Saturday, March 14, 2009

Born Again Atheist

Growing up, my father was an atheist and my mother was a Catholic. My father followed my mother to church, but he didn't go up for a holy cracker or say every prayer. He was just being polite (far more polite than I would ever be).

From an early age, I knew my dad was different than my mom in this respect, but it didn't really matter to me until I was older and started hearing that people who don't believe in Jesus go to hell. And worse, Catholics teach that according to section 1035 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (AKA: the shit Jesus apparently forgot to mention): "Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell."

This made me upset, considering my father might go to hell. I didn't know what the mortal sins were, so I looked them up. It turns out one of them is disrespecting your parents, so I just left my dad to his own devices, for fear of bringing the wrath upon me.

A lot has changed since I was a legalistic Catholic who knew his Catechism and Bible front to back. I read the entire Bible (Catholic, New American Bible translation) by 5th grade. I have since read the bible several more times, though later readings were directed by a purpose and sometimes in different translations (and often not thoroughly). Since becoming an atheist when I was 14, I have read the KJV Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It is my closeness to the material that makes it impossible for me to believe. I refuse to acknowledge that any sane person can read the entire Bible and believe it to be literally true.

However, I have discovered there is a process by which one becomes an atheist. People like to focus on some sort of trauma inducing early event that triggers a dislike for religion, but this is not necessary. What makes someone become an atheist is unique and personal for each person. After this personal reason is established, there are phases a person goes through when becoming a "Born Again Atheist."

The focus of this post is on people who were formeraly religious and then cease to be. Some folks are lucky enough to be born without religion pressed upon them. For the rest of us, crawling out of the stagnant swamp of religion is a complex process.

The first stage is realization. There may be hesitation, backsliding into comfortable ritual, and continued adherence to many or all religious rules, but the mental decision is made in this stage. The thoughts in one's mind swim like sharks in a pool that is far too small. How do I tell those I love? Will they still love me? Am I making the right decision? What if I'm wrong? Why won't god answer my prayers?

This first stage can be one of desperation. Some people ease into this stage over time, perhaps when they go off to college (for those lucky and rich enough). This makes the whole process easier, as you can form a new network of friends and have space apart from those who may oppose your new ideas. Those who rely upon family for everything, however, often find themselves in a vastly more hostile situation, and may never progress to the next step.

The second stage is dropping your birth religion, in both word and action. This can be done quickly or gradually over time, and is not always a complete break. Many are the atheists who give gifts at Christmas (and it IS Christmas, not "Winter Solstice," you fucking PC police).

The third stage, and everyone goes through this (sometimes concurrently with step 2), is to briefly adopt a new religion. It happens, trust me. Nine times out of ten, the new atheist decides they're a Buddhist and spends months trying to convince themselves that Buddhism and atheism are basically compatible. Some just stick with it to varying degrees of seriousness. Every white person I ever met who is Buddhist took this path, and never progressed from this stage.

Stage four is full-fledged atheism. By this stage, one realizes that every religion is like a song. Every culture has it's own, but they're all in the same key. However, while every song is about peace and love, most followers only hum the words [out of tune].

Within atheism itself, there are further stages of complexity. The most common is the atheist who ceases interest in religion entirely. The most visible is the violently oppositional atheist, who does not hesitate to point out to all who will listen that there is no god. There are the empathetic atheists, who seek out other atheists so that they may join together in their similarity. Empathetic atheists often seek to build a community of Atheism (emphasis on the capital A), turning the idea of anti-religion on its head and instead embracing concepts like Freethought, Rationalism, and Science as uniting factors.

I have never met another atheist like myself, though I know we are out there (if only because there isn't an original atom in my body). I am technically an atheist, but I am more defined by my desire to oppose the idea of groups. It's not that I want to be a lone wolf, nor that I believe we as humans work poorly together. Rather, I oppose groups because while on the surface they appear to bind us, groups only divide us. There is only one group I want to be identified with: the human race. It is indivisible and excludes no one. Every group we form, border we draw, religion we found, and distinction we create between ourselves only furthers the notion that we as humans are focused on our own petty self interests. Everything that seperates the population into Us and Them succeeds only in pitting our power as a race against ourselves rather than creating music in concert together.


  1. Fascinating! Then why do atheists join the Atheist Blogroll GROUP and fellowship one with another? And why do they talk about religion so much? And why do they use Bible terms such as "born again" ? Another atheist friend blogs his "atheist devotions." I think you all have been hurt by "religion" ......not God...and may still be seeking the true God.

    Found you through Uruk's blog. I will follow you and your Jewish fiance with interest. I am trying to understand the process of deconversion out of concern for my atheist friends. You both write with insight and have interesting backgrounds.

    Hope you don't mind comments from a Bible believer. : )

  2. Of course I don't mind.

    I don't know why every self-identifying atheist does everything they do, but I can speak for myself. I joined the atheist blogroll to increase my readership, at the suggestion of my fiance.

    I do understand the strange fascination atheists have with religion. I have yet to come up with an adequate analogy that Christians can accept, but it's similar to a Christian's fascination with sin and sinners, homosexual fascination with married people, a dog's fascination with cats, etc.

    Also, some atheists have the misguided notion that they can "save" someone. I think people can only save themselves, much the same way Christians believe only Jesus can save you (rather than a friend/preacher).

    However, I would have to say my personal goal for writing about religion is merely to share my experience with likeminded or curious inquirers.

    I use religious terms because sometimes it's a funny, analogous use of language. I assure you, I don't feel any secret longing (or animosity) for religion or their gods. I've been reading a lot of Norse Mythology because I find it interesting, and I have read much of Greek and Roman mythology, but I won't be sacrificing a ram to the gods just because I read about it.


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