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Which of the following is correct, and why?

I was an atheist till I realized I was God.

I was an atheist till I realized I am God.

Quite a few individuals have pointed out the ummm..., role of God in the sentence. The reason is simple. I bought a T Shirt which had (or has ? I guess it is had) the phrase printed on it ("was God") and go around wearing it. Some guys pointed out that it should be "am". I have always felt "was" was better.

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    Since God is omniscient and lives outside time as we know it, neither makes sense. If you choose a better example (eg I was apolitical till I realized I was/am able to make a real difference to society), either works. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 28 '16 at 9:31
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    use was, because clearly you're not God any more... if you were, you would know the answer to this, or if indeed it were yet undecided which was correct, you would simply pick one and thereby make that the truth. – Born2Smile Mar 28 '16 at 11:22
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    Let's not burden his God definition with clearly undeserved omniscience. If we say "I was a vegetarian till I realized I was a tomato" as opposed to "I was a vegetarian till i realized I am an apple", you're fine. I personally prefer the sound of the first and logical consistency of the second. – jimm101 Mar 28 '16 at 11:42
  • You would need to be a god to realize in the past what you are now in the present. Mixing tenses should be done carefully. You might clarify by saying that you realized that you were, and still are, God. – AmI Mar 28 '16 at 23:03
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The construction is interesting. Using a slightly less distracting example:

  • I was a meat eater until I realized that animals were sentient beings.
  • I was a meat eater until I realized that animals are sentient beings.

Both are equally acceptable and easily understood. By using the past tense (animals were sentient beings) for a situation that is ongoing (animals are sentient beings), it doesn't mean you actually believe animals are no longer sentient; it simply means the realization occurred in the past.

By using the present tense, you're placing a bit more emphasis on the importance of the sentience of animals as opposed to your realization.

Examples of both abound. It may be slightly more idiomatic to use the past tense, however.

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When in doubt, always go with "was" because the past tense could never be wrong in cases like this. That, however, doesn't mean that the present tense is not possible. The only thing about the present tense "am" is that you'd need some contextual reason to use it.

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