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From: "Catalina Mercedes"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: De-Conversion Story
Date: April 04, 2002 2:22 PM

Hi there!

I was raised a Catholic (I had no choice). I was baptized, had my communion and I went to church every Sunday. Then I get to High School. There I met so many different people that I wanted to learn all about their beliefs and culture.

I became friends with a devout Christian and an atheist. During the fall of my sophomore year I started having thoughts of "What do I believe in? What should I believe in? Do I even believe in anything?" So I consulted my friends about these thoughts that I was having. My Christian friend immediately started preaching and trying to convert me. My atheist friend told me she was atheist and told me about what she believed. I was brought up in such a "closed" environment that I didn't even know what an atheist was. So instead of trying to find out what I believed in I "tried" different religions. I went through a Mormon phase and a Buddhist phase.

All my different phases took me about half a year. Then I really started to read about different religions, their beliefs and their thoughts on issues like homosexuality.

Homosexuality, evil, and poverty were the three main topics that led me to become and atheist. I started asking questions like "If there is a god then why does he let innocent people die?" Then I learned through science that some people do not choose to be homosexual and that they just carry that gene. So when I read that the Bible condemns homosexuality, I asked "Why would god create people who are homosexual and then just send them to hell, especially if they didn't have a choice?" That basically proved to me that there is no god.

I told my mother this and she chooses to believe that I am still Catholic. I haven't told my father yet because I know that he will disown me. I told my grandmother from my mothers side and then I found out that she was also an atheist. That made feel better because I was alone in my beliefs with in my family.

Now, I still like learning about different religions and cultures and I am happy with what I believe in. Of course I still have to deal with people telling me I'm going to hell which is fine with me because I always tell them that I don't believe there is a hell, therefore I'm not going to hell. They always try to make me think "Oh no, I don't have an answer for his question, I must be wrong," which amuses me because my answers always surprise them and leave them speechless.

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From: "Joanne Johnson"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Date: April 04, 2002 10:38 AM

I was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran way back when they weren't strict fundamentalists. Since both my parents went to Valparaiso University (where they met), it was one of my two choices for college. Since my other choice required me to live at home, I jumped at it. At Valpo, everyone was required to take four theology courses in order to graduate; this is a Lutheran school after all. Funny thing was I had heard as a freshman that kids come in as Christians and leave as agnostics and atheists. I thought at the time "no way!" Way! It began my sophomore year. I took a course called "Fundamental Events In Church History." This course was pure history, warts and all. Once we covered how the trinity came to become Christian doctrine, I began to have doubts. From there I went on to "Literature of the Bible". Yes indeed, it covered old testament mythology (Jonah, Noah, etc.). I begin to think if that's myth then what else is? The course that answered all my questions was the last, which was "History of Religion". We studied the basic dynamics of all religions as well as in-depth studies of the major religions of the world. Suddenly the world made sense. No longer did I have to question why certain things happen. There is no entity controlling people and events. I'm proud to have graduated from this wonderful school, which was 30 years ago in 1972.

Joanne Johnson

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From: "Rachael"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: April 10, 2002 9:50 PM

My deconversion story begins with two young Catholics growing up, one with two parents who proudly proclaim themselves "daily massers" and the other who went to mass on Easter and Christmas. However, college changed all this, and after joining a group of born-agains, meeting, and falling in love, they produced an adorable baby girl, aka, me.

I spent kindergarten through the beginning of third grade in an Assembly of God school memorizing Bible verses every week, then third grade through fifth grade as the only non-Catholic having to memorize the seven sacraments and a host of saints. I remember a few things puzzling me: Where did dinosaurs come in? Where did Cain's wife come from? What about people who never get the opportunity to be Christians?

As my parents slowly drifted from the church, I slowly began to come to my senses. And one day, this may sound really strange, but I was watching this completely idiotic commercial for some church or just a free copy of the Bible, not sure, but it was this guy running around, asking all these people some stupid question. (I can't remember what question, "what is the meaning or life," or "why am I here?" or just "why?" or "what should I do with my life?", something.) And of course he finds the Bible, and of course it's glowing with divine light. All of the sudden the idiocy of the commercial overwhelmed me and I said to myself "Why does there have to be a god?" And for the life of me, I could come up with nothing.

As time went on, my arguments for my status as fully realized non-believer evolved to more than the stupidity of a commercial, but it all goes back to a corny attempt at increasing church attendance.

Rachael
Rochester, NY

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From: "Debbie Lawson"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: April 21, 2002 10:09 PM

I was born into the Catholic Church. My mom and Dad divorced, mom remarried into the Church of Christ. My step grandpa was the senior elder in the church. I went from church at Christmas and such, to every Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday evening. When I was 19 and in the US Army in Germany, I quite calmly and logically came to the conclusion that religion is meant to keep people oppressed, that some people need it to cope with life, but that its mostly bullshit. Over the years, I was kind of like a non-practicing atheist -- I was always looking for something spiritual, but did not get it. For awhile, I thought I was psychic and went that route.

Then I turned more towards Buddhism, which is a non-theist religion.

Now I just don't believe in any thoughts system whole heartedly. I discovered secular humanism and that is much more to my liking. I love reading thoughts and opinions from the free thought websites. It makes me feel better. I love debating over issues now with people and feel much more comfortable about it because of the knowledge I have acquired from these sites.

Recently, when debating with some fundamentalists, my mother mentioned that the Church of Christ is considered fundamentalist. That has screwed me up a bit psychologically. It explains why I felt so inferior to men all these years, why I thought I had no right to speak up for myself, despite being a card-carrying member of National Organization for Women at one point. I am now so confident about my beliefs and my ability to explain them, I am out of the closet about my atheism and skepticism.

Thank you for giving us all a place to tell our stories!

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From: "Bill Weber"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: April 27, 2002 9:19 PM

After completing graduate school and reading Albert Ellis I was skeptical but not an atheist. I was discussing religious issues. A fundamentalist I talked with insisted I reread the Bible now that I was educated. I re-read the "BuyBull" and came to know I was an atheist. To this day, I am willing to listen to anything that can change my mind, from literature to personal experience from ritual. I did not lose my religion. I worked hard to get those myths in the proper perspective in my mind.

Bill Weber

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To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: My De-Conversion Story
Date: May 08, 2002 6:50 PM

I was born and raised in the United Church in Canada, and attended various "vacation Bible schools" during the summers of my youth. The teaching got in the way of playing.

As a pre-teen, I was one of two girls sleeping over at a girlfriend's house in Niagara Falls, Ontario and the next morning our friend tried her hardest to spare us from the extremism of the local evangelical church who often called on their house on Sunday mornings to bring as many children as they could coerce to the local worship house for gyrations and singing fits. Unfortunately we were unable to keep our giggles hidden, and we were discovered.

The man and woman promptly sat us down at the dining room table and proceeded to tell us all how God forgave us and we could be admonished of our sins as long as we accepted Jesus Christ as our saviour.

But there was one caveat: we had to do it now! I sat and watched while my other friends, one by one, did as they were bidden (no adults were in the house who could save us) and repeated after these two strangers the words "I accept Jesus Christ as my saviour".

The whole time I was thinking to myself: (1) there is no way these two strangers are convincing me of something about which that they themselves obviously have no clue, and (2) why are they so concerned to get me to say this now? I began to feel great distrust toward their motives versus the reasons they gave.

They were really quite eerie, the way they sought out young children like scavengers and preyed on them when no responsible adults were around. Of course I objected to their insistence when my turn came around, but my friends were pleading with me to succumb so that we could get them out of the house and I did. To add insult to injury, they attempted to get us all loaded up in the church bus for some gyration singing but we were able to refuse that with threats of what would happen if our parents came home and we weren't here. They left us alone that day after that, but I never stayed over at that girlfriend's house again.

I still reflect on the time with abhorrence. This was the first time in my life that I felt vulnerable, the first time I was truly afraid.

Everywhere I looked there was God or religion, in the national anthem, in the school's morning prayer, in music on the radio, and in everyone's vernacular.

As a child I was given a New Testament in school, a very small book that could fit in the palm of my hand. I recall reading this book seriously and pledging in my youthful diary to read a little bit each day. There was a section at the back of the book that listed troubles and why you may consult the Bible for words of comfort and encouragement together with verse and chapter references to read. Try as I might, I could never, ever, ever find anything that would satisfy my needs and wants for comfort and encouragement. The words just seemed empty and unreal. I couldn't get over the feeling that I was participating in a huge scam of some sort, like the emperor's new clothes. If everyone believes it's true, then it must be true! Well not for me.

In high school I soaked up information and knowledge about world religions in my reading and studies. By the time I was in my late teens I had decided I do not believe in God.

I am a student of history and am incredibly interested in the tradition of storytelling and the impact of culture and time on religion. I have never looked back and in my adult world struggle daily with ways to encourage my children to make their own decisions about religion and atheism without undue influence from contaminating sources that constantly surround and berate us. It is a huge challenge.

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From: "Jeff Thompson"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Sent: May 09, 2002 1:06 AM
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story

I grew up attending a Baptist church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, across the street from and affiliated with Rev. Billy Graham's world headquarters. This continued in an unremarkable fashion until I was 11, when my mother shook up our ordinary middle-class Christian existence by having a nervous breakdown. In her own confusion, she tried to exorcize her internal demons (literally!) by driving her car into a nearby lake, by attempting to get run over by a train, and finally by slashing her wrist -- all in one day. Fortunately she survived all three attempts at demon self-exorcism.

Recently she described her error as a misunderstanding of the biblical account of Jesus casting demons into a drove of pigs, and not an attempt at suicide. (Unlike my sister, who also suffers from similar problems but has been more successful at dealing with it, Mom refuses to seek medical or behavioral help, which has greatly intensified her obsession with religious experience).

At that time, in 1969, very little was known about such problems, so after a brief hospital stay where she was given various treatments (to no avail), she came home and started her quest for the perfect church. In the process she broke up our own nuclear church -- the family -- and igniting my own curiosity about the doctrinal differences between the various denominations. At first I started attending some of my friend's churches. Later a small group of my friends and I visited more strange and exotic churches, such as the Pentecostal "Deliverance Temple," where we watched people get "slain in the Spirit" when the preacher smacked them across the forehead with his palm. Some of my devout friends tried it themselves, but said they didn't feel a thing, and merely did what everyone else did in order to avoid embarrassment. When we came back the following night, we saw many of the same people being "healed" that had already been "healed" the previous night, and some of them were from the choir as well.

During this period, my mother bounced from church to church; one day she would be convinced that church "A" was true and all others fell short, and she would try to convince my sisters and I that she had found the true path, and that we should follow this path as well. Then two weeks later another church spoke the truth and all others falsehoods.

It was the no different when it came to the various translations of the Bible. I recall her awaken me in the middle of the night, exclaiming that she had wrongly proclaimed the New International Version to be an abomination. It was now as acceptable to God as the King James Version. Eventually she settled on an extreme Fundamentalist church that she could relate to, where the internal demons that she was so constantly aware of were acknowledged, and the church's radio station broadcast 24/7 so she could be preached to at home as well.

My favorite story about my mother happened when I was in high school. Two Mormons wearing their trademark old-fashioned suits and ties arrived by bicycle at our house. I opened the door, immediately recognized their purpose and told my mother that someone was at the door for her. I watched the ensuing battle of theologies from the staircase. When the ideological clash was over, I saw the two defeated Mormons leave bearing my mother's religious tracts, while Mom had none of theirs. I must admit that I was impressed!

While I was preparing for college, my father suggested Bethel College, a fairly liberal Baptist school where my sisters had studied. My mother had different ideas, and sent the dean of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College to convince Dad otherwise. I can still remember the dean's main argument, "Do you realize that some professors at Bethel do not believe in Pre-Dispensational Millennialism?" Fortunately, I don't think my Dad even knew what the Good Professor was even saying, so I avoided what could only have been a disastrous semester at Pillsbury. Still, it was during my year at Bethel when things came to a head. My experiences from attending different churches had convinced me that although all sorts of denominations (let alone different religions!) claimed a monopoly on the truth, this was impossible; however, it was highly unlikely that God would make it so that only one of them was correct, with the rest bound for eternity in the pit of Hell.

I also studied the bloody history of the church (and many other religions), which all too frequently seemed to be on the wrong side of history and humanity and to suffer from too narrow and concrete of a viewpoint. In addition, I This led me to realize religion is simply a reflection of tribal mankind, for good and ill.

Further study about the history of science, mathematics, logic, and the scientific method convinced me that it was foolish to believe in "immutable truths" that time and again were proven inaccurate. I was much more impressed by the theories of science and mathematics, all of which rely upon observation and experiment; which is revised or disproved by new discoveries and rigorous peer review, and which views an open-ended question as a challenge to be solved, which will probably lead in turn to more questions, instead of heresy.

Having grown up in the church, the most difficult part of my deconversion was the inevitable social ostracization from my small church's society, to some extent from society as a whole and alienation from many longtime friends. Still, blind belief is no longer an option, and I am much happier on my own path of discovery. Life is so much more open now, and more honest.

Jeff Thompson

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From: "Vincent F. Safuto"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 8524
Date: May 16, 2002 7:41 AM

I'm enjoying the deconversion stories in the Positive Atheism forum, and would like to contribute mine but it's way long and detailed.

In a nutshell, I was raised Catholic (I'm 41 now) and went along with the whole religion thing, but with a lot of doubts and questions. One time I took Communion with a mortal sin on my soul (had used some bad words in the schoolyard, missed Mass) and nothing happened.

In the Marines, I drifted through Southern Baptist (got dunked live and in color at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis) and even dallied with the speaking-in-tongues crowd. Really, it was just to try and meet girls. It didn't work.

I moved to Florida in 1986 and fell in with the Methodists first. They had a coffee house for adults on Saturday nights, but the pastors were into extremely loud Christian rock.

The breaking point for me was at work. I was working for the post office, one of the worst in the country, and several of the stupidvisors got on a religion kick, that god wanted them in control and wanted everyone else to submit to them. I asked, "What if you have it backward, and god wants you to submit to me?" When I saw all the corruption and theft by these same allegedly Christian managers, I knew they were just playing a game to get ahead. I was quizzed about my religious beliefs and then denied advancement, so I went to college, got my degree in communications and quit the Post Office. I now work for a daily newspaper as a copy editor, and am amazed at the religious nonsense I have to print. But hey, it's what the readers want, and the pay is decent.

One reality I've figured out about religion is that religious groups look for passive people who are willing to accept the spiritual superiority of the leaders and yield on issues of dogma. Once a person has established to you his or her spiritual superiority, unless you have a strong personality or are firm in your lack of belief, you're theirs.

Nowadays in the U.S., being religious is the "in" thing, but if you look hard enough, you can find others who reject all this "God Bless America" nonsense. Unfortunately, almost none of them are in public office.

Vincent

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From: "Nicholas Brush"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Sent: June 09, 2002 2:21 AM
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story

Dear Cliff,

Thanks for your website and this wonderful forum. I hope that your premise is not that everyone who is an atheist has been "de-converted," for that would imply that everyone has been converted in the first place. In my case, I am proud to say that my parents never tried to instill in me a belief or a disbelief about god. I did have the opportunity to see what church and religion were about.

I attended the Unitarian church on some occasions as a youth, and they presented some of the religious diversity that is out there. There has been no time in my life that I've ever come to the conclusion that there is any merit to claims of deities or things supernatural.

However, I would say that I have become more vocal in being willing to define myself as an atheist, at least in situations of answering a question about my beliefs or in standing up for myself and not letting others define my beliefs. Becoming a social worker has helped me to learn the importance not only of advocating for those who are marginalized, but also of doing the same for myself as I would for others.

Nick

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To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: June 11, 2002 3:39 PM

Well, I was brought up in a christain church and believed in god with all my heart. I was picked on in school for my beliefs, then my parents went through a divorce and I still believed, but was mad at god. Eventually I found myself to be a drug addict and all messed up. I thought it was from sin and rejecting god, I thought it was my fault that everything bad happened. Eventually after 3 years in college studying heavily in sociology, psychology, and philiosophy, I undertood that I was a product of my environment. It was my beleifs that screwed me up as a person and once I let go of a belief in hell, sin and god, I slowly started to understand what life was all about. I have spent hours and hours reading everything I can about the subjects of science, philosophy, athiesm, etc. looking for the truth. The more I looked at reality, the more god faded away and my life got better and better. Ultimatly to understand that there is no god, is understanding indeed.

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From: "Cobbie"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: June 11, 2002 3:55 PM

Question with boldness, even the existence of god", Albert Einstein. Boy have these words helped me. I am a skeptic. I question everything,, the government, the media, and other people. Also I overanalyze everything and started to wonder why, since I was raised a christian. Well, ultimately I decided to question god. It was like a "damn, snap, finally I understand" sort of experience. I slowly began to look at things in reality, and to think for my self. I was brought up to be more or less a pacifist, who was ashamed of every impulse, deeply depressed, and sexually confused, all products of Christianity. Eventually I just got sick of living this way and decided that I have to make my own life, and not what my parents want me to believe about god. I have read many books including a few by Betrand Russel, which I recommend. My parents will never accept my non belief and this saddens me, but that is another product of religion, and not my fault. Anyway it is people like you who give me the strength to honestly look at the world, and the people in it. My conclusion is not only is there no god, but religion can actually be harmful in lots of ways. It caused my rebellion and a divorce in the family.

Cobbie

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From: "Lindsey Healey"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: June 11, 2002 11:21 AM

If I haven't fully de-converted, I am pretty close. I am 17 years old, and I was raised Catholic. We have always gone to church, but religious matters have never really been discussed at home. Some of my Catholic friends tell me their parents fervently educated them in their beliefs. For as long as I remember, I don't think I ever really believed it. I didn't really mind going to church as a young child, but it was just sort of like story time. In junior high I moved to Texas. In dealing with depression and other things, I decided that perhaps my best solution would be to put my efforts toward believing in God. So I prayed. I piously went to church. But nothing happened, and when I really asked myself, I didn't believe in the things the church was teaching.

I continued to go to church, hoping that maybe I would have some divine experience. By high school, I became more observant: I noticed the people assembled at mass, how they were mindlessly muttering the prayers and the correct responses, I noticed the people in the youth group, who appeared happy, but whose minds seemed incredibly blank. I noticed inconsistencies in the scripture readings, and one time, a priest from another parish came in to speak to the teenagers, and said that many teens are depressed because they turned away from God. That was a lie, and it was aimed right at me.

This past year, my junior year, I have gotten more active in my investigations of faith. I have read several books on various religious and secular philosophies, and it seemed to me that Christianity was one of the most nonsensical and oppressive. I attended religion classes at church where they said things that were self condemning such as (quoted as closely as possible): "Cults gain members by making them feel like they belong somewhere. That's why, we need to make people feel like they belong at church." or: "The Bible is the infallible word of God. But we don't take all of it literally."

Of course, I was also upset by the things everyone mentions, such as the condemning of unbaptized infants, the fact that most Christians never chose to be of that religion, and the worship of God, who, according to some of my Christian friends "created man to serve and worship him." Most people would never worship someone who was egocentric like that, so why worship a God who we cannot prove to exist? I guess they always did it out of fear of going to hell. The lurking shadow of doom that is placed upon us makes us feel guilt for things that are only natural, and silences many who have questions in mind.

As so many have said before in their stories, I feel much freer this way. I don't know if I would consider myself an atheist yet, I guess in the sense of not believing in a "god" of any sort, I am. But I still have plenty of time to choose, and the best part is, I can!

Lindsey

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From: "Thomas Boyko"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story
Date: June 15, 2002 9:42 PM

I grew up as a "Christian". I wasn't tied down to any specific sect of the cult, I was just "Christian".

I loved my grandfather. He was a smoker. At the time, I was too young to tie smoking to cancer. I just thought god just up and took grandpa away. I was very angry, and I was very mistrusting of the whole religion clique afterwards, although going to churches for another 10 years, as I was not yet old enough to drive and flee from going to church. I realized that people who believed adamantly that a god existed put too much of their lives into that crapshoot. My aunt and uncle were prime examples. They believed that "god would house them, and god would bring their next meal, etc." However, god didn't pay their mortgage or car financing. They declared bankruptcy a few years ago and had to start over. What a god.

I have been in a state of unbelief for 2 years now, and it feels good to do things without fear of a big booming old guy in the sky. I don't choose to actively hate religion, I choose to ignore it. I like my life and myself a lot better that way. Living with religion is like living in the worst part of Queens. Fear rules your activities. I let go of that fear and I find myself discovering more about myself daily.

Thomas Boyko

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From: "Fernando Silva"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Sent: June 14, 2002 7:44 PM
Subject: FORUM_My_De-Conversion_Story

Hi,

I'm an ex-Catholic and my deconversion was quite a slow and painless process as compared to the horror stories I've read in this site. My family was, and still is, profoundly catholic but religion was never a matter of terrible fear of going to hell. Nor were we told to believe that we were wholly unworthy in the eyes of God with little hope of being "saved." All the classrooms in my school had a sign on the wall that read "God is watching you," Big Brother style, but God was supposed to be benevolent and forgiving. You had to really insist in going to hell (though I could never understand why anyone would). Yet, we had to go to the church every Sunday and , every evening, tell our beads together in the living room, on our knees, not to speak of bedtime prayers, frequent confessions and religion classes. Up to the age of 12, I was comfortable with my faith. I didn't like to go to the church, I didn't like the evening litanies but, all in all, the matter never haunted me.

I'd have long discussions with myself in which the rational part of me tried to explain things the rational way and the religious part would present the faith based "arguments." For long, long years, the debate would end with "Well, there must be an explanation. It's only I'm too limited to understand this matter. When I die and go to heaven, everything will be explained". For instance, it always bothered me that "it is better to believe without having seen than to see and then to believe." Or that unbaptized children who died would go to a vaguely defined place called Limbo instead of Heaven. Or that Jesus had to die for my sins (it made me feel guilty, in a way, though I couldn't understand what those sins were). We were told that believing in Adam and Eve (and Genesis) was not mandatory; that was just a way God used to explain things to our primitive ancestors. Yet, "original sin" was a dogma (and I couldn't understand why I had been born already guilty of something I had not done). I tried not to think about it but felt that there was something fishy about prophets and their divinely inspired writings. Why had inspiration stopped? How could we tell false from true? I was supposed to confess my sins frequently -- and I was supposed to sincerely repent from them and intend not to sin anymore. Yet I knew very well that I'd do everything again, sooner or later.

That certainty only grew stronger when I became a teenager and my mind was always full of "dirty" thoughts. I'd spend some time tortured by guilty feelings before I had the guts to confess everything. Then I'd feel clean and started "sinning" again. After repeating that cycle for many years, I decided there was no point in confessing. Because I hadn't confessed, I was not fit to take communion so, one day, I realized I hadn't had confession or communion for over ten years. Luckily, I went to church alone and my family never noticed.

Just as a note, if you out there are not Catholic, you may not realize how unpleasant and ridiculous it is to confess. To kneel before a perfect stranger and whisper him your most private thoughts in the hope he won't find you went too far to deserve absolution. Then he'll whisper back in you ears, with droplets of spit and foul breath, standard words of advice and a number of prayers to repeat as a penalty. Old ladies seem to like it, though. It must be like a free "shrink" to them. A captive audience, willing to hear to all their petty woes and worries. And, being half deaf, they speak too loud and the people in the line have to pretend they don't hear a thing. I had a book of prayer in which many of the prayers were followed by their value in "indulgence time", that is, if you prayed a "one-day" prayer, your time in Purgatory would be reduced by one day. There were a few that were worth weeks and even months so I only prayed those and wondered what was the point in wasting time with the "one-day" ones and why they were in the book.

I was also told that the mass was the re-enactment of Jesus' sacrifice and that I should feel enraptured during it. Somehow I never felt anything but boredom.

Well, the list could go on and on. Yet, my faith never wavered. I took religion to be a fact of life. Boring, indeed, but necessary and unavoidable.

Also, I never had any contact with atheism. I knew for a fact there were unbelievers and other religions but I never came upon rational ideas (only once, when I was about 10, I read something on the papers about the possibility of the Hebrews having stolen the body of Jesus from the tomb to make it look like he had resurrected; that notion was rather shocking and was quickly buried in my subconscious mind to resurface only decades later). As far as I could see, there were sinners but no contradictions. What I was told at home was confirmed in school, in the streets, in the papers, on TV. The doubts that the sane part of my mind kept bringing up were quickly swept under the rug and forgotten (they all surfaced later, intact, when I started facing my doubts). I lived in a kind of "Truman Show," without any oddity to make me suspect my faith might be an illusion. A believer at home, though, I was ashamed of stating myself a believer in public. When asked what my religion was, I mumbled something like "I'm a Catholic, I guess." Proselytizing was out of the question. Although I believed myself to be sure of my faith, somehow I felt uncomfortable to impinge it on others. I never thought I had anything convincing enough to tell them so I'd let them be. Because I couldn't understand why I believed, I couldn't defend my faith, but couldn't reject it, either.

When I was 12, there came the first serious blow. Pope John XXIII summoned the Vatican Council II and, being the open minded man he was, people started to discuss and re-evaluate everything. He died before the council was over and his successor, Paul VI, a conservative, tried to stop the process. Yet, a period of free experimentation followed and a lot changed. Part of the Catholics refused the changes and schisms happened. My family was not altogether happy with the new ideas but decided to comply. In my mind, though, what seemed a 2,000-year-old unmoving rock had split. I tried not to think much about it but the doubt was installed. I kept looking for churches where the priests were older and resisted to changes in the rites. When I neared the age of 40, the Pentecostal churches, so far a minority in Brazil, began to spread and to attract Catholics. As a reaction, Catholics created the Charismatic Movement to lure them back. I thought Pentecostals were ridiculous but Charismatic. Catholics were even worse, being an imitation.

Those innovations I saw as a disrespect to tradition. They usually drove me so mad that I'd spend the mass trying to think about other things and I'd doze during the long, boring sermons. For instance, the songs could hardly be called hymns anymore. They were played by a small band with guitar and percussion and sung in such a way that sometimes I had the impression I was watching some kiddie show on tv. And the audience (not the assembly) would dance and clap their hands. It was a long way from the solemn hymns accompanied by organ and incense of my childhood. Silly songs with silly words expected to convey a "nice" message. The word "love" was repeated so often throughout the mass that it became meaningless and disgusting to me.

One of the things I most loathed was having to hold hands with the people on both sides as we sang the Lord's Prayer. It was okay if they were pretty girls but, somehow, pretty girls seemed always to have better things to do than going to church so I had to hold other guys' hands. Eventually, I took to leaving my place and standing in the aisle when this moment came. No use crossing my arms and pretending not to notice. They'd poke me and insist in grabbing my hands. During the sermon, the priest would use a whispered "Latin lover" voice for a while and then, all of a sudden, start shouting out loud. I hated his fake voice, I hated his shouts. It reeked of motivation, of brain washing (and I hate motivation techniques). If he needed those tricks, maybe his message was not convincing enough of itself. The mass was endurable (boring but not revolting) when it was one of the older priests but the younger ones had always new ideas to enliven the celebration and compel people to participate actively. Eventually, I started doing the so far unthinkable: to go to church but leave when I realized it was one of them that day. In about 40 years, I had never missed one Sunday and now I'd miss many in a row. I'd tell myself "Well, I tried. I came to the church. But I don't have to stand for this."

After this first step, facing my doubts seemed a lot easier. I began questioning what I heard, instead of trying to doze. I'd take notes of the thoughts that came to my mind and of the things I heard and struck me as absurd. When I got home, I'd go to my computer and elaborate on those notes in a document that kept growing.

I still saw myself as a Catholic but the idea of hell was unacceptable, for instance. If there indeed was a hell, it was empty. I was also against Rome forbidding birth control. What was wrong with pills or condoms? Why the hell should we be constantly praising God for his supposed gifts? What gifts? What right did he have of throwing me in this valley of tear without asking me first? Why should I be submitted to a test I didn't ask for, the failure in which meant eternal punishment? Why should we believe a god we never met just because people just like us said he existed? Why wouldn't he talk to me directly and say what he wanted of me? Why there were so many religions, all of them the only true one?

I was not ready to disbelieve God yet but I began vaguely to think that Jesus' teachings had been sorely misinterpreted by the Church along the centuries. Of course, I knew little of the Bible but from the excerpts read during the masses. The Old Testament was not important, doctrine wise, and there seemed to be no big discrepancies in the New. It was then a major breakthrough happened. While randomly surfing the Internet I hit a page dedicated to the Mother Goddess and how the patriarcal society had perverted humankind. They had many pages dedicated to Babilonian gods and goddesses and how they had ultimately been at the origin of the Hebrew Yaveh. One particular sentence was the key: "We tend to think that Yaveh manifested himself to the Hebrews at some point in their history. Actually, he is the mix of the many gods the Hebrews encountered and adopted during their nomadic life. He might be traced to El, the god of Ur where Abraham was born. But he's also Asherah or Ishtar and many others, all summed up. And the Hebrews were not monotheists. Although they were bound to worship Yaveh and only Yaveh, they accepted the existence of other gods. In exchange for this exclusive adoration, Yaveh vowed to protect their tribe against the others and their gods". And the text went on to point the parts of the Bible where God was said jealous of the other gods and many bloody and violent aspects of his commands. I found this very interesting and went on to research the matter ("Praise the Internet, not the Lord", I say).

Also, I found out I was not alone. For centuries, there had been atheists and they had ideas that had never occurred to me. Also, the history of the Catholic Church was far from holy. Inquisition and the Crusades were shown to me under a new light. The Bible turned out a bloody, violent book, full of contradictions. The work of a barbaric, bronze age tribe, not God inspired. So much for the "good book".

Finally, the accumulated weight of what I found and of my own thoughts made it impossible to keep pretending to myself I was still a Catholic. I didn't believe in God anymore. It was not sudden, rather like a slow wakening, where dream and reality coexist for a while. But old habits die hard and I still felt the need to go to church every Sunday. Somehow I didn't want to cut the last link completely. One Sunday, though, all dressed up and ready to go, a pouring rain started. I thought to myself that I was not willing to walk all the way to the church under rain and wind just to spend a whole hour drenched, in a hot, crowded, stuffy church, listening to gibberish that would only make me upset. I didn't go that day and never again for 6 years now. I rembember sitting down that day and asking myself "Is this it? All that going to church and masses and prayers and saints and guilty feelings, just gone? All that I believed in?". It was not traumatic, just the melancholy at realizing something was gone forever, something I was so used to. I didn't miss God. I had prayed to him everyday, because I thought it was mandatory, and asked favours of him in the hope he might eventually hear me, but I've never felt we were close. He'd always been a distant, silent stranger (but I do miss Santa Claus...). To this day, I've never stopped reading and researching sites like Infidels.org and yours. Such a wealth of facts and thoughts and I've spent 42 years of my life complety isolated from it! I never told my family. They won't just understand and I'm afraid of disruptions that might ensue. Besides, my parents are already quite old and not at the best of their health. I see no point in upsetting them now. They also take comfort in their faith. Even in the worst of their illnesses they keep saying that "If I accept the good God sends me, I must accept the bad", "God sends suffering to those he loves most in order to test their faith", "Jesus suffered so much for me, I'm only happy to share in his suffering" and so on. How could I take this from them (supposing I'd succeed, and I don't think I would). As for other people, at first, amazed at the discoveries I had made and also angry at having been fooled for so long, I wanted to tell everybody, to make them "wake up" and see the obvious. I had lengthy conversation with believers on the Net and with workmates. This was very instructive and helped me to elaborate my argumentation. It also taught me that I was an exception. A believer that is happy with his or her faith will not be deconverted. If they believe two plus two is five, you might at the most make them admit that two plus two seems to be four, indeed, but it is just that our limited understanding is not able to see the superior reasons for which it's actually 5. This explanation will appease whatever disturbance you managed to create in their minds and they'll be happy again. If you insist, they'll keep quoting meaningless things from the Bible and telling you to repent before it's too late. The tough questions will be just ignored. Looks like I'm talking to a deaf person. It's also unsettling when your acquaintances, so far perfectly reasonable, convert to some Pentecostal denomination, show up with a Bible and give you leaflets from their sect. They seem so sure of their faith it's frightening. There's a hint of lunacy in their calm certainty. The kind of lunacy that makes people fly planes into buildings.

Graphic Rule

 

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