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"What happened to make you stop believing?"


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#1    Magicjax

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 05:13 PM

Have any of you atheist been asked this question when someone finds out you don't believe in god?

I don't generally talk about my religious views with people. Mainly only here in this section of UM and with friends that are also atheist. But on occasions it does come up and it's very common for people to ask me something along the lines of, "What happened to make you stop believing in god?"

There seems to be this misconception that a traumatic event has to take place for someone to stop believing in god. As if the act of no longer believing is the result of anger or fear. Some seem to think that something had to cause them to not like god and as a result disown god. Like a parent might disown a child that turned into a murderer or something. So in a way they think that atheist still believe in god but something happened to them and they blame god and say they stopped believing as a way of expressing their anger.

This strikes me as silly because it's more common for a person to "start believing in god" from a traumatic event. We hear about it all the time. The drug addict "finding god" or "being born again". The loose of a loved one causing someone to turn to god as a way of coping with their loss because of the idea they're in heaven now instead of gone.

In this line of thinking we should be asking any Christian "what happened to make you start believing in god?"

For me and I'm sure there are many that have a similar experience as I did. I really never believed. Oh, I tried to believe in god. I tried to believe because the society I live in taught me that god makes you a good person. You have to believe in god to be happy, be loved and avoid eternal hell. I tried with all my heart to believe this because I was suppose to. No, I HAD TO BELIEVE IN GOD!!!  This is what the world told me. But inside I always battled myself with this. I never really believed in god. I just tried very hard to and kept my doubts to myself. When I stopped trying to believe and just realized I really have no reason to believe in god other then what others seem to feel is a necessity to be happy. So I just stopped trying and the result is that burden being lifted from my life.

I have a friend that I found out also doesn't believe in god and his feelings about it are pretty close to mind. And he feels the same way as I just mentioned above about never really believing in god but use to try to. Well about 4 years ago his father died. About six months later his mother died. Then another six months after that his brother passed away. A family of 5 went down to a family of two in just a year and a half. You can't get much more of a traumatic time then that in a life.

I consider him one of my best friends but he lives a few hours away so we only hang out in person 4 or 5 times a year. The last time we hung out a few weeks ago we talked about religion. It started as a recollection of the time thus total stranger came up to me after I did a magic show and told me that I should join her church to rid myself of the evil spirits that allow me to perform my magic. But that opened the topic of religion. I thought about all he's been through in recent years so I asked him if all those losses made him change his mind about religion.

He said that a part of him wishes it was true because it would mean he'd see his parents and brother again. But he still doesn't believe in god. This lead to him telling me some stories about the people he lost. Most if which where very funny stories and he laughed a lot.

He had just seen them again. He relived those moments with them and in a way he just spent time with them again. In a way this is more profound then the thought that we'll see those lost loved ones after we die. Because we don't have to wait, don't have to die and don't have to wonder if we will see then again.

Trauma doesn't cause people to stop believing in god. It's often what makes people start believing in god. Because its an easy patch to fill that void of the unknown and unanswerable. I know this isn't always the case. But I'm sure trauma had turned more people toward religion then against it.

Edited by Magicjax, 03 April 2012 - 05:21 PM.

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#2    Paranoid Android

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 05:33 PM

Traumatic events often have a way of changing our outlook on life.  Sometimes it may lead to God, sometimes away.  I'm often asked what caused me to become a Christian.  Though it's probably more correct to say that people ask me "Hey PA, how did you become a Christian".  What we answer with is what Christians call our "testimony", the key events in our life that led us to believe what we currently do believe.  For some, it's often "I grew up in a Christian family and always believed in Jesus, so I'm going to tell you about the day that I fully committed my life to Christ".  For me who grew up as a (mostly) non-Christian, I outline the key events that led me to put my full trust in Christ.

Whatever the case, when the question is asked, I don't automatically expect that there's a traumatic event involved in the conversion (or in the case of atheists, a deconversion).  It's just a general question as to how we came from one state of living to another state.  In Christianity, we are encouraged to work on our testimony, to ensure that if anyone asks us we are prepared to explain in the space of about 1-2 minutes (absolute max) what we believe and how we came to that belief (though there are also longer testimonies, the short testimony is for use in casual conversation if anyone ever asks - no one wants to listen to a ten minute rant about our beliefs).  Not all Christians do this, but some do.  I don't know if atheist's regularly think about their non-belief and work out ways to explain to someone why they don't believe.  For a Christian, "I've always believed" is not really good enough (though some people who never think about their beliefs do just that).  In terms of an atheist, when a Christian asks "Why don't you believe" (or even "what stopped you believing"), I think they may be expected an atheist testimony.  Even if the answer is "I never really believed", a minute or two to explain one or two events that stick out as evidence of atheism (not necessarily traumatic), maybe an account of the specific time when you stopped pretending to believe in God (if you grew up in a religious family) and announced out loud that you did not believe in any creator being.  Or maybe an explanation of the things that you did to find God (read the Bible, pray, whatever) and how that didn't work.  Without knowing your specific situation I can't really give more detail, it's your personal testimony, not mine.

But I would venture that when a Christian asks an atheist why they don't believe in God, they're looking for a short atheist testimony, not simply a comment that says "truth be told, I never really believed in God".

Just a thought to consider :tu:

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Edited by Paranoid Android, 03 April 2012 - 05:37 PM.

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#3    I Am Not Resisting

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 05:39 PM

I've actually asked this question of myself when I first 'really' realized I was atheist.  After looking back through my life I came to realize that I don't think I ever really believed in God.  As a child I had a religious upbringing and I believe I believed in God, but I can't actually remember a time where I felt deep down inside that it was real.  I always felt rather silly when I was told to pray or talk to God.  After a while I never really thought about it and, until college, when someone asked me what I believed I told them I didn't know.  It was in college that I first heard the term agnostic, which I realized at that time, was what described me.  After several more years of research, learning and experiences, I realized I had become an atheist.

Edit to add: I didn't see PA's post before I started writing mine and it gave me a good little chuckle because my second sentence is exactly what he's talking about.   :P

Edited by I Am Not Resisting, 03 April 2012 - 05:43 PM.

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#4    _Only

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:26 PM

Well, to answer the thread title question, but going against what you've written, it was a form of trauma that caused me to question what I had been taught from birth. It was seeing the way my mom would shove religion into every aspect of life, a constant teaching that the world and its people are evil because they go against Christianity. Then leaving me out of things I should experience in life as a kid up, out of fear that I would be led astray from Christianity. Then when she kicked me out of the house while I was still in high school for staying the night at my girl friend's house, it was the straw that broke the camels back.

Just saying, there is a reason a lot of theists think as they do about atheists, what you stated in your OP. It's not all of course that disbelieve in a god that came to their disbelief through these means, but many do. So those people you talk about and their thoughts on this aren't necessarily wrong. Just not always right.

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#5    Magicjax

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 06:50 PM

View Post_Only, on 03 April 2012 - 06:26 PM, said:

Well, to answer the thread title question, but going against what you've written, it was a form of trauma that caused me to question what I had been taught from birth. It was seeing the way my mom would shove religion into every aspect of life, a constant teaching that the world and its people are evil because they go against Christianity. Then leaving me out of things I should experience in life as a kid up, out of fear that I would be led astray from Christianity. Then when she kicked me out of the house while I was still in high school for staying the night at my girl friend's house, it was the straw that broke the camels back.

Just saying, there is a reason a lot of theists think as they do about atheists, what you stated in your OP. It's not all of course that disbelieve in a god that came to their disbelief through these means, but many do. So those people you talk about and their thoughts on this aren't necessarily wrong. Just not always right.

Was the religion JW?  I only ask because another friend of mine had a mother that was JW and she did some of the things you mentioned. Such as kicking him out of the house because he dated someone that wasn't a JW. he never had a birthday. I even witnessed with my own eyes when I joined my friend at his grandfathers funeral. His mother had shunned him since he stopped fallowing her religion. At the funeral (her own fathers funeral) she still refused to talk to my friend (her son). It was terrible to witness. But my friend says he still believes in god. Just can't stand the JW ways.

So I was just curious because what you said reminded me of my friend.

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#6    Jessica Christ

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 07:00 PM

This same question could be asked of those who did not stop believing but just started believing a little different without any radical conversion but through moderate growth alone. People in general have much more in common than one would initially suspect. Although it would seem these moderate growers would understand an atheist better than the atheist would understand anyone of any religious orientation. It is even if they kept it to themselves, and might have even appeared to be non-religious to those around them, the moment an atheist found out they would consider them differently.


#7    RockabyeBillie

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 07:02 PM

"It started as a recollection of the time thus total stranger came up to me after I did a magic show and told me that I should join her church to rid myself of the evil spirits that allow me to perform my magic."

I'm sorry, I read that part and my mind nearly exploded. Just... the ignorance... ug... If you're going to push your religion on someone at least be intelligent enough... no no no as much as I want to, I will not rant about it...

Back on topic, I can't recall a moment where I just stopped believing. As a child I was sent to church, Sunday school, Bible school, all that. But even when I was very young I always questioned it. I remember when I was probably around ten years old asking my grandmother "If God made us, who made God?" Her answer "God just exists honey, that's why it's called faith" really didn't satisfy me. Over time I just decided none of it made sense.

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#8    CommunitarianKevin

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 08:46 PM

I was raised Lutheran Christian but it was never a huge part of our lives. My parents really only went to church with us kids and it was a few times a month maybe? I think after confirmation we went only on holidays. My parents ever really prayed at home. My dad told me recently that the only reason he made me go to church because I was baptized and he made a promise (not sure if it was to God or the family) that he would get me confirmed. I think they were just “going through the motions” of Christianity.

Personally I never really “felt” anything. I asked for Jesus into my life and prayed it I never got my eye opening experience. I like to think I tried. After I joined the military I was having a hard time in basic training, so like many I turned to religion. I got a set of rosary beads there. Not knowing anything about them I wore them. This pissed off a guy in my flight and he was screaming at me because of how offensive that was to him. It really turned me off to Catholics because I did not mean any harm; I was simply trying to find comfort. After that I started going to some Mormon services because a guy in my flight was Mormon. I had learned about them in an intro to world religions class in school. I went there until basic training ended.

After basic training, in tech school, I was a white rope. A white rope was basically a Chaplin’s assistant. I also made a promise to myself that if I made it though this whole training part of the military I would go to church every week. I was finally crushed when I found out I would be going to Europe and not staying close to home.

This is when things changed for me. I cannot remember the exact details but something very severe happened with the Chaplin on base (for the second time with a different Chaplin.) I do not remember what it was but he got kicked out. I then had bitter experiences when I was trying out other churches in the area. At one of the ones I went to, on the first day, the pastor called me out and asked if I sin. Then he tried to convince me that it is possible to live a life free of sin. I got real irritated and never went back.

Now it was time for a deployment…on my first deployment, a day before Christmas, my g/f broke up with me through email hasn’t that story been told 1000 times?) I also worked mortuary…we re-iced bodies, broke fingers for finger prints, saw parts of bodies or bodies with no heads all while smelling burnt flesh. You try not to think about it but it gets to you when you see on the news who the people were that you were processing. When I got back to my base in Europe I was a different person and this is when I totally gave up belief in God. This was my logic…

At this point I am only believing in God because I am scared what happens after I die…

But if I am only believing because I am scared, I do not really believe and if God is how people describe God, he will know when I get up to heaven that I did not really believe…

So if my only reason was fear, it was not worth it to believe. I decided I was not scared anymore and declared myself an atheist…

Like most atheists do at first I kind of acted out. You know every time there was a prayer in the military I was complaining about how they were forcing religion on me when we are supposed to have a freedom of religion in the military. I also started learning evolution and astronomy.

That is the first part of my story I guess but things changed again…

The next part of my change took place in college. I started with classes in science and history. History led me to philosophy and religion. A class about the study of religion and about Darwin’s theory turned me from atheist to agnostic. I gained more respect for religions and understood them but at the same time I also learned that evolution does not disprove a god. I came to the conclusion that we cannot know if there is a god or if there is not but I was able to decide which gods were not true. I tried joining the atheist group on campus but they were some of the worst people I have ever met. To this day I feel much more comfortable around religion people. They seem so much more respectful to me…
So that is my story…that was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. Thanks for reading.

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#9    White Crane Feather

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 09:06 PM

I was atheist once. It just made more sense than religion. Then with more time, age, and study it was atheism that no longer made sense...

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#10    _Only

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 10:22 PM

View PostMagicjax, on 03 April 2012 - 06:50 PM, said:

Was the religion JW?  I only ask because another friend of mine had a mother that was JW and she did some of the things you mentioned. Such as kicking him out of the house because he dated someone that wasn't a JW. he never had a birthday. I even witnessed with my own eyes when I joined my friend at his grandfathers funeral. His mother had shunned him since he stopped fallowing her religion. At the funeral (her own fathers funeral) she still refused to talk to my friend (her son). It was terrible to witness. But my friend says he still believes in god. Just can't stand the JW ways.

So I was just curious because what you said reminded me of my friend.

No, she is a typical Baptist Christian. Just very radical. I was only student in school who wasn't allowed to take sex ed class, wouldn't be allowed to go to any friends houses because "they weren't christian", wasn't allowed to have a girlfriend until I was old enough to marry, the list goes on and on. Really aggravating stuff. I invited her to my high school graduation, and she declined. Haven't talked to her since; 9 years later.

Edited by _Only, 03 April 2012 - 10:23 PM.

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#11    Arbenol

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 12:51 AM

View PostParanoid Android, on 03 April 2012 - 05:33 PM, said:

But I would venture that when a Christian asks an atheist why they don't believe in God, they're looking for a short atheist testimony, not simply a comment that says "truth be told, I never really believed in God".
~ PA

Sometimes it really is as simple as that. Boring, I know.

I have no testimony to explain why I don't believe in God. I don't remember a time that I ever did. My parents were catholic and we went to church. Some of my earlier memories are of sitting there during the interminable mass and wondering if everyone else there really believed all of it.

Edited by Arbenol68, 04 April 2012 - 12:52 AM.


#12    Magicjax

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 12:53 AM

View Post_Only, on 03 April 2012 - 10:22 PM, said:

No, she is a typical Baptist Christian. Just very radical. I was only student in school who wasn't allowed to take sex ed class, wouldn't be allowed to go to any friends houses because "they weren't christian", wasn't allowed to have a girlfriend until I was old enough to marry, the list goes on and on. Really aggravating stuff. I invited her to my high school graduation, and she declined. Haven't talked to her since; 9 years later.

Sorry you went and I assume are still going through that to some degree. Even though I haven't experienced anything to that degree myself. I could see it in my friends face at that funeral when his mother ignored him.

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#13    flynismo

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 02:01 AM

I truly hope I do not offend any religious folk here, but the truth is, the more I read the Bible, the further away I was pushed from religion as a whole. Then some religious history and comparative religion studies later, I came to accept what I always felt deep down...


#14    TheNightOwl

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 03:00 AM

I'm agnostic, not an atheist, but I'm bound to get asked this question at some point since many religious people probably equate agnostics with atheists anyway.

I went from a being someone who didn't really care all that much about religion/thinking of it as more of a cultural experience, to someone who thought about it a lot (due to my interest in philosophy).

I knew (and still know) a lot of ignorant religious people who spouted a lot of BS, and that's what drove me to be an agnostic with atheist leanings. I actually have an early memory of having read about the big bang in a children's science book from the library when I was a kid. A Christian girl in my class was spouting off about God and I told her that "God didn't create the earth, a big explosion did". She told me "God will punish you for this!" I heard a lot of nonsense like this from religious people growing up and began to think of religion as something stupid people who didn't understand science believed in.

Of course, later, I studied religion from various points of view, which influenced me into being a more in the middle agnostic, perhaps even with theist leanings. Through studying religion, I learned that not all religious people are idiots, and that the true message of most religion gets covered up by crazy fundamentalists, who by doing the things they do make their own religions look bad.

I think being agnostic is the best way to go. An atheist who claims they are definitely right is no worse than a religious person who claims they are definitely right.

I'm still not sure if I lean atheist or theist. My main problem is this: Most atheist philosophies don't put all the puzzle pieces together for me. The religious philosophies do, but then I find it incredibly hard to believe the picture they create.


#15    flynismo

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 03:33 AM

View PostTheNightOwl, on 04 April 2012 - 03:00 AM, said:

I'm agnostic, not an atheist, but I'm bound to get asked this question at some point since many religious people probably equate agnostics with atheists anyway.

I went from a being someone who didn't really care all that much about religion/thinking of it as more of a cultural experience, to someone who thought about it a lot (due to my interest in philosophy).

I knew (and still know) a lot of ignorant religious people who spouted a lot of BS, and that's what drove me to be an agnostic with atheist leanings. I actually have an early memory of having read about the big bang in a children's science book from the library when I was a kid. A Christian girl in my class was spouting off about God and I told her that "God didn't create the earth, a big explosion did". She told me "God will punish you for this!" I heard a lot of nonsense like this from religious people growing up and began to think of religion as something stupid people who didn't understand science believed in.

Of course, later, I studied religion from various points of view, which influenced me into being a more in the middle agnostic, perhaps even with theist leanings. Through studying religion, I learned that not all religious people are idiots, and that the true message of most religion gets covered up by crazy fundamentalists, who by doing the things they do make their own religions look bad.

I think being agnostic is the best way to go. An atheist who claims they are definitely right is no worse than a religious person who claims they are definitely right.

I'm still not sure if I lean atheist or theist. My main problem is this: Most atheist philosophies don't put all the puzzle pieces together for me. The religious philosophies do, but then I find it incredibly hard to believe the picture they create.


Most definitely...there are zealots in every sect of life. The religious folks who take the "shove it down your throat" approach have it all wrong if they are trying to truly change or influence someone's views. Same goes for the snotty atheists who look down their noses at religious people as if they are less intelligent or weak/deluded.





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