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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Your Stories of Atheism: An Atheist Lifer & Two Brave Ex-Believers

This is an ongoing series featuring your stories of how you came to identify as an atheist. If you want to send me your story, you can submit it here. To read past stories, click here.

This week, our first story is gut-wrenching and it’s from Angela:

I was raised Catholic, and attended a Catholic elementary school. Because it was perceived to be a better-quality education, many non-Catholics also attended. One of those was my Protestant friend, Andrea. When we were both 7 years old, there was a fire in her home while she and her younger brother were being watched by a sitter. Andrea died in the fire. In the days that followed, the nuns’ and priest’s idea of grief counseling was to tell us that Andrea needed to do penance in purgatory because she was not Catholic, before she could go to heaven. I had nightmares about her being lost in the dark, chanting rosaries, before even a 7 year old realized that no “god” could punish a child for being born to the “wrong” religion. If I were more compassionate than “god,” then the concept of a god was meaningless and even harmful. Of course, when the Catholic Church later “changed” the doctrine on purgatory (“we take it back, kids don’t have to go there”), it just underscored how arbitrary religion was. Ultimately, for me, it was the recognition that I was a better person, more understanding, more compassionate, more forgiving than the god of the bible that made me realize that there was no such creature.

I’m sorry, Angela, that you had to go through this. It takes a strong person to opt for reason and logic at times like that.

The next is short and simple from my Twitter BFF, @atheist_andy:

My story is much the same as yours. Born into an Atheist household, I was allowed to look at the evidence (or lack of it) and decide for myself, with ABSOLUTELY no pressure to go one way or the other. Based on what I saw for myself, I selected Atheism.

And finally, we have a story from Katie:

I was a child who had been completely stripped down and brainwashed and I had so much hate in my heart for other people. People who didn’t believe like I did, or people the bible said were wrong. I was young (around 14) and naive, and I needed an escape from my parent’s constant fighting and verbal abuse towards each other.
Overly Attached Jesus

Overly Attached Jesus

I fell into the arms of Christianity, and they were only too happy to catch me and put the fear of “god” into me.After years of thinking I was so much better than my friends because I had Jesus, and begging them to turn from their evil ways, I very VERY slowly began to realize that the number one reason I believed was because I had a paralyzingly fear of going to hell. The thought of my own death, and the uncertainty that that brought with it was too much to bear. I didn’t believe Jesus died for me for any other reason than fear of what might happen if I didn’t. I can remember crying my eyes out and hyperventilating on the living room floor, begging my mom to come to church to get saved, because all I could picture was her burning forever in hell. There are times I look back and wonder, “Why didn’t my parents scoop me up and disconnect me? Why didn’t they try to save me or help me?” but I’ve had to abandon those thoughts over the years, and just take responsibility for my own actions, because quite honestly, I wouldn’t have changed if they’d tried to make me. I’d chalk it up to satan trying to deter me from the straight and narrow. Much like addiction, no one can “fix you” or make you want to get better. You have to come to the decision on our own, or it will never truly be an authentic break. I can’t pinpoint an exact factor that completely shutdown the entire charade for me, because it was a very slow progression (still evolving today), from a series of situations and experiences over a period of a year or so, when I was about 18 years old. The time I’d spent in that “world” was so brief, compared to the children who have lived their entire lives from the ground-up in it. It was the literal joining of a cult, in every sense of the word. There was something missing from my life, I had so much pain inside of me, and these people wanted to bring me in and take that pain away forever, if I just let them completely alter my ways of thinking. When finally I was “free”, I spent a lot of time apologizing and making right all the ways I’d wronged friends and loved ones with my words. It was one of he hardest, yet most eye opening and freeing things I’ve ever done, and there was nothing anywhere that said I had to do it, but for the first time ever, I was taking responsibility for my own actions. When you’re a Christian, there is no need to depend on yourself for anything anymore. You don’t need your own strength or wisdom, because you have god’s. Studied relentlessly for weeks for that exam and got an A? Praise Jesus, for seeing to it that I got that A! Doctor saved your life on the operating table after spending over a decade in med school? Praise Jesus for saving my life! There is absolutely no reason for anyone to believe in themselves or the abilities of others anymore. And after going so long without doing it, it’s easy to forget completely how to.. So for once I was taking full responsibly for the things I’d said and done to people, and as hard as it was, it was 100% necessary for my journey to continue. Most friends forgave, some did not, but that was a part of the healing process for me, and hearing how badly I’d hurt people was so necessary for my transition back into the real world. I believe that the thing that finally made me know without a doubt that this was where I needed to be, was the fact that after I’d completely disconnected from the idea of god (over a gradual span) the idea of my death and the death of those around me went from being the most terrifyingly uncertain notion ever, to the most beautifully uncertain one. No longer was I in fear of what would happen to me. I’d live my life doing all I could to love and leave my mark, and then I’d peacefully return to the dust in which I’d come from.. My children would do the same, and theirs would do the same, etc. I didn’t have to waste my life being a “good person” to ensure my spot above, I could just be a good person for the sake of being a good person. Many ask me today, “what if you’re wrong?”, and it’s taken me some time to grow into the way I feel about this today.. If I’m wrong, fine. I’ll go to hell. I’ll go down with bells on. I’ll have at least lived my life happily and for myself and my family, free from wasting my life on the fear of not doing things exactly perfectly to secure my spot above… I believe Christopher Hitchens said it best: “Do I think I am going to Paradise? Of course not. I wouldn’t go if I was asked. I don’t want to live in some fucking Celestial North Korea for one thing. Where all I get to do is praise the dear leader from dawn till dusk.” I cannot lie, however, and say that every once in a while I don’t think, “what if there really is a hell though?”. Not that that would ever sway me back, but it’s an interesting testament to just how deeply the scars from the abuse of Christianity can be. When someone cooks up the very worst possible thoughts imaginable, and threatens you with them at a very young, impressionable age, it’s almost impossible that that won’t stay with you, in even the tiniest capacity, for life. Much like seeing a scary movie has us closing our eyes and seeing the monster loooong after viewing it. Life is beautiful now, and it is my goal to protect the minds of the family my husband (also atheist) and I are beginning to nurture (I’m pregnant with our first). Everyday, my mind is evolving and I am learning new and amazing things about life and the universe. To be free from the limitations of the front and back cover of a book is something no one can truly understands unless they’ve been through it. So today, I stand before those who read this and proclaim: I survived Christianity, and you can too!!

If you want to send me your story, you can submit it here. To read past stories, click here. Also, don’t forget to become my patron on Patreon! Click here.




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