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Several people in my life have been asking me about my increased antipathy towards religion over the past few years. I decided to answer them all in one massive post that lays out my journey from a religious upbringing to my eventual realization that I am an atheist and a naturalist. I've seen a lot of "why I'm an atheist" posts, but they're all short, and don't really follow the issue from childhood.

This post is epic in length: over 13,000 words. I spent a month writing it. Let me know what you think.
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Added to Instapaper and looking forward to reading tonight!
Great read! My story parallels in many ways. (The section on Jesus is very reminiscent of David Fitzgerald's book "Nailed". Loved it.) You also made some profound statements that resonated with me. Thank you for your candor.
Just finished reading and it deeply enjoyed your thought process. Was going to comment on Twitter, but I needed more room, so here it goes...

I grew up in a very religious family, went to Catholic school from Kindergarden through an all boys high school, going to church every Sunday just like you. We're roughly the same age, but I'm a few years behind you in terms of my scrutiny of god and religion. Like +Michel Fortin said above, many of your statements were profound and resonated with me as well.

As someone who has done a lot of reading on the various topics involved, are any books you recommend moreso than others? I've been looking at buying a couple of Richard Dawkins' books, who you mentioned in the epilogue, but would love to hear your thoughts on good places to start/continue.

Thanks for putting this all out there for everyone to see!
+Matt Banks I would love to hear from Mark myself, but if you were to ask me, I would say read "God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris, and "Godless" by Dan Barker.

One audiobook that I love is Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" (yes, she played "Pat" on SNL). Her story parallels mine quite adequately.

There are many more. If you're a history buff like me and want to know how Christianity started and evolved, I recommend "Nailed" (mentioned above) by David Fitzgerald and "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart D. Erhman.
On the topic of God, you can't go wrong with "god is not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, "The God Delusion", and "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris ("Letter to a Christian Nation" by Harris is also good for Christians specifically, but read "The End of Faith" first).

If you have issues with evolution (or even if you don't, and you're just interested), then "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins is a fantastic read.

For a "the wonder of science" book, try "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan, or "Unweaving the Rainbow" again by Dawkins.

For raising children in a godless household, read "Raising Freethinkers" by Dale McGowan (and others).

For physics, try anything by Hawking, or try "A Universe from Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss which comes out tomorrow and is sure to be excellent.

"Letting Go of God" (audiobook) by Julia Sweeney was quite touching, so +1 to that.

Watch one of George Carlin's rants on religion. This one is the definitive one: George Carlin - Religion is bullshit.

When looking for objective morality, "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris is quite thought-provoking.
Every time I read that someone who decided to state that she/he is atheist and afterwards tells her/his story, I can just say "Yes, atheist is another religion and got it's own sort of preachers". No, I don't judge it. I just think it's fantastic that you can be atheist and part of a new (anti?-)religion at the same time. Oh, and "yes": This sort of discussion is mainly settled in the U.S.and A. (Most Europeans wouldn't even thing about writing about this ;)
You should write a book. Your views are refreshing and totally honest and everyone needs a little honesty and self examination. Hitchens seemed like such an extremist where you touch on the agnostic angle. He also incorrectly quotes einstein. Arguing with lies turns people off when (if) they find out the truth. Hear that religion, politicians, media? People are turned off by lies. As for secular evidence of Jesus there was a roman document that mentioned the execution of a 'Christos' at the right place and time, and that it was the pharasies<---im tired and refuse to spell correctly--- that brought this christos to the attention of pilate. Some think it is christ misspelled, but that is a bit of a reach. In such a document he would likely be referred to as 'Joseph'. It doesnt seem like islam nor judaism dispute Jesus' existence, simply whether he was son of god. I do know the histories of all three religions but wouldnt it have been in judaism's best interest to deny jesus ever existed? Anyway, please write a book about your experiences, we all loved to read your post especially the bits about your youthful experiences with organized religion and the tooth fairy (we all cheered at that point). You could turn each section in your post in to a chapter and bam! book deal. I would buy it. I have an experience I would like for others to examine for me. When I was little, I slept at the opposite end of the house from my parents. One night, I heard growling in the hall way. It seemed like it was at the far end of the hall. We had a chihuahua, but this dog sounded much bigger, and besides, moms lap dog was locked in her room with her every night. The next night, it was closer to my room, maybe about halfway down the hall. I had a lot of fear in me that night and told my mom about it the next morning. She said that I was probably hearing a neighbor's dog outside. Well, the next night, it was LOUD and right outside my door which wouldnt latch because it didnt have a handle. I thought 'if there is a god, please help me!' I dont need to tell a single one of you of how scared a child can be in the dark. The growling stopped immediately. A sweet, soft female voice said to me 'Dont be afraid. There is nothing there' and then I felt as if I was being wrapped in the warmest of perfect hugs, and everything was white and beautiful. Then the darkness of my room. I felt an immediate and devastating loss. I was happy that the dog thing was gone, but the only thing that has ever come close to that perfect love feeling was holding my children for the first time. People doubt my story and say that I must have been dreaming or that it was two ghosts. I have questioned why some angel would come and help me feel better in the dark when there are children dying all over the world. I cannot explain it except to say that maybe the thing growling was more dangerous than my adult mind can accept where my child mind knew. That I asked for help and got it contradicts all the people in the world who ask and still have their children or wives or whatever die from cancer. Another question I dont have answered is why this female would lie and say something is not there when I know damn well it was. Maybe the moment the statement was uttered, it really was gone so without acknowledging that the danger was there, I was assured of its current absence. Also, what in the world would go around terrorizing little kids in the dark and return the next night to do the same thing? Thats where a friend of mine got the ghosts thing. Any thoughts?
+Deborah Spruill The human mind is an amazing thing. Everything you experience is interpreted by your brain. Reality itself only exists to you as your brain interprets it. Thus, the same brain that can let you experience real things can also fabricate those experiences in a way that is indistinguishable from reality. Especially when we're tired, or scared, or vulnerable, our minds can play tricks on us. Additionally, our memories are notoriously unreliable. They change over time. Sometimes a thing that you merely considered gets "marked" by your brain as a memory of something that happened. I can't say for sure that's what happened to you in this case, but I'd doubt, strongly, any supernatural explanation.

Regarding the Roman document, I think you're referring to Tacitus, who mentions Christians and the alleged crucifixion of "Christos" which is a Latinized version of the Greek word for "Christ" (which isn't a name... it just means "anointed one"). But in context, and especially considering that he said "Christ" instead of "Jesus", it's likely that Tacitus was just quoting the Christians of the time (who likely had access to letters about Jesus by Paul of Tarsus). So this isn't any sort of independent verification.

As for Judaism, Jews don't accept Jesus as the messiah because (even according to the Christian-authored books about him) he didn't fulfill the Jewish prophesies about the messiah. So it doesn't really matter to them whether or not he existed... the accounts of his alleged life make it clear to them that he wasn't the messiah. Remember, Christianity gained most of its followers from non-Jewish populations. As an "upgrade religion" for Jews, it was largely unsuccessful.
I do not want to doubt my memory, like anyone wouldnt, but I have tried. I was not raised with any sort of religion, my mom was also a nurse, but she was a firm atheist. I would doubt my own memory if I had told the story several times or if it happened before I was 5. The first time I told anyone was last year and only to the guy I had already been with for 8 years. I have pondered for 2 decades and the best I can come up with is that it was some unknown force. There was no confirmation of it being god or angels, but I stand by what I say. This happened to me just as I know that when I was 4 I went to disney world. I couldnt read the signs that said disney world, and that building could have been something other than epcott center-ala the movie truman where his parents take him to 'mount rushmore' - however, it was probably disney world when I look back on it. I simply dont have an answer for the later and much clearer experience I had on that night.
+Deborah Spruill I recommend "The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer. It explains a lot and may provide some insight.
Well,done. I am 18 and both my parents are atheists. When I was little my dad would read me bed time stories from the bible. At the end of each story or section he would ask me, "What kind of god is this?" And I would give my response, compassionate, evil, a jerk, depending on the story. This continued for a few years, sometimes we would read Greek myths and talk about what kinds of gods they were. One night when he pulled out the Bible I said, "No dad, no more bible I am done." Though I did not know it that really was the moment that the possibility of believing in God was gone.
I am fortunate enough to have gone to school were I am able to be vocal about atheism and why belief in God is simply, boring. I thought your post was great but it is important I feel when talking about the issue to not make people believing in religion wrong. or more importantly to be self-righteous which you I can tell tried to keep away from. Though I admit it is hard not to be self-righteous when people around you believe in ideas with no relationship to reality. Thanks, great post.
A vary well crafted piece Mark, particularly [at least for me] the paragraph on 'Why Does Faith Persist?". Thanks for taking the time to set your journey down in words - it offers others an opportunity to pause for thought, to be inspired and then to begin their own journey of emancipation.
Just an awesome screed, Mark. Actually, the best I've seen. Very well done.
I enjoyed your post quite a lot. I have just one criticism: You seem to attribute more certainty to science than is warranted. Modern science doesn't actually talk about truth or claim to be true. It consists of models that help us make sense of our observations (of nature). Regardless of that, it was a thoroughly engaging tale that I enjoyed reading very much.

Thank you for sharing!
Interesting, but I wish you had talked about none Christan based religions. Did those cross your mind when you were questioning everything? And what do you think about reincarnation and how what you do in this life could impact your next. Karma, etc. -Like someone else said, maybe you should write a book.
very comprehensive and well written. I enjoyed it, Thank you.
I had a similar enough upbringing to yours, only my Catholic parents became charismatic fundie Protestants - weird churchy un-education early on and etc. Also an atheist, now. Very nice, and thanks for telling the story.
+Mike Kennedy If he had done that, I wouldn't have reading material to use to avoid work this afternoon.
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