And you may tell yourself “This is NOT my beautiful house.”

October 19, 2009 § 15 Comments

Atheism is a lack of faith in the divine, the unproven and the supernatural. It means “the absence of belief in the existence of deities.” But each person who identifies themselves as an atheist has arrived at this conclusion via a different pathway.

One of the common misconceptions about atheists is that we are all bitter about something, angry at God, angry at the church, or that something happened to make us swing away from religion. Another is that we are simply being atheists to “get back” at our parents, or society, and that with the proper theistic influences we can be “steered back into the path of righteousness.” This is the case with some, but for the majority of people, the path to atheism is much more gradual, or there was no path at all.

My path to atheism is rather unremarkable. I never really believed in God. My parents never pushed religion onto me, although they did identify themselves as Protestants, at least when filling in forms or the census. I went to Sunday school a couple of times, one with puppets praising Jesus and spouting about God. I liked it! Puppets are cool! But the messages, though I remember them, never really resonated with me. I also, once, visited the church that my grandmother used to attend. And while it was quite a beautiful place, that’s all it was for me. This was all while we were still living in the USA.

Once we moved to Australia, there was really no religious influence on me, my parents I believe were secretly happy to be away from their own families’ religious beliefs. My parents always taught me to ask questions, and never to believe everything I heard or read.

In my teen years, I was never an anarchist, although at one stage I did reject medicine and politics in favour of Punk Rock and crystal meditation (yes I was an advocate of “alternative” medicines and therapies including reiki, crystal gazing, and was fascinated by the occult). While this didn’t last too long, it was formative in my beliefs as an atheist. I identified myself as a believer alternative lifestyles. I still carry some of this today, as I still reject a lot of what is commonly called “mainstream”.

Flash forward to my years in University. I studied Fine Arts, mostly painting and drawing. Art History was one of my favourite subjects. It’s interesting how Art History is informed by History in general, it walks hand in hand, as it is created by the religious and political climates of the time. The history of art is a great documentation of the history of religion; not just the amazing things that were inspired by religion (see The Renaissance and The Romantic era art), but also the atrocities carried out in the name of religion (see The Crusades, Henry VIII). This was not news to me, and I’m not going to blame religion for all the evils of the world, but this learning  simply reinforced how I felt. At this time I identified myself as an Agnostic with Atheistic tendencies.

Today, I am atheist, but I might hold off on telling you what that means for another post.

Other people’s accounts and stories are quite different from mine. In October this year, I posted this to Twitter:

“Can I please ask atheists these questions: ‘How did you become an atheist? When did you realise you were an atheist?'”

23 people replied. The responses are as varied as are the people who answered. There were several whose answers were similar to my story, but some answers were common:

  • “I was born atheist, as we all are.”
  • “Religion didn’t make any sense.”
  • “My understanding of the natural world leaves no room for God.”

Some stories are individual tales, where an action or moment was a trigger to return that person to atheism, or a moment of realisation:

My path to atheism came via Woody Allen books (thinking) and a college education (observing), including a class on stellar astronomy (perspective.) My understanding of the way nature works lead me to see that there is balance in the universe. For every action, etc. etc. Systems don’t work when they aren’t in balance. Which suggests that if there’s pure love, “Benevolent Creator Being,” there must be pure evil, “Malevolent Destructive Being.” But even in the Bible, Satan is subservient to Christ and God. He’s even subservient to some dude in a polyester leisure suit with a book of ancient Aramaic folk tales! Which means that system is waaaaay out of whack. And unsustainable. Once I started looking at the world more closely, I came to see that there’s no evidence of an active presence of a Benevolent Creator Being working on behalf of its so called “creation.” I saw no reason to believe in (God), for there is no evidence that it exists. – @TheSecularist

I fell into a coma as a kid. When I came out of it my belief was just gone, like I had always been a non-believer. I don’t have an explanation for it. I figure some wiring must have shorted out (or lit back up) in my brain.@CS999

Became atheist at about 13ish. Thought Catholicism was stupid from about 6 ie Limbo purgatory hell etc because religion didn’t make sense – also had finger amputated when I was 9 & it didn’t grow back despite parents prayers@ladymidnight

But what all these stories do have in common is either a realisation or prevalence of reason, a moment or understanding that, using reason, intelligence and knowledge, there can be no deities. If one has a true desire to seek out truth, there can be no other outcome.

To quote my last article, “the only single thing that ties atheists together, is their lack of belief in God or gods. The definition says nothing about what choices individual atheists make. Just like in every walk of life there are good and bad people, no matter what their backgrounds, religious, moral, ethical belief systems, or lack thereof.”

Many thanks to all the people who answered my question on Twitter. Your responses were great, and I appreciate you taking the time to share, in particular: @JezuzFree, @wiseguyeddie, @puckman, @Jayseecosta, @Mrgr8, @ladymidnight, @andreasoverland, @Atheist_Girl_15, @Bruceeverett, @infinite_life, @_struct, @Synthaetica, @LaBrujaRoja, @MusiCaller, @TheSecularist, @thecameronclark, @CS999, @blueblazes, @Glier, @will0whisp, @TheEmperfect, and @george_good. Follow these good people.

Further reading:

http://www.thinkatheist.com/group/yourstory/forum/topics/how-synthaetica-got-this-way by @Synthaetica

http://www.infinitelife-freethinker.com/2009/08/religion-me.html by @infinite_life

http://jezuzfree.wordpress.com/2009/07/19/from-christian-to-atheist-letter-to-my-brother/ by @JezuzFree

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§ 15 Responses to And you may tell yourself “This is NOT my beautiful house.”

  • Cary says:

    I had a friend use the ‘you must be bitter’ line on me. I think she actually said ‘you must have had a bad experience with religion’. I replied to this that unless an adolescent’s resentment of summer vacation bible school (which everyone I knew resented, and most of them are still believers as far as I know) counts as a traumatic enough experience then no, I didn’t. Religion has always has a intellectual failing for me. It was no different from any other myth or folktale so I rightly put as much stock in it as I did Paul Bunyan and Freyja. (I admit as an adolescent male I held out some slightly different hopes regarding Freyja, but that’s another matter entirely.)

    -@qaphsiel

    • Thanks for your comment Cary. Like I say it’s a common misconception. More common than I realised!

    • Cary says:

      I was thinking a bit last night and I realized I had had a bad experience with religion (albeit in a non-personal way) and that it had catalyzed some things in me. In a very significant way, George W. Bush and the wave of evangelism he both rode and stoked was moved me toward becoming a vocal atheist concerned about the damage the derth of irrational, non-critical thinking was doing to my country and the world.

  • Katie says:

    Nice post, Marty. 🙂 I appreciate your frankness and your honesty.

  • Shine says:

    I encounter the “atheists-are-just-angry-at-life” argument quite frequently. I really cannot understand where it is derived from; the most intense anger and vocal vitriol seems to primarily stem from Christian groups. Like you said, atheism is about rejecting the supernatural and consequently embracing the natural reality of life. How can this embrace of life by atheists insinuate that they are then angry at life?

    • I’ve never encountered it in real life, but I’ve often heard it cited. It’s ridiculous really, but for some “believers” it seems impossible for there to be any other explanation for atheism.

  • oaks says:

    Ooh, is it too late to recount my moment? I became an atheist for sure when I moved to the bible belt of california – orange county, after having lived overseas for 6 years as a child. Despite winning the election, i was ousted as president of my high school philosophy club and put in a co-president spot with a pastor’s son by the incumbent president (also a pastors son). Evidently my plans for philosophy club were too radical (they were covering a different philosopher each week). What we ended up having was a once a week discussion “Does God Exist?” That coupled with my study of the tainted history of religion across the world, as well as the racism, gay bashing, and affluence of the suv driving, MegaChurch-goers in OC made it very clear that believing the same hogwash was ludicrous. But whether I had been exposed to the supersitions of other cultures, or moved to the embittering Orange County, I have no doubt that I would have eventually seen how unreasonable the notion of a christian, muslim, jewish, etc “God” really was.

    • Thanks for that reply, pity you didn’t see my initial question so i could include you in the article! Your journey seems similar to many of ours. Seems the more you know, the less room for God there is. If religious types had their way, there would be no other “Education” than the religious.

  • miltron says:

    it disappoints me that this is still an issue.

    in such a time of free and liberal education and a 99+% literacy rate for developed countries, I think its kind of sad that constructs such as religion havent already been quietly disassembled and dismissed as a redundant cultural artifact of less civilized times.

    I hope that in 50 years, people will look back with embarrassment at today’s religion, as people look back now on the racism and sexism that was prevalent 50 years ago.

    • I’m with you Milt. I’m sure we’ve talked this over in the past, but it’s astounding that this still goes on. I’m glad I live in Australia instead of the USA. There really isn’t a problem here like there is over there.

  • Thank you so much for the link under further reading! Great post. I enjoyed the read and learned a few things while here! I hope to get back to my blog soon. I will add a link to yours when I get a chance. Again Thanks!!

    Cheers,

    Ben

    http://www.infinitelife-freethinker.com

    Ave ~ Humanity

  • JezuzFree says:

    My path from Christian to Atheist, as I’m sure it will be for many honest seekers of truth, was paved with Christian literature: Jesus Freaks by dc Talk, Loving God by Charles Colson, In The Name of Satan by Bob Larson… Real eye openers of the absurdity of Christianity.

  • Louise says:

    My guess is that writers like Dawkins, Hitchens et al are largely responsible for the “you must be bitter” comments. Because to me, they come across like a very bitter mob – all that ranting against religion, or any sort of belief that doesn’t fit their neo-Darwinian views, for that matter. I suspect they’re doing more harm than good if they really just want people to think calmly about what they believe or don’t believe. Certainly throwing insults around and smugly calling themselves “brights” (thus implying everyone who’s not a convinced and preferably rude atheist is some sort of idiot) isn’t winning ’em any friends. It’s preaching to the choir, that’s all.

    Hope I haven’t got totally off-track here but that’s how I see it: “celebrity atheists” are at the bottom of it, not normal people going about their normal lives (and how many people talk about their beliefs or philosophies on a regular basis anyway?).

    Oh, and no, I’m not atheist, nor do I follow a religion. I’m a sort of small-S spiritualist, formerly agnostic. 🙂

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