I come from a rural area in Alabama, deep in the bible belt. My family is very religious. I, on the other hand, think entirely too much to give in to Christianity as they have. I've done my research. I even took a class entitled Survey of the Old Testament because the Old Testament is not often covered in church. I have realized that religion is probably little more than fiction but I still relapse occasionally. I think this may be due to the fact that there aren't too many people here who see the world as I do and many people are very hateful towards people like me, so I feel pressure to conform. As of right now, I claim agnostic, except when I'm around my family. I have tried to discuss my doubts with some Christians, but its like talking to a brick wall. A very hostile brick wall. I need to know why others have chosen this path, and what obstacles they face if any.
I was raised hardcore Catholic, almost became a priest, and didn't become an atheist until I was 25. I still have lingering psychological issues that I deal with every day as a result. I first started to doubt while I was studying for the priesthood. The holy scriptures contradicted known world history and science far too often for me to be comfortable with dismissing. Not to mention the vast similarities that the faith of my childhood had with long forgotten mythologies. At this point, I started to dismiss organized religion, and simply referred to myself, privately, as spiritual. I hated organized religion, but still believed in a God.
This was, until, I heard the voice of Christopher Hitchens. In a misguided attempt to re-convert me, my parents bought me a copy of one of his debates with William Lane Craig. Hitchens mercilessly shredded Craig, and not only re-affirmed my belief that religion was evil, but also, any possible God that could possibly exist in unison with the universe we observe. Any deity which could allow the sheer amount of suffering that we observe every day is neither deserving of love or worship. From that day, I was an atheist.
My obstacles have been the vehement defense of their faith by my parents. My brother and sister are more on my side, but my parents will not be moved. However, they still love me, and I love them, so we avoid the subject if possible. I try to respect their views, being careful to remember that I once held them, not so long ago, and they try to respect mine.
What is important is to remember that YOU are the one who changed, so you must bear some responsibility for that. But don't let anyone treat you as a punching bag either. Stand up for yourself, educate yourself as much as possible so that you can more effectively defend your position, and never, ever, let someone get away with threatening you. You are a person, like anyone else, and deserve the same amount of liberty and protection as anyone else.
Good luck. :)
Wow. Rough time, eh? I'm really sorry to hear that.
I guess I've been one of the lucky few that's lived a life of not really giving a damn.
Right about the time they started talking about all the world's animals fitting on one boat plus some guy living in a whale for three days, I knew the gig was up. Unfortunately for me, those stories are typically told to very young children. I was probably five or six when I knew shit wasn't right. I was nine or ten before I stopped being terrified of Hell. Go Southern Baptists!
Like most teenage girls, I played around with new age woo and Pagan stuff. To this day, I still attend Wat ( Buddhist Temple) with my elderly Thai neighbor, but it's all for...entertainment value. Getting your palm read is fun. That doesn't make it real. Not anymore than going to the theater makes a play or opera real. I like the ritual and meditative aspects of going to the Wat. I have deep respect for the philosophy of Buddhism, but I see no evidence of well, any of it. In fact, there are a few teachings I outright reject, but going to Wat isn't like going to Church. Blessings don't come with lectures or sermons. Just a lot of kneeling, throwing sticks and awkward crouch-crawling. I go to spend time with my neighbor and because I enjoy the experience.
I've spent a great deal of time in a Buddhist Nation, a Muslim Nation and the mostly-secular U.K. When I did live in rural America, I got out. Fast. We might say this is a country of freedom for all, but that isn't exactly true if you're out in the sticks, huh?
I'm too outspoken and opinionated to live in a conservative area. It just doesn't work. The environment is hostile to me, and I'm hostile right back. My husband and I have been in Portland for about a year now. It's wonderful. My friends are all atheist/agnostic except for one, and she's actually pretty cool. I'm much happier in a place where I'm accepted for who I am. Maybe you will be, too. The only advice I can give is to move. Get out of the Bible Belt. I can't speak for every city in it, but from what I understand, the south is the poorest, filthiest, most impoverished part of America, anyway. You'll have far better opportunities in places with um.. a lower teen pregnancy rate and higher education standard.
No matter what, you've got a community here online that will offer you support in any way possible. Utilize it. There are people here that care.
"I need to know why others have chosen this path,"
It's not something I chose to believe - its something I accept as fact. There is nothing that I believe just because it makes me feel comfortable to believe it. I go with the facts - I listen to what the best minds in the world are telling us about our planet and our origins. and I'm always prepared to change what I believe when new information is discovered.
Otherwise I would feel like I was living a lie and that really scares me.
"and what obstacles they face if any."
My first thought when I read your post was similar to Angela's - I didn't choose to be atheist. I gradually got there by discovering more and more things that were untrue about religion; a perfect example of a "god of the gaps" that pretty much ran out of gaps. By college the god I believed in was only responsible for the initial parameters of the first existence prior to the big bang, and by my second year I realized that even this "gap" was just another mystery that had no need to be filled with a fictional being before being explained in scientific terms in the future.
I did choose to "come out" as an atheist- to publicly admit it to my friends and family. I do live in the bible belt (Georgia) as well, but I'd say the consequences were almost unnoticeable for me, perhaps because even though my parents are Christian, they're also very open-minded.
You do have to remember, if you ever get settled on atheism, that politeness is still important. Nobody deserves to be harassed for their beliefs unless it's in defense of oneself or of another innocent. :P
I tried to choose to be a faithful xtian but it was against my nature. Yeah, I put off looking at things too closely for a couple of years because I could see where things were heading and I had been given the impression that atheists were miserable nihilists. Also, I was a coward.
I stopped believing in God when the thought occurred to me that no good God would create a world that has as much suffering as this one does.
Ah Belle, why don't you move?
Damn fine question!
Also, IIRC Belle you are in one of the more liberal parts of the country, surely you can find a secular/freethinker group on meetup?
They know I am an atheist but tell me I am welcome.
Oh of THAT I have no doubt; just like people are welcome in alligator infested swamps.
As others have said, there's less choice involved in becoming an atheist than believers assume, although there are related decisions one makes. Speaking for myself, it began with a growing realization that the beliefs I had were unrealistic. The first decision is the one to admit this to yourself and allow yourself pursue this line of thinking. Another decision is the one to quit the "team" by no longer attending church and religious functions—the choice to "live as an atheist" so to speak. (I personally never liked church very much, so I just never went again after leaving for college.)
Neither of these decisions are necessary, technically. I mean, you are defined as an atheist if you don't believe in God, but you can decide not to pursue it intellectually and to continue your life as before. It's been done. But for most "out" atheists this path would be too difficult because of the cognitive dissonance. I would feel like I was not being honest with myself. It's hard for a lot of people to not investigate something like that intellectually.
So, anyway, I imagine that applies to you as well Brittney. You're here: go ahead and discuss your doubts! Anything specific weighing on your mind?
I was raised in an atheist household but we were exposed to Christianity anyway. My parents were atheists but I remember saying prayers at night. As a kid, it felt comforting to know that if I said, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." nothing could harm me. In my dreams, T. Rex tried to get into my Manhattan apartment and ghosts haunted the old fort where I went for Brownie meetings.
Ironically, when I was a little older I had a concept of god that is not very far from what I believe now except that there is nothing divine in my current view. I used to think that we lived on God's head and that we were rather nasty parasites. From my position in the back seat of the car for 12,000 miles across the U.S. four times, I imagined the trees were hair. God seemed to go on forever.
My parents took my siblings and I to see every natural wonder they reasonably could. I've been panning for gold in the Sierras, had my toes in the pink sands of the Painted Desert, and looked up with dizzying amazement at the sequoias on the Pacific coast. The Earth was my cathedral, Cows, canyons, and shooting stars were my pastors.
Now I think the Earth, and the cosmos itself, are our literal creators. I just don't think there's any consciousness involved in the process besides ours. I am grateful to my parents for having been given information, experiences, and the freedom to decide on my own. Granted, there was a heavy atheist slant in the household but It wasn't jammed down my throat while I couldn't understand it.
An obstacle that being an atheist has presented is not being able to be part of a church and its sense of community. It has not stopped me from having friends but it can narrow the field somewhat. I feel the need to be careful what I say and to whom because like it or not, there can be unpleasant repercussions for myself and my children for not going along with the religiously faithful status quo.