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I was ‘saved’ at the age of five. I use the word with disdain because a) it implies there is a savior, and something to be saved from, and b) no one that age can make an independent decision concerning something as complex as religion. However, from that moment I was a christian. Yes, my name was written in the lamb’s book of life, I was going to heaven, and jesus loved me!
I have always been in a religious family, and religious schools. For the most part I embraced it. Sure I had my ‘backslidden’ times, like any christian. However, there was never the slightest doubt in my mind god existed and loved me. After all, that was what my teachers and family told me. I knew the bible was true, after all, god wrote it! You know those people who on de-converting say “I realized I never really believed it.” Or “I always asked the Sunday school teacher questions she couldn’t answer, and this lead me to reason.” Well, I wasn’t one of those. I don’t think I ever seriously doubted anything. Those questions others stumbled on, like how did all the animals fit on the ark, or what happens to people who never hear the gospel-they never fazed me. I knew god didn’t lie, you just needed faith.
For the entirety of my schooling career I attended Christian schools, specifically, those of the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) system. Looking back, I would describe as a sort of jesus boot camp, indoctrinating young minds before they had any defense. Since this story isn’t about schooling systems, I’ll just cover briefly. Basically, every subject is filled with the truth of god and bible wisdom. All subjects had scripture memorization in them; you could actually fail a maths test by not knowing a verse. Prayers are said multiple times a day; devotions, bible study, etc take place throughout the week. The child is constantly bombarded with religion, surrounded by dozens who have been similarly indoctrinated, and free thought is usually quickly suppressed by teachers. There are hundreds of children, forcibly fed the bible, compelled to pray, to recite pledges to god. It should send chills down the spine of any freethinker. I was taught creationism, and evolution was ridiculed in depth, with basic arguments I could refute today. At the time though, it seemed the pinnacle of science to me. My High School physics and chemistry seemed about par, although they taught that every great scientist was a devout christian, and gave the impression no secular person had ever contributed greatly to the sciences or arts. Whenever an important secular person had to be taught, they always made sure to teach that their life and accomplishments were empty and meaningless without god, and they died sad and lonely. Everything was designed to instil fear and obedience to god. As one might imagine, this system has varying success rates. For my part, I never had a problem. I would always blindly accept what the system and teachers said. After all, god doesn’t lie.
Fast forward to when I’m 17. My christian life is at it’s peak. Church? Can’t get enough of it. Homegroup? Never miss one. I only listen to christian music, as one should, and pray often. I have my share of personal experiences. I have a desire to start witnessing. I can’t wait to bring others to christ! I even have a budding interest in apologetics.(Actually I knew Pascal’s Wager and Argument from Ignorance, but I thought no atheist would be able to stand up to them. I’ve grown a lot since then.) I swear I would never deny jesus. Actually, I’d love to die for him.
So how did I get here? Well, something happens. I get depressed. I eventually stop praying, and start thinking. I’m aware this feeds into the christian claim of ‘you’re only atheist because religion hurt you etc.’ The fact is though, I think eventually something would have happened to show me the light. It just happened to be this. The process of de-conversion had begun.
Now, to christians who say, “well you were obviously never really that into then’, quite frankly, stuff you. Imagine a drug addict who for 12 years has lived with his addiction and is now going cold turkey. Most apostates will tell you, it is a painful thing. I swung between thinking I was over it, to freaking out, thinking, ‘I’M GOING TO HELL!WHAT AM I DOING? OH GOD FORGIVE ME.’ It’s a daunting experience, and why I am so vehemently opposed to child indoctrination. Instilling the concept of hell as a means of control by fear into young children is nothing short of abuse. Like others, I dabbled a bit with Wicca, still being pretty spiritual in my thinking. Frankly though, after 12 years of education in one religion, I had no inclination to start from scratch on another. I started learning about agnosticism and atheism. It made sense, and I spent hours browsing websites. Soon I was calling myself agnostic, like many new de-convertees do. Partly out of ignorance for correct meaning for the word, partly because atheist seemed so..final. Like if I said I was atheist, that’s it. No going back. I was completely cut off from god. I got there though, and made the jump. I don’t know what day exactly I could say I stopped being a theist and became atheist, but I use November 1st, 2006 for a reference point. So on November 1st, 2006, I became an atheist.
I know any apostate will tell you, atheism is the best thing to happen to you. I think if there’s one thing atheists will agree on, it’s that atheism made them better people. When you realise that this life is it, it is not, as christians assume, a depressing thing. Rather, it is marvellous to be able to marvel at existence, at the brief opportunity we have been given to live on this world and make our mark. When you no longer mindlessly accept that goddunit, the potential for learning becomes endless. You don’t have to be a good person because a book tells you, you are a good person because that is who you are. There is no need to pointlessly worry about afterlives, no trying to reconcile insane ancient beliefs with modern reality, no need for hatred and fighting because someone believes in a different imaginary friend. It should be no surprise atheism is our natural born state, for it is to me the most healthy and liberating. Theists have told me they pity me. Well, I believe I pity you far more, because I have been on both sides of the fence, and I think it is safe to say the grass really is greener on one side. To all theists, I will think for you.
That would be a nice place to end it, but I soon realised that had been the easy part. Sure, I was atheist now, but I couldn’t do anything with it. The thought of telling friends and family, particularly family, terrified me. So, like others before me, I made myself comfortable in the closet. Outwardly, nothing changed. I still went to church every week and said all the right christian things. Inwardly though, it was torment. I gagged at every insane and offensive thing taught, and marvelled at the blind acceptance of everyone around me. The truth will set you free, but only in your mind. So for 6-8 months I continued my christian by day, atheist by night life. I would go read atheist sites, learning a little all the time. Eventually it got to the point where I could not tolerate church without feeling physically ill. Every breathtakingly unintelligent comment, every inane worship song frayed on the thread of patience and sanity I had left. So I stopped going to church and the like. I guess most people assumed I was backslidden or something. I doubt anyone would have guessed the truth. By this point I think two people knew I was atheist. I had told both over IM, and they had been accepting, in a ‘well you’ve got free will but I secretly think you’re going to hell’ way. Still, I couldn’t tell my close friends and family. At best it would mean losing some friendships, at worst ending up on the street.
About a year after I became atheist, I came out to my best friend. Not in a particularly civilized fashion though, he seemed convinced I was involved in the occult due to my backslidden ways. I had imagined when I finally came out; I would smoothly answer the arguments presented with everything I’d learnt in the last year. However, what actually happened was I was so nervous and scared I shook uncontrollably. I could barely form a coherent sentence, let alone a convincing argument. It was almost worth it though, for the look on his face when I said it. “I could understand you being a Satanist, but ATHEISM!?!’ Anyway, he barraged me with questions (the usual ignorant rubbish), which I couldn’t answer at the time. He concluded that I was atheist because I wanted to live a sinful life. (Probably the most ignorant, stupid thing theists say) Later I found he had been spreading lies about me due to it. The friendship deteriorated. Since then most people know I’m atheist, though not my parents, who I don’t intend on telling until I’m financially independent.
Shortly after this I joined the Rational Response Squad. I had found them through the Blasphemy Challenge and had lurked on the site for awhile. I felt overwhelmed by the christian presence around me, and needed some like minded people to talk to. I found one of the best communities and support I could ask for. Many there have the same background, and I can hardly describe the pleasure I get from kicking back and reading my fellow atheist’s thoughts. It has been invaluable in teaching me the majority of what I know. A sincere thank you to the RRS.
Since then I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve read Dawkins and Harris, and started to learn about evolution. I’ve learnt common theist arguments, why religion needs to go, logical fallacies, that the bible isn’t at all what christians claim, and much more. I’ve learnt how to debate theists, and maybe one day I’ll have the chance to do it face to face. I will admit, I still find it hard to speak up and say “I don’t believe in god’ in this theistic world. I agree with Dawkins, that religion must be given no respect. I’ve also learnt that reality is the stark contrast of what I was taught in christianity-it is in fact atheists who are persecuted, distrusted, and mocked. I have seen people suddenly become immoral monsters in the eyes of their friends, just because they said they don’t believe in god. I have seen death threats and hate mail from the loving followers of christ. I have seen theists break the law and vandalise atheists’ property. Your Sunday school lied; this is not the broad and easy path.
So there it is. I, one born and bred fundamentalist christian, am now on the side of real truth. I am determined to use my life to work against the danger of theism, to be part of the largest bloodless crusade ever. If that sounds arrogant to you, good, because this world needs every outspoken atheist it can get. Religion and theism are immense threats to our survival, and we must dry up the flow of ignorance and intolerance.
I am an atheist, and I wear the name with pride.
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