was no point where I ‘became’ an atheist, it was just natural as soon as I became curious about the world around me.

    Eternally grateful to my dad and his collection of science and sci-fi books…

  • I think Jews are less likely to convert than people of other religions, because being Jewish transcends religion and is more of a culture. I’ve never met a Protestant that identified themselves as Protestant before their nationality.

  • And what religion were you before the religion you had before you were an atheist?

  • cassiek

    Parents were both raised Protestants, but the only church I attended as a child was a Unitarian one where we never discussed anything even remotely religious in Sunday school. In fact, I received my first sex education there when I was seven. My parents are also scientists (engineer and geologist) who gave me a solid education in evolution and scientific method. So put me down as an atheist from the cradle. And like Cannonball, my dad had me reading Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and their colleagues by the time I was 10.

  • Bart the Pirate

    Some Baptists view themselves as pre-reformation and, hence, not technically Protestants.

  • Bart the Pirate

    Some religious groups have a fraternal kinship that benefits them economically.

    Judaism and Scientology seem to have such a influence in Hollywood, for example.

    One doesn’t leave the fold; one leaves the lodge.

  • chancelikely

    True, Bart, but especially in the case of Jews, you can be secular and still in the ‘lodge’. Try that with Scientology.

  • Vincent

    I’ve met a lot of former Mormons and they didn’t consider themselves protestant either, though they did consider themselves Christian. They believed in the divinity of Jesus but their church did not originate in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

    (oh, former Catholic here – son of a zealous convert)

  • I evolved: from Catholic to Unitarian to Atheist, though during my latter years as a Catholic, I was really an agnostic who appreciated the ritual.

  • Nothing, really. My parents are Catholic, and my older brother and sister actually went to Catholic school and CCD for awhile. But something, I don’t know what, changed by the time my younger brother and I came along.

    The older kids started going to public school and us younger two were never baptized or anything. No idea what changed with them.

    I was pretty much left to figure it all out on my own, and one day I realized what I believed (or didn’t believe) had a name, atheism. Made sense to me. 🙂

    But, my mother STILL insists I “don’t know what I am talking about” when it comes to my atheism, and my father has become a bit annoying with his daily prayer emails and scriptures, etc.

    So, uh, yeah… I picked “other”.

  • mikespeir

    I put Protestant, although neither the Assemblies of God, in which I was raised, nor Methodism, to which I switched later, is technically Protestant.

  • Brian

    I said “atheist” for the poll. My household was decidedly non-religious in the sense of believing in gods or attending services. I was nominally Jewish, attending Hebrew school for a few years and partially celebrating Hanukkah and Pesach, but we also celebrated a secular Christmas with a tree and presents. I used to identify as Jewish, or “Jewish by heritage,” but found it was confusing or misleading to Christians and religious Jews, and I found I didn’t really care about the traditions, so I just started calling myself “atheist” first.

  • Nancy

    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school through 12th grade. I was a church goer until my 30’s when I stopped, but it took another 20 years before I finally stopped believing all together.

    I played with the idea of atheism for a long time, but it finally became extremely evident to me when my Mom developed Alzheimer’s. She was a genuine believer and never missed going to church on Sunday. The one thing she NEVER wanted was to get Alzheimer’s like her Dad did. I figured that god was either a really mean SOB to do that to her or he didn’t exist and Alzheimer’s just had a genetic component that caused my Mom to get it. The latter made more sense!

  • I was raised catholic, and after the struggle to overcome their “all is sin” brainwashing, I briefly dipped my feet in the lutheran and baptist faiths before settling into a short stint with assembly of god. I slowly realized it wasn’t the faith, it was the god and I switched to wicca. I soon realized their gods and goddesses made no more sense than the christian one and … tadaaaa! Atheist … took me 25 years to come to my senses and realize what I believed all along … there is no god.

  • Well, you can be Jewish and atheist, so is that really a change or not?

    I’m half Jewish, I was raised Catholic until I was about 9, then my mom became born-again and went to various Protestant churches until I stopped when I was in my late 20s. A few years later, I realized I did not believe in God any more. I guess I needed the constant brainwashing to keep believing.

  • I went with “Atheist,” although as a kid I would have called myself Jewish. My father was a Jewish Atheist and made sure we understood our ethnic background (since we were in a non-Jewish Midwest area), but I never actually believed in a god.

    I agree with others who say Jewish is the most stable because it’s possible to still identify with it without being particularly religious. Once I was fairly open with the Jewish side of my family with my lack of religious beliefs, I discovered that most of them were at least agnostic. But “Jewish” would still be their stated affiliation.

  • Bekka

    Yeah, I’m the same way – a Jewish atheist. Apart from a brief flirtation with actual religion in high school, I always really have been. My great grandparents were killed in Auschwitz, my grandparents met in a concentration camp – and interestingly, neither of them believe in God, and haven’t throughout my life. I can’t STOP being Jewish, it’s not really optional. That said, reform Judaism in particular doesn’t really give a damn what you believe as long as you live a good life. Questioning is a good thing, even a necessity, in all branches of Judaism – and if questioning leads you somewhere else, that’s ok too. Don’t get me wrong, the orthodox would tell you I’m crazy – but they’d also tell you that not only am I not much of a Jew, neither are 50% of the other Jews in the world. And in response to the Hollywood nonsense – and Hello, what was that really about? – the point is that it’s not a lodge you CAN leave. It’s about shared history, not shared belief. I’d be willing to bet that a huge chunk of Hollywood’s atheists are also Jews. Part of the reason we’ve been the enemy – those atheist, socialist, LIBERAL Hollywood JEWS.

  • Religion was a complete non-issue in my house. My parents are both atheists and just never brought up the subject, they raised us to think for ourselves. I never even heard of religion until I was about eight years and our class was given an assignment to make a bunch of Christmas scenes for arts and crafts. My teacher went around assigning subjects – one group got Santa, other got Frosty, etc. My group got the Manger scene. I remember being incredibly confused that everyone knew exactly what they were talking about and I had no clue what a silly baby and a camel had to do with Christmas. I wanted to do Frosty!

  • Tyro

    Jews are less likely to switch faiths

    Yeah right. Only if the respondents consider Judaism to be a culture and not a religious faith. If we counted secular Jews as atheists (which they are), then I think these numbers would look very different.

  • AnonyMouse

    I answered Protestant, although that doesn’t really cover it; I come from a fundamentalist Pentacostal division. Very isolationist sort of church, the kind of people who firmly believe that their interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one, all other interpretations of the Bible are from evil spirits who want to devour your soul, and any found flaws (!) happen because (A) you did not ask God (or someone who has been properly brainwashed) to interpret it correctly for you or (B) the Devil got into your head and told you what to look for.

  • Geoff Hill

    This is an unfortunately phrased title which would imply to anyone not reading any further that atheism is just another religion.

  • lindsey

    I was a Mormon, so I guess I’m an other too.

  • Surprised Mormon was not on the list (is that considered Protestant?)

  • Tom

    I was never taken to church as a child. My mother didn’t care enough about it to go, and my father is an atheist. So I’ve always been an atheist.

  • Tom

    By the way… why is there an ad for Scientology at the top of the page?

  • Stephen P

    I suppose I’d have to answer “don’t know”, given that I was Anglican. Anglicans generally identify themselves as Protestants, on the grounds that they aren’t Roman Catholics, but they aren’t really. Well, not compared to Methodists and Presbytarians and Lutherans. Just another of the many data points demonstrating that Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a confused collection of religions with a few elements in common.

  • I was Christian Orthodox, although my family was never really in regular attendance or anything. We still did the rituals though.

  • fw

    Pre-Atheism: I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical home. Was a slightly more moderate Evangelical pastor for 13 years, then became Catholic for awhile before abandoning religion altogether. (Yeah, that “Catholic” phase must have a been like a dying gasp of religiosity.)

    What the hell was I thinking? 😉

    Freedom! No going back!

  • Lauren

    I chose “other” also because while my parents were non-practicing Christians (mother: Presbyterian, father: Catholic) they did not raise me with a religion. I suppose technically I was a Christian, but since I wasn’t baptized or indoctrinated in any way, I don’t consider myself ever having been affiliated until I became a pagan (though my beliefs were always kind of pagan and still are, I just can’t get into the whole deity thing).

  • My parents were Quaker but I don’t think I ever thought that God was anything more than a story that people tell. Same goes for my brother too. I put myself down as Protestant.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    Atheist (@ day Ø) –> Methodist –> Agnostic –> Atheist

  • i’m still a hindu, but i was born an athiest…

  • Alex Malecki

    I went like this:

    Roman Catholicism to Secular Deism to Agnosticism to Atheism.

  • Dallas

    I went the same way as Alex Malecki: Roman Catholicism to Secular Deism to Agnosticism to Atheism.

  • Skye

    I went to Catholic school from preschool to 12th grade, then attended a Jesuit university. (This was more due to living in a bad public school district then my parents being very religious) and those Catholics were TERRIFYING. I was a nervous wreck as a child because I thought I was going to hell. Every action I did until I was about 14 was an attempt to not burn in hell. The teachers told me my parents would not go to heaven because they weren’t baptized and it was my job to convert them or I would go to hell too.

    Anyway, once I got to college and took theology classes in a higher academic setting, the lies began to unravel and it became very clear that God did not exist. I found it interesting that the more I learned about God, the less it seemed possible. I am now a anxiety free atheist.

  • Nixxy

    I always have trouble with this question. My mother was a Jehovah’s witness when I was little, but my dad was kind of a deist or something. We celebrated christmas in a secular way (even though my mom didn’t want to celebrate anything, but my dad loved christmas). I went through a paganism/new ageism phase before becoming atheist, though, so I just put ‘other’.

  • another Mike

    My parents sent us trotting off to Sunday School as kids, and fortunely the nearest church was a right-wing fundamentalist outfit. My sister & I walked out of the church service simultaneously one Sunday from different sections of the room(ages 5 & 7)because the minister was railing against Jews. When I asked her why she was leaving she said she didn’t like what that man was saying (not bad for a 5 year old). I never really labeled myself “atheist” for several years, I suppose because I don’t like labels. But after 9/11, the The American Crusades in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the obvious connections between world tensions and religiosity, I just had to come out front.

  • A very fundamentalist Baptist told me the following joke (about Baptists).

    A Baptist gets marooned on a deserted Island and lives there for 10 years by himself. Upon rescue, he gives the rescuers a tour of the island. He walks to a series of structures and starts the tour. “This is my hut where I slept, this is the depot where I kept my provisions, this is the Baptist church where I prayed daily, and this is my previous Baptist church where I used to go….

  • Will Staples

    I was a secular, liberal Congregational Christian, which I suppose made me a Protestant. Congregationalism is basically “build your own denomination”, with no communication between churches; each church decides how to practice by itself, sometimes with a minister and/or deacons. I was never devout at all, and in truth I think my parents only really brought me along because they enjoyed the weekly “meet ‘n’ greet” after every sermon and wanted me to be with kids my age.

    Over time, the council of deacons got more conservative and eventually ousted the minister, who was more liberal than they; they brought in a hotshot, bigoted fundie pastor and officially changed denominations to evangelicalism. That was what started me on the road to atheism.

  • MV

    Roman Catholic

    Believe it or not, going to Catholic school through 8th grade was the single greatest factor in me becoming atheist.

    I got to see the insanity of the teachings and the hypocricy prevalent.

    For instance, the Catholic Church says, “Sell everything and give to the poor.” How much is the Vatican worth?

  • weaves

    I was raised a Baptist….but from as early as I could remember I never believed it. It was just a set of stories and family outings, I never attributed any faith or belief to God and the stories. I just passively shuttered it all into “interesting story” files and never gave religion or god a thought. Same as unicorns, it never occured to me to believe in them or to NOT believe in them.

    It simply was.

    Then I was stuck in a catholic school at age 12 and it accumulated from there as teachers/principles and entire LESSONS revolved around “God is real”…so my non-belief became rather annoyed atheism.

  • My parents raised me without religion. Go mom and dad! They bought me an encyclopedia of world religions and told me to go through it before I made my decision. After reading all of that, atheism was the next logical step. 🙂

  • Muslim.

    Although I always questioned it. I never really was a Muslim, but I was raised as one.

  • Brooks

    I’m not sure what I could count as on the poll. I was a member of the Church Of Christ and I’m not sure if they would count as Protestant or if the Restoration movement would count under other as its own separate movement. I decoverted about a year or so ago. I first wondered around in agnosticism for a few months, then I read God Is Not Great and reading Hitchens helped me to embrace atheism and so I became an atheist.

  • Pseudonym

    It’d be useful to see a more fine-grained poll. Are there more ex-fundamentalist religious people than ex-moderate religious people?