I Need Your Stories… and a Contest! June 19, 2011

I Need Your Stories… and a Contest!

I’m doing a small project and I’d love to get material from people. (If you leave your email in the comments, I may contact you.)

Here’s the setup:

I often hear how newly-minted atheists feel alone because they think they’re the only ones in their community who think that way.

If you became an atheist at a young age, did you know anyone close to you who was also an atheist? A family member? A friend? A teacher? A coach?

Did that help make the transition to atheism easier for you? Did they influence you in any way? How?

I’ll even sweeten the deal. For those of you in New York City, I have free tickets (for you and a guest) to two shows!

1) Freud’s Last Session:

Freud’s Last Session centers on legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud, who invites a young, little-known professor, C.S. Lewis, to his home in London. Lewis, expecting to be called on the carpet for satirizing Freud in a recent book, soon realizes Freud has a much more significant agenda. On the day England enters World War II, Freud and Lewis clash about the existence of God, love, sex, and the meaning of life — only two weeks before Freud chooses to take his own.

2) The Rap Guide to Evolution (featuring Baba Brinkman)

A smash hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and around the world, The Rap Guide is at once provocative and scientifically accurate, hilarious and intelligent. Brinkman performs his clever reworkings of popular rap singles as well as his own originals to illustrate Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Evolutionary Psychology and much more.

How do you enter to win tickets? Comment on this post and put the word “Plinko” at the end of it! I’ll pick two random winners on Tuesday. (Don’t want to share a personal story? No problem. Just say “Plinko” and you’ll be entered.)

Obviously, you should only enter the contest if you live in (or are soon visiting) the NYC area.


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  • Eli

    I’ll begin by saying I became an atheist at the age of 12. Before then, I questioned my beliefs, but was too afraid to learn about alternative religions or atheism.

    I’ve liked technology since a very young age, so I joined an online community which generally focused on such. During more personal community discussions, however, it came out that quite a number of people were atheists- something that I found appalling, but soon adjusted to somewhat, and decided to learn what they did or didn’t believe.

    To my surprise, they weren’t baby-devouring monsters- they were ethical, intelligent people. My “mentor” in the community was a rather staunch atheist and, upon asking what he believed, directed me to Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, saying Dawkins would explain more eloquently than he could have.

    I read the book, and sure enough his promise held true- I became an agnostic (at least until I was introduced to Bertrand’s teapot analogy- that was the final nail in the coffin before I jumped on the atheist train).

    I was also directed to the Iron Chariots wiki, which helped me understand the common apologetics I was very likely to hear should I deconvert and try to argue against religion or even for a secular way of life.

    The internet is truly a remarkable medium to educate oneself. Due to the demographics of the town I grew up in, as well as my parent’s devout beliefs, I question whether I would have ever been in a situation to learn like I did if I hadn’t found the community in question.

    I owe these people much credit for bringing me to the point I’m at now, as much of my happiness I attribute to not being burdened any longer by religion. It was comforting knowing that there were people out there- people close to my age, even adults, who disbelieved the same things as I.


  • I honestly don’t know at what age I became an atheist but I suspect I never believed in any gods to begin with. There are distinct memories of believing in Santa Claus and the horror at realising the web of lies my parents had spun but no memory of any religious belief. Indeed I never tire of telling people that my mother once decided that maybe I should try Sunday School at the age of perhaps four or five. I made it up to the top of the steps approaching the class, vomited, started screaming and never darkened their doors again!

    My lack of belief likely stems from my mother’s relaxed attitude towards religion and my father’s atheism. My mother believes there is a god but she rarely attends church (Chritmas service and weddings/funerals) and she agreed with my father that we should leave religion up to me when I could decide about it for myself, not force anything on me. The Scottish schools of the time tried enough of that but that’s another story.

    My father is a computer scientist and former maths teacher and from such a background it’s little wonder he was a non-believer. Actually one of my earliest memories is sitting on his knee watching Open University programmes while he was studying. He instilled a love of science in me from an early age so religion stood little chance. He dabbles in the likes of Taoism and Buddhism now and again but more in the sense that he’s interested by the ideas rather than any religious aspect.

    I’m eternally grateful to my parents for their approach to religion. None of my grandparents ever tried to push me towards it, despite all of them being nominally Christian (one grandfather confessed to me that he wasn’t much of a believer as he approached the end). I only hope that if I ever have kids I can do them the same favour.

    About the competition – I live in Taiwan right now so not exactly near NYC. Can I enter on behalf of a NY friend? He just got knocked back from a job in South Korea so he’s bummed and could use cheering up! If not then no problem.

    Otherwise… Plinko

  • For me it was less about ‘becoming’ an atheist, and more discovering that atheism existed, because I’ve been one my entire life.

    I was raised in a Christian household, with fairly devout parents. Went to Sunday school, the whole bit. But I never actually believed a word of it. I went to Church, knelt when I was told to, pretended to pray when I was told to, only because I had no idea there was any alternative. When you’re that young, and you’re only given the one viewpoint, you go along with the crowd.

    I used to come up with any excuse I could to avoid going to Church. I used to make up stories during confession, simply to amuse myself. When I would kneel to pray, I’d move my lips slightly and let my thoughts wander all over the place.

    My mother always told me that I could stop going to Church when I turned eighteen, because by then I’d be an adult and able to make my own decisions. I actually stopped shortly after turning seventeen, against much protest, simply because I couldn’t take it anymore.

    It was discovering that there were -other- religions that was a huge turning point for me. The idea, not even that there were atheists, but that there were other people who believed in gods but in a different way, was the end of my ability to even pretend to believe. There were so many people who believed that absolutely contradictory things were 100% true. How could ANY of them believe that way? Not a one of them had a single scrap of evidence.

    So when I finally realized that there are some people that don’t believe in ANY gods – indeed, that believe that such beings don’t exist at all – it wasn’t that I became an atheist. It was that I discovered the word for what I’d always been.

    I don’t know if anyone I knew growing up was an atheist. It wasn’t something I was interested in talking about when I was younger; religion was something to be avoided as much as possible. I had no mentors, but I never needed one; religious indoctrination failed in me, utterly.

    You’re welcome to contact me if you’d like. parsleyvictorious@gmail.com

  • Angela

    I realized I was an atheist at the age of 12 or 13. Growing up my family wasn’t very religious. I was baptized Catholic and made my first communion (which at the time I didn’t associate so much with God, but with dressing up and having a party).

    I told my mom I was an atheist around the time I realized I was one, and she didn’t seem fazed (later she told me she’s had doubts herself about God).

    I only remember knowing one person who was an atheist (openly) growing up. I had a high school French teacher who admitted it to us in the classroom. Someone mentioned jokingly about her not going to heaven and she said she doesn’t believe in heaven, she’s an atheist. She said she’s “too scientifically minded” to believe in God. No one made a big deal about it at all, but looking back I’m surprised she told us. I lived in upstate New York (still do).

    I married a Christian, and we have a one year old son. We have agreed to each tell him what we believe and he’ll figure it out on his own. My husband’s parents are VERY religious. Surprisingly, his younger brother is currently dating an atheist too!

    (I won’t enter the contest, not going to NYC anytime soon).

  • cat

    Well, I suppose I should point out that I have aspergers. So, when I became an atheist at twelve, I was at an age where it did not even occur to me that my behavior, opinions, or tastes would ever be normal. I didn’t even know the word until a year later, when a classmate asked me what I thought about God and I responded that I didn’t believe in them. A teacher overheard and said “so you are an atheist?” My response was “I do not know what that word means.” He told me “it means someone who does not believe in god.” So I said, “Oh, yes, I am one of those then.” Bored with that conversation, I went back to my book. There were some clueless attempts to convert me or “save me”, but I think those who attempted it came away far more upset than I ever did. I made one girl sob when I, in a misguided attempt to be sociable, read her literature and took a red pen to it-pointing out everything that was wrong and writing notes in the margins before handing it back (my family, when we watched Firefly for the first time, laughed hysterically at the scene where River “fixes” the Bible and said that was like something I would do). So, while I was the only one I knew of as a young kid, that fact did not bother me much.

  • I’m not really comfortable with the term ‘atheist’ because of all the negative connotations. I’m an ex-christian, indoctrinated into pentecostal christianity. Apart from being raised in my bubble of christianity, most people where I’m from don’t ram religion down throats (New Zealand & Australia).
    Suffering from depression and being told I was possessed by demons was the turning point for me. I also have a scientific brain, and can’t excuse away the contradictions & hypocrisy.
    It was a gradual and painful process for me to come to disbelief, as my family, particularly my mother were not very happy about it. I’ve been writing about my experiences and sharing them on the internet. Much of my story is on Hubpages under my profile Baileybear. That’s actually how I announced that I no longer believe formally. My mother was rather upset, but she got over it. But I couldn’t tell her directly, as she would never listen. I’ve been accused of being bitter & twisted for bringing up stuff from the past. I don’t actually feel resentful anymore, but I hate to think that others are going through what I went through. It did mess me up for a long time.
    Recently, I’ve started a blog called godconfusion on blogger to explore what I really think about all of this. I’ve learnt that I have Asperger’s Syndrome and so does my son. He’s an atheist from the start, even without my influence.

    I don’t live in NYC or US, so I’m not going in the draw for the prize, but thought I’d answer the question anyway.

  • Interesting stories so far. It’s fascinating how wide-range and unique everyone’s experiences are.

    My childhood community wasn’t very religious. I only remember 1 friend actually attending church, but we never brought up god; no reason to. When I was 11-12 I started getting into several online gaming communities. There were some great forums with active debating about politics, religion, psychology, etc. I was atheist before then, but that was definitely an important outlet for me.

    I have three younger sisters all pretty much atheist agnostic (last time I checked). I don’t think they are as interested in the subject as I am, but I’ve always tried to be an open outlet for them.

  • Zac

    When I became an atheist, I was about seven. I know precisely nobody else who was atheist, and didn’t even know the term existed. That said becoming atheist was remarkably easy for me. The first time I let my parents know about it was when it was sign-up time for next year’s Religious Education classes. I told them I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t believe it any more. I don’t remember how they reacted.

  • Zoe

    I never really had that concrete of a belief in any God. There was a time when I thought it was possible, an option in a sea of possibilities, but I didn’t hold any absolute belief in a deity. I was raised in a fairly secular household, and while I occasionally attended synagogue for certain holidays, the belief was never shoved down my throat by my parents.

    As I grew older and further discovered the facts of life, what religions believed and how religion itself affected the world, I realized that I was an atheist. The realization was a slow and gradual one, not containing an “Aha!” moment, but eventually noticing that, hey, I don’t believe in God. I started identifying myself as an atheist at around age 12, although the underlying beliefs had existed a lot longer.

    Because of my upbringing, I was never that terrified of being different in this regard. If I didn’t believe in God, it didn’t seem to matter much. Religion wasn’t a big part in my day to day life, so I didn’t forsee any huge impact at the time. However, as I continued to get to know the world and the people which it contained, I realized just how much a belief in God can make or break your relationships, your status, even your professional life.

    As I grew to understand the world, I also had the comfort of observing those around me. For my friends, religion wasn’t a big deal. They didn’t ask me my religion unless it was pertinant to the conversation (e.g., if we were discussing religion in some context) and if it did come up, they never reacted badly when I replied honesty.

    There were a few figures in my growing to realize that my belief system didn’t have to be a big deal in my life. There was my father, who had been an atheist my entire life. There was my mother, who promised she would love me no matter what I believed. There was an extended family that loved me unconditionally, regardless of what I might believe.

    But most of all, it came down to my friends. The ones that did nothing but shrug and continue when I confessed that I was an atheist. The friends that never treated me differently because I didn’t believe in the same things as them. The friends that were always there for me, that never conditioned their love or support on what I thought of a God.

    My friends were the ones that made it possible for me to be confident and happy in my status as an atheist.

  • Zac

    Woops, scratch my entry, should have read that more thoroughly.

  • I became an atheist when I was 13. Despite living in a pretty liberal area, I didn’t know anyone else who was an atheist. To my surprise, even people who I thought were not religious suddenly became religion temporarily when I mentioned my lack of belief. I was pretty much on my own for a long time and since this was well before the rise of “the New Atheists” (a name I don’t like) and the infancy of the internet, I really was on my own. However, since that time many of the people I went to High School with have become atheists also. So that’s cool.

  • Jeni

    Here’s an email exchange about my little atheist. We live in the south in a smallish town where people assume everyone’s xtian… this event was when she was in kinder.

    From: Jeni

    To: ‘[teacher]’

    Subject: RE: B


    B’s side of the story is that H. sat in the seat B. was saving for C. H was told by the lunch lady to sit down. Then, C asked B why she didn’t save the seat. So, this lead to an argument about the seat. Apparently, C told her at the beginning of the year that she had to believe in god to be her friend. So, I don’t understand why B. thought to say it, but she said to C. during the lunchroom quarrel that she didn’t believe in god, so she couldn’t be her friend anymore. In her mind, it must have been related to them having a fight, making B. remember the bribe about believing in god – she did mention this conversation to me earlier in the year. C. apparently told her then that B. would go to heaven. At some point T. got into the conversation and told B. she was being too loud (which I imagine is true). Then, B. said H. said B. would go to heaven too, so she hit her. She felt ganged up on – it’s not easy being different from most of the others around you. She said H. told on her (rightfully), and afterward, H. told B. that she would go to the devil, and B. kicked her and H. said it again. She did say that she and H. and C. made up at recess.

    I talked to her and asked her what she should do differently. She said not talk to them about it, or turn and talk to someone else. B. told me that you had a class discussion about it and that you didn’t get into religion during the discussion, which I appreciate. I told B. that it is never okay to hurt someone and she lost a privilege for this evening.

    I will say that this is not the first time this kind of conversation has happened and I have witnessed it a couple of times with her cousins, whose parents are very religious, and she has told me about her cousins ganging up on her about it at other times. Unfortunately, I don’t imagine that this will be the end of it since religion is everywhere, particularly in this community. It’s not easy to be an atheist here. . .

    As always, thanks for updating me.


    From: [teacher]

    To: Jeni

    Subject: B


    I wanted to let you know that there was a problem at lunch today with B and another child in our class. I was not there, but from what I could gather there was some discussion about God being real or not real. It involved some hurt feelings and ended with Bethany hitting and kicking the child. We had a lengthy discussion (and some role playing) about appropriate ways to handle conversations that we find upsetting and also how to deal with our frustrations in an appropriate way. B did apologize sincerely for the hitting and kicking. Not a great way to start the weekend, but I knew that you would want to know about this.

    Thanks so much for all of your support!

    [Teacher name]


    X Elementary

    I don’t live near NY, so just sharing for fun.

  • I am one of the fortunate ones – I had a support group that consisted of a few siblings, and parents who were not nutjobs.

    Although raised in a catholic home, I never really felt that there was god or higher being of any sort. My parents made me go to church every Sunday, and we went as a family on Easter, xmas, and a few more times each year, but it was not a religious household. I did attend service independently at the local church every once in a great while (usually after getting a $5 tip from the priest for delivering his newspaper, when he would say “see you in church Sunday, right?”), but there was no feeling of anything (spirit, belief) being there.

    When I did state that I believed I was an atheist, probably in my early teens, I did not catch any flack from my parents, and the two atheist siblings still at home simply said “good for you.”

    Those siblings did influence me greatly. Rather than getting a simple one-sided view of belief from church, I was shown the possibility that there was no god.

    What is odd is that I was not picked on nor harmed in any other way by my schoolmates, nor anybody else at school, yet I grew up in a very, very religious area. My town was in Western NY, just 70 miles from the birthplace of the mormon cult. Via facebook I’ve found that a vast majority of my classmates are now hardcore believers. However, my coming out as an atheist was before Ronald Reagan’s whoring out of the Republican Party to the christianists/religious right.

  • Melissa

    Reading all these stories really got me thinking. I don’t think I ever really believed. I was raised Roman Catholic – baptized, first communion, catechism, confirmation, all of that – but I never really bought into any of it. My mind always wandered in church and I never knew what I was supposed to confess or pray for. It never represented anything to me to be there or to pray. It was my time to think.

    Around perhaps the age of about 7 or 8, I went to my mom rather confused. I asked her who came first, the “cavemen” or Adam and Eve.(I had no idea exactly what I was asking!) She couldn’t or wouldn’t explain it to me so she sent me to our priest. He of course wouldn’t answer me either. That was the first red flag and it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

    Then around the age of 14, when my parents were divorcing, my mom (a devout Catholic) was extremely upset that because of that, she could no longer attend or take part in (certain?) church services. I couldn’t understand why her god would do that to her – punish her for leaving a marriage that was making her miserable. That was the second red flag. And it was a big one.

    After that I called myself an agnostic for many years. To be honest I guess as a young woman I didn’t have the guts to call myself an atheist (I’ve since gotten way over that).

    I never did have any type of atheist or agnostic mentor. I never mentioned the word atheist as a child – like others, I don’t think I’d even heard of that word. When I grew older and first heard of it, it had such negative connotations that I didn’t dare use it, especially around my mother. I just didn’t talk about it. It wasn’t a big part of my life after all.

    The funny thing is, that last incident with my mom and her divorce excommunication had a huge influence on me becoming an atheist – all thanks to my devout, Roman Catholic mother (who, BTW, thinks she failed me).

  • Kevin S.

    My first brush with atheism came when I was 12 or 13. I realized none of the Bible made any sense, and almost cut ties with divinity right there. I got hung up on the “beginning” of existence, however, and came back into the fold, but for the next decade or so, I was, at best, a deist pretending to be a Catholic. When I finally came to grips with the fact that I could no longer reconcile the Catholic church’s treatment of LGBT, women and sexuality with my own beliefs in equality and human rights, I initially went shopping for another denomination. It was during that time that I realized I didn’t believe in any of it, and if there is any kind of supreme being out there, it hasn’t revealed itself to anybody on this planet. The only two reasons I lasted as long as I did, I think, were the LaSallian-run Catholic high school that kept the Christianity to the morning prayer and the academics in every class, even religious studies, and the fairly liberal parish that did not conform with the Vatican on those issues I had trouble with. I’m still supportive of those two institutions, and it was with great sadness that I realized how much of an outlier both truly are.


  • Nigel Patel

    I knew I was atheist at nine or ten. I knew no others until adulthood.

  • Carrie

    I am sharing my daughter’s story.

    My daughter is 7 years old and is not afraid to declare she is an atheist (she made her decision when she 5, I believe). Her father and I are also atheists, so her declaration was not a shock. Because she is so young, though, she doesn’t understand why some people may not like the idea of her being an atheist.

    The backlash hit at the start of this last school year. A classmate learned my daughter did not believe in god and began to tease her about it. Next thing she knows, she is getting bullied for not believing. (That’s right. First graders turned into bullies because one did not believe.) What my daughter didn’t know (and I did) was that her teacher is a fellow non-believer. I filled her in on her teacher’s shared belief (or lack there of) and then we went to him for help in getting the bullying to stop. Thankfully, he was able to stop the bullying and become an ally she could depend on.

    Since that time, she has learned her kindergarten teacher is also an atheist. Knowing she has two teachers, who share in her belief, looking out for her while at school has helped her be more confident in standing up for herself and turned school back into a safe place for her.

  • Alexius

    Basically, I did but didn’t know it. I didn’t officially start calling myself an atheist until I was about 16, but even when I was 4, living in Madison and attending a Christian preschool, I thought that there was something dreadfully peculiar about having to stop before everything and thank something that wasn’t there. Despite the fact that my mom was religious, I never really stopped thinking that it was all very strange.

    I never knew that my dad (whom my mom married when I was 5) was an atheist until I was talking to him sometime after I figured out I was one, explaining how we just aren’t accepted in the world, when he finally told me that he was one too. Previously I just assumed he was mildly Catholic because he said grace and knelt in church when we went with his family, but apparently he just didn’t want to upset his parents and never really talks about it. He holds to the view that, since it can be a damaging label, he should just let people assume that he’s Christian.

    Not entering the contest because I’m nowhere near New York.

  • Vystrix Nexoth

    I was never raised religious. My mother’s into things like astrology, and swears I could control the weather with my mind when I was very young, but is otherwise effectively an atheist. I don’t think my father has ever brought it up.

    Growing up, religion was just something that other people believed in. I was more interested in things like video games. Still am.

  • Revyloution

    Sometimes I wish that I had been born in a religious family, just so I could have made the journey from faith to reason on my own.

    Then I laugh diabolically. Silly me, it was far better to grow up with parents who never brought up the subject of gods, demons or angels.

  • Otto

    I became an atheist when I was ten, for deeply, deeply stupid reasons. Which is almost inevitable – there’s very little that ten-year-olds do that is brilliant. I was raised in a household that was intensely religious – never cruel or suppressive, I’d say, just very religious. But my very smart parents decided that I should have a well-rounded upbringing, so I wasn’t just reciting Bible books when I went to bed at night, I was given tons of different kinds of childrens’ books to read. Bible stories, yes, but also Grimm’s fairy tales, D’Aulaire’s beautifully illustrated Greek mythology, Norse myth books, etc. They let me have anything I wanted, bookwise.

    By the time I was ten, I was so well-rounded that I just straight-up didn’t understand why one mythology of impossible things (the Bible) was better than all the other mythologies I liked. I proceeded to make up my own religion. It was not a very good one, but I had a whole pantheon of deities, who I prayed to REALLY REALLY HARD. Surprisingly, they never answered a single one of my prayers. After feeling deeply-abandoned, I decided that they didn’t exist, and, moreover, neither did anyone/thing else I was supposed to be praying to.

    I’m not super proud of my logic, there, but I was ten. I have much better reasons now for my atheism. I didn’t have people in my life who were atheists, but I had books. When I got a little older, I fell in love with Harlan Ellison as a hugely vocal atheist writer. He can be so angry and so shrill that it makes me wince a little now, but his stuff was a genuine blessing when I was an adolescent. He both was a proud atheist, wrote essays about that, and wrote fiction where he incorporated Christian mythology in such a way that made it clear that the ideas it had were important, but . . . myths. That writing a story using a Christian base was no different than writing one about the Greek gods. It was this wonderful validation of what I’d figured out when I was ten – that myth is myth is myth. We need myths, but we also need to treat them responsibly. Like, not act as though they’re true.

    I outgrew Ellison a little; it’s very hard to stay angry all the time, which he seems to do. I saw him at what was supposedly his last-ever convention appearance, last year, and he mistook my gender and did a weird thing where he tried to auction me off to a bidder. Dude is a little crazy. But he was important to me as someone who said it was okay not just to not believe, but to disbelieve.

  • aellyele

    I have to run out for some Fathers’ Day events so I don’t have time to type out a story, but I became an agnostic around 13, and didn’t identify as atheist until about 16 (even though in practice/belief I was).

    Feel free to e-mail me! kellyaa@vcu.edu


  • Zeke Kisling

    Atheism as an identity.

    For me, the process of self-definition, was reversed relative to the versions that I have most frequently heard from like-minded people. I, in contrast to practically everybody I know who professes a naturalistic world view, realized my “apartness” from the norm gradually. The reason is, I was brought up, without any special emphasis, understanding the world in concrete terms. I was not specifically taught the word atheist until the social stigma that is often applied to people like us began to manifest it’s self in my interactions with peers, role models, teachers, and authority figures. At this point my news media and pop culture consumption was sporadic. We did not own a TV. I rarely saw current cinema, and radio, when used at all, was a music vector. I read.

    Contending with unexpected and strange (to me) fragments of very complicated shared narratives that did not match with my tacit understanding of how things worked was initially confusing. Faced with manifold contradictory cultural constructs (as I understood them) which existed in a kind of holographic multiple exposure and was projected on everything that constitutes our world, was alarming. THEY ALL CLAIMED TO BE THE ONE SOURCE OF TRUTH.

    I needed an identity so that when I was asked if I was a Baptist, a Shinto practitioner or a worshiper of energies which reside in rocks, trees, air and the stars, I could identify myself. It being the early nineteen seventies, there was very little understanding, much less tolerance of lack of belief, particularly when it was not simply an absence, but was named. Out Atheists were almost universally reviled, and there I was, struggling to understand this difference between most people and myself. As I was able to invent or adopt coherent responses to other’s reactions to my newly labeled identity, I recognized that there was an avalanche of rhetoric, argument, and invective aimed at me and those like me. The worst part was that I began to suspect that the attitude was so pervasive, that people did not seem to even be aware of the insidious nature of the philosophical chauvinism that they were inflicting, both individually and as a society.

    Around the time that I turned fifteen, I began to have conversations with my Mother (a single parent) about this topic. in the course of one such talk, I made an inclusive statement about our presumed shared world view. She very gently corrected me, directly refuting my assumption that she too understood reality only in terms of what can be established through careful and repeated observation and attempts to extrapolate theoretical “truths” in only the most disciplined and rigorous manner. To the contrary, she has a definite belief in a kind of energetic interconnectedness of all things; roughly a form of Pantheism in which both animate and inanimate agents contribute. I was astonished. After a moment of silence, I asked “Then why did you bring me up as a non-spiritual person?” ” I did not want to influence you”, she said. Her response was without hesitation or any sense that she had suffered any indecision. I though about that for a moment and replied, “Well, you did!”.

    I did have other significant Atheist influence, some explicitly represented, and some less committed. Many of my core circle if childhood friends, most of whom are my core circle of adult friends, were either Atheists, or were close to that end of the philosophical spectrum. Most still are.

    A significant, but fleeting moment of encouragement, was an exchange that I happened to witness by being in the right place at the right time. In my freshman year of college, I sat in on my then girlfriend’s (now my wife) first session of Developmental Psychology. This was in a classroom setting. The professor was laying out the premise of the discipline, which includes the somewhat oversimplified truism: “Ontology recapitulates Phylogeny”. I her brief expansion on that idea, it became very clear that this assumed The Theory of Evolution was true. A student raised his hand and asked “What if you don’t believe in Evolution?” The professor took off her glasses, came around the desk, and spent about two minutes explaining that Psychology is a biological science, and that being science, there is no way to build a system of facts without assuming some basic tenets of science are settled. One essential one, she said, is Evolution. She went on, calmly, but firmly, to opine that a serious student of any science has to set aside competing belief, and that if they could not, they should consider another line of study. I did not cheer openly, but I wanted to.

    I have spent the intervening 30 years educating myself about religion, spirituality, philosophy, logic, the sciences and everything else which bears on this difference that we share. It has been my hope that by understanding the details of belief in both the technical sense as well as the emotional and experiential landscape that believers inhabit, I might be able to gain even a little bit of insight into what it means personally to believe.

    The truth is, that at very basic, unsupported belief is so irrational to me that I still understand it as an affliction. I am sympathetic of believers not empathetic. I know this is arrogant, but it is the direct consequence of how I understand reality. I want to be fair.

    Over time, I have come to think of my worldview as being constituted by two essential components; the empirical, repeatable body of observations that I think of as “fact” and the extrapolative set of propositions governed by the the rules of rigorous systems like The Scientific Method and related logical processes. Anything that wanders into the realm of supposition, intuition or speculation, I relegate to a status of hypothesis. It is yet to be established, if at all.

    Regarding gray areas of science or philosophy, I tend to rely on Occam’s Razor, favoring the idea or hypothesis which requires the least number of unsupported assumptions.

    Regarding totally unsupported assertions like spirituality or dogmatic religious thought, I do not require myself to exert more than a basic effort at open-mindedness. I can not be responsible for others lack of rigor and discipline. I refer to this position as “Operational Certainty”. I do, therefore, not believe it necessary to adopt a “who knows” attitude about the existence of the supernatural. That is why I am not agnostic, deist or any other of the less absolute positions.

    I do self-identify as an Atheist, except when it might impact my ability to make a living. I consider this pragmatism a character flaw. I would like to be less reviled, by less people. I try to respect the right of others, given the same access to information, to come to the wrong conclusions. In the end, we must all find our own way. Unfortunately, people, like water, usually take the path of least resistance.


  • Rejistania

    Given that I am German, even though I was raised by religious parents (Catholics) the were very understanding to my searching, my brief flirtation with Buddhism, etc. I was lucky in that respect, I guess. It just is not important at all in life in EUrope.

  • Mitch

    I don’t have a big drawn out story of how I became an Athiest, it just sort of came to me one day. My dad was a non-practicing Catholic (lolwut) and my mom was a Protestant. Neither ever really brought up religion or went to church aside from Christmas or funerals, so I was pretty much left to my own beliefs. Back to losing my religion (or whatever loose patches of it I had clinging to my shirt), it was partly the hypocracy of the church and the people in it. I began to think about all of the problems and contradictions in the bible and the church today. None of it made any sense to be. That was mainly it, that none of it seemed to make sense.

    As a newly defined Atheist, I never felt quite alone. I had always had friends around, and we all usually steered clear of religious talks, because I think most of us thought we had the same belief of God and whatnot. When I first told a good group of friends, most of them seemed pretty surprised. One just stated that he, “could have guessed.” and that he had, “seen it coming.” His response wasn’t negative, he was just trying to sound like a smartass.
    Another of my friend’s responses was a little negative, however. I believe he called me an idiot or something along the lines of that. He thought I was doing it for attention. But he’s still my best-friend and seems to have accepted that.

    As I’ve stated, it never really bothered me to come out to people. I told a few other people here and there who were curious about others’ religious beliefs. I even told my entire History class during some game to get to know each other better. My teacher looked stunned. I laughed about it later with another kid from the class. I remember my Atheism was brought up around my little brother one time, age thirteen or fourteen. As it would be, he’s Agnostic, and every once in a while, we’ll crack a joke around my parents and they won’t really understand it.

    I have yet to come out to my parents, or any other member if the family, my brother aside. I think it will be a little easier once I move out to say something, that way we don’t have to live with that could over out heads. They may not be practicing, but from what I can tell they still believe greatly in God. The time will come to tell them, it just hasn’t yet.

    I lost faith when I was fifteen, about a year ago.


  • I would like to be able to simply say “I’ve always been an atheist,” but like everything in my life it’s complicated.

    My father is an atheist, but while he is very firm in his lack of belief, he’s very quiet about it, enough so that he never actually mentioned it to me until I was in my mid 30’s. (Which is to say, fairly recently.) I had previously always assumed he was some variety of christian but, like his father (who was catholic), just didn’t care to bother to go to church. My mother is a believer, but she’s so mentally ill (that’s not a metaphor, she is actually mentally ill) that she is so wrapped up in her own delusions that she never really gave religion a moment’s attention.

    I remember being a small child, pre-school, and believing that there was a thing called “god” and a guy called “Jesus” that existed, or at least, everyone thought they existed so they must, but they never visited so they must not be important so I didn’t concern myself beyond that. I wasn’t really a religious believer, I simply had no information except some words with no definition and believed they must exist and mean something because my grandmother said they did. As I approached school age, I began to realize that the stories people told me about the bible all sounded improbable and illogical and inconsistent, like the fairy tales people read to me, and my “children’s bible” in my bedroom (which I couldn’t read yet) was on the same shelf with all my other fairy tale books, so I simply figured the bible was fairy tales too and that christianity was some sort of elaborate game of “let’s pretend” and that these fairy tales were supposed to provide some sort of moral guidance that I couldn’t quite see in them. (I was a pretty skeptical kid. I never believed in Santa either.)

    When I got to school and had interactions with people from outside my household I slowly figured out that christianity was not some sort of “let’s pretend” game everyone played, they actually believed in this nonsense. I was pretty horrified. Fortunately my community was not so church-focused that I couldn’t function without being part of a church, but it was important enough that people did ask what church I went to… so I took the cue from my grandfather and told them I just wasn’t a church going kind of guy, and they though I was just too lazy to get up in the morning on sunday but assumed I was christian.

    A family of radical right wing fundamentalists moved in next-door, and they talked me into going to summer vacation bible camp once. This probably had the opposite of the intended effect, because while I enjoyed hanging out with other kids and doing crafts and singing songs, it exposed me more directly to christians expressing their beliefs and I saw that they didn’t have a coherent world view, and I saw that they were hypocrites. It also lead me to actually open up and read parts of the bible and see what a load of garbage it was, and to pay attention to the manner they used it (picking and choosing random short quotes totally out of context) and realize that they were using it to justify doing what they wanted to do rather than using it to provide moral guidance that they would follow. And of course, I observed that there are all sorts of rules in the Old Testament that they completely ignored unless they wanted to use them to condemn someone.

    Those fundamentalist neighbors were very significant in the formation of my early view of christianity. They were so very eager to find fault with everyone over everything and so very eager to put themselves on a pedestal and present themselves as holier-than-thou, it was both obvious and sickening. Combined with their significantly less than neighborly behavior and poor moral example, and I quickly made the connections of “christianity says christians are supposed to be nicer than everyone else, these people are christians and they’re simply awful but go about telling themselves (and anyone in earshot) they’re so much nicer than everyone else, therefore christianity must be a load of garbage.” It wasn’t a comprehensive view of christianity based on a lot of data, but I think it was pretty good for a second grader.

    I did know the word “atheist” and knew such people existed, but it wasn’t, societally, an option in the place and time I was growing up. I went through a phase of wanting to be jewish, because jews seemed, to my young eyes, to get along better within their own households than my own family did, and because judaism seemed to be a societally acceptable alternative to christianity. But in the end I decided it would be too much trouble to actually go about converting, particularly since I didn’t actually believe in it either, I just sorta wanted to.

    Throughout all of this my father made no comment – he later told me he assumed I would figure it out for myself. Well, yeah Dad, I did, but it would’ve been nice to have some parental guidance and support. (My mother remained too wrapped up in her own delusions to care.) This is why when atheist parents talk about not telling their children what to think and allowing them to come to their own conclusions, I want to scream. No! You should damned well tell your children religion is nonsense, for the same reason you should tell them the sky is blue and water is wet – because it’s factual. And if you don’t, you subject them to having to deal with a lot of societal and peer pressure to believe in the BS, and they might just give in and live a life of believing in fairy tales and suffering because of it because they don’t have your guidance and support.

    I later became close friends with another fundamentalist christian kid. His church was particularly abusive and used to use fairly obvious brainwashing techniques on his family regularly. The church, which interfered with every aspect of his life, also swung between pressuring him (hard) to convert me, and telling him that he was forbidden to associate with me in any way because I was a “bad influence” or “possessed by satan” or other such nonsense. Out of any given year we were friends, we were usually not speaking for about six months of it, because he was forbidden by the church. (Not by his parents, who liked me, but by the church.) He was a good kid. He really cared about me and was a good friend when he was allowed to be. And his church periodically made him act like a real asshole, and it was really obvious it was them behind it, not his choice. I learned two important things from him: that religion could make otherwise good people act bad, and that otherwise intelligent people could believe in religion because their brains shut off when they went to church and they flatly refused to think about the illogic and sillyness and immorality of their beliefs.

    I went through a phase of being VERY ANGRY about religion, feeling that it made everyone around me judgmental and nasty and prevented me from having friends. And as I entered my teens and realized I am gay, I saw very quickly that all the hate and discrimination I would face in my life essentially boiled down to religion-based bigotry. So I had a lot of resentment and went around openly saying I didn’t believe in religion. (Again the socially acceptable wording – if I’d said I am an atheist I’d have been a total pariah, but since I just said I “don’t believe”, I was simply considered weird, and since I was already not fitting in socially I wasn’t made any more of an outcast.) This made things more awkward with my fundamentalist friend of course.

    When I was 16 I spent the summer living with my aunt and uncle. It threw me for a loop: unlike pretty much everyone else I knew, they actually got along. They loved each other, they loved their kids, they loved me, and they were good and kind… and they were christian and went to church every sunday. They always invited me to church, and I usually declined on the (truthful) grounds that I preferred to sleep late, but I did go once and they were attending a relatively liberal church with a pastor who presented the bible in a less harsh and unrealistic light. I had to think about that for quite a while.

    As a consequence I went through a brief phase of wanting to believe in christianity, even going to far as trying to convince myself that I actually believed in it and telling a few family members that I did, but after a while I had to admit to myself that this was just a phase I was going through and that I never successfully believed any of this garbage. This is another time I wish my father had been more of an example of atheism, perhaps if I’d had more early support of my disbelief I wouldn’t have had to go through this awkward phase.

    Life was kind of busy for some years after that and it’s only in the last year or two that I’ve taken the time to start paying attention to what could be called the “atheist community”. I have come to see my gay rights political issues and my atheist political issues as really being one set of political issues: stopping religion from trying to control my life and my nation. I have started being more open about my disbelief, and thus learned that my father and one of my aunts (who I was convinced was catholic) are also atheists. I still haven’t told the aunt and uncle I used to live with that I’m an atheist, but their kids know. (And at least one is an atheist.) I still nominally celebrate easter and christmas, but only as excuses to give gifts and be with people I care about. My father doesn’t celebrate holidays any more, apparently he only ever did so for my amusement.

    I’m not entering for the tickets, it’s a lovely offer but I have limited time when I visit NYC and other shows I more want to see.

  • kitsunerei88

    I was always an atheist and I grew up in a fairly conservative/religious small-town farming area. I mean, obviously, I didn’t think of it using those words – see, my family were also pretty much the only coloured people around and my mom keeps some of the traditional Chinese or Buddhist beliefs alive, such as burning incense to your ancestors on certain days. I basically had an iron-clad excuse for not being Christian to all my Christian classmates, and I rarely faced conversion attempts until high school. I had a lot more trouble with straight-up racism.

    There were a few times I dabbled in religion – I identified as Buddhist for a long time, despite the fact I had absolutely no idea what that meant and had never ever been to temple, just because my parents followed some Buddhist traditions. My grandfather and grandmother had Buddhist funerals and so on. There was one time when I was in grade 5, my school gave out Bibles (New Testaments) to us, but only optionally – we had to go to school early and got a lecture about being good Christians and then we got the Bible. I did it because I wanted to fit in, and my parents had me going to Bible Club the rest of that year because my dad said “if you’re going to believe, you have to know what you’re believing.” I saw Bible Club as an easy way to get free things because I was good at memorizing Bible verses. I had one other bout of Christianity when I was dating a Christian.

    It was only in high school I really started exploring other faiths. I don’t think I ever really thought any of it was true – when I was 3 or 4 I distinctly remember asking “If God made the world, who made God?” I never got a satisfying answer to that. I mostly saw religion as these cultures that you subscribed to, that people did because it was traditional. I didn’t see myself as dabbling in faiths, just as learning about other cultures. I don’t think I realized people actually BELIEVED these things until high school.

    It turns out later that both my parents are non-believers too. There are Buddhist traditions we keep alive (burning incense to our ancestors memories), but none of us have any real belief. Another odd side-effect of being atheist my entire life is that I don’t see it as something to make bonds on. I have a hard time in secular alliance clubs (I went to one meeting and decided it wasn’t for me, just like church wasn’t for me). I’m more comfortable making friends through my profession, or my interests, than I am on my lack-of-belief.

    Email me at: kitsune.rei@gmail.com

  • Brian Wood

    I became an atheist at 10, when “they” put “under ‘god’™” in the pledge. I wondered why a god would need the whores of congress to get into the pledge. (I was a precocious, arrogant little bastage, and I have remained so since.)

    No family member or friend, but as an arrogant bastage, I didn’t need any.

  • jon

    Where to start… Growing up in a Hispanic house hold, I always disbelieved in god. Which is very rare. I remember many times having to go to church with family members. If I wanted to stay the night at a cousins house that was across the street I would have to go to Catholic church with them in the morning. It was a pain in the ass just to spend time with my cousins.

    My grandma on the other hand would do the same thing. She would talk me to a Spanish speaking(Which I do not speak) Christian church. So the two differing churches always confused the hell out of me. The churches were insanely boring to go to at such a young age.

    Having to go to both churches on different weekends instilled doubt it me from a very early age. The catholic church was always so creepy. Lots of silence and looking at these creepy plastic statues of Jesus and Mary was odd. The Jesus was always in pain and suffering while Mary just looked sad. Kind of a downer for a kid to sit in a room without anything to do but hear some dreary old fart speak in a monotone voice for two hours.

    The Christian church my grandma took me two was on the opposite. Although not in a way that was good. Lots of group singing(The pastors wife sounded like a rat being beaten to death when she sang over the mic, destroying any enjoyment I had) and lots of passion coming from the pastor. Since I didn’t understand a word they were saying it all went over my head. Several events happened at that church that just made me disbelieve in the message they were preaching.

    One event was in a Sunday school room. The people running it asked a question that I found to be strange. They asked whether I wanted to be rich or successful. Being a young boy I said rich. They told me my answer was wrong because its better to be successful. I didn’t bother to explain that ones life can be rich in many different ways.

    The other event that stands out clearly at the christian church was a fist fight between the pastor and a lady. The pastor was going to take a break from the church for a month or so. The lady asked if he was still going to come to church during that time. He was offended by that. More heated dialog occurred in Spanish and they started hitting each other.

    My parents never forced me or my sisters to attend church. Much of my teenage years I was made to feel stupid indirectly for not believing in a god. Many times people would be talking about god and if someone didn’t believe in him they were made to look stupid. Seeing this I naturally hid my atheism until I was in my Mid 20s.

  • Saltyestelle

    I can’t remember a single adult who was an atheist role model for me. I was raised in a household without religion, for all intents and purposes, but with lots of books about diverse topics. My atheism naturally emerged from reading about other cultures, ancient mythology, and also from my observations of the small-town Xtians I was surrounded by. A small town in the bible belt of California, with a church on every street corner. I attended ‘Busy Bees’ with my friends in elementary school, an after-school group at a church where we mostly did crafts. I just remember thinking that all these deeply religious people seemed pretty insular and judgmental. Also, they were boring as f*ck. Didn’t seem to be interested in much else beyond Jesus and small-town life. I escaped as soon as possible.

    I didn’t identify as an atheist until I was maybe 17, when it became glaringly apparent that religion was just so much harmful woo. This reaction to religion also grew in large part from my friendships with gay and lesbian people, and seeing the pain they experienced from being closeted and ostracized.

    I’m sure I had at least one or two teachers or coaches who were freethinkers, but didn’t dare come out in that suffocating environment. It would have made things less lonely for me; I always felt like an outsider because of my intelligence, my curiosity, bookwormy-ness, and my all-around non-traditional way of being in the world.

  • littlejohn

    I was born an atheist and never once considered the possibility I was wrong. Religious belief is self-contradictory nonsense, and I was a logical little kid.

  • Muzak

    I am 4th generation atheist. Although my parents exposed me to religion I just never really believed.


  • francois

    I was 17 when I began to use the word but I guess I have been a non believer since about the age of 10 I remember staying up at night pondering theological questions and never seeing that certain things did not make sense. Things like free will if God was omniscient or why Judas was so hated when Jesus came to die for our sins. In catholic school my sophomore year in high school a young man named John transferred to my catholic school and I found out he was a nonbeliever which at the time bothered me but he was likeable so we became friends and he basically brought to light the ideology of atheism which to be honest was not something I had ever heard before at the time. I remained a believer until senior year but I remained bothered by the contradictions so i decided to test my faith for my senior thesis I had to pick a topic from a list and read two books on it I decided to kill two birds with one stone and picked atheism I read The god delusion and God is not great by Dawkins and Hitchens all the questions and stuff not making sense and doubts all jumbled in my head made sense the world finally made sense and that is how i came to be an atheist.

  • Jen

    I remember distinctly questiong God when I was 7. I was at church (Pentecostal) when I had accidentally run into another kid. Immediately some adult nearby grabbed my arm and told me I was going to Hell for that. Thats’s crazy, I though. Just for that? I had already begun to doubt by then though. I remember that the Sunday school storied didn’t mesh with facts I learned in school. When did God create dinosaurs? That was a big one for me.

    So I quit going to church. My parents didn’t force it. They didn’t go to church either but instead made us go with my fundamentalist grandparents. My parents were what I termed wanna be Christians. I’ve never seen my mom in church but she’s quick to throw God at you when she feels its neccessary.

    When I quit church, I never even considered I was an atheist. I had been raised with the idea that atheists were devil worshippers (ironic, I know). Surely that wasn’t me. I wanted to believe. I spent a lot of free time in my youth trying to reconcile God and science. I thought there was something wrong with my that I couldn’t have faith while everyone I knew was happy in their faith. Its very disconcerting when you’re so young. I remember crying at night and praying because I was terrified of going to Hell. I remember asking Jesus into my heart. I truly tried to believe. By the time I was around 11-12, I gave up. I still held on that there was probably a God, but I hoped and prayed that whatever God there might be would accept me into heaven for just being a good person.

    In high school, I finally met one person who want an out-of-the-closet atheist, but he was way over the top. Complete Gothic lifestyle and always talked about anarchy. I again remembered thinking, I’m definitely not nan atheist. I’m nothing like this crazy guy.

    It wasn’t until 3 years ago that I finally accepted I was atheist. My husband had left my daughter and I and when I called my grandma to let her know what happened, she blamed me for being an unsatisfactory wife. That I should’ve tried harder to please my husband. It was my duty by God to make him happy. Right then and there I said “that’s it”. I was done with religion and God. And I’ve been happier ever since!

    Feel free to contact me. Jdc0712@gmail.com

  • Ems

    I’m not sure what you consider young; I started considering myself an atheist at 16 (about 10 months ago).

    I distinctly remember questioning the existence of God because ‘we can’t see him,’ around the age of five.

    After that event, however, I started towards becoming more and more religious. At 12-13 I rejected Jesus as messiah and became increasingly Orthodox Jewish. I also became a vegetarian at this time (I was raised pacifist, and still am one). So, I’ve had practice with being in the ideological minority.

    I started accepting that I was gay in November of ’09. My beliefs clearly conflicted with what the Torah says about homosexuality, animal sacrifice, and violence. I came to realize that I was making God what I thought he ought to be, instead of what the Torah said he was.

    After some time of this intellectual hypocrisy, I finally decided I was an atheist after a discussion with a cousin of mine (an atheist) and my now brother-in-law (a pastor). I’ve stayed in touch with my cousin.

    The transition from religiosity to secularism was hard, not because of a lack of other atheists, but because of my investment in religion and orthodoxy. My correspondence with my cousin has helped, but I can see how hard it would be on those without a secular community to associate with.

  • Nerdette

    I was 11 when I realized that the whole concept of an invisible bearded man in the sky didn’t make sense. I was given a book on Greek mythology by my more liberal grandparents, and I made the parallels between those stories and the ones told in church. I wasn’t raised particularly religious – my family was Methodist – and my grandparents never pushed the issue nor were they regular attendants of Sunday service.

    Since this was middle school, and everyone else is figuring themselves out at the time as well, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to do when I came out as an atheist. In my small town Kansan school, my graduating class numbered a little over a 100 students. Everyone knew of everyone else, and cliques were formed by what level of classes you were taking: I was with the small pool of advanced students, so those were my “friends”. I would say half didn’t care about my new identity, a quarter were openly antagonistic about it, and a quarter were supportive of it, despite not sharing the notion. Of my peers that were outside of my clique, a greater fraction were openly antagonistic it. I knew of no other atheists in my age group, nor did I have any support from an adult beyond the general support they offer any minority student.

    Coming out as an atheist, I was teased unmercifully. I was called “Monkey Girl” (since I obviously believed we came from monkeys) and told I was going to hell regularly. People who never cared who I was before suddenly went out of their way to provoke me. The details of one memory are a blur, but I recall sitting on a Ferris Wheel with a boy while on a class trip to an amusement park. We were flirting as well as preteens are capable of when somebody shouted up to him, telling him to tell me that “Jesus loves you.” He asked me why they would have him say that, and I just sighed, disheartened that the effort to make a new friend was now wasted. I suppose it inevitably was, since I have no memory of friendship with the boy. Once, toward the end of eight grade year, I recall sitting in class, talking with my peers, and somehow the subject turned to the existence of god. I made my assertion, and the boy sitting in front of me made his louder. I kept my voice level as I replied, but each time this boy opened his mouth, he grew louder and louder, to the point where he was screaming, “GOD IS REAL!” A teacher from the neighboring room ended up coming over, scolding us for volume and discussing a topic that has no business being in school.

    However, I was a fiercely independent child, mostly because I realized at a young age that the way my life was turning out, it would behoove me to take charge and direct it as much as I could. I dealt with situations my own way, and I would figure out the consequences. For the most part, I ignored the teasing. I enjoyed the education aspect of school enough that I submersed myself in my studies. When I went to high school, I befriended older students, but still never found another atheist that I could talk with. There was talk of other kids, but they were in other cliques and more into genres of culture that had no interest to me (namely drugs). We had no issues with each other and realized that we didn’t share the same goals, so we just let each other be, supporting each other from a distance as necessary. My first high school boyfriend didn’t find religion interesting in the slightest, but considered sorting out other aspects of his identity more pressing, so I let the topic of the existence of a supernatural deity slide with him. My best friend before him was an ardent follower of the Baptist church, so religion was not a topic we discussed in order to preserve our friendship.

    It wouldn’t be until I met my future husband at 17 that I met another atheist in my area. I tell people now that one of the reasons we formed our relationship was because he was the only other atheist I knew in Kansas.

    It’s strange – many people posting mention the Internet as support for their atheism, but I have no memory of ever using it as an atheism resource until college.

  • Tom

    My transition from Catholic to atheist was a fairly gradual one. Ironically, it was when I started working in a church as a teen that I started having my doubts although I’m not sure the two are related. I never knew any atheists growing up (at least that I know of) but then again I didn’t really have any militant religious friends either. I never actually came out to my mom though til many years later – she’s still in denial that I am one and basically pretends I never mentioned it.

    Plinko (my favorite Price Is Right game!)

  • Charon

    I don’t recall ever believing in religion. The event I use as a marker of when you could say I was a conscious atheist was in 3rd grade, when I stopped saying the “under god” part of the pledge of allegiance. (I cut out other parts subsequently, until I stopped saying it entirely by 9th grade, but apparently I found the “under god” bit the worst of it.)

    I’m sure I knew atheists at the time, but wasn’t aware of it. My dad was an atheist, but I wasn’t actually sure of this until I was in high school. (He did attend Quaker meeting with my mom – in fact, he was the assistant clerk of the meeting for a while. But Quakers, especially on the West Coast, are a pretty tolerant bunch. It’s technically a branch of Christianity, but they don’t really care about the number of gods you believe in, whether it’s 0, 1, or many.)

  • Kacie

    When I became atheist, it wasn’t just a “-boom- I don’t believe in god anymore!” moment. It was more of a gradual process.

    I grew up in a pretty Christian extended family; although my parents never went to church we were very close to all my aunts and uncles who did. My step-grandfather was always the most imposing. He paid my mother to send me to a Catholic preschool and kindergarten program. Obviously, I was Christian due to all that early brainwashing.

    When I got to elementary school, my mother started sending me to summer camp. That’s when I had my first experience with Wiccans and paganism. All the other girls seemed obsessed with witchcraft so I just jumped on the bandwagon. I considered myself Wiccan for a long time, until I was a teenager. My mother didn’t mind, she was just glad that I believed in A god, any god.

    But, as I got older, I started to become very disillusioned with witchcraft and the more I read about it, the more it just seemed like the whole religion had a victim complex. I looked back at Christianity, but I didn’t even consider it because it was… well, ridiculous. For a couple years as a teen I was atheist, but pretty bitter about it. I was the only one I knew who absolutely didn’t believe in any god at all and even my best friend brushed me off saying “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

    When I was sixteen, I went to work for my maternal grandfather. He lived in another state. Over that time, we got very close and I talked to him a lot about religion. He was openly atheist, something I had never known about him until that time. I think a lot of people would never guess that he was, because usually grandparents are the more religious ones. He really helped me embrace my non-belief by just being there.

    It’s not always going to be easy to tell your family members (when I told my mother she cried) but it’s always better to be true to yourself. You just never know if you’re the only one suffering if you suffer in silence.

  • Kayla

    I became an atheist at eleven, after finally reading the bible for myself. While my mom was christian, my dad was atheist.. although maybe apathetic is a better word. Whenever I tried to talk to him about it, he’d just get angry and stop rambling on about how there is no god and how awful the world is. He didn’t make it any easier.

  • Leslie S

    I have always felt that I have never really believed, but would “fake” it most of my life because that is what I thought I had to do. I grew up Catholic, tried Evangelical Christianity (because of friends), and then I knew that I didn’t believe then became and accepted atheism. I did not know anyone around me that was an atheist, and still find it hard to find those that are.

    I have many different stories about my experience with religion (faking my belief), being surrounded by family that are not atheists, not really having an support for my non-belief/having to live in “secret”, and being treated much differently as an atheist.

    I know you are near the Chicago area and I am as well, so if you want anymore information please email and I will gladly share my experience as well as be available for a meeting.


  • Mej

    I became an atheist at the age of seven. Strangely, I was among the last of my grade to stop believing in Santa Claus, but, when I did, I realized that all the same arguments (lack of evidence, unexplained abilities and motives, existence of simpler theories) applied to God.

    I didn’t know any other atheists my age, but my father told me that his friend (I’ll call him Mr. B) was an atheist. Naturally, I was excited to speak to him (typical seven-year-old) and confirm that I wasn’t crazy.

    When we next saw him, my father told Mr. B about my recent interest in atheism, and Mr. B replied, “Oh, I’m not an atheist anymore. I decided that I want to be able to see my dogs again when I die.”

    In retrospect, he was almost certainly joking. Yet, to my seven-year-old self, it was an incredible disappointment–why would what you *want* influence what *is*? I spent a lot of time thinking about that question, and I formed arguments I would use time and time again in later years.

    And that’s it. Mr. B, whether he meant to or not, gave such an extreme example of an appeal to consequences that I was forced to recognize and understand the flaws of the argument. In other words, rather than telling me I was right, he let me realize it on my own.

  • Victoria

    I never believed in a god. Both of my parents became atheists before I was even born, and I was raised in a loving, completely moral, religion free house-hold. I didn’t get crap for it-or at least, I didn’t realize I was getting crap for it- until middle school. By that point, I was so firmly entrenched in what I knew (not believed!) that I could easily ignore any nastiness directed towards me.

    oh, Plinko!

  • Danielle

    As a child, I never really believed in god. However, I wouldn’t say that I was an atheist. Rather, I’d say that I was an agnostic in the most true sense. Not only did I lack a belief in god, but I didn’t care about religion at all. It didn’t matter one iota what religious beliefs I or the people in my life held. My mother was, and still is, an agnostic, and she does not think critically about religion very often. I believe she became an agnostic because her sisters became skeptics in their early teens, and she followed suit.
    My father was a christian, and so is that side of the family. However, my parents divorced when I was two, and I was never exposed to church or extreme indoctrination. He died from his alchoholism at the age of 39 when I was just 7 years old, and I do not remember much about him.
    From the ages of two to eleven I lived only with my mother, and was raised in a secular manner. We rarely discussed religion, except maybe on an occasion in the fifth grade in which a large group of my classmates taunted and bullied me for not believing in god, and threatened me that if I did not convert to Christianity, I would go to hell.
    It was during this occasion that it really occurred to me that religion really did matter. I began to think critically about the subject, and for a while desperately wanted to find god, even if only to stop being taunted, and to stop being a minority. In the end, though, I realized that there was no credible reason to believe in any religion.
    I began to research Atheism, Christianity, and a number of other beliefs online, and I gradually gained a broader view of these idealogies. In the course of my research, I slowly became an atheist, and to this day I still cannot pinpoint any exact moment it happened.
    At the age of eleven, my soon-to-be stepfather moved in with my mother and I. I did not and still do not hold much respect for that man. He was a Christian, and one of the most closed-minded people I have ever met. He knew that my mother and I were not Christians, and often made jokes right to our faces of how “stupid” we were not to believe in god. I developed an intense dislike for the man, and I would almost say that I hated him for his egotism and obnoxiousness.
    As I got older, I began to notice more and more freethinking people, though they were difficult to find. I was openly atheist, and in middle school quite literally everyone, even people I didn’t know, knew that I was a heathen atheist nonbeliever. Needless to say I uncovered some pretty strange stories about myself, including but not limited to the worship of satan.
    During my freshman year in high school, however, during a round of questioning, I found that of the five or so people that sat at my lunch table, only one of them was actually a Christian. That was a first for me. The others ranged from agnostics to questioners of the church, but still none identified as followers of a faith.
    In retrospect, I think that, though I was raised secularly, I ultimately made the individual decision to be an atheist.

  • R Stoll

    While I haven’t been “atheist” all my life, you could say I have always been prone to it. Early on, I learned the words, sang the songs, and worshiped from habit, not because I believed in it. More than that, I was always troubled when it came to anti-gay and creationist (with the later inclusion of anti-sex) material in my RE group. It was perplexing why “God” at all discriminated against everyone.

    It wasn’t till I was 14, however, when I acted on these impulses. Even though he is now very much Roman Catholic, he was at our first meeting the atheist equivalent of a stereotypical baptist minister- loud, brash, and charismatic. It was to the point that he was a jerk about it. At first, our debates consisted of my weak defense of religion. He tore me down easily, proving that my viewpoint I had gotten from eons of tradition were not logical, and that they lacked evidence. Later that summer, he would proceed to do the same thing to me over economics. This was also the time where I had started reading books like 1984, Brave new world, and (forgive me) Atlas Shrugged, where I saw similarities to religion. That was when I discovered the internet for it’s true worth and researched more and more, signing onto blogs and so forth. So, was it inevitable that I became an atheist? Maybe. Did my friend do something to help it along? defiantly. Yet it was really my own journey of discovery that completed my covertion.

    He really did three major things to me. Number one, he basically inspired me to actually research, which has done me a world of good. Secondly, he proved to me that there are such things as evangelical atheists. As I explained before, he was a great speaker, which is the reason why I listened to him. He also, however, compared similar to Obrian from 1984 just as much as religious figures. He said evolution is absolutely right, that there are no problems in it. He called all theists bad, when I knew some very good Christians, Jews, and religion supporters. So, in a sense, he proved to me that absolutism was not the right thing for my individual philosophy. For example, it’s not that a god exists or doesn’t exists (while I think there is more evidence for the latter, such a concept is so vague it cannot be proven or disproved) it is more should a god exist, which I am not a supporter of. I also think while evolution has a lot behind it, there are holes in it, and that both creationism and evolution should be taught. Only, evolution in a science setting and creationism in a religion class that covers all religions academically. Thirdly, he actually delayed my announcement. While I have always been open to my friends and siblings, my parents never go a formal announcement. I just slowly stared disconnecting myself from religious life, starting with not singing in mass, to waiting in the lobby during mass, and eventually not going to mass at all. M extended family only found out this year. The reason for this style of telling my family is because from their reactions to my friend, I felt the would not support me. I read horror stories on blogs that echoed what happened to teens that converted, and even my friend himself had to take a harsh stance just to protect himself. So, Essentially, he made it harder for me to come out of the “closet,” but I am a better atheist because of him.

  • Elisha

    I came out of the atheist closet when I was in about 7th or 8th grade. What made it particularly memorable was that I grew up in a very small town and was enrolled in Catholic school at the time.

    My family are kind of non-specific Protestants (I remember going to church only a handful of times as a kid) but the Catholic elementary school was the only private school within an hour’s drive of my house. My parents didn’t like the way the town’s lower grades were run, so I ended up in a very small parochial school where, aside from being the only atheist, I was also one of only a handful of non-Catholics in the entire school.

    The experience actually wasn’t as horrific as it seems like it should be. Since I was literally the only non-Catholic in my grade, I was already something of an outsider. Most of the students were more Catholic out of tradition than real belief – at that age it was just what their parents had raised them with, but few had exceptionally strong beliefs. To this day one of my best friends is still the person I knew from middle school that probably had the deepest beliefs. We made an agreement at about age 13 that we still adhere to – we respect each other and our friendship enough to not try to convert or preach to the other. Religion is, basically, a non- issue in our friendship. She actually ended up in an evangelical high school were she was the odd one for being Catholic (I went to the public high school were the vast majority of my friends weren’t religious in the least). Her high school friends were some of the hardest people I’ve had to deal with – they were so sheltered by their somewhat closed-off fundamentalist town and school that the idea of atheism was completely foreign to them. They got to know me because my friend actually brought me up in a religion class as proof that you can be a good person even without a belief in god. Today, those of them I got to know in high school no longer acknowledge my existence, while my friend is ostracized for living with her fiance before they’re officially married.

    My family is still tough sometimes. Oddly enough, as time has gone on most members of my family have become more openly and fervently religious. They know that my beliefs don’t align with theirs, at least on some level, but it’s something we just don’t really talk about. They still pray at holiday meals, but since we traditionally close our eyes during prayer they seem to not notice that I’m just staring straight ahead. I still celebrate Christmas as a tradition but avoid putting the nativity scene on the mantle. And, even if my mother’s belief in god seems to have increased, no one really cares for my grandmother’s born again preaching so I’m still totally free to roll my eyes and complain when she gets started. The last time I was in church with my mother (to pacify the grandmother) she agreed that the whole thing was so absurd that we had a quiet sword fight with our candles.

    So, overall, I guess I’ve found a pretty good balance between my lack of belief and everyone around me, even if I didn’t really have anyone to turn to or look up to when I was figuring out my beliefs.

  • Vanessa

    I had an awesome (non)religious upbringing. My grandpa, a chemist, was a very outspoken anti-religion atheist. He had a very religious father who gave money to his church instead of sending his daughters to college. My grandpa would send his sister his pay during WWII, and she would hide it in a tampon box so their father wouldn’t find it and she could use it to pay her tuition! He babysat me throughout my childhood, we would watch the science channel and he would read me books about evolution.
    When I was in kindergarten, my mom decided my brother and I needed to at least be exposed to religion, so we started going to church. I didn’t mind it much, since all my friends went and we would play hide and seek in the basement. The first moment I knew I was an atheist was around that time, when I was given a children’s bible. I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t think any of the stories were true. They just seemed too outrageous!
    My mom decided we could choose to go to church or not after making our confirmation in 6th grade. Every Sunday I had class in the morning, and every Sunday afternoon my Grandpa would come over. He would bring pamphlets explaining evolution, VHS tapes of scientists debating creationists and Skeptic Enquiry magazines. We would spend all afternoon discussing his Sunday school materials.
    He was great, I really wish he was still alive to discuss all these issues as an adult.

  • Marcie

    I don’t remember the exact age I realized I was an atheist, probably when I was a freshman in high school. I told my best friend but she was the only person I told for a good 4 or 5 years. I’m from a small town (pop. approx. 2,000) in MN where you were either Catholic or Lutheran. Part of my deconversion process was in part thanks to the catholics refusing to have anything to do with the lutherans. I remember the lutheran pastor was young and would try to get the two youth groups together to go on field trips etc. but the old catholic father would NOT allow his flock to associate with them.

    I didn’t grow up going to church. My parents are believers but my dad worked all week and Sunday was his lazy day. My mom grew up in a “good” catholic household of 15 children with abusive parents. Needless to say, she was a bit disillusioned with churches. I always felt different that I didn’t go to church, especially since all my friends did. In late middle school or junior high I started going to the catholic church (I was baptized catholic). I actually listened to the sermons and realized I was one of the only ones who did. The words just didn’t feel right or true to me and thus began my journey.

    I tried to find books on atheism but our small library didn’t carry anything. This was before computers and the internet were widely in use, about 1988 or so. I went to a small college in SD and came out to some friends. One, whom I ended up becoming very close with, said she had to pray about whether she could be friends with me. She decided that I was a “lost sheep” and she felt obligated to be my friend to help me learn more about Jesus. She tried but obviously it didn’t work. We just left religion out of our friendship. After that I was very selective about who I came out to. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I would openly tell people, if it came up, that I was atheist. Now I proudly sport Freethinker and scarlet A bumperstickers! I don’t consider myself a militant atheist but I do belong to a group and my children know my non-beliefs. I don’t necessarily flaunt my atheism but I don’t hide it like I used to.

    Feel free to contact me if you’d like.

  • BEX

    I’m one of the lucky few who was raised in an entirely secular family. I’m not going to say they were all atheists because religion just wasn’t something we really talked about as a family. But we never went to church, we never prayed, we never praised god, and we never claimed our morals came from the bible. I know my Dad is an atheist and he’s always been very straight forward about his lack of belief. It’s actually something we’ve bonded over in the last few years. He and my Mum encouraged me to make my own decisions. Since I’ve become more vocal about my lack of belief a couple other family members have made implicit statements of agreement.
    So I didn’t become an atheist, I always was one.

  • Ken

    I just thought I’d pop in and say that I grew up going to high school with Hemant and never knew he was an atheist. I assume he never knew I was either.

  • Devin

    I’ll take a long story and make it as short as possible 🙂

    Looking back on it, I probably became an atheist around 14 but didn’t officially announce it until two years ago when I was 18. But I rebounded back into Christianity a few times during those four years; probably because it was what I knew and what I was comfortable with. 

    I grew up in pretty religious home but nothing close to fundie. I went to private Christian schools complete with creationism, daily bible classes, and weekly worship services. It wasn’t until 8th grade though that I started questioning everything I believed. We were learning about the formation of the Earth and my science teacher took the entire chapter about evolution, told us it was all a lie and delved into the whole god created everything in 7 days story. When I asked her after class to explain evolution to me, she refused. I went along with it until a few days later when she started explaining the earth was only 6000 years old, that noahs ark & the flood caused the atlantic ridge, and other things. It made no sense to me and I told her so. I ended up argueing with her and other students about it (I thought earth had to be at least 12000 but I like to think I was on the right track to rational thought). Eventually I got in trouble for questioning and it went all downhill from there. I started reading and doing my own research. By the time I was a junior in high school I was a secret agnostic. By college, full-fledged out of the closet atheist to immediate family and very selected & trusted friends. But like I said, I lapsed a few times. I once went to a youth group camp trip and felt so guilty for my “questioning” that I immediately repented and promised to be a missionary to save others who had been like me. That actually lasted a year or so but after meeting an actual missionary from cambodia who told me so many horror stories done in gods name, I was done completely. 

    I never had a support system I could go to to ask questions about my questioning and growing disbelief. I was always told god has a plan and I shouldn’t ask why. I was told I was a bad Christian by my friends and pastors and that may partly be why I lapsed like I did. They made me feel guilty for doing what was natural to me. Despite all that though I still questioned because, dammit, I wanted answers. My mom more so than my dad was amazingly supportive when I finally “confessed” as it were. But then again, they always suspected something was going on. Thankfully they would encourage me to act like a scientist and search for the answers I was looking for. As my mother often jokes, much to my annoyance at times, I definitely did not reach the conclusion she was hoping I would. Needless to say, mine was a very lonely and rocky journey…it’s cost me quite a bit unfortunately. Still, better that than where I was. 

    If only i lived anywhere close to NY! Both those shows sound extremely interesting. And if you want, my email is devin.saunders@ttu.edu

  • Erica R.

    I grew up with a children’s Bible and bedtime prayers as part of the pre-sleeping routine but I thought it was like the rest of my books – made up and just for fun. It wasn’t until I attended my first Sunday School class at the age of 4 that I realized people thought it was real and that I wanted no part of that. So I’ve been a non-believer for as long as I can remember.

    I used the word Agnostic to describe myself until I was in jr. high when I proudly proclaimed my Atheism. I grew up (and still live in) northern MN so I didn’t meet my first fellow Atheist until I got to college so yeah, isolating existence for sure…especially since it was paired with all the usual “debates” and threats of burning in hell for eternity from both friends and family.

  • Aimee W.

    I was really lucky when I started becoming an atheist back in 10th grade. One of my good friends at the time, who had spent the previous few years occasionally giving me Christian apologist literature, also started questioning his beliefs at the same time.

    I think we had different reasons for questioning, but it was still incredibly helpful to be able to walk into school and be able to say to someone, “hey, I think Christianity is stupid”.

  • Kevin S.

    Way after the fact, but feel free to contact me if you want any follow-up on my story – k.sagui@gmail.com

  • Interesting question. I’m not sure if I knew any other atheists growing up. Religion was not something that was talked about in my family, and my elementary school classmates didn’t seem to have an interest in the subject. Certainly I can’t remember religion being talked about on the playground. By the time I was 10, I knew the names of all the major religions, but I figured that most people in the modern world were like me, unbelieving and/or apathetic.

    The first time I can remember having a conversation with anyone about atheism (the concept, at least) was on the ride home from Girl Scout Camp the summer between fifth and sixth grade. I had just turned 11 and did not yet realize that my lack of religious belief made me part of a minority group. At that age, I was still clinging to the erroneous assumption that most other people realized how ridiculous it was to believe in deities.

    Anyway, we were on the bus coming home from camp, and my seatmate asked me if I was a … something. I didn’t recognize the word (and can’t remember now which one she used) and so I said I didn’t know. It may have been “agnostic” or even “atheist;” I’m not sure. She told me the way to tell if you were this particular word was to see if your Easter was about Jesus or the Easter Bunny. I said mine was about the Easter Bunny, so she said that we were both part of this group. Completely random incident, and I didn’t realize the significance of the conversation, but I guess it stuck in my mind to the point that I still remember it 23 years later.

    I went on to have other conversations with friends and classmates about religion during middle school and high school, but I don’t think I ever came across anyone who eschewed belief in deities outright, although certainly most of my peers were not particularly religious. I can’t say I ever felt alone in my atheism, though, because I didn’t realize it was something that should make me feel different. I tended to think (and still do) that it was the only rational and logical position, and that everyone would be an atheist were it not for childhood indoctrination and cultural pressure.

  • Elsa

    When I was about 13 years old I started to question whether or not I believed in God. I was raised Catholic, sorta, and although I rarely went to church I did attend CCD every Wednesday. In fact both my older brother and I were so enthusiastic at first that we would be asked to stop answering questions in order to allow the other kids to get a word in. I can’t say that I realy believed in what I was taught, I thought prayer was a waste of time and that transubstantiation was bs but I went along with what I was it, and was even an alter girl(for about 3 weeks) because I didn’t realize that their was a different way to think. In the 9th grade when I was supposed to be Confirmed the program shifted focus. I think it was an attempt to make the content more interesting to the adolescents who had been reading the same material for 10 years.
    It had the opposite effect on me. when the Priest came in on one of the sessions and asked if any of us had ever doubted the existence of God I was one of two or three people in a group of about 40 to raise my hand. It felt awful. Then he told us that we should try to believe “just in case.” It sounded like he wasn’t even sure himself but that he was trying to scare us into belief with the threat of eternal hellfire.
    The next day someone in my class told me that his girlfriend, someone in my CCD class told him that I was an atheist. I was mortified. I felt guilty and I denied it. But that night I started thinking. It took me two years to get over that Catholic guilt and admit, to my brother, that I didn’t think that I believed in God. I was never so relieved as when he admitted that he was an “agnostic atheist,” but we have never had a serious conversation about our beliefs. My parents, thankfully are only Catholic in the vaguest sense of the word and did not offer any resistance to our beliefs. I have even managed to get at least one if not both of my sisters to consider whether she believed in God or not. I am grateful for my family’s understanding because they have offered me support but I cannot say the same about my peers.
    I live in a small town in South Carolina so as you can imagine there is a small population of non-believers. I only had one friend who went to my High School that I know doesn’t practice any religion although I did have friends who were Jewish, Wicca, and Muslim(they were also extreme minorities.)
    I think that if I knew more skeptics My transition to Agnosticism less rocky. Unfortunately it wasn’t until I had came out that I knew of anyone else who shared my disbelief. I was frequently questioned by my peers, and even asked by one why I worshiped Satan(I am proud to say that I calmly explained to her that Atheists and Agnostics did not generally believe that Satan existed and therefore did not worship him and she seemed to accept that.) but I think that I have come out a better person because of that questioning. At least I know all my arguments.

  • Grizzly

    Im not in the New York area, so I wont submit to the contest, but I would like to share my story.

    I became an atheist officially about two years ago. I was born and raised into a loving Lutheran family who supported me in everything I did. I am very grateful for everything the genetic pool has given me. I guess I never really accepted the church’s teachings as completely truthful, although I was that weird kid who enjoyed long lectures. I found most of the stories (the pastors chose to share) to be inspiring and motivating. For that, I am thankful to have been brought up in such a loving community.

    However, something just didn’t seem right. I always felt slightly guilty, and it took me a long time to figure out why. I was accepting their words as the unwavering truth. It wasn’t until my grandmother’s health was declining that I really started to question my faith. When she passed, I found not the prayers and holy words to be of comfort, but my friends, the closest of whom is an atheist as well and remains my best friend today. In fact, the most comforting feeling of all came from a Dr. Suess quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”

    Following this (partially during as well), I experienced some rough times with schooling and athletics. They seemed trivial compared to my grandmother’s passing, but they were still annoyances. I experienced several failed relationships and friendships solely because I was not a Christian. At this point, I really began doing research and declared myself an atheist shortly after. I discovered that the world is completely capable of existing in its present state without a deity or higher power. Everywhere I looked, science seemed to have some sort of answer or explanation. The only thing backing religion was faith… blind faith.

    It saddens me that so many people, included some of my dearest friends, continue to live in such a deluded world. I try to understand why they stay, and sometimes I do have meaningful discussions with them. My current girlfriend is absolutely amazing, and she is a Christian. She has had some extraordinary experiences in her life that make her believe there is a god. I cannot pass judgment on them either way because I have not experienced her experiences. I love her, and we get along great. Im starting to digress though.

    I guess the main reason im an atheist is because I ran out of reasons not to be one.

    Thanks for anyone who read this!

  • snowgray

    My parents hated attending church; as workaholics, the only day they always had off was Sunday, so they preferred to sleep in. My mother was raised as some kind of generic Protestant, and my father was raised Catholic; his parents are still very active in the church. I had to attend Sunday school in 3rd grade in order to qualify for First Communion, but that was the only year my attendance was regular. The family went to Catholic services with my grandparents on Christmas and Easter.

    Sometime around the end of 5th grade, my grandparents gave me a book of ‘Heroes of the Bible.’ The stories were all very interesting, and each hero or heroine was illustrated with a lush, 70s-style oil painting. I loved the book dearly, and I went through a phase in 6th grade where I started to read the Bible. I got through Leviticus before quitting.

    Around the same time, we were studying the Romans in 6th grade history. One day, our teacher came in and started denigrating Christianity, talking about how no one could know if Jesus really existed, and making fun of people who got up early on Sundays. A lot of students were upset or offended, myself included. Finally, the teacher said that he’d made us all feel just like the Christians in Roman times felt, and that it was important to understand how much persecution Christians had faced. He went on to the lesson, about martyrs and lions and whatever. I had really respected this teacher, who was super strict, but always made a point to praise students who scored well on tests (the day after the first test, we all came in and sat down, and he asked me to stand. I was petrified. He said, “Something has happened that you can never forget. You got a 100% on this test. No one can ever take that away from you. Be proud of yourself.” Of course, I’d been expecting to be excoriated for something, and I was so happy not to be, and so actually proud of myself, that I went on to get 100% on as many tests as I could, and I literally wept when I didn’t manage. Even as an adult, there have been times when I was crying and upset, and the memory of my 100% on a 6th grade test came back to me).

    After that day, though, I had a hard time. I read more Bible stuff and bribed my mom to take me to church. But I couldn’t reconcile the idea of a loving God with the idea that people died, or felt sad, or suffered. Eventually, I stopped with the Bible and decided I was an atheist. I don’t even remember where I heard the term. When I told my mom, she assured me that I was just “questioning” and would eventually believe. My dad shrugged.

    My parents decided to send me to Catholic high school rather than the local public school. In 8th grade, hearing this news, I was heartbroken. I had already changed middle schools once, and I didn’t want to lose the few friends I had. The religious issue wasn’t as important to me at the time. A friend and I talked; her parents were sending her to Catholic school as well, and we both had to go take the entrance exam. She declared that she intended to fail it on purpose. I considered doing the same, but in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to do poorly on an academic task. So I went to Catholic school.

    However, Catholic school was a blessing in disguise. Religion class was graded on reading and memorizing the textbook, not on actual beliefs, and as an asshole who didn’t need to talk about the textbook to understand it, I spent a lot of time steering the conversation in class toward the issues that Catholicism didn’t really address, like why people die and why injustice exists. My freshman year teacher “spoke to” my mother about how I was being “mean” and “superior” toward the other students, but he was the only teacher who bothered to call home. One very nice teacher tried to convert me when I attended a sleep-away volunteer camp, and we had some lovely conversations about how I felt that it was possible to not believe in god but still want to help the community. At a “leadership” camp that I had to attend to participate in Student Government, I tried to hide my atheism (the camp was run by adults not from my school), but flubbed the Lord’s Prayer when I was supposed to be leading it, so that was great. I also complained that I didn’t get my mail when we “camped” in the hall, because the campgrounds were flooded (their reasoning was that I wouldn’t have gotten it if we were really camping, and my reasoning was that we weren’t really camping). The negative report about me from that camp kept me from out of the National Honor Society, and my outburst of swearing in the hallway (something along the lines of, those fuckers, they let in X, Y, and Z, who all smoke pot, P, Q, and F who blatantly cheat, and T, R and S who don’t take any AP classes at all, but they don’t take me?) kept me out during the second round.

    But I said it was a blessing in disguise, and this is why: the overt Catholicism of the school brought out the atheists because we had one clear enemy. I slowly gained friends as the years passed, all of whom admitted that they couldn’t believe in God, either, though only a few were as outspoken as I was. We probably never would have thought as much about religion as we did in a secular school, but the environment brought out our atheism. Unfortunately, I never had Mr. K, but he was a wise old man, as well as a religion teacher. He explained to one of my friends that, in his opinion, “There is no greater creator of atheists than Catholic education.” He felt this way for two reasons: one, that any student of a Catholic high school would see any injustice against him or herself as a symptom of the church, and turn against it for that reason, and two, that the schools actually taught Catholic doctrine, which didn’t hold up very well under the bright light of rationality. I don’t know if Mr. K was an atheist himself; probably he couldn’t admit to it and keep his job. He was a model for some of my friends, but I only knew him tangentially. I am glad for my atheist and agnostic high school friends, though I don’t think I would have started believing if I hadn’t had them around.

    So, the tl;dr version: I didn’t have atheist friends in middle school, that I knew of, but in high school several of us banded together and were ‘out’ about our irreligious beliefs.

    Sorry this was so long and only partly to the point!

    Oh, also! I am a teacher now (and prefer not to reveal my real name for this reason), and though I do not start conversations about belief, I’ve occasionally had students ask me, and I’m honest in my answer. Several have been surprisingly positive in their responses, giving many of the same reasons for their own atheism that I give for mine. One of my favorite students said, “Well, if the Bible says don’t get tattoos, that’s pretty dumb, but then again, so are the people with cross tattoos!” She herself has several tattoos, of course.

  • Rob Caldwell


  • I was ten years old when I became an atheist. I spent the next nine years attending church, singing in every possible choir. I perfected the ability to avoid talking about religion whenever one of my Christian friends wanted to talk about God. My much older brother brought home Why I am not a Christian, which my other brother and I read and discussed. The problem is that this is a small, small town (where I still live). So no, there really wasn’t anyone to talk to. My other brother eventually became an atheist, but I learned not to talk about religion with anyone.

  • Dreaa

    I decided I didn’t believe in God when I was thirteen but didn’t fully adopt the label of “atheist” until I was about 15 or 16. I knew absolutely no one in tune with my thinking. I did tell a few close friends but when they referenced my beliefs in front of others, I felt completely embarrassed. Eventually though, I gained more confidence till I was even able to come out to my mother (Dad is still in the dark). Unfortunately, that didn’t get me off from having to attend church every Sunday. Anyway that’s my story.


  • Brandy

    A little late but I’m new to this site. I saw this post and had to share to my story too. I grew up with an abusive, insane, and alcoholic mother who would do really terrible things often which would prompt me to pray regularly for God to stop her. I realized by the time I was 13 or so that my prayers were never answered and started questioning. Made the mistake of telling my mother about my doubts and she labeled me an atheist (and threatened to disown me) which horrified me since I am from the south and this was akin to devil worship. I stopped with my inquiries for awhile and tried to wholeheartedly believe but by the time I was 21 all the nagging questions and suspicions came back. Religion just didn’t make sense. After much research, reading the bible (I found the stories to be completely nonsensical), and a love for science I realized that I am in fact an atheist, a rational person, and embraced it. There was no one around to help me make the transition. To this day (I am 31 now), I still live in the south and do not know any atheists personally except for my husband and his brother. Lots of internet atheist friends but it is very lonely to have our beliefs in the tiny town where we live.

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