Your Stories of Atheism: Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid

This is an ongoing series featuring your stories of how you came to identify as an atheist. If you want to send me your story, you can submit it here. To read past stories, click here.

First, let’s hear from Thomas Westbrook of Holy Koolaid:

Don't drink the KoolaidFrom missionary kid to atheist/secular activist, my rollercoaster of a deconversion story swung from Jesus freak to godless heathen over the course of five years. Young earth creationism was a seemingly indestructible pillar of my childhood upbringing (read: indoctrination), but I always assumed that the world of science would back up my deeply-held extraordinary origins claims. But upon closer examination, my university-level science courses busted this myth wide open. Faced with two options: abandon dogma and embrace the truth or bury my head in the sand to protect my faith, I couldn’t be dishonest. It took me a few years of flip-flopping, in-depth/comprehensive studying, and wrestling with the “god question” from every imaginable angle, but eventually my mind was made up. I was no longer a Christian.

One of the biggest hurdles for me was the mystery of life’s origins, but I soon realized that just because I wasn’t familiar with any of the uncovered pieces in this puzzle didn’t mean the questions remained unanswered or that they could never be answered. I learned how astrophysicists are able to observe the birth of stars from nothing but mass, gravity, and time using spectroscopy. I learned how we’re able to observe nuclear fusion in the hearts of stars forming heavier and heavier elements before exploding these fundamental building blocks out into the cosmos to form planets, moons, asteroids, and even us. I studied the evolution of planet earth and how the atmosphere has changed over time to allow different types of life to evolve, and how geosphere and biosphere evolved in tandem.

I read about the Miller-Urey experiment and the various stages of abiogenesis that have been observed – how we’ve witnessed simple monomers merging into more complex polymers, how we’ve seen oily substances forming a cell-like membrane around amino acids required for life, how we’ve seen single cells group together to form multi-cell colonies, and how we’ve sequenced the human genome to observe the multitude of commonalities our building blocks share with every other organism on earth. I learned about random mutation and natural selection, speciation, and ring species.

The more I learned, the clearer the picture became. Sure, scientists didn’t have every single puzzle piece yet, but there were enough pieces there to give a pretty clear view of the overall picture and it didn’t validate my child-held belief in a young earth creationist model; it demolished it. I realized that the story of Genesis was either an entire fabrication – robbing the Bible of all legitimacy and authority or it was allegorical. But if it was allegorical, then did Christ die for an allegory? This made no sense. I mean, no matter how much I like Pilgrims Progress, I wouldn’t get crucified over it. If there was no original human, but rather an unending chain of tiny gradual changes across an entire population back to the beginning of life itself, then there was no original sin. Before long I realized that the entire Bible was a man-made fabrication – a collection of stories pulled from various other local religions, legends, and stories of the time, evolving over time to what it is today.

There may be some type of God out there, but for now, I have no evidence, and that baseless hypothesis seems only to unnecessarily complicate an increasingly transparent and knowable, science-based origin story. Until I’m presented with evidence of a deity, the most honest thing to do is maintain a healthy form of open-minded skepticism. I guess that makes me an atheist, but that’s ok. We all are until someone starts lying to us about things for which they have no reliable evidence. If I’m right, I will have lived this one and only life to the absolute fullest, and if I’m wrong, then an understanding god would appreciate my sincerity.

Here’s Michael:

I was born into a Roman Catholic family and raised in a predominantly Catholic community where most families were of Irish, Italian or Polish ancestry. In other words “everybody” was Catholic and no questions were asked. I attended the parochial grammar school and a Catholic all-boys high school. I was an altar boy. I participated in all of the typical activities you would expect in a Catholic community. I attended church regularly. I believed.

As a kid, I read all of the books on mythology in the school library. Greek, Roman, Norse, etc. were all fascinating to me. In high school, one of my favorite classes was “World Religions”. Something always nagged at me though. Why do so many people believe theirs is the true religion when we “know” that they’re wrong? Eventually, this became “maybe we’re wrong too” and maybe our stories aren’t much different than the myths I read as a child.

After college, I became more of a “Christmas Catholic” going to church on the holidays and going through the motions. I still believed God existed but I was skeptical that any one church had any more knowledge of “Him” than any other. I still got married in the church though and five years later my son was baptized as well.

Not long after my son’s birth, I decided to go back to attending mass on Sundays. I was about 33 or 34 years old then. I think maybe it was a last gasp attempt to reconnect with my faith or possibly to decide whether I had any faith left at all. It proved to be the latter.

I had a colleague at work, very nice guy, who was also a Sunday preacher at a Protestant church. He asked me when did I lose my faith. I told him there was no dramatic moment, no Damascene de-conversion. I described it like this: “Have you ever been on the telephone and realized that you’ve been talking for a while but the call had been disconnected and there’s nobody there? That’s what I felt when I would pray. There’s nobody on the other side listening. I only just realized it”.

Most of my family and friends remain Catholic. I’m not bitter about my upbringing. Religion rarely even gets mentioned. If it does I usually tell people “I have more questions than answers”. I suppose that sounds less threatening to them.

Why am I an atheist? I thought about religion. I thought some more. It just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. It took me a long time to admit it to myself. I’m glad I finally did.

and here’s a heart-wrenching story from anonymous:

It’s not hard to see the lack of a gods existence when you’re 3, and the lights spinning on your ceiling and loud sounds coming from the open window turn out to be your mothers fatal car accident.

If there’s a plan for the life you live in your early days, including your father leaving you soon after the accident, comes from a loving beings mind…it’s gonna hit you like a ton of bricks that you’re just being told a fictional story.

If there’s any kind of afterlife going on… somebody’s got some serious explaining to do for planning out the lives my little brother and I have been through…because there’s not much love to be seen in those plans for us, let alone the stories that come from the rest of the world.

Some people will claim that something happened to them that made them “see the light”, and changed their beliefs after they “met god”, but it always comes from some tragedy that occurred later in their lives. If you’re dying…that “light” is generally a loss of blood to the brain, not a text from god saying “hello”.

You’d think that a god would “call” and say “hi” more than the one time my father called to wish my brother a happy 18th…which I hung up the phone on so he wouldn’t ruin his night. He thanked me after he found out, and was pissed that the bastard never tried to call me.

Put a loving god in that scenario I shared, and explain to me what love is…I’ll wait.

I’m very sorry for what you’ve been through and I am glad you are willing to share your story with us! Thank you!

If you want to send me your story, you can submit it here. To read past stories, click here.

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