Losing faith
March 14, 2005 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Atheists, when did you lose your faith?

I read the last question of this article, and now I'm curious more about individual experiences than reaching your set of "beliefs" gradually (as I did). Was there one moment or set of events in your life that you can trace your loss of faith back to? How religious were you beforehand?
posted by borkingchikapa to Religion & Philosophy (146 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If I ever even had a faith in a higher deity, it probably disappeared when I saw some innocent kid lying on the street after getting caught in a drive-by. Even as a young kid I realized that no god worth worshiping would let shit like that happen.
posted by cmonkey at 8:54 AM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I never acquired faith. My mother tried to introduce religion to me (by way of the catechism) when I was 6 years old. I just looked at her and said, "You've got to be kidding." This was about 6 months after I worked out that Santa Claus didn't exist.

We are born atheists. Religion and god are concepts that must be learned.
posted by mischief at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised agnostic so never had much faith to begin with. In my 20's I dabbled in Buddhism, Wicca, and Unitarianism, and while there were some good elements philosophically and community-wise, nothing really *stuck* until I started reading more about science (including cognitive science, philosophy of science, and evolutionary biology and psychology), which converted me to the hard-core rationalist I am today. The universe and the mind in themselves are awe-inspiring enough without having to believe in some daddy or santa claus.
posted by matildaben at 8:58 AM on March 14, 2005

I never had faith. My family, all the way back to my greatgrandparents, has been areligious, if that's a word. Belief in god or another superior being is really foreign to me.
posted by puffin at 8:58 AM on March 14, 2005

I was never very religious, but was confirmed and all that in Catholicism. Home life was hell, and there was a time growing up that I would pray to make it stop. Things only got worse at home. And then I got old enough to start thinking critically about my experience and religion in general.

Some people ask something to the equivalent of haven't you ever had an experience that was religious? My response is, everything I've experienced points to the opposite.
posted by evening at 9:00 AM on March 14, 2005

When I was young, there wasn't much faith in religion. It was more like a variant of school, just with a different set of facts and procedures to memorize. Then it ran headlong into high school Physics, where everything has to be justified by evidence. And there was no evidence.
posted by smackfu at 9:01 AM on March 14, 2005

I never had faith. My family, all the way back to my greatgrandparents, has been areligious, if that's a word. Belief in god or another superior being is really foreign to me.

Me too. I don't even really grasp the concept of "spirituality."
posted by scratch at 9:01 AM on March 14, 2005

I learned about the crusades.
posted by chrisroberts at 9:04 AM on March 14, 2005

My first major contact with God was at school assemblies (in the UK). I just thought that God and the other characters from the bible were just like the characters on TV. I completely missed that we were meant to "believe" in them. They were just stories. Ditto Santa Claus.

On the other hand, I do occasionally justify events to myself as if there is a higher power (eg fate/serendipity/etc), but I've never equated it with a god of any kind.
posted by cillit bang at 9:05 AM on March 14, 2005

I was quite religious when I was younger. I'm not sure that I'd call myself atheist now -- agnostic is probably closer -- but I've definitely had a shift. Actually, I think that the big change for me came when I did a religious studies major in college. It taught me that there is a way to retain spirituality (of a sort) without adhering to dogma. Coincidentally, this was also about the time that the "moral majority" really started to get its wings. Realizing that most Christians had a vastly different concept of Christianity than mine and were (excuse the sweeping unfair generalization) often jerks really made me rethink my identification with that group.

Come to think of it, I still really resent the co-opting of something important to me by the right wing, even if I've largely grown away from it anyway.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 9:05 AM on March 14, 2005

I was once very religious. When I went to college, I did so with the intention of training myself for missionary work.

University broadened my mind.

I was challenged almost immediately. I'd always been a bookish kid, and read widely, but somehow had never left a certain comfort zone. My very first religion class was something like "Major Religious Texts", a comparative overview of the various major world religions. I'd been aware of these other religions on a surface intellectual level, but never actually explored them at length. (Why did I need to? I knew that I was right.)

This class put some cracks in my thinking.

Then I fell in with the campus Christians, who were anything but. They were a bunch of backstabbing, conniving, foul-mouthed jerks. My high school youth group had been a warm, loving fellowship of like-minded believers. This new class of Christian put some more cracks in my thinking.

This whole process occurred during the late-eighties, amidst various religious scandals. More cracks in my thinking. My belief was suddenly on tenuous ground.

The final straw, if you can believe it, was reading Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which only passingly deals with religion. I can remember it quite well. It was during the fall of my sophomore year, and I was sitting in the library, two-thirds of the way through with the book, when I realized: "I don't think there is a god." I floated the idea for several weeks, several months, testing it to see if it fit.

It did.

And now, sixteen years later, I'm still an atheist.

Perhaps technically I'm agnostic. I'm open to the idea of a god, and if I ever saw even the slightest evidence of his or her possible existence, I'd be first in line for conversion, but it seems impossible that this will ever happen.

I still read religious texts, and I still discuss religion with friends. (I've remained close friends with all of my high school youth group. They're all still as Christian as ever.) But it's more a curiosity than a way of life for me now.
posted by jdroth at 9:07 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Jewish - we were never terribly religious, but i still got sent to after-school Hebrew lessons, and i had a Bat Mitzvah. It never really dawned on me to really beleive in it until i thought about it one day and realized that i didn't. So i never lost my religion, it just took me a while to realize that i never had it to begin with.

(a few years later, in my late teens, my dad went on this rant about organised religion being the cause or the rationale for all the great evil acts of history and how religion is the worst thing to have happened to society. So i guess although he kept quiet about that beleif, he also never really tried to instill the opposite beleif either.)
posted by Kololo at 9:08 AM on March 14, 2005

Another one for "lose? What lose?". Like Kololo I was raised Jewish in an intensely casual way. At one point I was learning Hebrew but I never really, you know, believed.
posted by kenko at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2005

I never had any religion. I even went to a Catholic school for one year and was just confused as to what the hell everyone was thinking. Atheism just seems to be the default state I was born with.
posted by PantsOfSCIENCE at 9:14 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised as an atheist Quaker, and so thought of religion more in terms of an ethical system rather than of supernatural beliefs. My parents taught me about ideas like the inner light more as metaphors: most of the Quakers I know understand them as such.

So the idea of atheism leaving that gd-shaped hole is completeley foreign to me. And fairly early on I just decided that that particular set of metaphors didn't really appeal to me, and neither did having to explain the world figuratively.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:16 AM on March 14, 2005

I'm not sure i ever had any.

I was raised Catholic but god was always like Santa Clause to me. It was a nice story that mom told me but as I got older it just seemed silly to believe in him. No logic in it at all and I couldn't understand how adults could think otherwise. It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I realized many of them do. I can respect most of them, but it still baffles me.

I called myself agnostic for a while and then one day I realized I just don't believe at all. I'm perfectly happy knowing we came about by accident, we'll become worm food when we die, and in between there will be a whole lot of stuff we don't know the answer to.
posted by bondcliff at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2005

I used to be an agnostic. I believe I became an atheist back in the early 90s. As a cub reporter, I had to go to three appalling funerals in four days, five little kids dead in a house fire, a whole family wiped out in a car crash - like that. In each case, the minister or priest got up and told the congregation they should not question God's plans. I realized this might fly in small communities, where this sort of tragedy may only happen once a generation. But one after another, it filled me with fury at religion. How could you believe in a benevolent god when five innocent little kids lie in small white coffins on an altar in front of you? The only way to keep believing was not to question. Which is what the grieving faithful were told. By the third such funeral, I had to squelch a powerful impulse to get up and start raving at the man in the robes.
"Don't question" is, to me, anathema to basic humanity.
Once you start, I don't see how you can continue to believe.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2005

In my opinion, you can only "lose" faith if you happen to be an adult at the time.

"Losing faith" in religion as a child is like "losing faith" in Santa Claus as a child: inconsequential and boring.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2005

My parents came from two differen religions and we grew up with no religion at all. I grew up in the country and didn't really even know about religion as anything other than a fairy tale until I was 5 or 6. At that point I started public school and my best friend from up the road started attending a very fundamentalist Christian church and coming at me with all sorts of nonsense. My grandparents on each side were slightly religious [one set Jewish, one set Episcopalian] but we never went to church/temple with them and it was just sort of like a "I believe in the Red Sox, you believe in Jesus" kind of thing.

As an adult, I have a boyfriend who grew up in the Presbyterian church and it's always interesting to talk to him about the things he took for granted about the way the world is or the way other people act because of his religious upbringing. We have a very similar set of beliefs, mine just doesn't include a higher power.
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2005

I grew up evangelical Christian and was very convinced of it, very involved in church and youth groups and went to Bible college for two years. My website has a section devoted to excerpts from journal entries pertinent to my change in beliefs as I moved from evangelicalism to atheism: Faith Dissolved.

As for what precipitated the change, there were several things. Two of my friends' mothers, both very devout Christians who believed in healing, died of breast cancer when I was in high school. I was in a cultish church for two years and it was very manipulative and when I left, I felt the need to completely rebuild my theology in order to sort out the crap from the truth, so I went to bible college. In bible college, I took Systematic Theology and various church history courses and Biblical studies courses, which solved some of my questions but brought up bigger questions (predestination/election vs. free will, once-saved-always-saved vs. ability to lose your faith, how to deal with my inability to condemn homosexuality and also my belief that the Bible was inerrant, etc.).

In the end though, I didn't choose not to believe in God. I don't really think that's a choice. I woke up and realized (with horror) that it just didn't seem real anymore. For someone whose entire worldview and understanding of self was based in theism and particularly Christianity, it was horrifying and overwhelming and I was at a loss on how to conduct myself for at least a month. I remember starting to pray many times out of habit only to stop mid-sentence as I realised (again) that God just wasn't there, and never had been. I felt rather betrayed by it, I would have liked him to exist. I'm not sure that I feel that way anymore, but I had spent so many years feeling loved by and feeling love for the god that I believed it, and it was a great loss. I went to bible college mainly because I felt that I was in danger of losing my faith, and I was certain that if I lost my faith I would become suicidal and life would not be worth living. I have found quite the opposite to be true, I feel much more like myself (if that makes any sense) and I am much happier.

As for atheism, it's not that I think that I can prove that there isn't a god. It's just that I used to believe in the evangelical Christian god and no others, and now I don't believe in him either, so I'm left believing in none of them. As for a god who just created the world and then left it alone, I'm not sure that it even makes sense to talk about something that "started the big bang" or "created the world" since you can't really talk about starting time without thinking about something that is before time, and that doesn't compute. That's another issue for another thread though. :)

I still read religious texts, and I still discuss religion with friends. (I've remained close friends with all of my high school youth group. They're all still as Christian as ever.) But it's more a curiosity than a way of life for me now.

Me too. I've been fortunate to have evangelical "the bible is inerrant" Christian friends who are able to look past my atheism and remain good friends with me. I know others who haven't been so lucky. Christianity is still as fascinating to me as it ever was, but for different reasons now. Annie Dillard's writings (Holy the Firm, For the Time Being) are great when I feel like wrapping my mind around something big.

Sometimes I am accused of hating Christians because I am critical of various things in the religion (the fundamentalist evangelical stream of it anyways, the liberal stream is a whole other ballgame and I don't pretend to understand it yet), but if anything, Christians feel like my family. I grew up in that culture, I can speak Christianese with the best of them, and they don't seem weird to me. Of course, that doesn't mean I know how to communicate my new worldview to them without a lot of confusion.
posted by heatherann at 9:22 AM on March 14, 2005

I find it fascinating that there are two broad classes of atheists here so far: those, like me, who were once devout, and whose faith was shaken in young adulthood by further study; and, the majority here, those who have never really had a faith in god. My wife is in the latter camp, and sometimes talking with her about world views is a lost cause.

A couple of years ago I told her that I wanted to start going to church, not because I believed in god or because I wanted to, but because I missed the fellowship of my youth. It is awesome to have a church community to draw upon; those who've never experienced it cannot appreciate it. I have a life filled with great friends and all sorts of activities, but none of it compares to a strong church community. In the end, however, my wife convinced me that going to church solely for the community would be unfair to her, to the church members, and ultimately to myself.
posted by jdroth at 9:28 AM on March 14, 2005

jdroth, there always Unitarian churches, which are there mainly to establish that community, not to spread any particular faith. I know a few atheists/other who are quite involved in UU "churches".
posted by heatherann at 9:31 AM on March 14, 2005

I was "raised" Catholic, but it didn't really stick. In fact, I was never confirmed, because when the time came around that I should've been, it was clear to both myself and my parents that I really didn't believe, and none of the CCD education had caused me to (I really only went to the classes because I got Taco Bell for dinner beforehand). So that's not much of an "individual experience," I know, but I think the vast majority of nonbelievers don't come by their nonbelief due to some transformative occurence; that's just the way they've always been.

And I also wouldn't characterize myself as an atheist; I'm defintiely agnostic. Being completely sure that there's no God is just as irrational as being completely sure that there is one, IMHO.
posted by logovisual at 9:32 AM on March 14, 2005

Response by poster: In my opinion, you can only "lose" faith if you happen to be an adult at the time.

That's pretty much what I was looking for, but everyone's stories are interesting. I didn't mean to presume that everyone was born or raised having faith, because I certainly wasn't.
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:33 AM on March 14, 2005

Heather Ann, your website subsection is awesome.

An expanded version of my journey from believer to atheist can be found in this trilogy of entries from my weblog: Genesis, Exodus, and Revelations.
posted by jdroth at 9:33 AM on March 14, 2005

In 3rd grade. I was forced to go to Catholic school from kindergarten through 8th grade. We went to mass every school day, and my parents took us on Sundays too (though my mother went only to look at and comment on what others were wearing).

Mass was confusing and terrifying. I couldn't convince myself to believe in any of it. By the time I reached 3rd grade, I realized that I had a choice and didn't have to believe in anything. My parents were quite unhappy with me, of course. And when my brother made the same decision about five years later, they blamed me for corrupting him.
posted by smich at 9:34 AM on March 14, 2005

I was somewhat religious (which means I was a christian) when I was a kid. my mom used to take me to church until she had to get a job, and in school I would hang out with the christian kids and go on youth trips and such (especially if a girl I liked was going).

then one day, at a meeting of some sort a girl who had just returned from Generic-stan was joking about how it was hard to minister to people overseas because how do you tell someone that their religion is wrong? everyone got a good laugh at it, but I really thought about it. how do you tell someone that their religion is wrong, and moreover, how do you explain that yours is right? I really thought about the things I was being and always had been told and it slowly became obvious what a sham it all was. I realized I was only religious because it was what I was brought-up to be, and that almost everyone I knew was the same way. I reckon that a person's religion is determined by which one gets to them first.

I started listening to Millions of Dead Cops and grew to resent the free pass religion had been given. the doctrines were so clearly fairy tales, the leaders were so plainly crooks but loved anyways, their influence was so insidious and contrary to progress...many many christians like to say that they're under assault from liberals, or the ACLU, the or AARP or whoever it is this week, but I wouldn't voice my criticism in public any more than I would yell a racial slur at an airport.

and I never looked back.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:34 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised as a mormon, and I remember one sermon as a child that talked about how we (as mormons) were not supposed to read anti-mormon literature, which of course made me want to read anti-mormon literature. This sat with me until I was watching some show on tv (I think it was "Unsolved Mysteries") and it told the story of Joseph Smith and the "White Salamander" documents.

I was fairly young (9 or 10), but it opened the door wide enough for me to really start questioning my fundamental beliefs about God, and the religion that I was raised in. I did some research, and at 10 told my parents I was an atheist. They freaked, forced me to read scripture, and then ultimately told me that it wasn't a decision I could make until I was 16.

When I turned 16, I never looked back.
posted by Quartermass at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised in a catholic-in-name household and went to a catholic school where we were taught by religious brothers. I remember 'trying' to be serious about it all when I was maybe 10 and 11 - trying to be the perfect boy or some other weird devil fearing reaction. I think I used to get headaches in church trying to pray as hard as I could.
Then I discovered skateboards and leaving home alone early sundays 'for church' really became church-skipping skating sessions with the badder group.
So I think it was a slow process for me - losing interest mostly. But by the time I finished high school I had put my foot down and refused to be hypocrytical by going to church at Xmas or Easter time when I wouldn't any other time.
Then wine women song and *coff* chemicals came along and I just mosty forgot about it all.
But there have been spiritual revivals in my life since. However they haven't been God-based - secular moralism - existentialsm perhaps, and mostly influenced by eastern travel and particularly Buddhism. I think as you get a broader experience you start to see that there's good things and bad things about many of the religions and I suppose I'm heartened in remaining quite spiritual, even if it isn't framed by any traditional belief system.
So I thank your God I'm atheist! (thank you to Dave Allen).
posted by peacay at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2005

I was once very religious (Episcopalian). I now consider myself a "skeptical agnostic". It was a very gradual thing for me, with occasional "backsliding" back into church. I think what did it was my inability to reconcile the idea of an all loving AND all powerful AND all knowing god. I mean, why set up a world full of religions and cultures and ideas and say "ok mortal, pick the right one or be thrown into the lake of fire." It seems cruel.

I still have a lot of respect for real Christians though, and a lot of those principles have stuck with me. And I second what jdroth said about community...I miss that sometimes but I think it would be hypocritical to "pretend".
posted by JoanArkham at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2005

Another one for "lose? What lose?". Like Kololo I was raised Jewish in an intensely casual way. At one point I was learning Hebrew but I never really, you know, believed.

Ditto. I went to Hebrew school (which I hated) and had a Bar Mitzvah, but it all felt meaningless and empty to me. I think the fact that all the praying was done in a foreign language was an important contributing factor.

The final straw, I think, was visiting Israel when I was 14 or 15. I went with my family and a few other Jewish families and travelled around the country. All I wanted to do was appreciate the culture and the beauty of the land, but everyone else seemed too caught up in some kind of silly mysticism. I went to the wailing wall and found it meaningless. I loved the historical aspect and hated the religious. And of course, viewing the damage of religious war first-hand did a lot to solidify my contempt for religion.

Then I started reading more, and stumbled upon Why I Am an Agnostic by Robert G. Ingersoll, which seemed to confirm all of my budding ideas.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2005

I've been atheistic from birth. Raised in an agnostic/atheist household; taken by my grandparents once to a catholic mass when I was very young, but it didn't stick; recently my dad lent me The End of Faith, a rather militantly areligious book; so I'd say that just as most people acquire their faith via their upbringing, so did I acquire my lack of faith, though of course I would argue that faith and lack of faith are qualitatively different things that do not deserve to be grouped together in that parallel construction like I just did.
posted by evinrude at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2005

Three generations ago.
posted by elgilito at 9:43 AM on March 14, 2005

After getting out of a physically abusive first marriage, my mother remarried a second time to a seemingly decent guy who'd just been ditched with two kids by his first wife after never doing anything but treat her well (even according to her). As part of our new improved home, we joined a local church and learned among other things that the bad first marriages were what happened when you didn't have God in the family. After a few months of this and a pleasant home, I believed it enough to get very involved, even get baptized.

Days after I did so, dad #2 got his work hours slashed, took up abusing alcohol that same night, took up abusing the entire family the night after that. Within a year, I had to put him in the hospital to prevent him from killing the whole lot of us. 25 years since, he's still never put himself back together, and still hurting my family (albiet in a non-physical sense) on a near daily basis.

Church just turned a blind eye, ignored and ducked what I told or asked them, gradually nudged us out the door. I suppose we were embarrassing.

I never decided there was no God, I just decided I could not walk with him or his followers if they were so damned hypocritical. Today I'll still pray (at funerals and such) for other people who believe, just in case there is indeed someone/something out there that might have mercy upon them. But no way I'm seeking it for myself again... already tried that once, and I remember what it got me.
posted by Pufferish at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2005

Like many others here, I never had much faith to begin with. I was raised, nominally, Jewish, but the religious part of it never took. I'm very interested in Jewish culture, and identify ethnically as Jewish. But I never ever believed in any of the religious aspects of it, even as a kid.

Now, as an adult, the more I read about evolutionary biology, the more I wonder how anyone can possess a strong faith. I mean no disrespect to any religious folks here -- it's just that my sense of reasoning is logical, almost to a Vulcanlike fault. And when something challenges my sense of logic so thoroughly, it becomes almost incomprehensible to me.

So there was never any faith to lose, only understanding to be gained.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Catholic, and am from an Irish Catholic family. I guess my first inklings of agnosticism began when I was about 8 or so, and realised that my so called "true" religion was a complete accident of birth, and that I would have been pretty much screwed with regard to heaven etc. if I had been born in most countries of the world. Of course before that, I hadn't really thought about it one way or the other, and Mass and Catholic school was just something to put up with, so I was never really devout. I'm a scientist now, and for me, that is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of a god or gods.

My husband was very religious right up until college when (according to him, because this was many years before I met him) he pretty much woke up one morning and decided it was all a load of crap.
posted by gaspode at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2005

I still have a lot of respect for real Christians though, and a lot of those principles have stuck with me.

I agree. I agree. But to me, real Christians are those who've actively explored their faith, have challenged it, and come out the other side with their belief intact. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for most Christians.
posted by jdroth at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2005

To use jdroth's taxonomy, I'm a "type 2." I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist, but it's a pretty hard agnosticism that some might call atheist.

I grew up in an inobservantly Jewish family. My parents sent my sisters and myself to Sunday school, but they never attended temple themselves; passover was the only holiday they paid much attention to. I never felt any sense of spirituality, but as a child, took it for granted without much thought that what they were telling me in Sunday school was true. When I started preparing at 12 for my bar mitzvah, it was an occasion for me to examine my beliefs, or lack thereof--I realized I didn't buy any of it, though I did go through with the bar mitzvah.

As I got older, I became more confident in my lack of faith, but in my 30s, I've got a number of friends who practice some form of alternative spirituality. These are smart people I respect, and I don't dismiss out of hand the possibility that they're really tuning in to something that I can't perceive. The alternative is that they are delusional, and while I don't like to put it in such stark terms, if I had to pick sides, that's the side I'd pick.
posted by adamrice at 9:56 AM on March 14, 2005

While I'm not quite an atheist, I believe I may be headed that way.

I was brought up Episcopalian but my family quit all church going by the time I was six or seven (two of my older brothers were confirmed - we three younger never were). I was 13 or 14 when I realized there was no way I could consider myself a Christian.

Since then I've dabbled in Judaism, Wicca and Buddhism. While I can appreciate that most religions have something to recommend them, I've found I can't subscribe to any of them. There are too many rules and beliefs that go against what I believe to be true.

In many ways I wish there was some sort of supreme being, but then, how could something like that let the world be the way it is? I guess I have to call myself agnostic with atheistic tendencies.

And oddly enough I've never really had any contact (if I can call it that) with atheists until I began lurking here at MetaFilter. So does that mean I can blame y'all?
posted by deborah at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Catholic, confirmed and all, although I really don't know if I ever really believed the way I was supposed to have believed. I really don't know how I felt at the time; I went through the motions, though, convincingly. Sometime in my mid-teens I realized that if there *was* a God, He wouldn't be such a dick about ritual and demanding worship. So if the Catholic God exists, fuck Him, because He's an insecure jerk.

I love my neighbor and my enemy, and do my best to live right, but organized religion is a manipulative, icky thing, so far as I'm concerned.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:11 AM on March 14, 2005

I was very religious until I went through confirmation class. The eye-opener for me was learning about Islam and Judaism, and visiting a synagogue. (This was a fairly liberal congregation.) Since other people were just as sincere in beliefs that contradicted mine, I had to conclude that my faith didn't mean squat. Add in a lot of teenage angst and it was all downhill from there. Sitting in the minister's office and telling him that I wasn't going to join his church was the bravest thing I did at that age.

The values I was taught have stuck with me, and I'm happy about that. And like LittleMissCranky, I'm very angry about Christians who distort those values.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:11 AM on March 14, 2005

I was super religious when i was younger, even to the point of teaching bible studies in my first years at college. I also went on a missionary trip when i was a teenager. I was a super hardcore fundamentalist, believing that the bible was the word of god and all. At the end of my 2nd year in college i started doubting that the bible could be all true with the passage of time and all.

It all went down from there. The next year i declined from teaching the bible studies because i felt i shouldn't be teaching if i had doubts. Because of that decision, it created a weird tension between me and the church; people would ask me "why aren't you teaching anymore?" and i wouldn't know what to say. In any case, i'm mostly an atheist today. What makes it so much fun is that i still know more about the bible than most of my christian friends. I could write about this forever, but i've got to work.
posted by escher at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Jehovah's Witness and I was a pretty hardcore believer as a kid - not that I knew any different really, but I liked being a JW kid, mostly. My dad's alcoholism got him kicked out when I was 12 and, although I still believed in JW teachings, seeing how we were treated and ostracised from the "community" when we needed support the most really pissed me off.

I guess losing that sense of trust in the organisation (as I had always assumed it would just be there for me no matter what) made me question my trust in its teachings too. I don't know that I have lot faith entirely. Right now, I'm pretty much an agnostic and OK with that, and I know I'd never be a part of any organised religion, but I'm not willing to let one cult take away my entire belief system.
posted by eatcherry at 10:24 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised in a very passively religious home. We went to church ever Sunday, but beyond that it wasn't mentioned much. And, much like bondcliff, I reached a point in my teens (while attending Catholic school) when I reaiized I was supposed to be believing that all these Bible stories really happened. I was (and am) a voracious reader and it just didn't make sense. I remember thinking how obvious it was that the Bible was a collection of Fairy Tales (as in stories that were meant to teach), and not real. In retrospect, I think that science classes had a profound effect on me at that time, too. As has been said already, learning to think critically and empirically was probably the final straw that kept religion from gaining any hold on me.

Although, actually, I've been fascinated by religions and philosophy ever since my failed indoctrination -- so I guess it got some hold on me.
posted by papercake at 10:25 AM on March 14, 2005

In sixth grade I prayed diligently every night to the Catholic God I had always believed in for some type of sign that he was really out there and that life doesn't end when we die.

No reply ever came.

Eventually it occurred to me that I was talking to myself.
posted by BackwardsCity at 10:27 AM on March 14, 2005

I'm one of the ones that never had faith. I grew up in a family that never went to church or discussed religion. Like scratch, I don't really know what it means to be spiritual.
posted by greasy_skillet at 10:28 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised evangelical, Pentacostal/Baptist, creationist, literalist. Always challenged it, though I tended to accept the apologetics. I read and admired C.S. Lewis in particular. I also doubted (and still doubt) the wisdom of intuition.

I was terrible at being a Christian -- life of sin and all that. Several times I dabbled in the ideas of atheism or at least agnosticism. But I usually came back, guilt or doubt forcing me to accept Pascal's Wager. I ended up graduating from a tiny Baptist school and entering a small Presbyterian college.

It wasn't until last June when, at the age of 20, I decided one day that all the arguments for Jesus' divinity and for Creationism didn't hold together. I was agnostic for a week before deciding that agnosticism was only possible in an atheistic universe. This is why I dislike and distrust agnostics.

I entered my junior year at college as an atheist, and I am now, as far as I know, the only avowed atheist among Grove City College's 2500 students. Somehow I maintain friendly relations with the Christians around me.

And I feel pathetic asking this, but I'd like to talk to one or two other atheists, as it exhausts me to spend the entire day discussing philosophy and ethics on Christians' terms. I am available by e-mail and AIM (available on my site).
posted by NickDouglas at 10:29 AM on March 14, 2005

When I was 12, I was playing the "what if the universe is an atom in an impossibly larger structure" game in my head. Then I realized that no matter what theory I came up with, it was no less provable and no more ludicrous than the Bible. All it was missing was an old book and a lot of adherents who had no proof, either.

So I figured that an answer was not forthcoming and believing one particular theory made no sense because they were all equally unbelievable.

(Mother was raised religious but is not a strong believer. Father is an atheist, but I didn't know that until college-- he was evasive about it in deference to my mother's religious guilt.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:33 AM on March 14, 2005

i was christened as a baby and confirmed at puberty (confirmation is when you take some lessons, then have a ceremony after which you can take communion - this is moderately high anglican). before confirmatioin i went to sunday school; afterwards i became an acolyte (carried a candle during the services).
despite the confirmation (which, i assume, was suppossed to make me more self-aware), my "faith" was simply that i was doing what others did. if someone had asked me whether i had believed in god my answer would have depended on the environment: at church, or talking to older people, i would have said "yes", because that was what was expected; otherwise i would have shrugged my shoulders and said "i guess so".
a year or two after confirmation i started to become more aware and questioning. largely, i think, because i resented having to go to a boring church service. it struck me that i was going only because people had come to rely on me - the church was in decline and who would carry the candle if i didn't? i came to realise that i didn't "believe". it was no great moment, since my previous "faith" was just habit anyway.
after that, i started to use the excuse of homework to stop going so often, then went away to university. i've never been back. it's all a bit embarassing.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:41 AM on March 14, 2005

Raised Catholic, sometime in high school I began doubting this aspect or that aspect of my faith -- easily happens in Catholicism, which is full of rather doubtful assertions (Pope's infallibility, Immaculate Conception), and once you start doubting one thing, it seems reasonable to doubt more and more. The concept of hell was a big sticking point for me. I remember thinking, if I was a divine being about to create the universe, and through my knowledge of all things I knew that the universe would be filled with creatures who, after a brief tortured life, would suffer unbearable agonies for eternity, would I proceed to create that universe? Decided not to.

Still, I was still a (not-terribly-devout) Catholic when I went to college, and was officially in the faith for a few years, until one Mass I realized I didn't believe this stuff, and never would again.
posted by barjo at 10:46 AM on March 14, 2005

I'd need a thread the exact opposite of this one. At this moment in time, I find myself being intellectually drawn towards Christian faith. That is not a typo; there's an intellectual tradition in the Anglican church which is honestly speaking to me right now. And I got there the same way many people here found their atheism-- from the knowledge of just how cruel, brutal, power-mad and arbitrary human beings are. I'm not at the point where I can talk with a straight face about the risen Christ, etc., but I might do, in the years to come. Note: It's all about metaphor, and mystery.
posted by jokeefe at 10:47 AM on March 14, 2005

Further: after reading this thread, there seems to often be in people's answers, for those who grew up in religious (or religious in name) households, an equation between losing faith in the church as an institution and losing faith in the idea of God, which I find interesting. One doesn't always imply the other, does it?
posted by jokeefe at 10:56 AM on March 14, 2005


It is awesome to have a church community to draw upon; those who've never experienced it cannot appreciate it. I have a life filled with great friends and all sorts of activities, but none of it compares to a strong church community. In the end, however, my wife convinced me that going to church solely for the community would be unfair to her, to the church members, and ultimately to myself.

I agree with the first part of that, that a church community is an awesome, powerful, and hard-to-replicate thing. I disagree with the second part of it, that it would be unfair of you to join one. I certainly can't speak to whether it would be unfair to your wife, but as to the church members and to yourself, I would think that your presence would be a really good thing. Although most people here would disagree, genuine Christians are seeking (or are trying to seek) the truth. And if the pastor (or a church member) says something that's not true, you would be able to ask about it. If you're in a church with people who are truly seeking truth, and if you approach the situation with respect and a desire for real understanding, dialogue would help hone their understanding of God and your understanding of yourself (or the universe, or humanity, etc.). I know it's hip on MeFi to slam Christianity (or, rather, fundy Christians), and I'm not saying some of that anger / frustration / bitterness is misplaced. But not all Christians are ignorant yokels. Many are sincerely pursuing reality, and (if you found them) they would value your presence and your insights.

on preview: jokeefe might be one of them.
posted by Alt F4 at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2005

I was never particularly religious. I remember trying to pray every once in a while, but I realized that I only ever did it when I wanted something, and us such didn't really believe. Even when I was doing it there was always a cynical voice in my head asking 'do you really believe in what you're doing?'

I went to church starting in around grade one or so. I wasn't baptized until the birth of my second sibling, which would place me around that age (7.) My mother believes in God, and I suppose she felt that she really needed to get that taken care of, but I think our continuing to go to church had more to do with her wanting us to be raised properly in a broad sense than it had to do with strict observance (we did, after all, go to a Toronto United church.) My father came, but he (or his family) aren't religious. In the same vein as my mother, he would occasionally tell us bible stories if the characters involved ever arose in conversation, but more out of a feeling that we should have this part of cultural ephemera.

Church itself was lame. I remember sitting in the front pew, drawing tanks and soldiers on the collection envelopes with my friend, racing up to the sunday school room, and after class was over, racing down to the basement so that we could get first crack at the lemonade. One time in sunday school we made puppets on popsicle sticks. Mine was supposed to be Jesus riding an ass, but on the reverse I drew a mounted knight. Throughout all this time I paid attention to what was said, but I knew it didn't affect me in the same way it might have the others (and it helped that my friend didn't seem particularly affected either.)

I actually went to a church sleepover once, and the fact I did probably shows how non-confrontational the United church can be. I stopped going to church after a few years, while my Mother and sister continued for a few more (my sister was eventually confirmed, though as far as I can tell she's more cynical than even I,) and I only went back for a few months when my friend from earlier days told me that the new sunday school teacher gave out free donuts.

Interestingly, I actually went to a Christian camp, long after I had stopped going to church (maybe in grade 8 or 9.) I hadn't been to camp before, and my Grandparents (who had sent my father and his siblings there, mostly because the other local, non-religious, camp had suffered some deaths or some other scandal at the time) thought it would be a nice tradition. I remember that my Grandmother told me in the car just before I left that, though she knew none of us really believed, that if anything it would be an exercise in tolerance.

Camp probably erased any lingering indifference I had about religion, and turned me against Christianity in an actively critical way -- from 'meh, who cares' to 'these people are insane.' It was full of foul-mouthed Winnipegers who couldn't understand why someone from Toronto was there, and our counselor was convinced that God was telling him in his dreams to dump his girlfriend. There was also the singing.
posted by maledictory at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2005

If you had asked me this question when I was younger, I would have explained how, in my late teens, I shifted from the sort of weak agnosticism that I grew up with (non-religious, Jewish parents) to strong atheism -- and I would have listed all the logical arguments that proved God's nonexistence to me. I can still recite those arguments, and they are still compelling. But they bore me.

I now realize that I am an atheist -- and I always have been -- because I do not care about God. In other words, I am first and foremost an emotional atheist. The logic, though I agree with it, is just a top layer.

Let's say someone proved to me conclusively that God exists. I don't believe in Him, but I can imagine such proof. Certainly, my non-belief is falsifiable. Show me God, and I will believe.

Even so, I wouldn't care. I mean, it would exciting from an intellectual standpoint -- the same way it would be exciting to know what killed the dinosaurs and whether or not there's life on other planets. But I doubt it would much affect my everyday life.

You see, I have no feeling for God. I don't love him or hate him, even as a fiction. (And I CAN love and hate fictional characters. I've done so while reading many books and watching many movies.) God just leaves me cold.

I wish this wasn't the case. I used to be proud to be an atheist, but now I think it's abnormal. I think religion really helps people -- especially when they get older and start getting scared, as I am, of losing their loved ones. In fact, if there's a genetic component to theism (and I suspect there is), then we atheists probably have a mutation.

Speaking of genes, I recently found out that both my grandfather and my great-grandfather were atheists. I didn't know this when they were alive.
posted by grumblebee at 11:01 AM on March 14, 2005

After a few world history classes, I realized religion, especially Christianity over a period of 1500 years, is a means of manipulating people to gain power. Just look at the last election, it's like it will never end. Oh, and the idea of a nebulous super being is ridiculous.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 11:08 AM on March 14, 2005

So I guess two things,more succinctly.

1. History of religion and power

2. Science, everything in the universe is made of the same stuff. If there was a God, God would be made of the same stuff the Universe is made of. Which makes God not God, I guess.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 11:11 AM on March 14, 2005

My parents never introduced any religion, so I just made a ruling at age 6 or 7.
posted by abcde at 11:12 AM on March 14, 2005

My father became an Episcopal priest when I was in middle school, and when that happened, I realized how artificial church ritual was. I had to go to church every day until I left for college, regardless of my mental or, unless extreme, physical state, and when I protested, I had it explained to me that that was my job! My father needed the united front of his family (which, btw, was falling apart at the time) to bolster his politics at the church.

Oh, and church politics - little old ladies backbiting like vicious teenagers at altar guild meetings, vestry members dropping by to complain at all hours of the night about hymn selections, political beliefs of other members, or fundraising issues. Seeing the business and the politics behind the church dissolved my already shaky faith.

Then we moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, a place I would gladly see obliterated off the map. Besides being a cultural void, it is also home to Jerry Falwell and his flock, and they wielded a considerable amount of power in the mid-80s. Dealing with these bible-thumping hypocrites every day in high school turned my religious doubt to hate.

I've since mellowed out, especially after having the distance to see all the good work my father does. But now I reside in James Dobson's city, so I don't think my religious aversion is going away any time soon.
posted by bibliowench at 11:16 AM on March 14, 2005

My brothers and I were raised Catholic, albeit in an open and understanding home. We attended church every Sunday, and my parents--or at least my mother--were fairly involved in the church community. I was even an alter boy for a number of years. My parents required my brothers and me to attend religious education until the time came for the sacrament of confirmation. Confirmation occurs at different ages depending on the church, but in the churches we attended, confirmation occured in early high school. My parents thought of confirmation as a decision to become an adult member of the church, a decision that had to be made voluntarily. As a result, after requiring years of religious eduction, they allowed my brothers and me to decide for ourselves whether we wanted to be confirmed. I am the oldest, and maybe I set a precedent, but I declined to be confirmed. My next brother also declined. My youngest brother has yet to make that decision, although he does not appear favorably inclined. It's kind of ironic that my parents, as active Catholics, appear to have raised three non-Christians. So goes it, I guess.

I started having doubts in 6th grade, which is about the time I started thinking for myself, I guess. I waffled quite a bit over the next few years, sometimes actively praying for guidance, and other times rejecting the church. I turned my back on the church for good just before high school, and became a fairly militant atheist. Ironically, I ended up attending a Catholic law school, and had some of my respect for the Catholic intellectual tradition rekindled. I'm still an atheist, but with more nuanced views, I hope.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:17 AM on March 14, 2005

My mother tried to raise me Catholic, dragged me to church and made me go to weekly sunday school. I participated in all of the various rituals growing up but never really bought into any of it.

Just yesterday she informed me that there's nothing I can do, I'm catholic and that's that, there's no opting out. Weird idea, mom, I really think the Catholic church would disagree with you.
posted by palegirl at 11:17 AM on March 14, 2005

losing faith in the church as an institution

I actually recognize a fantastic humanizing force in the church; I just believe it's based on false premises. I do struggle to decide whether Christianity, and indeed any supernaturalism, is still a benificent force in humanity.
posted by NickDouglas at 11:20 AM on March 14, 2005

jokeefe...you can have my God...I've finished using her - but good luck on your journey - I'm less inclined to pay out on individuals who reap benefit and grow as human beanz as a result of their faith than when I was younger. We all tramp our own paths. And you're right about the church vs God faith loss. I still have a great cynicism about the influence peddaling and political and economic power plays engaged in by the Vatican and its offshoots. Yet I have a great deal of respect for many of those who find solace with their brand of higher power.
posted by peacay at 11:20 AM on March 14, 2005

"...I'm catholic and that's that..."
Heh...I still get guilty either when not filling in the religion section on a form or when someone asks.....some things die hard.
posted by peacay at 11:24 AM on March 14, 2005

Never had faith. Neither of my parents were particularly religious. Add to that a bit more death and tragedy in my family and you have the right mix for me to believe it's all bunk.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:24 AM on March 14, 2005

I was never part of a church. Christianity really attracted me at a certain point in my life, but I eventually realized that Christianity (and other religions) attract me basically because I fear death.

And fear is probably not the best basis for belief.

As an institution, religion mainly seems interested in the process of starting divisive, bloody conflicts and oppressing minorities and women. I admire some Christian thinkers and philosophers, and some of the art is nice, but the heirarchy has got to go.
posted by selfnoise at 11:25 AM on March 14, 2005

NickDouglas- With regard to your question above, I may be able to suggest a good place to satisfy your desire to talke with like-minded people. See my post in the MeTa thread about this thread. And you may be able to discuss atheist philosophy sanely in your current Presbyterian environment. Many of us are rather open-minded. For instance, with respect to your objections, I don't accept the creation story as literal (see the movie "Inherit the Wind" and the book Finding Darwin's God), and I have my own doubts about the doctrines concerning the divinity of Jesus and the constructs put forth in Trinity doctrine. And I'm a elder in the church. I've found the Presbyterian Church rather tolerant of such inquiries.
posted by Doohickie at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2005

My parents were non-functioning Protestants who kind of forgot to teach me faith, then I grew up a little too quick and it was too late. My mom finally sent me to Sunday school when I was six. The teacher told us about Noah's Ark, which was completely novel and unlikely to me. Apparently (I don't recall this at all, but my mom tells the story regularly) I challenged the teacher for proof, and when she cited the Bible I said "then don't tell stories if you don't have any real proof."

In my early 20s I met some awesome people of faith and spent about six months going to different churches in Chicago hoping for some spontaneous revelation from God. Mostly I was just bored out of my mind.

My wife is a devout Episcopalian, I respect her church and have agreed to raise our son that way. But she gets busy and hasn't done the indoctrinating, and I am teaching the little guy to be skeptical in general. He is 5 now and I really doubt he will ever believe. The other day he asked "Dad, was God's father a space alien?" Yes, I told him, yes he was.
posted by LarryC at 11:27 AM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ah well, I'll just stick my oar in once more, to say that religion != equal God, anymore than atheism = no morality (which is obviously untrue).

Religion is an institution that is just as flawed and corrupt as other human organizations such as corporations and governments, and so on, and there's demonstrable evidence of that in the papers every day, let alone just this thread and the experiences people have had in recognizing the hyprocrisy of those in positions of power. And now I'll tiptoe out, as this isn't really my thread.
posted by jokeefe at 11:27 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Catholic but I never really believed, not even when I was very young. I don't know if I understood why I didn't believe when my parents did (though they've never been religious about religion if that makes any sense) but later on I understood my reasoning as follows:

1) If there's a God then something is unknowable. No theory of any kind will explain God. I might not understand everything but I've never been able to accept "Well, that's the way it is."
2) When people tried to get me to accept "Well, that's the way it is." they'd try to mislead me through pseudoscientific babble about Occam's razor and such. "Having a God is the simplest explanation for the universe." Except it isn't, that's bullshit, if God created everything he's more complicated than everything else, not simpler. That he'd have to exist outside of time further complicates things.
3) Being saved or damned by virtue of your birthplace or religion of your parents didn't seem like how an omniscient being would behave. In fact the first commandment seemed exactly what I wouldn't expect of an omniscient being, in fact it seemed rather thin skinned and petty.
4) God's realm has been shrinking over time, as humanity has learned things about the world we live in and the universe around them God's role naturally diminished. God has always filled in the gaps of human understanding. Those gaps are much smaller than they were two thousand years ago or even two hundred.
posted by substrate at 11:30 AM on March 14, 2005

When I was about ten I had a fear of death that kept me awake at nights, I was genuinely terrified of dying. And not just of dying, but of not existing at all. I realised that this fear was entirely incompatible with belief of an afterlife and eventually came to the conclusion that for whatever reason, I simply was incapable of believing in God at all.

Shortly after, the fears that had bothered me nightly went away. I became aware of all the many arguments for atheism and like many teenagers who have just discovered their lack of faith, I became a bit of a fundamentalist atheist. I'd go out of my way to argue with people about their religion and point out the stupidity of their beliefs.

I stopped that after a while when I realised that I was simply replacing one faith with another. I also realised that I wouldn't wish atheism's cold comforts on anyone.

Recently, as my life has become more settled and, after turning thirty, finally realising that I wasn't going to be immortal the fears have returned. I suppose they might follow me until I die. I understand some atheists can become really bitter bastards as they age - I can easily believe it.

If people wish to believe in God then in my opinion they are entirely welcome to, just as long as they keep it away from me.
posted by dodgygeezer at 11:31 AM on March 14, 2005

Late in highschool, following two co-inciding realizations:

1. I realized that Christianity, as I was exposed to it, was fundamentally hypocritical. Teachers at my Christian school spent more time teaching us about the hellish dangers of Metallica and Magic: The Gathering than about charity and forgiveness (while making a healthy profit off my parents for tuition fees). It seemed like an ego cult to me; a serial killer could "accept Jesus into his heart" and go to heaven. A Buddhist who never "sinned" in his life would not.

These problems themselves may have been reconcilable. Indeed, I know quite a few Christians who are not hypocrites and I'm proud of them. However, at about this same time:

2. I started down my track of becoming a scientist. A biologist in fact. I developed a respect for nature, for the environment, and for evolution. I no longer even needed God to explain my universe, so I never really went back.
posted by Jimbob at 11:34 AM on March 14, 2005

I always point to when I was taking confirmation class (I was raised Lutheran), and I asked my teacher, "what if you're not sure that you believe?" He replied "Then you're not a Christian." I thought that was pretty heartless. So I tell people that that was the moment: when I "lost my faith."

But the fact is that I was never really much of a believer. I went to church because I was supposed to. Later, I went through the "I can't believe in a God who would allow all of this horrible shit to happen," the "God is a logical impossibility," the Bertrand Russell phase, and whatever else. But basically, it just never felt real to me, so I didn't ever believe.
posted by goatdog at 11:41 AM on March 14, 2005

I was raised in a strict fundamentalist Christian sect. I got on BBSs, ran into a bunch of rude assholes who were insulting my religion, and used the replies I'd been taught to defend it.

Eventually I began to realize that I was defending my religion because I had been taught that's what I should do, not because I really felt strongly about it. And I'd read that Sumerian epic in high school, and it seemed like there was no difference between it and the account of the flood in Genesis except that one was considered scripture and the other was not. In other words I realized that "scripture" was defined by pointing to a piece of writing and declaring it scripture, not by anything inherent in the writing.

I also realized I had no problems that religion could solve, aside from ones that religion told me I had. If I threw out the religion, I wouldn't have the solutions to the problem, but I wouldn't have the problems (like the possibility of going to Hell) either. So that's what I did. I'm being a bit facile here, but that's what it boils down t.
posted by kindall at 11:46 AM on March 14, 2005

My parents took me to the Unitarian church as a child, and in the religious education program for kids, they taught us about the history/beliefs/practices/etc of a variety of different world religions. They never made any explicit claims about what was 'real' and what wasn't - as far as I can remember, they only taught us that different people believed different things and that was OK.

This perspective on religion, despite its respectful treatment of belief and faith, brought me around to atheism quickly and strongly. After being exposed to a multiplicity of religions, one after the other, each with its own set of claims about what people should believe, it was hard for me to even entertain the claim that one of them was tapped into absolute truth while the others were not. [as a comparison, at least one of my friends who was raised the same way drew different conclusions, and is now questing to find his personal spirituality...]

I toyed with agnosticism as I grew older, but ended up deciding that I had no more reason to suspend my disbelief in a god than to suspend disbelief in any other random improbable construct for which I had no evidence. Maybe even less, in fact, since the social and psychological functions that religion serves for many people make it really easy to see why it'd stick around even in the absence of a higher power.
posted by introcosm at 11:52 AM on March 14, 2005

chalk up another one in the "never had faith" column. My parents were nominally of different religions (jewish and some vague flavor of christian i can never remember), but were (and still are) fundamentally secular humanists.

i remember my mother (a childbirth educator and a nurse-midwife) explaining the concept of immaculate conception to me as a young child with "but if Mary really wanted a child so bad, who's to say she wouldn't screw for it?"

They taught me to question everything (including their own decisions) and religious doctrine didn't stand much of a chance, even when my father wanted me to get bar mitzvah'ed because of the cultural connections.

grumblebee, you might be interested in the arguments found at The Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic. They've helped me clarify the gradual softening of my once-hard-line atheism.
posted by dkg at 12:03 PM on March 14, 2005

Who knows if anyone's still reading at this point.

I was raised in a friendly, liberal church, so I didn't feel pushed out by any means. Actually it wasn't until I did some advanced bible and religion studies in my late teens before I came to the conclusion that any one religion's claim to moral authority is largely an accident of one's birth.

I'm still looking for a valid moral-authority ;)
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:03 PM on March 14, 2005

My mom's a religious seeker-type; she gets really into a new religion every couple years. She's conviced that she is interested in religion as a student, but I don't think that's accurate; she always seems to me to be trying them on to see if they fit. My dad's a scientist and mostly an atheist, though he's very respectful of mom's spiritual tire-kicking. As a result, I wasn't raised with any specific framework, but I was aware of a lot of them, including atheism. Being naturally inclined to the same sort of seeking my mother does, I went to a Presbyterian church of my own accord in middle school and high school, but I was always sort of an agnostic and I always found it off-putting when people claimed to know anything specific about god or the nature of god.

When I was 19, I was working with another young agnostic who really liked to think and talk about religion, and I was explaining something (that it seemed infinitely more reasonable to me that over the course of the evolution of our brains—and correspondingly our ability to reason—once the notion of cause and effect arrived, that led inevitably to the question of first cause. And that without much understanding of the cosmos or the flaws of strict cause-and-effect thinking, the question of first cause led almost inevitably to the notion of a creator or designer) to him when it struck me: I wasn't even an agnostic. The simple inability to rule out any imaginary creature thought up by anyone didn't strike me as a good enough reason to believe in a creator.

Shortly thereafter, I began wondering how someone could seriously posit that our world—even our universe—was too complicated to 'just exist' but that a deity great and powerful enough to create such a thing could 'just exist,' and that was the end of that road.
posted by willpie at 12:10 PM on March 14, 2005

As someone else said: we're born atheists. We have no belief in gods until it's either shoved into us or we fall victim to the hoary old superstitious impulse that has blighted mankind since we learned to wonder about stuff.

I was raised by Christian parents, C of E. Church every Sunday, a chorister between the ages of 6 and 12, prayers every night ("God bless mum and dad and Carol and please don't let Bonesy get me in the showers after games tomorrow please please I'll go to Evensong too...") and so on. When I was very young the idea of a nice skydaddy who would listen to me and look out for me was comforting, and while it did seem to be something of a wacky system even to my immature mind, it made about as much sense as a lot of other things that baffled me. I didn't think about it too hard.

I suppose I was 7 or 8 when I started asking my parents and my vicar annoying questions like "How do I know God is there?" and "Who made God?" Even then I noticed that the answers lacked a certain... intellectual rigour, shall we say. I fretted. I kept coming up with more questions. What happened to the souls of people who died before Jesus came to redeem us? Why did he have to go through all that crucifixion malarkey anyway? Why not just... you know, not have this outrageous stick-and-carrot afterlife system in the first place? Couldn't this allegedly omnipotent God manage that? And hey, why isn't Judas a hero for Christians? He was vital to the scheme, you know?

The answers didn't get any smarter, or any more persuasive. I think I was about 12 when, one Sunday, I stopped messing around with my fellow choristers long enough to actually listen to the sermon; to pay attention to the creed, the agnus dei and all the rest of it. And I realised it was pure voodoo bullshit. Made no sense at all. Stark, staring, drooling, whacked-out loonytune material. And something crashed in on me with the force of an earthquake: this stuff was borne of fear, ignorance and need. These people bobbing up and down in the pews, mumbling prayers, genuflecting, crossing themselves... were scared people. They didn't want to die and they were frightened to live without a comforting fantasy. They needed to believe in an interceding deity who would help them in this life and who would grant them another, better life after death as a reward for their faith in the fantastic. They needed to believe that their big skydaddy would intercede in the mundane pains and tribulations of their lives; that he might do mad merciful magic for their cancer-cursed loved ones. They needed it so very much that they were prepared to abase themselves before this imaginary entity; to lower themselves - literally and figuratively, to indulge in rituals as irrational and senseless as those of the Druids or the ancient Egyptians. It hit me like a bolt from God almighty: Christianity was precisely no more reasonable than any of these things. It was all human foolishness and all spawned in the same shameful, black place in the human mind.

And then I had a huge falling out with my parents, they fussed I was going to hell, I was a lost soul, a bad lot, the devil had got to me and so on and so forth... and then I read a whole lot of philosophy and history that persuaded me how very right I was and I became an in-your-face militant atheist by the time I was 17. And I still am. Fuck the pope! Etc!
posted by Decani at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

jokeefe wrote: there seems to often be in people's answers, for those who grew up in religious (or religious in name) households, an equation between losing faith in the church as an institution and losing faith in the idea of God, which I find interesting. One doesn't always imply the other, does it?

I've noticed this too, and it was the same process for me. I was raised in a semi-devout Catholic family that grew less so over my childhood. I went to a Catholic high school. One day in Grade 12 religion class, Brother Ed (the teacher) taught us about the theology behind the transubstantiation, how Catholics believed that the wine and bread physically became Christ's blood and flesh in the mass, and that's what separated us from Protestants, who believed the transubstantiation was symbolic.

I asked if that meant that, after being consecrated, the wine and bread would consist of blood and skin cells if you looked at them under a microscope. Brother Ed said you shouldn't think that way, that you should accept certain things on faith. I asked, "What if I can't accept this on faith?" Brother Ed said, "Well, then maybe you need to take a closer look at your faith."

He meant, I'm sure, to encourage me to take my faith more seriously, but the opposite happened: the house of cards came tumbling down, and I was an atheist until my mid-twenties.

Since then, I've gradually come to understand that seeing the errors in Catholic doctrine did not in and of itself prove that God - or some kind of unknowable power of some sort - didn't exist. Reason and science, insightful as they are, are in the end just as much human constructs as organized religions are, and they are not that much closer to infallibility. Belief in the concept of "zero" is to some degree an act of faith, and I invite those who think otherwise to show me zero in the natural world.

And so atheism is, to my mind, guilty of the same arrogance that most atheists loathe in the religious - it implies a certainty about something that can never be certain. These days, I'm a very soft agnostic - I just don't know, though I think I've felt the presence of him/her/it/them at times - and I find increasing comfort in a Buddhist metaphysics that has vestigial bits of Judeo-Christian morality sprinkled through it.
posted by gompa at 12:25 PM on March 14, 2005

I don't believe in God but I really like to sing Christian hymns.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've always been an atheist, as far back as my memory goes. My mother claims that I attended Sunday school as a little kid, but my only memory of that are one or two days being physically in a church. I have no recollection of any religious instruction. Anyway, that's about all the church I was exposed to until I was 12 or so and my mom suddenly started going to church and trying to get me to go too. Far far too late. I'd already been confirmed in my atheism by second grade when a friend asked me if I believed in god and created a scandal in class when I said no.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2005

Minor nit: the immaculate conception is not the same thing as the virgin birth--it's the process by which Mary came into this world. I didn't learn this myself until just a few years ago.
posted by adamrice at 12:27 PM on March 14, 2005

Cloudless Snowfall

Great big flakes like white ashes
at nightfall descending
abruptly everywhere
and vanishing
in this hand like the host
on somebody's put-out tongue, she
turns the crucifix over
to me, still warm
from her touch two years later
and thank you,
I say all alone --
Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats
awakens me and I look up
at a minute-long string of black geese
following low past the moon the white
course of the snow-covered river and
by the way Thank You for
keeping Your face hidden, I
can hardly bear the beauty of this world.

-- Franz Wright

posted by matteo at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2005

Decani: that he might do mad merciful magic for their cancer-cursed loved ones.

I just want to say that I think that's a great line. Almost Jeff Magnum-esque.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:35 PM on March 14, 2005

I don't have much to add that differs from what others have written. I had a strong, though not particularly well-defined, belief in a Christian God growing up: I understood His presence as something real and immediate. This always bothered me slightly. The constant feeling of being watched was oppressive, the threat of punishment was truly frightening, and I couldn't understand how to "love" this intangible threatening deity, or how He could "love" me. My choice not to believe, made in college, lifted a great weight from my shoulders. It felt like an emancipation.

I'm not a "logical" atheist:I don't think it's worthwhile to spend time coming up with arguments against the existence of God (or even against organized religion; while such arguments may be valid, I don't think they change many minds). My lack of belief is something that I simply feel is right. I imagine it is like the experience of faith that many religious people describe.

i remember my mother (a childbirth educator and a nurse-midwife) explaining the concept of immaculate conception to me as a young child with "but if Mary really wanted a child so bad, who's to say she wouldn't screw for it?"

Slightly off-topic, but you're misusing the term "Immaculate Conception" here.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:35 PM on March 14, 2005

Thanks, adamrice and mr_roboto, I had no idea!

I don't consider myself an atheist either, honestly. I believe that I don't really understand the universe, and I believe the process of searching for truth and understanding is all I'll ever have. People who think an old book gave them the answers are crazy. There are no answers as far as I'm concerned.
posted by selfnoise at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2005

jokeefe: "there seems to often be in people's answers, for those who grew up in religious (or religious in name) households, an equation between losing faith in the church as an institution and losing faith in the idea of God, which I find interesting. One doesn't always imply the other, does it?"

Well, no, but religions are not all the same. Christianities are not all the same. That you can say "it's all metaphor" indicates that you're exploring a liberal Christianity, which is very different than the fundamentalist literalist evangelical Christianity that I grew up with and held dear until a year and a half ago. When the authority of the church stopped holding water for me, that led me to question the authority of the Bible, and my faith was nothing without a literal interpretation of at least the Easter narrative. How did I know that I was a Christian? Because Jesus had saved me. How did I know that Jesus had saved me? Because the Bible said so. How did I know to trust the Bible? Because the church said so. Once I started questioning the church, it was only a matter of time before those dominoes started falling.
posted by heatherann at 12:43 PM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Catholic, by parents who are true believers and who take great comfort in their faith and in the activities provided by their church. However, I had questions, even as a young girl. I wanted to know what women could do in the church and was told that the only thing a woman could be was a nun, which was not appealing to me, even though a favorite aunt is a nun. As I grew older I found that my spiritual needs were met far better by me being outdoors, rather than inside of a church. AS I grew older and learned more about other religions, including paganism, Wicca, voodoo, Buddhism, etc., I decided that Catholicism wasn't for me, nor was any other organized religion. I always respected the beliefs of others, however, and I guess I could be called a pantheist humanist, rather than an atheist.
posted by Lynsey at 12:46 PM on March 14, 2005

kindall: it's really cool and interesting that your experience is closely similar to mine, even down to the stories of the flood being so similar. cool read.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 12:54 PM on March 14, 2005

I was in third grade, learning about Greek gods, doing the myths, which were presented pretty much as fun stories. We were on one about Apollo, I think, the Sun Chariot and all that and it struck me that the Greeks were using their gods to describe explain what they didn't know. Now until then I didn't really have faith, but didn't have doubt either. Friends were loaded with faith in Jersey, and I just leapt away from it, thinking we did the same with our god. He's there to cover the turf that's unknown.
I recall my question about this in class did not go over well.
I am now agnostic BTW, feeling it's just best to say, "how the hell should I know?"
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2005

I had no faith to lose
And you know it

I've always been an atheist, and as a kid I was "outed" and derided for it by "good Christians"
posted by orthogonality at 1:15 PM on March 14, 2005

Well, seeing how there aren't any former Hindus here, let me add my bit.

I was born to two very religious Hindu parents, and thanks to them, I was very religious as a kid, mostly because I bought into the whole "powerful being up there who looks after all of us" line. Here in India, religion is a big part of our culture and most of the atheists will stay in their closets. (And that sucks.)

I ran into the first atheist I ever met when I was 12. He was a kid who was one year older. Somehow, I found out he didn't believe in God, and I remember asking him in a very excited voice, "Then who created all this?" and his response was, "Then who created God?" which was a question my folks had never really addressed.

Around the age of 15, my logical faculties evolved enough that I no longer blindly believed everything I was told, and found that there were too many inexplicable things that didn't fit all the nice little things I had been told, especially the one about how God dispenses justice. I saw too much injustice in the world.

From the age of 15 to about 18, I drifted away from religion and stopped going to temples or praying. (I noticed that it had no effect most of the time anyway.) I think that by 20, I was a full-fledged atheist. As the years have gone by, I've just got more convinced. Now I have open contempt for religious and supernatural belief. This, in my country, is not an easy situation to be in. :|
posted by madman at 1:25 PM on March 14, 2005

Thank you, heatherann, that makes perfect sense.
posted by jokeefe at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2005

I got hit by a car. I was in the hospital and recovery for a total of five weeks, but I recovered really, really well.

My mom often talked to others (and me) about my recovery, and how fast and fully it had taken place. If she had said that the reason why I had survived was because of the power of god or something like that, I don't doubt that I would be a very different (and possibly pretty religious) person. Instead, she said that the reason why my body had fixed itself so rapidly was because I was so athletic. And I was- I was an avid figure skater. Her logic made perfect sense to me, but it also made me start to wonder about just how necessary it was for a god figure to actually exist. If humans were capable or doing everything regardless of help from a supreme being, why should there be a god?

These thoughts were further cemented upon watching the movie A Little Princess, where one quote stuck out and has really resonated in me ever since: "haven't you ever believed in something just to make it seem real?"
posted by hopeless romantique at 1:35 PM on March 14, 2005

I gotta say, the Community thing when I was a kid and young teen was awesome. It was only once a week and I'm afraid I was never into the group do-gooder thing, but the simple act of spending time focused on the single task of going through the liturgy was pretty damn cool.

I can very readily see how church community is the most important thing about any religious group, and especially those groups that actually get off their asses and do good in the community. That is so frickin' awesome. IMO it's the only good thing about religion.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2005

Let's try rephrasing the Q:

Religious Folks, when did you lose your powers of critical thought?

/kidding, kidding...
posted by Aquaman at 1:38 PM on March 14, 2005

I think there is a great misunderstanding by atheists, and someone mentioned when they first realized they were atheist, they were kind of fundamentalists about their athesim. There seems to be a kind of "binary effect" whereby someone either buys all the tenets of a particular faith (say for instance, Southern Baptist), and if any of those tenets can be discredited, the only alternative is atheism.

I am a member of a Presbyterian congregation- an elder even- and yet I also am rather skeptical of church teachings. I don't just blindly accept them but rather reason through them, call them on it when they are unreasonable, and at times even tear them down. In the adult Sunday school class I lead, I'll sometimes throw these positions out to the class to challenge them, and also to try to increase my own understanding. This often spurs brilliant discussion.

I guess my point is that there are shades of belief, and also shades of acceptance of church doctrine. It's not a simple "either-or" proposition. At this point, I have questioned the divinity of Jesus, finally came around to a largely traditional Christian view of it, but do not think that accepting that Jesus was divine is an essential tenet of faith.

I also went through a brief atheistic phase, but had an even harder time supporting that than I did my Christian beliefs (like someone said earlier- atheism really is a faith system and requires a sort of leap of faith just like belief does).

Anyway, fascinating discussion. Thanks to all for the insightful comments.
posted by Doohickie at 1:40 PM on March 14, 2005

On posting: Aquaman- see above. ;- )
posted by Doohickie at 1:41 PM on March 14, 2005

The answers didn't get any smarter, or any more persuasive. I think I was about 12 when, one Sunday, I stopped messing around with my fellow choristers long enough to actually listen to the sermon; to pay attention to the creed, the agnus dei and all the rest of it. And I realised it was pure voodoo bullshit. Made no sense at all. Stark, staring, drooling, whacked-out loonytune material. And something crashed in on me with the force of an earthquake: this stuff was borne of fear, ignorance and need. These people bobbing up and down in the pews, mumbling prayers, genuflecting, crossing themselves... were scared people. They didn't want to die and they were frightened to live without a comforting fantasy. They needed to believe in an interceding deity who would help them in this life and who would grant them another, better life after death as a reward for their faith in the fantastic. They needed to believe that their big skydaddy would intercede in the mundane pains and tribulations of their lives; that he might do mad merciful magic for their cancer-cursed loved ones. They needed it so very much that they were prepared to abase themselves before this imaginary entity; to lower themselves - literally and figuratively, to indulge in rituals as irrational and senseless as those of the Druids or the ancient Egyptians. It hit me like a bolt from God almighty: Christianity was precisely no more reasonable than any of these things. It was all human foolishness and all spawned in the same shameful, black place in the human mind.

What a great.... not just comment, but piece of writing. Thanks. And in large part, I agree with you, Decani-- that fear and superstition are the engines behind much of this clutching at belief. But. But. There's also a certain (and this is going to be clumsy, as I'm still working it out in my own mind) nobility and compassion that goes along with this kind of gathering together and expressing that fear in public-- admitting that we are all vulnerable and scared and afraid of dying-- and praying for help for those we love, even if it's an exercise in nothing more than a kind of self-directed soothing, like holding on to a favourite blanket. The world is a dark and frightening place, and I type that in full knowledge of my extraordinarily privileged place in it (my fridge is full of food, I have a roof over my head, my kid is getting a good free education, we have health care, I'm whiling the day away on AskMe, etc.); but to be alone in it can be worse. Whatever God is, he/she/it doesn't micromanage human lives, and may even be indifferent to human suffering. That makes it even more beholden for us to recognize it in others, and to treat that suffering with respect and compassion.

I'm just thinking out loud here. But I have to say this thread, and the promise of these kinds of stories and type of debate, about whatever, is what keeps me coming back here. Even when I'm supposed to be working. Yeah, yeah, that site will update itself, I'm sure.
posted by jokeefe at 1:45 PM on March 14, 2005

I should also mention that I transitioned from "de facto faith" in childhood, to "agnostic" in my late teens, to "atheist" in my mid-twenties.

The transition from agnostic to atheist is far more interesting than from religionist to agnostic.

What cinched it for me is that once I really put my mind to it, I could see absolutely no need nor evidence of gods or supernatural beings of any sort. It seems simply stupid to me that people posit the existence of some sort of supreme being that leaves absolutely no evidence of any sort that can be measured.

Basically, I decided it was time to shit or get off the pot: if I was going to admit the possibility of a god, then I'd better start putting some faith toward that god; or I'd better just come clean, face facts, and deal with the rather unnerving ideas that atheism leads to.

In the years since I have become extremely comfortable with the fact that I am, ultimately, made entirely of meat.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:47 PM on March 14, 2005

In the years since I have become extremely comfortable with the fact that I am, ultimately, made entirely of meat.

Or sushi, as the case may be. *ba-dum*

We are all made of meat, but we are still meat with sentience and consciousness. And ay, that's the rub, right there.

I won't start going on about how I started to think that God exists primarily in text, as when I do it just sounds like I've decided to make a religion about being an English major. (Though it couldn't be worse than some.)
posted by jokeefe at 1:54 PM on March 14, 2005

Oh, and...

I spent eight years at a Jewish summer camp- a camper for five, on staff for three. I used to spend the school year denying the existence and god and arguing about it to death, but every summer I went to a community where everyone believed in the same thing and had the same practises and shared in this culture. It was beautiful. I came home every summer with a new desire to believe.

But then, just the same as the year previous, my belief in god would slowly fall apart. Eventually I was just comfortable with the term "summer Jew".

When I was a counselor for a group of ten year olds last year, I really enjoyed getting the kids to experience Jewish life. It's hard to explain but it really felt good to enrich the girls' lives through applying Judaism to the everyday life of camp.

The next year, I worked at the camp as the photography teacher. I had limited contact with the campers and when I did, it never encorporated Judaism. I was less a part of the tight community and wound up feeling very estranged from the things I had depended on camp to provide for me.
posted by hopeless romantique at 2:00 PM on March 14, 2005

Nice post, Doohickie. I'm going to head off my snark now by saying I don't think all Christians lack critical thought. I was only trying to call a little attention to the question as phrased, which I thought carried a false assumption.

To wit, I've got lots of faith, just not in Christianity.
posted by Aquaman at 2:01 PM on March 14, 2005

hopeless- What you relate is part of what brought me back from atheism to belief- the feeling that I wanted others to believe (and to help others believe) made me realize that deep down, even if I questions some aspects of faith, I, myself, believed.
posted by Doohickie at 2:03 PM on March 14, 2005

I think the difference between agnostic and atheist is largely unimportant. If a god does exist, but has not communicated with us, or has demands of us, or will offer or refuse us reward for our actions in this life then surely it doesn't matter.

So if a creator exists but doesn't particularly care about us, should we care about it? And if we don't care about it should we really care if it exists or not?
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:06 PM on March 14, 2005

Following up dodgygeezer...

One of my tangential arguments was "What kind of person worships a megalomaniac who creates lifeforms for the sole purpose of worshiping his sorry ass?"
posted by mischief at 2:13 PM on March 14, 2005

But doohickie, doesn't it make sense to seek consistency in one's beliefs? It may not be possible to achieve completely, but it seems like a worthwhile goal. Wouldn't most of us assume that if one were granted all knowledge, that that body of knowledge would be self-consistent? I think so, anyway. And so if one or many major tenets of a belief system do not seem to stand up to scrutiny, why hold on to the belief system at all?

Basically, it's the same way I feel when people say that religion is great because it promotes love and charity, etc. You can have love and charity without religion, so why hold on to it? Why continue searching for truth in a belief system which seems so cluttered by untruth?
posted by ludwig_van at 2:36 PM on March 14, 2005

I was raised by atheist parents, so it was pretty easy.
posted by sluggo at 2:41 PM on March 14, 2005

My $.02:
I've gone from Pop-can-do-no-wrong Catholic, to atheist, to agnostic, to marginally Catholic again. Mostly, this all came out of questioning faith and beliefs and how it stacks up to science and logic. I have yet to be convinced that there is or is not a God. I've read my share of non-christian texts and belief structures and haven't really been blown away by any particular revelation. The only reason why I haven't taken this fence sitting to mean yes I'm an out and out agnostic, is that at various times in my life, I've *felt* that there has to be something more than this and yet it defied logic. So rather than having my head explode trying to reconcile the two, I tried to scientifically follow when I had these feelings to see if there was a reason for it. The results of my still ongoing study:

The feelings of there being a God, while somewhat similar to, are not related to drinking, smoking, sex, or any other "sinful" behavior, yes there is some sort of euphoric effect when the feelings hit me, but the "sinful" effects don't seem to hit the right chord.

The feelings of there being a God might be related to the feelings I have for my wife and newborn daughter, but I wonder if this has something to do with reconciling Logic and Love

These feelings seem to occur at times (not all, but some) when there is a *need* for the belief in God, i.e. death of a family member, horrible tragedy strikes, etc.

The feelings happen when I'm alone meditating and when I'm in a crowded church, and these are the two ways that I can sort of feel the connection of some sort of God-like presence. While I've visited other churches/temples the place that this effect happens more often is in some Catholic churches (the community/priest can make a huge difference).

My only conclusion is that I must be bat-shit crazy or that there must be some sort of God, and since I have a hard time believing that I'm bat-shit crazy, it's easier to believe in God.

On Preview: whew that was a lot more than $.02
posted by Numenorian at 2:47 PM on March 14, 2005

When I was 16, I decided to give up religion for lent. I thought I was oh so clever. More seriously, I'm probably in the raised-christian-but-never-really-bought-in camp.
posted by diftb at 2:55 PM on March 14, 2005

jokeefe: Whatever God is, he/she/it doesn't micromanage human lives, and may even be indifferent to human suffering.

Errr, assuming God is omniscient/omnipotent, it is impossible for Him *not* to control every aspect of the universe. Omniscient: He knows everything that happens, and everything that will happen. Omnipotent: He can do anything. A + B = nothing happens that He doesn't want to happen.

To answer the AskMe question, put me in the raised-religious-but-debunked-it-thru-logic-once-I-left-the-nest camp. So, yeah, I'm an atheist via logic, amid a very religious family and upbringing.

What breaks most of the logic puzzles is the absolutism of God's knowledge & power. For example, how can an Omniscient Being *become angry*? He knows what's going to happen centuries before it happens; nothing happens without His implicit approval. Attaching human behavior to an Omniscient Being is silly but common.

FWIW, I have no problem believing that there's a Really Powerful Being out there (aliens?), given supporting evidence. After all, humans are way more powerful than, say, ants, but we're hardly omnipotent.

One more thing: *Wanting* something to be true (or not true, for that matter) is fine, but irrelevant as to whether it is actually true. Lotsa people believe in God because it makes them happy or comforted -- fine if it makes you feel good, but realize it's bogus logic.
posted by LordSludge at 3:13 PM on March 14, 2005

LordSludge, the Raving Atheist has a logical argument that there can't be a Judeo-Christian God.

(Great site, that. Visit often.)
posted by madman at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2005

I get peaceful, powerful, spiritual, exhilirating, thankful feelings all the time. I get to the top of a mountain and, wow!, it simply blows me away: the wonder of earth, the wonder of life, the wonder of just being.

There's nothing religious about it. One does not need a god to be graciously thankful for having the opportunity to live.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:50 PM on March 14, 2005

I was always a 'virtuous pagan' in that I had a strong if simplistic sense of right and wrong informed more by 50s/60s comics books, sitcoms, and "The Twilight Zone" than by Christianity. My dad wasn't religious at all, and my mother was still dealing with her bad experiences in Catholic school, so they never impressed much of anything on my brother and me. We would watch "It's A Wonderful Life" rather than go to church on Christmas.

By around 12 or so, I became ever so slightly more of a spiritual seeker, and by 19-21, it became a big deal for me (I had a circle of friends who were Christian, intelligent, and a lot of fun). After I graduated college, I was reading a lot of C. S. Lewis, which really impressed upon me that you can't be a closet Christian, that you need to find fellowship and a church to join, so that sent me down the path of looking for a church. Mind you, I was lonely and depressed at the time, and found the wrong church for me. I spent months trying to reconcile the promises of the Bible (as emphasized by this church) with my actual experiences as my life kept going downhill.

On a particularly bad weekend, a friend had me read George R. R. Martin's "Meathouse Man" (part of the Splatterpunk anthology), which was pretty much the deathstroke for my dwindling faith. From there, I was compelled to re-develop some form of semi-consistent ethos, and thankfully, I read Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" shortly thereafter, which did a lot to shape my new view of the universe.
I call myself an atheist, but I'm actually more of an agnostic in that my specific belief is that there is no god worth worshipping. I don't try to convert anybody since I know how painful my conversion process was.

Finally, in regards to the 'religion != God' argument, at least from the Christian perspective, isn't a tree known by its fruit?

On preview, exlotuseater, do you at least acknowledge that there are plenty of atheists who do actively believe in the nonexistence of a god and who are as evangelical as the fundamentalist or the ex-smoker?
posted by kimota at 4:23 PM on March 14, 2005

I wasn't raised anything. My mother would be some non-denominational flavor of Christian, althoug she no longer attends church, and my father is a sort of agnostic pagan (comfortable with the idea that there's a higher power, but not believing in one particular conception of it.) Still, they both made it clear to me at a fairly young age, probably five or six, that if I ever became interested in any religion, all I had to do was say the word and they would help me with it.

That is actually one of my more vivid childhood memories.

I never did become involved in any religion; not having a religious family as a young child means that church is just something your friends do that makes sleepovers on saturday difficult to set up. I didn't think much about it until I got to high school.

My peers in high school were a mix of Christians of varying levels of seriousness, several fairly serious jews, and agnostics/atheists like myself. I wound up reading genesis in freshman english, and although it's amusing to poke fun at freshman girls for ruining humanity (and for stealing one of my ribs), the idea of original sin just didn't sit with me. One, I found the idea that I was held responsible for another's mistakes ridiculous, and two, the fact that the sin itself was, essentially, the gaining of knowledge, was the last straw.

Then of course I combined physics with some philosophy reading and learned about empiricism, and that pretty much killed any chance of religiosity on my part.

I always say that the day a 60,000 foot hand comes out of the clouds and says 'Hi, I'm God,' I'll be the most devout worshipper in the world.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 4:32 PM on March 14, 2005

I never lost my faith, I never had it (talk about a loaded question).

My mother always taught me to question everything. I believe she taught herself that, though her family was not overly religious.

So, when I'm being nice, or helpful, or whatever, it's because I'm actually a nice person, not because I'm fearing some sort of eternal damnation. Similarly, when I'm being a right bastard, I'm not claiming it's "God's will".

I understand enough about the world to not need the idea of some almighty creator, or creators. Intelligent design isn't.
posted by krisjohn at 4:32 PM on March 14, 2005

(see also: Internet Infidels Forum's Atheists' Testimony Thread and christonastick's deconversion story [long but so worth it] in the same forum)
posted by heatherann at 4:57 PM on March 14, 2005

I'm not sure if you would call it "losing my faith," and I'm not an atheist; but here's my story... When I was a teenager, at some point church stopped being about sunday school -- school that you went to on sunday, and learned different stuff -- and started to be about identity: who I was, what I believed, where I fit in the universe. About the same time, it was becoming really clear that a really large percentage of the stuff I'd been taught was just bullshit, and not just the stuff I'd been taught at church, but stuff my parents had taught me and stuff that school had taught me and stuff that TV had taught me and stuff that Van Halen and the Sex Pistols had taught me... all wrong, to a greater or lesser extent.

Baptists don't believe in "kinda wrong" or "half-right" or "somewhat true," so I was at sea. I still really tried to believe in things -- all kinds of things -- but I never really trusted anything to turn out to be true, and I never staked anything important on anything I "believed" -- I just talked a lot. I started saying I was an agnostic, and I never found a church to go to after I moved out of my home town.

About five years ago, it occurred to me I was walking around not trusting the sun to come up in the morning, not because I didn't believe but because I did believe but I didn't trust my own judgement. Deep down, I believe that there is a God, and trying to convince myself that there isn't one was making me unhappy.

So the question resolved itself into the problem of how to find out what it was that I really believed, and give myself permission to believe it, even though it was too rational (and liberal) for my Baptist upbringing and too airy-fairy for my UNIX-centric world view... and then how to let myself find a spiritual life without having to actually believe that what I was hearing was dictated by combustible shrubbery.

Enter the church of the middle way. I sat across from the rector of the church I'd started attending and said, "I'm just not sure if I believe in God, or heaven, or any of this stuff, really" and he said, "Yeah, me either, but ain't that what we're doing here?" And I knew I was home.
posted by hob at 4:57 PM on March 14, 2005

I'd just add, as a response to those who say that declaring "certainty" about the non-existence of God is essentially no different to certainty of belief in God... not really. I used to call myself a "technical agnostic" because at root I believe the Socratic dictum that I only know I know nothing. But there is this thing called probability. There is this thing called reasoable doubt. The more I thought about what belief in God actually entailed, the more I understood that refusing to call myself an atheist was an intellectual cop-out, a sort of mealy-mouthedness of the mind.

Because God is so incredibly preposterous a notion. Because, when I pedantically explained that I was a "technical agnostic" who really didn't believe in God, I increasingly felt as ridiculous as if I'd said,

"Well, I don't absolutely know that invisible space camels aren't in orbit around Jupiter, so it would be as arrogant and unjustified of me to say I don't believe that as to say I do."

To disbelieve absolutely in something patently absurd is not as arrogant and irrational as believing in it. It is a recognition of the laws of probability and an understanding of what is, and is not, rational. Of course I don't know absolutely that God doesn't exist. But by God, that's the way I'd bet. And I'd bet the house on it, and then some. So I'm an atheist.
posted by Decani at 5:31 PM on March 14, 2005

Never had "faith." When my folks tried to make me "study" for a bar-mitzvah, I realized that it was time to speak up about my atheism and forgo the swag.
posted by davidmsc at 5:37 PM on March 14, 2005

I'll second Decani's post. I call myself an atheist because at this point, the idea of God doesn't even make sense to me. What could God possibly be? I have no idea, so of course I don't believe in it, therefore atheism.
posted by heatherann at 5:53 PM on March 14, 2005

But doohickie, doesn't it make sense to seek consistency in one's beliefs?

Oh, absolutely. That is why I've questioned those aspects of Christianity that don't square. After all questioning, I often find that I end up reaching a conclusion similar to some theologian or another. The point is I shouldn't blindly believe the church just because they're the church, but when I think it through, I often come to similar conclusions.

It may not be possible to achieve completely, but it seems like a worthwhile goal. Wouldn't most of us assume that if one were granted all knowledge, that that body of knowledge would be self-consistent?

Consistent with what, though? I mean, even if there is no God, there is still plenty in this universe that just doesn't make sense. I see increased understanding not so much as crowding out God, but rather as providing insight into how He pulled this whole creation thing off.

I think so, anyway. And so if one or many major tenets of a belief system do not seem to stand up to scrutiny, why hold on to the belief system at all?

Because no one alive on earth today has a complete understanding. We all get part of it, but none of us gets all of it. This is as true for theologians as it is for slobs like me and you. That's how both theology and science are advanced, aren't they? Someone questions what has been put forth previously and either finds they were wrong or that the previous view was wrong.

Basically, it's the same way I feel when people say that religion is great because it promotes love and charity, etc. You can have love and charity without religion, so why hold on to it? Why continue searching for truth in a belief system which seems so cluttered by untruth?

You're right in the first part of that; one certainly doesn't need religion to have goodness in the world. But I don't believe because I think religion is necessary to bring goodness into the world; on the contrary, I believe simply because, well.... I believe. I can go into specifics, but you don't want to hear my testimony. It doesn't make much of a story anyway.
posted by Doohickie at 6:09 PM on March 14, 2005

I was raised an Orthodox Jew. In fourth grade, I had a teacher who told us that if we ever had non-Jewish friends, they would ultimately turn on us. This made me realize that religious leaders could be wrong and mean.

In high school, I learned about evolution. In ninth grade I started wondering where exactly this "firmament" is. I mean, the stars are embedded in this firmament? And there's water on top of it?

Later on in high school, I read Hawking's A Brief History of Time. In retrospect, I think that was what started the process for real. However, it was coming to understand more about the gay issue that gave me the courage to make the break, which was really hard to do.
posted by callmejay at 6:12 PM on March 14, 2005

I was raised Catholic and hated going to Mass every Sunday and CCD whenever the hell it was. I believed, I just didn't want to go. Sometime in high school I started to see the inconsistencies. By late high school I started reading science fiction. At some point in college I realized I was an atheist. Looking back I now realize I always had small doubts but could never really believe that the adults were wrong.
posted by darkmatter at 6:21 PM on March 14, 2005


Consistent with what, though?

Consistent with itself. That's why I said "self-consistent." Christian doctrine, for myriad reasons, doesn't seem to fulfill this requirement. i.e., the Christian God is all-knowing and all-powerful and loves his creation, yet allows evil to happen and sends souls to hell for eternity, etc.

Because no one alive on earth today has a complete understanding. We all get part of it, but none of us gets all of it.

I realize this, and was trying to address it in my previous post. My point was that if one hypothetically did have a complete understanding, I assume that one's body of knowledge would not be self-contradictory. Upon discovering that a given set of beliefs doesn't meet this requirement, it seems reasonable to throw out the entire thing. Some parts of a given belief system may be true, or valuable, or useful, or inspiring, but if it doesn't hold up on the whole, it seems to follow that it is not the one true path, and that it would be best to abandon it completely.

However, I again want to emphasize that not believing in Christian doctrine doesn't mean not believing in the parts that Christianity got right; loving thy neighbor, being charitable, all that. When I say abandon the belief system, I mean abandon the context, the trappings of mysticism, etc. One can take all of those valuable lessons to heart without associating oneself with all of the things that are (in my mind indisputably) wrong, illogical, or archaic about Christianity. The same goes for belief in God, really. One can believe in God without buying into religion. I just don't see any reason to associate oneself with a belief system like Christianity in light of these things. Why try to take a liberal, progressive, critical approach to something that is fundamentally none of these things? Why not just abandon the faulty foundation? Delving deeper into church doctrine or dogmatic minutiae seems like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic to me. Christian beliefs are old and rusty and sinking under the strain of time, science, and logic. Better to gather up the valuables and jump ship, I think.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:21 PM on March 14, 2005

What Decani said. The very notion of god is beyond preposterous.

That said, I can understand and accept that others require belief in a supernatural being in order to cope with their lives. I understand how it can bring them hope and meaning. I think they could, were they to apply themselves, accomplish the same things without requiring a belief in god, but, hey, whatever works.

And, too, if religion is what people need in order to live by a decent moral code, then let them have their religion. They're all basically the same in the end: do those things that make for a healthy society, and don't do those things that are detrimental to society. Love one another, practice forgiveness, be charitable, don't lie, be nice. If people need to be threatened with eternal damnation in order to heed those rules, so be it.

Finally, one doesn't think lesser of children for believing in Santa Claus. Likewise, there's no need to think less of people who are religionist. At least until such time as that religious belief interferes with their ability to be rational and/or behave in a way that is not detrimental to society... like demanding unequal treatment of others.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:36 PM on March 14, 2005

madman : "Well, seeing how there aren't any former Hindus here, let me add my bit.

"I was born to two very religious Hindu parents, and thanks to them, I was very religious as a kid, mostly because I bought into the whole 'powerful being up there who looks after all of us' line."

You do realize that this is a Judeo-Christian wrapper on the actual Hindu concept. According to Hindu philosophy, we're all part of the Brahman, which is all there is. The anthropomorphic manifestations are all the result of folk evolution of the beliefs. In other words, there is no Shiva or Vishnu to pray to. Those "deities" are fictional formulations. The reason most Hindus don't know any better is for the same reasons most interested layman don't know the actual basis of quantum mechanics: they haven't studied the underlying mathematics, on which interpretations are laid atop.

I don't want to shit in this thread, since the question is about atheists coming around, but given that induction is not provable, due to the inherent uncertainty in the universe, being theistic or atheistic requires faith. This is the strict rigorous position. Effectively, however, I became explicitly atheistic at around 12-13, even though I never had strong spiritual beliefs to begin with, because I realized that based on how I saw & thought the world worked, the probability of a personal God running the show was close to 0.
posted by Gyan at 8:56 PM on March 14, 2005

My mom is Jewish, but she raised us kids Baptists from the time she converted from Catholicism in order to divorce my pop, when I was 2. As a young kid, I was a mensch, so I took it all to heart and did my best to be very devout.

I really enjoyed believing, and when I was 7 and 8 I spent a lot of time wrapped up in fantasy sequences in my head. Mostly rapture scenarios. I had this vision of "Judgement Day" when everybody would watch each other's lives on a giant movie screen. Sometimes I would speak in little asides to the audience, so convinced was I that this was being recorded.

I know this will sound mawkishly progressive, but I began questioning the whole belief system because of a Sunday School teacher named Rosalee. She had been a model for my self-certainty. She was the wife of a local rancher, was impeccably neat and had a talent for infusing her chipper demeanor with racist contempt, among other kinds of contempt. One specific episode that has stuck with me was the time she told us all that there was no heaven for black people.

As I got older, I realized that she was simply a poor advocate for Christianity, but I think that her performance released me from the need to be certain. Through her, I saw an ugly side to certainty that became clear in other areas of life. I now consider myself agnostic. This has become easier in my family since over the years my mother and most of my siblings have dropped Christianity as well.
posted by squirrel at 9:01 PM on March 14, 2005

jokeefe wrote: there seems to often be in people's answers... an equation between losing faith in the church as an institution and losing faith in the idea of God... One doesn't always imply the other, does it?

I think they're separate. I've had many life experiences as an adult that have fostered a belief in something, some energy source or master plan beyond human reckoning, that has nothing to do with the conventional religions I've been exposed to.
posted by squirrel at 9:17 PM on March 14, 2005

I was raised in a religious country club. My mom was the organist and I sang in choir as soon as I was old enough. I liked this, and am very happy to have had it.

When I was 12 I learned of another sort of Christianity, a more fundamental sort (not exactly Fundie). This made me more solidly Christian, but still without a similar church connection.

When I was 16 I was introduced and indoctrinated in a real Fundie brand (not like the political brand of today). I experienced things.

Faith is acceptance without proof. So I lost my faith when I had experiences which confirmed that faith.

Latter I lost religion, and am a far better Christian because of it. I am gay. That helps this process a great deal. Add to this a direct experience of what I call 'God'. My experience teaches me my gayness is not an issue in my relationship with God.

I'm not stupid and I read. I love science. I more readily accept proven science over unproven religious concepts. I easily accept that religion is frequently wrong about things. I continue to experience God, and science, especially cosmology, only increases the 'size' of my concept of God. My study of religion outside Christianity has similar results.

I don't like the word 'believe'. If I am totally honest, when discussing spiritual issues, I say "I suspect", rather than "I believe". Some things bother me, but I am cautious about labeling things "evil" (certain religious and political leaders excepted). I am much happier assigning a label of "holy". The world is FULL of holy stuff! People say things that are holy all the time, without knowing it. This makes me happy (plenty of holy statements in this thread). I try to avoid any appearance of dogma. Dogma kills, dogma interferes with a person trying to connect with God. Dogma starts wars.
posted by Goofyy at 9:57 PM on March 14, 2005

I went to church and Sunday school for a time as a child, though as I got older our attendance went from every Sunday to some Sundays to holidays only to none. My parents weren't particularly religious; in fact, my father isn't even Christian. (He's never really accepted any label, but he has said that he's probably more humanist than anything else. Let's just say "agnostic" for simplicity's sake.) He mainly went along with it to please my mom, but even she's something of a passive believer. Our church was quite progressive, so there was never any conflict between (say) science and religion or homosexuality and morality.

Unsurprisingly, I was a pretty passive believer myself. If asked, I'd call myself a Christian, but it never really meant very much to me. It was around the time I turned 13 that I started to ask myself what religion really did mean to me. I'd always been of a more scientific bent, not just in terms of loving science but also in terms of skepticism and the need for evidence before I would accept a claim. The only evidence being offered for god was a book full of plot holes and inconsistencies. Actually, more accurately, the evidence consisted of several books making flawed cases for different versions of deities, and really there didn't seem to be any reason to accept one over another. One of my best friends at the time was an atheistic Buddhist, and we'd discuss religion now and then. It occurred to me that while I didn't fully accept his line either, it made a heck of a lot more sense than the stuff I'd been told as a kid.

So basically I became an agnostic, and a fairly apathetic one at that. I didn't know, I didn't think it particularly mattered. Even if there was some sort of supreme being or what have you, it didn't seem to be paying us very much attention. I still say I'm agnostic, but the older I get the closer I get to fully crossing the line into atheism. I think the only reason I haven't yet is that I'm still coming to grips with my own mortality. I used to have a fear of non-existence similar to the one described above by dodgygeezer, and the thought still makes me a bit uneasy. Leaving the door open to the possibility of a soul (though not really a god) might be my subconscious' way of dealing with it for now.

The apathy's still in full force. I have nothing against religion in general, though I do have problems with certain interpretations and practices of such. I find it ironic that most of the major religions promote tolerance and peace in their holy literature, and yet many of their supposedly most devout adherents seem to have not received the memo. There are religious figures whom I have nothing but respect for: Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, for instance. I realize that religion can be comforting to some, and that there may even be a biological basis for it, but personally it's just not important to me.
posted by Aster at 11:10 PM on March 14, 2005

I was surrounded by catholicism for 12 years. Had to go to church on sunday, but never had to pray before a meal. But it never made any impression on me other than that I thought some of the stories were nice. My father stopped going to church when I was 8 or 9, and my mum told me I could choose whether I wanted to stay with the church at 12. I decided not to because by then it was really starting to get boring.

Cue lots of arguments with (religious) grandparents, but I'm still grateful, for the choice I was given as well as for the things I learnt from going to church. But I think there never was any real faith in me.
posted by Skyanth at 12:01 AM on March 15, 2005

*stops by*

136 comments and nobody's starting humming REM yet?

Oh no I've said too much... I haven't said enough/That's me in the corner...


Okay, sorry, it's 1 a.m. and I'm up way too late.
posted by jokeefe at 12:54 AM on March 15, 2005

I posted upthread, to clarify a concept, but I never actually answered the question-- in part because I was trying to find the words to articulate something that's sort of complicated.

I was raised Presbyterian, and I had the youth group community that some spoke of, and I really appreciated the particular liberalism that came with the church and the community in the church. I went on mission trips into the inner city, worked at soup kitchens, shelters, etc. I did all this more out of a sense of doing good for good's sake, as opposed to a real sense of faith and "good works".

I remember thinking in sunday school that none of this stuff could be real, and why did it seem that other people took it at face value?

I'm not exactly sure when I crystallized my position, but I slowly drifted away from the church in my teens, and found other things that interested me more.

As some people mentioned earlier, I have a sense of "Awe" at the complexity and beauty in the world, (so much so that sometimes I am completely overwhelmed and feel as if I could scream) but for my particular worldview, this doesn't imply a god, nor even a soul. I can call this the "Tao", but it doesn't imply anything outside of human experience.

I realized at some point that I could make no distinction between the sacred and the profane, mind and body. When I say "sacred" I simply mean that which is "worthy of respect".

I read a lot of theology and philosophy, and I became much more critical. I still have a deep interest in religion as something to study anthropologically; I appreciate the art and music that is produced through it. Through philosophy, I learned that the system with which I perceive the world is, upon scrutiny, internally consistent, and I'm constantly reassessing and refining my position.

I am perfectly happy to admit that life is short, I am a bag of meat, and that when I die, there's nothing afterwards. I also find something compelling in that fact; I have an extremely powerful and clear understanding that every single moment is worth something.

I sometimes get caught up in debates about the existence of a higher power of some sort, but ultimately, it's a debate that can not have a final answer, and trying to argue these things is like pounding one's head against a wall, so I do it less and less. I do, however, get really upset when theists try to do insane things like put stickers in textbooks, try to forward agendas like school prayer, &c. That's something worth getting upset about.

Reading Dawkins and other biological / anthropological texts probably put the last nail in the coffin, so to speak. I also agree that one's religion has more to do with where in the world they are located, and as someone said upthread "who gets to them first". I am also open to the idea that religion / theism is genetic, and if so, must confer some sort of evolutionary advantage.

I spent the last fifteen-odd years trying to educate myself and question, and undo the garbage-by-rote that had been fed to me for the first fifteen.

Now I'm 31, and I find the idea of a deity absurd. Like unicorns, Apollo, or elves.

What I believe to be the truth is subject to revision at any given moment in time.
posted by exlotuseater at 4:32 AM on March 15, 2005

My parents, from very early on, made it clear that they were not going to push me in one way or another regarding religion. I attended some services, but mostly I didn't feel right going to them. I read the Bible as a child, and again when I was a teenager, and to be honest there were only snippets of it that resonated with me. The rest just didn't click with me. So in that sense, I never had "faith" per se to lose. I did, however, become combative and cynical toward the whole thing in my teens, so much so that I once got decked by an upstanding Catholic girl over it.

But that is mostly gone now, since I've begun to be a bit more accepting of what other people believe, and more interested in Buddhism. The skepticism, however, is still there in full force.
posted by shawnj at 7:12 AM on March 15, 2005

Just a blurb to clarify my earlier comments. I don't know how one can be an agnostic-borderline deist catholic, but that would be the best label I can put on myself. I have tons of issues with the catholic church, the "answers" there don't really do it for me, and I'll get really pissed if I have to put up with a lot of smite the sinner talk, but I still go. I guess the problem for me is that I think there might be a God, but don't think that my worship or non-worship really matters that much, but mostly it is more of a search for a group that (spirituality aside) somewhat closely mirrors my moral compass. Ok so I'm rambling a bit, I can only hope that this sort of makes sense.

I do have a question for those who argue that logic dictates the feeling of God to be irrelevant: How does one reconcile this logic with other feelings (i.e. love/hate)? This is one of the things that I've had problems getting my brain around for awhile.
posted by Numenorian at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2005

God to be irrelevant: How does one reconcile this logic with other feelings (i.e. love/hate)?

You concretely feel love and hate. They are nearly tangible. That's the difference, at least for me.
posted by shawnj at 8:31 AM on March 15, 2005

shawnj: loved the story of the turkey baster incident!

Here we see the violence inherent in the system!
posted by Decani at 9:36 AM on March 15, 2005

Wow, nobody has tackled the zero challenge? How about this: I hereby bop you on the head with an empty water bottle zero times.

I was raised Unitarian Universalist, and taught about various world religions in Sunday school. Somehow, eventually I seemed to have believed in god through osmosis from popular culture. Then I remember having a friend who said she was an atheist. I thought about it for awhile, realized the whole god thing was rather silly, and dumped the idea when I was 7.

Fast forward to March 14, 2001 (heh, I should have found this thread yesterday)....

I imbibed something I shouldn't have, and also had an underlying mental illness I didn't know about, and as a result, I went completely batshit insane. I had a psychotic episode, and fried my belief circuits.

I ended up believing that I was on a mission from god to save the world, and suddenly believed in god and all that went with it 100%. I also believed a whole lot of other bizarre stuff too. (My experience of psychosis is that any thought that enters your head, no matter how bizarre, you believe completely). I even had a stranger baptize me in a stream. (well, we stood in a tiny stream, there was no immersion)

I got better. I was in the hospital for awhile, got on medication, but was delusional for months. My belief in god lasted several more months. I almost converted to Catholicism, actually. Once you get it in your head that something *must* be true, it is profoundly amazing what contortions your internal logic will go through to prop it up and make it square with what your senses tell you.

During this time I felt god's presence many times, in many ways, big and small. I was on a mission, I was special to god, and my role was key in the saving of mankind.

Let me tell you, after feeling that.... well, it's a painful thing to lose, let me just put it that way.

Once I got closer to my normal mental state, the belief in god and all things supernatural vanished. I felt like my brain had been hijacked, and I felt... mentally dirty, almost, as a result. I had a relapse or two, each time with manifest religious hallucinations, that left me feeling god was real, and completely evil.

Since then I've gone back to my atheistic self. My last lingering belief of god was that he was being clever hiding himself by not existing, because he was afraid of punishment for his crime of bringing the world into being. But he couldn't fool me, heh heh.

My craziness taught me how belief in god can be a very real thing when you experience it, and it can be impervious to logic and evidence (and your mind can even bend your perceptions in order to keep things consistent). I am very glad to be back to normal. I do of course miss the feeling of being so very special. Delusions have their charms.

As a result, I pity religious people their unfortunate brain settings more than I simply dislike religion and its hold over people. Some of them just can't help it.

Even if I did believe in god, I don't think I would want to be a Christian, since to me that word is tainted with countless crimes over the centuries. I wouldn't want to be part of the same movement that was responsible for the Crusades, or the Inquisition. I'd want to start something new and not be saddled by the inconsistencies and hate in the Bible.

Sometimes I think it would be a neat idea to create a religion, almost as an art project. I would never expect anyone to join it, but it might be an interesting endeavor. I think I'd take the view "if there is an afterlife, let's create something cool there if we can". I wouldn't presuppose anything supernatural existing, or anything else without evidence. It would be nice to have at least one religion to point to that had a nice moral framework without anything irrational that an adherent had to believe in. But one might ask without supernatural stuff, would it be a "religion" at all? And to that I say, of course it would! The IRS tax benefits alone make it worthwhile to be a religion and not just a club.

When I was still crazy, I thought very long and hard about the idea of existing forever and ever without end, and it sounded so very very wearying to me. I was rather relieved when I regained my belief in a finite existence.

I've gone on too long probably. Enough.

p.s. this is my favorite Askme thread ever. Thank you, everyone!
posted by beth at 8:34 PM on March 15, 2005

I just have to add, I couldn't (in my sane state) really swallow Christianity's idea of Jesus suffering for my sins. I was brought up to believe in justice, and having someone else punished for wrongs I have done is the exact opposite of justice.

It sort of bugs me that people willingly subscribe to that belief. What do they think? "Gee, great, I get off scot-free! Thanks, Jesus! You're so great!".

Would they let someone take a murder rap for them? I guess a lot of people would.
posted by beth at 8:40 PM on March 15, 2005

Great story, beth, thanks!
posted by LordSludge at 11:59 AM on March 16, 2005

I had a psychotic episode, and fried my belief circuits. I ended up believing that I was on a mission from god to save the world, and suddenly believed in god and all that went with it 100%. I also believed a whole lot of other bizarre stuff too.

konolia, is that you? ;^)

Thanks for the great story, beth. You're right: this thread rocks!
posted by squirrel at 6:34 AM on March 17, 2005

I'd say around 7. I was pretty gradual as I was taught there was a god, but every thing seemed pretty silly. As I learned more and more about science and critical thought, my beliefs became clear. I wonder why people think faith is a virtue, after all it's just willful ignorance.
posted by jeblis at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2005

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