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Today I celebrate a quarter-century of atheism.

A quarter century? Why yes. Here is an entry from my journal 25 years ago today:


October 28th, 1984 10:58 PM Sunday

God. I used to believe in God. But do I now? I don’t think so. I can’t see any reason to. And if I must accept the existance [sic] of God simply by blind faith, why the Christian God? I don’t know. Religion has become very confusing. I’ve been strongly conditioned to believe in God. I can use this to explain away any feeling that there is “supposed to be” a God. But it also makes it harder to reject Christianity.

Goodnite — BPE

At the time I wrote the journal entry, I was a mere whelp of 17 years. I still remember when it dawned on me that I was Christian by mere accident of birth. This revelation and its consequences were deeply painful for me, and remained so for years. (My greatest regret, in retrospect, is that I did not share my thoughts with my parents. I thought it would cause Mom unnecessary grief. Yet, how arrogant of me to think this way — to suppose that my own mother who gave me birth couldn’t handle a frank discussion of spiritual matters.) Since then I’ve progressed through a number of stages in my thinking. What began as a simple exercise in logic soon undermined everything I believed; I spent years reconstructing myself on a different foundation.

So today I call myself an atheist (no, not an agnostic) but of course that’s only one of many labels I might put on myself, and it’s only describes what I don’t believe. That’s what I’m celebrating today — my apostaversary, if you’ll pardon the neologism. It’s the anniversary of my apostasy, my falling away from the faith in which I was raised. In some ways I feel that my life-journey beagn with that negation. It was difficult but necessary, and nothing about it felt like a choice at the time.

I know many people have negative associations with the very term, “atheist.” And, it must be confessed, some atheists behave in a way that feeds that negative image, angrily denouncing the deeply held beliefs of others, eager to deny any value to the variety of religious experience. At the same time I recognize that some religious teaching is coercive and corrosive and harmful and frankly immoral. Just as I don’t want to be lumped in with all atheists, so I try to avoid lumping all religious experience together. Over the years I’ve learned better. There are religious philosophies that are not theistic. There are conceptions of God that I can respect. Most of all, I believe in the value of the sacred. It makes perfect sense to me that certain places, certain times, even certain people should be held apart and considered special, revered, reverenced. I wouldn’t want a world without that.

My experience of atheism has encompassed a broad range of emotions. Pain, sorrow, fear, anger, defiance, confusion, ambivalence, acceptance, compassion, humility, wonder, ecstasy. I’m sure I could write an essay on each of these moods, but in keeping with recent practice I thought I might let the music do the talking. Here are not one but two mixes so you can choose your poison.

First, how about some stereotypical snarling angry defiance? NSFW!

And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, here’s a mix that I hope might catch some people off guard, songs that are, for the most part, gentle, mellow, laid-back. I think these songs capture the sense of melancholy and humor and even the romantic side of the atheist heart.

Believe me when I say I’ve felt every bit of emotion expressed in every one of these songs over the years.

Published inJournalTheology


  1. Tammy Hathaway Tammy Hathaway

    I completely understand your post. I had my own questions and came up with my own answers about faith, religion, God etc. I think you are supposed to question. I think the answer that comforts your soul the most will come to you and when it does, you cling to it as much as those that never question cling to what others command them to believe.

    I will not go on to tell you my beliefs, because that is not what this response is about. I just wanted you to know that it is not the conclusion that you or I came to that matters. Responding to the cries of your fellow man matters because fundamentally, I feel we are all here to choose between the light or the dark… not between God or Atheism. And the side you have chosen is clear to me.

    Say hello to the family for me.

  2. Beth Beth

    Hey Bart, first of all, how cool to see your handwriting. Brave entry. To me it sounds also like you’re celebrating 25 years of adulthood, this seems to be the moment that you began thinking for yourself.
    I started taking our kids to church regularly about a year ago, although I am at best a Christian with doubts, but I wanted them to experience the sense of community that was so important to me when I was a child going to church. This was especially important as we don’t have family close by. I also am moved by the feeling of people coming together to worship, and want them to know what that feels like as well. H. is firmly atheist, and does not generally come with us, so it will be interesting to see what path the children choose to take. I hope that I would be big enough to accept whatever religious path they choose as long as it is not clearly harmful to themselves or others (of course, people could argue that just about any religion can fall into that category, but you know what I mean).
    Congratulations on this anniversary and may you continue to experience the sacred.

  3. Brenda Helverson Brenda Helverson

    In Idaho near Spokane, Washington, a group put up a billboard with the message “You can be good without God.” Some self-appointed censor climbed up to mark through the word “without.” After a long and rather intense discussion with one of my believer friend, h finally agreed that a person could be good without God. My Buddhist friends were so relieved!

    Bart, it appears to me that you are a good father, a good husband, and a good coworker and that you strive to accomplish good things in your community. It further appears that you are not trying to cheat the buyer of your present home or the seller of your new home. And I now see that you are able to accomplish these good works without the influence (or the fear) of a supernatural being. So I guess the unmodified Spokane billboard was talking about you.

  4. Tim Tim

    I’m with you, B. Raised in religion but now an unabashed Atheist. And I understand your difficulty with knowing what you should or should not discuss with loved ones. Some people are so fully invested in the rewards/punishments of their religious beliefs that dealing with non-believers is a huge problem for them.

    I’m a member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association which is the group that put up a “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone” billboard here. Happily, no one tried to alter our billboard–although we did get something of the “runaround” from the RTA when we first approached them about putting our message on streetcars, and one outdoor advertising company flat out refused our business because our ad was “too controversial.”

    In the end, as the philosophers Lennon and McCartney tell us, the love you take is equal to the love you make. And I would say, perhaps more.



  5. […] by these developments than me. After all, on the airplane flight there I was celebrating my apostoversary. What business did I have being interested in such matters? Some of my self-definitions were […]

  6. […] by these developments than me. After all, on the airplane flight there I was celebrating my apostoversary. What business did I have being interested in such matters? Some of my self-definitions were […]

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