Ladies and gentlemen, let the flame wars begin. XD
I was twelve years old when I figured out I was an atheist.
I suppose I should start from the beginning. I was raised in Christian household (still am), and was brought up with all the good, heartwarming stories: David and Goliath, Noah's Ark, Moses in Egypt, and the like. I loved reading them, but even then, I didn't think of the stories as any different from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the Three Little Pigs, or Little Red Riding Hood. Just as fictitious. (It would take me several years to realize this, though.)
When I was around five or six, I remember my mother telling me in a solemn voice that only a third of the world was Christian. I'd been so shocked: only a third? Why wouldn't anyone want to be Christian? We were the ones who were right, so why wouldn't you want to believe in that? Thus, the seeds had been planted in my brain, and my new outlook on the world was brought to life: a third of the world was made up of good Christians, while the other two-thirds consisted of Christian-hating people who refused to see truth.
The whole idea of being a good Christian was something I never grasped very well, actually. I got the whole, 'love God, hate Satan,' thing down, but then I thought, 'well, I wouldn't be very nice either if everyone hated me.' So, with that in mind, I told Satan that I loved him, and to please stop being mean to everyone so they wouldn't hate him anymore.
The next morning, my brother did something that wasn't nice (I can't remember what, though), and I figured that my plan hadn't worked, and Satan was still being mean. Shoot.
However, a little thread of doubt had wormed its way past all of my previous conceptions. Didn't the bible tell us to love our enemies? And Satan was our enemy, right? So why weren't we told to love Satan?
That was the first of many contradictions in the bible I would discover later in life.
I was a very inquisitive child, so it is rather surprising I was a Christian as long as I was when my questions about the bible never got any answers.
"How did Adam and Eve's kids have kids? They only had two, and they were both boys!"
"How did Noah fit all those animals on the Ark? How did he find all of them? How come they didn't try and eat each other? How did the entire Earth flood?"
"Why weren't the dinosaurs in the bible? They were there before we were, so why are we the first ones in the bible?"
It was that last query that really began to weed out my deep-set Christian beliefs. The dinosaurs weren't in the bible, but there were dinosaurs. The bible said that all the animals were made at the same time, but dinosaurs were older than all the other animals. So either the bible was right, or the dinosaurs were right. And there were lots of dinosaur bones, so what did that mean?
I remember being quite scared. I didn't want to doubt the bible… the bible said that people who didn't believe in it would go to hell, and I didn't want to go to hell! I tried to justify it by telling myself that I just didn't understand the bible correctly, because if I did, then I would know why there weren't dinosaurs in it. (What I hadn't realized was that I understood the bible perfectly.)
The issue of my faith wasn't brought up again until several years later, when I was in the fourth grade.
I'd been in love with the Harry Potter series. My parents didn't have any qualms with that, and once I had finished all of them I'd taken to scouring through my school library for more books. (It was here that my voracious appetite for reading began, I think.) I'd been enthralled with the Series of Unfortunate Events, the Warriors series (cats were my favorite animal, so that wasn't surprising,) and I read at least thirty Animorphs books also.
My parents were happy, of course, that I was reading instead of other mundane activities. I was always so excited when I discovered new books to read, and I'd always show my enthusiasm by telling my parents all about the books I was reading.
"I got a new book to read!" I said to my mother one day after school, smiling and holding up the thick book in my hands. "It's called the Golden Compass, and it seems really good! I've only read a couple pages though."
My mother was silent.
"I don't want you to read that book," she said quietly.
I was surprised. "But why not? It's really good!"
My mother didn't speak for a while. "Honey," she eventually said. "It was written by an atheist."
"Atheist? What's that?" I suppose I was rather naïve for a nine year old.
"An atheist is someone who denies God's existence."
At that age, I was still rather devout, and I'd been absolutely shocked. Believing in something else was one thing, but outright saying there was no God? My next thoughts were some that I'm still a little ashamed of today.
Because after my mother said that, I didn't want to read the book anymore either.
"Are atheists evil, then?" I'd asked.
My mother paused again. "Not always. I think mostly they're just confused. I don't know what exactly would drive someone to stop believing in God, but it's our job as Christians to try and help them."
I didn't reply.
"Why don't you try reading another book?" she suggested. "You know, I think you'd really like the Chronicles of Narnia. It was written by a Christian, too."
I stopped reading it after a couple pages. It was kind of boring.
That was around the time I realized that I'd never met God. Everyone always talked about their experiences in meeting God and connecting with Him, and I felt rather left out. Why hadn't he ever spoken to me?
Beginning then, I started to pray quite often. 'Dear God, I want to meet you! Can you please talk to me like you talk to everyone else? I feel kind of left out. Is it because I'm too young? Amen.' 'Dear God, I don't know what to do. I'm having trouble at school. Can you please help me figure out what to do? Amen.' 'Dear God. Hello? Are you there?'
No one answered, of course.
I was very upset; I asked Mom why God wouldn't talk to me, or show me that He was there. She told me that God didn't show himself to people who wanted proof of His existence: instead, a person's faith was rewarded by Him showing himself. (Or something along those lines.)
Back then, I accepted it grudgingly, and guessed I just had to wait.
Now, all I can say about that is what complete and utter bullshit.
In all actuality, I honestly can't remember the exact specifics of my transition from Christian to atheist. I suppose that, with age, I became unable to take things at face value anymore, and I just started to think.
That's all it took, really. I just had to step out of my religious bubble, observe, and realize that it didn't make any sense. It didn't make any sense.
The bible spoke of all these miracles, such as creating bread, turning wine to water, bringing people back to life, yet how do we know that was the truth? Because the bible tells us so? Why aren't we seeing such 'miracles' today? You can't make something out of nothing. You can't make something that it isn't. You can't bring people back to life.
How about Noah's Ark? There are some species of animals found only in reclusive areas. It would've been completely impossible to locate all of them, and keep them from eating each other in a boat that could somehow magically hold all of them.
Adam and Eve? Earth has such diverse, rich cultures and ethnicities: there was no way every human being came from two people.
Slowly my eyes began to open, and I knew that if nothing happened, I'd lose my faith entirely. So, in an attempt to see if what I believed in was really right, I decided to read the bible. Front to cover.
I was disgusted.
How did people actually believe this? Light and dark were created, then the Sun and moon were? On that note, the Moon isn't even bright! It's just the light reflecting from the Sun! And how do you even measure days without them?
And what was with Eve being created from Adam's rib? Seriously? The entire book is apparently completely sexist: I could only wonder if the whole male-supremacy issues were impacted by it. (They were.)
It was painfully obvious that the bible was grossly outdated, both on scientific discoveries and social issues.
I tried going further into the book, but I didn't get past Genesis: I'd read enough.
I was scared. I was very scared. I didn't want to stop being a Christian. Everyone I knew back then was Christian, and I didn't want them to think I was different. I didn't want them to hate me.
So, I gave my religion one last chance.
'Dear God. Are you real? Please show me if you're real or not. I don't want to stop believing in you if you're there. Please, just show me a sign, something. Anything. Please. Please. Amen.'
I'm sure you can all guess whether or not he answered.
That was that, then. After that, I'd finally had to leave behind Christianity. Of course, I still hadn't figured out I was an atheist. I just knew I wasn't Christian.
I guess it's not so surprising. The idea of a God was something that I'd never really truly accepted. It was something I'd always wanted to accept, and I deluded myself into thinking I did, but never truly. I think it was because I grouped God with Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Over time, I stopped believing in all of them.
Later that same day, using the wonderful invention that is Google, I did some research online and found a test that would tell me my religion.
My top result was Secular Humanism, with 100% compatibility. By comparison, Roman Catholicism was 19th, with 39%.
And through Secular Humanism, I was lead back to the word I'd been raised to dislike, the word that I'd been raised to believe was confused, misguided, and with ill-intentions.
I won't lie: at first, I was a very angry atheist. With more research, I read more and more about injustice against atheists, and I was just so, so angry. How couldn't anyone else see the truth as I had, at only twelve years old? How could they not understand atheists, who wanted to do so much good for the world? (However, I will agree: just as there are good and bad Christians, there are also good and bad atheists. I'd like to think of myself as part of the former.)
I watched movies and documentaries as well, Deliver Us From Evil and The Magdalene Sisters being a few examples, and I was outraged. Who were Christians to try and claim to be the minority, the victimized, the oppressed, when they are the ones doing the victimizing and oppressing? What hypocrites they were!
The anti-atheist argument that hurt me the most, though, was when others stated that we had no sense of morality. That stung: on the other hand, I think we understand morality better than most do. We're not good to people because we're afraid of going to hell if we aren't. We're good to people because it's the right thing to do.
Perhaps my story is rather anti-religion, but I assure you that's not the case. Although it may not seem so, I think religion is good in some cases: my family's church is filled with some of the nicest people I know, and I know most religions strive for the same things: goodness, morality, and peace.
However, there are several aspects of religion that I despise.
When wars are started that kill innocents, I have a problem. The Crusades, as one example.
When depraved child abusers are defended and hidden by churches, I have a problem.
When a religion is rules by greed and gluttony, using money for themselves and not for others who need it, I have a problem.
When you have people, even kids, (especially kids,) verbally and physically abusing because of their sexuality because a book written two thousand years ago told you it's wrong, sometimes leading to murder or suicide, I have a problem.
When less than twenty people can commit hate crimes in the name of religion (while also going entirely against that religion's ideals), and bring distrust and hatred upon an entire 1.5 billion people, I have a problem. (9/11.)
Despite it all, sometimes I wish I was still Christian. It's so much easier and more comforting to believe that after you die, you get to spend eternity in a palace as a reward for being good in life.
But that's just it. It's easier, yeah. Comforting, sure. Except it's not right.
But you know what? What I think doesn't matter. I don't care what you believe in: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Wicca, or all the hundreds of others out there. If that's your belief, then that's perfect, and I'm happy you have one. As long as it's your belief, and not what's been forced upon you.
Your life is your own: it's your choice, and your choice alone on how you want to live it.
EDIT: To a reviewer: I was hoping to reply to your message, but you didn't leave an email address! So I'll reply right here. (And please do not be offended by any of these. I respect your beliefs, so please respect mine.)
1. It might just be me, but I don't think making a person out of another person's rib symbolizes equality. As the entire bible goes, men and women were most certainly not treated equally. So I guess it wasn't just me. (Examples? Genesis 3:16, Colossians 3:18, 1 Timothy 2:9 – 15, etc. The list does not end there.)
2. Yes, I know Goliath wasn't a real giant. I'm sure he was just abnormally tall. But that doesn't affect my belief in anyway, so... (but when I was a kid I totally thought he was like twelve feet tall, haha.)
3. As I saw it, the bible tells us to hate everything Satan is an embodiment of, so I just assumed that extended to Satan himself. (when I was six, I had little knowledge of the bible, so I really did just think we were supposed to hate him.)
4. I'm sorry, but I don't think those 'large lizards' were dinosaurs. Scholars estimate that the Book of Job was written, at the very earliest, in 2,000 B.C. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. They were most likely komodo dragons or something similar.
5. A Dumbledore quote! Yes! But I don't know how that exemplifies God's teachings. Love is not a solely Christian trait: I live with the love of my friends and family, and I love them in turn, yet I am atheist. Religion and love are not directly proportional.
6. God cannot do everything. And if he can, he doesn't. A god who let a lonely little girl cry for years because he would not speak to her has earned no respect of mine. (And I'll be quite frank here, and apologize in advance for any offense: don't you dare tell me that it was in some way my fault. So I didn't look hard enough? Was I supposed to assume that a leaf falling from a tree was a sign of his existence, and not just the wind? I tried reaching out for years. No one reached back.) Also, let me quote Greek philosopher Epicurus here:
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
7. Yeah, sure. God can do anything. Except he doesn't. Just look around at the world we live in. Would God really allow all this to happen if he truly loved us, or if he could change it? (refer to above quote.) Was all this grief really caused by someone just eating a piece of fruit? Honestly, if God's holding a grudge this long, over something so small, then I'd prefer not to worship him thanks.
8. Feel free to pray for me if you wish, but I can assure you with utmost confidence that it will in no way impact my belief.
9. Please understand this: I didn't choose to be an atheist. Honestly, Christianity seems far more appealing: eternal life, someone always listening to you, with only good things? It's certainly more comforting to believe that than to say there is no afterlife. But I can't be Christian anymore because I know it's wrong. Just as you can't force yourself to be an atheist, I can't force myself to be a Christian.
10. Your bible taught you to "Love thy neighbor as thy brother"? Your bible also taught you that it's okay to murder, rape, and enslave others. (I'd be happy to give you some bible verses proving this if you'd like.) The bible, while many things, is not a book of morality.
11. While you say that you are not good out of fear, Christians do have the belief that they will be rewarded with eternal life for their good deeds. We atheists do not have this belief. We will not be rewarded for our kindness, yet we are kind to others anyway, because it is the right thing to do.
12. Many atheists didn't grow up as ones. I myself was a devout Christian for twelve years. If you have any explanation for why, when we reached out, we were not acknowledged by your God, I'd love to hear it.
13. Do not pity your atheist friend; I'm sure he doesn't appreciate it, and there is no reason to pity him either. His life is his life, and not anyone else's: please acknowledge the fact that maybe he's right.
14. Thank you for respecting my beliefs. And I appreciate your efforts to get me to accept God again, but the relationship has to be mutual, and I was tired of searching for someone who so obviously wasn't there.
However, I'm glad that your religion has brought you so much happiness. My atheism had brought me happiness as well, a whole community of people who accept me for who I am, not who I've tried to be.
Thank you for reading.