When I stop and think about it, there are so many reasons to stop being religious that it’s sad so few do.
I find that how someone becomes an atheist tends to happen one of two ways: either you learn about atheism and find it appealing, or you learn about religion and find it appalling. I personally took the latter route, losing faith well before I ever found atheism. However, I suspect that both paths to atheism are lined with questions.
I found that religion hates when believers ask questions – or at least certain questions. Sure, they like some questions… like those that assume the basic premises of the faith are true. However, if you start asking questions that religion cannot truly answer, you will get a brush-off reply that means nothing, essentially amounting to an appeal to “take it on faith.” I even compiled a list of some responses given by Christians when they don’t know, but would like to appear like they do.
If I had to pin down one question that really shook my faith, it would be: “Where did God come from?” It’s a question for which theologians have many responses, but no answers. Meanwhile, atheism answers this question quite simply and succinctly: our imagination.
But I can’t point to that question and say, “That is why I became an atheist.” It’s not my “proof,” by any means. Rather, it leads to other questions based on the responses given by believers (e.g. if “god” can simply be, why can’t the universe?). Questioning in general exposes the deficiencies in religion, so I can understand why religion discourages curiosity.
And yet, I have found no shortage of religious folks who want to try to answer my questions now that I’m an atheist. When you’re a believer, questioning is evil, but when you’re an atheist, it’s not only expected, it’s almost like any question on my part is an invitation to proselytize.
Many religious people just like to represent their faith, because you are never more sure of your religion as when you’re defending it from the outside. A fellow believer with doubt is disconcerting, but confronting a non-believer is basically an opportunity.
I also notice a very different stance in how what I say now as an atheist is interpreted versus if I said it as a believer.
No believer I ever met since becoming an atheist is open to my ideas, at all. I’m not saying believers ignore me or don’t really listen to me, but they keep me at a distance and don’t take what I say seriously. They see what I say as either a joke or an attack (at least I understand why it might be seen as a bad joke, coming from me). When I was a believer (or when I read blogs and comments between believers), those same concerns are empathized with, and we are reassured, “That’s normal, everyone has those questions and concerns.”
It’s quite a situation, no question about it.