Given a majority of the population of the United States associates with a religion (89.7% from a 2007 Pew Poll) and a majority of the population is Christian (78.4% from the same 2007 Pew poll), it is likely a majority of the population was raised in a Christian household. It then follows that a majority of atheists today were raised in Christian households. Statistically speaking, the typical atheist in the United States started out as a Christian and/or was raised in a Christian family. The same holds true for my story.
Growing up as a child, as early as I can remember, my parents took my siblings and I to Sunday School most Sundays of the year, excluding the summer. Sunday School was not taught at our Methodist church during the summer months. My parents, however, never attended church. Sunday School took place before the church service. My parents dropped us off, went back home, and then picked us up at the end of Sunday School. I bit out of the ordinary, I know, but that’s the way it was in my family. The only time I consistently went to church as a child was in the 8th grade when I was required to attend to pass confirmation class.
Outside of church my family was very non-religious. Religion was never brought up in daily discussions. We never prayed at the dinner table. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, but never in a religious manner. Aside from Sunday School, church and religion were non-existent in my family. I started working at McDonald’s as a junior in high school and soon moved to the morning weekend shift. I stopped attending Sunday School and my parents made no comment on it.
After high school, in college (both undergraduate and graduate), I never attended church nor did I think much about religion. It played no role whatsoever in my life. During graduate school I met and married my wife. We were married in her family’s home church. If pressured, I would describe myself at the time as a believer in God, but with a deistic attitude. To me God was someone who created the world through the process of the Big Bang and evolution, but now takes a hands-off approach to His creation.
After finishing graduate school and moving across the country, my wife and I started attending church on a semi-regular basis. Part of our reason for attending was to find and meet new friends. A couple of years later I started suffering from anxiety, resulting in insomnia and an overall cranky attitude toward life. My wife and I decided together to put a greater effort in religion and place ourselves in the hands of God, so to speak. We found a church we enjoyed and started attending on a weekly basis. After a year we increased our giving to the point of tithing (giving 10% of our annual salary to the church). I even spoke in front of the congregation on the importance of tithing, something that absolutely amazes me today as I look back on my life as a Christian. It was also during this time that I officially labeled myself as a Christian.
A couple of months later the pastor of the church asked me to serve on a leadership/advisory board to the church. I agreed and it was here that my faith in God came into question. Through this leadership board I saw the internal politics that affect most churches and it really made me question the church. At the time I didn’t question the existence of God, but I began to question the value of organized religion. This led me to books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc. This also led me to several atheism themed podcasts. There wasn’t any one source that caused my conversion to atheism, but by researching and critically thinking through religion, I realized there are many atheists out there and atheism isn’t a bad thing. I concluded that it is okay to be an atheist.
I served on the leadership board at my church for 8 months. I came out as an atheist to my wife a week before our church was set to have a huge welcome/recruiting event. We talked for several hours that night. There was some crying and there were more conversations after that. My wife always suspected that I didn’t believe in God and I think that’s what made my coming out to her easier to accept. She has always been more religious than I, but even she has had many questions. She would not describe herself as an atheist, but she definitely does not believe in the God of the Bible. As a couple, my wife and I have grown much stronger since my coming out. We’ve had many conversations on religion that have lasted the entire evening. In addition I’ve come out to my friends and family. They are all accepting for the most part. There are some issues with my in-laws, but nothing like the horror stories you hear about.
As for my church, I attended the big recruiting event, but immediately resigned from the leadership board and never returned. In fact, in the last 14 months I haven’t set foot in a church. I will still walk into a church building for a wedding/funeral/etc., but there have been no weddings or funerals since I came out as an atheist.
So there you have it. My coming out atheist story. It’s probably not the exciting, action packed coming out story that many atheists have, but it’s my story and it means a great deal to me. Coming out atheist was a huge relief to me. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’m finally able to life my life to the fullest without worrying about what the church and/or God thinks. I end by saying that although I’ve always enjoyed life, I’m now enjoying life to a level that I’ve never enjoyed before!