How I became an Atheist (very personal)

I was born in 1979. Several years before video games became a standard in typical American suburbia and a couple decades before almost every toy was somehow electronic. As a result I spent a good deal of my time in the real world, playing outside and using my imagination.

I was the last of four children. My sister closest to me in age was 11 years older then me. So by the time I even began remembering things at four years old, she was already entering high school. My brother and other sister a couple years older then her.
My parents had done well for themselves in the late seventies, owning their own construction business. Not well enough to be rich by any standards, especially today’s, but well enough to have new cars, a nice home, a motor home and a decent income.
The house I came home to when I was born was a decent sized colonial with a finished basement, a formal dining room, four bedrooms, a good sized backyard and plenty of woods around to explore. We lived on the street at the end of the block, across the street from the back of a golf course, in a neighborhood mostly built by my parents company. My parents were in their mid thirties by then. The house was always filled with interesting things and a lot of little nooks and crannies. From the brick wine cellar my dad built downstairs, to the pool table, to the bar and basement office.
In the back of our house, past our wooden fence, was a big open field square in the middle of the block behind all the houses. My best friend was a little girl in one of those houses. Her father was a brick layer straight off the boat from Italy and a friend of my fathers. I would go out into the backyard, climb to the top of my swingset and yell out her name over the field. Her father had a raspberry garden in the field where we would meet and play and pick fresh raspberries.

I tell you all of this to give you a little background on myself.

My parents were Catholic, but not strict Catholics. We went to church on a fairly regular basis when I was young. I remember Palm Sunday and all the palm leaves. I remember the big stain glass windows. It fascinated me. I was probably four or five years old. My mother was an artist and I remember her big book of Michelangelo’s work. I would go into her bedroom and look through it on occasion. Much of his work was centered on God and Roman Catholic mythology.  I was named both after Michelangelo and the Archangel Michael, so my mother told me.

I don’t remember a whole lot from this era in my life, just glimpses, but I do remember it being a loving home and there being much to do. I also remember refusing to eat my oatmeal in front of the ceramic nativity scene my mother had set out around the holidays. I don’t know why, I just didn’t like eating in front of Jesus. It’s kind of funny thinking back on it.

When I was seven years old we moved to another part of town, downsizing to a tri-level house in a more lower-middle middle class neighborhood. The recession in the 1980’s hadn’t been good for business and my father had to go work for someone else. They had to sell the house and downsize everything.
I quickly met the three boys that lived across the street from me. Their mother being of Italian decent and their father of Irish. Another Catholic home. During most of my childhood it became a second home for me. By the late 80’s Nintendo had swept the nation and we spent a good deal of our time playing video games, but also exploring the woods around the neighborhood, building forts and using our imagination. I always had a big imagination.

Of the three boys, my best friend was Tom, the one who was my age. I remember when we were eleven years old, him and I were riding in my parents backseat and talking about the universe and God. We both asked the question “who made God?” It baffled us, it was beyond our thinking at the time. But it was my first real questioning of religion. 

Fast forward to my teenage years. I had always been shy growing up. Like many kids I was picked on in school from time to time. Not as much as some kids but the bully that got to me the most was Tom’s older brother, who was a year older then us and always into sports. Things didn’t go so well for Tom and I that year and I got a new set of friends. This was my high school freshman year. We were all guys, we had all grew up in the same neighborhood and had gone to the same school since elementary, but for some reason I had never really met them. Like I said I was shy. But we all shared a love of making movies together and so our friendships caught on quickly.

By the time I was in the middle of high school, somewhere around 10th or 11th grade, the group of us had become somewhat rebellious teenagers. As teenagers do. Still good kids, but we took out our aggression in what we wore, the music we listened to and the things we said. My personal battle was religion and it was my first taste of atheism. Although at the time I didn’t know there was a word for my non-belief. I also don’t remember why I started disbelieving and I don’t think I ever really did at that point. It was something I did more for shock value against the system. I remember taking a creative writing class in eleventh grade and we had to make a physical book of our writing. On the inside of the back cover I had torn out a picture of Jesus Christ from one of my bibles and taped it there. Hand written underneath it were the words “this is not my God”. Lets just say my teacher wasn’t thrilled with it. But she didn’t take it horribly either. I think she just wrote me a note saying “this was uncalled for”.
Also during that year I had talked with my friend Steve who had until that point blindly believed what his parents had told him about religion. He was a Lutheran and his parents and him regular church goers. He took what I said to heart and started thinking about it for himself and since then he’s been an atheist. Some 13 years now. We’re both still good friends.

By 12th grade I relapsed a little bit. I began to see the error of my ways as a rebellious teen and started looking at various religions and beliefs. I read a lot and wrote a lot of papers on my thoughts about God and the universe. I didn’t know what I believed but I was relapsing back into my Catholic roots a little bit.

One night I was lying in bed and began to get freaked out. I could have swore there was a ghost sitting at the foot of my bed. I could feel the pressure at the end of my bed and the cold on my feet. I was lying on my side facing the window and I could feel the pressure move up along side of me to my back. I jumped up yelling “get the hell out of here” freaked out and got out of bed, turned all the lights on and turned on my TV to the religious channel. I stayed up the rest of the night watching it. I told my parents in the morning who both sort of brushed it off, as did I later on.

Sometime later, I had another strange feeling at night, not quite the same. I began to visual the face of Jesus, praying for his help and no calm came over me. So I began to visual God and I realized there was nothing there. God had no face, but this seemed to work and a calm came over me. From that point I started questioning Jesus and whether he really had anything to do with God or any power to help me.

A couple of years later I was still in what I can only describe as my agnostic phase. I didn’t really subscribe to any belief but I wanted to call myself a Christian and I wanted to believe. After sex with my girlfriend one night I lay back and something amazing came to me. I had a vision of God. Before me was a field of grey spheres floating in emptiness. One of them was God and I realized that God was not vain and did not want to be seen as any different then all the others. It was a weird vision and I also passed it off later on as being just my imagination. Like those often strange dreams you have somewhere between sleep and awake.

A couple of years later my girlfriend and I broke up and the following summer I met a cousin I hadn’t met before. She was around my age and big pot smoker. I hadn’t smoked pot in several years but I decided to do it with her as a bonding thing. I reacted like I had never reacted to pot before. I began to freak out. We had gone to a bar and everyone else went inside. I decided to stay outside. I tried falling asleep but I couldn’t, my heart was racing and I was in a panic. I found myself outside the bar in the parking lot with my shirt off because I was so hot and I was on my knees praying to God and Jesus for salvation. It was the closest thing I could imagine to hell and the worst experience I had ever had. But nothing was working, not even praying. I got up and used my cell phone to call 911 on myself. When the ambulance and the firetruck had arrived they were all very annoyed with me and some of the cops were laughing I had called myself in. My cousin and friends ran out of the bar and she tried to convince me that I was having a panic attack and she had them as well. But I yelled at her, I didn’t believe her. So I went with the ambulance to the hospital. After laying for a while and having calmed down, the pot settled and my friends took me home.

Several months later I woke up one morning drenched in sweat and dizzy. My heart was racing, my vision was burred and didn’t know what was going on. I hadn’t taken any drugs and I had no idea what was wrong with me. I called my dad who told me to call the ambulance and I did, they came and took me to the hospital and my dad was quick to arrive shortly after. I was shaking, my legs uncontrollably flying up in the air and I wanted nothing more for them to sedate me. They ran several tests on me and put me on a drip and after sleeping for several hours I woke up feeling a little better, but still kind of dizzy and scared. They told me nothing was wrong with me. I had suffered a panic attack just like the one I had the night I smoked pot months earlier, but worse. I had never known what a panic attack or anxiety was and was scared it could just happen to me without any drugs being involved. About a week later I finally calmed down and within two to three weeks I was totally back to normal. Convinced by my mothers words that sometimes people have them once in their life and that’s it.

Several years later after having my first son Gabriel, my girlfriend was working, and I was home with both her son who was six at the time and Gabe who was about one year old. I had dropped her off at work to barrow her van since I didn’t have a car or a job at the time. But Gabe had a doctors appointment. So I put the two kids in the car and as I was driving to the hospital and began to freak out. It had been years since my panic attack and I thought I would never have one again. I managed to ge the the hospital but was freaking out. I called my girlfriend to have her meet me there. She had to get a ride from someone at work. I was in the ER and things were taking too long. I also didn’t have insurance. I sleep for about an hour in the waiting room and when I woke up I just told her to take me home. Later I went to the doctors. She was very mean, but she was onto something. She told me the depression I had experienced as a teenager had probably turned into anxiety as an adult.

I was really freaked out. I suffered for the next three or four months with a pretty bad case of anxiety. I remember wondering really strange thoughts like what if I had down something against God and was being punished. I didn’t want to think about the big picture or God or anything. It all scared me. My anxiety was rise as a result. So I spend the next couple of years avoiding the topic but still believing in God to some degree.

When I was twenty seven I began to think about it again. I was talking to my friend Josh who was by then an atheist. I remember asking him if the thought of there being no God was scary to him and his reply was no. He said it was actually liberating. I left thinking to myself in a rather smug way about how he was wrong. I wasn’t necessarily a Christian at that point in my life anymore, but I did believe in a higher power.
I thought it was narrow minded of him to believe that there was nothing beyond the physical world. After all science may be able to explain the physical world, but what about where the physical world came from?
But yet I began to think about what he said.

Several months later on March 12th of 2007 my father went to work at age 65 and had a heart attack. I had just turned 28 a month previous. I rushed to down to Detroit to the hospital thinking the entire way that probably told him he needs to watch his diet and take more aspirin. The thought of him dying crossed my mind but I pushed it out because it was a silly thought. When I walked into the hospital, my mother, my brother and my uncle (my fathers younger brother) were all there. My mother was crying and she said to me “Oh Michael, he didn’t make it” I jerked back, I didn’t understand what she was saying. My uncle grabbed me and put his arm around me and repeated “he didn’t make, your father’s dead”. I had to step away and pace around for a bit.
That night s my family was gathered at my parents house I cried to myself outside pacing around in the driveway with a big stick in my hand. I was scared all day I would have a panic attack but I didn’t.
The next day was beautiful out, the weather was warm and sunny. Strange for a March day in Michigan. But then Michigan is notorious for it’s odd weather. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.
The next couple of days it had been nice out, but by the time we buried my father in the ground at the end of that week it was freezing out. But I thanked the priest for the service and wanted to believe it all.

I didn’t know what was going on with me. Suddenly my world was on end. Although I had a son of my own who was by then two and a half years old, I still hadn’t felt like a man or a father. But I recognized I was now both. That I could no longer be the son, I had to be the father.
There was a certain sense of liberation in my father passing away. I loved my dad dearly. He was the greatest and most giving man I ever knew. But now he was no longer there to offer me guidance get me out of pinch.

I started to disbelieve in the existence of God entry. Not because of what happened with my dad dying. But by that point several thoughts had sunk in and with my sense of liberation I found myself trying to find my own way. I took to heart what my friend Josh had said and I found both peace and logic in not believing. My eyes felt like they were open, I began to see the world differently. Suddenly things started to make more sense. I was no longer trying to check everything against my beliefs in a God or a higher power. I began to realize that the idea of God was really like the idea of a father. Someone who watches over you and guides you and that some people never want to give that up and take on the responsibility of their own lives for themselves.

Since then I’ve been an atheist. I’ve also been a pretty outspoken atheist, debating mostly with Christians since it’s what I grew up with and know best.
However my mind is beginning to shift again. I’m beginning to feel like there might be something more. I’m not going to return to my Christian roots. I see too much fallacy in that religion. But I’m starting to look at the idea of a higher power or a creator in new ways. Call them pantheist or deist ways mixed with a little science. It’s like an on going search for truth and sometimes it really gets to me and scares me how endless it all is. I wonder if I’d be better off just living my life and forgetting about all of it. But I can’t, I’m too curious.



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0 thoughts on “How I became an Atheist (very personal)

  1. A really profound entry. I feel privileged to read so much about what you’ve discovered and thought about religion throughout your life.

    In a lot of ways I have, indeed thought of God as a father figure and Jesus as somewhat of a teacher or mentor. The realization that you had to take responsibility for your own life is, I think, a realization that most people must come to eventually. In your case I guess it also came with a detatchment from traditional Christianity. In my case I take responsibility for my actions and where I’m going in life, but also believe that there are right actions and wrong actions that rely heavily upon an overarching plan of some sort. Coincidences play a big part in things for me. So far I have been happy with life. If some big change should occur I might question my beliefs. Luckily I haven’t had anything majorly traumatic happen to me yet. When it does will I still believe the same way I do now, I wonder? Will I shift how I think about things and what I believe? Will it be a shift toward or away from being Christian? Hm….

  2. Huge props for posting this!  You’ve inspired me to write my own testimonial on how I became an Agnostic after growing up among Protestants.  It’s actually quite a similar story.  Kudos and also offer my condolences regarding the loss of your father.

  3. very cool of you to share your experiences and beliefs.  i think the wisest people are those that continue to explore many religious/spiritual possibilities without adopting any single receipe as the definite “truth.”  as much as some would like to pretend like they have a definite answer to what happens after we die, we all know it’s something that will forever remain a mystery to the living. 

    “I began to realize that the idea of God was really like the idea of a father. Someone who watches over you and guides you and that some people never want to give that up and take on the responsibility of their own lives for themselves.” – i agree that liking the idea of some higher spirit watching out for our best interest might be why some people need a God.  However I think the most pressing reason that people need a God is so they have a reason to hope that we (and the people we love) don’t just cease to exist one day.

    i’m agnostic. 

  4. Thanks for reading. I know it was long. I wasn’t sure if I should even post it based on it’s length, but decided what the heck.

    @Ooglick –
    People do change over time. It only makes sense considering we grow and
    learn. We don’t always stick to the same ideas and beliefs. Sometimes
    we return to old ones over and over again. It all depends. I am sort of
    envious of those people who are consistent. Like people who are
    interested in only one hobby and that’s all they ever do or talk about.
    They get so good at it. But at the same time, they must only see a
    fraction of the world and probably miss out on a lot of other things.

    I think that if there is a God, it would have a hard time judging us on
    what we believe alone, as it can and does change as said. More that we
    would be judged on our character or our actions in life. Or better yet,
    not judged at all and just accepted.

    @LadyLibellule – Thak you for reading. And you’re right, it always is interesting to see how people got to where they are.

    @stonysan – I
    think you should write your own. There’s always this line you have to
    decide on, like how personal should I get online? But over the years,
    I’ve kind of decided, I am who I am and there is really nothing to be
    ashamed of. Well.. maybe, but even still. Thanks for the condolences,
    it seems like forever ago now.

    @curtainsopen – Yeah I think you’re right. I think it all plays into it. This idea that you don’t want life to just end. As if it really makes any difference. As an atheist I came to accept that everything has it’s time and place. The people I knew when they were alive, do I really have anything more to say to them? Would it really matter? Instead I cherish having known them when I did, they’ll always have a place in my mind and heart.

  5. @roxics – 

    “I think that if there is a God, it would have a hard time judging us on
    what we believe alone, as it can and does change as said. More that we
    would be judged on our character or our actions in life. Or better yet,
    not judged at all and just accepted.”

    Amen to that :)

    I can’t believe that God would be any other way.

  6. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to discover a religion for me. I was raised pretty much without church and religion, but was told there is a God and I am Christian  by my mother the first time I asked. It’s an ongoing search, just like you said. I like to believe there is a higher power, even though I’m not really sure, though…

    Really good post!

  7. it’s nice to see from where people’s roots lie. if that makes any sense that is. i feel like i’ve gained a deeper insight on what you’re like. i’ve floated around from Hindu and agnostic here and then, but I never strayed far from the basic Hindu beliefs, going through a personal pagan phase a couple years back was insightful as well.

    but i’m kind of just hanging out and around leaving myself to do as i think is justified, i think i’ll figure things out if it just give it more time, i still have a lot of life left to live.

  8. im not an athiest, as i definately believe in a higher power, but i know what you mean about christianity being full of falicy.

    and, as a side note, i would say your parents were rich by MANY standards…

  9. You were right, this was a really long post!  I knew most of this, however I will have to say that living your life and not wasting so much time on “IS THERE OR ISN’T THERE A GOD” would be more beneficial.  I feel that if you stopped all the pondering so much, you wouldn’t have as many anxiety attacks.  Being curious of course is human nature, however if you dig too deep you may find something you were not looking for.  Loves!

  10. I’ve actually found that technology has brought me closer to God–it’s hard to believe that one person knows everything, but it seems quite logical that some sort of super-computer could keep track of each one of us. It’s an odd thing what can drive us away or towards God. Given your supernatural experiences, it’s a little surprising to hear that atheism was your conclusion. However, I understand that the post was already long enough as is to give a full conclusion on the topic.

  11. Hi, Michael…first …my heart goes out to you at the loss of your Dad. It sounds like yall had a very special relationship and you lost a part of yourself, your past…your history. That’s alot. No matter how old our parents are or what our relationship to them was like….losing a parent is hard. This is what I’ve learned from my personal experience and those of many friends over the years.

    I was so engrossed in your post. wow. I will admit that I have never had the experiences or doubts that you have been tormented with. There is something about having the Holy Spirit living within you [don’t roll your eyes now! ] that lets you see things that folks who don’t have Him cannot see. He’s Spirit and you probably know that when you accept God’s Son Jesus as your Lord and Savior…you are given their Holy Spirit….hey…I’m fixen to be 66 yrs. old in March and accepted Christ when I was very young and have never….ever….felt any doubt about the reality of Their existence. I have also LITERALLY felt the Holy Spirit nudge me when He’s told me to say something specific and I hesitated. Andy when you mentioned the experience with something on your bed….I am serious about this too….but a very close friend of mine had that happen to her….she had accepted Jesus as her Savior not long before that had happened and some not so good things started happening to her after that. One nite she was home by herself …. her hubby and kids were gone for the wk. end. She went to bed and turned out the lights….and out of nowhere…she felt ‘someone’ just sit down real hard at the foot of her bed…I’m getting chills just remembering all this!!! ….but….her hackles went up and she sensed evil. [Holy Spirit’s discernment. It is real. Trust me…I KNOW….too many years of living proof.] anyway….she told me she flipped on the light and started screaming at it, “In Jesus’ name…LEAVE!!” over and over again and no lie…she said that it was like a big earth tremor and the evil she felt was gone! She called her nabor and asked if she’d felt an earth tremor [we’re in Alaska and have those things] and nabor told her no. So my buddy told her what had happened…a Christian nabor also…she responded that Satan likes to mess with new Christians…trying to get them to doubt, etc. [I agree]….anyway….when I read what happened to you…had to share her’s with you. I am not a religious fanatic…truly I am not. I don’t look at God as my benevolent Father who bails me out of stuff or rules over me with a switch if I do stuff I know He would not approve of….I am a human and we sin…He only created ONE who didn’t. But I’m forgiven and loved & I know it. I’ve gone thru my share of horrible times and I can tell you…I feel His presence with me always. I don’t know how He does it on that one to one basis…because I can only try to figure it out with my infinite human mind and He doesn’t have that kind of mind…it is like you creating a robot that can do all sorts of kool things…but it could never have the kind of brain that you…the creator of it….has. Know what I mean? And please, forgive me if I come across as preaching at you, Michael….I don’t mean to. I respect your opinion, even tho it saddens me…cause from all that I read…it sounds like you have your heart searching for something REAL. You will NEVER find that without filling that hole God created in your heart….and only thing that can fill it is His Son. I’ve had the deepest peace and joy and contentment in my heart…ever since I asked Jesus to be my Savior and come live there. But each person has their own choices to make in life. I believe what God says in the Bible that He just wants us to have faith as a child and trust in Him. 

    Oh….one last thing….you were talking about scientific proof and all…have you ever gone to this site and read what’s on there??  It’s pretty interesting.

    Take care, Michael and have a wonderful week!

  12. @artsycraftsy2 – Thanks, but no I don’t believe in Christianity. If there is a god it is far more evolved a being that what Christians claim.

    As for my night when I was a teenager in bed and felt something there, I denounced it as anything supernatural. Looking back I can see it was clearly my own paranoia and an early indication of my anxiety.

    Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion, part of our primitive brain. It has it’s uses but also it’s drawbacks.

    The link you referenced me too, no offense, is a very ignorant site. Completely misinformed about evolution and natural selection. It’s typical Christian creationist material that doesn’t seem to understand the concept of evolution at all. It continues to baffle me how creationists cannot seem to understand this concept of evolution. They all seem to blindly believe that evolution is about putting a tornado in junkyard and ending up with a 747. As if evolution is some sort of magical process. Science has never been about magic, that’s what religion is about.

    It takes the right materials in the right combination over multiple generations and years to come up with complex life forms. You can’t just take dirt and water and get life. Nor can you expect mold in your kitchen to turn into a chipmunk. Evolution has taken many stabs at it and failed several times. But the things that work, stick and continue to evolve. It’s a process of natural experimentation. Which is why so many species have come and gone over the billions of years the earth has been here. More have come and gone then exist today.

    People say “well how did we evolve from apes” but we didn’t and evolution isn’t suggesting that at all. Apes as they exist today are evolved themselves from a previous common ancestor that we shared with them long ago down the tree. They (like we) are a fork in the evolutionary chain. They went one way and we went another. It just so happens that the route we went has allowed us to evolve beyond them.

    Now if a God did exist that started it all. Clearly evolution fits into that creation. God may be nothing more then the mathematical equations that run the universe. But this whole christian concept that God created sin, then allowed us to sin, then instead of just forgiving us right then and there, decided to wait thousands of years and send down his “son” to die on a cross so that we can be forgiven of our sin. Seriously look at that story for a minute. An all powerful, all knowing, all loving God, decides that he’s going to create a species of beings that are beautiful and perfect, then he’s going to allow a snake into the garden (which he had to know was there because he’s all-knowing) and allow those beings to fall from grace (which he had to know was going to happen because he’s all knowing once again). Then once they do, he says “you’re a sinner and all your children will be sinners and so on”. Then wait thousands of years of people living and dying in sin and then send himself down in the form of his son to die on a cross and forgive us our sin if we accept (not God, but his son). Then when we die we are reunited with all these dead people where we can live in happiness for a thousand years or more.

    Ok so lets take a step back. Why let the snake in the garden to begin with? Did he want us to be sinners? Does he want to blame us? If he loves us as much as he says and wants all of us to come to salvation then why even go through this stupid game to begin with? It doesn’t make any sense at all.

    It’s a childrens story is what it all is. People like the story because it’s easy to understand and makes them feel special and good. Like they have something to live for. But there is another level to it all. Fear. People who are raised with these beliefs fear the idea of no longer believing. I said myself I’ve dealt with fear and anxiety, so I know how powerful it can be and how much of a motivator it can be.

    At this point in time I’m willing to entertain theories about a creator. But Christian concepts on this matter are old and out dated. They don’t make a lot of sense.    

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