When did you realize you were an atheist?

Some say that we are all born atheists, since all we are born with a lack of belief in any gods. While I would have to agree from a technical angle, I think it’s a little more complex than that – you would have to understand the concepts of belief and the supernatural before you can honestly say you do or don’t believe in something.

All that aside, I first realized that I didn’t truly believe in any gods sometime in the Spring of 1992.  My partner, A., was doing a project for a college class that involved asking people close to her about their beliefs and how they justified them.  At the time, I still considered myself a Catholic, even though I hadn’t been to church for years, and found myself at odds with the Catholic Church on a few issues.

When A. asked if I believed in God and the divinity of Jesus, I told her “Of course!” When she asked me to provide justification for my beliefs, and I couldn’t, I started to get pretty angry. I really didn’t like the questions she was asking me, and after a lot of introspection, I realized that it was because I couldn’t answer any of them. That was when I started to realize that I really didn’t believe any of it anymore.

I’m not sure that it happened that quickly, however. I’d had my moments of doubt long before that day. I can recall one day in second grade, when our teacher (a nun – I went to Catholic school for twelve years) was explaining why it was important to send missionaries to countries where people didn’t know about God, Jesus, and the Bible. “It’s terrible to think that those natives will go to Hell just because they never had the chance to learn about Jesus and accept him as their saviour!” she said.

I remember thinking about how messed up that was – God sending someone to Hell even though they never really had a chance.

The Catholic sacraments didn’t help much, either. I was told I had to believe that the little bit of cardboard-flavored bread that the priest put into my mouth was the actual body of Jesus Christ, but I never did. I was told that the only way to cleanse my soul of my sins was to confess them to a priest, who would do some sort of forgiveness hoodoo that God wasn’t capable of, but I didn’t. And when I wasn’t able to have my father be my sponsor during Confirmation because he hadn’t attended church for a very long time, the entire sacrament lost any kind of meaning to me.

I also saw the great amount of emotional pain that my mother went through because of her Catholic faith. She lived the last half of her life in constant fear that she was damned to Hell because she had divorced and remarried. She was put at ease for a short while when the Church allowed her to receive Communion despite the horrendous crime she had committed against them – but as she drew close to the end of her life, her fear was renewed when a visiting nun told her that her sin had never truly been erased, and she would have to pay several hundred dollars to the Church to have it removed.

She was never able to scrape the funds together, and passed away with that great stain still on her soul, and a lot of fear in her mind.

These were just some of the nails in that coffin – but it was the conversation I had with A. in the Spring of 1992 that really hammered in the last one.


6 Responses to “When did you realize you were an atheist?”

  1. January 1, 2010 at 12:53 am

    It seems like your belief in no God is primarily due to your experiences with the Catholic church and your inability to come up reasons for God and Christianity. Let me be the first to say, the Catholic church is not the church of God. Anyone who thinks people go to Hell because they never heard about Jesus is terrible. There are unanswered questions, and people trying to answer them makes them look dumb (they have no evidence). I’d encourage you to read “Tactics”. It’s a good book for believers and nonbelievers alike.

    • 2 funandprophet
      January 2, 2010 at 7:25 am

      Derek, you wrongfully assume that Catholicism is the only religion I’ve subscribed to, or even just investigated. It isn’t. But I’ve seen many other religious sects (including, but not only, Christian ones) that include tenets that are more egregious than that one. And each will tell you that all of the others are not the church of their god.

      Who is the author of “Tactics?” I’ll check to see if my library has it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. October 6, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Being a practicing Catholic that strayed away from the church, but came back. I have learned more everyday in regards to my faith. I discussed the point of non-believers and was told that it would be unlikely for our Lord and Savior send people to hell for simply not knowing about faith. People spend to much time trying to make Faith (black and White) it’s not. You need to explore and seek within your heart. I couldn’t believe that their wasn’t something out there. Science seems to be a cop out for Atheist!

    • October 6, 2010 at 9:37 pm


      Based on your comment, I have some questions for you:

      1. If it is true that those who are ignorant of faith will not spend eternity in hell, then I’m not sure I understand why so many Christian faiths, especially Catholics, spend so much effort sending missionaries to foreign countries to teach about Jesus and the Bible. There’s a story about a missionary who teaches the gospel to an inuit man, and their exchange goes something like this:

      Man: If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?
      Missionary: No, not if you did not know.
      Man: Then why did you tell me?

      Why would a person even open up that possibility to someone else, if they knew that they would be guaranteed a place in heaven through their ignorance? Would you be willing to do this to someone?

      2. You mention that people spend too much time trying to make faith black and white. What do you mean by this? Isn’t it true that you either believe, or you don’t? Are you claiming that there are different degrees of faith? Which of these degrees get to go to heaven, and which don’t?

      3. Your comment “Science seems to be a cop out for Atheist!” has me puzzled, especially since science wasn’t the topic of discussion in this post. Can you explain how it applies here, and how science is a “cop out?”

      Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to your responses!

  3. September 1, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Hello, I’ve been reading through some of your blog, and I find it great. It might be my Favorite blog yet. I have some questions, How did you know that you were an atheist and not an agnostic? How did you feel when you finally admitted it? How do people treat you, when the issue of religion is brought up and you let the other person know you are an atheist?

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I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.


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