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December 27, 2005

Irreligious Epiphanies

Some are born not believing, which usually means their parents were more or less nonbelievers. Others come to atheism at some point in their lives -- in a flash or after much reading, talk or thought.

Bertrand Russell, age 15: "The search for truth has shattered most of my old beliefs."

I'm curious whether any readers have experienced such a shattering moment or period.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at December 27, 2005 6:44 PM


I remember distinctly one of the "brothers" of our congregation tousling my hair and, instead of answering a question, saying very condescendingly; "You just think too much, you have to have more faith." I was honestly trying to find my mother's God before that, but those words changed everything. I realized that not only didn't he have an answer to my question, but he also needed to talk down to me to affirm his place as an authority.

My own atheism was a long road, but that was the big first step. I was 13.

Posted by: Carl (OGeorge) Buell at December 28, 2005 1:07 AM

I was raised a Mormon. I was one of those "born into the church" kids. I remember my father trying to pry my 8 and 9-year-old brain away from science-fiction stories by telling me about the "real" sci-fi that God indulged in by faking us all out with dinosaur fossils that appeared to be millions of years old, but were really only less than 10,000 years old.

After some weeks of sincere confusion thinking about why in the world would God lie to us, I asked him, "Dad, I know that Mormonism is true and all, but, um, what if it isn't?"

That was the beginning of the end of my religious beliefs.

Posted by: Brent Rasmussen at December 28, 2005 5:33 AM

Yes, that sounds like me. I was pretty devout up till my mid 30s. I have to admit that I decided organized churches were for the birds in my mid 20s, but from time to time I still went somewhere on Sunday as the mood took me. My relationship with God was, I felt, private and my own responsibility.

It wasn't until one Easter Sunday a few years ago that I sat, reading the Bible, and all of a sudden--not in a flash of light or a great moment of power--just like drawing in a breath--it stopped making sense.

Over at UberKuh's I described it as the feeling you get when you realize that all the little signs add up to the unmistakeable conclusion that your spouse has been having an affair. It really was a lot like that, except it felt GOOD at the same time.

Posted by: speedwell at December 28, 2005 8:54 AM

actually, we're ALL born not believing-we only become indoctrinated later.

I didn't really have a sudden moment or period-it too several years of reading, discussing, and thinking about things, mostly with my college dorm friends and taking philosophy and religious studies classes. I progressed from doubt to agnostocism over a couple years, but it took quite a while before I could admit to the "a" word, and even longer before I could tell someone else that I was an atheist.

Posted by: mathyoo at December 28, 2005 9:35 AM

I deeply believed in (a rather Catholic) God for several years despite my father's own atheism, but finally gave up my beliefs when I was about twelve. I remember standing on the playground at school, looking up at the sky and declaiming "I'm sorry, God, but I just don't believe in you any more."

Later on I began to realize that my father's own atheism was in itself deeply religious - something he would never admit, to his shame.

Posted by: bigdaddy at December 28, 2005 9:42 AM

I'd never been a big believer, but Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" finished it.

Posted by: Joe at December 28, 2005 10:34 AM

All I can say is: thank you George W. Bush. Any remaining religious sentiment I had was completely obliterated when you took office.

Posted by: Chris at December 28, 2005 1:47 PM

Religion and god were interjected inconsistently into my life during my childhood. We went to the Lutheran church, then Baptist, back to Lutheran and then Presbyterian after I was married. My husband and I thought we were doing the right thing by taking our children to church. As they grew older, they began to rebel about going. Our oldest was the first to "defect" from religion and had very good reasons for a 13-year-old. I, myself, have always doubted, but the one thing that woke me up and to make a decision to get off the fence is when one Sunday when asked why she wasn't reciting the confessional prayer, our daughter said, "This says I am bad, and I am NOT bad." It was over 10 years ago that my husband and I walked away from the church. I think we would have sooner if we had had the courage. That's all it took...courage to not care what other people think. We have such contentment and peace now in our lives I wish we would have admitted our true non-belief BEFORE corrupting our children with religious dogma.

Posted by: Debbie at December 28, 2005 4:07 PM

my (jewish) family was not religious at all. no one could even remember the last time someone was bar mitzvah. i got interested in religion though and was even considering being a rabbi. i dutifully went through training for my bar mitzvah with the cantor at my local synagogue. the day before my bar mitzvah i was told the rabbi wanted to see me. Rabbi Lewis I. Newman -- 6ft several inches, strong athletic frame, square cut jaw and a full head of white hair -- was god incarnate. i was so scared that he was going to ask me really hard questions about what it meant to be bar mitzvah, what my responsibilities were as an about-to-be man. so i was literally shaking with fear as i walked into his large office. Rabbi Newman was sitting behind his huge desk and even seated seemed to tower over me. i approached the desk. he looked up from what he was doing. i told him who i was and he said "i'm filling out your bar mitzvah certificate. what's your middle name?" that was it. no hard questions. nothing. and at that moment i was released from my flirtation with religion.

Posted by: bob stein at December 28, 2005 4:54 PM

I was raised Roman Catholic, went to R.C schools, and was active in Church. I was about 12 when I was finally struck by the hypocrisy of the Pastor, who preaached goodness and love, but was, in short, a jerk. The last straw was when he had a wonderful Sister removed because she sought to take on more roles in the Church than he felt women should be able to.

After that it was downhill, I ceased being active in the church, stopped attending, and dabbled in Pagan religions before realizing I just didn't believe in any of it. It wasn't until recently that I really realized how much I valued the truth, and how freeing being godless really is.

Posted by: Christina M at December 29, 2005 1:25 AM

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