Before we start, it’s useful to define a couple terms.
Atheism and theism are positions of belief. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god while theism, as you might expect, holds the opposite meaning. The words agnostic and gnostic both stem from the Greek noun for knowledge: gnosis. While many theists who hold their holy books as a source of belief are gnostic theists (in that profess to know with certainty that god exists), most atheists are contrastingly agnostics. They lack certainty and so merely lack the belief in a deity. More on that can be found here where the author uses the more common term weak atheist to refer to agnostic atheists.
So how then did my journey begin? How did a devout bible thumping Jehovah’s Witness abandon his faith and become an anti-religious sceptic, rationalist and atheist?
I would have liked to say – as I’ve heard other deconverts often do – that I began to notice inconsistencies in the Bible which led me to the realisation that the book was not a divinely inspired tome from an invisible sky God but instead, a collection of Jewish books full of conflicting truths and questionable, archaic morals. Unfortunately, I had no such independent realisation. I expressed some doubts and my bright young mind often asked uncomfortable questions but they was always sated by the words of the elders of the congregation.
Instead, the pivotal moment came during a period of brief homelessness in early 2011. I hadn’t been allowed to go to religious meetings for the previous months that I spent with a relative who also tried her best to make me have doubts about the faith and adopt her hippie, pagan beliefs. But my mental armour was up and my belief in God was what I felt got me through those difficult few months. When I was forced to leave, I made my way to the house of one of my grandmother’s friends who was a Jehovah’s Witness. I was cold and desperate and had convinced myself that I could find shelter in her home as she’d previously said that her door was open to me at any time.
I was allowed to spend the night but I heard her non-JW husband in the neighbouring room informing her that he wanted me gone the first thing the following morning. She listened calmly and offered no protest. I hurried back to the table where the glass of tea was waiting so as not to betray the fact I was eavesdropping; my shuddering heart filled disgust. Disgusted that her husband was unsympathetic to my situation and disgusted that she so perfectly kept to her role of supportive wife that the patriarchal faith encourages. I was eventually rescued by a family friend who let me stay some days – even taking care of me as I’d become ill. The doubts began. “How was it that a person of the world (non JW) was more helpful to me than a Jehovah’s Witness” I thought to myself. “If we’re meant to be examples to those who are worldly, how is it possible for a worldy person‘s actions to be more moral than that of a JW?”.
These doubts remained when I entered the care system. I was initially unable to attend meetings due to the restrictions in my replied and grumpily expressed my annoyance in mock protest – praying to Jehovah to forgive me as I continued to miss the gatherings. The time came when I was permitted to attend the meetings at the Kingdom Hall and I went a handful of times. I found, however, that the words of the speakers on the pulpit rang hollow. I realised that I no longer identified as a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t publicly renounce my faith as I still felt generally Christian but I wasn’t sure which sect of Christianity suited me best. I planned to do some research and commit to a new belief system but I kept pushing the decision further and further away and habits such as daily or pre-food prayers began to fade into obscurity.
I moved out in the summer of- and started college in the autumn of 2012. I made friends with the alternative gamer and geek crowd and one of them linked me to a playlist of videos by the youtuber Thunderf00t with the series name Why do people laugh at creationists? It felt like such a naughty piece of media to consume. I’d been warned about watching material from the wrong sorts of people during my time in the JW faith and this was something that I knew was simply against the old rules. Still, I watched it anyway, out of curiosity. I found the videos to be incredibly funny as the arguments of the Creationists he tore apart were astoundingly stupid and humorous. There were moments when I felt my jimmies being rustled because rhetoric I’d used previously and heard repeatedly was the current piece of on-screen criticism but I continued to watch the videos over the course of the next few days with earnest gusto.
I was overwhelmed at the end of the series. I really wasn’t sure what to think. But I knew I wanted more and next started watching episodes of The Atheist Experience, debates which featured Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. As well as these, in some rare instances, I watched some random religious youtubers. The difference between the sceptics and religious became stark. The religious, I found, were often incredibly defensive, scientifically illiterate and their arguments were saturated with various logical fallacies. The most common being the strawman.
I realised that evolution, and other things like the big bang theory, were concepts which had completely been misrepresented to me previously and thus things I’d completely misunderstood. I realised that the base reasoning for the beliefs of the religious was always circular and quite often predicated on religious text which had no external evidence for its veracity. And I also realised that it was better to approach life with more reason and logic and that while there might be some gaps in our scientific knowledge, it would not do to simply fill it with God. And that, my readers, is how and why I became an atheist.
As a side note, I’d like to recommend the book Rationality: From AI to Zombies to everyone. It’s a 2015 ebook by Eliezer Yudkowsky on human rationality and irrationality in cognitive science. It answers the question “What does it actually mean to be rational?” quite thoroughly in its many pages. It’s available on a pay-what-you-want basis in the site I’ve hyperlinked above and also on Amazon.