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More on Doubt

I’ve been reading a blog called The Friendly Christian lately. It was inspired by Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog, which I also read regularly. The Friendly Christian blog has only been up for a few weeks. It’s a mixture of personal posts and questions about faith and doubt: something that I find very refreshing on a Christian website, most of which are full of arrogant certainty. Here’s a bit excerpted from today’s post:

I haven’t yet shied away from being honest on this site. Today I will continue my streak.

Disclaimer: I am not looking for an excuse to abandon my faith nor am I having second thoughts about it. Relax.

I feel like God has blessed/cursed me. I feel like I’m currently able to view Christianity through the eyes of an Atheist. I see the “flaws.” I see the “holes.” The OT God seems much different from the NT God. I see the hypocrisy.

It’s unsettling and a bit troubling to me.

I find the disclaimer particularly enlightening. It reminds me of myself at earlier times in my life. Although he may not be activiely looking for a way to abandon his faith, his journey could very well lead him in that direction anyway.

I know that not everyone who goes through such an intense questioning phase will end up becoming an atheist, but I can’t help thinking that it will be very hard for The Friendly Christian to remain a Christian if he continues on this journey of self examination and questioning of the scriptures. I hope if he does not abandon his faith, that he is happier and more content in his beliefs than Mother Theresa was. Holding onto faith at all costs, even when it makes no sense to you and provides you with no comfort in your life, is ludicrous. Although many skeptics are, well, skeptical that holding onto faith for any reason is ludicrous, not everyone can come to that conclusion.

I’ve been reading a lot of evangelical Christian books lately, and stirring up a lot of my own old memories — both good and bad — and I’ve been thinking that there are a lot of reasons to hold onto faith that have nothing to do with objective reality. And not all of these reasons are always bad.

Disclaimer: I am not looking for an excuse to abandon my atheism nor am I having second thoughts about it. Relax.

I can’t unlearn everything I’ve learned since I stopped brainwashing myself with fundamentalist doctrines over and over and over again. I can’t imagine myself starting to believe in Santa again, either. (I was born again on Christmas eve, the same year that I’d earlier learned that Santa did not exist. Coincidence?)

Please don’t got to this site and post rude or condescending comments on the posts. This guy is being brave in coming out honestly about his doubts, and anyone who wants to comment on the site should respect his honest searching, even if it doesn’t lead him ulitmately to unbelief or formal skepticism. If you have snarky comments to make, please make them here.

As usual, I am thinking aloud about this topic because I’m not really sure what I think about it yet. Thanks for listening and I’m certainly interested in any discussion that ensues.


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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  1. I've left a very long comment on his blog already but I must say that my first impression of reading today's entry was that his examination of his faith will inevitably lead to his rejection of it and that his comments were the early signs of this. Undoubtedly I am transposing my own views onto his comments but that was my first thought.

    I'd hope that my comment was honest and not condescending. In the same way that it is unfair to reject religion without examining it I believe that it is unfair to reject atheism without examining it. Many people never get the opportunity to examine their belief system or lack the courage to ask important questions.

    Last Sunday at church, during a prayer I remember thinking, “God…I love you.” I then began to process another thought but I quickly told myself that I wasn’t gonna allow my mind to even process it. Immediately realizing that that was a dumb thing to do, I allowed myself to finish my thought. “I don’t always know why God, but I DO love you.”

    He should be applauded for asking "why", for having the courage to question and to look for answers rather than accept dogma blindly. Would that we were all so brave.

  2. writerdd: you keep astonishing me. Did you become certain in your faith more or less the same time when you lost your faith in Santa? (or am I misunderstanding something? probably my lack of English….)

    I thought it was only a Hollywood cliché that children believe in Santa Claus (or the stork that brings the babies etc. and of course I never assumed that children might not believe such things, but also assumed that it must be rare) Actually I was at least 11 when I first saw a depiction of the stork tale. Well, I asked why that stork has a package in its rostrum. (it is a weird thing, isn’t it?)

    My skepticism came from a kind of experience of the practicality of not assuming anything till one does not have some kind of evidence: About the age of 4 or 5 I got to know that our car (Dacia 1310) has a 4 stroke engine with 4 cylinders. I also knew that a trabant (well, that is another car you might not know) has a 2 stroke engine and 2 cylinders. So I concluded that strokes and cylinders must be synonyms. As I could see no reason why not to build more than 4 cylinders in an engine, I said that I would invent a 7 stroke engine. (well, at this part of the world V8 engines were not widespread at all, and actually I did not know any cars with more than 4 cylinders). After a half year I got to know that a wartburg has a 2 stroke engine with 3 cylinders. My whole theory collapsed. I felt rather ashamed, betrayed and pissed off since nobody told me that I was wrong, on the contrary: their attitude towards a stupid idea was rather supportive. This experience led to a kind of skepticism even toward my parents. I really do not know, what I would have felt if I had been told such a big fat lie like Santa Claus.

  3. Nador,

    writerdd: you keep astonishing me.

    I am not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult. So I'll go with the former. :-)

    I think most, if not all, (Christian) kids in the US believe in Santa for some period of time. I held onto that belief longer than most and then I replaced it with another supernatural belief. I have no idea why. I'm slow I guess. I wasn't even bothered by the fact that my Jewish friends "didn't have" Santa.

  4. It is my humble opinion, that any thorough examination of religion will result in abandonment of faith. I can't speak from personal experience, though, because I have always been an atheist. My parents, thankfully, never talked about religion in any context. They neither praised it, nor vilified it. I was free to form my own opinions.

    I've always wondered if, for people of faith, the idea of not having faith, feels as strange and perplexing, as having faith feels for me. I cannot conceive of being religious.

    For those who once were people of faith, is there always a nagging doubt?

  5. I did not want to give an offence. Just found it a bit strange because of your hint at that it was perhaps not a coincidence and mainly that is why I wrote about how I felt when I had to revise some of my believes. (Even though mines might be of an other kind, so I would not state that they are comparable.)

  6. Shane,

    I've been an atheist for a few years now, but I was previously the president of my college's campus ministry organization. In fact, I resigned because of my doubts. I was raised a Minnesota Lutheran, and my family believe Christianity strongly. They know of my atheism now, and thankfully they don't hate me for it. They don't like that I'm atheist, but having been like them, I can understand their feelings.

    Having faith was like having an invisible friend to talk to, and being CERTAIN that my invisible friend was taking care of things for me behind the scenes. Opportunities seemed to happen that I didn't expect, and I'd thank God for those opportunities. I'd have a near collision in my car, and I'd thank God. And I loved God for it.

    You were right. I truly examined what I said I believed, and I lost faith in it (It helps that I was pursuing a science degree and I took it upon myself to apply the scientific method to everything). It didn't happen overnight. It happened over a matter of years.

    When I lost my faith it was kinda strange. I didn't have those "conversations" with God in my head. I still talk to myself in my head (not in a schitzo way). Things still happen to me that I would have previously thanked God for, but now I realize that things just happen, and I don't need to pray for it.

    I felt guilty at first, and then I came to realize that I could just dispose of the guilt. For a while I felt that I had been doing something wrong by not believing; I had been slighting someone/something. But I erased my guilt, and now I have an extra day of the week when I can sleep in.

    Is there always a nagging doubt? I'm sure it's different for everyone, but the only doubt I have is in the scientific sense: We haven't disproven it yet, but it could still be true somehow. Otherwise, it doesn't really bother me. I just don't think of a grey-haired cosmic daddy anymore.

    I think of my current life and who I want to spend it with, and what I want to do now. I will waste no more time with the pointless rituals that give empty promises of an unprovable and unknowable afterlife. I will give love and attention to the things in my life that actually exist.

    I hope that helps answer your question.

  7. Swami,

    It does, and thank you for posting that. I have to sometimes temper my sarcasm when it comes to faith, because I know very few people were raised as I was. I like to hear stories about transformation, so I can better understand how to "help". Again, thank you.

  8. Shane – you can add another person to the list of people raised like you were (without religion – perhaps even with a bias against it as Dad is an atheist).

    I too tend to view religious faith with puzzlement. And I find the stories of conversion interesting.

    We should start a club or something.

  9. In my case, I was raised going to church and was even confirmed as a Methodist. But somehow, along the way, I just sort of forgot that I believed. I had no epiphany, no moment of recognition. There was no process that I remember. I just became involved and engrossed in all sorts of other day to day things growing up (friend drama, schoolwork, sushi) and somewhere along the way god belief got bumped out of the lineup. It wasn't until years later that I looked back and thought "hey, didn't I used to believe in all this stuff? Whatever happened to that??"

    I've always taken this as an example of the reality that belief (while I agree that it's not simply "a choice") takes affirmative effort and focus on believing. You need reasons to believe and things that keep you motivated and thinking about belief. If not, if you get distracted, it doesn't _necessarily_ just remain embedded within you.

  10. On the affirmative efforts: I think the requirement or enforcement of affirmative deeds is essential for all religions. Imagine any kind of theory/history/cultural product (not a material one) that is not appealing to repeat or preserve. Such a thing is very likely to be forgotten (except the case it is a “natural fact”: like one year is about 365 days – one can forget it but it is easy to measure it again if needed). So a successful religion should have the ability to keep people caring about it and spreading it as well. Actually there is a kind of selective pressure on religions.

    As religious believes are not essential for everyday life, nor “natural facts” they require praying or some kind of meditation, sacrifice etc. in order to maintain themselves. Well, probably I went too far by the personation of religions…

    Due to this topic came to my mind a bit different, but kind of analog thing. Not only religious indoctrination can lead to intolerance, wars, whatever. Teaching of history might act a bit similar. (well, probably in the US it is not that obvious, but most other countries have a waste amount of “historical wounds”) I met some people who were really sensitive or squeamish on some historical events (going as far as hating others because of it). And of course different countries have different views on the same thing, and some of their fellow citizens might go as far as being really fanatic like some fundamentalists would be. Of course they can not be convinced by facts….

    As my grandfather said: there will be no peace till students learn from the same history book.

    @ Shane: The majority of my acquaintances were raised without religion. So we are not a small minority, at least a bigger one.

  11. When I first started posting here I was a Christian; a bit over a year ago I realized I wasn't anymore. My deconversion seems to have been as gradual ( I can't think of any defining moment in particular) as my initial conversion was sudden, over 17 years ago.

    Like Swami, for me believing in god/Jesus was like having a supportive friend almost constantly at my side. I could never stomach the more fundamentalist Christian viewpoints and interpretations of the Bible, but I told myself as long as I believed in Christ as god incarnate and tried to follow his example, I was "okay".

    There was definitely some fear involved too; C.S. Lewis' speculations about Hell scared me, as did the prospect of being cut off from god forever. But I didn't dwell much on that. I focused on the positive feelings I got from worship and prayer.

    But gradually I realized I was cherry-picking my own doctrine out of the Bible and various Christian traditions. Not only me, but as far as I could tell, so were a LOT of other Christians. Both individuals and entire denominations. That realization, and the glaring contradictions in Scripture (I read the Bible several times) moved me from Christianity to deism to finally atheism.

    I'll have to check out the Friendly Christian; he sounds honest and interesting.

  12. Nador: I felt like the only atheist in my school growing up. It never bothered me at all, but I never had anyone to really bounce atheist ideas off of. When my friends and I would talk about it, they could never understand how not to believe and I could never understand how to belief. Didn't stop us from having a few kegger's though. ;)

  13. Nador, you make a very good point: religions and religious ideas and concepts need constant repetition and reaffirmation in order to survive. But the reason some religions fare better than others is because of the way they have that self-propagating loop built into their basic tenets.

    Christianity for example, has the weekly mass. I don't know about other christian sub-cults, but in catholicism, children as young as 6 are encouraged to believe for their first communion (up until that time, you're not allowed to take part in communion). It's building up an expectation, and it's almost like an exam, so you have to cram a bunch of information related to the religion into your head before you can take part.

    The whole process repeats itself at around age 12 for confirmation (which is essentially confirming that you still know all that stuff, and pledge allegiance to god once again).

    Belief continues because it's structured in such a way to make sure you don't forget. And once you've hit adolescence, so many of the ideas are so ingrained into your world view that it's very hard to alter them without upsetting everything else. And adolescence already being a difficult enough period as it is, you'll have plenty of other things to figure out first. Religion then manages to be the crutch many people need at that age. Why break your crutches and limp on?

    Sheer intelectual lazyness assures that you'll keep believing what you do because most people don't want to bother having to rethink everything.

    If you're willing to think things through though, it's unlikely that your religious beliefs will remain anything like the naive childhood religion you started out with. Only fundies seem to be stuck in that stage, believing that all of the fantastic stories from the bible are historical fact. I figure it must be an incredible fear of upset that keeps them stuck in that kindergarten thought pattern of sticking your fingers in your ears to drown out the truth if it bothers you.

  14. I was kinda raised catholic. My parents thought I should get some kind of religious teaching. They weren't extreme. If we missed the 0800 mass sunday morning then we didn't go. I learned to stay in bed missing cartoons until almost 0800, by then it was too late to get ready and get there on time. When I was in 7th grade they started studying with Jehovah's witnesses and eventually converted. While their teachings made more sense to me and seemed to be more consistent from beginning to end I never really thought too much about it. I kept hearing from the speakers that everyone has an innate desire to worship something. Well I never felt that; I never had any religious feelings. I never felt that I was "missing something" in my life. I think that's ultimately why I left. I got baptized, not because I wanted to so much, but because everyone kept asking me when I would. I constantly had to work at being religious and I finally got tired of it and seriously depressed because I couldn't get myself to do what I was "supposed" to. I finally gave up.

    What I find most interesting about what a lot of anti-religious, skpetical, formerly religious people have to say they don't like, or find odd/hard to believe, about christian/biblical beliefs are things that are not taught by the bible, or at least not what I understand the bible's teachings to be. The trinity is not from the bible. life after death – (off the top of my head I don't remember the verse, but..) the bible says the dead are conscious of nothing at all, they don't work, and they don't earn wages. The universe being created in a literal seven 24 hour earth days. Ludicris. I'm sure there are inconsistancies in every religion that the answer is you have to have faith. I'm not trying to say one is right, or better than any other; especially since I've looked into so few. It's just my observations. Maybe they're off as well.

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