Why does one turn to atheism?

My religious education, growing up in a conservatively religious home, included the awful (therefore “instructive”) stories about people turning from god and becoming atheist. Usually such turning-away was due to great tragedy, seemingly inexplicable. It was due to some profound disappointment that the individual wasn’t strong enough to overcome. An occurrence was too much to bear, and trust in god was abandoned … and what was left was godlessness and atheism, which always resulted in a life of anguish, unhappiness and failure.

If they bothered to learn the truth, those religious folk would have discovered that the acceptance of atheism is almost never the route of adversity and disappointment. It is, instead, a journey of discovery. More often it is simply the realization that (1) religion, no matter how deeply believed and assiduously practiced, can’t be relied on to “work”; (2) religion defies all reason, logic and laws of nature; (3) there is no evidence, other than anecdotal, to substantiate any of it. So we begin the search for what is real and reasonable.

Now that I have made that journey, I look back and realize how strong was my doubt all along. While I claimed to “know god” and “accept Christ,” I never really had any confidence in that because it didn’t do what I was told it would do! I was a skeptic all my life but didn’t know that for much of it.

And the old myth is that, once we become godless, we become creatures of horrible thought and diabolical action. We lie, we steal, we rape, we murder; we sneak around in the dark of the world, planning and executing evil. Well, that isn’t true, either. Every atheist I know accepts great personal responsibility for being a decent human being. We realize, and accept, that moral behavior is what enables people to exist as a society. We “do good” because that’s how humanity can live with itself. It’s the reasonable way to conduct  our lives.

There is a freedom to being an atheist, but it isn’t the freedom to be mean or destructive or thoughtless. It’s the freedom to feel and think and behave without being judged according to some man-made doctrine or condescending fantasy ruler to which we’re obligated in total obedience, no matter how foolish the demand. The responsibility I feel now for “decent behavior” is far greater than it ever was when I thought I was being guided by an elusive invisible power threatening brutal and unending punishment.