Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Epiphanies

Today’s Afternoon Inquisition comes to us courtesy of last week’s Comment o’ the Week winner, TeamBanzai, who writes:

I remember the moment when I knew there was no such thing as god or an afterlife.

I was seven years old, in the car coming back from church with the family that my father paid to take care of my sister and I, and started to think about death, because that’s what you do when church is involved, and it hit me. We just die, cease to exist, there was just nothingness after death.

I had always had a problem with the concepts of god and an afterlife, when the family prayed I did not participate and used to look around and wonder if they really believed it was working. It wasn’t until that moment in the car that I knew it was all nonsense.

So I ask all you fine people, did you have ever have an epiphany like that? Or was it gradual? It could be about anything woo related.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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54 Comments

  1. Not so much an epiphany. I was raised pretty-much agnostic. I was reading “The Blind Watchmaker” and thought, “Oh, I’m an atheist, not an agnostic”.

    For me, it was more of a clarifying of terms. I do seem to recall knowing something “just happened”… a specific comfortable and satisfied feeling for having made the realization, but nothing dramatic.

  2. More epiphany than gradual. I remember reading about how idiotic the Scientology beliefs and thinking to myself “That’s so stupid, not like…”. That incomplete sentence had me examining my own beliefs, and really reading the bible for the first time.

    I had pretty much rejected it by the time I got helfway through Genesis.

  3. I had a realization as my husband was in the doctor’s office getting his vasectomy. I was sitting in the waiting room, waiting to drive him home, and it suddenly hit me that this was it, this was absolutely it. I was never going to have children. That was that. I said, “huh” to myself, and then went back to my book.

  4. The only time I ever had an epiphany like that was in the back of a taxi.

    I was teaching English in South Korea at the time. The Taxi drivers there are sometimes a bit crazy and do things like drive on sidewalks, make U turns across 6 lanes of traffic… all sorts of interesting and creative aggressive driving. Usually it’s terrifying, but after a while you get used to it.

    Before I was used to it though, I had a taxi that decided to race a train. There was no barrier, just tracks, and a freight train headed towards the local paper factory. My driver took a chance and zoomed at the tracks, and the loaded with wood train that was almost at the road.

    Korean taxis are often Mad Max affairs, with a spare “gas tank” (steel barrel) jerry-rigged in the trunk of the car.

    As I sat there, in the back of the taxi, I started to panic, the speed, the train, the extra fuel only inches behind me were all very much on my mind, when I had what I call my Zen Moment: I suddenly and completely realized, with my entire being, that I was powerless to control the outcome. Death or Life was right in front of me, and there was nothing but the skill and judgement of the driver, plus a certain amount of random chance (would the tire blow out? could we accelerate quickly enough?)

    A surreal calm washed over me, and yes it was like a religious experience – time slowed, and I felt like I was watching it with a detachment that I had never felt before.

    I understood that nothing is permanent, life is transient, that there was no point in anything at all, and I was okay with it, I understood my place. I had achieved satori.

    It really was an astounding feeling, and it lasted quite a while. It’s long gone now, and I doubt I’ll feel it again, but I can understand how some people might be changed for life by a feeling like that and equate it with something mystical.

    For my part, I just feel lucky to have experienced it. It did influence my thinking for quite some time, and I spent a lot of time flirting with the idea of being a Buddhist, but in the end atheism plus reality won out.

    Yay for brain chemistry!

  5. My de-conversion was a gradual process, but I can remember the exact moment when I realized, “Holy shit, I don’t believe any of this anymore.” I was reading that Christian fiction book “The Shack” and there is a scene where the lead character watches his dead daughter playing in a field in Heaven and it just hit me: “That’s never going to happen. If something horrible happens to me or my family there will be no loving father on the other side to wipe away our tears.” It was a pretty gutwrenching realization even though I already “knew” all that in my head. That just drove it home.

  6. Mine was about my homosexuality.

    I was like 14. I had been waiting around for friggin ever to be interested in girls. I was in my freshman year of high school. Maybe I was just a late bloomer.

    I had always been shy around the older boys, even back to early elementary. But, that was because they were jsut really cool, not like these lame elementary school kids I hang around all day with.

    I had been recently having dreams where I had seen a male teacher of mine nekkid. Ok, whatever, I’m sure that’s normal.

    While walking from class to class, I realized I would check out the male students’ flies as they walked back…Ok, maybe just preventing any XYZ moments.

    I had seen a special about internet porn, both male and female, and a glance while mentioning the guys had been stuck in my mind for a long time. Ok, I count steps all the time, I’m sure that’ related.

    One day, during math class, it donned on me. Being shy around older guys-checking out their package-the dreams-the images…I was…GAY.

    But, wait…I’m christian…I can’t be gay, that’s the work of the devil…

    Over the next 2 years, fundamentalist christianity did nothing to stop or cure my gayness. And for a while, I was bobbing back and forth…christian-athiest-christian-atheist. I even talked to a youth minister about going straight, and I saw a video about Exodus International. But, over time, I became more secure in my sexuality and (lack of) faith.

  7. My path from Catholicism to atheism was gradual, and because of that, I didn’t fit all the pieces into place at once. That led to my own epiphany moment in the middle of a world religions class my senior year of college.

    Although losing faith meant losing faith in the afterlife, for the first time it hit me, emotionally as well as intellectually, that there is NOTHING after we die. I don’t even know what triggered it in that particular class. But I had a sudden panic because THIS. IS. IT. And then the dawning realization that, oh yeah, this is all we have. That’s why it’s so precious!

    Must have looked funny if anyone was watching my face… the shock, panic, and then relaxed happiness that occurred over the course of the lecture. I probably missed most of the material for that day, but had quite an important experience from that.

  8. Definitely gradual. I was brought up surrounded by Woo and magical thinking. When Christianity didn’t work for me (a few times, yes I kept going back figuring it HAD to make sense somehow) investigated other religions: Wicca, Buddhist, Hindu, anything I could get my hands on. I couldn’t make any of it make sense beyond the basic “be excellent to each other” message. So I started reading. “The world’s 16 Crucified Saviors” and “Bloodline of the Holy Grail” comforted me with the knowledge that maybe there was a Jesus but he wasn’t who the Bible said he was.

    Finally I listened to Penn Jillette’s radio show and the Geologic Podcast by George Hrab and gave up all pretense of trying to make it work. It just wasn’t going to work. BUT it wasn’t until the first day of DragonCon 2008 when I had the pleasure and great fortune of meeting James “The Amazing” Randi. I explained that I had given up Woo and he asked me if I felt better.

    I’m tearing up now remembering because at that moment I felt like I had permission, FINALLY, just to be myself and stop trying to believe just to fit in.

    I replied “Yes. Yes I do. I feel like a burden has been lifted”.

    I wonder…can someone have a *reverse* religious experience?

  9. Talk about ephinanies!

    I was riding my bike home, eating a chocolate bar, when this girl who was eating a jar of peanut butter crossed the street right in front of me. I dove off my bike to avoid hurting her, but we got tangled, and my chocolate bar ended up in her jar of peanut butter.

    After an accusatory exchange of, “You got chocolate in my peanut butter”, and “You got peanut butter on my chocolate”, we shrugged, and tasted the mixture.

    We looked at each other smiling, and said at the exact same time, “They need to put a fucking light at this intersection!”

  10. Mine was when my C of E primary school finally got round to teaching us about other religions when I was aged just after 10.

    It was taught in an off-hand, “look at these idiots” sort of way, and it made me think about my own religion. I was an atheist by my 11th birthday. So a little bit gradual, a little bit epiphany.

    A little earlier in life, aged 5, I had an epiphany when I realised that Santa didn’t exist. I opened my first Xmas present and it was identical to one I’d got the previous year. Santa wouldn’t do that.

  11. I’ve been an agnostic since as long as I remember, you know, ‘There’s so much we don’t know!’ and ‘Who are we to say they’re wrong?’ …but I do remember the moment I became an atheist…I was 25 and I just thought about the ‘likelihood’ that an invisible, omnipotent spirit with very human traits who’s opinions seem to evolve and change as our societies opinions change, especially about women’s rights/slaves etc. , and who’s idea or right and wrong ‘coincidently’ changes as we change….I came from a Catholic country…considering the Pope is supposed to be the direct link to God, then God has changed his mind a lot over the last 2000 years….a lot for someone who is supposed to have infinite wisdom..then it all just popped like a balloon…atheist.

  12. First I have to give you a quick spiritual history. I was raised Catholic (the sort who went to mass before school by choice), converted to Presbyterian when the RCs excommunicated my mom for divorcing my abuser, spent my teens as a sort of New Age, converted to Mormon for 10 years followed by several years of studying with folks like the JWs, Adventists and born agains.

    In 1992 I was finally diagnosed as bipolar and given lithium while being weaned off some generic anti-depressant. So naturally I had a severe depressive episode which I attributed to having started hanging out with pagans. One night found me lying in my bed, too depressed to even move–or I probably would have committed suicide. As I lay there, looking back over my life and all the horrific pain I had endured, I reached out to God.

    I started to pray. I started to ask him to take away the pain. I was willing to promise him anything if I could just muster the strength to get out of bed. I waited. Nothing happened. I started to get angry. I started to yell at him, in my head, because no matter what I did, it was never good enough for him. I told him I was giving him one last chance, just let me be able to not hurt for a while. Otherwise, I was sure there were deities out there who WOULD help me.

    Of course, nothing happened. FINE, I shrieked in my head, I know someone is out there. SOMEONE help me. And immediately a gentle woman’s voice said inside my head, “Go to sleep. It will be all right in the morning.” And I said, “Excuse me?”. She repeated, a bit more firmly, “Go to sleep. It will be all right in the morning.”

    Well, hell, who was I to disobey. I went to sleep. And it was better in the morning. (And this strategy almost always works when I’m stressed or depressed.) But I realized that it wasn’t an external force directing me, I KNEW when I woke up that I had finally let go of my religions insanity long enough to hear my own common sense. I have been happily skeptical ever since.

  13. My own skeptical experience is a sort of “Punctuated equilibrium” – gradual change interrupted by a few true epiphanies.

    One of my first epiphanies resulted from grief after my father’s death. I had a hard time of it, at 17, and became suicidal as the result of the grief, stress, and what I later learned to be a neurological problem. The ministers of my church – who continually reminded us that we knew we had the right church because we were the epitome of “having love among yourselves” – were unresponsive.

    When I called to tell them I was seriously considering suicide, and I was scared, they actually made an appointment to speak with me in a week’s time. Secular friends of mine (which I wasn’t supposed to have, so score one for teenage rebellion) responded by driving over 300 miles to come spend the night with me, “partying”. When I later realized that they’d kept me distracted and watched long enough for me to start thinking rationally, I had my first true epiphany:

    My secular friends, whom I’d never even met in person before, had more “love” for me than my church leaders.

    This realization led to a new ability to see my faith and my church without the haze of emotional blindness. I owe those friends so much – not just the fact of my life, but the quality and clarity with which I now live it.

  14. All of the above? I used to say that I believed in everything but took nothing seriously. Ghosts, woo, God… sure, why not?

    Then one day it hit me, that attitude was completely ridiculous. Why should “everything” get the respect of my belief? Wasn’t it far more interesting to know what was real? And why people are willing to embrace a whimsical interpretation when the logical one actually tells us more about the world?

    I’ve gotten a bigger rush from recognizing confirmation bias than I ever did from a ghost hunt.

  15. I honestly don’t know that I have enough self-perspective to answer that. I have a tendency to sort of shallow sine wave on the topic… sometimes mildly religious, sometimes mildly atheistic, never really one nor the other. Thus the description of “Either an atheist was a number of superstitions or an Asatruar with severe doubts.”

  16. As a few others have outlined above, my epiphany came when I was about 8 or 9. I was a very ernest little catholic and wanted to be the best christian that ever lived and it didn’t hurt that my family were quite pleased with my ernest seriousness about all things church related.

    Of course once I was old enough to be past the colouring-in-pictures-of the ark stage, I was busy wanting to know everything there was to know about “How did Noah deal with all the animals?” and “Where did Cain’s wife come from?”

    And by the time I was about 8 or 9 I was starting to think about how the answers from the sunday school teacher didn’t match up with my ideas about the world, or at least the nature of animals on board a ship.

    But mainly I think it was down to my annoying childhood habit (or so I’m told) of answering every answer with “but WHHHYYYYY?” and how quickly the preist resorted to “because I say so!” when I asked what seemed like perfectly reasonable questions (in the same tone of voice as my mother when she insisted I go to bed at 7pm)

    Then one day in church I just realised that it’s all lies and that “they” couldn’t answer my questions because they were just making it up on the hoof (in my childish mind, in the way you lie to get out of trouble if you get caught doing something naughty).

    I’d say it took me another 5 years or so to go from “god is a nice old man in the sky and jesus is nice but church is bollocks” to full atheism at 14 when a schoolmate pointed out to me that you have to start with the evidence to get to the conclusions otherwise you’d believe any old cods (also being an atheist was a pretty cool way of being a rebel at catholic school)

  17. It took about twelve years of investigating child abuse and neglect cases to have the religious stuffing knocked out of me and then a couple more years to finally conclude that not only did I no longer had any religious beliefs but it was extremely unlikely I would ever again. So process not epiphany.

  18. I remember I had an epiphany when I was about 11 or 12. My grandfather (and next to last grandparent, as the other two had been dead since before I could remember) had just died, and we were at the church his funeral was being held in, and the preacher was telling us how much Jesus loved us and how my grandfather had gone to Heaven and was looking down on us. I remember spending the first half of it praying and accepting Jesus and doing everything I’d ever been told to do, because I was told that accepting Jesus would make it all right and everything would be fine.

    It wasn’t. And I started crying, for the rest of the service, and never asked Jesus or God for anything again, because they had failed me when I needed it most.

  19. Gradual. Quite a few years ago but after I turned 18, my younger sister told our older half-sister that she didn’t believe in god. I remember our older half-sister balking at that idea, and I remember remaining silent because, well, what my younger sister said made sense! But it still took quite a few years ago before I could really articulate it, mostly because not believing in god just wasn’t done where I’m from.

    For the record, I’m pretty certain my younger sister has gone back on the no-god thing, and at one recent point was even going to church, but I could be wrong about that. She’s odd and not all that self-reflective, so her “I don’t believe in god” bit was probably just to shock, and not out of any actual non-belief.

    When it comes to my sexuality, it took me forever to come to the realization that I do, indeed, dig both men and women. There are other levels to that that I’m STILL trying to figure out (namely, I have no desire to have children, nor get married, but what about long-term relationships? Do I even want a traditional long-term relationship? etc).

    I’ve NEVER believed in woo. Sure, I used to pay attention to astrology sometimes, but other than that … woo never appealed to me. I never believed in ghosts or aliens and I’ve always been hugely skeptical to alternative medicine, even in high school.

  20. Of course, as an addendum to what I said, there was that epiphany, but that didn’t really make me a non-believer. Just more of a misotheist if anything. I didn’t necessarily disbelieve God, I just didn’t like him at that point. By the time I was in my teen years I had started reading a lot more about how evolution worked, and thought it was really cool.

    I also got introduced to creationists. My 8th grade year I had Life Science, which had us watch a Kent Hovind video about the Earth’s creation and all the evidence that it was only 6000 years old.

    That was when I realized; these people are full of shit. I could already counter almost every point he made in the videos, and the ones I couldn’t I looked up and found were pretty much lies from him. So that was part of what drove me into wanting to be a scientist, because I found all the ways it was proven the Earth was billions of years old awesome.

  21. I can’t give an honest answer, because, though I pretended, I cannot remember a time when I actually believed in God. Although, I do remember a lot of time spent, as a child/adolescent, crying over why I couldn’t believe, and why my prayers didn’t work.. the realization that I could let go was gradual.

    I did believe in supernatural stuff for a good while.. gradually, it just became a non-issue, because there as no reason to believe.

  22. Neither gradual nor epiphany, really.

    My parents, and both sets of grandparents, were atheists. My first encounter with religion was when I went to first grade and the first thing we had to do was recite this stupid poem. OK, fine, I thought, that’s over with, now we can get on with things. But, the next day, we had to recite it again. And again and again, day after day. And the teacher got pissed if we watched the birds in the trees outside instead of reciting it. WTF!
    So, I asked my mom what this Lord’s Prayer thing was all about. She told me a little about religion, and showed me where the bible was kept, because my parents were of the mind that each of us kids ought to figure it out for ourselves rather than buy other people’s notions.
    By the time I was half way through Genesis, I’d decided that not only was it bunk, it was uninteresting bunk, not nearly as interesting as my sister’s 8th grade textbooks. That was the last year that prayer was allowed in public schools in BC, so after that, I could ignore religion to my heart’s content.

  23. I realized one day that I didn’t truly believe in God after my family had relocated. My family had gone to one specific church for generations. My father got transferred to a new office and we had to move. When it came time to look for a new church I realized that I had no interest. It gradually dawned on me that the reason for that was because I only went to the old church because I had a lot of friends in Sunday school and I enjoyed hanging out with them. I realized that I hadn’t listened to sermons and that I didn’t actually believe.

    But for the sake of my sweet grandma, I still go to church with her when I visit. I sit, pretend to listen to the sermon, I sing the hymns, I do the prayer and communion. I do this because my Gram is one of the most amazing, funny, sweet natured people in the universe and I would never do anything that would hurt her feelings. That might sound hypocritical, but if you met my grandma you’d probably do the same thing.

  24. I had a reverse creationist awakening…I have to say I find the evolution/creationist debate is still a bit beyond my comprehension. I had no idea that anyone in the world didn’t believe in evolution until I was 20! So my upbringing (very science based) totally shielded me from true believers.

    I came to the US on a student summer Visa in 2000 and met a guy at a party who told me about this whole 6000 year old earth thing…I nearly peed myself laughing and eventually made him cry (literally) with my ridicule. (I , of course, really just exposed my own ignorance, I assumed he came up with this mad notion himself long after being taught the science in school and I was pretty cruel and inconsiderate). The next day he asked me to write out what I said the night before so he could show it to his brother….how ashamed I am now to realise I had a chance of helping him but I just said I was drunk and didn’t remember! Eerrgg

    I never heard of the whole business again until 10 years later when I moved here permanently with work. I still find it hard to believe it’s possible to think we have no relation apes, but hey, I’m learning about all sorts of woo in the last few months, not that we don’t have enough at home.

  25. One of the reasons I seldom tell my deconversion story is because it’s pretty long and convoluted. There’s no one epiphany moment; more like a collection of epiphany leading up to the final decision. But if I had to pick one, it would be the “fine, if that’s the way it’s going to be…” moment.

    I grew up in a Catholic family, and through most of grade school, I had to take catechism. I was a kid, I pretty much went along with it. In Junior High, it became a game of trying to find a way out of it. But my parents had the final say, so I was stuck either going, or finding ways to sneak out.

    By this point, my attitude towards religion was that it was really the choice of the individual. The confirmation preparation classes that I was forced to take, even though I didn’t have to because I’d already been confirmed (long story) was clear on that point. Every individual has the right to choose their religious beliefs for themselves, and I was at the age where I was expected to make that decision for myself.

    When I went to high school, I just happened to pick a school that didn’t have a strong Catholic history, and they didn’t have a catechism program; or any religious education for that matter. But I wasn’t off the hook yet. My parents called the church to see if they had catechism for high school students. Luckily, they didn’t.

    When my dad told me that they couldn’t find catechism for high school students, I asked “If you’d found one, do you think I’d want to go?”

    And he said sternly, “Yes, you would want to go, because you like living here, and not paying rent.”

    I was shocked. I was 16 years old. By all accounts, a young adult, expected to take on certain responsibilities and make certain decisions for myself. I was supposed to be starting to think for myself, and I’d come to expect that individuals had the inalienable right to make such decisions for themselves. And I was having that right denied. I had no means of personal support, and in a fit of rage, my father made it clear that my access to the basic necessities of life hinged on my accepting my parents’ religion.

    It was at about that moment that I decided; fine, if you’re not going to grant me the right to decide my religious views for myself, then I’m going to take it!

    The transition from Catholic to atheist was pretty much instant after that. Probably one of the easiest transitions I’ve heard of; though the more I think of it, it was probably years in the making.

    That was pretty much my epiphany moment. I’ve had others. Sometimes I have two or three a week.

  26. I was about 10 years old, riding on the back of my friend’s bike. As we rode I told him that I was able to jump off this moving bike and still land on my feet. I was wrong. This was my epipheny regarding Newton’s first law of physics.

  27. I was eight years old when I had my epiphany. It was a political, religious and familial trifecta. Oddly enough, I had already come to terms with the fact that people lied, but for some reason, the idea that people could be simply, but completely wrong didn’t occur to me. A little wrong, sure, but the idea that someone, especially a grown-up could be so entirely sure about something and at the same time completely wrong never entered my mind. I was raised in a relatively religious free house. My mother was Catholic, but not very seriously and I had never thought about religion seriously, but I was still just young enough to believe that everyone older than me automatically knew better than I did.

    Then in school, we were introduced to the idea of political parties. Somehow, the idea that huge segments of the population who had seen the same things growing up, followed the same news channels, experienced the same events could somehow come up with drastically different ideas about how to solve our problems clicked in me. Suddenly people, most importantly my elders including my parents and also religious leaders (at the time I knew very little about other religions) could have a deep, sometimes rational belief structure in an idea or a set of ideals……. and still be wrong. They may have built up this belief over their entire lives and yet their next door neighbor had done the same thing with a completely different belief, sometimes using the very same data. They couldn’t both be right.

    Suddenly, age did not automatically confer wisdom, priests weren’t the final authority on God and being a Republican (at the time our whole family was) didn’t mean you were automatically one of the good guys. I’ve heard people with similar revelations who say that they felt lost or unsure of themselves when that happened, but I found it very liberating. It felt like I finally figured something very important out. It was possible, no matter how firmly I believed I was right or how much knowledge I gathered or how many wise people were on my side that I could be wrong. Right on the heels of that revelation was the sad realization that very few other people had figured out this (now obvious) truth.

    It wasn’t long after that… around age 11 that I stopped being a Republican, when I was introduced to how logic really worked.

  28. OK this was a LONG time ago. But I really believed in the Loch Ness monster (we didnt hv the internet…)

    I had recently seen the flipper underwater photograph and the sonar readings.

    I went to Loch Ness myself and was “ok this is SILLY, no way is there a Loch Ness monster!”

    I was told this going to the actual place (this has happened to someone I know that was a “grassy knoll” Kennedy assasination believer that went to the book depository)…can often be what is needed to knock some sense into one.

    A loch, with thousands of people driving around looking? No monster. I then began to read about the entire thing and went “ok totally stupid and silly” But that flipper photograph had such an impact on me for a tad

  29. When I was 6 I had some doubts about the tooth fairy.
    So the next time I lost a tooth,
    I put it under my pillow but didn’t tell my parents.
    Then, after 3 nights of nothing happening
    I told them about the tooth;
    *bam* quarter.

    It was a pretty disturbing experience.

  30. My “deconversion” from Fundamentalist Christianity to Atheism was actually quite painful and drawn out – a process born of a rationalist nature, an inquisitive mind, and a complete inability to maintain a dutiful sense of willful ignorance and compartmentalized cognitive dissonance for any respectable length of time.

    The most meaningful “religious” revelation I’ve ever experienced, however, came shortly after loosing my last shred of faith. I had been confronted with a worrying situation which I would have previously combated with prayer – but with no god to pray to I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness, followed by a devastating sense of loneliness. Two or three weeks later my depression hit a low. I sat rocking on the floor, literally sobbing, completely gripped by the oppressive feeling that without god I was utterly alone. My relationship with an omnipresent god, through imaginary, had been complete in a way I knew no human relationship ever could be and I knew I couldn’t regain it. I felt hopeless; convinced that alone I was incapable of happiness, incapable of defeating fear, incapable of overcoming grief… incapable period.

    So… sitting there sniveling on the floor I mustered up the courage to say it aloud, somehow feeling that hearing it would help me wrap my head around it. “I’m all alone.”

    Immediately I heard the voice of logic in my mind responding “You always have been.”

    With that one epiphany my faith was nothing more than a childish aspect of my past, certainly nothing worthy of being mourned. All the hopelessness, loneliness, powerlessness… gone in a moment, just like that.

  31. I was around the same age as TeamBanzai. On the trip between home and the public library we would pass a large building that had two large words on it, “Christian Scientist”. I remember thinking, “Those words don’t belong together.” There were many twists and turns from there to here, but never any steps backwards.

  32. My first epiphany was the first time I ate chocolate when I realized that it was the best food in the world. ^_^

    Concerning religion, it was gradual, but it started with me finding out what evolution was about. One day, I realized that I didn’t believe in Creationism anymore, that it was all bull. It made me think about what I could be wrong in, and I had a sort of crisis in which I really wanted for God to exist, grasping at straws for evidence. Eventually, I realized I didn’t believe it anymore, that I stopped believing it for quiet some time. Ironically, I was at church when I had that realization. You see, being at church makes me think a lot about other things because it is so boring. Anyways, it all took course over a course of a couple of months.

  33. When I was about ten years old, my parents rented a Winnebago and we trucked it (from Atlanta) up the east coast, through Niagara Falls across Canada to Michigan, back down through Indiana/Kentucky for ten days, visiting family friends.

    While in Windsor CA, we stopped at a KOA for the evening. While my dad got the RV hooked up, I wandered around a bit. I spotted another vehicle nearby, with an older gentlemen by it, so I wander over and say hi.

    This fellow starts just gibbering at me! I couldn’t understand a word this guy was saying! It freaked me out. I went back to my dad and told him what happened. Dad and I went back over, and apparently he could understand the gibberish, and spoke some of it himself.

    So for years, every now and again, I would share that little story.

    Then one day, years ago, I had *my* epiphany.

    Canada. EASTERN Canada. Not terribly far from Quebec. OMG HE WAS SPEAKING *FRENCH*.

    At that point, I felt about as stupid as I’ve ever felt in my whole life. :/

  34. I was very young when I began to question the Catholic devils and their work. They spoke of this loving Jesus but acted like Satan hungry for my soul. Threaten, hit, scold, scoff, shame and humiliation were their weapons of choice. If they could break me into being as cruel as they were, the guilt and shame would keep me tied to their eternity of hell. They tried to cower me into believing their crazy talk about a god who sends his only son on a mission meant to fail, some dad he turned out to be. There are still people who expect a fellow named Jesus to come back, hoping that in 2,000 years he will have developed Alzheimer’s disease so he won’t remember what happened to him last time. These tales were beyond belief, even for a young child but I feared the devils in their unclever, priestly disguises that could tell such lies.
    Some people ask what would Jesus do? I ask what would their devil do? He would join a Christian church.
    I fought that crap all my childhood so in a way it was gradual but it really was as soon as I could.

  35. I wasn’t raised with any sort of religion; I didn’t even realize that my father had a church that he sometimes went to until after he died. I did know that some of my friends got out of school early to go to CCD, and I wanted to go with them because I wanted get out of school with my friends, too. (I still have no idea what they did there.)

    Nobody ever told me what religion meant, or even that it was supposed to mean something. As far as I was concerned, I was supposed to go home when the streetlights came on, Kelly’s family ate dinner at 5pm, Jenny had Centipede with the trackball, Melissa’s family went on vacation to Myrtle Beach every summer, Brian’s family put up blue Christmas lights, and Kristin had to get up for church on Sunday. It’s just what your family did, and mine didn’t.

    I didn’t realize that the day-camp thing we went to over the summers was even at a church at all (seven summers of the Chronicles of Narnia! Hey, I love books, this must be cool!), that’s how unfamiliar I was with how religious activities worked. I thought churches were the big buildings with the fancy windows and the pews and the singing and whatnot, not this weird-smelling set of rooms with banged-up tables full of little kids painting each other when they thought their friends weren’t looking.

    But damned if I didn’t think they were pretty friggin’ stupid for giving us pictures of lambs to color. WTF do you color on a lamb when you have an 8-pack of Crayolas? And I kinda threw up my metaphorical hands when I realized that the same people who hoped to keep a roomful of kids occupied for an hour by passing out coloring pages of lambs printed on white paper were supposed to be the authority about a bunch of rules they heard from some guy in the sky. Or all around us. Or, even creepier, within all of us.

    I guess I’ve always just treated religion as something that I just can’t understand, but still have an academic/outsider interest in. (Oh, you’re Protestant? I have a Protestant friend, do you know him?) But people get much more touchy when I ask them questions about religion than when I ask them about their other hobbies, so it’s kinda hard to talk to many people about it. And nobody ever tries to convert me to knitting, or tell me I’m evil for not going sailing every weekend.

  36. I was raised very seriously Catholic, went to Catholic school, altar boy, the whole nine yards. And I did a lot of very serious praying all through my childhood. Then sometime between my freshman and sophomore year at college, I suddenly realized that I’d been intensely praying for years and that I’d been told that god would speak to me – but I’d never heard him. In the old testament, people got burning bushes and angels and trumpets. I decided that I wanted something clear like that. If god wanted me to listen to him, he was going to have to speak very clearly and distinctly to let me know what was going on. Otherwise, I was moving on without god in my life. And I’ve gotta tell you, there haven’t been any burning bushes since then.

  37. I distinctly remember the day when I stopped believing in the existence of the Christian God. I was 15 in the car with my mother. We were possibly on our way to or from church, because I was thinking about God.

    I suddenly realized that omnipotence and omniscience were mutually exclusive to free will, and without free will the idea of sin was absurd. I remember thinking ‘God can’t make any decisions about the future because God knows all possible futures.’ That when I realized that an omniscient god couldn’t possibly be worth worshiping, because the decision to worship or sin or do anything at all would be predetermined.

    I remember bringing it up with my mother, a chaplain, and she offered me the now absurd sounding answer that you couldn’t really take some theological questions all the way back, you had to have faith. Needless to say, the answer did not satisfy me, and I think it was soon after this that I began to resent going to church.

    I continued to call myself an agnostic and flirt with new age nonsense for years but it was on that particular car ride that I stopped believing in the Christian God. Becoming a true Atheist and eventually a Skeptic was a longer path, but this was definitely the realization that began it.

  38. I totally had an epiphany about belief in god. It happened when I was 21. I had dabbled in various sorts of woo, and mostly rejected them, but was always so certain that god existed. At this point in my life I was certain that god had created everything, was probably unknowable, but knew everything and oversaw the whole show. I had been challenged by a friend to think about why I was so certain about my belief in god. I knew that the answer ‘I just am’ was too lame to even say.

    I’d never actually found a reasonable defense for belief in god but had never actually considered disbelief as an option. Because what else is there? I was starting to seriously look at belief in god as a belief that could actually be examined, considered and even rejected. Hmmm, it’s actually kind of silly to think that a god is intervening in the world. Why would I think that? Have I experienced evidence of supernatural intervention in the world? Never.

    I started getting so excited. There is no god! Holy shit- there is no god! Then what are humans? Self-aware beings acting on their own volition, impacting the world, their own decisions and actions affecting the course of history! Holy shit! Isn’t that what I thought god was doing? And if god doesn’t exist, then humans are the closest things to gods but humans are actually real and that makes us all totally incredible!

    I was deliriously happy- I was laughing and I think even dancing around. I couldn’t contain myself- I ran out of my apartment, hopped on my bike and rode around the city, looking at everything with wonder and amazement. I’m on a planet and the planet is flying through space, and natural laws are governing everything and there isn’t a supreme being who can trump them. The material world is all there is! I felt dizzy and giddy.

    When I was a Christian I used to have ‘spiritual highs’, usually induced from hours of dancing and praising Jesus. In those cases I would be turbo energized and giddy. The realization that god didn’t exist was like the best ‘spiritual high’ I’d ever had. It was even better because I knew that it was a euphoric state induced from my own thinking, and not just a feeling given to me by someone or something that I couldn’t understand who could instantly snatch it back if they wanted to.

  39. Gradual. I never had strong beliefs in any direction, growing up areligious (albeit very vaguely culturally christian) and was confident and unchallenged in my agnostisism from age 12 – 20.

    I do know fairly accurately when I decided on agnostisism. It was after reading the old testament from Genesis through to the first pages of Psalms when I was 12. Thinking about the old testament god I figured out that this guy either didn’t exist, or wasn’t worthy of worship.

    I was fairly certain there was no god, or a soul, but didn’t spend a lot of time thinking of those things until researching claims for Lourdes to attack an entry on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 2 website and stumbling across the JREF.

  40. I had a lot of the thoughts that Mr. Thumbtack and Swordsbane had about the logical contradictions about deities when I was in parochial school. I made the mistake of asking some of those questions to nuns and priests in class. After being ridiculed several times in public, I learned to shut up about it in school. I also went through a lot of the agony Wfoui went through – and I still go through some of it sometimes when I’m with believing family. (My wife’s family is not terribly devout, but very convinced – and I don’t want to get started with them over my “deconversion.”)

    I distinctly remember reading some of Heinlein’s work and agreeing with him that the Old Testament God had the morals of a spoiled three-year old child. Therefore, the OT God was either a complete fabrication or the Universe was in deep shit. Then I found Carl Sagan’s works…

    However, there were several of us “heretics” in the school and we kept our conclusions to ourselves. I also hated to go to church as well – but I relented after I married because I had gotten involved with the fundamentalists for awhile. Our kids went to Sunday school, but also learned to question. This was tough to pull off in the Bible Belt, but I managed it. Luckily, my kids could also see the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness in their friends and their parents.

    By my 30’s, I had gone full circle and had come back to agnosticism/atheism again. I kept that from everyone, even my wife, until my 40’s. (Sad, isn’t it? I couldn’t be completely myself even to my wife for fear of rejection.)

    I had none of the ‘experiences’ that Swimly had – and wondered why during my church tenure. I kept wondering what was wrong with me, not realizing that it was what was right with me.

    I’m still dealing with the idea of non-existance after death and so forth. I’m also wrestling with the feeling that I haven’t lived my life fully and what I can do about that while I still have the time and health…For example, I took a sailplane orientation ride while on vacation recently and had a wonderful time. I’ve been talking about that for 25 years, but I finally did it and it was…indescribably beautiful and inspiring…for a flight-starved pilot like me.

    So we all change and grow until our last day – If we are lucky to be able to do it and have the guts to try.

  41. No real epiphanies here either concerning religion. Just a gradual change during my teenage years from being an Easter-Christmas-Catholic (i.e. that’s pretty much the only times my family would go to church) to realising that christianity is such a plot-hole ridden story that the only miracle is people actually believe it to be the truth.

    I did consider trying other religions, but just couldn’t find any that still looked interesting after a cursory study of what they were really about and what you were supposed to believe.

    I don’t think I ever firmly believed in anything after my “deconversion”, although there were moments when I really wanted things like ESP, ghosts, aliens, etc… to be true, but couldn’t believe any of it firmly enough to become an actual believer.

  42. For me, it was pretty gradual. It took me awhile of being brainwashed by my Christian family to become an agnostic. I really hated going to Church as a kid and i would misbehave when i was there, but i still truly believed in God because I was surrounded by all these believers that would talk about him all the time. Sometime when i reached my early 20’s i started to question things a lot more and I really started to wonder if God was real or not. About a few years ago, i officially became an agnostic when i realized i wasn’t going to know what the answer was and i’m not into organized religion at all. I would just rather not take sides on the God argument. I think that it’s possible that he could have existed at one point, but many things in religions were made up by Man.

  43. I was raised as a third generation atheist and my parents never told me what to or what not to believe. I didn’t even really hear anything about God until third grade, and when you receive most of your information about religion from other third graders, there’s a good chance you’ll end up being an atheist, as that information is virtually incoherent. The paranormal, on the other hand, is something that I always believed in, probably due to the fact that I was exposed to it at a younger age, since my best friend in first grade believed in all things woo. I held on to the childhood habit of believing everything that I thought sounded cool until I was about eleven, when I started to realize that the things that I wanted to believe had much simpler explanations and that those explanations were often much cooler. And that was when my love affair with science began. It was probably about two years before my gradual acceptance of Occam’s razor was complete.
    The part of my life which was less of a gradual transition and more of an epiphany was my movement into skepticism. Though I didn’t believe things that seemed to be very obviously ridiculous to me (God, ghosts, aliens, ESP), I still pretty much believed all the little things that came from my friends, parents, teachers or the television. When I was sixteen (two years ago) I got my first Zune, which was 80gb, and I knew that I would never have enough music to fill it, so I searched in podcasts. I downloaded tons of science podcasts, but I intentionally skipped over “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” for a couple of months under the assumption that it was just going to be a bunch of nonbelievers talking about how much they didn’t believe in things. Eventually I decided to listen to it anyway, I guess I was just bored or something… But that first episode brought on a few epiphanies. The first was “Yeesh, you’re a dumby, why would you think something stupid like that just because of the word ‘skeptic’”, the second was “This is the greatest form of entertainment ever!”, the third was, “Of course! This is exactly how you should be thinking about the world, why didn’t you think of that before?”. I then proceeded to listen to all 125 of the episodes I had missed and started really thinking about every aspect of the world I live in, and why exactly I should and should not believe in things.

  44. When me (older, aetheist) was at the funeral of my 21 year old friend (Xn with Xn family) who managed to kill herself on a straight peice of road and after everybody supposedly accepted her death as “God’s will” the minister said “now drive SAFELY everyone”.
    derr, its either God’s will or it’s not.

  45. Also, when I realised, probably about in my 30’s, that I was aetheist, not agnostic, and always had been. The only reason I had ever called myself agnostic was because I didn’t want to deal with other people’s disapproval. These days I don’t care if I go against the grain.

  46. I had a similar epiphany to the OP’s (and other commenters) when I was 7. It was not strictly religious though.

    I remember feeling as if I needed to think about something, and decided I would look out the window. This seemed to be what people did inthe movies when they were absorbed in thought. So I stared out the window and began to think about death: it scared me so much at first! I didn’t believe in an afterlife, so that would mean that death was nothingness. I would not be conscious. My family and the entire world would continue existing apart from me.

    Then, as quickly as the fear came upon me, I calmed down. So that was the answer then. You live, you die, and that is life.

    I stopped staring so hard out the window, nodded to myself, and went back to my life. Soon afterward I began looking into various religions and realizing that none of them would work for me. (My Buddhist parents were noncommitally religious.)

    It would take years before I had a postmodern crisis and realized that skepticism held the truth for me…in confirming that some things definitely ARE true, and some things aren’t. I’m glad to hear at least one other person (@FledgelingSkeptic) was psychologically comforted by skepticism.

  47. Mine was sort of a double epiphany…. default theist to agnostic…. then agnostic to atheist.

    I say “default theist” as I beleived in a god by default, because everyone else seemed to, although my parents were never overtly religious.

    The default theist to agnostic moment was at school aged around 13. I’m from the UK and we have religious education in schools, but they have to cover all major religions. After a class on hinduism I remember thinking “We’ll who’s right ? Are the christians right ? Or these Guys ? They can’t both be right…. they so clearly contradict each other”. Then I relaised…… they COULD both be wrong…. from that moment on I was agnostic. I decided they were both probably wrong, and by extension all religions probably were.

    A few years later was the second epiphany. I’d always been predisposed to science…. the only woo that ever got to me was the “woo in science clothing” spontaneous human combustion, anything dressed up “sciency” not obvious woo like astrology and ghosts and whatnot.

    Simply put…. I discovered, in quick succession, Dawkins, Sagan and a whole bunch of other popular science I had never been previously exposed to….. and I realised it gave me the kind of consistent, understandable and reasonable answers about how the world worked that any kind of woo, religion or spirtitualism had never provided me and as far as I could see, there was no real requirement for a god within this system. Occams razor came out…. and I went from agnosticism to atheist on the basis of that.

    Since then further reading has cemented that opinion, although I should add I am a “provisional atheist”….. using the Dawkins definition….. “Right now I see no evidence for god, so I conclude he doesn’t exist.However, I remain open to evidence and would have to change my view on presentation of good evidenc otherwise” which some people might regard as agnostic.

    Yours,

    TGP

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