As I have mentioned before, I was raised as a Christian. I am going to do my best to tell the story of how I came to be an atheist. I didn’t have a singular moment in which I decided to become an atheist, so I can’t really say when I first became an atheist. I do have a rough idea though.
I grew up in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas, colloquially referred to as “The Metroplex.” It’s not the most conservative part of Texas, but it’s still pretty conservative compared with the rest of the country. When I was younger, both of my parents were pretty religious, and so we went to church every week. We attended a fairly liberal Disciples of Christ church, but nonetheless were pretty devout. As a kid, I viewed church list most kids. The stories were kinda fun, there were other kids to play with, but it was pretty boring overall. As I grew older, I started getting more into religion.
In high school I still attended church regularly, did bible camp in the summers, and so on. On the surface I looked like a pretty standard Christian, albeit a liberal one. I thought I was a Christian, and called myself a Christian, but I now know that I wasn’t really a Christian. I believed in God in a somewhat strict Abrahamic sense, but I can’t say I ever really believed in Jesus. I heard the stories and sort of accepted them as true on the surface, but I tended to ignore Jesus. I think that a part of me knew I didn’t believe the whole Jesus thing, but I did my best to push it out of mind. I viewed the bible as a collection of stories that were inspired by God, but written by man, in the sense that there was a kernel of truth (historical and philosophical), but that it required interpretation and had to be viewed in relation to the cultural beliefs of the time.
When put into context, my religious beliefs make a lot of sense. I was a loner in high school. I had one good friend, but everyone else I knew was an acquaintance at best. In many ways I was a typical outcast nerd. I was one of the smartest kids at school, I took several college classes at a nearby university before I graduated high school, and I was involved in theatre. Church was a social outlet for me. The other high schoolers at my church were accepting of me, and it was a chance to socialize. Almost all of my interactions with girls were through church, and even my first kiss was at church camp. At this point in time in my life, I was mostly attending church for social reasons, not religious reasons. I was obviously aware of the social reasons for going to church, although I didn’t quite separate this from my reasons for believing. If anything, I think I confused the social interactions I had at church, which were a good thing, with the religion of the church itself being good, i.e. “look at all the good things Christianity has done for me, of course it must be The Answer®”. This was never an intellectual argument though in my head, it’s just too silly. Rather, it was an emotional argument, one of those things you feel is right but can’t (or won’t) put into words. Not coincidentally, this is why people become so convinced of their religion; they are using emotional arguments, not reason-based arguments.
Things changed a lot for me when I entered college about 10 years ago. College is a time of great transformation for most people, and I was no exception. I found that not only were there other nerds like me, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them! I made more friends in my first year in college than the previous 13 years in grade school. During my first year of college, I really didn’t do anything religious; no church, no bible studies, nothing. I no longer needed church as a social crutch, so I just ignored it. I wish I could say that this is when I began to cast of the chains of religion, but it was not to be just yet. I started feeling guilty about not attending church, so I went with some of my friends to their church. I attended pretty regularly for about another year or so until I got an out of state internship. During my time away, I never attended church and lapsed again, only this time I stopped feeling guilty about it. I haven’t been to church since.
I didn’t have a “Eureka!” moment when I became an atheist. About 3 years ago, I realized that I was an atheist and had been for some time, but I’m not really certain when the switch occurred. I have a few interesting memories that give me a rough idea. When I was still attending church in college, I can remember a time when I was praying in my dorm room and all of a sudden the thought “You know you’re just talking to yourself, right?” popped very prominently into my head. At the time I just did my best to ignore it, but I think it signifies the beginning of my deconversion. I also remember how, at my wedding a few years later, I felt a little uneasy about it being a Christian service because I didn’t really feel like a Christian then. I think a part of me already knew I was an atheist. During this whole time, I was learning more and more about science through my coursework and extracurricular reading. One evening, my wife and I were talking about religious belief and what we really did believe in, and we both admitted to each other that we were atheists. This was the first time I had consciously called myself an atheist, which kinda surprised me.
After this moment, I started thinking about what it meant to be an atheist. I knew what my basic beliefs (or lack thereof) were, but I had no idea what it meant from a cultural standpoint to be an atheist. For a while I just mused in my head and discussed with my wife, but eventually I started reading blogs. I found Greta Christina’s blog first and have been hooked ever since. Along the way I found many more incredible blogs that have helped me to solidify, expand upon, and challenge my opinions, as well as good tactics for dealing with the religious confrontations. The change from theism to atheism was quite easy for me; I’ve always supported full equality for LGBT people, separation of church and state, creationism is bogus, etc, so I didn’t really change much compared to a lot of others who left religion. The biggest change for me was really how I felt about my beliefs (now lack thereof). When I finally self-identified as an atheist, it just felt right; like I was finally admitting to myself what I had always known. I finally allowed myself to be, well, myself and believe what I think is correct, not what I grew up with. It was freeing in a way I had never experienced before. The fact that there is so much empirical evidence to back everything up is just icing on the cake.