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When we decided on this week's cover story about atheism, I instantly thought of Larimore "Nick" Nicholl.

Nicholl, a retired college professor, has given us many stimulating letters to the editor, and I recalled him once saying he was an atheist. He's 73 going on 33, and the essay he submitted for this package (below) has the same edge as his letters.

To follow up, I asked when he knew he was an atheist.

"It's something like asking, 'When did you first know you were a heterosexual?'" he replied. "My father and his father were both Presbyterian ministers, so I sat in my own pew, so to speak, from the time I was 5 or 6, listening to my father's feel-good sermons. I listened carefully to what he preached, and then during the week I would watch what he actually did, and what all the other 'religious' people did. Right then I started having doubts.

"By the time I was a teenager, I was already an agnostic, and during my first philosophy courses at Mesa College and Colorado College, I moved to outright, full-blown atheism. Later, I had nightmares about Ronald Reagan dreaming that God came to him, saying, 'Ron, I want you to fire off missiles and obliterate those commie infidels. You and all other good Christians can meet me in heaven afterwards for eternal paradise while the Reds go up in smoke!'"

If you believe, prepare to be challenged.

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