_For many people religion is a way of life. It's something that gets them through the day or offers them some comfort during hard times. However, there are some people who may have come from religious backgrounds and feel that religion is no longer something for them. _
_Here, people share stories about why they turned away from religion. _
Thank you to everyone who shared their story. Comments have been edited for clarity.
“I just realized I couldn’t be part of organized religion…”
When I was in high school, around 16-17 years old, my group of friends and I who had already been in youth groups together started attending a Christian mega-church at the suggestion of a girl I now know to be absolutely nutty. They had a worship band with crazy light shows, huge auditorium-style seating, the works. They also had fun social events and a theatre group, which I really enjoyed. It was a good time until we started attending the church’s “highly encouraged” youth groups and they began encouraging people to “absorb the holy spirit” and speak in tongues, which I was never able to buy into or wrap my head around.
One night at youth group, we began to share details about our families and personal lives. I shared with the group (which was small, maybe 10 other girls, four of which were some of my closest friends), the hardships my family went through when my older brother was diagnosed with and treated for bone cancer a few years before. He was in remission at the time, but it was still a sore subject as it had seriously messed with my head seeing my brother in so much pain. I’ve had a long history of depression and medication as well. I shared this with the encouragement (and pressure) of the group leader and the genuine, loving support of my friends. As talking about it often does help, I figured it couldn’t hurt. The room was quiet for a second after I finished speaking, and the youth group leader finally placed a hand on my shoulder and said, “What a shame you and your family weren’t members of the church back then. We could have laid hands on him and prayed for his recovery to be quicker through God.”
I was in absolute shock. Like, completely dumbfounded. Then she closed her eyes for a second and said, “The Lord wants you to know he hurts for you that you think you need medication to be better. He is your medicine.” I would’ve walked out and left right then, but my friends and I drove together. I never went back to any church again, though a few friends did and it did cause some tension in our friend group. I just realized I couldn’t be a part of organized religion, especially one that allowed this kind of toxicity, especially from adults who work with teens.
A few months later, I spoke with one of my guy friends who had been going to church with us as well and had recently stopped going. I asked him what happened and he had a similar story. Poor guy has Type I Diabetes and they pressured him to come up in front of the entire church during a Sunday service, put a “healing blanket” over his stomach, and started speaking in tongues/praying over his pancreas. They told him he should be cured within a few days. Of course, he wasn’t. He was so ashamed and embarrassed, but when I told him what happened to me, I think we both felt a lot better about our decisions to leave.
Being exposed to other ideas.
I was beginning to study at university and started seeing other opinions on various topics. I had been through public school and as far as Christian households go mine was pretty progressive. But actually being immersed in other cultures and knowledge started me down a path of doubt.
The next blow to my faith was moving out. It’s incredibly surprising how different the world looks being out of your parent’s house.
What really sealed the deal was the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. I had begun to study and listen to what scholars and scientists said on topics such as creation and faith and my faith in religion had plummeted. In the end stages of the Ken versus Bill debate, they entered a question and answer session, and both men were asked the question, “What would change your mind?”
Bill Nye said it would only take one piece of evidence. Just show him an undeniable fact that God was real, and he would become a believer. Pretty sensible.
Nothing could change his mind. He “knew” God was real and could under no circumstance be shown differently. It was then that I fully understood the circular logic and absolute absurdity that Ken, and ultimately myself, used to hold onto our faith. So I stepped back and began to reevaluate who I was and what made sense in my world.
Since my loss of religion/faith, I feel like such a stronger person. I rely on myself, and my own strength, to overcome my struggles. I scrutinize the world, and myself, and will no longer accept a truth unless that truth is universal. I see prejudices that my faith instilled me with, and I work to overcome them.
My view of the world feels so much brighter now. And beyond that, I feel no resentment to either my parents or my church; I understand that to them, they were doing what they believed to be best. I don’t agree with their views anymore and will challenge them if they press me, but my world is so much brighter now.
Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.
I went on a seven-day young life backpacking trip my junior year of high school. One of the nights they walked each of us far enough away from the campsite that we couldn’t see or hear anyone else and left us alone for the night with only a sleeping bag. I was scared all night praying a bear wouldn’t stumble upon me or a bug wouldn’t crawl into my sleeping bag. Anyway, the next morning everyone came back with these divine stories of God talking to them, helping them through the night. It was at this point I decided they were all full of crap.
“Joey, I saw you push him.” “… You pushed him!”
When I was a kid the priest would put his hand on people’s heads and they’d fall over, apparently passed out from their religious fervor. I wanted to try it out so I got in line and he put his hand on my head. I closed my eyes and felt him push me a little and had a “What the heck?” moment but kept my balance. I opened my eyes as he was moving to the next person and had a lot of disapproving stares cast my way by the adults seated around me.
I felt nothing except that guy try to knock me down so they could put a blanket over me. Had I been a little more clever I could have gotten a nap in.
Two big reasons.
Two big things.
The first was when I was younger. I prayed for a snow day and got one. Later that night, I saw on the news a five-year-old girl had died because a large branch cracked under the pressure from all the snow and coincidentally hit her. Me being young, I thought I’d had something to do with it by praying for the snow day. Though I didn’t tell my extremely religious mother this part, I asked her why God would’ve done something like that on a day that was supposed to be happy for people that age.
I got the “everything happens for a reason” response. Didn’t believe it for a second. For the first time, I disagreed with God. Felt kinda wrong.
The second is more predictable – I learned about the medieval popes in freshman year world history. Completely destroyed any semblance of belief I had left. I still think of the whole thing as a scam, though I understand its importance for some people and still feel somewhat guilty I feel that way.
“The bold faced hypocrisy was just too much.”
I remember quite clearly the moment I got up, walked out of church, and never went back (other than here and there for special events where I wanted to keep the family happy).
The preacher had just given a long ranting sermon about how terrible it was that other religions were coming to America to try and convert people. He then turned right around and took up an offering for Lottie Moon (for those that don’t know, Lottie Moon is an offering to support…sending missionaries to other countries to try and convert them).
The bold-faced hypocrisy was just too much.
Thinking about the afterlife.
I came from Catholicism. My tipping point was simply pondering this question for too long: If heaven is for good people, and good people have strong empathy, then how can heaven also be a place of happiness and peace if one has the knowledge that a whole subsection of humanity is eternally suffering down below?
If I did make it to heaven it would be exactly as it is on Earth. Countless souls in torment far away and me sitting there in relative luxury knowing about it but powerless to stop it. The concept of a judged afterlife didn’t work for me after that realization.
Manipulating religious experiences.
I grew up in a progressive Episcopalian (for those of you who don’t know, Episcopalian is essentially Catholic lite: all of the pageantry, none of the guilt) home. The entire focus of our religious life was on God’s love and showing other people that love. Good stuff!
So, my sophomore year in high school I went on a religious retreat called Teens Encounter Christ. It was the most deeply moving spiritual experience of my life. I was religious beforehand, but I really went deep after that retreat. I loved my experience at that retreat so much that I joined the staff of the retreat for its next occurrence six months later. And, as a member of staff, I saw how everything we did was carefully designed to emotionally manipulate the attendees. We strictly regimented their time and forbid them from keeping time to themselves, we gave them no breaks to ensure they were physically and emotionally fatigued, and we exploited that fatigue to convince them that divine love existed. Seeing it all happen really freaked me out. It made me realize that what I had thought was God’s love was really just the result of careful manipulation.
That realization started me on the path of losing my faith. The next year I took AP European History, which talks a lot about the history of the church. Every time the church did something I asked myself, “Is this decision better explained as a result of divine inspiration, or as the pursuit of temporal power?” The answer was not hard.
I also started reading the Bible. In moderate Christian denominations, there is no emphasis on reading the entire Bible. Sure, we’re encouraged to do Bible study on selected passages, but we were never encouraged to read it all the way through. Well, I read it all the way through, and it’s awful.
Finally, my entire life I had been taught that I was supposed to love and respect everyone regardless of their religious beliefs. As I began to think critically about that, I realized that attitude is in conflict with Christianity. My best friend at the time was Jewish. Did I really think he was going down under because he had rejected Christ? Either I was wrong to think that every person deserved to have their beliefs respected, or I was wrong to think that Christianity was the absolute truth of the universe. (I have since come to realize that there are some nuanced ways to escape this dilemma, but it’s way too late for me to return.)
So, that’s how I lost my faith. These days, I’m a little disappointed in myself because none of the reasons I lost my faith involve the kind of rational arguments I value most highly today; Hume and Russell played no role in my loss of faith, although these days when people ask, “Why are you atheist?” my answer will be entirely based on rationalism.
Asking the hard questions.
It’s hard to say what the exact tipping point was, but I’d say in general terms it was that I started having questions that I wasn’t comfortable asking. I started distinguishing between “church answers” and “answers.”
I grew up Mormon. The second of the articles of faith, tenants of the religion that even children are supposed to memorize, is “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”
It’s a key feature of the LDS church. Original sin just isn’t a thing. You’re judged by what you do and only by what you do.
And yet, for the longest time the church officially believed that a black person’s skin color was literally a curse from God inflicted on Cain’s (of Cain and Able) lineage. I don’t think that’s still official doctrine, but you can bet your sweet butt it’s still talked about that way by church members.
So tell me, do you think an eight-year-old would be comfortable asking their Sunday school teachers (or even the bishop) why black people are cursed by God when the second article of faith literally says such a curse is anathema to the church’s view of God?
Those sorts of questions that can’t be asked was the tipping point.
Just a tad hypocritical.
The complete hypocrisy of teachings. “Love your enemy/neighbor” and then “Gay people will burn for their sins!”
A confusing childhood.
Lived my whole childhood as a devoted Roman Catholic, prayed on rosaries, wanted to be a nun level of Christianity. I even went to horseback riding bible camp. Yeah, turns out the Christians and the gays aren’t down with each other. All jokes aside it absolutely crushed me to think I had done everything right and was still heading to the inferno over something I had no choice over. I was lucky enough to have been raised by a mother who believed that although religion was important, so was thinking for yourself. This helped me tremendously but it still doesn’t mean it didn’t cause HUGE confusion and issues in my lifetime.
Paying attention to your surroundings.
I took a long hard look at all of the people in our church and realized that they were not nice people at all. Full of judgment and arrogance. This was a cascade effect that had me questioning the entire system and I began to realize what an absolute farce everything is.
Now I am not religious at all. I try and live my life by being nicer to people and worrying about my own business, not worrying about everyone else’s. As a family, we are a lot more relaxed and happy.
I also think we are nicer to be around and our social circle is made up of better people.
What is real anymore?
I was never devout, but I at least believed in God. However, I was raised Jewish, so I was one of few people in my elementary school class who knew that Santa Claus was fake. I was really surprised to learn that my classmates actually believed that he was real, as opposed to knowing that he was just a symbol for the holiday. A man who flies on a sleigh around the entire planet in a night with an endless bag of presents. Oh. Okay. That’s legit.
Several years later, I discovered that the tooth fairy was actually my mom.
After that, it didn’t take long for me to follow the trend and realize that God was just Santa or the tooth fairy for adults.
A friend in need…
It would have to be the moment that I learned that my mother was removed as a member of her church when my father refused to have me baptized at birth.
I was five at the time and realized that punishing a woman who had committed her life to the church for her husband’s decisions was just plain wrong.
The second reason was when I was around ten. I was taught that non-Christians go to the Underworld. It struck me that Christians had friends that were non-Christian. I saw that these Christians were not actively trying to convert their friends. What kind of people would be okay with their friends going below? If they really cared, wouldn’t they be trying their hardest to convert all their friends?
I’m aware that some denominations feel that if you’re a good person, you get into Heaven when you die regardless of denomination. That wasn’t what we were told. It was the fact that if you weren’t a baptized believer in Christ, you were going to burn for eternity. That’s actually why I wanted to be a doctor when I was young. I had friends that weren’t Christian and I wanted to keep them from burning for things outside of their control.
Don’t diss Pokémon.
Teachers at school telling us Pokémon was satanic. I was in grade four and thinking, “I just want to admire this Gastly card. I’m nine. I don’t care about demons.”
I’d say that led me to start thinking religion was stupid. Then in grade seven, they started saying the same thing about Dragon Ball Z because at that time the World Tournament arc was airing and they had Dabura (a demon) on TV. And Vegeta was siding with Babidi and so they said Vegeta is a demon and that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard in my life. I reasoned it as follows: “Firstly he wasn’t a demon. Secondly, it’s a TV show for kids. Finally, demons aren’t real. Wait I think this?”
And that’s when I realized I was an atheist. I was 12.
Meeting an atheist.
When I was in middle school, I met an atheist. He became my very best friend, and for me, it was interesting because once I found out he was atheist I was just fascinated by his point of view. I had been raised in a fashion where I simply did not realize that people who did not believe in God existed. This was a starting point for me to open up my mind and consider my beliefs.
At the time, while my mother was extremely religious and pushed it onto me constantly, even making me have trouble doing homework due to six to eight-hour long church sessions (not exaggerating here, we would be there for hours and hours). I saw the bible more as a metaphorical thing. I believed in evolution and the big bang, adoring the library and reading many books relating to them in my youth. After a while, I realized just how extreme my mother’s views were and it began to occur to me that perhaps I didn’t believe in a god for real, but I only believed due to myself being raised that way. At this point I felt as though I had woken up, and I transitioned into atheism.
Mind you, I have absolutely no problem with people being religious and I think there are some wonderful churches out there. But my experience with my mother and her church was something else. The church is absolutely massive, the pastor screeches into the microphone as 10 giant TV screens are overhead showing his face, cameras panning everywhere, people urging you to buy things at his gift shop and take photographs and get them signed by this pastor. It felt… off. As though they were idolizing him more than the actual god. Plus, they would say things like how people needed to burn, and how we needed to “wage war to get rid of atheism.” Knowing my dear friend, and not having any problem with different beliefs, I found this to be ridiculous. Why be hostile to someone simply because they believe in something different?
My mother also believes that the people on the Titanic deserved to die because they said that not even God could sink the ship, and because that is supposedly some kind of insult to him, he sunk it on purpose to prove them wrong. She believes this was wonderful for him to do. I simply cannot see why murdering a bunch of innocent people for a phrase is a good thing. It’s these kinds of things that she would constantly say and it really put me off from religion. I have quite a few horror stories pertaining to this sort of revenge killing my mother believes in. She thinks that everyone who speaks against God or doesn’t believe in God will die and deserves to die. Not only that, but whenever I say anything that she thinks is questioning her, religious or not, she screams at me that I am being possessed by the devil and proceeds to grab at my arms and slap me. This can be something as little as her thinking that I took too long in the bathroom, and she goes off rambling about how I am a demon.
So in reality, it was a mixture of things that caused me to let go of religion.