How I Came to Atheism
Growing Up Christian
As a child, I self-identified as a Christian even though I never went to church or took religion all that seriously. That was what society had told me was true, so I believed it. I didn’t know any better.
I don’t recall what provoked this, but one day when I was a kid it occurred to me that I could go to hell when I die if I’m not a good person. So I became fanatical about “being a good person”. To give you a sense of how radical I was, since the Bible says not to lie, after speaking about anything, I would whisper to myself that I take it back just in case I was mistaken.
While it might seem insane to do that, I was not insane. What I was doing was perfectly rational, given what I believed at the time. What is a lifetime of inconvenience compared to eternal torture in the afterlife? It’s a blip. It’s nothing. So any action which would decrease my chance of facing hell, no matter how small the decrease, made perfect sense. I tyrannized myself, filtering and regulating everything I did, said, and thought lest I do something “wrong”.
Now every Christian sect out there is probably more nuanced than my childhood understanding of their religion. That is to say all but the craziest Christian sects out there would be able to give me some reason why behaving as I was wasn’t decreasing my chances of hell. But even in more nuanced Christian sects, it’s still not hard to justify insane behavior based on their beliefs.
It wasn’t that I was acting insane, just that most religious people don’t really act in accordance with their beliefs. If they did, they’d be more like me at that time. Of course, such self-tyranny is impossible to maintain and I eventually did stop doing it.
Becoming an Atheist
So how did I become an atheist? Either in my pre-teens or early teen years, I remember stumbling across this Youtube video of Richard Dawkins and some christian debating. Out of either curiosity or boredom, I clicked it. I listened to both debaters speak, expecting the christian to make more sense. That’s not what happened.
Through listening to debates and doing my own research, I learned about epistemology: the study of what constitutes knowledge, how we know what we know, etc. As far as I can remember, that was my entry point into philosophy. At one point, I felt guilty for even considering the question “Is there a god?”. Then a reassuring thought occurred to me:
“If there is a god and god is good, then surely god doesn’t punish people for doing research to find out the truth about religion.”
With that thought, I continued watching debates and studying and researching the arguments. Very shortly after encountering the New Atheists (mainly Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) and listening to what they had to say and the different perspectives from which they argued, I was decidedly an atheist.
I didn’t decide to become an atheist to avoid the possibility of hell or for some other emotional reason. I wanted to know the truth, no matter where it led me. I reasoned my way into atheism with logic.
Enter The Skeptic Community
After becoming an atheist, I started following atheists like Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist). I also found Matt Dillahunty on The Atheist Experience, a show where religious people call in and try to prove that god exists. I find Matt’s Atheist Debates Project particularly valuable since it debunks a wide variety of religious irrationality in an organized and thorough way.
In more recent years, I’ve been following the work of Anthony Magnabosco, an atheist and street epistemologist. Street epistemology, for those who don’t know, is a way to “help people reflect on the quality of their reasoning through civil conversation”. If done right, it’s a very friendly, non-aggressive means of getting someone to think through their own beliefs.
There are hundreds of videos of Anthony chatting with random people on the street and students in universities about what they believe and why. The topics include religion, ghosts, karma, and various other social and political topics. He has been interviewed on countless podcasts, given workshops and public talks, and founded a non-profit to educate people about street epistemology and instruct on how to do it. It’s called Street Epistemology International. It’s definitely something worth looking into.
If you’re looking for atheist entertainment, look no further than Jon Matter, known as DarkMatter2525 on Youtube. His animation skills have come so far over the years. If you ask me, his animations are the funniest atheist comedy out there. They’ve made me laugh so many times and I’m always delighted to see another DarkMatter video show up in my feed. Please support his animations on Patreon if you can.
Some people come to atheism because they’re not first-generation atheists. Some call themselves religious but they never pray, they don’t go to church, and they’re not convinced of any of the myth. They’re atheists for all practical purposes. Then there’s those who have a crisis of faith and stop believing. Is it because of the millions of children who starve to death each year? Of course not. It’s always because of some negative personal experience which is far pettier in comparison.
My atheism on the other hand is part of a larger epistemological framework which I reasoned myself into. When I first realized I was an atheist, I assumed that all other atheists arrived at atheism the same way I did: by becoming skeptics. I was surprised to learn that, actually, many atheists don’t consider themselves skeptics. They believe in crystals, spirits, and all sorts of nonsense. Skepticism not only led me to reject religion, but also the other common forms of woo-woo.
What people like Anthony Magnabosco, Jon Matter, Matt Dillahunty, and the New Atheists promote isn’t merely atheism. It’s skepticism, rationality, logic, critical thinking, and the scientific method. Religion, as big of a problem as it is, as much as it would do the world good to eradicate it completely, is actually a symptom of a larger disease: belief in the absence of evidence.
It’s good that atheism is becoming more popular, but I worry that skepticism and rationalism are not following everywhere atheism is spreading. This is why I think Street Epistemology is so important. It gets regular people to critically examine their methodology for belief formation, not just lowering their confidence on one or other particular belief. The essence of skepticism lies not in what you believe, but in the methodology by which you arrive at your conclusions.
Most of my thoughts on atheism have been expressed in more thorough, organized, concise, funny, and entertaining ways by the skeptics I just mentioned. Whether you’re new to atheism or you’ve been an atheist your whole life and you’re just new to skepticism, now you know where to go to find out more.