The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 3, 2007

Becoming atheist akin to finding religion

By now, the stories have become a cliché. You know the ones — where someone enduring a difficult or embarrassing ordeal suddenly sees the light and, in one of those a-ha moments, finds God.

But when someone decides to abandon their belief in God, things don’t happen quite so suddenly. August Berkshire of the group Minnesota Atheists says that becoming an atheist — which Berkshire defines as “a lack of belief in God, rather than a belief that God doesn’t exist” — could take three to five years.

One man who made such a conversion is Mankato attorney Jim Manahan, who defines his atheism much like Berkshire. Writing from Chile, Manahan said, “Since I believe that there is no God and no ‘life after death,’ I am a non-theist, which is what the word atheist means.”

Both Manahan and Berkshire were raised Catholic. In an e-mail interview, Manahan wrote:

“I was raised Roman Catholic, and was very active in the Church. I was choir director at SS Peter & Paul Catholic Church from 1969 to 1972. I also taught comparative religion at Fitzgerald Middle School. During that time I was reevaluating my beliefs and deciding what made sense, and I realized one day that all religions, rather than being equally true, are equally untrue.

“It makes no more sense to think that humans survive their own death than to believe that dogs, cows, germs, or leaves do so. Bertrand Russell’s Humanist Manifesto makes much more sense as a guide to living. So you could call me an ‘atheist/humanist.’”

Berkshire relates his coming to atheism in a similar fashion.

“I saw the inequities in the Church, and realized God was the God of gaps,” he said. “Whenever we don’t know something, we could say, ‘God did it.’”

Gustavus Adolphus College Religion professor Darrell Jodock agrees that some of the factors driving people to declare they are atheists come from shortcomings in organized religion.

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