Hi all. First post here. And I'm a Christian. Looking forward to being welcomed with rational politeness...! :) 

Having been reading a number of forum discussions, it's clear many members here were formerly Christians (or at least attended church). For anyone in that category, did you in your time as a Christian/church attender have what would be described as a 'religious experience'? That could be anything from a 'sense' of God's presence in a church meeting (something many Christians would testify to and atheists would reject as deluded group-think resulting from psychological manipulation), to seemingly answered prayer, an experience of God 'speaking' etc. 

Apologies if that doesn't make sense, though I think for those here who have been in churches - especially more charismatic churches - for any length of time will get what I'm asking. 

Basically I'm interested in what you think was the cause of those experiences, and how they helped or hindered your deconversion.

Many thanks


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Hi Daniel - that phrase was meant for people who would at one stage in their lives have described themselves as Christians, but now would not - hence the 'turning their back'. I appreciate that many members of this forum would never have described themselves as Christians (presumably including yourself) so you don't really have a prior Christian belief system to reject and turn away from. 

I'm just interested in what sort of 'religious' experiences (or lack thereof) those here who have a Christian background have had, and how those affected their journey to atheism. 


I think we (or at a minimum I) would just like you to understand that in our world view it is not possible to be angry at or turn our backs on something that does not exist.  It was not god, but rather the communities of our former religions that we left.  That is all we can say for certain (unless this is Inception).  Many of us see more harm than good coming from religious organizations either in our own personal lives or the world around us, but it sometimes ends up being a which came first the chicken or the egg question in terms of understanding how someone who used to self-label as religious could now be an atheist.

Hi Colleen, I quite understand what you're saying - by 'turn your back on God' I guess that was just my shorthand for 'turn your back on that particular belief system/religious community'. Will be more careful with my wording in future :)

Yes, unfortunately it came across to many of us as that old line of tripe we sometimes hear:  "You aren't really an atheist, you are just mad at God."  This generally comes from theists who cannot accept or wrap their brains around the concept of simply not thinking god exists; I guess it's just too obvious to them that god does, or they've never been exposed to the concept of divine nonexistence at all.  (I guess they don't believe in disbelief.)

Hey Matt, welcome to the forum.

My closest semblance to a religious experience was when I was applying for an internship, I had gone by a few (2 or 3) companies already and had been refused there. So the next time, I asked for help from the internship counselor at our university, and he set me up with an interview for another company (remember that, because I didn't).

After the interview (and further unrelated), I received an email from an evangelical organization asking me if I would help them out that summer since they were low on staff. I had helped there before (when I didn't doubt my beliefs), but now I wasn't so sure.

So I made a 'deal'. I basically told God "If I get the internship, I'll go help the organization."

Lo and behold, a couple of days later I received the message that I had the internship. So naturally I went to help the organization (I had a pretty good time, but it didn't do much for my faith in the end).

It has taken me more than a year after that to realize that asking for something obvious easily creates a positive. But even after that realization I kept wondering whether I had received a 'sign'.

Eventually I have decided that signs are not good enough (too vague and interpretive), currently I will only reconsider my faith if I get to have a talk with the big man himself.

Hi Freek,

Thanks for this. I had a similar experience when applying for a voluntary year out pre-university. My two options were to be part of a Christian youth organisation, or to stay at home, do some part-time work and study for a piano performance diploma. When I went for the interview with the Christian organisation, I was 50/50 as to which one to go for, so I prayed 'God please show me the way'. As I left the interview, I realised I'd be gutted if they didn't appoint me (there were 3 or 4 others applying for the same post). So I took that as a 'sign' that it was the right thing to do.

A few days later my dad woke me up with an unopened letter and said 'I'm afraid it's bad news' - when I asked why he said 'they've only put a second class stamp on the letter'. Don't know how the postal system works in the US but in the UK you don't typically put a second class stamp on a job offer, even a voluntary one. But even before I opened the letter I 'knew' I'd got the place, and as it turned out I had. 

Please don't jump back at me with the raft of alternative explanations, I'm aware there are many! :) I'm just pointing that up as the kind of 'experience' that believers will typically attribute to God, and atheists will put to coincidence, or some kind of unconscious knowledge (e.g. I'd subconsciously noticed the interviewer putting a big red tick on my form etc)

...but an atheist (if they're a skeptic) won't necessarily have an answer for everything.  That misses the sentiment of a skeptical position.  We're comfortable saying I don't know.  That being said, out of all the possibilities and out of everything we have observed and studied thus far we take the position that god is just as likely of an explanation as fairy dust.

It's also tautological: if a "personal" God in fact exists, then God in fact probably caused those experiences. In my path to atheism, I had to acknowledge that those sorts of experiences said nothing about whether gods existed.

In the US letters might be sent priority mail or express mail, but usually they just get a first class stamp and can take 2-3 days to arrive, maybe longer.  There is also bulk rate for junk mail, but that simply wouldn't have applied in your case.

Please don't jump back at me with the raft of alternative explanations, I'm aware there are many! :) I'm just pointing that up as the kind of 'experience' that believers will typically attribute to God, and atheists will put to coincidence, or some kind of unconscious knowledge (e.g. I'd subconsciously noticed the interviewer putting a big red tick on my form etc)

@ Matt - Please don't consider this jumping back at you (lol), but I thought the below may pertain nicely with your comments.

Excerpt from Think Atheist Talk (John Loftus) Episode 53 APR 8, 2012 http://www.thinkatheistradio.com/category/blog/

John Loftus: …actually improbable events happen all the time. If people lived their lives and they don't have an extremely rare, improbable event happen to them at least once a year or maybe even once a month, if you were to calculate it out, then that would be a very strange thing indeed since there are so many possible events that could happen. Oprah Winfrey discovered she had a half-sister. Now that's a really rare thing. That's a really improbable thing but that doesn't mean you have to conclude it was a miracle, just incredibly rare that it happened. It took place just by the nature of the odds themselves, but Christians aren't really willing to  admit that for their answers to prayers…

Greg Gory: Obviously this is where the skeptic can lend a helping hand because Michael Shermer himself  has discussed how people will think of their friend and then they will pick up their phone to call that friend and before they can dial them that friend will call them and that's just like wow, what are the odds? Just given the size of America, it's bound to happen to a few people.

John Loftus: Exactly. That's not evidence of anything. The true evidence for answered prayer should be scientific evidence. It should be clinical studies in hospitals  and those things have all but shown that any such things are at best chance. Chance (unintelligible) events. We know this from science.  So that's the only way to test answers to prayers.  They almost all come up short. There's one that was a fraud. I won't go into that. Yeah, they all come up short. They all come up failing to reveal any evidence of prayer. Anecdotal evidence is one thing, scientific evidence is another. Scientific evidence shows that there is no evidence that prayers are answered anything more than the statistics of chance.

It would we really cool to check that out sometime, for instance in a 'bet' with a believer who is good-natured about those kinds of 'tests'.

People have a natural sense of awe and wonder or a moment of clarity and understanding. Now what has happened is that someone has told you this is a religious experience. You might be associating this experience that we all have as a connection to god. It is used to exploit your lack of knowledge of where that experience comes from. 

I quite frequently will look up at the stars and shiver in awe. 


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