Originally, this article was presented to and published by the We Are Atheism campaign blog. To further my story of how I eventually found myself becoming an atheist, I’ve decided to re-publish it here on my news blog:
By BJ Murphy
My journey towards atheism was certainly one that I wouldn’t recommend to every child in doing, nor experiencing. But it’s certainly one that I feel should be inspiring enough to really understand where I came from and why I chose to not believe in God in the end.
It all started off when I was around 6 or 7 years old, and I was visiting family in Virginia – staying with my biological father for Christmas – and I distinctively remember hearing on Christmas night a bunch of noises coming from the direction of where the tree was located. So, naturally, as any curious young child would do, I sneaked my way out of the room and tip-toed towards the den where the tree was. And, as surprising as it was at the time, instead of seeing Santa Claus, I noticed both my father and grandmother (attempting to!) quietly placing presents of all sizes under the Christmas tree.
Now, despite the usual cliché of a child’s heart being broken over the finding out of Santa Claus not being real, I actually found it to be humorous. All my life, for what I remember of it, I’ve been labeled a “smart ass,” because of the dark humor I somehow grasped. So when I saw my family thinking they’re getting away with this harmless lie, I couldn’t help but find it hilarious that they’re going through all this trouble, and yet now I know their dirty little secret! Unfortunately for them, I kept up the act of “believing in good ole’ Saint Nick” for another few years.
Reason why I’m telling you this story first is because it was my first step towards atheism. That night, not only did I come to learn that there wasn’t, in fact, a fat guy in a red suit sneaking into people’s homes every Christmas night, I also learned a neat new trick: the act of questioning all that I was told. And you won’t believe who my next victim was after Santa Claus – the Tooth Fairy? No; the Easter Bunny? Wrong again; was it God? Close, but a few years shy. My next victim came to be Heaven and Hell!
Yes, that’s right. I somehow went from Santa Claus to Heaven and Hell. How it went like that, I couldn’t really explain to you. But I can explain the relation between the two. Every night since learning of Santa Claus being a myth, I then started wondering what all else was a myth as well, but was led on to believe that originally gave me such happiness and joy. And, for some reason that I lack in understanding myself, Heaven and Hell became the next topic. I thought to myself: “If a man really isn’t flying around all night, giving the entire world presents that are being good all year, then maybe there isn’t a Heaven for me to be rewarded for being so good all my life.” Naturally, Hell came with the skeptic package. So the relation was, to some extent, me questioning the reasoning behind such rewards being promised to me – my mindset: presents = heaven.
Needless to say, it only took a few weeks of contemplating these questions in my head to finally come to grips with what I knew all along: Heaven and Hell doesn’t exist. And I will admit, unlike the revelation of Santa Claus being a myth, I actually found myself very sad, each night, thinking about Heaven and Hell being the same. Though, my reasons were strictly on my fear of death and the fact that I won’t ever see my parents and those who I came to know and love ever again once I finally “pass on.” Though, as one could logically guess, I eventually got over it and adapted to the marvelous quote by Mark Twain: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
From there, it was just a gradual ride towards atheism. With most of my family being devout Christians, I was naturally forced to go to church with them, no matter how boring it seemed (even when I was a Christian!). So whenever the preacher started talking about Heaven and Hell, I couldn’t tell you how many ‘facepalm’ expressions I gave him. It just became this silly lie that, for some reason, many believed in. Similar to that of every Christmas year I’d struggle in refraining myself from telling my parents that I knew there wasn’t really a Santa Claus. Come to think of it, I may have believed they would stop giving me presents if I exposed their secrets.
To make a long story short, I eventually took on what is known as agnosticism. My questioning of Heaven and Hell finally reached the Big Man himself, and it was certainly a question I had stuck in my head all the way towards my early teens. And to be completely honest, I was actually an atheist for the last year or so as a self-proclaimed agnostic. How? Because I stopped believing in God. Simple as that! But the term ‘atheism’ was still this “dirty word” to me for some reason, who I can thank my family and church for conditioning me into this mindset in the first place!
It wasn’t until I came across this compiled list off the internet of famous atheists in history that I really started thinking: maybe atheism isn’t so bad after all!
I know many would like to think that it was the overwhelming amount of evidence (or lack thereof) towards the non-existence of a Creator of any kind, but in all actuality, I felt alone as an atheist. Thus what kept me in the closet, per se. So for me to finally find out that I wasn’t, in fact, alone at all, and that many famous people in history, ranging from the great minds, to politicians, to political revolutionaries , to famous actors/actresses, etc. etc., there was this sense of somewhat finding my “long-lost family” and that I finally found my way home. It’s perhaps one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced in life…well, not the greatest, but that’s a different topic altogether!
So, from then on, I’ve continued and advanced my level of skepticism towards the illogicality of all the various age-old myths. Today, I’m extremely happy in being an atheist. Thanks to my experiences in life over this topic, I’ve come to use it productively by trying to make it a lot less lonely for those who’re going through their phase in doubting what rightfully needs to be doubted. And this essay is one of those attempts that I hope people will come to read and feel as I felt when I realized that, hey, I’m not really alone after all!
So don’t allow those who look down upon you make you think that atheism is “evil,” or naturally a “phase” that we get over with in time. Being an atheist is nothing more than disbelieving in God. Whether you choose to be a good person or not, or wish to help those around you in a “Christian-like” fashion is up to you, not that of the church or the “big man upstairs.” Love, happiness, freedom, friends, and family are all made up of what you do in life for yourself and for others.
“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”