Questions from Theists: How Did You Become an Atheist?

Question: How did you become an atheist?


Many atheists are ex-theists, with brilliant deconversion stories, such as this one. However, I am not one of them, and I have no such interesting story. Here is my dull non-story.

I never became an atheist. Becoming an atheist requires making a transition from being a theist. Since children are born atheists, i.e., they are born free from any theistic beliefs until such beliefs are inculcated into them, any theist had to become a theist, making a transition from her or his starting point as an atheist. I never became a theist. and so I never became an atheist, once again. I simply started as an atheist, and remained one.

My parents were not religious, and religious belief was simply not a part of my toddler years. My first encounter with religion came from my neighbors, when I was around three or four. I was living in an apartment building in Santa Monica, and one of the neighbors was a little girl named Amber, whom I often played with. One day, Amber’s family took me with them to church / Sunday school. I don’t know why or how my parents agreed to this, but somehow that’s what happened.

When I got to church, they told me some of the typical Christian stuff — about how there was an invisible, all-powerful man who lived in the sky who created everyone and everything; and how I and everyone else was born bad because Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge when a talking snake tempted them; and God’s son died for my badness and then rose from the dead; and Jesus’s blood would wash me clean if I accepted him; and so on. And even at that age, first I thought these people were joking with me; then I thought they were lying to me; then I thought they were crazy. Even as a preschooler, I was amazed that they were so unable to tell make-believe from reality, stunned that they did not understand these were just tall tales.

As I got older, I encountered ever more people who were progressively more insistent about their beliefs in invisible, all-powerful overlords who controlled everything, and who demanded my conviction, praise, submission, and and servitude. I became more aware that what these people told me didn’t add up, and more acutely cognizant that they couldn’t substantiate any of it in the slightest, and more attuned to how distasteful I found the underlying premises and the implications.

My parents sent me to Hebrew school. I disliked it, and found it unproductive.

Eventually, I started to approach the age where people in my life wanted me to be bar mitzvahed. I refused, because I did not believe. The rabbi at my Hebrew school repeatedly took me aside and told me I had to do this. He asked me to promise him. I refused. I eventually quit Hebrew school. My parents hired a private Hebrew and Judaism tutor named Bruce. That went nowhere. My Pa’sMa and Pa’sPa accused me of just being rebellious, and asked me why I always had to be so difficult. My Ma’sMa let me know there would be good rewards if I got bar mitzvahed, like my brother had received. But I still refused, because I didn’t believe in the doctrines. I never got bar mitzvahed, to most everyone’s minor disappointment.

As I grew up, I came to see ever more of the negatives associated with religions, and how much they outweighed the purported positives of religions. I saw the harm religions did to some of the people close to me, and the harm religions did to people all over the world. I’ve been an open nonbeliever and outspoken critic of religions since my adolescence or earlier, and now I’m using this blog as my platform.

I’m not mad at God — a popular notion theists have about atheists, which contradicts itself. You could be mad at people who use their religious beliefs against you, but how could you be mad at a purported entity you don’t think exists? Nor have I ever had any major emotional trauma from religion, as many theists seem to suspect is the case for outspoken atheists. Just a constant stream of minor incidents of exposure to theistic illogic, bigotry, and imposition. Neither did I have any moment when my faith shattered. There was never any such faith, to begin with. Simply, no one could ever present a sound reason why I should be persuaded by their religious beliefs, and so I never believed.

Not much of a story, since I was never a believer, but there it is.

2 thoughts on “Questions from Theists: How Did You Become an Atheist?”

  1. The fundamental problem with this subject is that the god concept has no universal definition. I have spoken to many people about their belief in god and have heard descriptions of “god” that run the gamut from the juvenile, superstitious, ridiculous (“god is an old man with a long beard, floating in the clouds”) to the sophisticated, and even undeniable (“god is infinite”–if god is infinite in all ways, then god is essentially synonymous with the universe–one can’t deny the existence of the universe). The most profound descriptions of god are often the least useful (“god is infinite, therefore god has no limits, no boundaries, and no definition, therefore we can’t know what god is”–and therefore can’t speculate regarding god’s existence). Without a universal and specific definition of god, there is no meaningful way to debate god’s existence. Thus I don’t call myself and atheist, but point out that the traditional terms regarding belief–theist, atheist, agnostic–are judeo-christian centric, and probably have no meaningful application to my own “religious” philosophy, which is focused on experience.

    I have experiences that I believe other people would describe with terms like “religious”, or “spiritual”, but I find these terms to be vague as well. Some people might describe some of those experiences as “supernatural”, but I can’t quite accept that concept at its inception. To me the word “natural” is all-encompassing. As a writer, it is often more compelling, and more specific, to describe the experiences rather than label them, but these experiences sometimes seem impossible to describe. As things like “love”, we can only describe around them. so this may be the source of much of the confusion on this subject–we don’t really know what we’re talking about.

  2. I had a both similar and very different experience. I grew up among clerics. My grandfather, Edward Oliver Clark, founded the Chevy Chase Baptist Church near Washington, DC. My Uncle Bob, aka Robert Ismay, was an Episcopal minister in West Virginia, my aunt Ginny Ismay was, pretty much, The Church Lady. And my Mom was usually choir director at some church or another… my attendance in that choir not subject to debate — and actually the start of my musical education.

    But I was also my Dad’s son… my Dad was an engineer and manager at Bell Laboratories, and was always urging me to think for myself, to question the status quo, to figure things out on my own, to read, read, read, read. So I was “doing science” when I was five years old. I taught myself to program computers when I was 12… not easy in 1973. My Dad was also artistic, showing me by example that engineering and art are not different things, through photography and music.

    I came to unbelief simply by the scientific method. As I grew up, I was surrounded by people who told me things, as happens when you’re a kid who’s always asking questions. I found that, for the most part, the religious people told me things that simply weren’t true. They wanted a world with a certain kind of magic in it, and while I loved reading about that in fantasy novels, even as a kid I knew that wasn’t real. When I talked to people in the sciences and engineering and the arts, I usually got a true information. Eventually it was just “consider the source”… I had no reason to believe anything religious people told me, because I had enough data points that they were lying about some things.

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