Having read The God Delusion and, subsequently, embraced Atheism I have become a frequent visitor to your web pages and as such decided that I would like to add my experience to Convert's Corner.
My parents were, as far as I can tell, religious inasmuch as they came from an era when most people at least went through the motions. My mother, a Roman Catholic and my father, Church of England, had me baptised in the Church of England. When I was school age I attended a Church of England school but at the age of 7 I was moved to the local Catholic school. This decision was partly because the I was being bullied at the Anglican school, but primarily because I had been ill with Leukaemia and my great uncle, a Catholic priest, was implicated, my mother believed, in my recovery. It was also for this reason that my parents organised my conversion to Catholicism at the age of 8.
I flourished in the Catholic school and took well to the model of Christianity being taught. I took my first communion, became an alter boy and later was confirmed. My parents and I attended mass every Sunday and occasionally I would go during the week. My father even converted to Catholicism. All of the staff at the school, the nuns and priests in the church community were extremely nice and I am certain that none of the people that I knew as a child were anything other than caring, well meaning, members of the church. For all that my parents from my own account would seem to have been religious there was little in our home to suggests as much and I can't remember ever talking to them about it. As I say, I believe they felt it was the done thing and felt obliged given my “miraculous” cure.
I seem to remember believing in God. However, at the time I also believed in Father Christmas, The Tooth Fairy and The East Bunny so my credulity was certainly well exercised. I certainly believed I had a soul as I can remember thinking of it as a white object the same shape as me that as I sinned became stained and black until I went and confessed (I was rude to my mother was one of my bigger sins I recall) and it was made white again, much like doing the laundry. As I got older I can remember challenging my faith but never seriously. I attended a Catholic high school in Australia and slowly stopped attending church. My father had become ill and my mother and I just didn't go that regularly. By the time I left school I don't believe we went except at Christmas.
Through university I attended mass occasionally and I even took some theology units in my education degree with the thought that I might teach in a Catholic school. As I recall there were two things that happened during my university career that really began to make me challenge my belief. Firstly I entered my first serious relationship and couldn't reconcile my active sex life with abstinence before marriage. I even attended confession and expressly told the priest I didn't want forgiveness for that because I didn't believe it was wrong. The thing was the theology class. I challenged the instructor regularly. Surely good things done from humanist motivation were as likely, or more likely even, to be seen by God as “good deeds” than those done out of faith? No, I was told. Thomas Aquinas was a deluded man was all I good take from study of his work. I realised then that the Catholic church had lost its way.
Still, after university I attended mass with my girlfriend (a “good” Catholic herself), as well as weddings, christenings and other Catholic services. I still believed but I had lost faith in the Catholic church. I couldn't accept their teachings on contraception, abortion or a myriad of other things. I relied on the though that the church and its members were a force for good in the world. Even if they were wrong on some things then it was still a good way to live. I listened to sermons as though the ageing, unmarried, misanthrope in front of the congregation really did know what he was talking about. I began to challenge the notion of good and decided that my own idea of God was a better model for me to believe in. I realised that if God and Jesus were the same person and if they were really good then surely everyone would be allowed into heaven as God, if he were really the paragon of virtue that I had been taught he must be, would forgive anyone, anything. I even argued academically with my friends that Hitler could be in heaven. Even at this time, however, my heart wasn't in it. I looked with a critical eye at people I saw in church. At the Catholic church itself. I started to look at the rise of the Christian fundamentalist churches in the United States and saw them gain foothold in Australia.
I developed an active dislike and distrust of people who were openly religious. As a Catholic this was quite normal. They were all Protestants. As a rational human being it became a lot easier. How could people believe in this stuff. Creationism? Resurrection? Eternal life? The virgin birth? As the voice of the Christian right grew stronger my own diminished faith cringed.
I was by this time in my late 20s. My father had died when I was only 20 and I guess I never really believe that he had gone to heaven. I didn't really consider it greatly. He just wasn't in my life in a physical sense. By the time I was 30 I had decided that there was no afterlife. No soul. The concept of the afterlife was the human's natural reaction to a fear of death. Heaven and hell were devices, I realised, created by the church during the dark ages to control the masses of poor and uneducated people. To me the notion of life after death, and the consolation of the death of anybody who is close to me, particularly my father, is that as long I remember then to me they aren't dead. To me death, as described by others, will be as it was before I was born. That is to say the absence of any awareness or consciousness. I like Bill Bryson's description of being taken apart atom by atom and becoming a pile of dust. I will be dust.
At this time I became a Pantheist, although I had never heard the term. Something drives the universe. Something started the Big Bang. It must have been God. He may not be omnipresent, omniscient etc. but we can use God as nature. I saw proofs in trees, stars, electricity. God was nature.
Even as recently as 12 months ago I would not have had the courage to admit to myself that my last, minute, piece of faith in God, had been argued out of existence by my subconscious. I could even still go through the motions as a Catholic. It was not until I read The God Delusion that I understood my own ideas. That the ideas I had regarding all aspects of faith had been considered by others historically. I became extremely excited that reason, logic, rational though and science could be united by a common dogma in atheism. That minds as great as Einstein, Douglas Adams, the founders of the United States of America, Mark Twain and a myriad of scientists from Hawkins to Sagan to Darwin himself, had come to the same conclusions as me was amazing.
An so in The God Delusion I found confirmation of my ideas, a humanistic approach to humanity, the confidence to stand up and be counted as an atheist and something that I could finally believe in without a shred of doubt. I have a feeling of complete equanimity, can be genuinely happy and can hopefully help to propagate a world free of any form of Deism and the violence, greed and damage associated with it.