I Was (vs. Am) Atheist: A Difference

Happy Friday the 13th, Y’all,

While I don’t much judge what people say regarding their past metaphysical opinions, a blog post written several years ago by Bruce Gerencser struck a chord with me. He claimed that some folks who say they used to be atheist were lying. I pondered his claim. This is what I think.

First, these brief definitions are from the online Marriam-Webster dictionary (skip these if you want):

  1. Was is (love that) the past tense of be for first- and third-person singular. Were would apply to second person singular.
  2. Is is (even better) for be in the present tense third-person singular. It’s the dialectal present tense first-person and third-person singular of be and the dialectal present tense plural of be.
  3. Am is (I like it) present tense first-person singular of be.
  4. Just to be clear, be (in this case) means to identify with, to constitute the same idea or class, to have a specified qualification, or to belong to a class of.

Stay with me here for one more. M-W defines an atheist as:

  1. “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods: one who subscribes to or advocates atheism.” It has nothing directly to do with religion or scripture. Just god.

I’ll stop there. But meanings of words and terms are important.

I was a believer, although always with some doubts. I was a Catholic/Christian in that I accepted and professed beliefs and did things that gave me those specific qualifications. Some Christians would want me to use their woo-woo words or terms. Anyone is welcome to doubt that I was what I claim to have been, but I make my claim and I have documents to support it.

Now for my point. While I prefer, I am atheist to I’m an atheist, either works fine. I’m uncertain which is more grammatically correct, but I think atheist is a non-count noun needing no indefinite article. But who cares? Maybe a grammar expert will comment. But that’s still not my point.

By saying in the present tense that I do not think any god exists (the definition of atheist), I am owning up, putting in writing, signing my name, and accepting all consequences. When I first did this publicly my wife’s comment was, “I am not ready to go that far yet.” She is not (an) atheist because she does not say that she is. I will return to this idea.

Unfortunately, the only decent word we have says what we are not: we are not believers in the existence of any god or deity. By default, this not-believing jettisons most major religions. I’m not saying that atheists do not practice any religions. Of course, they do. They just think it’s necessary for some reason other than a belief in God.

I am also not going to say all religions are ruled out because atheists may practice Unitarianism, Wicca, Buddhism, or some other “religion.” But this brings so much mud into the water it’s frustrating.

Here’s my question. Can anyone say that they were atheist if they never admitted that they are atheist? Can the atheist conclusion be arrived at in hindsight? Especially, after being saved.

To me, when someone tells me they are atheist, I accept that as true. However, when someone tells me that they do not go to church, that they have no (or practice no) religion, if they tell me they have fallen away from some religion, or they tell me anything except, “I am (an) atheist,” I do not consider them to be, or to have ever been, atheist. But they might have been.

Atheism has no litmus test, no creed, no organization, no scripture, no set of rules. It is just a conclusion, usually self-arrived at, about the existence of any gods. Many people reach this conclusion but never tell anyone.

However, it is not difficult to find believers, often practicing some form of religion, who will claim that in their past they were atheists. I’ll write of two.

One was a doctor in my previous parish. She eventually drifted off into a lot of not Catholic woo-woo, like speaking in tongues. The more I learned about her, the more convinced I became that she was never atheist and never in her past identified as such. I would call her a none (no religion) who turned to religion because of some trauma she had faced in her life. The other was the writer/author Anne Rice.

Mrs. Rice, in her Memoir, Called Out of Darkness, claims to have been (an) atheist beginning in about 1960 up to the late 1990s, when she found herself back in the good graces of the Catholic Church and once again claiming to be Christian. She admits that she was atheist. But was she?

I have doubts. I have not read where in those 38 years of successful prolific writing and movies where she outed herself and said that she is (an) atheist. Her self-admitted behavior toward the Catholic Church and religion for many years does not seem very atheistic, and certainly was not anti-religion, to me (except for one priest). At most she was agnostic. But it’s more correct, in my opinion, to say that Anne was a long-term, fallen-away Catholic and nothing more.

Before Anne Rice died late last year, she had renounced her identity as a Christian in favor of Secular Humanism with a belief in God. Knowing this outcome made reading her memoir more interesting for me. I recommend it for any fallen away or former Roman Catholic (or anyone).

Except for the few deists out there, very few people harbor a belief in God, particularly of the Abrahamic or Hindu variety, without some attachment to a religion. My experience is that religion removes from a person (Anne Rice being a possible exception) the ability to objectively contemplate the existence of a god or higher power. To this claim, I would add most 12-step programs such as AA and NA, all of which claim not to be religious, but in fact are at least faith-based, if not outright religious. They say we are not. I say, yes you are.

I have read what many of the former atheists who are now Christians claim and found every one of them lacking. Except for a few people who may have made metaphysical adjustments very late in life, and who were possibly mentally or emotionally affected, I agree with Bruce Gerencser’s claim that people who were nones are looking for attention by claiming (lying?) to have been atheists when they certainly were not.

I be atheist. Truly.


In some cases I do not disclose. Besides, this list is of religions. Atheism is not one of those.

13 thoughts on “I Was (vs. Am) Atheist: A Difference

  1. Always a fascinating read (including the comments from your readers).
    I wouldn’t know what label to give myself as I frankly have wavered between feeling nothing to wondering to not-believing anything to anger at the business of religion…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Free Thinker, Skeptic (to a degree).

      Many peeps are uncomfortable with ‘atheist’ and for good reason, in my opinion.

      I’ve had people confide their atheism to me after learning what I think.

      There is a social stigma attached. If there were not, I suspect there might be more atheists than believers. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Quite a degree 😉

        I’m not uncomfortable with it, truth be told.

        I think it’s those peeps who have been “trained” all their lives to not dare say what they mean.

        There is. And I know a helluva lot more atheists than not.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the mention.

    “Ex-atheist” in the Evangelical community often means someone who was indifferent towards God/religion before salvation. While I know of a handful of Evangelicals who were eyes-wide-open atheists before converting, most so-called ex-atheists are just people who, for a variety of reasons, were disinterested in religion.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I kinda’ see myself in Bruce’s comment. Before taking the big Jesus step, I was pretty much indifferent to religion. I did read bible scriptures now and again, but really didn’t understand what they were all about because I had not had any indoctrination.

        Once I was truly “exposed” to what Christianity is all about (salvation and all that), I did become a bonafide, church-going, praying Christian.

        Today? For me “God” does not exist. Period. We live, we die. The end. All that crapola that was drummed into me for 15+ years vanished. Not overnight, I admit. But writing my book and truly investigating what the whole scheme was about played a big role.

        Now … after having said all that … I do not call myself an atheist. To find out why … *plug-plug* … you need to read my book. 😈

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I downloaded your book. I decided I would before you hinted.
        I have a manuscript (memoir) and I’d like to see how you did it. I will let you know when I finish it. 🙂
        And yes, I knew you do not identify as as atheist, even though you seem to qualify. But I get that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ll be more than happy to offer help in any way I can on your memoir. However, having said that, I do think the process has changed a bit (improved?) since I published my book so keep that in mind. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thank you, Nan.
        I have a workbook from Writers Write I want to finish. I answered 127 of their questions in November. I need to finish the draft and then work it down. When I have it where I am willing for people to read it, I will let you know.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. when i encounter a christian who claims they were an atheist, all the alarm bells go off. Many Christians love to create a dramatic “origin story”, so they get props from their fellow Christians.

    As for Anne Rice, her religious stance seemed more market driven than anything else.

    As soon as NA and AA say to put your problem in the hands of some magic nonsense, they are indeed religion based. They have tried to pretend they are not, so they may have various authorities force people to attend their nonsense. I thought this was a pretty good overview of AA, from a website that has non religoius alternatives to it. https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/aa-is-religious-what-you-need-to-know-about-alcoholics-anonymous/

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the link.

      I think Anne Rice was sincere. Eventually, it was the Christians that drove her off. I don’t agree that it was “market driven” at all.

      However, the religion-stuff market will always flourish. 🙂


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