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Austin Cline

Weekly Poll: What Kind of Christian Were You?

By August 30, 2012

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Most atheists and agnostics were not raised that way, especially in America where secular atheism remains a minority. Instead, most atheists were raised in religious households and among them, most were raised in Christian environments: Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal -- the entire spectrum of Christianity. Even if the family didn't go to church regularly, the type of Christianity preferred tended to affect the overall religious and familial environment. If you were Christian once, what sort was it?

I've seen it suggested that the type of Christianity a person was raised with can have a strong effect on their atheism later on. A person with a fundamentalist background, for example, might become an atheist who is far more inflexible than a person who had a more liberal Catholic upbringing. Do you suppose this might be true? After all, we can't even always identify the ways in which our upbringing affects our attitudes, methods of thinking, and personal inclinations.

Given this, it's not hard to imagine that some aspects of our religious background -- especially if the religion was indoctrinated into us from a very young age -- will continue to influence our habits of thinking and attitudes even when we have long since abandoned the outward trappings of that religion. Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to say that we have "given up" religion unless we have spent some time looking how the unconscious ways in which a religion might continue to affect the way we approach questions about politics, philosophy, and of course religion itself.






May 15, 2008 at 9:02 am
(1) ee says:

My parents were different denominations. One Lutheren and one Assembly of God. The demoninations are very different.

When we went to church it was my siblings and my mom, going to a Lutheren church. My parents had several arguements over religion.

Even at a young age i knew they couldn’t both be right. It took me until adulthood to take the next step and conclude that meant they were both wrong.

I do think that their arguing was a major factor in my views on religion.

May 15, 2008 at 1:18 pm
(2) DaveTheWave says:

The only thing I liked about the catholic church I attended as a child (OLGC in NYC) was its magnificent architecture, flickering candles, and echoing silence. I never felt any attachment to the supernatural stuff being referred to by the priests and it usually went in one ear and out the other. After confirmation I was given the option of going to mass or not and usually it was NOT. My mom was raised Boston catholic, my dad was raised the son of an Assembly of God reverend in Texas. Ooof what a combo. Anyway he claimed to be atheist but was still preachy and bible-thumping when it suited him, feeling that the bible should be used as a “social compact” while disregarding its supernatural aspects. By this he meant that the established order of patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia should be upheld…no doubt because he saw himself as being at the apex of that order. Such hypocrisy irked me even when i was young. My parents did not argue about religion though. I just drew my own conclusions and saw that none of it made any sense, and I could not accept religious stories with blind faith. One of the only good things that came out of religion is monumental church architecture, which continues to amaze me.

May 15, 2008 at 4:17 pm
(3) Godless Geek says:

I checked Fundamentalist/Evangelical, but really, when you come right down to it, I’m not sure I really ever was a Christian. As a kid, I was raised in it and had the whole fear of hell thing driven in, but the older I got and the more I started thinking for myself, the more of those trappings fell away. I never specifically set out to study any of this until well after I had recognized myself as an atheist. I just saw that none of it made sense.

Basically, at any point that I learned something relevant to the religion, I noticed that the reality never aligned with the religion. It was always just my parents ideas coming through me and at any point that I had enough info to form my own opinion on something, it was never the religious view. I was guilty about it in my mid or late teens, but I can clearly remember thinking about how silly it was to pray for protection from a storm as young as seven.

May 15, 2008 at 6:28 pm
(4) Joseph says:

My family never went to church, said grace, or prayed. Christmas and Easter were celebrated the secular way, ie, with mindless consumerism and traditions stolen from the pagans. The only time religion came up at all was I was asked “do you believe in Jesus?” I suppose that’s why it was so easy for me grow out of it. I walked around with an agnostic attitude at around 10, and officially identified as atheist at 14. They support me 100%. My mom even says “You’re a lot like your grandfather, you two would have really gotten along”. I wish I could have met him. :(

May 16, 2008 at 1:49 pm
(5) tamar says:

I was raised a JW. I remember believing with all my heart (and mind and soul of course) because I wanted to please God and I wanted to please my mom. As I grew up, I silently parted ways with some JW doctrine, telling myself that JWs “came the closest” to the true religion. I could not come to terms with the subtle misogyny and the idea that JWs were the right and only religion (though, as I grew older the religion wisely played that down more and more, allowing for enough ambiguity to get out of sticky situations.)
I eventually came out, which was my exodus from the Jehovah’s Witness religion, but I realized that it was only that, a way out and I frankly feel lucky to have had such a clear one.
I’ve left religion approximately 5 years ago and I feel no guilt or regret or unsurity in my decision. If a God exists and that God is like religion teaches, I welcome a quick death at Armageddon as I don’t wish to live/worship under such a flawed and cruel leader.

May 16, 2008 at 3:38 pm
(6) Greg Hacke says:

Your poll would be more useful if it compared the percentage of poll responders of one faith to that faith’s percentage of the population. For example: 31% said they were Catholic and I know the Catholic population of the U.S. is often cited as around 25%. If we had the numbers for the other faiths we could see which faith traditions tend to produce more nonbelievers, of course the sample is not scientifically valid, but still it would be interesting to your readers.

May 16, 2008 at 4:11 pm
(7) RyanW says:

I chose Mainstream Protestant, but I felt it didn’t sum it up. I was raised “Christian by default,” that is, we weren’t active, we weren’t observant, but we were clearly on a Protestant foundation.

I attended a Southern Baptist Church in high school, but never considered myself a part of “that type” of Christianity. In particular, I thought proselytizing was incredibly arrogant. I also smiled and nodded and quietly threw up a little whenever someone suggested that schools should have mandatory daily prayers and teach that evolution is a fiendish plot by Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Satan.

I guess you could say I was something of a Deist that didn’t believe in Creationism. At some point I realized: If I don’t believe a god created the world, and I don’t believe a god was interfering in the world, that doesn’t leave a lot for this hypothetical “god” person to do that would be worthy of worship.

May 16, 2008 at 4:26 pm
(8) Tim says:

My parents both were – and still are – lapsed Protestants. One was a Presbyterian and the other Southern Baptist. They decided not to raise my brother and I in the church, which made it easier for both of us to lapse completely out of Christianity. I became an atheist, and my brother became a neo-Pagan.

May 17, 2008 at 8:10 am
(9) torbis5661 says:

My wife and I,use tobe christian( she Episopalian/myself Babtist,)
I was 13 when I started asking questions that neither my parents ,nor the youth pastor couldn’t/wouldn’t ansewer.
When I joined the Army,after high-school,it was then during my 7 yr tour,I became agnostic.

Then I met the person,who became my wife,when I got out of the Army.
She was raised a Episapalin,she too was unsure about some things that she was being taught.
What truely set her to finely reject (her now X-faith),was on the day ,of our wedding.
As we were reciving,the good-luck’s and well-wishers from those who attented our wedding.
The Rev. who just got through marrying us ,taped my wife on her shoulder and asked to speak to her.
He told her this “Since you married out side your faith ,you must convert your husband to our faith or dont-come-back !!”
That did it for her and I say this with all the pride I have,she has never gone back,in the 27 yrs we’ve been married !!!
We are now Wicca and have been for some years now.We see and hear on the blogs(such as this one and others) and news ,what xians are doing or try to do to others who don’t belive the way they do,or they disprove of the way others live their life(so much for free will,huh)
I enjoy your web-site,keep up the good work.
Blessed be to you and them who visits this site

May 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm
(10) Alžběta says:

My mum was atheist, dad was a catholic (didn’t go to church regularly, but he believed in God and had attended catholic churches during his childhood and youth).

None of the parents pushed their point of view on me. There was a Bible in the house, as well as the religious scriptures of several religions. No religion was ever forced on me, not even implicitly. I guess that’s why I’m an agnostic atheist, instead of a “hard” atheist.

May 19, 2008 at 12:04 pm
(11) JJ says:

I was Catholic for most of my life, but it was my brief stint as a “born-again” that did me in. People ask me “what happened” to make me change (because, as we all know, there must be trauma to make one start examining the world around them).

I tell them different things. There are a lot of convenient inconsistencies in the behavior of most Christians. These inconsistencies are necessary for a person to remain sane, because it’s impossible to live “by the book.” I think what did it for me was that I really tried to live that way. I came to realize that few Christians do so unless it’s convenient at a given moment. That led me to examine other inconsistencies and to use my brain differently. Long story short, here I am, a happy atheist!

May 27, 2008 at 4:51 pm
(12) John Huey says:

My mother took us kids to church (Southern Baptist) every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. For the most part, I just didn’t pay much attention to what was said and just endured the boredom. One Sunday, for reasons that escape me now, I really listened to what the Pastor was saying — I concluded that the man was a complete idiot and that nothing he was saying made any real sense. With that revelation, the spell was broken (to borrow Dennett’s book title).

June 27, 2008 at 4:23 pm
(13) born-again atheist says:

Mr Cline,

Out of interest, what type of Christian were you?

August 30, 2012 at 10:10 am
(14) deegee says:

I was born jewish but became an atheist when I was 12 or 13. My parents were not very religious and I did not attend Hebrew school. I was successful in not getting Bar Mitzvahed, a big achievement over my parents and something I remain proud of today.

August 31, 2012 at 1:13 pm
(15) Cousin Ricky says:

Referring to Tim’s comment [#8], I do not call myself a lapsed Christian. “Lapsed” suggests a passive falling away from Christianity (and perhaps that one might still be Christian on a lukewarm or room temperature level). For me, it was an active, desperate attempt to hold on. I am not lapsed; I am an apostate.

August 31, 2012 at 3:19 pm
(16) tara traveler says:

I was raised as a methodist (20 yrs), then moved to Honolulu where I became a congregationalist, and continued with that activity when moving to Ohio & college. Back in Honolulu I switched to Unity for ten years, then new ages groups (Rel. Science, New Thought, etc.) then Quaker for ten plus years, and Unitarian Universalist off and on for years.
During the Q/UU times I traveled twice around the world, and thought I’d
be whatever wherever I was born (Cath. in France, in Asia Buddhist). I’ve stepped out now to participate with the Humanists and the Freethought Society, where I consider myself agnostic-atheist.

August 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm
(17) Michael says:

I came from an eclectic family. My mother was Lutheran, my father was Eastern Orthodox. One grandmother was a Spiritualist, a great-grandmother was Seventh-Day Adventist. Aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings were Episcopalian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Fundamentalist, Buddhist, Moslem. I was sent to Roman Catholic schools (it was a better education) and went to all these churches, and many others. At 13 I was told to choose a religion. I chose Eastern Orthodox. But half of my extended family were non-believers, and ultimately that’s what I have become. I’m not sure I’m an atheist, but I also am not sure there is a God. Who can REALLY say either way?

August 31, 2012 at 5:13 pm
(18) William Young says:

I was raised a Catholic, but tried other faiths as a young adult and found them all to be nonsense.

August 31, 2012 at 5:42 pm
(19) Kanaka says:

I was raise on a remote sugar plantation on the island of Hawaii (1936-1954). My parents were nominal Christians raised in the beliefs brought to Hawaii by the original Boston missionaries – Congregational. This meant we said grace before dinner every Christmas and Easter – that was it.
Because of the people on the plantation, I grew up surrounded by three basic faiths. One that believed in no God (Buddhism), one that believed in one God (Christian) and one that believed in many Gods (Hawaiian). Until I was a teen, I saw no problem with this and sort of accepted all three.
Of course as I matured, the conflict became obvious and became the stepping stone to reject all three in terms of belief. To this day, I see the purpose of religion as a means to control a population. Religion is created by man (elders) for this purpose.

August 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm
(20) OldAllan says:

My father identidied himself as a Calvinist Presbyterian, but my mother never discussed religion. They sent me and my sister to Presbyterian Sunday School, but I don’t remember that that they ever went to church. They stayed home and made out while we kids were at Sunday School. When I was confirmed in the Presbyterian Church at the ripe old age of 16, my confirmation class recited the Apostles Creed on the podium of the church. I remember feeling that if there is a God, he will surely strike me down for lying in his sacred place. I did not believe a single statement of the Apostles Creed, so reciting it was a total lie.

In my later life, I was a founder of two Unitarian Churches, where nobody cares what your theology is.

August 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm
(21) Marvin says:

I’m a PK (preacher’s kid) born to converts of the “Azzusa Street Revival,” and educated at Glad Tidings Bible College in San Francisco in the 1930′s. They were very good people and loving parents and, though their dependence upon divine healing may have crossed the line at times, my siblings and I had very good childhoods. It didn’t occur to me to question Christianity until I was into my thirties and an A of G preacher’s sermon insisted upon something that sounded to me like worship of the church building, and it did not square with what I had been taught. All the doubts and questions I’d been suppressing flooded in and I finally allowed myself to consider the possibility that the Bible was not completely error free. Sad to say, it took a couple more years before I could admit to myself that the whole thing was a myth, but it was quite a relief once I could. That was forty years ago. In many ways I have to credit my wife of forty-eight years. We talked these things out together and arrived at the conclusions together.

September 1, 2012 at 1:42 am
(22) Karen says:

I spent a brief stint as a non-denominational Christian, but most of my believing life I was Catholic. I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a “recovering Catholic”. The truth is that some of the teaching stuck, especially the part about the importance of social justice. I no longer believe, but I still feel like Catholic school (especially high school) taught me how to be a good citizen in the world.

September 1, 2012 at 3:29 am
(23) Borsia says:

There should have been a slot for atheist since some of us were never religious at all.
I selected “something other then the above” but I never belonged to any religion nor did I grow up believing in gods.

September 1, 2012 at 3:32 am
(24) OZAtheist says:

I clicked on mainstream Protestant as I was baptized a Lutheran as a baby, and I like to imagine that I cried in protest during the ceremony. I rejected Christianity at the tender age of 16 and managed to come out the other side relatively unscathed.

I am interested to learn of the experiences of others who did not get of as lightly as I did however. Modern day born again Christians, all seem to have had some kind of experience of having a personal encounter with God / Jesus whatever, and usually give this as the main reason for the strength of their faith. Suggesting to those thus afflicted that the kind of experiences they have had are not unique to Christianity has little effect on their conviction I have found.

Brian Keith Dalton (Mr Deity), was questioned about his experiences, during the time when he was a practicing Mormon, during an interview I watched recently. He admitted to having some extraordinary encounters, which he interpreted at the time as being of a divine nature. Today, reflecting back on those events, he believes his mind was sufficiently plastic at the time to conjure up these hallucinations.

I am interested to know if any of the other posters on this site have a take on this. Have any of you experienced something that you thought was extraordinary at the time, and what do you think about it now looking back?

September 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm
(25) mia says:

I was raised Orthodox Christian. At home, mealtime prayers and prayers before bedtime were mandatory. Church going was not, but was encouraged. Confessions, oblations and house blessings had to be done regularly. We had a cross or icon on every wall facing the East. I had to make the cross sign with my right hand every time I passed by a church. All of us did, like a proper herd of brain-dead sheep.
Thank reason I’m out now. That was some batshit insane childhood…

September 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm
(26) Carl Trast says:

Before my grandmother died, she tried, once again, to show me the error of my ways. She scolded me because I took part some of the family traditions, but didn’t go to church and Christ as my savior.

I explained to her that although I do not believe in good, and disagree with many of the positions of the Catholic Church, I was raised in a Christian household and many of the tradition and culture of the church are a part of me.

Christianity is part of my heritage, but it is not my religion.

She didn’t like that. LOL

September 4, 2012 at 11:23 pm
(27) P Smith says:

Regardless of which cult you once belonged to, you’ll get the same response if you tell a theist what you once were.

(1) If you were part of a cult different from theirs, they’ll attack your former cult:

Fundamentalist to ex-lutheran: “Their beliefs are flawed / too weak.”
Baptist to ex-catholic: “They’re satanists, you didn’t actually learn about ‘god’.”

(2) If you used to belong to their cult, they’ll call you “lapsed” or “flawed”, as if you’ll eventually come back to it.


September 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm
(28) oromoyo says:

I was born in an orthodox family , went to a Catholic school, in University years went to Fundamental protestant. my dad turned Muslim to get an easy divorce from my Mom. so do i represent the majority :-)

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