Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist is asking questions of his readers about their deconversions away from religious beliefs. I've been thinking about my own falling away from any sort of religious beliefs. This was not a fast process by any means, but a series of abrupt realizations at each step of the way. This process occurred over a 15 year period in my life.
I was not raised in a very religious family. My parents were vaguely Christian, and really did not believe in pushing religion on myself and my brothers and sisters. Growing up in the southern part of the US, there was always some religious presence in my neighborhood and school. Even growing up female in the South, I was always more interested in science than in "girly" things. I was a tomboy and would rather play with my chemistry set than with dolls. This was perhaps the start of my skeptical nature.
I remember that when I was in the 3rd grade, there was a religious presentation about Jesus in my classroom. And this was in a public school. I also remember getting into trouble during the presentation. The teacher said that you had to let Jesus into your heart. I asked "How do you do that? Does he knock on you teeth and you open your mouth to let him in?" The teacher angrily made me sit in the corner, budding little naturalist that I was.
One family who lived next door to us was heavily involved in the Church of God. At that time, the local church in our town was not very cult like. I found out years later how lucky I was that they kicked me out of Vacation Bible school for asking too many questions when I was about 12. The mom next door asked me if I would like to go. Always curious, of course I wanted to go and see what it was all about. I liked the Vacation Bible School. I received money for memorizing bible verses and loved the arts and crafts. The mythology never really took with me. I would rather read about nature and the dinosaurs than some old bible myth.
I'm a voracious reader, and in the search for bible verses to memorize,I decided to start reading the Bible from the starting paragraphs of Genesis. I read the story of Lot and kept reading after the Incident at Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot screwing his sexy daughters gave me the giggles. What a pervert. I just knew the other kids the Sunday School would like to see the story. After all, it was in the Bible.
I proudly showed some of the other kids the story and we giggled over the pervert, Lot. I was asked by the teacher not to come back. This was probably not the only reason, as I had been asking questions about what was being taught.They apparently wanted children who would simply accept unquestioningly what they were told. Well, that was something I could not do.
For the next 4 or 5 years, religion was not really part of my life. Like my parents, I had some sort of vague liberal Christian/deist/warm fuzzy sort of god belief. But one day this changed totally for me. I was a junior in high school when the cheesy group, Up With People, had a show in the school auditorium. The show was okay, but I will be eternally grateful for the speaker that spoke after the show. This minister showed me exactly what organized Christianity was all about, caring only for one's own salvation, screw everyone else.
I don't recall the man's name. This was 30 years ago, right after the worst of the cold war. He told some story about a Russian Christian who would rather his son die than for the man to give up his faith. I was horrified at the story and the actions of the man in the story. What kind of parent would allow their child to be murdered for any reason? I would do anything for a child of mine, even gladly going to hell in order that my child be safe. What selfishness from this Christian, his fear of death was so strong that he would abandon his child to murder.
I looked around the auditorium and was shocked when I heard amens coming from the students sitting around me. They agreed with him! I realized then in that moment that I could never be apart of any organized religion or cult. I was inoculated against any sort of religious brainwashing or cult indoctrination in that instant. It was a moment that I will always remember, a turning point in my life. I still believed in a god however, but believed that any organized form of worship was evil. Later, I realized the story was likely fabricated, but it revealed that my classmates were so afraid of death, they would trade all for a cheesy story of Happy Happy Land after death.
When I was in college, I usually took a philosophy class almost every semester. I ended up with a minor in Philosophy, a minor in Art, and a major in Math. From the Philosophy classes, I realized I was a Deist, but I also dabbled in Paganism and Wicca for a few years. I met many interesting people in the Wiccan community and had a lot of fun. After college, I entered into the Air Force as an officer. Since I could not put any sort of religion down for my dog tags, I ended up with No Pref on them.
The years went by and gradually I realized that the Deism and paganism were really man-made ideas and slowly abandoned them. I didn't give any thought to these sorts of questions for some years. Then I had a child who died shortly after birth, and very nearly died myself. I realized then in my grief that the world was a random place and every day is precious. This realization hit me sharply about 6 months after my daughter died and while I was still working through the worst of the grief.
My husband and myself did not go through any grief counseling, but the funeral home gave me a book about how people handle grief. Some people search for a meaning outside themselves about why tragedies happen. Others come to a realization that the world is a random place, and sometimes there is nothing we can do to prevent tragic events. That is what I think is true. Random events happen, and it is up to each of us to give our short lives meaning. I realized then that I did not believe in any sort of supernatural beings or gods at all. This was my instant of total non belief, my moment of deconversion from any god belief or belief in the supernatural.
But I still did not call myself an atheist. That was to happen in a few short years later. This was the very early 90's. The internet was hard to access, and the web did not really exist. But I was able to access the newsservers and lists and ran into alt.atheism. I realized that there were many who thought like myself. I was home.
As the 90's progressed, I went from alt.atheism to the Internet Infidels forums and now to having a blog and joining an atheist group. It's been very rewarding watching the atheist community grow and for people to go from meeting only online to meeting in real life. Things are looking up for us nonbelievers.