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A Fresh, New Batch of
De-Conversion Stories

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(pipin' hot and finger lickin', posted on September 4, 2004)
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From: "Alan Gil"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: October 30, 2002 7:01 AM

Having recently read many deconversion stories, I felt compelled to add mine. It got a bit long, I apologize, but once I got going, I couldn't stop.

This is the story of how I evolved into an agnostic atheist. Unlike many of the other deconversion stories that I have read, it does not involve any traumatic experience; it is devoid of any defining moment and does not include the seeking out of other denominational religions in a fruitless search for spiritual solace.

My journey to enlightenment was simply a slow, gradual and continual transition from the religious indoctrination of my childhood to the rational empiricist, freethinking, secular humanist that I have become.

I was born and raised Roman Catholic and attended Mass every Sunday with my family. Although, we attended Mass every Sunday and participated in other Catholic obligatory practices, our lives were remarkably secular. Undoubtedly my parents were believers, but Catholicism in post Vatican II suburban America is not very religiously strenuous. We went to Church for one hour a week and that was the extent of any overt presence of God and Christ in our lives, other than a ritualistic short grace before dinner and the dim memory of bedtime prayers. There were no fire and brimstone sermons. We were not told that humans were awful sinners. We simply had our "original sins" washed away by Baptism, therefore I never felt degraded, dirty, or particularly in need of redemption. Furthermore, there was never any inclination to interpret the Bible as literally inerrant. In fact, as Catholics, we never even opened the Bible; readings were pre-selected and handed out in weekly Missals.

In retrospect, the lack of fundamentalism and a secular daily life facilitated my slide down the path towards agnostic atheism. I passed all of the usual stages in between, (i.e. Christian without the believing the divinity of Christ, generic personal mono-theism, deism, agnosticism, etc.) As a child, I believed in the divinity of the Trinity; however, I never actually remember believing in Adam and Eve, although I do remember believing in Noah's ark after seeing what I thought was a documentary where archaeologists actually discovered the ark. By the time I was twelve, I had simply convinced myself that all of Genesis was simply allegorical. Unfortunately, thanks to Charleston Heston, I did believe in Exodus and the story of Moses. My religion began to erode slowly over the course of my early teenage years. Ironically, my father was building the foundations of my disbelief by creating in me a respect and desire for knowledge, particularly of math and science, but also of history and culture. Although my father does not believe humans are the product of evolution, he apparently had no objection to any other aspects of scientific discovery. He encouraged me to watch science and history documentaries such as those on PBS's Nova. He thoroughly enjoyed Carl Sagan's Cosmos, though when Sagan died, he made some ridiculous comment about Sagan's no-doubt surprise at meeting God. The Catholic Church's acceptance of the big-bang theory, and later of evolution, allowed me to accept the validity of scientific principles into my growing rational worldview without the slightest conflict.

Another important foundation for my rejection of religion was my seemingly natural aversion to all things supernatural, or more precisely, to those things that seemed to defy my common sense experience. It seemed that I had a built-in understanding of Occam's Razor and that I naturally employed Hume's Dictum, long before I had ever heard them. I rejected ESP, UFO abductions and all such forms of the paranormal. Though I enjoyed these topics immensely in the context of fiction, (i.e. Stephen King novels, movies, etc.) any assertion as to the actual existence of these phenomena produced a deep intuitive discomfort. Time dilation, special relativity and the uncertainty principle also produce that same discomfort, though these I accepted intellectually due to the weight of the scientific experimental evidence behind them.

By the time I was fifteen or so, I was leading a dual life with regards to religion. On an intellectual level, I was starting to reject the Bible as being the word of God. The stories were outrageous to me, God behaved like a human, he was jealous, vengeful, and he seemingly could not foresee the future. Yet, I never really spent a lot of time thinking about these theological problems, I never really confronted myself with my growing disbelief. If someone asked me what my religious beliefs were, I would have answered, "I am Catholic." I took the rite of Confirmation, but it was a weird time. In discussions with friends, I could freely admit that Jesus may have been and in fact was probably just a regular human who was incorrectly deified. Yet, the next day, I might cringe if I found out that a particular person or celebrity was atheist. At the same time that I was rejecting most of the Bible, I found myself defending it against a friend who said it was written by man! It was too complex, I protested, probably not really believing my own reactionary argument. I didn't really believe Christian doctrine; I didn't believe one billion Chinese were going to Hell because they were not Christians. I rejected the assertion that God could punish, eternally no less, his creations for flaws that he himself had created in them. I did not believe in prayer. It seemed foolish to pray to a God that was omniscient, who knew every possible outcome of every scenario since the beginning of time. I especially rejected prayer intended as worship. No true God would need to be worshipped, that was a human weakness. I rationalized that all religions were really just interpreting the acts of the same Supreme Being. The "Supreme Being" became my catchword for a monotheistic, pantheistic, creator of the Universe -- who happened to know what I was thinking. By the time I graduated high school, when asked if I believed in God, I would give the standard Supreme Being answer; but I still went to Church every Sunday, where I would squirm more with each passing year during the readings and the homily.

During my college years, I went on a science fiction reading crusade. I had always loved the original Star Trek series, committing it practically to memory, and it deserves some credit for my open mindedness and intellectual disposition. Though I had read a fair amount of science fiction before, I began to read more of the classics including heavy doses of Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein -- all agnostic or atheists, as I would later discover. I also read many other provocative works of fiction and engaged in many openminded discussions. However, the bulk of my time and energy were spent studying and trying to graduate. Fortunately, my electrical engineering coursework sharpened my critical and analytical thinking skills while improving my understanding of the physical world from a scientific viewpoint. Because my girlfriend, now my wife, was also Catholic, I still attended Mass every Sunday, though by now my squirms were extremely pronounced. I mainly used the Mass as an opportunity to mediate and debate my religious views internally. Ironically, the fact that I went to Church every Sunday contributed to my disbelief as my rationally inclined, and now more mature mind, could not deal with the absurdity being said.

I was agnostic by the time I finished college, though I still would have leaned towards the existence of a Supreme Being. My doubts were driven by several observations that stood in contradiction to the idea of a benign, intelligent creator; the generally appalling number of historical atrocities that humans have committed against one another, the unimaginable suffering that occurs each day in the natural world, the completely random nature of tragedy and good fortune, and the fact no two independent people ever shared the same religious beliefs. I particularly could not accept how humans swore deadly allegiance to religious beliefs that they arbitrarily inherited by the sheer randomness of their birthplace.

My Supreme Being, if He existed, was now unquestionably the god of Nature, the god of Deism. However, human conditioning is such that I still felt the presence of God, the feeling that He was watching me, even on the days that I was feeling the most doubtful. This makes sense, as it was all I had ever known. It took a few years for that conditioning to fade away completely.

Over the next few years the doubts of my agnosticism grew steadily, but it was without strong academic or rigorous philosophical support. That changed the day I went looking for the original text of the Declaration of Independence. I was so moved by Jefferson's writing, that I went on a Jefferson binge, naturally encountering passages espousing his deistic views on Internet sites such as the Freethought Web and Internet Infidels. I read Paine's "The Age of Reason" and I proceeded to devour similar works. It is fascinating and empowering to discover the sheer number of historical figures who thought like I do, who gave such eloquent expression to those shared thoughts and ideas.

Then I discovered the formal definition and tenets of Secular Humanism. At the same time, a friend gave me a copy of The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris, which ignited in me a fierce interest in evolution. I began to read only non-fiction works. My friend and I traded books and e-mails regularly. I discovered the beautiful and powerful prose of Carl Sagan, and read Gould, Dawkins, Brownoski, and the like. As I began to think about philosophy, I read about the ideas and thinking of Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, and Russell, recognizing the power and impact of the Era of Enlightenment. It was at this time that I finally stopped going to Church.

I was a contented atheistic agnostic and secular humanist until September 11, 2001 at which point I became an angry atheist. People's inability to see what religion had wrought infuriated me, as did the insanity of praying to the same god that the hijackers were praising for their victory. Taken aback by the following resurgence of religion in America, when one would logically expect the opposite reaction, I returned to the Internet in an effort to find some context. My first discovery was that the Bible and the Qur'an were even more atrocious than I'd initially thought. Paraphrasing Dawkins, any respect I had left for the Abrahamic religions went up in the smoke of the World Trade Center ruins.

Several new resources helped put it all into focus, particularly Michael Shermer and the Skeptics Society, and the James Randi Educational Foundation. I spent days reading anti-religious quotations on Positive Atheism. My friend and I exchanged e-mails daily with links to websites and quotations we had discovered, as I quickly became a voracious defender of rational thought, rallying against superstition and ignorance wherever it reared its ugly head in mainstream culture.

This was a temporary reaction, necessary for the growth I sorely needed, and I've toned down much of my anti-religious rhetoric in the year since. As my friend says, I want to be for something, (for humanism, for rational thinking) rather than being against something. Most importantly, I now accept and appreciate the fact that not everyone has the capacity to be an atheist or even agnostic. Not everyone can see the grandeur in this view of the world. For me, today, the real evil in the world is not theism. What holds us back are dogma, intransigent belief and revealed religion. A deistic society would be largely indistinguishable from an atheistic one. Both would be secular and humanistic, both would rely on free inquiry, reason and science as the means to knowledge, truth and morality. The same can probably be said for the more liberal-minded and progressive mainstream sects.

Though technically a weak atheist, who almost always takes the strong atheist position in debates, I generally tell people that I am agnostic. My wife and I generally avoid active discussion though she knows exactly where I stand. I am less certain where she stands, although I feel I have influenced her somewhat. I do not share the depths of my disbelief with my parents or my wife's parents. No reason to upset, worry or confuse them at their advanced age. Other than that, I am completely comfortable with my position as a non-believer, as any friend, acquaintance or stranger will find out if the subject happens to come up. Fortunately, I have always had a few friends who shared my views, so I never felt totally isolated. The Internet has made me realize that there are and have always been many freethinkers in the world. In some way that is very comforting, ennobling even. I believe that the arrival of the Internet will prove to be the single greatest force in liberating the minds of mankind from the yoke of religion and that it may happen with comparatively startling rapidity.

Alan Gil

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From: "Ranjeet Singh"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: My De-Conversion Story
Date: November 19, 2002 1:20 AM

I belong to a Sikh family of Punjab. After the 1984 riots, our family came to Ludhiana. All my family members are liberal and no one is extra religious. I was a fundamentalist Sikh and always read religious books. I was no good at science in lower or upper classes. In college, I read many of magazines of anti-religious type (Sarita, etc.). Many professors discussed religion in our lectures. At that time, I came into contact with a poster of a rationalist society in India against the ban on beef cutting. I started reading their works and tried to apply my scientific knowledge on religion. I found that the idea of rebirth and having a soul in me is only a theory which can't be proved.

Religion was telling me, that the things that we can see are "mayaajaal" and only a dream; and what we can't see or prove, is truth. It was ridiculous in thinking.

Religion told me that all happenings are made by God. If God does all the evils, then why should we be punished after rebirth? If all evils are done by us, then why doesn't God punish us when we do it? Why does he bear the injustice on his followers?

The main question in my mind was, we came in this world from the sex of our parents, where did God come from? How can he give birth to himself?

I found that only way to stop injustice is to fight against it, not to pray.

Ranjeet Singh

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From: "Deborah"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: November 22, 2002 2:16 PM

I was raised by an incredibly loving Christian family. In fact, my father is a preacher in the Church of Christ. Growing up, every morning we would pray and read the Bible together before school. I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and every Wednesday night. I know the Bible forward and backward having read it several times over. I knew all the "answers," so to speak. But when I got into my teen years -- an emptiness began to fester in me that would not go away. I remember praying fervently to God begging him to let me hear his voice and crying, but when I heard nothing, I stopped believing. By day I sang of God's grace and love, and at night, I'd cry myself to sleep with guilt and doubt. It wasn't long before I stopped feeling anything about my religion. I just made up my mind not to believe -- and not to try.

When I was a junior in high school I met a "full fledged" atheist. It was a first for me. She thought I was a Christian and used to try to debate with me about the existence of God. The first time she did this, I started to cry -- right there in French class. The old feelings came back -- that I had lost something that I wouldn't ever find again. I ended up debating with her at least once a week and I slowly gained confidence in my "faith," though that was hardly what it was. I went to a Christian college and remember sitting in a Monday night devotional (time of praise) wondering why I always refused to feel the spirit in me. I really wanted to believe. Sometimes I thought that I could believe. There were times when I heard God's voice clear as a bell, like when my friend David told me the difference between feeling and faith, or when I realized I was in love with the man I would one day marry -- but it was too much for me.

You see, in the end it wasn't the intellectual arguments that kept me from faith, but the fact that I didn't like the message. Like I said, I grew up with a minister for a father. I watched him struggle to live a pure life. I knew that he spent hours in prayer everyday and even longer studying the Bible -- often in Greek. It seemed so hard. Prayer didn't come naturally to me. Service to people only reminded me how shy I was. I basically knew that I had to "take up my cross," and that frightened me. I'm not good at making up my mind. Even now I would love to believe. I see what a difference it has made in my husband's life. He spent his whole life making the choice to "do his own thing," until we met and he converted to Christianity. What makes me the saddest is that while I was bringing Dustin to God, I was lying to him too. Now that we have been married for two years and he knows me better, he looks at me in wonder and says, "How can you of all people not believe? I need you to walk this life with me, but you are leaving me here alone." He loves Jesus. I wish it were that easy for me.

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From: "A Simple Man"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: November 28, 2002 1:56 PM

Thoughts of a simple atheist:

Look around you. What do you see?

Either, there IS a god, but he has a sick sense of humor, or most probably, he doesn't exist. Worse yet -- He exists, however, he is as phenomenal as a solar-powered vibrator kept in the shade.

I was born and raised in a Christian family. My mother still shudders and turns many shades of azure, every time she hears me say "God's dead!" I attended a school where the daily routine began with the morning worship at the school chapel. There were also Sunday excursions to the local church. I wore a cross around my neck until I was well into my twenties. And yes, being the good, thankful, Christian lad I was, I even delved in the nightly prayer. Then, one balmy day, I looked around. I saw disease, hunger, destitution, hate and anger. I saw those who were born with anything but a healthy or complete body. I began to wonder. I looked for the answer in religion. Christianity's answer, with all its might, was, "God moves in mysterious ways"; "We are too simple to understand the Lord's deeds." I think that perhaps YOU may be simple, but there is nothing simple about ME, buddy.

Hence, I looked elsewhere. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and a number of other "-isms." None had any reasonable answer. However, Buddhism did have some simple explanations to some complex questions. I then, came across a book of Confucius' writings. Yes, he did really exist. His writings were advices to his sons, one or two-liners. Lines like "thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not lie," you know the rest. Only his words were said probably a few years before Moses had learned how to read and write. Now, go figure that one.

Forgive me for being sidetracked. I was talking about the "real" reason for my "deconversion." It had nothing to do with the Ten Commandments being written by a Chinaman who never saw, heard of, or experience Judeo-Christianity. My turning point was volunteering at a local hospital. For those who think they have suffered anguish, they know not what anguish is, until they have looked in the eyes of a child riddled with cancer or one with crippled limbs. That was when I began biting into the "forbidden" fruit of Christianity, and all the other "-anities" and "-isms." I questioned, I asked "Why?" I became incensed with rage when I saw a child born with defective limbs, heart, vision, etc. The "believers'" answer filled me with more rile. Their misbegotten logic was "God was trying to punish the parents." Then, why the hell didn't he chop off the parents' legs instead? Ahhhh -- you simple-minded nonbeliever you. It's because God works in mysterious ways. Then, have your God stop by my office. I want to have a few words with the sonofabitch. Ohhhh -- Now, you're really going to burn in Hell for saying that. Never you mind about a change in my ZIP Code. You say YOU are in contact with your Almighty, YOU tell him to bring his bony ass down here for a few minutes of mano a mano talk.

I eventually ended in medical school and became a doctor. Along the way, day after day, I came across more innocent people who had done nothing and no wrong. But, due to God's mysterious ways, they suffered nevertheless. I saw children die in my arms, as well as adults who breathed their last breath, after suffering a lifetime of agony, those who had been too damn busy suffering to have had time to experience the joys of "sin."

As you may have already guessed, I'm still waiting. However, at the risk of burning in hell, I must confess, I do hope there is an afterlife of some sort. IF there is also a god around somewhere, I would still love to give him a piece of my mind and a tip of my cowboy boot, albeit after I am dead. I'd hate to think I'd have all this bottled-up anger and no one to dish it out to.

My reasons are many, some are funny, others would be funny if they weren't so tragic. Perhaps, I may have the opportunity to share them another day. Meanwhile, with my luck, there will be a God, there will be a Heaven, and He will be gracious enough to forgive me, which will result in my bony ass in Heaven, as an eternal punishment for my impertinence.

And, to those who ask me if I have a god-complex, I say that as long as you come to me to seek advise and treatment for your disease -- instead of going to your local pastor or priest -- I AM GOD!!

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From: "Dan Staniforth"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: December 03, 2002 2:00 PM

I was raised by "Nazarenes" -- good folk, but of the brainwashed, "holiness" branch à la the teachings of John Wesley. Fundamental, fire and brimstone, fear mongering -- but conservative with the tongues and spontaneous healing stuff! No secular music, rock n' roll, sit-coms, non-Disney movies (until Eisner's gay controversy that is!), no Lord's day fun activities, or flirting with girls, even when it felt natural, at fifteen. In fact, repress every natural feeling and find a Bible verse to support the suppression. Not a very agreeable lot, the Nazarenes. They're split with the Baptist and Methodist brethren over miniscule bits of dogma -- like pouring versus emersion! Emotional alter-call every sermon, complete with the wailing organ and pastoral plea. Second birth (does that mean I have two navels?) and conversion is addicting -- I started going up every week to get a fix. Oh, and church every day, prayer meetings (the learned art of stately prayer!), Bible study (propaganda), youth night, boy's night, girl's night, the Caravans (Christian scouts and guides), baptism classes, and if there wasn't anything planned, we'd either go hang out at the church or bring the church to our house.

You want to know something? I wept; I spoke eloquently in memorized phrases about my faith, devised elaborate prayers, alter theatrics, but never really believed. For me, it was theater! It was the stage I was given and I hammed it up, learned the lingo, studied the sales pitch, and delivered the lines. Now, I can finish most sentences when Christians come to convert me. I know the lines, the homilies, the twisted Bible verses, the extracts, and the great hymns with their Teutonic fervor. But, I didn't know the dark side -- the shadow behind Christianity!

I was deconverted through knowledge, suppressed knowledge, knowledge that had rotted in the vaults of the Vatican, or suppressed in theological handcuffs (like the Dead Sea Scrolls!). It starts out with logic and rationalism: the Neoplatonists, Hermetism, through Paine and Ingersoll. It was a new world for me; the chains of mythology were severed. I read everything I could get my hands on: Baigent, Pagels, Gardner, secular humanism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the apocrypha, the pseudepigrapha, occult, grail history, rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, etc. My brother recently reverted to the comforts of his upbringing and seeks to reconvert me. He doesn't understand. It's impossible. I can never go back. There is no re-conversion for the de-converted. There is no de-enlightenment!

I believe in the historical Jesus, but not the mythological one. It's funny because "Nazarenes" are ignorant about the origins of Nazareth. It didn't exist until after the supposed resurrection. Jesus was a Nazorite, a Jewish Zaddik, a priest or warrior in the line of Melchizadek. He was traveled, learned, one of many "Christs" in the Messianic tradition. I believe he survived the crucifixion and went on to form the Gnostic sect which spawned the Cathars and the Knights of the Rosy Cross. I think Paul was a Roman agent (a citizen, the Bible says) and sought to pervert the true meaning of Jesus' message. He was the first apostate and his brand of Christianity taught non-violence and the acceptance of a slavish existence. His mythology was co-opted from his Mithraic background, a religion that originated in his birthplace of Tarsus. Constantine completed the dupe by fusing "Christianity" with popular facets of Roman paganism, including many of the rituals and icons of the day (water purification, breaking of bread, etc.)

The information is out there, but it is still being suppressed. Many writings are still under lock and key, many scrolls have been falsely translated, many people are still being duped by the greatest con in the history of mankind.

Dan Staniforth

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From: "Peter Ianakiev"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: February 10, 2003 3:48 PM

When I was eleven, I read a Stephen King novel called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. One of the characters was a sort-of-pantheist who rejected the idea of a personal god. Ever since reading that, I began to doubt religion. At thirteen, I fully rejected all religious doctrines. It's all useless bullshit.

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From: "Kate Doyle"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: March 05, 2003 5:00 AM

I've gone to Catholic schools all of my life, but I never really understood the whole "God" concept and everything that went with it. I never knew anyone who was not Catholic for the first twelve years of my life. When I was a freshman in high school, I was assigned to write and read a prayer for my theology class. As I started to write, I realized I could not. I could not praise any God, could not greet him, could not deny any longer what I already knew -- He did not exist. When the monk who was teaching the class called on me, I kept my seat and said, "I will not serve."

Kate Doyle

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From: "Beckie"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: March 07, 2003 7:18 AM

Hi!

I'm fifteen years old, and very happily atheist. But when I was younger, I was raised in a loosely Christian way -- fundamentalism isn't that big in the UK, I'm glad to say -- and used to go to Church most Sundays. For some reason, I believed very strongly in God -- too strongly, I think now -- and thought He could do anything. Every night I used to pray for Him to help the world, feed all the starving people, etc. When my gran caught cancer, I sat up every night praying for her life to be spared, but she died anyway. (Incidentally, the priest who did her funeral service was later arrested for being a paedophile. There's the church for you!) I remember trying to excuse God for what I perceived as His failings and, as I grew older, telling myself that these things were not God's fault, but MY fault for not being as religious as I should. I believed that if I became a better person, then God would answer my prayers. This quickly progressed to a belief that I was indirectly responsible for the world's suffering and that I had to sort of "do penance" for my sins. A period of bad self-abuse ensued.

Then I realized how crazily I was behaving, and stopped believing that God could do anything, that there was evil in the world because of free will, the devil, etc. But I couldn't quite convince myself. I got very depressed because I didn't seem to be able to understand, talk to, or realize God in any way at all. Eventually, I found I just didn't believe in Him anymore. I felt guilty at first, as I had been baptized, confirmed and even went to a Church of England school; but I couldn't get away from the fact that the idea of a God seemed more and more ridiculous to me every day. I had never taken the six-day creation story seriously -- my life-long interest in science, and especially in fossils, had long ago convinced me of the truth of evolution, but I began to see that a book like the Bible, which begins with an obvious untruth, and ends with what sounds like a load of drug-fuelled hallucinations (revelations), could hardly be the holy word of a all-knowing God.

The anti-gay references and the stoning parts also annoyed me. The Koran, which I also read, sounded equally ridiculous to me, and although I thought the Bhagavad Gita a very beautiful and inspiring poem, I could not take the religious ideas in it seriously. There was nothing left for me to do, so I became an atheist and humanist. It felt great! Now that I can see all the problems religion has caused in the world, I wish it had never existed. I look forward to a time when it doesn't.

Becki

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From: "John Searle"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: April 14, 2003 11:49 AM

I have many instances where the Catholicism that I was raised with began to slip, or rather flake like little pieces of it falling away. I really started to lose faith when I was considering Jesus Christ, not because of the actions of the Church or the questions about how a loving God could create a world with so much pain in it; these were rather sophomoric reasons to me.

The truth is that, if you took away all of the miracles of Christ, if you took away the "road show," as it were, was there something there that made sense? There was. There is the message, but I truly believe that it has been co-opted by religionists and mystical thinkers into something quite the opposite of what it was.

Christ and Christ's message of love, peace, forgiveness and most of all, sacrifice, are human considerations. An omnipotent being could not know of these things, the dichotomy is absurd.

The message, the truth, the work, these are from us. They are a result of human lives, of history, of a genius of compassion. Not as gifts from some bearded sky-father. This sacrifice, this love, it comes from us. Anything else denies us our place in the world. It denies us our fundamental power and grace and it attributes it to the external. It leaves us powerless in the face of confession and Karma. It asks us to give up the greatest parts of ourselves, instead of making more of it. Hell is a threat and heaven is a bribe.

So that was about it.

J.

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From: [unsigned]
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: April 21, 2003 2:04 PM

I grew up in a family that was of a generally Jewish background, but we had no religious affiliations, nor did we practice any religion. My father was an atheist, but he let me do whatever I wanted. So as my choice, I went to Hebrew school for two years. Not for any religious purpose, but just because the Jewish girls were there every Tuesday and Thursday. It was an Orthodox Synagogue and I drove the Rabbi crazy by questioning every Jewish history statement. I would ask:

"Is there any proof that Moses actually existed?"
"Why is there no mention of Moses or the slaves in written Egyptian history?"
"If the slaves didn't like being enslaved, why then did they enslave others?"
"Since we are born with no religion, regardless of what religious leaders of many religions claim, is religion somehow genetic in the Orthodox Jewish religion?!"

Too stupid a concept to accept, even for a nine-year-old.

The Rabbi, who I thought for someone Orthodox, was reasonable, and not bombastic. He tried to explain, but never did explain to my satisfaction. I was Bar Mitzvah-ed and my relatives came and gave me money. I went one more time the next week, and no one gave me money, so I have never gone again in fifty years. The last time I went, they explained to me that they need ten men for a daily service and that I need to wear all sorts of Jewish paraphernalia to pray in an Orthodox synagogue. Also, I needed to come every Saturday, and Friday night. I explained that I was an atheist, and that I thought going to services every week seemed to be pointless.

Although my father and I weren't close, I am thankful that he didn't fill me with any religious ideas that would constrain me intellectually. Since I wandered my neighborhood as a boy, and was fairly bright, I decided to be my own mentor and learn by observation.

The neighborhood in which I was raised was a mixed ethnic urban setting, full of Storefront Missions and Gypsy Storefronts, who my mother would claim would kidnap me. The next block up was a whole block of whorehouses, and my best friend, at nine years old, explained them to me. He and I were the neighborhood kids who ran errands for the prostitutes. We would sit on the stoops of their houses in the summer and they would talk to us like we were brothers and sisters. They'd explain things you that you would not ask your parents. Some were like sisters to me.

On the main corner of our neighborhood, every Friday evening, the Salvation Army band would play and try to convert anyone who would listen. Also, there were several local "ministers" who would preach on the corners and rail against the whores who they claimed were evil and damned.

I also would visit one Storefront Mission where the local reverend would invite the neighborhood children to play Monopoly, and then would try to convert the children. When he did so, I would always stop him as he was getting up a head of preaching steam and ask questions about proof of the existence of Jesus. His answer was to ban me from the Friday night game sessions.

From these personal experiences at nine and ten years old, with no input from any adults, I concluded the following and have never wavered:

Firstly, any idiot can be a "man of God." You don't actually need to know anything to preach. Just keep screaming the same old fairy tales. I envy them in the fact that society gives them respect and money, undeservedly, for not knowing anything. I should have skipped ten years of college and preached, but then I would have had to live an intellectual lie. I was too smart to be a "man of God." My conclusion was that everything they preached was false because you did not need any knowledge or facts to preach. I feel that my lifetime religious revelation became fixed when I went to a Tarzan movie matinee. It was the Volcano God scenario, where the priest dresses up in a funny costume, makes up all the rules of the religion, and accepts tribute from the natives. He also gets to choose who gets to be sacrificed to the volcano. I noticed that the priest never led the line of jumpers into the volcano. After the movie, I seriously analyzed it, and concluded that I could see no difference between the movie and any religion I had seen or read about. It takes more knowledge to be a garbage collector than a "man of God." So since then, when someone tries to bring their religion into the public forum, my comment is "prove it or move it."

Secondly, the preachers who railed about the local whores being evil, he hated it when I interrupted them to ask how they could judge these women without actually knowing them. Their answer was that what they did for a living made them evil and that this God they kept mentioning hated the whores. Yet, some of the whores I related to personally, I found to be both pleasant and intelligent people. From this experience, I concluded that your vocation and your personal worth have no relationship. A whore can have a whole lot more character than priest, a doctor or a lawyer. And certainly, condemning anyone or group without any proof is an exercise in stupidity. Yet, doing this is the hallmark of all religions.

Our family eventually left this melting pot neighborhood, but remaining with my own devices, I found the neighborhood to be an enlightening life experience. The strangest part is, that in the next fifty years, I have found no one, as an adult, who can present any valid argument to contradict that which I concluded as a child.

In conclusion, I feel that every child should be sent every Sunday to watch the movie "Inherit the Wind" with Spencer Tracy and Frederick March. It's probably the best 'message movie' ever made that a child should see in their formative years. It says that religion can't survive if subjected to the five basic questions taught in Journalism school: "What, Where, Why, When, and How?"

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From: "Osmo Jaakkola"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: April 27, 2003 7:34 PM

I find it surprising how similar most of these stories are. Moreover, I wouldn't make a big exception myself, so I'll try to point out just the main differences.

I was born in a Finnish Seventh-Day Adventist family. I don't think that either of my parents were really that devoted to the doctrines, but I was told all those Jesus-stories and the usual stuff. None of it made any sense to me though, it was just confusing. At the age of six or seven, I actually regarded God as rather a female being. It wasn't long after I started school that I "started thinking". Then one day, I actually decided to pray God and asked Him to torture and kill me if He could. Nothing happened of course. I just felt stupid, but I had won, there was no god. I was about eleven when this happened if I remember correctly. Since then, I've been searching for other people who share my philosophical interests.

Even now I haven't yet directly told my parents of my atheistic outlook on life, but I found out -- to my surprise -- that my father has also always been very skeptical and that he had departed the church. Now I'm sixteen and have gone through really serious thinking. Still I am building my knowledge in metaphysical questions and modern physics. I have found that the more I learn, all those religious things that I once thought could be true become more distant.

I apologize for any inconveniences caused by my possibly not-so-perfectly written English.

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From: "Holman Garavito"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: May 11, 2003 10:41 PM

Positive Atheism Editors,

I am 61 years old and was raised a Catholic. At age fifteen, I found myself questioning everything. I had a wise uncle, who was an atheist, who simply said to me, "Religion was invented to comfort uneducated people and later it became a tool to control and govern them. When people began to read and become educated, this myth was no longer required."

I did have some religious beliefs instilled in me when I got married; I switched to Anglicanism -- my wife's religion. I later baptized my first two children, when the third one arrived, we had just moved to a new community and the Anglican minister refused to baptize my daughter because we hadn't lived long enough in the town. I sat down with my wife and we finally said that this is simply organized religion, a political institution, nothing else.

Since 1976, we've become, first, probably what they called agnostics, then soft atheists, and maybe today hardened atheists. None of our children are religious and as we both have read a lot and live a normal life, we feel quite satisfied.

I was delighted to find your website, which I have started to explore, good work and thank you.

Holman Garavito

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From: "Malisa Belfi"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Unsaved
Date: May 12, 2003 5:23 PM

Because my mother was somewhat of a freethinker, or at least as openminded as a Christian can get, she was physically thrown out of many churches. Contrary of the many sermons preached that she didn't agree with, there were many with which she did agree. While the whole "give your money to us or you'll rot in 'Hell'" was not her belief, but she did believe unequivocally that if you asked Jesus to forgive you, and if you were accept him into your heart, you will most definitely go to "Heaven." -- Heaven being an intangible place located somewhere above the earth.

She spread her beliefs by teaching an unofficial "Sunday" school which took place on Thursday afternoons at our house in the yard with my all my friends from my fourth grade class. (Who undoubtedly were there for the free stickers, food and prizes that were rewarded to all who memorized an assigned scripture.) While I never doubted my mother in the fourth grade, I was relieved that she never forced church on me, nor did she have me baptized, electing instead to rely on me as an adult to make the decision, (of which I never felt inclined to do).

Until I was in the eighth grade, when we had befallen hard times and we had to live with my Grandfather where, as rent, if you will, we were required to attend their church every week. While thoroughly uncomfortable in a room full of snobby, judgmental, guitar strumming "cultees," I attended religiously at my mom's request, one time. One time, that was all I needed to see that I was unworthy of their company, because my family was not even financially stable, nor did I know the words to the hymns of the Lord Christ Almighty. (I knew this because they told me.) The next week, I convinced my little sister to skip this spectacle and to opt instead for the totally comforting rear parking lot curb for three hours so that my Grandfather would not kick us out to the street. While I was totally uncomforted by the churchgoing practice, I still considered myself a Christian because that was all there was, right?

After moving to Dallas to live with my beloved Granny at age fourteen, I was invited to a Catholic church by my aunt. Desperately wanting to make my family happy, and being the openminded person that I am, I agreed to attend as long as she promised that I didn't have to keep going if I did not want to, and that I would only attend the adult mass, not the Sunday school classrooms where parents off loaded their kids. So I went, and found that it was the most grueling Mass oriented event I'd ever seen. However, I kept attending, because not only did it make my family happy, but I really just liked to sing, and they did a lot of singing. I secretly resented the whole process, the on your knees, no, stand, no, sit, ok now back on your knees. With all the people stuffed into the narrow pews, it's no wonder I passed out from the heat or lack of oxygen to the brain, only to wake outside in the foyer where they put me so I didn't interrupt mass. Though I was ok, I was appalled at the cool way I was treated as if I passed out on purpose in order to prolong the torturous sermon laid down by the "father." However, this is not where I started to question Christianity or Catholicism. This takes place on the day that I realized that my ever so faithful, financially struggling aunt, actually had a PAYMENT BOOK with her name printed on it, where every week she filled out a check and with the payment stub, put it into an envelope and dropped it into the "collection plate." This was completely appalling to me. It was then that I declined the invitation to attend another mass.

While going through high school -- not attending church -- I still read the Bible every day in order to get some perspective on things and to get some answers to all of the questions I had. Ultimately, the Bible had no answers, and when I questioned other Christians I was told, get this, "because that's the way God wants it" or the infallible, "the Lord works in mysterious ways." While I struggled to figure out what these "symbols" of faith colorfully depicted in the Bible, I only managed to get more confused. So it wasn't until I met a certain friend in my senior year of high school that I realized there really was physical scientific evidence that we were not created by some higher being, that maybe there is no god. She informed me that just because the Bible says, (or doesn't say! but yet it's understood?), doesn't mean that is an explanation. The Bible really is the only tangible evidence that God exists, but Christians openly admit it was written by man. I began to realize that there were many other organized religions all with the same "do-or-die (and go to Hell) but we'll pray for you anyway" attitude that completely cancel each other out. Are Christians the only people that will go to Heaven? No, that's not true, they'll pray for everyone else, because other beliefs or nonbeliefs are wrong and sinful and therefore everyone can go to heaven! Yay! But they'll still threaten Hell upon those who don't take Jesus into their hearts. Pretty contradicting.

However enlightened I was, I did not feel any better. When I took my new thoughts to my family I, got the same infallible answers as before, while they gently reminded me, anyone who questions "him" will inevitably go to Hell and that they'll pray for my forgiveness. While this was not an answer, it did further build upon the fact that Christians, or at least the Christians I've met, are forever judgmental and close-minded.

I was not an atheist. Even though I did not really know the meaning of atheist, I knew it was synonymous with "devil," "Satan," and "sinner." I was not an evil person, I truthfully never even experimented with drugs, nor did I brake the law, and did rather well in school. So there was no way I was one of those devil people. The devil, being a usually red man with horns and a pointed tail who carried a pitch fork, and will take you to a place below ground where you will burn up for eternity if you don't do what Jesus tells you is pretty threatening to a child who's completely vulnerable and openminded. As fictitious as Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny are, (which my mother told me the truth about from the start, but told me not to tell other kids because they needed to believe) Satan and Hell are used as a relatively threatening ultimatum.

I was a closet atheist until a few months ago when my mother committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest with a .25 caliber pearl-handled handgun. While I never spoke of my non-beliefs to her, I was disappointed when she died without knowing. Although she lived a good Christian life of poverty and devotion, along with loneliness and sadness that started when my father committed suicide when I was six, the company of the Bible did not successfully see her through her pain. While I cope mainly by anger toward her cowardliness, I still believe that she no longer exists in body or spirit. Her life, as meaningful as it was to myself and my three little sisters, was thought meaningless to herself and even in the end, she believed that God would forgive her and take her to live in Heaven and put her out of her misery.

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From: "Stephanie Borkowicz"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: May 16, 2003 12:41 PM

Ahhh, Sunday school, a place where you are taught all the various ways you can go to hell and how to properly address God when you are worshipping him. I remember the Sunday mornings, Bible camp, healing, the laying of hands, talking in tongues, and youth ministers. The way they would run from my barrage of questions I threw at them the minute I was lucky enough to corner one. That was my favorite part about church, getting adults completely irritated. On the ride home is when my Mom and Grandma would go down the list of the offenses of that current Sunday. My Mom's gray hair was probably contributed to the torment I put her through every Sunday. I just never wanted to be there and after my "coming out" I never was again.

I was young when I first admitted to myself and my family that I was atheist, around sixteen. This was not a big shock to me. All my life I had highly doubted the existence of an all-powerful God in this magical place called heaven, but my family had a well organized, united front against me. The struggled to put together sort of interventions, filled with prayer and Guidepost type magazines, not to mention the numerous Bibles that had somehow appeared throughout my house shortly after this. Since I was young, I had a lot of anger and couldn't understand why they just couldn't accept this; but it was not to be. Now that I am older, they still have big problems with it, but have semi-accepted my decision.

So I guess this isn't really a conversion story, I did grow up in a very religious home, but I never accepted this religion. Mine would be more of a struggle story. My Grandma, since I was about 25, has been completely convinced that I am over run with demons and for some reason she thinks I am furious at her God. I am given crosses and prayers and blessings in hopes that one of these will change me, since her words never could. Contrary to this belief that I am angry and all that jive, I am not. I don't believe in a higher being, that's all, nothing more, there is nothing to be angry at.

Stephanie Borkowicz

"Human. It's kinda like Sebacean, but we haven't conquered other worlds yet, so we just kick the crap out of each other."
-- Crichton, Farscape

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From: "Sterling L. DeRamus"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: May 18, 2003 9:42 PM

I was saved by a born-again Christian. I was your typical right-wing Episcopalian. Going to church, checking out the chicks at church, basically doing the God thing. Then I met a really hot chick. Problem was she loved Jesus a whole lot -- a graduate of Bob Jones University no less. We were in law school together and had quite a few interesting religious discussions. Ultimately, she convinced me that religion was important and that I needed to take it seriously -- after all my eternal soul was at stake. However, I told her I didn't think we could ever really know the truth, that we just had to accept it on faith. She snapped back, "Don't you think you ought to find out as much as you can." You know, when a good-looking chick is right, she's right. No doubt about that one. So I started reading.

I read Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict. I was in law school at the time, and I thought, "Well let's see what a lawyer says about it." (He's lucky I didn't grade his bar exam.) Then I also read Hyamm Maccobby's The Mythmaker. That flew me for a loop, so I ordered his other book, Revolution in Judea. Then I really understood the Jewish view of Jesus a whole lot better. So I continued on, reading a little Hume, Paine, and biographies of Jefferson and Madison. Then I read A.N. Wilson's biography of Paul -- a classic if there ever was one. I also read N.T. Wright's book on Paul and was sorely disappointed -- I wanted him to prove Wilson all wrong in his view of Paul, but I found the thesis simple to disprove even for an amateur such as myself. Needless to say, by this point it wasn't going to happen with the hot chick. (I still fantasize about her occasionally though.)

As a last gasp, my wife (this is several years of reading later), tried to get me to go to a men's Bible study group that a friend of mine invited me to. I went reluctantly. It was one of the most disgusting things I've ever done. I'm still ashamed that I was ever associated with that group. The leader was a right wing zealot which most intelligent Christians would disown. When I told other Christians of some of the things he said, they too were appalled. It settled the issue for me. I told my wife, sorry, I just don't believe this stuff anymore. I've hardly been to church since then, except for funerals, weddings, and Christmas with the whole family. Lately, I've been more open with my freethinking, telling people who ask how I really feel rather than just nodding politely. The funny thing I've found is that the more open I am, the more closet freethinkers I find -- even among avid churchgoers.

So here's to you Gina, wherever you are. Thanks for saving me, and I sincerely wish you the best.

SLD

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From: "Aristotle"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Thank you for the website
Date: May 24, 2003 6:28 AM

I had been a Roman Catholic since birth. Now I am free of the shackles of this insidious religious belief. I became an atheist 3 years ago after I bought my first computer and surfed the Internet. There were no materials whatsoever about atheist topics in our libraries or books. Our country is mostly a religious one. Through atheism, my life is better now. Thanks for your website.

Aristotle

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From: "Ashley Churchill"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: My De-conversion story
Date: May 30, 2003 9:32 PM

I grew up in the Catholic Church and I went to Catholic school until I finished eighth grade. I believed in "God" as a child, I guess because I didn't have a reason not to.

When I was around twelve or thirteen, there was a war throughout Kosovo. I started thinking, "If a power exists that controls the universe, than why is there so much suffering?" I guess you could say that I didn't believe in "God," but didn't really disbelieve either.

When I was fourteen, my family was poisoned by carbon monoxide. My dad and my brother died in their sleep and my mother's personality changed drastically. She was screaming all the time and showed very little comfort toward me. I was in a coma for two weeks and had two strokes from it all. And I didn't care.

That's when it happened for me. If there is a "God," that supposedly "loves all of his children," then why am I suffering so much?

That's when I truly became an atheist.

That was six years ago and I have since recovered with no long-term effects from my injuries.

Ashley Churchill

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From: "Brian Smith"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: June 17, 2003 12:29 PM

Thinking back, I really never bought the whole Christian business. I was raised a Methodist and asked my father what a Methodist believes that was different from other Protestants. He didn't know. I went to church and Sunday school, but never felt a thrill. My big moment was at an "assembly" in public school (tenth grade in Alabama). We were all brought together to hear a lady who said she was held prisoner by the Communist Chinese for 21 years in a small prison cell. She held body and soul together by reading the Bible. She had to do that by reading under the blanket after dark using a flashlight. The Bible and flashlight were kept hidden from her captors for obvious reasons. It dawned on me that no batteries would last 21 years. I looked around a saw everyone else buying what she said without question. I was FREE!

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From: "Mr.Piet Pretorius"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: June 24, 2003 4:29 AM

I was raised in a "mixed" family. My father was a freethinker, but very neutral when it came to discussing religion. My mother was the one ensuring that we were raised as Christians. In hindsight, I assume there must have been some arrangement between my parents that we kids would be raised in the Christian faith. In a way, my dad must have felt quite similar to what I'm feeling, now that I have children of my own. Somehow the South African society expects you to be Christian and everyone else is considered a social outcast. My dad must have considered this when he decided to take a neutral stance on this. Now, I am in the same boat. Considering our friends are staunch Christians, how would they react toward my kids and me?

Will it result in my little daughter being considered a social outcast because her father is not one of the Christian clan? Will she hold me accountable? Will I have to live with the fact that I sidelined my kid? Or do I take the so-called brave route (or is it the selfish route, considering the possible effects on my kids) and announce my atheist point of view to a society drowned in religious dogma?

As a kid, I was subjected to the Christian doctrine and it took me quite a number of years to free myself from the so-called truths which were embedded in me. Strangely enough, it was my very faith that rocked the boat. I couldn't get answers via my faith and started to question the foundations of it. As soon as I started to read, the floodgates opened. Eventually I was more satisfied with the answers I got from a wide range of literature (evolution, history of religion, philosophy, astrophysics, etc.) than what religion could supply me with. Over a period of approximately 3 years, I read many opinions and slowly came to the conclusion that logic points into a direction of reason rather that blunt acceptance.

Today I'm 46 years of age, still living in the hypocritical society mentioned above. I now have to make hard decisions as to how to relate my new point of view with my kids and my very Christian (and close-minded) wife.

Piet Pretorius

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From: "CB"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: July 04, 2003 4:02 PM

Howdy. Here's mine:

When I was confirmed as a Roman Catholic at the age of fifteen, I was intensely religious. I was diligently reading Scripture, preparing myself for Confirmation, and really getting into the whole thing.

When the day came, I fully expected that some kind of sign, some kind of feeling, would befall me when the Bishop put the Chrism (holy oil) on my forehead. I wasn't looking for anything specific, just something to indicate the existence of this deity that I was supposed to have a relationship with.

And you know what?

All I felt was the warm thumb of the Bishop who put the stuff on me, and that was it.

Earning a degree in research psychology and learning about the scientific method solidified my position. I can say that on that day, I truly became an atheist.

CB

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