How I Became an Atheist: Jonathan Morales

Our club will be posting personal stories of how we each came to repudiate belief in God, so stay posted for more stories!

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”- Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

How exactly does one become an atheist? What leads to the rejection of belief in God? How does one cope with the idea of leaving behind a tight-knit religious community? These thoughts were never really things that crossed my mind when I was 16 years old; I identified as a Roman Catholic, but merely because of my circumstances. Coming from a community of Mexican-Americans, Catholicism is so deeply ingrained into my culture that being anything but a Catholic is almost akin to being anything but a Christian in the Deep South.

I was born and raised a Catholic, baptized and whatnot, but religion never really played an integral part of my life. My mother, herself a Catholic, never took it upon herself to read me Bible stories or tell me that certain thing were wrong because God said so. I was taught how to pray and other formalities, but as a youngster, I only really did this because I thought mamá knew what was best for me. Was it necessarily enforced on me? Not particularly. My mother never went out of her way to enforce beliefs on me, so religion never became a topic of discussion. We never really did attend church either, with the exception of a few weddings and the occasional quinceañera, but for the most part, we were not a church going family.

So when exactly did I begin to question my faith? During the summer before my junior year, I began to have doubts surrounding my Catholicism. This was in response to the feelings of confusion I felt when I went with a friend of mine and his mother for Ash Wednesday as part of Lent. The feeling of puzzlement while standing in church with an ash cross on my forehead left me with one question: why? Why was this necessary to please God? Following Lent, I began to think long and hard about my faith. The dormant years of my adherence to Catholicism without question were over and in ushered a period of questioning. I’ll probably end up still being a Catholic anyways, I thought to myself throughout this period. I wasn’t particularly afraid of having my beliefs challenged, so I didn’t feel afraid to dive deep into questions that might’ve made others uncomfortable.

Over the summer before my junior year, I trekked through an intellectual landscape to find answers to my questions. This mainly took form in the act of setting aside time to think critically about God. One of the most memorable moments during that summer was when I stumbled upon a debate about the existence of God from a British television show called The Big Questions. After watching the debate, I felt interested, but my mind yearned for more answers. The pragmatism of this new position I had never heard of, atheism, looked appealing to me. I ended up spending a lot of time on YouTube watching multiple debates surrounding the existence of God, but as the summer drew to a close, I didn’t really know if I would embrace atheism over Catholicism.

The fateful day where I finally self-identified as an atheist came on September 24th 2012 while I was sitting in my Advanced Placement Biology classroom. The textbook lie open in front of me, on a page depicting the Miller-Urey experiment. That moment finally hit the nail on the head for me; the experiment was so compelling that I remember looking up from the page and thinking to myself, Huh, I guess God wasn’t needed for life to begin. From that day on, I repudiated my ties to Catholicism and instead took up the label atheist. I’ve never looked back since then.

So what does life look for me now? Since I no longer believe in God, where do I stand in terms of death and my place in the world? Although I do miss the concept of eternal existence after I die, I’ve taken solace in knowing that my life now is great. Moreover, I feel that this is my only life to live, and consequently, this is the only chance I have at maximizing happiness for myself and for others I love. The world is not senseless and meaningless through the lens of atheism, but rather, it has become even more meaningful given the finitude of my existence as a living being. So is a godless life worth living? Absolutely, and I wouldn’t trade it for any dogmas anytime soon.

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About Jonathan Morales

I'm currently a second-year history and philosophy undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Southern California in a community of Mexican-Americans, I've been an atheist since age 16 and have been on the search for answers to life's biggest questions from a secular perspective. My historical interests primarily deal with US international relations in the 20th and 21st century, while my philosophical interests primarily deal with meta-ethics and normative ethics. I am also an Officer Candidate in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class, heading to Officer Candidates School this summer.
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