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I don’t understand….

Yesterday I wrote about becoming an atheist here and on my other blog.

Someone left a comment on my personal blog (strangely they commented on a different post) saying that I must have been spiritually abused and explained how they cried out in their time of need and God answered them. “Literally” they said, but did not explain what they meant by that. “You don’t have to be a fundamentalist to be a believer. Its just Jesus,” the commenter concluded.

Here’s my question: Why, when people find out you don’t believe, do they feel that it’s because you’ve encountered some bad flavor of religion? If only you’d try their brand, you’d see the light. (Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are also big on saying “I’m not religious, I just love Jesus.” As if they actually weren’t religious. Talk about self deception.) No. I wouldn’t. I saw the light when I realized I no longer believed in God. That was my moment of truth. In retrospect, it was more of a conversion/enlightenment experience for me than being born again had been.

Also, why can’t Christians fathom that some of us do not think that God is real? They think we know he’s real but we refuse to admit it because we want to sin or we’re mad at him or something. That really gets on my nerves.

All religious indoctrination, in my opinion, is psychological abuse. But what I experienced was incredibly mild compared to the experiences of so many other ex-fundies that I know, I would not even come close to categorizing myself as a victim. For the most part, I enjoyed myself when I was a Christian.

One of the things I now find most distasteful about Christianity is that it devalues human goodness, always giving credit to God when a person does something generous or compassionate. Pffft. I prefer to give credit where credit is due–to the person.

I’ve been using the term fundamentalist to describe my past beliefs for a long time, because people seemed to understand what it meant. But now it seems to mean “the other guy, the violent extremist, the person who follows that bad kind of Christianity (or Islam or whatever)”. I guess I’ll have to change the way I talk about my past beliefs because the word fundamentalist seems to have morphed. Also, because techincally I wasn’t a fundie. I was a Pentecostal evangelical in the Word of Faith movement (and various combinations of those things at various times, for those who care about such technical differences). I actually use the terms “born-again” and “fundamentalist” interchangeably. I guess that’s unclear to a lot of people.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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50 Comments

  1. I've always thought that the nature of humans is incompatible with religion. We are a species that survives by learning and thinking and the only way we can do that is to reason. Religion tells you to not reason thereby telling you not to think. Whenever people find out that I am atheist, I'm usually met with animosity and some kind of response along the lines of "Millions of people believe it. You think you know better?" Perhaps people feel on some subconscious level that their religion is a sham and a betrayal of their nature as humans, but the more people who believe it, the easier it is for them to maintain their delusion-so they recruit.

  2. My personal experiences as a Christian were largely positive too. It was when I realized that the church I had my epiphany in was very Biblically literal and conservative that I began feeling uncomfortable.

    After I left that church (a branch of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship), I tried others but found them lacking one thing or another. Looking back now, I see I was trying to recapture what I felt in that initial experience of personal revelation. Utterly impossible, of course.

    Then I came to the realization that not only was I cherry-picking my own doctrine of Christianity, but every other believer was too… That's when my deconversion really gathered steam.

    While I was a Christian, I too was willing to attribute every selfless act I made to God, but every failure to myself. Now, though I still struggle with depression, I have no reason to distance myself from my achievements in that way. I find this immensely empowering.

  3. Sort of like when rednecks meet a lesbian and say, with as much bravado as they can muster in their checked, flannel shirts, "That must be because you've never been with a 'real man'."

    The condescension and arrogance is quite staggering no matter how often I hear that spoken.

  4. The thing is, that when I ask these questions, I'm trying to remember what I felt and thought years ago when I would have said the same things. It's almost like I was posessed or something, the thoughts and feelings were so foreign to the self I know from before and after that period.

  5. I got snapped out of MY delusions because of a friend, actually. She was a Jehovah's Witness, and was always trying to convert me (bring me into "The Truth, as they call it). We would argue back and forth almost endlessly.

    One day, I said to myself "Self, how well would YOUR beliefs hold up under such skeptical scrutiny and good old-fashioned logic?" So I examined my own beliefs, and hey presto, I gave up my faith.

    Of course, now my friend sees my new devotion to Reason as a downward trend. No longer believeing in god…"believing in" evolution…"believing in" whatever hobby I happen to indulge in….

    *sigh!* I would have married the old loon, too.

    Religion DOES poison everything. :(

    On the other hand, at least I'm no longer enslaved to a late Iron Age redaction/edition of a collection of Bronze Age myths and folktales.

  6. I'm from England, but I now live in Texas. Almost every time I tell someone here that I'm an atheist the reaction is "Oh, what happened?" as if some traumatic event of the past made me lose my faith. I try to explain, in the simplest terms, that we're all born atheists but some of us are lucky enough to avoid religious indoctrination all together. When I inform people I have no belief in a god whatsoever most look at me sceptically (for want of a better term) as if I'm the one who is self-deluded.

    It's funny how so many theists seem to think one chooses to 'opt out' of a supernatural belief system, rather than choosing – or being forced to – opt in.

  7. So evangelical is basically the part of christianity that says "you have to go TELL people about Jesus." There are "liberal" evangelicals and there are fundamentalist evangelicals.

    Fundamentalist basically means that they believe that the Bible is literally true and that they should try to live up to all of its precepts.

    That fundamentalist Islamists follow the dictate to "kill them where they find them," while fundamentalists Christians are not doing an overabundance of killing of witches and atheists can be explained in one word, hypocrisy.

  8. Yeah, why don't The Faithful get that for some of us, it just doesn't matter? Mystifies me, too.

    My DH says I attract converters. (No, not the catalytic type.) My co-workers frequently offer to teach me how to pray or to pray with me (no thanks), invite me to their church suppers (sorry, busy), or want to help me really understand the Bible (got it, thanks – it's kind of a key text for understanding literary texts I've studied for years). I suppose word got 'round that I describe myself as an "apatheist" – that is, I really don't care whether or not there's a God or gods. ("Meh" and a shrug.)

    Trouble is, I am the sort of person my coworkers probably describe as "nice". I don't look or act like the militant atheist bogey-(wo)man they have in their minds. Nope – I look and act like someone who would sit next to them at bible study or bring a covered dish to church supper. I volunteer, organize potlucks, collect food and money to support the local (non-denominational) food pantry. I can talk intelligently with them about day-to-day religious practice, swap stories about stuff that might be called "spiritual", and I can empathize with the desire to interpret events as meaningful, and thereby to realize a sense of personal transformation. I don't mock them as awful atheists are always expected to do. Unless my boundaries are trod upon, I can live and let live. (As one of my friends says, I'm "almost Unitarian!")

    And I think it's that stance that drives them crazy. How can I be happy and seem so "nice", and yet NOT have God or religion in play? "You'll be happier!" (Well, I'm already pretty happy, being of an optimistic inclination grounded in reality.) "You can lean on God!" (I'm sure I've been what might be described as "lucky" so far, but really I've just been sensible and rational and all in all, pretty good at figuring out my troubles and working them through by myself, even though that means I don't always get what I want and I can't rely on a magical bailout.) "Jesus will provide the answers!" (That assumes I want His answers – most of the questions I ask are answered better by science than by "Goddidit".)

    I am not, in other words, "yearning to be saved". I'm doin' okay. So something is obviously wrong, right?

    BTW, the aforementioned boundaries include physical (do NOT slap me on the head and pray over me), intellectual (do NOT expect me to BELIEVE that your vision about me is going to come true, or that your magical explanation for any coincidental circumstance is real), social (do NOT mess with my K-12 or university curriculum by introducing religion into science classes), and political (do NOT expect me to vote for you if you don't "believe" in evolution or if you think CAM offers a viable alternative to science-based medicine).

    Wow. In reading this over, I guess I've been really patient with people. Maybe that's why they approach me – I must seem like an easy sell. Little do they know that the inertia of apatheism is a powerful force…I'd organize a meeting, but I'd rather take a nap.

    ~fam

  9. My mother recently became religious, and now she's convinced that one day I'll see the light, too. No matter how much I tell her that (metaphoric) hell will freeze over before I become a devotee, she just says, "That's what I thought, too." And @famulus: I've gotten the "you can't be truly happy without God" thing, too. Or when I seem less than cheerful, it's "You'd be happy if…"

    @writerdd Re: devaluing human goodness: I was just thinking of that yesterday, with Thanksgiving coming up. I was wondering how it would go over if I volunteered to say grace and, instead of thanking God for this food etc., thanking the people who grew it and shipped it and sold it, and the animals that died (horribly, if what I'm told is true) and became dinner.

    Just now I realized I should also thank the people who gave us jobs so we could afford the food, and so on, and the food would get cold before I finished. And that it's easier to just attribute it all to God so you don't have to list every single person involved. Not that that's WHY people say grace to God; I get that they believe it all goes back to him. But it's still sad that we don't think about the people who did the work. (Though my relatives do usually thank the people who did the cooking, at least.)

    That's the closest thing to a religious revelation I think I've ever had, just in the wrong direction.

    (My first comment here. Hi, everyone.)

  10. I've only recently removed the shackles of religion from my life, and I'm not comfortable sharing that I'm an athiest with anyone (except my husband, who followed me once I opened the door).

    Your experience is one more reason to keep quiet…

    (hi- I'm new here, too!)

  11. Atheism came easy to me. Both of my parents had given up on the catholic church, so I didn't have religion shoved down my throat. And I spent my formative years on the Navajo reservation. Alot of my classmates were still very traditional, and didn't discuss religion much.

    As a child I believed in god, but tended to only turn to him when I wanted something. At about 15 I decided I really needed to take it more seriously, but looking things over, decided I didn't believe in god, and I've never looked back.

    To be fair to the fundies, I did have a number of college classmates who I believe denounced god for no other reason than to tick off their parents, or 'the man', or whoever. They really put me off other atheists for awhile, as they really tended to be quite nasty.

    It's been nice to listen to people who are atheists because they don't believe in god, not just to tick people off.

  12. Pentecostal evangelical in the Word of Faith movement

    That struck a chord with me because it's exactly how I was brought up. My religious experiences growing up were positive. I even wanted to be a missionary. But it was so all-encompassing. Religion for my family, was our lives. It was in a sense wearying. When your mom admonishes you for reading Nancy Drew at age 10 and tells you to read the Bible more, you know, it's just too much.

  13. Pentecostal evangelical in the Word of Faith movement

    Even those who think you don't believe for the wrong reasons are wrong, you got to admit they have a point here: That's a pretty bad flavour of religion.

    While I'm not arguing that this should be the case, I sometimes do wonder what would have happened if some of the ex-religious atheists that I know had been brought up in a more liberal religious environment. (And I don't mean the religion of the questioners. I mean a really liberal religion, like the Christian denominations that I grew up in that comes this close to Unitarianism.)

    I suspect that people brought up in a truly liberal religion are less likely to cleanly break with the religion. They are possibly also more likely to end up self-identifying as "deist", "humanist", "omnist" or Spong-style "non-theist" than "atheist".

    Personally, I think that to qualify as "good religion", the #1 precondition is that it must not see non-theism (be it atheism, deism or whatever) as a bad thing, even if it's "not for me".

  14. Well, I was brought up in Reform Judaism by parents who were more intellectual and liberal than even that label. Haskala Jews, as it were. (In fact, I still have a subscription to Tikkun, even though I am no longer religious.)

    I was seduced by evangelical fundies for some years, even serving with Jews for Jesus for a while, and it took me something like twenty five years brfore my brain kicked in and "saved" me.

    Even when I was a believer, the cognitive dissonance was awful. I had to keep the two tracks — "faith" and "reason" hermetically sealed and separated from each other.

  15. As a Christian I feel terrible that someone would make assumptions about not only YOUR religious background, but also how God feels about it.

    You know, a lot of people THINK Xians are supposed to go out there and hit people over the head with their religion. Convert and all that crap. Well, nope, that's NOT the point. And some Xians go with the old just being a Xian and NOT being/thinking/second guessing God. If a Xian finds his or her religious calling to be pointing out there are US and THEM, then they don't get it. Or don't get Christianity as I and so many others know it.

    Even in your blog here you write "why don't Christians get it". Well, some of us do. But we're the quiet ones. It's not our job to get it or not. Humble is a good trait for a Xian in my humble opinion. Judgement is not anyones business. Tolerance is.

  16. Even those who think you don’t believe for the wrong reasons are wrong, you got to admit they have a point here: That’s a pretty bad flavour of religion. While I’m not arguing that this should be the case, I sometimes do wonder what would have happened if some of the ex-religious atheists that I know had been brought up in a more liberal religious environment.

    I've often wondered if I'd be an atheist if I was brought up either Jewish or Catholic, the religions of my grandparents.

  17. It's past my bedtime, so I will only make a couple of comments here.

    Firstly, I'm with you, kittynh. Way too many of us Xians seem to have totally missed the "judge not" message. In fact, for many, their faith seems to consist PRIMARILY of judging. Very sad.

    Secondly, the public face of Xianity, as expressed by people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Bill Donohue is about as far from representing the true faith of most mainline Protestants as is could possibly be. We didn't elect these guys to be our representatives, any more than African Americans got together to elect Al Sharpton to be their spokesman. Don't judge me by them, and I won't judge all atheists by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Same is true of Xian cults like the "Word of Faith." If that were an accurate representation of all of Xianity, then I would have to declare myself an atheist, too!

    Thirdly (and lastly), I want to thank everyone on this forum for providing me with a wonderful set of tough questions to toss out during church fellowship meetings. Today we talked about the challenge presented by the sometimes-genocidal (and often violent and rage-filled) God of the Old Testament. I mean, how do we deal with the idea of a God that would command people (through Moses) to wipe the Midianites off the face of the earth, except for the young virgins, who were "spoils of war"? Doesn't mesh real well with the God presented in most of the New Testament. I quite enjoyed the ensuing discussion!

  18. "I’ve often wondered if I’d be an atheist if I was brought up either Jewish or Catholic"

    A lot of atheists, myself included, were raised Catholic. Instead of "The Word of God", Catholics get Official Dogma, which can be as whacked as the Bible, if not more so.

    My intellectual rebellion started when a Jesuit religion teacher (who I was actually friends with) explained the doctrines of the Church in detail. After the Nth time I heard two logically contradictory statements glued together with the phrase "it's a mystery", I realized I just didn't buy into Christianity any more. Afterwards, I researched and then rejected Eastern religions and miscellaneous other philosophies, until agnosticism, apatheism, and atheism were the only sensible choices.

    Never mind the practical stuff, like the Church's position on abortion and birth control, or shuttling child-abusing priests from parish to parish …

  19. I've had in some ways the opposite experience with evangelicals. My parents and sister are very religious (sister close to serious nutjob territory). They believe that since I am an atheist, when I die I will burn in hell for all eternity. But they don't do anything about it. Not even my sister, who is a missionary: it’s her *job* to convert infidels like me.

    So on one hand they claim to love me, but on the other they don’t really care much about my impending everlasting torment. I’m pretty certain that if I sincerely believed one of my loved ones would suffer horribly until the end of time, I would be motivated to do something about it. It would worry me constantly. I doubt I’d be able to leave the subject alone for five minutes.

    So what’s going on here? Perhaps they genuinely don’t care what happens to me. Perhaps they think this atheism is a silly fad and I’ll get over it and repent before I die (in fact, my Dad has said several times that he *knows* I will find religion as I get older. Don’t hold your breath, Dad). Perhaps they think I’m beyond hope and have given up. Perhaps they are hypocrites suffering from cognitive dissonance. Or perhaps they don’t really believe in all this nonsense as much as they say they do. More likely, it’s a combination.

    Don’t get me wrong: the *very last thing* I want is for them to push their religion on me the way they did before I formally came out as an atheist. I just want to understand why they don’t.

  20. SteveT, you're doing exactly what my commenter did: you are implying that atheists don't believe simply because they've only encountered the wrong flavor of religion.

    But that's not it at all. After much reflection, speaking for myself, and must honest searching and reading widely, one day I simply discovered that I no longer believed that God exists. I didn't intentionally stop being a Christian, I didn't leave because of bad examples and televangelists. Remember, I was an insider. I knew — and know — that people like James Dobson didn't represent most Christians. (Unfortunately they represent a very vocal minority that happens to have a lot of political clout in the US.)

    I liked the flavor of Christianity I was involved in for the most part, I don't think it was any more a "cult" than any other denomination or non-denominational group. I just realized one day that I would have to say "no" if someone asked me if I was a Christian because I had stopped believing in my heart that Jesus was raised from the dead, etc.

    ***

    latsot, they probably believe in "friendship evangelism." That is, they know you'll kick them out of your life if they nag you about religion, so instead they are trying to "let their light shine" and be an example of God's love to you, hoping that you'll one day discover that they have something that you're missing and you'll come to them for help.

  21. And I'll add that I as well did not drop my faith because of a bad experience with religion. Indeed, I am annoyed that it has turned out to be false, that I wasted twenty five years of my life with it. I LIKED my stories. I LIKED the idea that the omnipotent, omniscient being that created the universed cared personally about little me, and took a direct hand in caring for me.

    The people that woo-ed me to xtianity were all warm lovely people. And as I drifted back towards my own roots and took up with the wacky "Jews for Jesus" people, I found it to be even moore comfortable.

    But what one would LIKE to be true has no bearing on what actually IS true. And as I have said, I lost the love of my life cos I wouldn't become a Jehovah's Witness. And I fell even further away when I stopped believing.

    On the whole, my experiences were good. And I really miss going to synagogue on the High Holy Days. But again– I would rather have what is true, even if it isn't as comfortable as my fantasies.

  22. Pseudonym; I came from such a religion as a child. A very gently xtianity (Independent) where the preacher only ever preached about hope, faith and charity and doing good and never about the hellfire aspect of belief. I used to enjoy going to chapel and Sunday school, mainly because living in a small village there was nothing much else to do on a Sunday and I loved the singing and Sunday school, apart from a short prayer and a song at the beginning and the end, was mainly organised fun and games with my friends. In fact, even though my parents were at best agnostic, the preacher was a good family friend and stayed one of my best friends after I became an atheist until the day he died. I suppose I was nominally a xtian by default rather than actual belief.

    At 10 I went away to a Church of Wales college on a scholarship which again was quite a gentle type of religion. However, in the third form we started Religious Education, which actually was more philosophy of religion, particularly the xtian religion, but with a fair amount of comparative religion thrown in, taken by one of the many preachers who were also teachers in various subjects, including science. In fact, one of the best biology teachers I have ever met was a priest at the school. They encouraged us to question everything and we used to have some great arguments. Of course, in openly questioning everything it wasn't long before it became obvious that all the contradictions in and between religions soon became apparent and that they were all basically rubbish and I openly became an atheist. It didn't phase any of my teachers but it did lead to some more great arguments and actually honed my atheism, so to speak. Though I think that they put my atheism down to teenage rebellion and that it would pass. Unfortunately, the freedom they allowed us to openly examine and question religion made sure that I was fully aware of why I had chosen reason over religion and would never return to the fold.

    Though, as you surmise, because my early experiences were of a gentle religion, for a long time, I had no real axe to grind against religion as the religion I knew basically ignored me and just let me and everyone get on with my life. Though of course you always had the local hypocrites who would profess piousness while criticising, usually nastily, anyone who didn't meet their twisted criteria of piety. Hence, if the gentle type of religion I had grown up with had been the worlds dominant type I would have been happy to simply ignore it. However, it wasn't long into adulthood that I became aware that religion, especially but not solely when allied with politics, was far from benign, even ignoring their histories. In fact, I still have the physical scars from one such conflict where religion played a significant role as a divisor and I was there in a peace keeping role and seen as the enemy by one side or the other at different times. After that I not only became far more openly atheist, I became what many today would consider a militant atheist and wasn't shy in coming forward and criticising it and its precepts. Though of course this did occasionally result in some negative reactions, especially when not in the UK. But then I have never been one to take the easy road. Fortunately, in the process I been able to get many to seriously think about their beliefs and even had quite a few thank me for being the trigger starting them on the road to dropping their belief and embracing reason.

  23. I have to say, gang, I am really enjoying these "de-conversion narratives." For one thing, they are considerably more thoughtful and carefully considered than any of the stories I've read about people coming into faith. Those all seem to follow what I sum up as the "Amazing Grace" story line – "once lost, now found". Of course, I *do* tend only to see the junk e-mails people forward, so perhaps those aren't the best examples of the modern conversion narrative…

    For my part, I shrugged off what little faith I had like a jacket that never fit well and was the wrong color anyway. There was no epiphany, no sudden moment when darkness dawned, no precipitating moment when I stepped into the abyss and flicked on the light of reason. Just the gradual accretion of evidence that magical ways of interpreting the wonders of the world don't sit well with me. I asked "why?" and "really?" way too much for the nuns' comfort.

    Going back to my previous post, I thought I'd share the best argument for conversion I have ever heard. When my husband and I were first engaged, his family and friends lobbied me to convert (so the kids we never had would be raised right). The best case came from the 6-y.o. nephew, who argued, "you gotta become Jewish! We have more holidays and better food!"

    Veeeeeery tempting…

    ~fam

  24. Personally, I lost faith when I was hiking and failed to see a frozen tripartite waterfall… *cough*

    Anyway, like dd and Rav, I came from a pretty hardcore religion (essentially southern Baptist, though I'm not from the South), and my deconversion really had nothing to do with any bad experiences I had. The people I knew from church and from my Baptist elementary school were all honestly pretty nice. However, even as a young kid I could feel the cognitive dissonance, although I didn't know it for what it was. I responded to doubt back then by just believing harder, because that's basically what you were told to do. It was all a test of faith or some load of bollocks like that. And honestly that attitude made me extremely neurotic for a while. I was constantly worried if I was believing the right way, because nothing ever clicked inside me like I heard it did for everybody else…

    But by high school, the part of me that loves science and rationality was beginning to take over. It also helped that my high school was nominally Episcopal but in reality mostly secular. (We had weekly chapel services, but most of the time the only religious content to those were the hymns and the lord's prayer.) And really it was in Bible class there that I was exposed to ways of thinking about religion that were more scholarly and appealed to my reason rather than my faith. I stayed a vague sort of deist for a long time, but basically once I started thinking about religion and analysing my doubts rather than pushing them away and believing harder, I couldn't help but drift farther and farther away until I became the atheist I am now.

    And I suspect, from the stories I've seen here and elsewhere, that this kind of slow drift is probably the most common kind of deconversion. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's a more common story even than being brought up atheist or non-religious. I'm definitely sure it's more common than the "angry at God" hypothesis that some people throw out to denigrate atheists. I don't think I've ever met an atheist who fit that description. Although quite a few are (justifiably) angry at religion

  25. W.R.T. all the folks talking about their pleasant experiences with "strong" religions… well, consider these points.

    1) Like other religious groups, all versions of Christianity are about creating a "trusted group" — that is, a bunch of people who you can trust not to arbitrarily hurt or kill you, but instead to follow and uphold the laws of your "synthetic tribe". That much trust allows for general "goodwill" — that is, you can be a lot friendlier to somebody who's vouched for by your congregation and/or priest. Naturally, "allied tribes" can also rate some goodwill, but always a step below your own people. Regardless of the local patter, the "goodwill" offered by Christianity is reserved for "fellow-Christians", (your tribe, plus allies). "Goodwill for all men" is the promise of the Lord's Kingdom — that is, after all non-Christians are converted or sent to Hell!

    2) Everybody likes being in a crowd of friendly, nice people — that's a basic part of what we humans consider "a good place to be". More than that, community in itself can provide its own form of ecstatic experience, which is not only pleasant, but (in a general sense) addictive. Threatening to cast someone out of the group is a serious punishment. A worse punishment is for the group to decide that if you you're not really a "fellow Christian", so they get to hurt you until you shape up and do what they want.

    3) This forms both the basic "lure" for such groups, and the backing for enforcement. Talk of Heaven and threats of Hell are just proxies for, respectively, promises of a "perfect community", versus threats of being "outcast" into (originally) the dangerous wilderness, or (later) the hands of your enemies. (Of course, if you're apostate, then God and all his servants, including your "betrayed" tribe, are your enemies, and the loyalists can bond nicely over "smiting the unbeliever".)

  26. Full agreement here, Dave– the reason I went with them is cos my own childhood was so horrible, and these were the first people to not actively seek to harm me.

    Unfortunately, that long tradidion of Talmudic reasoning allowed me to keep vastly disparate philosophies bouncing around in my head simultaneously for a long time before giving in to Reason.

    I'm honestly ashamed of it all now. :(

  27. I agree with Dave, too.

    I joined up for several reasons, not the least being the (unconscious) fact that I was afraid of adolescence. The black and white morality of our group made it easy for me to avoid kissing boys and going to dances, and thinking about sex and so many other things that I would otherwise have had to deal with at that age. In retrospect, I see that it was completely unhealthy to repress myself like this and my emotional and mental growth was stunted for many years because of my escape into this little bubble of moral certainty.

  28. I agree with Dave also, though in fairness, I should point out that the "trusted community" aspect is true of any social group, religious or otherwise. Indeed, playing armchair psychologist for a moment, it could partly account for the current appeal of what has been misleadingly called "The New Atheists". (The current highly visible nature of the lunatic fringe of some religious groups provides a convenient "dangerous wilderness" for the "perfect community" of "science and reason".)

    I found this comment from John Phillips interesting:

    Hence, if the gentle type of religion I had grown up with had been the worlds dominant type I would have been happy to simply ignore it.

    Perhaps it depends what you mean by "dominant". By definition, the politically dominant religions are going to be those which get involved in politics the most. These are the ones you can't ignore.

    But the numerically dominant religions, those which have the most people, definitely do seem more benign when you look at it closely (and especially when you look outside of the "hot spots", like the US "Bible belt" and certain parts of the Middle East). It's certainly true in the English-speaking world (again, if you ignore the US "Bible belt").

    The largest religious group in the English-speaking world is, in fact, people who self-identify as some variety of Christian but who do not regularly attend a place of worship. This category covers approximately 50% of the population in the US, the UK and Australia, and is at least three times larger than the attendance figure for any single religious denomination. (I didn't look up the figures for other countries.)

    So while I'm not going to suggest re-conversion for anyone (FSM forbid!), I guess my point is that it's possible for non-theists to be on the same side as the religious majority, once you realise who the majority actually is.

    And thanks once again for these de-conversion stories.

  29. writerdd,

    I can see from my earlier post how you might have gotten the impression that I think that "atheists don’t believe simply because they’ve only encountered the wrong flavor of religion."

    Let me assure you that that is not the case. I don't presume to know why anyone either believes or disbelieves. My own reasons for believing are entirely personal, and would not likely transform well onto someone else. That is why I have NEVER tried to convince anyone of God's existence. Besides, I have way too many questions about faith to pose as someone who has "the answers."

    The point of my earlier comment was simply that some of the atheists I have known have set forth their reasoning as follows (grossly oversimplified):

    "Christians believe X. I think X is crazy/evil/stupid/etc. Therefore I am an atheist." (where X=some point of Catholic/conservative dogma which I and many fellow believers also happen to reject) It is at this point where I will point out that that is a poor reason for being an atheist, given that there are many denominations which also reject that particular article of "faith."

    I should point out that I have also questioned the reasons some of my fellow Christians have given for being "of the faith" in much the same manner as the above. I don't think people should have crappy reasons for being Christians, any more than people should have crappy reasons for being atheists.

    As for Dave's comments, I would have to say that while they are well argued, and hold true for many versions of Christianity, they do not hold true of MINE. I know that makes me sound like Rav's "cherry picker", but to be honest, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with being a cherry picker when it comes to faith. I ascribe to Thomas Jefferson's view of "diamonds in the dung hill."

  30. famulus wrote:

    Trouble is, I am the sort of person my coworkers probably describe as “nice”. I don’t look or act like the militant atheist bogey-(wo)man they have in their minds. Nope – I look and act like someone who would sit next to them at bible study

    […]

    I don’t mock them as awful atheists are always expected to do. Unless my boundaries are trod upon, I can live and let live. (As one of my friends says, I’m “almost Unitarian!”)

    I think few christians realize that most atheists are just like you. We prefer freedom from religion, so it doesn't really bother us that much if someone else is religious, so long as they don't actively seek to mess up our life by imposing their delusion(s) on us.

    Problem is, they've been crossing our boundaries quite a lot the past decade or two. So many atheists have had little time to sit down quietly, because as soon as one school board's underhanded tactics have been stopped, another crazy fundamentalist is trying to push his agenda somewhere else.

  31. Pseudonym: Though in fairness, I should point out that the “trusted community” aspect is true of any social group, religious or otherwise.

    Good point, — but note that different groups take very different approaches to establishing and maintaining that trust. Religion operates as a social group first, promising and providing the "friendly crowd" I described.

    The "scientific community" as such offers much less sweeping promises — indeed, hardly more than a common commitment to seeking objective knowledge, supported by such mechanisms as peer review and open debate.

    That does yield a fair bit of collegiality, but even so, outsiders might not even recognize some of our debates as "friendly" interactions! ;-)

  32. "Why, when people find out you don’t believe, do they feel that it’s because you’ve encountered some bad flavor of religion?"

    Because, unfortunately, there are many bad flavors out there. The fundies in particular give the rest of us Christians a really bad name. They would seem to be experts at souring people on Christianity with their self-righteous holier-than-thou attitudes and mindless adherence to the notion of a 6000 year old earth.

    "…why can’t Christians fathom that some of us do not think that God is real?"

    Some of us Christians can fathom it. It's a perfectly logical position to take, and anybody who faults you for it is being intellectually dishonest. Really there are no logical arguments or evidence that can be offered for God's existence, so choosing to believe in it is purely a matter of faith and choice.

    "One of the things I now find most distasteful about Christianity is that it devalues human goodness, always giving credit to God when a person does something generous or compassionate."

    *Always*? Painting with a broad brush, methinks.

    Jeff

  33. SteveT wrote:

    “Christians believe X. I think X is crazy/evil/stupid/etc. Therefore I am an atheist.” (where X=some point of Catholic/conservative dogma which I and many fellow believers also happen to reject) It is at this point where I will point out that that is a poor reason for being an atheist, given that there are many denominations which also reject that particular article of “faith.”

    I have to say, I know hardly any atheists (none actually) who've honestly dumped religion for reasons that inane. In fact, just because someone gives you one (of presumably many) example(s) of how whacky religion really is, doesn't mean that is the only reason they became atheists.

    For what it's worth, I value people's convictions on the amount of thinking they've done to arrive at their position. Whether that thinking got them to make (in my opinion) the wrong conclusion, is not my problem. At least, if they've done some real thinking, they'll not be fundamentalists anyway, and be open to reason and discussion.

    The people I dislike are those who are neither reasonable nor openminded. Regardless of whether they are religious or not.

  34. exarch,

    Well, I DID say that it was a gross oversimplification. Perhaps it would have been fairer to say that the atheists to which I was referring felt that “I reject dogma X” was a compelling reason not to believe in God. And thus one which ought to cause my faith to to crumble. It’s likely that they had other personally valid reasons for atheism and were just engaging in a form of “debate short-hand.”

    I make no defense of Religion (capital-R) in general. It has much for which to be ashamed. In fact, I am not absolutely convinced that Religion has been a net positive force in world history. I have a certain sympathy for Karl Marx’s “opium of the people” comment. And yet I also note that opiates, when used properly in medicine, have been a great boon to mankind.

    If only Religion, like opiates, was not so often and easily abused.

  35. Would that fall under FDA guidelines?

    Like opiates, religion is not something for kids?

    Then again, I think in that regard religion has a lot more in common with porn. Many people deem it appropriate to scrutinize what exactly their kids should and should not be allowed to see. I think religion should be part of that package (i.e. if a mom can't explain the birds and the bees to her kids a little more explicitly than usual, then the fundies can't show the bible to theirs).

  36. It might surprise you to know that the porn/Religion concept had already occurred to me. I feel like it's OK for me to admit that, since I have already made enough statements to assure me of being burned at the stake should the fundamentalists ever take control. What's one more?

    I am one who believes that what my children view online should be carefully scrutinized. There are some pretty f-'ed-up people/ideas out there that I would just as soon they not even be AWARE of at this point in their lives.

    I have also tried to make very clear to my children (at least to the older one who can understand what I am saying) that they need to process what they hear in Sunday School through their own brains, and not trust implicitly that it is the truth. They know that I don't agree with certain theological positions held by others at our church (including some of those in authority), and that it is OK for them to disagree also. That includes ultimately deciding that they don't believe in God. My kids are scarily smart. I have confidence they will eventually come to a conclusion about God that makes sense for them. The they can explain all to me so that I can finally understand!

  37. Pseudonym: In my case, born in Wales in the 50s, the national religion CofE, and even most of the non denominational other protestant religions, were and are pretty benign. Even though through the bishops they have had too much political influence because of their seats in the house of Lords. Even now they still put up a fight against any new laws which may give more rights to homosexuals or similar and would love to make abortion illegal again. Though they invariably lose the argument while still making a lot of noise about the 'downfall of society' and the like in that section of the media that still hankers for the 'good old days'.

    However, I think one of the reasons that religion in the main is generally pretty benign in the UK is because it is has been a state religion and that, combined with the safety net of the welfare state, has made them largely superfluous to requirements, for most people at least. Though we can never let down our guard completely either, for we have had the UK arm of the Discovery Institute up to its tricks with our schools, as just one example, though that was roundly defeated this time round.

  38. SteveT: I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with being a cherry picker when it comes to faith. I ascribe to Thomas Jefferson’s view of “diamonds in the dung hill.”

    OK, I'll give you that point! There are certainly individuals and a few groups who actively reject the more tribalist aspects of Christianity. But as someone above noted, those folks aren't the problem here. My first test for a religion is, what's their first response to a non-believer? ("Make them a believer" is the second wrong answer…. ;-) ) My second test is what they do to someone who leaves their religion….

    Since I didn't post my deconversion story yet: I started out as a Jew from a family that's been getting more and more assimilated over at least four generations. (So I'm a counterexample to the "breaking out" theme, as I didn't have a coercive Church to escape from.) I had early urges toward paganism, but it wasn't until college that I encountered the Neo-Pagan movement, and latershamanism.

    From these I picked up a few items of cognitive technology, but I also noticed that most of those witches and mages were at least as screwed up as the rest of society, and often more so. Over time, I also learned more about neuropsychology, and I eventually decided that the magick and spirits were basically a sideshow — interesting phenomena in their own right, but not really relevant to the problems of ordinary life, let alone my individual issues.

    When the atheist vs. agnostic hooraw broke out on Pharyngula, I decided that my working theory that "the universe is owned and managed by its inhabitants" qualified as atheist, and there we are….

  39. Yeah, SteveT and I have had this discussion before, but I'll repeat my opinion on his stance:

    If you're cherry-picking which parts of the religion you like, and which parts you don't, then are you still following that religion?

    In my opinion, the very act of cherry-picking means you're making up your own religion.

    If I want to be a citizen of a country, I can't merely just live over there. I'll also be required to pay taxes like all other citizens. Taking the good with the bad. If I don't want to pay taxes to that particular government, then perhaps I should not live there but somewhere else, because it's a package deal.

    There's quite a number of illegal immigrants in America who might even call themselves Americans, but I'm sure you'll agree they're not. They don't pay taxes, their kids can't be drafted to go to war (if that should ever be re-implemented), etc…

    So if you want to call yourself a christian, you have to take the whole package, or face the fact that's you have no reason to feel outraged when someone is saying something about christians™ in general that you feel insulted by. It simply isn't about you.

    Anyway, considering all the different available brands and flavors of religion, if you can't even find your particular taste with the plethora of choice available, why insist on having your self-styled, custom tailored, personalised religion lobbed in with all the below quality junk out there?

  40. exarch, religion has become — over the last 2 centuries and in some parts of the world — voluntary. So you can indeed pick and choose and call yourself whatever you want. It doesn't really make sense and it confuses the hell out of things, but it's what people do. John Shelby Spong, for example, is an atheist by my estimation but he calls himself a Christian. He is not even a theist! So how can he be a Christian (my Christian friends would have said he's not a "real" Christian.) My guess is that people like this enjoy some parts of the ritual that brings comfort to their lives, the way I still celebrate certain hoidays and do things that my granparents did even though they hold no real meaning to me, except that of family tradition and rememberance. Personally, I wouldn't want to associate myself with Christianity if I didn't buy it lock stock and barrel.

  41. exarch: There's also the point that despite my previous comments, Christianity isn't monolithic — no matter how fervently they want, or claim, to be.

    In that respect, I'd say they were doomed as soon as they decided that their priority was getting more converts, while maintaining their theological coherence could wait for later. (Too late….) Now even their Jovian wing has fragmented into parts that each, incompatibly, claim the "original mandate" of the faith. And their Promethean wing stretches from the Quakers to the New Age and beyond.

    Happy Turkey Day to the Americans!

  42. exarch:

    If I want to be a citizen of a country, I can’t merely just live over there. I’ll also be required to pay taxes like all other citizens. Taking the good with the bad. If I don’t want to pay taxes to that particular government, then perhaps I should not live there but somewhere else, because it’s a package deal.

    I like that analogy, and here's why:

    In any democratic country, the most cherished and sacred right that you have is the right to disagree with the status quo. And if you don't like how things are going, you have options: You can write to or otherwise lobby your representatives, you can take your government to court, you can write pamphlets, publish newspapers, and even stand for office yourself. And, of course, you can vote.

  43. "I’ve often wondered if I’d be an atheist if I was brought up either Jewish or Catholic, the religions of my grandparents."

    I was raised Catholic, although it was pretty relaxed. We didn't go to church much, mostly because my widowed mother was too tired to get us three boys ready for church every week ;-)

    I do remember taking religion pretty seriously and it was ironic that my fifth grade catechism teacher put me on the path to atheism. I remember a lesson on how the stories of the bible like Adam and eve, the Flood, etc., weren't necessarily true, but were presented as lessons in morality, etc.

    Well, I guess I was a Bible literalist at 11 years old and this idea really threw me. Either the Bible was true or not true dammit! So I concluded that if atleast some of it weren't true, then I really couldn't trust any of it. I guess I am grateful for that lesson in that it lead to much clearer thinking on my part.

  44. "The best case came from the 6-y.o. nephew, who argued, “you gotta become Jewish! We have more holidays and better food!”"

    Sorry, can't agree with this one, some of my favorite foods are pork chops and ham, LOL!

  45. I am aware of the religious and philosophical debates over many of the issues surrounding an unborn fetus, but I was wondering what your take on this would be. The following article talks about a company called AmnioTrainer that produces invitro sports and strength training for fetuses. I kid you not. You have to read the article for yourself to fully grasp the extent of this (http://old-things.blogspot.com/).

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