How I Became An Atheist

losing faith in humanity
Photo by Horace Ko, Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

"How did you become an atheist?"

The person asking me this question usually identifies as a Christian. The question is often delivered in one of two very different ways. About 30% of the time, the speaker has an angry tone. It almost feels like a challenge. The rest of the time, it conveys a genuine sense of confusion. It is as if the questioner is struggling to understand how anyone could be an atheist.

I have to consider what any given Christian may have been told about atheism. Many Christian parents and clergy seek to portray atheists in a negative light. Some insist that atheism is a conscious rejection of their particular god. And yet, almost no atheists choose to be atheists. I never chose to be an atheist. It is difficult to imagine why anyone living in the U.S. would choose to be an atheist. Why put yourself through all the hate if you don't have to?

I have written many posts about my personal journey to atheism, but I still find it difficult to summarize. This is because I went through at least two separate processes to get there:

  1. Leaving my Christian faith behind and recognizing that I no longer believed in gods
  2. Learning about atheism and coming to terms with the fact that I was an atheist

Losing My Faith

The process of losing my faith and realizing that I no longer believed in gods took 2-3 years and was not pleasant. It was not anything I chose; it was something that happened to me. It is not like I woke up one morning and decided that I'd walk away from my faith and become an atheist. Nothing about losing my faith seemed voluntary. Some atheists don't like to hear this, but I did view it as a loss. Atheism was not a choice I made. It was something I came to realize about myself over time. It was also something I resisted as long as I could.

I did not want to lose my faith. I did not want to stop believing in gods. I knew this would disappoint my family and make me an outsider. I was scared and confused. Most of all, I feared I'd never have a fulfilling life without god-belief.

There was no single event I can point to as the catalyst for my loss of faith. Some Christians believe that there must have been some critical incident. There wasn't one for me, and there isn't one for many atheists. I'd have to say that the primary factors leading up to my loss of faith, in no particular order, were:

  • My intellectual curiosity and love of learning
  • The reading I did outside of school, including the "holy" bible
  • Learning about science in school and reading about skepticism outside of school
  • Experiences of Christian hypocrisy
  • The lack of response to my prayers
  • My fascination with mythology which led me to compare ancient Greek and Roman gods with contemporary gods
  • Exposure to history which provided countless examples of religious conflict

I realized that there wasn't any compelling evidence that gods of any sort existed. I begin to suspect that religion was not as benign as I'd once thought. I lost my faith. Again, I did not choose to discard it. I realized it was no longer there.

Coming to Terms With Atheism

The second process lasted even longer but was much less awful than the first. The more I learned about atheism, the more I realized it was nothing to fear. There would be negative consequences for me as a result of being open about my atheism. But there would also be a sense of freedom as I learned to live without religious belief. I embraced skepticism. I discovered freethought. I learned that these things were not new. They fit me better than religion ever had. I began to come to terms with my new identity.

The hardest thing about this process was not recognizing that I was an atheist. That part became easier when I finally realized I was not as alone as I had been feeling. There was a label that fit me, and I was not the only one to whom it applied. No, the hardest part was the realization that I would be feared and hated by many Christians. That was the hardest part then and now. I've become more comfortable with it, but there are still times when it wears me down. The recognition that I'll always be an outsider in the only country I've ever called home is a burden at times.

If I'm completely honest here, I'd have to say that I'm still coming to terms with atheism. I've known I was an atheist for more than 30 years, but I've continued to learn about atheism. My understanding of how this part of my identity fits into the rest and what it means for my daily life has changed and will continue to do so. I've made peace with that.

I became an atheist as I realized I could no longer believe in gods. I sought evidence for a personal Christian god and found nothing to maintain my belief. After discovering I was unable to maintain my faith, I recognized that I was an atheist. Since then, I have been making progress on integrating that part of my identity into my life.

This post from 2015 was revised and edited to improve clarity in 2022.