When I became an atheist…

One of the larger, popular atheist blogs asked people to describe in five words or less what their experience of becoming an atheist was like.  Because I tend to be so verbose, this was no easy task.  I came up with this:

It was a non-event.

Of course, four words leaves out a whole lot of back-story.

The defining moment for me did not occur when I let go of my belief in a god.  It occurred when I stopped believing in Christianity. When I let go of Christianity, it was sweet relief: relief from being condemned by an angry, hateful Christian deity for being LGBT, relief from the fear of suffering in hell, and relief from a set of social codes that were far too restrictive and didn’t make sense. Nevertheless, I didn’t stop believing in a god. I only stopped believing in the kind of god who endorsed common prejudices and social beliefs regarding gender and sexuality.  I stopped believing that god looked favorably upon organized religion and human kind’s tendency to use religion to control others.

My belief in a generic, religion-free god wasn’t really a burden.  However, questioning the legitimacy and relevance of my childhood religion eventually led me to question the existence of all deities.  Seeing some of the worst sides of Christianity during my childhood, in my family, and out in the world, led me to distrust almost anyone who believed in a god. So, I continued my belief in a god for a brief period of time and then shifted to pure agnosticism.   Over the course of several years, I transitioned to solid atheism.

The moment I finally stopped believing in a god, it was almost a non-event.  I can’t place exactly when it happened and it wasn’t a major revelation.  It was like noticing a pattern in the wallpaper that had been there for so many years, but went unseen.  One day, in my mid-twenties, it simply “clicked”: the human notion of god was nothing more than an act of projecting the human psyche upon the universe.  We anthropomorphize the universe in an attempt to understand it and feel more comfortable with it.

Years have passed and since then, my feelings toward religion have softened.  I’ve met a lot of fabulous Christians.  I’ve gotten to know people from a variety of other deity-centered faiths who are decent folk.  Religion is no longer the big hairy monster I once saw it to be.  With these experiences, my fear and distrust of religious people have eased.  Even so, I still feel very little trust and respect for repressive, conservative people of faith.  I doubt this will ever change for I have good reason to strongly dislike such people.  Nevertheless, I have grown comfortable with religious people who are humane and open-minded in their faith practices.  I see beauty and worth in those religions which embrace a caring, empathy-centered ethic and truly welcome all people from all walks of life.

I have also softened my regard toward the existence of deities.  I still find the deities of organized religion to lack credibility, but I firmly believe that it’s impossible to prove or disprove the existence of deities should one leave the finer details of such entities completely open.  The formless god that I came to believe in after letting go of Christianity is the god I hold no opinion upon.  She, he or they may exist, or they may not.  I do not know.  However, religion usually tries to color in the details, and that’s why I find religious notions of god/goddess/etc. from across the globe to lack credibility.  They try to define the inscrutable.

Because of my partial agnosticism, I feel intellectually neutral toward a lot of theists, polytheists, and other spiritual folk.  I don’t feel the need to try to convince people that their beliefs are unfounded.  Furthermore, my dirty little secret as a “partial atheist” is that I have my own godless, oddball spirituality, and consequently, I tend to be demur in the presence of other spiritual folk.  I like my coffee black with sugar.  You like yours with milk.  Who am I to argue?

So, in the larger scheme of my life, finding my atheism was a non-event.  I don’t feel a desire to tell theists they believe in unusual things.  I still have my own version of woo, although I’ve rarely explained the details to anyone.  I think proving or disproving the existence of deities is an act of futility, comparable to peeing into a gale-force wind.  My philosophy can be summed up as this: if someone’s beliefs aren’t hurting people, then I probably should mind my own damned business.  If, on the other hand, someone is using their beliefs as a weapon of social repression, I will challenge them without pause or remorse.

On the whole, I suspect that my beliefs probably annoy the crap out of both atheists and theists of a more radical flavor.  The mischievous part of me enjoys annoying people who are annoying, so I’m cool with that.

So, I have a few questions for the tiny number of readers at my blog.  What was it like to discover your non-belief or belief in a deity?  What did it mean to you?  How did it feel?  Did it change your life?

Please be gentle with each other, y’all.  I have a moderator’s stick and I know how to use it.  😉

Oh, and since I’m a wordy lass, I’ll forgive you if you write a long comment.  No five word restrictions at my blog.  No sirree!

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~ by timberwraith on December 27, 2010.

7 Responses to “When I became an atheist…”

  1. For me, realizing that I didn’t believe in God/s was also a non-event, but for a different reason…my realization was that I had never believed, but I wasn’t consciously aware of it. I would say things like, “I don’t really believe in God” (to the horror of the people to whom I was talking), and I wouldn’t realize what the impact of the words I was using was because the “really” acted as a buffer.

    One day, however, I said the phrase without really: I don’t believe in God.

    And then I realized why everyone had been so shocked.

    But of course, not much in *my life* changed. Actually, for a bit after my realization, I began to try to drill down why I didn’t believe, so I could believe. I thought I was deficient for not believing (especially since in my religion, belief is something one chooses. If one doesn’t believe, then that means he is being lazy and isn’t trying hard enough.)

    So, it did take a while to realize that belief isn’t something chosen, and so I shouldn’t rack myself in guilt.

    I don’t think I have any spiritualistic beliefs either. The entire concept doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

  2. Andrew, I think I believed in a god simply by default. Everyone around me believed in a god, so I did too. I didn’t feel a sense of “god’s presence” or anything mystical like that. It was simply a case of going along with the majority. When I began to question the majority’s beliefs about sexuality and gender, I began to question all of their beliefs, including religion and god.

  3. timberwraith,

    I guess I forgot that part in my post. Part of my realization was realizing that most people weren’t treating church like a game. So, for me, I could recognize that “Everyone around me believed in a god,” but I didn’t think they really believed in a god. I’m still trying to figure out what it means for someone to feel “god’s presence”…

    I guess a part of a reason for this is that in my church, the first Sunday of every month is set aside for people to go up and bear their testimonies. Most testimonies end up being essentially the same, with unique stories put in to differentiate them. Things like “I know the church is true; I know (current prophet) is a true prophet. I know God and my family love me” etc.,

    I didn’t realize until later that people weren’t just reciting a script, as it were, but that they actually believed each of those propositions. And that’s what led to me trying to figure out all of those things for myself, and not being successful at it in the slightest.

  4. This makes me wonder what proportion of people believe simply for the sake of belief and what proportion “feel it to the depths of their bones.” From listening to the accounts of people’s faith experiences, I suspect that significant numbers of both exist.

  5. […] December 28, 2010 As I said, I won’t be able to do much original blogging this week, but allow me to introduce Timberwraith, a blogger whose path I crossed in Christopher Page’s “spacious place” (http://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/talking-with-atheists/). She attracted my attention by defending, more eloquently than I, a similar position to my own, seeking to promote mutual respect between people of good will in both theist and atheist camps. Here’s a bit of her story: One of the larger, popular atheist blogs asked people to describe in five words or less what their experience of becoming an atheist was like.  Because I tend to be so verbose, this was no easy task.  I came up with this: It was a non-event. Of course, four words leaves out a whole lot of back-story. The defining moment for me did not occur when I let go of my belief in a god.  It occurred when I stopped believing in Christianity. When I let go o … Read More […]

  6. My atheist change had huge effects — lost all my friends and eventually my girlfriend. It closed down the missionary careers I was entertaining too.

    You write well about your loosening up later — mine was similar. Well written!

  7. Oh dear, Sabio. Your experience sounds akin to when I came out as transgender. When I came out, I only lost a few friends but it permanently damaged my relationship with my siblings and much of my extended family. Except for my mom, I’ve been quite distant from them for over fifteen years now. My coming out as an atheist was fairly “low-key” in comparison with coming out as a woman.

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