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How to become an atheist?

  1. Aug 30, 2009 #1
    I was born in a very religious family and until the age 18 was very religious myself. But around that time I started questioning the beliefs I was brought up with and now at the age of 21 see no reason to continue with my religion. In fact, I've even developed a relativly strong aversion to religion in general (I'm not sure what the psychological reasons for this are). The problem is, that for my entire life I lived in a religious family, studied at a religious HS, and have religious friends. I'm not sure that I can just get up and walk away from all of that. Most of my friends would probably accept it but my parents wouldn't take it well. Another problem is that since all of my social experiance has been in a very specific type of society I'm not sure how well I'd adapt to an entirely differen society and way of life.

    On the other hand, it's terrible to have to be hiding your true beliefs and to waste time with pointless (for me) rituals. It's also hard to develop relationships when such a crucial part of your personality is being faked.

    So how should I proceed? I dont want to make a drastic decision without thinking it through but I'm certain that I don't want to stay religious for the rest of my life (or even in the near future).

    I especially don't want to behave like a reckless teen - acting on impulse and then regretting it later.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2009 #2


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    Try and talk it over with your parents. Tell them that you are questioning things, and don't know why you should believe x, y or z. They may talk to you about why they believe in such things, which you will either agree with or not. If not, then you should just tell them why.
  4. Aug 30, 2009 #3


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    I don't know what is right for you, but I can relate. I was raised Roman Catholic in a very traditional French-Canadian society (ex-pats living in Maine), and I decided in my teens that I could not reconcile the teachings of the church with my own thoughts. I started exploring philosophies and other religious traditions (especially Far Eastern ones) and eventually decided that I could not be an atheist, nor could I whole-heartedly embrace any belief system. The result - over 40 years of agnosticism.

    Note: it seemed presumptuous of to me to claim that I know God exists OR to claim that there is no God, and I was (and am) more comfortable accepting that some things are not knowable.
  5. Aug 30, 2009 #4
    Your at an age now where you will have to make your own decisions. It's normal that you are concerned with what your parents and friends think of you, but you've got to live a life that satisfies you. Life in school, living at home, changes quite a bit afterwards when you are on your own. Eventually you have to set your own standard for yourself. Hopefully the people you care about will care enough to be understanding to you as well.
  6. Aug 30, 2009 #5
    Just get it off your chest.

    This is the exact issue Rirchard Dawkins tries to raise. There is alot of atheists living in the dark that are afraid to speak up, (myself included).

    My mom was sad when I told her but was ok because she had issues with the church. My dad totally freaked out and didn't want to listen to my argument.
  7. Aug 30, 2009 #6


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    I too was an RC who chose to stop practising when I realized I was atheist.

    My suggestion is that, when you talk to your parents, be sure to make it clear that you are not challenging their beliefs or rejecting them. You are making a personal decision for yourself only.

    And when they try to convince you otherwise, you can be completely passive to their objections, no matter how angry or coercive they get. "I understand your objections, and I understand that you see errrors in my path, but it is a path I must follow." Dont, under any circumstances, engage in an argument. You do not need to defend your position.

    The whole point of making this decision is that it is your decision. It is perfectly all right for your parents to disagree with you. It does not weaken you or force you to concede.
  8. Aug 30, 2009 #7

    Doc Al

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    Luckily you live in the age of the internet. There are massive support resources for atheists on the web, so you need not feel marginalized.

    As far as "coming out" as an atheist (something that I did when I was about 13), here's a useful article: http://www.atheists.org/atheism/coming_out [Broken]
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  9. Aug 30, 2009 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    Just remember that everyone has doubts. Faith is a lifelong struggle even for the most devout believers. I also fell away from the church the first time at about age 13, and I found that most people understood.

    Parents and grandparents can be tough. They want what is best for you and may be fearful of a decision like this. I never really told my grandparents, but my parents knew.
  10. Aug 30, 2009 #9
    I never knew religion was so strong in the US. Judging by the comments posted here, someone neutral might get the impression that you are under a relaxed state of sharia. Is religious dogma that widespread over there?
  11. Aug 30, 2009 #10

    Ivan Seeking

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    The national motto is: In God We Trust.

    You will see it on all of our money.

    But freedom of [or from] religion is also a Constitutional right. And we have every religion under the sun here.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2009
  12. Aug 30, 2009 #11


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    To many, it is astonishingly widespread for the 21st century. And it's growing.
  13. Aug 30, 2009 #12

    I don't mean to derail the topic, but since i lived 13 years under communism and 20 in capitalism, there is an innate strive in the capitalistic society(mostly in totally unrestricted economies) to make dumb people even dumber. It's got to be the exploatation opportunity that presents itself when the masses become retarded. They are both easier to control and to manipulate by those in power, but it's sad to watch from the sideline.
  14. Aug 30, 2009 #13

    Ivan Seeking

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    You have it completely backwards. Freedom of religion is one of the reasons this country exists in the first place. Many people first came here to escape persecution for their beliefs.

    It is supposed to be a place where people can have their beliefs without suffering persecution; an idea not popular here at PF, it seems.
  15. Aug 30, 2009 #14

    You didn't get my point - it was that the well-to-do in power have no desire for intelligent masses which would be harder to control. Religion is the opium of the masses, but since evolution theory is taught over there, why is religion so powerful(as it seems from the above posts)? How do you reconcile a 6000 year old Earth, a talking snake, hints of a flat Earth, etc. with the teachings of modern science? There is no religious oppression in Europe either, but you'll hardly ever see so strong religeousity.

    How does Freedom+Science and Knowledge lead to Religious dogma? I am aware that science doesn't explain all that much, but certain outdated beliefs were proven to be dogma centuries ago. Maybe people need a new religion that would be more inline with our current knowledge of the universe.

    So basically, if there is no religious propaganda(read middle-east style) how is religion thriving and blossoming in the 21th century?
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2009
  16. Aug 30, 2009 #15


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    I was around 14 or 15 when I realized that going to church did nothing for me (I have to thank now Cardinal McCarrick, the one who presided over Teddy Kennedy's burial yesterday, for helping speed that process along...at the time, he was the newly appointed Bishop of our diocese, and started to suddenly change a bunch of the rules and way things were done, including the CCD classes and age for confirmation...there's nothing like seeing rules arbitrarily change overnight to wake one up and recognize that perhaps all the rules are arbitrary...I think it's very ironic that this high-ranking church official is the one who really helped me wake up about my decision to leave the church).

    I wasn't very nice or considerate about it. I pretty much knew if I tried to be reasonable, I'd keep getting dragged off to church by my overbearing mother. So, one Sunday morning, I just simply refused to get up and get dressed for church. There was a lot of screaming, and yelling, I think even crying from my mom, I was going to make everyone late, hurry up and get ready, get out of bed and get dressed, etc. I just yelled back that I'm not going to church, I'm sleeping in, if she wants to go to church, she can go by herself. Eventually she stormed out the door without me. She tried to guilt me back into going with her for a couple more Sundays, and then finally realized I was set in my decision and wasn't going to be swayed. She still calls me her "hethen daughter" from time to time, but now it's a joke and she's accepted that I just am not like her and never will be.

    Not everyone chooses to do it so dramatically. I know other "recovering Catholics" who just pretended to go along with it all until they moved away from home, and then just stopped going to church when there was nobody to challenge it anymore. Not all of them are atheists, either. Some have just left organized religion, and some found other religions they related to better.

    Though, once in a while, my family lapses. I'm my nephew's godmother. When my sister asked me to do that, my first reaction was to laugh...I told her the kid was already in trouble if I was the best person she could find to guide his religious upbringing. Since I wasn't a practicing Catholic, this also required a conversation with the priest officiating before he would agree I was a suitable choice...that was an interesting conversation.

    Anyway, the point is that people do it and survive it. We can't tell you how or when is the best way to bring up the subject with your own family, but the neat thing about parents is that no matter how much we disagree or fight with them, their love really is unconditional for their children. They'll get over it. It may be awkward for a while, but transitioning from being a child where your parents make all the decisions to being an adult where you make all your own decisions is awkward anyway.

    Really, I think that telling them you don't share their views on religion is no different than anything else you might realize you have different opinions about...political viewpoints, career goals, the type of university you want to attend, where you want to move, who you want to date or move in with or marry and what order those happen in, etc.

    I always figured that if I had kids, I might have the opposite conversation someday...they might come up to me and tell me they were planning to join a religion. I'd probably just have to tell them that as long as they don't expect me to get up early on Sunday morning to drive them there, they are free to make that decision for themselves.
  17. Aug 30, 2009 #16


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    Talk about mixing apples and oranges! Very few religions would expect you to reconcile any of those things with science, because young earth creationism has no part in those religions. There was nothing in my own religious upbringing that ever contradicted science or scientific progress. There were ethical debates about how the knowledge obtained from science is used, but those discussions even happen in the absence of religion and within the scientific community. Very few religions teach that the stories in the Bible are literal truth. Most, including the one I was raised in, teach it as metaphor or allegories that illustrate lessons. The whole point of religious freedom is that people don't all have to belong to a single state-chosen religion. They are free to practice any religion that they like.
  18. Aug 30, 2009 #17
    Isn't that just avoiding the problems?

    Yes, I know we've been teaching it as truth for over a thousand years, but their getting smarter! Let's change things up and say they have to follow us but tell them 'some stories' are not true. That way the stories are never wrong and we prevail!
    I should start my own backyard religion.

    If you already feel like you're an atheist then HEY you're atheist. Theist, atheist, deist etc. etc. etc. all have to do with your BELIEFS not the church you attend the people you talk with the family you grew up with. Just because you don't tell anyone does NOTHING to what you believe because that's yours and you shouldn't easily give up what is yours.
  19. Aug 30, 2009 #18

    It seems you have twisted your religion to suit the concepts of science. Why did you abandon religion if it did not contradict anything scientific?
  20. Aug 30, 2009 #19
    Paint yourself red and see if that makes any difference ...
  21. Aug 30, 2009 #20
    I don't know what all of this "how to tell your parents" is about. I don't know why you would need to tell anyone. Of course if they ask it is better to answer honestly and simply leave it at that. I see no reason to make arguments or even continually insist "I will believe what I wish". Obviously you will believe what you wish, that's the great and easy thing about it, and unless your attention seeking there's no reason to make a big deal about it. I'm imagining that since you are over 18 they can't make you go to church right? And unless you absolutely abore the church they go to for some good logical reason I see no harm in going along with them on a holiday if they ask right?

    I've been agnostic (practically athiest) since the day someone actually tried explaining to me what "being christian" means. I've never had to tell anyone in my family. I once gave my grandfather a book comparing Jesus to the Buddha since I thought he might like it and it may help him accept people with other beliefs. Silly me a spent a half hour smiling a nodding as he tried to explain to me that Buddhists are idolaters, and that was about all the skin off my nose it has cost me to have different beliefs than my family.

    Religions change. Most people realize and understand that. A small minority of some religions cling to outdated ideas. Those who realize that religion is a way of attempting to make sense of the world around you tend to realize that their conception of the world needs to change with the times. You are imposing the strict dogmatic ideology of some onto the definition of religion as a whole.
  22. Aug 30, 2009 #21
    When I became an atheist I was fairly scared of telling my parents. We didn't go to church often, but the beliefs my parents held were very strong, and I knew when I told them it wouldn't go over very well. It didn't. There was a bit of screaming, some teeth gnashing, some silent treatment, etc, but eventually, they got over it. Your parents love you and will continue to do so whether or not you hold their beliefs on Bigfoot, UFOs, god, gods, or anything else. Getting it off your chest will be a big relief -- at least it was for me.
  23. Aug 30, 2009 #22
    I'm an atheist. All you have to do is stop believing the ********.

    There are lots of forums on the internet to discuss this stuff and convene with fellow atheists. I suggest you join one; they're great.

    As for dealing with ******** in your surroundings, I suspect it's not going to get a whole lot better anytime soon on a national scale (I've occasionally had the impulse to arm myself when some fundie thinks we shouldn't be treated like normal human beings).
  24. Aug 30, 2009 #23
    I'm fairly certain that things have gotten alot better. I think that the major reason we have been seeing fundamentalists strike back so frantically is that they realize they are losing ground and the manner in which the vocal nonreligious tend to attack them. They are responding in the manner which would be expected.
  25. Aug 30, 2009 #24
    You need to tell when other people (family, relatives) assume you belong to certain faith and is suppose to act accordingly. But then it hurts inside if you disagree and don't speak up your mind. Like my dad argued that the Christianity is undermined by more frequent reporting of pedophile priests by a government controlled media who is trying to destroy religions. Why should I not have an argument with my father? Why do atheists run away from a dialogue. This isn't about you are right I'm wrong. It's just a conversation.

    But atheists are extremely under represented. Most religious people if not all have certain stereotypes that atheists are immoral, evil and responsible for the world problems, after all Stalin was an atheist. Due to such a minority in the USA it is impossible to argue the atheist's point of view.

    So you can respect other theist's point of view, rest assured that atheism is not respected.

    If you say you are an atheist in some public place, or at work even, then you will likely be subjected to prejudice. Where as all religions in this country are pretty much respected. Atheism is not. Even gays managed to get more respect. Why can't atheists?
  26. Aug 30, 2009 #25
    You came to the right forums. :smile: I'd guess that a majority of the contributors here at PF are atheists/agnostics.

    My experience parallels yours somewhat. I was made to attend a Methodist Sunday school and church during my entire childhood and early teens. At some point I had to admit to myself that I never really believed any of it. I'm an agnostic in the sense that I don't have any way of knowing whether or not there is some sort of personal God listening to prayers and watching over us a la the mainstream religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. I'm an atheist in the sense that I think that, given what humanity has learned via modern science, the existence of a personal God seems so unlikely that it's an almost absurd idea -- so, I can say, unequivically, that I don't believe in that sort of God. I use the word, god, the way I think most people (even lots of religious ones) do, to refer to my ignorance regarding foundational issues and origins.

    This is an important issue because most of us have grown up in social environments where adherence to mainstream theistic religions is the norm. The way I personally deal with this is that I just tell people straight out, if the subject comes up, that, intellectually, I have no respect for theistic religious beliefs or practices.
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