I was raised in the Catholic church, went to Catholic elementary school, served as an altar boy (no – I had no inappropriate involvement with priests), etc. I began to question the Catholic teachings (such as transubstantiation, Mary as a virgin for her whole life) at age 15. I talked it over with a priest – who was no help., saying that I had to believe those things to be a Catholic in good standing I talked it over with my mother. She said she would prefer that I not quit going to church, so I said I’d like to try some Protestant churches, which she was ok with. So I went to a nearby Congregational United Church of Christ, and was happier there, as they are relatively non-dogmatic. However, I got involved there with some born-again folks, and went for it – hook, line, and sinker. So for several years I firmly believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, that Jesus was my savior, etc.
My deconversion was a long slow process, but I can point to several specific steps along the way.
1) At 19, when I was in college, I had a roommate who belonged to the Worldwide Church of God (they are a Christian denomination, but rather unusual in their beliefs). One day he was having a theological argument with a Baptist girl. I sat quietly and listened as the Biblical quotes flew back and forth. Each was convinced they had the correct literal interpretation of the Bible. Each interpretation was very different from my own literal interpretation. And I realized that there were almost certainly countless other literal interpretations that were likewise different from my own. I asked myself, of all those people, how likely was it that I had achieved the correct literal understanding. In order to believe that, I decided I would have to have been more sincere in my desire to find the truth and/or smarter than all those folks, and/or selectively chosen by God to receive his enlightenment. Those seemed to all be unlikely and arrogant presumptions, so I decided then, that an accurate literal interpretation was impossible to achieve. So I continued as a Christian, still believing in a Creator, and a loving God who was interested in me, albeit with a different view of the Bible.
I completed that degree (Sociology), but several years later, I returned to school to study Physics. Over time – though very slowly, my science education and perspective eroded any belief in God as an active creator. At most, I think I believed in God as a first cause in the big-bang, though one who was still concerned with me and the affairs of mankind in general. I think those two beliefs were linked. I still wanted to believe that there was a God who cared about me, and I think it was necessary for me to believe in Him as an all-powerful creator – even if he was “just” the first cause. And I know in hindsight, that I held on to this belief for a long time due to my early indoctrination, and cultural pressures. It felt wrong to question whether there was a God.
The final domino fell when my mother died of Alzheimer’s disease. She had many challenges in life (raising eight children single-handedly, among other things) and was a devout Catholic her whole life. Seeing her mind gradually waste away made it impossible for me to believe in a just, merciful, and loving God. It became clear to me that if there was a God, he was either unable or unwilling to give her mercy. In essence, her lingering death disproved (for me) the existence of the Christian God. I’ve felt no need to search for other gods since then. Rather I feel liberated with the realization and acceptance that there is no god.
Even with that decision, I’m only slowly “coming out of the closet”. There are many family members and friends that I don’t discuss it with (though some of them freely espouse their Christian beliefs on a daily basis). My wife struggles with the fact of my deconversion. There is unquestionably a stigma associated with atheism – especially living deep in the heart of Texas. But I am gradually learning to open up about my beliefs, and that’s due in no small part to my exposure to these forums, by reading Dawkins, Hitchens, et. al.
You have my deepest thanks for this opportunity to read others’ stories, and to share my own.