From Christian to Atheist

I used to believe in God, up until about a year ago. My mother is Catholic and my father protestant so I was raised as a Catholic. I missed my chance at confirmation because of a house move, and so I was put forward for confirmation much later than normal. At the time I had some problems with the Catholic church and I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to be a Catholic or a protestant. I was never in any doubt that I would remain a Christian though. In the end I chose to be confirmed into the Catholic church, partly on the basis that I could work to change the parts of it that I had a problem with. I was stupid to ever think that.

My parents were part of a Christian group that lived as a community all together in one set of buildings. This group prayed and ate together, and those that didn’t go out to work elsewhere would work within the group on their own farm or running a guest house and retreat centre. The Christians in this group were of many different denominations and all went to different churches on Sundays. As a result although I was a Catholic I was in contact with Christians of all denominations that were living and praying together, and had a faith that affected me every day in everything that I did.

At university I joined the Christian Union. In a very short space of time I was playing guitar for them and became a worship leader. (Someone who picks the songs, organises other musicians, and leads the congregation for the singing part of the service.) I ran into some problems with other Christians not believing that Catholics were Christians, but I defended my position well and continued to be accepted by the CU and to lead their worship.

I met a nice Christian girl who introduced me to other friends and took me to rock and goth clubs. (We later married.) I had no problem remaining a Christian while attending such things, and again was able to defend this to other Christians that thought it was not appropriate. In fact by attending those clubs while holding Christian beliefs and values, and by showing those beliefs without forcing them on anyone, I actually made a good impression for Christianity on many of my non-Christian friends. Whether or not the people I associated with and the music I listened to had a damaging effect on my faith, I don’t know. But I will admit that it reinforced in me the idea that people could be moral and caring without religion.

I really believed in God. I really believed that Jesus had died in my place as punishment for my sin. I honestly thought that the Holy Spirit came down to earth and guided me. One of the reasons was that I experienced different feelings during my prayer and worship. A worship session can take the mood and the feelings of a whole congregation and change them. A standard worship session would open with a prayer, then have a loud praise song or two, (or more) then perhaps a quieter song or two, and then a mix of prayer – maybe with background music, and quieter and more repentant songs. At the end there would be either a talk or sermon, or a couple of louder songs to wake everything up again. The whole process took me and others into “a state of worship” which I can’t describe. It was like a drug. It was an entirely different emotional state, one focussed on God but blissful and comforting.

How do I explain the other things that I previously took as evidence for God? I was what is called a Charismatic Catholic. Unlike many Catholics we prayed in tongues (Making sounds believed to be other languages to talk to God, called Glossolalia) and prophesied. (Spoke messages believed to be given to us by God.) I never heard an actual voice from God. After a time of prayer or singing I think my mind was in a state a bit like meditation and I would have thoughts that fitted a situation, so I would say them. Sometimes those thoughts matched a situation that I did not know about, and then that would be taken of confirmation that the message was from God. I now believe this to be similar to the way in which astrologers, mediums and fortune tellers extract information about someone through careful questions and then adjust their prophecy as it comes out until it makes someone respond thinking that it is a message for them. Except in the case of Christian prophecy, everyone does it to each other. I think that faith in what is happening leads to a doublethink that causes everyone there to accept each other’s prophecy while being able to fabricate one themselves and believe it to be God. Another form of this was in reading from the Bible until finding a verse or a chapter that had enough similarities to the current situation to apply. Sometimes this would take the form of opening the bible at random and picking a verse. Of course if it doesn’t apply then the reader quietly moves on to something else, so that the only random picks that we told to each other were the applicable ones. It looked like it worked.

Then there was healing. When injured or sick or just suffering from a headache we would pray for each other. It usually involved “laying on of hands” – placing hands on the person being prayed for while praying. For big problems that meant lots of people gathering round, placing hands on the person and praying. I saw people healed. Although what I actually saw was people say that they felt better. I now believe that to be a placebo effect, which is a lot stronger than you may think. I myself have prayed with people for a headache, or a stomach ache, or a sore thumb or something equally minor and seen them get up and get on with stuff, claiming to feel better.

I have always had a skeptical worldview, wanting to see evidence of things before I would believe them – except where Christianity was concerned. Over the last eleven years I got skeptical about more and more aspects of Christianity, and got more annoyed with people saying things that I thought were stupid up to the point where I began to think a lot of it was stupid. I realised that people would pick and choose which laws in the bible they wanted to apply. This isn’t entirely irrational, because Christians believe that after the coming of Jesus we entered a new covenant with God which replaced the old covenant – that previously in place between the Jews and God which required all the laws to be kept. This new covenant made the laws of the old testament of the bible obsolete. One specific example is that St Peter was told that he could eat pork which was previously forbidden. However, what happens is that some rules have been kept, like those on homosexuals, and others abandoned, like menstruating women staying away from everyone or people not going to the toilet inside the camp. (Hands up Christians who have an inside toilet!) This double standard on laws and rules is intensely annoying to me.

I remember some years ago going back to visit my parents and going to prayer meeting with them. People there were praying for several people who were long-term sick, and praying for healing. I knew that these people had been prayed for many times before. They were still ill. I didn’t like it, but I pushed the thought to one side and ignored it. There were also a few other things said which I disagreed with but I kept quiet and just decided to leave that out of my own faith. As I said, I started to get more and more skeptical about many beliefs and practices. I personally had a more stripped down core of faith which did not include things that I thought were stupid. I still had problems with the Catholic church, and I started going to an Elim church with my wife instead. This was also a lot more convenient and nicer to go to church together than to separate places. In 2009 we moved back to my parents hometown and at that point I never really went back to church because I couldn’t find one that I liked.

In 2010 I came across Boobquake. Boobquake was a joke experiment intended to make a point about religion. An imam in Iran had blamed an earthquake on women revealing too much. Jen Mcreight proposed on her blog, BlagHag, that women all over the world should wear low-cut tops on the same day to see if it made a statistical difference to the number of earthquakes. The idea quickly spread all over the world and made headlines everywhere. As a result of that story I started reading BlagHag. Jen writes mostly about skepticism, atheism, feminism, science and cool geeky stuff. From there I started to read other skeptic and atheist blogs, and realised that I was a skeptic.

In October I went a Catholic Conference – a weekend of prayer and worship. My parents were in charge of the music and I was helping, in spite of serious doubts about Christianity by now. For most of the weekend I attended the parts with music and went and sat in a different room for the talks and the prayer sessions. I was, to my surprise, actually able to engage with the music to worship properly, and reached that state of worship that I described earlier. Perhaps it was because I was making an effort in order to play the part that I had been asked to. But my absence for the other parts was noticed by other people and when questioned on it I simply answered that I was not in a spiritual state to cope with any of those parts right now. At the end of the conference there was a healing session. In that session the speaker spoke about healing and groups of people prayed with those who were sick and asked for healing. I was there at the start of the session for reasons that I can’t remember. (Perhaps I didn’t get out in time.) After just a few minutes I could not stand what was being said any more. I have been sick since late 2000. I heard (or misheard) several times through the years that those with enough faith would be healed. Christians close to me assure me that this is not what is taught in the bible or by the church but that hasn’t stopped others from saying it. My parents suffer, one from severe spinal problems and one with diabetes and complications of that, and they have not been healed, even though I know of no one with a stronger faith than them. One of my sisters has suffered from ME for even longer than I have and has still not been healed.

I walked out of that room. I discovered that I wasn’t the only one, either. Several other people had left that session and I broke down in the rest room as I talked to other people, and I admitted that I was struggling to believe. I still wanted to believe – I intended to read some important books and to re-examine my faith. Then, though, I attended the final session of that conference at the request of my mum. In that session the speaker talked about St Therese of Lisieux. He talked about how Therese was so sick that she could not get out of bed and could not eat except for communion bread. He talked about how she would wait to hear of someone who did not accept God, and then she would “suffer for them” until they accepted God. She believed that her pain was for those people. I just could not accept that a loving God would either cause this woman to suffer for other people, or accept her dedication of suffering to these people.

In November I had to have surgery and spend several weeks in bed for the second time that year. Before I had even recovered from my surgery I got flu. Twice. That kept me in bed most of the time from then until Christmas. I think it was some time around this stage that I started to become depressed. Towards the end of November I wrestled with the existence of God after an argument in some circles that skeptics had to be atheists. I concluded that I was uncertain of the existence of God, and I stated that it was causing me problems. By Christmas Eve I had become very depressed and as I was on a train to stay with family I had my netbook with me but no internet access and so I decided to write. I wrote something which contained as many grievances with Christianity as I could think of at that point and I declared that I was no longer a Christian. In my horrible depression, I posted that article on my blog late on Christmas Eve, not thinking about anyone else and certainly not what it would do to my family. I am sorry to say that I upset my mum horribly and I am sure that I upset others too. I am so sorry that I ruined their Christmas.

In losing my faith I had lost something so deeply embedded in my life that the only thing I can compare it to is the possibility of being abandoned by my wife of eleven years, or of her death. I fell apart that night. I became suicidal. That night it was about -17c outside and I intended to go outside and freeze to death. I completely intended to die, so as to avoid (I thought) being abandoned by my family because of my lack of faith and so as to avoid the loss that I felt at no longer believing in God. I honestly don’t know how I did not go through with it but I somehow survived that Christmas and spent most of it hiding in my bedroom, leaving others to assume that I was ill.

Since Christmas I have tried my hardest to avoid thinking about it all. On a few occasions when I have tried to revisit my loss of faith or talk about it I have ended up in severe depression again. I still feel the loss, of feeling a connection with God, of being able to pray, and most of all of being able to worship with music. I have thought that perhaps I should try to pray and sing to God anyway, but I have changed from agnostic to atheist. I cannot make myself pray when I no longer believe that anyone is there to hear it. I have always had a black-and-white attitude to everything, and if I believe that there is no God then I cannot become a hypocrite and pray to one anyway, no matter how much I want to. I envy those with faith now. I think they are deluded to believe in God, but that belief is such a comfort and a hope for them that perhaps it is worth being deluded. But I can’t do that.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

10 thoughts on “From Christian to Atheist”

  1. This is a brave and honest article.

    It’s not surprising that this is difficult to come to terms with – you’ve lost an entire set of beliefs about the world and now must be feeling isolated from the friends and family whose support you most need. What you are describing in some ways is grief: grief for your lost faith.

    Have you spoken to anyone about this? It is perfectly possible that what you are experiencing is  doubt which surely forms part of the life of faith. I can’t help but wonder if it might be helpful to speak to a sympathetic priest. I am not belittling your conversion to an agnostic/atheist position when I say that or suggesting that you somehow seek re-conversion back into faith (if such a thing were possible). I just think that they may well have experience of doubt themselves and of helping others deal with their doubts. A therapist would be a secular alternative but that may not be so easy to arrange. The important thing is to talk about it.

    I am an atheist but I was brought up Catholic and it took me a long while to adjust to the idea that we live in a godless universe. At first everything seemed meaningless because the old system of meaning had been taken away: finally I recognised that it was meaningless only with reference to that system and that we create our own meaning in life. I think that the universe is a beautiful place and that the idea of a loving god is the expression of some of the finest hopes and aspirations of humanity. I am perfectly happy with the idea that there was nothing of me before I was born and nothing of me will remain after I die.

    I hope you find peace in your beliefs – either by adjusting comfortably to a belief in the non-existence of god or by rediscovering your childhood faith. I doubt I can be of much help but you have my email if you want to talk.

  2. I was pointed to this post by @psythor:twitter , and I find it both moving and somewhat familiar. Although no one ever knows exactly what someone else is going through, I hope you’ll read my drawing parallels as empathy and not trying to diminish or underplay your experiences. I too had a crisis of faith leading to atheism, and have had chronic depression, but in my case the two weren’t linked (they were at separate times) .

    The idea of stripping away bits of belief rings very true – I’d never realised until you pointed it out just how much the “New Covenant” actually gives the perfect excuse for “buffet belief”. It’s so easy to pick and choose or re-assign priorities based on our own knowledge and morality, and then say that that’s just re-interpreting based on love overriding legalism.

    In my case I was actually comfortable with this – it was only after my skepticism smashed into the empirical/historical claims in the bible that I realised how useless it was at explaining a consistent moral system. Until then I’d thought it was just the way things were that so many Christians could all come to different conclusions about right and wrong.

  3. Just to offer you every sympathy with what is a huge loss in your life.  I am an atheist, I always have been, had to have permission to opt out of worship/assembly at school. It is a big thing and once you become convinced there is not a god it is impossible to force belief.  I understand the loss or fear of loss of family, and it is very difficult for them as well.  My son is disabled and my family are so horrified by his disability that they will not have anything to do with me or my son! So have suffered this loss.  I hope you can remain close and supportive of each other despite your differences. 

    By the way, of course you can continue, despite the loss of the shared act of worship, to hold all your values and give to others in all the ways you did as a Christian.  For me being a socialist, was a very important basis for my values regarding caring and sharing with others.   Voluntary work and political activism can bring you in contact with many others who are caring without being christian.  To me there is no value in a life spent selfishly and alone.  The most important achievement in life is to have helped others.  To have improved one life is a wonderful thing to help many is even better. 

    By the way I am known as Carbonated on Twitter.  This is a very well written blog.  I’ll be looking out for you on Twitter.  Take care, you have been very brave.  There are others who have been through similar and many athiests and humanists who are very caring.  Welcome to the rest of society who do not practice a religion.

  4. I wish I could say the one thing to help you, whatever that might be. But I don’t know what it is.
    I went through a very similar thing, probably about 2001, got to a point of having very little faith and even doubting the existence of God. But as you know, I came out of it a Christian and am still a Christian. At my very lowest, I identified with a quote from Puddleglum in Narnia (quoted here: ).
    One of the problems you face as an intelligent, well-read person, is that you can find arguments and reasons to discount your own experience. So all the things you know from within Christianity, that build most people’s faith and further convince them that it’s true, you set aside as irrelevant. Interestingly, most rational/sceptical people are happy to fall in love, which can be explained away with even greater ease, but has different consequences,
    What surprised me, and it seems to match your experience, is that your faith (and by extension, whatever you “believe”, be that a religious, moral, principled, whatever “belief”) can be changed by the people you hang around with and what you read. I tend to think of myself as a very strong person, but in some respects I guess I’m like everyone else: terrifyingly easily led. Some people reading this will be laughing and think “well I’m not” – but that just means they haven’t spotted the ways in which they are.
    Another thing I noticed is that all the “reasons” I found for disbelieving Christianity had always been there, and could hardly be described as new thing that I didn’t know about before. So why do some suddenly seem to make a difference? e.g. The suffering thing bugged me a lot – I think it does many Christians – but I realised that I knew about it equally all the time I was a Christian, and could see no sensible reason why it should shake my faith at a given moment – yet it did.
    I came to the conclusion that, in a strange way, you do get to choose what you believe.
    I’ve also seen two (and now three, with you) examples of what happens to people who stop being Christians. If nothing else, it shows how well Christianity works. But then, from a Christian perspective, it’s another pointer to it being true. A pointer you can no doubt dismiss and explain away – but then, Christians believe they can dismiss and explain away all the “evidence” in the other direction too.
    (I started this response before you had other replies – might not have done if I’d seen that your post has been answered, but having typed this, I’ve decided to post it anyway).

  5. Thank you so much for posting this!!! I was lead here by my best friend who saw someone post it on facebook.
    I can relate to what you’ve been through entirely. I went from being a charismatic christian to an atheist in my first year of university, in what felt like a very short space of time. I’d been doubting my faith for months before that but had explained all my confused internal questions away with old chestnuts like “God knows what he’s doing”, “He has a plan for us” “His eye is on the sparrow”, somehow nullfying my doubt with the idea that He is infallible. Due to a conglomueration of factors such as seeing so many others without God completely happy and morally upright and all the logical contradictions that I saw within christianity I started to lose my faith. I sometimes led worship at my church as well and know exactly what you mean about the “drug effect” of it and the placebo effect of healing. I feel like I stepped out of the Matrix when I stopped believing and I was looking at the world from a new and both a disturbing and comforting perspective.  

    It’s so hard to learn to live without God when you’ve had him in your life before. I too really wish I had the comfort of belief but can not deal with the prospect of living in delusion. However, I feel like it’s easy to be an atheist now, at university, where I’m having fun, getting drunk all the time, studying what I love and being surrounded by friends, I’m not sure whether I’ll be equipped to live a faithless adult life without a lot of those things to keep me going. Which really scares me.

    Now, whenever I’m at home, I avoid church and haven’t summoned up the courage to tell my parents. I always feel pressured and uncomfortable around members of my church and scared about the questions they’ll ask me. I feel like if I were put under pressure to express my new beliefs, especially with one who hold those in opposition, I would freeze up and be unable to articulate them. One of my greatest fears when I was losing my faith was that people would just think I had given it up so that I could be free to have fun at university. The idea of that hurts purely because I was so indocrinated and cared about christianity so much I wouldn’t want people to think I let it go on a whim. Though I really shouldn’t care. I also don’t want my loss of faith to effect anyone elses because, as you said, it’s such a valuable and comforting thing to have in life. My fear is that if I told my family it would effect her beliefs.

    I can completely relate to your feelings of depression and isolation, an earlier post advised you to find someone to talk to about it and I completely agree with that. I spent most of my year seeking counsel with the best friend that led me to this post and it helped me no end. I’m still making sense of the world but having someone to discuss your ideas and feelings with, even if they have completely different opinions, is so helpful. I really hope you can find a way to live in happiness as an atheist. By blogging about it, so honestly, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole network of people going through the same thing and I think that’s amazing 🙂

    Thanks again!

  6. i have never wanted to be part of any all seem like one big clique to me.
    more wars and arguments are caused in “the name of God” than anything else.
    if there is a god out there ,we are not his messengers.
    and he would tell us to just get on with each other, and be a good person in life. simples!

    ps i would make a good God.( free beer for everyone and a fridge with a padlock!)


  7. I have, in a sense, dealt with a complementary experience – finding religion. Except for the fact that I’m still an atheist, sort of (that has a lot of implications carried with it, so I use ‘non-theist’ to avoid those). Never having had that faith, that sense of an ever-present love that Christians (and those of other faiths) describe, I’ve no idea what it might mean to lose it. I have always had a sense, with no reason behind it, that there is an essential goodness in people, much as it might not seem so a lot of the time, and finding the organised religion that actually suits my own feelings and beliefs set that in a context.

    It’s at the point that I feel a quandary. A lot of members of my faith, especially those raised in it, feel that I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do. As someone not raised in it, I disagree with that – because the reluctance to talk about it without specific invitation to do so is what makes it unlikely that people like me ever find an opportunity to learn about this group’s teachings and find a spiritual home. I find that to be tantamount to hoarding the ideas. That said, I’m am against proselytising, and when I tell people about my faith it’s not to convince them to share it, but just to share the ideas, because I think people might get something from it, even if they don’t agree with them.

    I’m a Quaker. Well, I identify as one – there are some who insist that only those in formal Membership of a recognised Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends should use that identification. At least among liberal Meetings (all, or nearly all, of those in the UK and western Europe in general are liberal), it’s perfectly possible to be a non-theist, or a pagan of whatever description, or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist, as well as to be a Christian as follows the roots of the Society. We have no creed, though we have traditions, particularly certain Testimonies (without canonical written forms) that define the most common parts of our beliefs. There’s also no general expectation of supernatural intervention (such as healing), at least among liberal Quakers. You might already know about all this, you might not – coming from the position you have, you might find it interesting to look into. You know where to find me if you want to know more or anything.

  8. I only just saw this post, after coming back from holiday.  It’s really hard to deal with a change in life view, especially when you have other big challenges to deal with.  I was raised as a Christian Scientist.  When they get sick you speak to a “Practitioner” who helps you “deal” with your “problems” and help you “get closer to God” in order to realise that you are not sick at all and it is all a manifestation of your lack of spiritual understanding.  I left this belief system when I was 19 but never found another way of thinking that reflected what I felt.  I called myself an agnostic for many many years and it is only in the last 2 years or so that I have come to realise that what I am is an atheist and by calling myself agnostic I have just cushioned myself from admitting my previous belief system really just was wrong for me.  And that is what it all boils down to.  Faith is a belief system.  It provides rules for how you view the world and your place in it.  Religion is a lovely and comforting system because someone else has written down the rules for you and you don’t need to do the hard work yourself.  I don’t doubt the comfort that the faith and the community bring, but I need something more real than that.

    Strangely enough science has become my passion as I read about atoms and particle physics and the big bang theory, I see the beauty and the structure that the universe, as it is, provides.  Also science helps with understanding the brain and the thought patterns that can help or harm.  Understanding why you are struggling with depression because your brain is disturbed by a change in thought processes and patterns goes a long way to helping you get on top of it.  I heartily recommend you start picking up New Scientist at the newsagents when you see it.  It gives you a good entry into the world of science in a way that the uninitiated can understand.  The mind is a wonderful thing, supported by the universe around it.  I know your brain isn’t working quite the way you would want right now, but you will get to the other side if you just stick it out.

  9. Hey there. Thank you so much for pointing me to this testimony. it’s great to feel that I know you a little more and understand where you’re coming from.

    I found it really moving. I can understand a lot of your objections and I also like to think of myself as skeptical, analytical (BIG fan of Derren Brown!)

    The whole issue of healing is a tricky one. I was miraculously healed of all brain damage from a serious brain haemorrhage when I was 6 days old (so unlikely to be placebo effect!) It could be a medical anomaly, I suppose, but it certainly convinced my parents to change from being agnostics to committed Christians.

    I grew up in a charismatic church and I have also experienced depression. One of the things I really struggled with in the early days was people telling me to be ‘full of the joy of the Lord’ when I was really struggling with depression and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I felt like it was my fault. And I also struggled to pray, didn’t feel the presence of God at all. So much of what my Christian friends talked about was so alien to my experience.

    As you know, I now have M.E., and not showing any signs of recovery. I find it difficult when people offer to pray with me. I like them praying for my healing – I believe God can miraculously intervene, even though he doesn’t often do it – and sometimes it really helps to have someone else pray when I have lost all hope that God will change things. But at the moment I just find it too emotional to be prayed WITH. I find it hard to deal with other people’s hopes for my healing as well as my own. It is emotionally easier just not to expect anything.

    I went through a spiritually angry and dark place last year and questioned a whole bunch of things. (i tend to do this periodically, anyway, but this was particularly angsty…) I felt like God wasn’t there and couldn’t connect. I had some supportive friends who heard my angry questions and loved me and didn’t try to defend God – but it didn’t shake their faith either. That helped. A lot. In the end I gingerly decided to believe and cling on. A few months later I felt the faint sense of God’s presence. It’s not enough to be knock-down argument-conclusive, although I do have a lot of trust in the Gospels as historically accurate records of Jesus’ life – but it helps. It helps as I continue to trust, less gingerly now.

    I just wanted to share a bit of my own story with you and thank you profoundly for sharing yours. And though it probably sounds Christian-cheesy – I really wanted to say that I feel a profound love for you as I read it which I think comes from the heart of God. I hear your frustration and skepticism and questioning and I feel with you the ongoing relentless battle of M.E. and depression and how wearying that is. I am sad with you for your sense of loss.

  10. I found this an amazingly honest article. It resonated with with me but in a different way.

    I grew up in a church environment singing in the church choir and attending church every Sunday and more besides for about 7 or 8 years. I sang the hymns, I prayed the prayers – but what I wanted more than anything was to possess the faith that I professed.

    Despite years of seeking and investigating other religions I have yet to find it. The end of your article made me cry as I feel that loss, even though it is something I’ve never found to lose.

    I still label myself as Christian when I fill in forms, and I keep on looking…

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