What was the final "trigger" that convinced you to become an atheist?
I live in America. When I became an atheist, I lived in the Bible Belt, a South-eastern part of the country that is known for being strongly religious.
In one way, there was no trigger for becoming an atheist. When I was younger, I stopped believing in God. I remember sitting in church and realizing that all the prayers were not being heard. However, there wasn't one specific de-conversion experience at that point. As I got older, I studied and investigated different belief systems carefully and became increasingly convinced that there was no God.
However, because my upbringing was completely seeped in religion, and I was a minor who had no choice but to go to church, go to Christian school, and interact with Christian friends, I spent a long time after that trying to hold contradictory beliefs together. It was mentally and emotionally stressful. Even though I didn't believe in God, I desperately wanted to please my parents and fit into my environment. So I went through convoluted attempts to find some way to regain belief in Christianity.
The trigger for totally getting out of Christianity years later was getting divorced from my Christian husband, for a variety of reasons, many not religious. As I watched the other members of my church as well as Christian friends that I'd known since childhood pull away from me, the sinner, I realized that my efforts to keep believing in a God that I didn't actually believe in were total bullshit.
So my disbelief was based on thinking and studying rationally, but my social break with Christianity after I'd stopped believing was because of emotional trauma, or at least inability to keep faking it forever.
How did your decision to become an atheist affect your life?
My life has been so much better after leaving Christianity, largely because the nearly schizophrenic disconnect of being one person and being coerced into acting like another person is gone. At first, I was upset about how nearly all my friends deserted me (because I had almost no non-Christian friends), but I've realized that I'm better without them. It has been very difficult that I've had to start all over again with meeting people.
I'm definitely more sympathetic and less judgmental. I realize that people's choices are a lot more nuanced than choosing either magic sky daddy's way that will bless them or their own selfish way that will lead to destruction.