Were you always an atheist? Were you at one point in time a Christian, Muslim, Jew, etc.? What made you stop believing?

I'm sure we could all give voluminous answers to why we don't believe in a personal god including, but not limited to: Personal, philosophical, scientific, historical, etc. reasons; which are all perfectly valid. But I want to know what spurred you to question your former beliefs and become an atheist.

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I think I have always been an atheist, I was brought-up in a family where critical thinking and free thought were valued. We often had discussions concerning the nature of religion, the origin of life, the universe and everything. I was always encouraged to follow my own beliefs, to explore any belief system I wanted, but however much I studied religion I always found my way back to atheism. Science was always a far more satisfactory way of looking at the universe than looking through the myopia of religion.
I was raised Catholic. I even attended Catholic school (but only for the 2nd grade, before and after which I went to public schools). I learned about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Big Bang in the 7th grade. I didn't really think much of it. Then in the 8th grade, I had a great biology teacher who taught us about evolution. Finally, everything just clicked together. My friends were kind of taken aback when I "came out". I even lost a friend because of it (a Mormon girl). But I've been more and more skeptical since then. I go as far as to call myself an anti-theist. A few friends have stopped talking to me because they don't like arguing with me. And others just don't see why I get so worked up about it all. :)
Though it may not be like a sudden change in any one's life. First some questions come into mind which suspect the validity of religious beliefs. As I remember, the first question to my mind at young age came, that if God is omnipotent and Almighty etc... then why there is so much repression, poverty, injustices around, and 'He' do not do anything... then, more and more questions on different aspects of religion and beliefs started coming up... and there was no absolute no logical answers from religion or religious people.. so I started moving towards scientific outlook of life and universe... And now I feel lucky to have come up towards science and rational thinking and obscurantism has left far behind..
I was raised as a Christian, Baptist to be more specific. My parents divorced when I was two and I lived with my mother and her parents. We lived in a upper middle class suburb. It was sort of like a small town in that everybody knew everybody and most of the people on our street had lived there for many years. There was a Catholic family across the street and our next door neighbor (their kid was my best friend) were atheists. I didn't find out the neighbors were atheists until I was a teenager and I really didn't comprehend what they believed at the time, but it wasn't a big deal to me. In fact, I think the only time I ever discussed religion with them was the day my friend told me he didn't believe in God.

Neither of my parents attended church (they did as children). My grandmother attended church and worked as a secretary at the local Baptist church for about 10 years. My grandfather died when I was young and I'm not sure if he attended church. Anyway, I attended daycare and kindergarten at a Baptist school (my guess is that this was at the behest of my grandmother). It was here that I learned about the Bible and how to pray and all that stuff.

Meanwhile, my uncle (my mom's brother) was a highly educated man and for my birthday or Christmas, he would give me books about dinosaurs, the stars and planets, etc. I had a lot of respect for him. In fact, when we were asked in second grade to write a story about who our hero was, I chose my uncle (while most of the other kids said people like Joe Montana or Michael Jackson...this was the mid '80s). Anyway, these books were the first step towards questioning what I had been taught about religion.

When my grandmother died in 1990, I really started to think about death. The idea of death scared the hell out of me (pardon the expression). I got more religious after that. I prayed at night before going to bed. Sometimes I would pray to say thanks, sometimes I would ask for things (I never got what I asked for, although perhaps I was being a bit greedy lol). Well, actually, I did pray for a day off school due to snow one time and we were off school the next day, but I didn't pray until after I saw the forecast for 6 inches of snow. Somehow, I believed that God had answered my prayer. I also remember that I would wake up early on Saturday morning (I was always an early riser as a kid) and I would watch a local TV station broadcast a Catholic show that featured a still picture of the virgin Mary with a preacher reciting the Hail Mary prayer followed by Nuns reciting the response prayer. They would say this ad infinitum for about two hours. For some reason, I would watch it, even though I wasn't Catholic (I guess because there was nothing else on).

Still, I always had questions. I thought about how enormous the universe is and how it seemed to contradict the view that the Bible gave. I remember sitting on the steps a few times and just trying to contemplate the universe. It seemed such a radical concept at the time. I wondered if I had been born in another country if my beliefs would have been different. Would I believe in Jesus if I was born in India to Hindu parents and had Hindu neighbors? Sometimes, I would stay up half the night and just listen to music and think.

As I learned more about science and history, my questions increased. Then, when I went to college, I took a course on the history of philosophy. By this time, I was an agnostic. I started going in chat rooms and discussing religion, usually playing the Devil's advocate. By the beginning of my junior year, I was an agnostic atheist, as I am today. That was about 10 years ago. That semester, I took a course on existentialism. I didn't even know what that meant, but the course description intrigued me. That was probably the course I most enjoyed in college. Nietzsche, in particular, fascinated me.

Finally, I should add that music has been an influence on my views as well. I grew up listen to hard rock and pop music. As a kid, Van Halen was my favorite band. A lot of their songs reflect my laid back personality.
I have always been an atheist.

Mum sent me off to Sunday School when I was four.

It was coming up to Christmas time and the teacher told us that angels came down from heaven to to tell Mary she was going to have a baby. I simply did not believe it. I asked a lot of questions until the teacher finally gave up and told me to be quiet while she finished the story.

Even at that young age, I treated every other bible story with similar disdain. Not that I had any any real arguments against the stories - I just didn't believe them.

I still remember closely watching the teacher's face as she told us about Jesus walking on the water, and wondering whether she really believed this stuff - or did adults just tell lies to kids as a matter of course.

To put it in perspective, I should tell you that I was a cynical little chap. Even in the "regular" school, I never believed any of the fairy stories in the books that were read to us. Again, not because I had any answers - just that they were so far removed from reality, I simply could not accept them.

These days I use the "Problem of Evil" to satisfy myself that God does not exist - and that allows me to further claim that the bible is not the inspired word of God and Jesus was not the Son of God.
me niether
i became an atheist simply because i noticed how hypnoticed everybody else was...where you try to think outside the box they just are stuck in there ways....puppets on a string....clones
for me it started in school,i asked normal questions and given unsatisfing answers ie; if i were a criminal god would know it before i was born that was not fair [ an innocent child likes things to be fair] and was told things like"but you do have free will" to me in my small mind a chicken and egg excuse.
Childhood, I would always ask god to reveal himself. The lack of consequence
i was born and raised to be a devout Irish catholic. i learned to read when i was very young. in fact, i cannot remember a time when i could not read. i didn't give the brainwashing much thought until i was in catholic elementary school and was a voracious reader though a poor student. i read the bible, classic myths, folk tales from around the world. the catholic fallacies were obvious to me even back then. it frightened me that i was the only one who seemed to grasp them. it frightened me that i was the only one who was disgusted with the dogma. i asked simple questions hoping someone would be able to comfort my fears that caused me to be ostracized. the parallels between santa and god / jesus still amuse me.
i tried to believe and desperately wanted to believe for most of my childhood years because i wanted to fit in. at about 13 or 14 i came out as a nonbeliever in god which was passed off as a phase and showed me the true nature of many people. i developed an interest in buddhism which was ignored as a phase from my family. when i learned about wicca which my freinds were into my curiosity caused problems for me with my family. in my late teens through my early twenties i began to take an interest in philosophy and after exhausting the libraries resources i finally admitted to myself what i'd known all along - deep down i don't believe in anything spiritual. i was trying to believe in something / anything to feel a sense of belonging.
ever since that day i've been liberated.
I am one of those people Christians point to and go, "something bad happened to you, didn't it?"

I always think, "of course you would think that. You know that bad stuff happens in religion that makes people want to leave!"

But the bad stuff that happened to me made me leave the church. It was the good stuff that happened to me that made me tell myself that I was an active disbeliever in gods, magic, and all kinds of nonsense. It was a declaration of Independence. A rejection of something -- we Subgeniis like to call it "The Conspiracy"--tried to force on me. False values, false self-hatred, false fears. I looked at how hard I was trying to hate myself, and I realized that I didn't at all. I was trying to hate myself because that was how I was Being a Christian, and I realized that I had to lose all of that nonsense because it just wasn't true. It was all a lie. I was pretty cool, no matter how the things I thought and did made me ugly, depraved and debased, according to my church's teachings.

That was the "epiphany."

After that came the whole Julia Sweeney experience. I read and studied and really read the bible. That was the work. The first part was cracking the shell, the mask that the church had placed over me. Once it was open, I was free to think the things I wanted, and to actually read the bible for what it was. You know, they tell you to read the bible with "special eyes." That's for dummies. I got to read the bible with the same eyes I used to read street signs, books and homework. That's when you get to look up and say "do people actually READ this thing?"

It made my world very small, this shell of mine. But while I walked around in the shell, I had parents who actively tried to show me how big the world really was. Dad was an amateur astronomer, and talked about philosophy. It was the 70's and mom was discovering feminism. She had a HUGE shell of a world to break out of. They both read to me and discussed what they learned. If mom and dad were actually making their own worlds bigger, if mom and dad had a world bigger than the church, maybe mine could be, too.

When they caused a schism in the church, that was a big crack i my shell! But I had to crack my own--I had to pursue interests that were entirely outside the family as well. If the church was a shell, I suppose my family world was another one.

My teenage rebellion was so important, I think. I had to go against my own parents for awhile to validate that I could make judgements and not go to hell. I came out as an atheist, expecting fireworks. I ended up getting agreement, (sigh) but it took courage nonetheless.

And that's how I became an atheist.
I was raised a non-denominational christian by my uneducated and reactionary family. That didn't work too well on their end, though. I was always interested in both science and mythology from as far back as I can remember, and my father is agnostic, so I think those things provided a good basis for me questioning the church religion.

The first defining moment I can remember, of actually thinking "Hey wait, that can't be right," happened in Sunday school when I was 8 or 9. Before that, I'd been all about those bible camps and children's bible stories books and church-sponsored fun time, but that moment was the start of my foray into unorthodox belief. It was as simple as my Sunday school teacher telling us that animals don't have souls and couldn't go to heaven. I, being an animal lover, having an intrinsic feeling of what I have only learned recently is called biophilia, immediately renounced (to myself) the idea that church people had the truth.

Then I started reading the bible. I lost patience after Genesis, pretty much, but the imagery intrigued me. I started trying to poke holes in the narrative and twist it in ways that Christians didn't like very much. When I read the story of Lucifer, I thought, "Hey, this guy disobeyed. There's nothing wrong with that, I disobey too. He's not evil, God was just mad at him." So I thought Lucifer was pretty cool for a while. I didn't believe in Satan, though. I had come to the conclusion that "The Devil" was just a story to scare people into being good. I found "deism" in the dictionary, thought that was cool too, and came up with the idea that god made the world like in Genesis, kind of, and then magic and all these spirits and such took over. I wrote stories about fairies that were the daughters of god. (It was very feministy - all the guy fairies were evil.) And I didn't see how believing in these was any different from believing in saints and prophets and that guy named Jesus.

And then...I started reading mythology. Native American, Greco-Roman, Norse, Celtic, African, Egyptian, Sumerian, Asian, medieval superstitions, fairy tales, witchcraft, world religions, New Age, faith healing, dream travel, early-1900s spiritualism...everything. I lived in the library, just about. My christian anything disappeared by age 10, replaced by a childishly imaginative, everything-goes eclectic polytheistic paganism. Realising that religion was basically just stuff people made up...I basically just made shit up and taught myself to believe it. It was fun. Like a big, complicated game of make-believe. I even got my friends into it. Toward the end of this phase, for about 2 years or so, I styled myself a Wiccan Witch, and spent lots of time happily casting "healing spells" on my friends, praying to nature goddesses, and doing circle ceremonies. That was really fun.

I was really, REALLY imaginative. No, I didn't get out much.

When I was about 14, though, a lot of serious stuff happened in my life that made me have to be an adult and face reality, not the least of which was the discovery that - hey! - I liked girls too. I woke up one day, the day after a Wiccan festival day, and remembered with a shock that I'd forgotten about it completely. This was shortly followed by the shock that I didn't care. Obviously, all the spells and incantations and moon goddess invocations in the WORLD could not get rid of all the crazy shit that was going down in my life. I discovered soon after that my best friend, who had been doing all this crap with me for 3 years, had also come to the simultaneous conclusion that she didn't believe. I packed up all my wands, spell books, pentagrams and tarot cards, and headed off to high school as an openly non-religious bisexual.

My high school years frankly sucked, and I gradually shed just about every irrational belief I held. Karma, astrology, empathy, "spirits", "energies"...bye bye. It was liberating, but also frustrating, because these were the things that my non-christian friends stubbornly clung to. (Oh yeah, and there were a lot of silly Wiccans.) Even so, I didn't consider my atheism anything to talk about. I even coined the term "apathist" to describe someone who doesn't believe in god out of just not giving a damn. I was political, and I was against christianity, but I didn't even think of combining the two.

When I was 16, I stumbled upon atheism.about.com. I was an atheist already, I'd freely admit it, but I didn't know anything about the standard arguments, logical fallacies, history of atheism, all the different names for it...I started looking at all kinds of sites about atheism, skepticism, biblical inconsistencies, philosophy, myth debunking, popular superstitions, stupid things fundies do, and I realised...this makes me care! I promptly went to the library to find books on atheism. The first one I grabbed was, of course... The God Delusion. I hadn't heard of Richard Dawkins yet, but as I read it, I kept realising that he was telling me in better words what I already believed about religion. I was all over atheism after that. Dawkins didn't convert me, but damn did he make me think.

So here I am. I've been a non-christian for almost ten years, a nonbeliever for 5, and a dedicated self-educated skeptical humanist atheist for over two years. In that short space of time, I have come to deeply value all those things like free speech, respect for other life, culture, science, reason, disillusionment, secular morality, education, love, peace, equality, social justice and happiness. It was not until I stopped believing in stupid things that I learned the real value of just being good to people.

I don't feel like my atheism has replaced religion. I have just stopped needing a religion. I've always been an unorthodox sort of girl. :)

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