Every child is born a non-believer. It is only when the child is growing up that the surrounding cultural ethos influence (and I would say corrupt) the free mind into observance of religious edicts. I believe a lot of it depends on parents. That is – if one is, say, being reared by Christian parents – one is many times more likely to grow up to be a Christian; and similarly for other religions. It is only the exceptional intellect who manages to break free from the fetters of religious indoctrination; the charm is too great; the promised rewards (life after death) – just too seductive.
I was born in a more-religious-than-average Muslim family. Both my parents were committed Muslims who never doubted the veracity of their beliefs: Allah as the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the universe and Mohammad – the last and final Prophet of Allah.
Until the age of sixteen, I confirmed to the Muslim doctrines I had internalized thanks to the spoon feeding from parents, teachers and society at large. However – even as a child – I always possessed a fiercely inquisitive mind and so when I first came across an introductory book on Philosophy which addressed the questions of knowledge and belief in a very detached and astute manner without a hint of bias – I was intrigued. Philosophy was just the tool I needed to apply my intellect in order to understand the world – and I had discovered that tool.
I continued to study Philosophy and slowly began to develop that independent habit of thought – that tendency to mull over questions of cosmic importance objectively and unemotionally – which is the hallmark of all rationalists. I should note here that I had never really ‘felt’ the presence of God – in prayer – or otherwise. I was born spiritually blind and my belief in God had little emotional weight behind it. I think this might have helped me in objectively analyzing the claims of religion once I started taking religious belief apart.
I did not lose faith in God overnight. It happened subtly and gradually during my teen and post teen years. Reading philosophers like Antony Flew and Bertrand Russell helped only to further hasten the process. I have no dramatic conversion stories to report – the leap of reason is simply a coming to terms with the universe; an acceptance of what is self-evident to an impartial observer of the world and the universe; that there is no God and no afterlife and to paraphrase Schopenhauer, when we die we become what we were before we were born.
However – when I first abandoned my belief in the Muslim God – I became an agnostic – not an atheist. My conversion from agnosticism to atheism was decidedly more dramatic. It happened at a time in my life when I was suffering from some serious existential depression and tried desperately to abandon my agnosticism and seek refuge in faith. Obviously, it didn’t work and instead of managing to hold on to religious faith – I left it all for good – gladly trading my agnosticism for a positive belief in the non-existence of God – God defined in a certain way, that is. (The omni-competent God)
The transition from believer to non-believer was thus complete.