Inspired by Kelly’s post on the day she became an atheist, I’d like to share my own story of how I came to be without faith.
I’ve always been an atheist. I grew up with non-religious parents (Dad was more explicit about his non-belief), so I never attended church, was taught to say prayers, or learned Bible stories and verse. I was free to go to church if I wanted to, but it never came up. When I was younger, I noticed the contrast, but it was never a big deal for me. I saw church much like sports or dance classes. Some kids did it. I didn’t. Occasionally differences with other kids from very religious families flared into fights. Sometimes upon hearing I didn’t go to church or believe in God kids would cry out with all the fire and brimstone they had learned from grown-ups, “You’re going to HEEELLLLLLLL!” To which I usually replied something like, “Yeah, but for now I get to sleep in on Sundays and eat sweets during Lent.” (For a more in depth episode, I have a post on being an atheist kid during Lent here.)
I distinctly remember getting into a heated debate with the girl across the street when I was six years old. She said that God was real and Santa was made-up. I was adamant that God wasn’t real and Santa was. I left for my house in a puff. Later on that year I noticed that Santa’s handwriting was awfully similar to Mom’s, and I changed my belief in Santa to fit the evidence. I found no such reason to do so with God, so my thoughts remained the same.
Occasionally I would test out what it was like to be religious. It happened especially when I lived in California and visited with my super religious relatives. At night I would kneel by my bed, fold my hands together (just like I saw on tv), and ask God to bless my mommy, daddy, brother, sister, grandma, papa, and on up the family tree till I got em all…and then I would through in a request for a new toy. When the toy never came, I stopped praying. And nobody in my family was struck down for my lack of praying either.
As I got older, my interest in religion grew. I found it necessary to have a solid understanding of where I stood. I started paying closer attention to the arguments for and against God. I started getting into long discussions with Dad about things like principles and politics. I began to see that much of what religion dictated clashed with my own set of morals. In middle school I read Atheism: The Case Against God and lots of articles on the internet. My atheism was becoming more readily accepted. Many kids were jaded by their parents pushing their beliefs on them and some had even rejected the idea of a god themselves. Nobody told me I was going to hell anymore, at least not out loud. I only got the occasional wide-eyed, “Oh! Wow! I didn’t know you were,” from strongly religious classmates.
These days religion isn’t a big deal for me. I can still get very passionate about the effects of religion, especially as it encroaches further upon government. And I often am shocked by the horror stories people tell from their childhood relating to religion. But in day-to-day interaction with religious folk, I don’t get flustered. It doesn’t often come up, and when it does, most people don’t push it once they hear I’m an atheist. (Because really, how much friendly conversation about religion can there be after that?) As long as they’re not rudely pushing their religion onto me, I feel no need to go about sharing about my views on God and the like. I’ll happily do so if asked, but I’ve got better things to discuss.