For me at age 6 when the Father Christmas myth was revealed. It helped that my parents never went to church, never talked about religion, and had nothing to do with gods. See my mini bio on my Atheist Nexus page.
I'm with Dr Meaden in claiming age 6 as when I decided that I was an atheist, even if I didn't know the word yet. I uncovered the Santa Clause myth at age 4, and worked out that the God stuff was the same thing. It took two years in which my mother asked that I read and discuss the Bible from first page to last as part of a deal about not going to church (where it seemed to me that adults acted crazy). That book is a damn hard read for a little kid! By the time I finally finished it I was convinced that it and the whole God idea was nonsense. Read it again as a teenager when I thought that I wanted to be a Zen monk and figured that I should make sure that I hadn't missed anything important in my little kid reading. I hadn't, and seemed then even more horrific such that I decided to stay far away from any cult at all.
Like you I don't believe I ever believed in God. I'm at least a second generation Atheist. My father was an Atheist and my mother wouldn't go as far as saying she believed in God but wanted to keep religious rituals as part of our cultural identity. This created some problems since my dad and I found religious rituals as an affront to our identity as Atheists. My sister later became religious, although a very liberal believer. We love each other and don't include religion at our family get togethers.
As a child, I immediately showed a preference for materialism. I could not see God as being any less a fantastic story than Santa Claus, and I never believed in him. I remember being interested in science and technology. I was first introduced to Darwin by a How and Why Wonder Book my dad bought for me. It seemed a lot more reasonable than any religious explanations.
My father was an Instrument Mechanic and Electrician. I was fascinated by technology and would take my toys apart and reassemble them since I interested in knowing how they worked. I worked as a Motorcycle Mechanic and remember discussing the empirical thought processes we had to use with other Motorcycle Mechanics.
I worked with Richard Andrews, one of Canada's top Motorcycle Tuners, and we both had degrees in Philosophy and Education. We were heavily influenced by Empiricists and found more satisfaction in working as mechanics than attending university since we found the idealism so common on campus distasteful. Many of the Mechanics I worked with were Atheists. For us, religion or any ideology, wasn't just a different set of beliefs; it was an invalid way of thinking and unacceptable to us.
As more of the world's population become Atheists I can foresee an unprecedented power struggle. Idealists beliefs are not only different from ours, their very epistemology is invalid to us. The differences are more abstract than the conflicts between conflicting religious ideologies. Civilization is going to have some big issues to resolve in the near future.
Neurologists now tell us that parts of the human brain finish maturing at about 25 years.
The theory I heard decades ago said seven is the age of reason. The Catholic schools my very Catholic and sometimes violent dad sent me to put a lot of effort into delaying that age. I first rebelled in fifth grade by refusing to join the other boys in a class to train altar boys. In 6th grade other boys called me a doubting Thomas. In 9th and 10th grades in a Jesuit high school, teachers piled on so much work that I had no time to devise questions. In 11th grade, with a nun teaching, I started having real doubts and she said doubting is a serious sin. Walking past Protestant churches, I saw the titles of the next sermons and was curious but a nun said that going to a non-Catholic church is a serious sin. In 12th grade I loved the physics class, and a nun encouraged my interest.
After those 12 years, one year in a full time job, two years in the Navy, two years in a junior college while living at home, a year at a state university, and a serious battle with my parents, I threw them and their religion out of my life. Only then, after briefly thinking of shooting myself, did I start seeing my life as mine. Entirely mine.
EVERYTHING IMPROVED! I graduated with a degree in mathematics and realized how much I enjoyed doing my own thinking. Decades of happy agnostic atheism followed. My four brothers and sisters all quit Catholicism too, but none of them left it as far behind as I did.
Yours is a powerful story! I am so glad you didn't resort to a bullet, but to enjoy your own thinking. That is what life is all about, it seems to me. Total rejection of submission or obedience to a "higher power" frees one to look inward for morals, ethics and life's principles.
My full coming of age was in the last 2 years and I'm 67 years old. I've studied everything from religion to the paranormal, had to know everything, and was a lay preacher once. At 21 I could "explain it all" to you if it was an "ism" or some belief system. From learning right into practice, this was my life. Slowly it all changed.
9/11 had a little to do with my changes along with lessor points along the way. One day I woke up about 2 years ago to find I had become a full blown atheist. We think we know all about our journey, who we are and where we are going. It's make believe. Truth is, we don't know shit!
Thanks Dennis. I've wanted to respond to this discussion, but because everyone so far had reached atheism at such a young age, I was embarrassed that it took me so long to come to my age of reason.
I realized I was an atheist about 17 years ago, at age 55. It was not as much of a struggle as some people report, but it was a struggle getting rid of the fear instilled in me by mormonism, that satan may have deceived me.
I had been noticing that religion had not lived-up to it's promises for about 15 years before that, but that final fear finally disappeared at about age 55 when my studies put enough evidence in my brain, to kick-out the fear of satan for good.
My cousin's kid came "out" last year at age 15, and I have to be honest, I am jealous of him. I wish I could have come to this realization at a younger age, also. It feels like so much lost time.
I don't think anyone should be embarrassed for not having become an Atheist at a younger age. I was lucky to have had a father who was an Atheist. My dad didn't tell me much about his parents but I get the impression they weren't very religious. I had Atheism offered to me as an option from my birth. I am grateful for this freedom I enjoyed. I feel sorry for the children who are indoctrinated into belligerent and chauvinistic ideologies. Don't feel guilty for having been a victim. Be proud for having achieved freedom in an environment that made it all the harder to attain.
Hey, Spud, I asked Booklover if I could use her terminology for atheism, and she said I could. Atheism is what's left when you stop making shit up. That's it, plain and simple.
If your studies are revealing to you that the scared writings are not revealing god, then you can rest assured that satan is not revealed here either. I may have come to my conclusions later in life, but at least I can back up what I say. Many younger people cannot, and they seem to have "anger at god." (Maybe really some adult parent figure.) Christians believe this and they ask "why you are angry at god" because god is a given to them. It's very simple really. With no evidence for the existence of god there is also no evidence for existence of satan. God made satan and man made god. The writings are very fallible and god is imaginary!
You know, I think that I always had doubts. I can remember being at church as a child and thinking on several occasions, "this is silly" but then felt badly about the thought. I didn't actually think about God much until I was in my late teens, and then I tried studying Christian apologetics and the like. I didn't feel fully convinced by any of their offerings, however, though I pretended and put on the façade to please my Christian parents. I was finally ready to admit that I was an atheist at age 24. My parents still don't know but I think they have suspicions.