When I was maybe 8 years old I asked my mother "what religion am I?". Mom thought for a moment and said "You're a pedestrian." I carried this with me until around the age of 19 when I became a Christian.
In my mid twenties I began studying other religions (how do I know I have the right religion?) Then I took a trip down south.
I remember I was at odds with me, my God and the the world I lived in. It was late and for some reason I had a fever but I drove on down the highway hoping to find a place to stop. Birmingham, Alabama. (Don't go there).
Things weren't making sense for me as it was, let alone the cold sweats and all the assholes that decided I was from "the North" due to my accent and their ancient political views. I prayed. It wasn't unlike me to do so at the time but what was different this time is that it wasn't my usual prayer. As oppose to "Thy will be done." it was "God, if you are real please reveal the truth to me."
It wasn't long before I was rested and driving into Atlanta. There I stopped for coffee. The nice Barista girl suggested that if I were just out site seeing I should check out the Georgia Guidestones. I did.
The Guidestones were interesting to say the least though I didn't believe the local rumors that surrounded them. These concepts were interesting but I couldn't help but to think that some simply couldn't happen unless there were a catastrophic event of seismic proportions.
Something did stand out about these stones. It was the cap stone. It read "let these be guidestones to an age of reason." "Where" I wondered. " have I heard this bit about 'an age of reason'?
Next stop: Bookstore. I then looked for the book that google had informed me about called "Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine. I thought that I had heard of Paine in school.
I bought the book and headed back home where I read it. I became a deist. A deist that questioned everything. I questioned everything until I became atheist and I still have more question but, these days I ask science.
Sorry to hear that Matt. Sincerely.
I was only lightly peppered with religion throughout my childhood, until I was a teenager. Then in high school some kids didn't like me being a long haired, metalhead "satanist" and stopped calling me freak enough to coax me into going to their church. Well for a while I really, really tried to believe despite evidence. I justified it through the emotion I felt with the congregation, as I suspect is how most people justify it whether or not they admit it. But eventually I started wondering things like: "Why am I supposed to love God more than I love my own Mother? Why would I do that? I certainly don't love God more than my own Mom". Then I wondered: "Why do I have a free will if using it for what I want and not what God wants is going to land me in hell?" and this gem: "WTF is a soul and who came up with this crazy idea of souls and ghosts?" There was never any evidence. Eventually I gave into believing simply based on Pascal's Wager, if you can even call that believing. Then after awhile I learned about how I was just kidding myself and that even as an atheist religion would continue to rule my life because that's the country we live in. Even now I'm just labeled an atheist-extremist for verbalizing my views. Funny.
Disbelief creeps up on us. One day we get startled with the realization that we no longer believe. Where did it go? Well that does not matter really. It is gone forever. Now what was I thinking about…….before that thought distracted me…Oh yeah, Why does everything look brighter today?
I went from being a curious questioning child whose questions were never satisfactorily answered. To being a child who tried really hard to be what (certain)family wanted me to be and tried really hard to make the whole god/religion thing work. To being a child/Early Teen who'd given up on the whole god/religion thing because it wasn't working and basically stopped caring about and thinking about god/religion. To an older teen who began to explore this god/religion thing from a more removed academic prospective. Then finally came across the word 'atheism' read a lot about it and decided that it suited me quite well. And the rest is, as they say, history.
Basic cognitive dissonance and above average intellect. After a while bullshit just starts looking and sounding like bullshit...of course all the beatings in parochial school didn't hurt either (metaphorically speaking of course).
The religious indoctrination process works best with the uninformed of below average intelligence, there are exceptions of course but most of the followers aren't setting the world on fire with new ideas.
I got here probably the same way a LOT of us did. I was born into a...well, hm...on a religiousity scale of 1 to ten (one being going to church once in a blue moon, ten being Full Blown WBC), my family was about a five. Dad was closer to a seven, mom closer to a three, so I feel it averaged out. I was a good little christian boy. I said my prayers every night like I was told to, I went to church nearly every week. Right up until about the third or fourth grade, I never doubted for a second that God was up there, that he cared. Then I started getting bullied.
I know, it's a tame start, but in my "White as Wonderbread" childhood, it was my first brush with human cruelty. I had been told all my life that God loved us and took care of us, and looked out for us. I took this to mean that the only reason I'd had such an easy time of it was because God was at my back, or at least, if not him, then an Angel of some sort. I was sure that my nightly prayers, I thanked God for everything good in my life, and I was happy.
Then my family moved out of town, and I had to start walking half a mile to get to the school bus every day. Walking half a mile alone might not seem like a big deal...except I wasn't alone. I was never alone. There were older kids, meaner kids. They didn't take my lunch money or anything. They just beat me up. They punched and kicked me, hit me in places where bruises didn't form or didn't show. There was no sense to it, no reason. The cruel little bastards just did it because someone else did it to them.I told my parents, but there was nothing they could do. Dad worked until 8 in the morning, and mom left at six. I was on my own, both going to school and coming back.
So what did I do? I prayed. I prayed hard. I went to church and I prayed there. I prayed before school and I prayed after school. I prayed when I was walking my dog, and I prayed before I went to bed. I BEGGED God to do something, ANYTHING. To HELP me. He never did. He didn't keep them from beating me up, he didn't make the names hurt any less. Nothing changed until I finally snapped and fought back. I lost, of course, but it was a turning point. The line had been drawn, and they knew it.
So I learned that I had to do things for my self. This didn't take God out of my mind, it just convinced me that he had more important things to do. There were people who needed him and his angels more, and that if I had the power to do something for my self, then who was I to beg off of an almighty creator? I spent years, all the way up into Junior High, convincing myself that God cared, but he had other, more pressing obligations.
In Junior High, I began taking classes to become a full member of my church. I studied after church, I asked lots of questions, and most importantly, I read the bible. I read all of it. Cover to cover, beginning to end. Right from the Get Go, I felt like something was wrong. God was doing things that bullies did. Not good, kind people, but cruel monsters. He massacred people, or ordered others to do it for him. I was well out of the kind, touchy-feely verses my pastor had always read about. I was down into the muck and the filth of the "Good Book"...and I hated it. I hated everything about it. It did more damage to my faith than anything else. Again, I prayed. I pleaded with God to explain himself. I asked my pastor to explain it. I begged for answers, and all I got were more questions and condescending platitudes.
God had gone from being my protector to being an absentee father to being a Tyrant, and I decided he hadn't deserved my worship, that he hadn't earned it. I decided that I would no more worship the Christian God than I would Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. I didn't question his existence, because I was naive. I didn't know the things I know now. I assumed that he was very real, and that he was a liar. I wanted nothing to do with him or his heaven, his eternal bliss that was nothing more than blind, unending praise of a being that did NOTHING for us. It created us, and then demanded that we praise it for that and that alone.
The straw that broke the camels back was two fold. First, I learned about the Theory of Evolution. I learned an alternative to creation. I found a scientific explanation for life that I had always suspected was there, but never really grasped. Second, I met the Westboro Baptist Church. It was a clash of reason and morals that created a perfect storm in my mind, one that swept me clean of any ideas that God might be real. It was as if a flood gate had been opened, and I realized that everything I had been taught to believe was garbage! I blamed my parents at first, loathing them for putting me through that. I blamed them until I realized it had been the same for them, that they just hadn't had their eyes opened, and didn't want their eyes opened.
I became an Atheist when I was seventeen, and I never looked back. I'm freer now than I had ever been with "God". My mind was unshackled, open to take in knowledge about life and the universe, receptive to arguments against the existence of Gods. I was free to decide for my self what was moral and what was not. Most importantly, I was free to take ownership of my life. Jesus was booted out of the car and replaced with logic and reason. I was navigated by common sense and a kind heart. I stepped out into a glorious, amazing world, and I've never regretted it.
My journey to Atheism was a safe one. My family was indifferent, some of them even outright supportive. I lost no true friends to my conversion, and I maintained healthy social relationships with the people I knew from my church. I got lucky, really. I know things could have been worse for me. I'm grateful that it wasn't. My only hope now is that more people will come to Atheism in a positive manner, without destructive, horrible traumas being inflicted upon them. It's saddening that it takes such terrible events to shake people from their faith, but I know that when they step out from the shadows of their ancient Gods, they will find the world, and the universe as a whole, a much brighter and welcoming place.
Holy hell...I didn't intend to write that much. o.o...
"The Age of Reason" is a good place to start, along with his "Common Sense" essays. It's too bad Tom isn't around to write "The Age of Science."
Transitioned from "Christian" to agnostic to ignostic/atheist (completely rejected god, Jesus, etc, ~4 years ago)- after:
1) Read and studied the Bible
2) Travelled and lived overseas and saw the world from a non-American, non-Christian point of view
3) Got an undergraduate degree in science
4) Went to grad school
5) Read, read, read, lived, lived, lived, worked, worked, worked, and realized there really is no good evidence for a god and it all makes a whole lot more sense without a god or religion
When I truly understood that religion was based primarily on fearing and loving a sort of jealous father figure, I saw right through all of the "sophisticated theology" as nothing but unevidenced special pleading and appeals to emotion disguised in unctuous language. It's essentially just the bogeyman for adults This was a slow process of reflective reading over a few years.