I’ve Successfully Deconverted Him!… Now What? May 28, 2009

I’ve Successfully Deconverted Him!… Now What?

Atheist reader Santiago has a friend (let’s call him Bob) who is a fundamentalist Christian… or used to be, anyway. After several years of the two men discussing and debating faith, Bob has finally admitted that his faith is under severe stress and that he has “very serious doubts about the validity of Christianity” — Bob now accepts evolution, among other things.

But this has led to a major problem.

Santiago writes:

The problem is this: he’s feeling miserable at the moment. He has a fundamentalist wife who will not be converting to atheism (or even moderate Christianity) anytime soon. Almost his entire family is also like this, as well as most of his friends. His parents already believe he is going to hell because of his belief in evolution.

You can probably imagine the situation, relatives calling to say they’re praying for him, and so on. In particular I think he is also devastated by the fact that he has made every major decision in his life based on what he thought was God’s will, but now finds that there is no comforting divine plan and that he may well have made important decisions in his life for the wrong reasons.

In short, he was much happier being religious. I think anyone would expect this, but the problem is that I don’t think he has found anything positive in atheism yet, and I think he’s finding it very depressing that there might not be a god. I don’t think that “better moral guidelines” and “seeing the universe as it is” can outweigh what could well be the loss of his entire family, at least not at this stage.

This is were I need some help. I’d like to give him accounts of other people who have gone (or are going) through a similar ordeal — maybe someone who can describe the positive things that they discovered about atheism, especially things that someone fresh from deconversion may find appealing or easy to understand. Anything that may help him feel less horrible about the past decisions he’s made would help enormously. I think that he could relate much better from people who have been on the same journey as he has, and who have faced the same problems.

I hope that my friend can someday feel happier and more fulfilled being an atheist than he was being a Christian. Hopefully, that day will come very soon.

What helped you stay positive when you left your faith?

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  • Well, I haven’t believed in God for as long as I can remember, so I can’t really remember what it was like when I “first started”….but I will say that I’ve come to accept the fact of past decisions or mistakes based on the fact that, even if it takes you a lifetime, every mistake is something learned. Even when I do something impossibly stupid or brainless, I ultimately look back and go, “Well, at least now I know not to do that again.” That’s knowledge I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t done it. Sure, that might not be better than just trusting and not doing it at all, but now I have a personal reason and understanding of what to do.

    So I wouldn’t worry about having made the “wrong” decisions in life. As long as you’re being honest with yourself and pursuing what you really believe is right, then you should come closer to the truth. The only time you can be deceived by others is when you are deceived by yourself first.

  • Having just deconverted in the last couple of years, the thing I found most reassuring is the fact that I hadn’t really lost anything but a myth. Granted, I wasn’t in a big community of believers at the time, so that won’t necessarily apply to “Bob”.

    The fact that something is comforting or that it makes you happy doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Religious belief is an addiction; when you kick the habit, you’re going to go through withdrawal.

    There’s a recent YouTube video that semi-covers the emotional side of this here. I don’t know much about handling the social side of it, unfortunately.

  • ChesterBogus

    I never really had any faith, and so religion was itself the hurtful thing to me. I was doing fine, but then some guy came along and told me that I was going to Hell if I wasn’t down with the cool kid – Jesus. I had enough trouble with popularity already, now I have to win popularity contests on a cosmic scale?

    I can say this, though: theists think that a life without purpose is torture, but I find comfort in the meaninglessness. If you draw on Buddhism and take Buddha’s statements that God probably doesn’t exist, there is no plan, life is pain and that’s about it, you can realize that, hey – my life isn’t shit because God hates me, or because I’ve run athwart an angry deity.

    I used to believe this. When I was a child, I fully believed that God personally hated me – it was the only logical conclusion I could draw, since my life was shitty, yet God controlled every little thing in the world. Obvious conclusion: God fucking hated me.

    Getting over that feeling and realizing that bad things happen to good people because there’s no God and all we can do is face what’s in front of us…that keeps me from wanting to kill myself. Believing in a God that controls my life but doesn’t care enough to give me some friends? Not so good on stopping suicide there.

    So, I guess I’m advocating more religion to get over bad religion, but I don’t think so. Just saying, “Shit happens, deal with it,” is something I drew from Buddhism, but I don’t think many Buddhists would say that it’s from their religion.

    Anyway, facts are facts, even if they come from a jolly fat man under a tree.

  • scib0rg

    No matter what peace he might find within himself, the family friction and alienation he feels will not go away. It’s heartbreaking to hear how this sort of thing can tear families apart 🙁 I hope his family comes to accept his “conversion.”

    Hang in there, Bob.

  • Carlie

    I deconverted from evangelical fundamentalism a few years ago, although quietly so much of my family doesn’t know it yet.
    If you just want a list of the positives, one big one is the release of constant feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Tell him to stop and really think about what it means now that he doesn’t have a God over his shoulder all the time. No more worrying about God being disappointed that you didn’t proselytize to your co-workers, no more repenting every time you get annoyed at someone, no more forcing yourself to think that you are worthless except for the grace of the Almighty. That’s huge once it sinks in.

    Also, there’s the freeing up of time to explore other things. Not wasting time in Bible study, prayer, and church gives you a lot of opportunity to take up other hobbies you might be interested in. It gives you more time with your family on weekends – even if your wife still goes to church, you can get chores done in the morning while she’s there so that when she gets back it’s a time of relaxation and family communion rather than rushing to finish everything before the week starts again.

  • This is probably not what you want to hear, but he stands to lose his entire family (or most of it) over this. If his wife loves Jesus more than her husband (as she has been taught to do) then there isn’t much hope.

    In the end, he may wind up happier. Unlike the Christian mythology, however, atheism offers up no bullshit pie in the sky future. What you see is what you get.

    His best bet is to try to sway his wife away from fundamentalism and towards more liberal forms of Christianity. Even if she doesn’t de-convert, she’d be a lot more tolerant (as a general rule) if she was, say, a Methodist or Episcopalian. My wife still attends church (a liberal Presbyterian one), though I’m not sure how much she still believes. She mostly goes for the kids music program b/c our 3yo daughter likes to sing. Luckily, she always thought fundamentalism was bullshit, so I didn’t have to deal with that.

    I wish I could tell him that everything will be alright, but I can’t, and it might not be.

    Best of luck, brother.

  • Are there any atheist groups around? Those can be a big help. If unsure, look on meetup.com or search yahoo/facebook groups. If he can’t find anything in person, at least look online. Read de-conversion stories (ie, de-conversion.com) and participate in community discussion.

    De-converting is a very difficult process, but it does get easier over time. I believe Dan Barker even mentioned in his book that he had a difficult time himself, but is now actually embarrassed for missing it. It just takes time, but it is easier with support. It’s been less than a year for me, and I still miss it occasionally. But the more atheist friends I make and the more I move on, the easier it is.

  • Axxyanus

    Personnaly I think the question is misguided. Bob doesn’t need reassurance, he needs someone to be there for him.

    Think of a couple who just lost their child. Are you going to reassure them with accounts of people who lost their child and managed to find joy again in their lifes?

    Bob has (momentarily) lost the foundation in his life. That requires the necessay amount of mourning. People who mourn, need people who can emphasise with their feeling of having lost something. They don’t need people reassuring them, since that doesn’t take their feelings seriously.

    Peoply should learn that sometimes they shouldn’t rush in and try to fix things but instead they should just listen with an accepting attitude to give the other the freedom and time to work things out for himself. Often enough your presence is appreciated and all that is needed, while your efforts to help can often have an alienating effect.

  • I deconverted a few years ago (although not from strict Christian fundamentalism) and I would tell Bob that converting the new unbelief into positive action is going to yield the results.

    I loved the suggestion (above) of cleaning up while the family goes to church – as long as he doesn’t feel that the others are “wasting time” while he’s doing chores (that could generate resentment) – after all, they think they’re doing the most important thing in the world, praying for him to “come back”.

    Other positive action could be volunteering, turning what he used to tithe (his share, not his wife’s) into real charity donations (i.e. not going towards some pastor’s salary), etc. There is no God to solve our human problems, so – “Become your own God” as the fundies say, i.e. do your little thing to make life better around you. Be useful = feel useful = feel better. I know it’s a long-term thing but you get there eventually.

    The other thing he needs to do is build himself a social network of normal people. Find a book club, a bowling league, a bridge club, whatever, a freethought organization (if he’s lucky to have one close by), and start interacting with the real world.

  • papercrane

    I don’t know if this will help, but here’s how I dealt:
    I don’t think there was a ‘moment’ where I stopped believing in the god I grew up with, but if there was it definitely happened a few years before I started wondering if I was an atheist–if I could identify myself as an atheist. Even now, it’s important to me that I have that identity to hold onto; for most of my teenage years I was still trying to reconcile Christianity with what the rational part of my brain was telling me so I could believe in the Protestant God again, and I neither believed nor decisively not-believed. It made me pretty miserable, what with the deeply ingrained fear of hell and all.
    Reading atheist literature, atheist blogs, and interrogating the concept of atheism helped me more than I can say. Once I dropped my major Judeo-Christian assumptions, I found more peace and stability in atheism than I ever had in Christianity.
    One of the main ideas that I had to discard was the idea of God’s Plan as a comforting thing. I now find the paradox of free will and an omniscient, omnipotent deity more troubling than the idea that we make our own decisions. And yeah, there is some comfort in giving up responsibility for the future, but I like the idea that there is no inevitably static path for us as a species to tread. That mistakes are just decisions we wish we hadn’t made rather than Wrong by an absolute standard. That what we do can make a difference; what we do matters. We have freedom and autonomy, something that Christianity and most other religions restrict if not outright deny.
    Yeah, it’s hard when your family doesn’t understand or support your lack of belief. It’s difficult to accept that you may have built your life around the fevered dreams of long-dead men. But nonbelievers are not alone, and I personally have found that I am much happier and a better human being without a god.
    I really hope Bob’s situation works out, and that family and friends can learn to build relationships with him that aren’t centered on religion. Otherwise, like ATL-Apostate said, it’s going to get really rough. I wish him the best of all possible outcomes.

    Also, in response to Axxyanus’ comment: I clearly can’t speak for everyone, but what helped me the most when losing my faith was in fact other people’s stories. At that time, I needed to know ex-Christians could end up happy and that my inability to believe didn’t doom me to a dreadful existence. Again, this is just me; I am sure other people do not adapt to deconversion in the same way. But on the off-chance that Bob needs what I needed, I hope he finds it in these comments.

  • What he probably needs are more non-religious or sympathetic friends who will form his new support group. That’s really what he’s lost, and it something that he can regain.

  • SarahH

    I agree that he needs support – he needs people, like Santiago, who can be there for him when he hits rough patches, and can relate to his new hardships.

    One of the ongoing struggles I’ve had is with family. Fortunately, my husband and I were already both atheists/agnostics when we got married, so there’s no one in my house who’s judging my beliefs. However, my parents and siblings (and many people from the small town where I grew up) are very disappointed in me. I know that they essentially grieve for me, as they believe that I’m going to Hell for my sins and disbelief. It’s hard knowing that, in a way, they feel like they’ve lost me – they valued my faith almost more than they valued me as a person.

    What’s important to remember is that, in the case of extreme fundamentalist believers, these people are victims. I feel more sympathy than hurt when I get tracts in the mail from my grandparents, or get told by my little brother that I’m living in sin. These people are so entrenched in their beliefs that they can’t adapt to change, they can’t see their loved ones without the context of their judgments, and they would have a very hard time seeing things from a non-fundamentalist perspective.

    I feel incredibly free and happy to have escaped religious guilt and fear, and to be able to enjoy the world in a way that I feel is honest and realistic, but I have had to accept that my family members are incapable of understanding this, which is pretty hard to do. I wish “Bob” the best of luck, and I hope he finds some friends, both online and offline, who can help him deal with the shock waves of his new-found atheism.

  • Jesse

    One of the ways I dealt with it was through the arts. Specifically, I dealt with the sudden fear of death by listening to Bad Religion songs like “Destined for Nothing,” “Materialist,” and especially “Shattered Faith.”

    Besides Bad Religion, the most inspiring non-theists I know of that really cheered me up were Robert Ingersoll, and Carl Sagan. Showing him “Cosmos” on Hulu could very well help Bob realize that there is much awe left to be found in the universe.

    I know of no atheist as poetic as Robert Ingersoll. Many of his works are collected on the internet infidels website. It only takes a few minutes of reading Ingersoll to recognize him as a powerfully inspiring force for good.

  • Todd

    First, go here immediately, Bob. http://exchristian.net

    Having talked to a few other people who have suffered a crisis of faith, I can say that Bob is in for some very rough times. The reality is, he may never be as happy as he was as a Christian. I still suffer from anger and resentment over having thrown away half my life on nonsense and I can’t say that I’m a particularly friendly atheist.

    Send him to http://exchristian.net. If you are an atheist who has not gone through what he’s going through, you aren’t going to be of much help. A crisis faith is life changing and not always for the better. He needs new friends quick, because most of the ones he has now are going to abandon him. And if he’s a father with kids, a lawyer wouldn’t hurt either.

  • I went into severe depression when I first lost my faith. My college and family were extremely liberal and respectful of my beliefs, so that wasn’t where the sadness came from. Every time I thought about death, or every time I was saddened by something in the world, the belief that there was no God seemed to amplify that effect. However, one day, in an instantaneous moment, my depression ceased to exist. I believe that this was caused by finding and conversing with other people witch similar beliefs, and also logically accepting that some things are out of my control, and that I should just enjoy life as much as possible.

    Good luck!

  • Sarah TX

    One thing that helped me a lot as I deconverted (not from evangelical faith, but still) was reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t think there’s any writer as capable of capturing the humanity of people than he was.

    Of course, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but in every genre there’s some artist who can inspire without relying on the Big G.

  • Cherie M

    I remember how hard it was to go through having my family and the majority of my friends reject me after I left mormonism. My mother was (and still is) convinced that I’ve ruined the eternal family tree. My dad threatened to kick me out of the house at one point and is ashamed to have me at his church (when I go for occasions like mother’s or father’s day.) It’s been hard and it still is hard. I still struggle to accept the fact that both of my parents will put their religious duties and beliefs before me. I try to not put the entire blame on them because I have to remember that they were indoctrinated from birth, married and had children young and never had the opportunity to be in the world for a while and explore their own beliefs.

    There were several times where I wondered if it was worth it or not. I went through a lot of emotional trauma, pain and indecision. One of the things that kept me going was the ability to be honest with myself. I felt free to think and question things I’d never dreamed of taking on before. Even though my family and social life were devastated, I found peace in not having to play a good mormon girl on the outside while being an unbeliever on the inside. I didn’t have to lie to myself about how I felt about things related to god and religion, nor did I feel the need to lie to others. The past couple of years, though not without difficulties, have by far been the happiest of my life. My self-esteem has rocketed, my weekends are more relaxing and I am able of accomplishing more (for school, the house, or a number of other project.) Despite the hard times, this has all been worth it.

    I’d recommend finding a local or online ex-christian support group. An ex-mormon site helped me vent my anger at believing so long, for all the feelings of inadequacy it caused me and for the horrible things my family said and did. See if there are atheist support groups near-by. Pick up books and learn how something works, or the science behind it. Educate yourself and remember – you are bettering yourself for your personal honest and your intellectual growth. Best of luck.

  • TXatheist

    Having an ex-catholic wife who now embraces UU certainly helps. What was the basic starting point of contentment was a good long discussion on boundries. I don’t respond when immediate family mentions hell or jesus or the bible as it will lead to confrontation. I also don’t lecture my wife but I also never use to ask for her opinion on religion before she left xianity because I KNEW I wasn’t going to like the answer(and that only gives her opinion more clout). We did discuss going to more liberal churches that revolved around jc like Episcopalian(gay friendly). That may be a stepping stone for you or may not. Good luck.

  • I’ve never been religious – though I did long believe in the Christian God simply because it was a commonly held belief in North American culture. But my belief was waaaay in the background and had effectively zero impact on my thinking or behaviour.

    So I lack the relevant personal experience. But here are some thoughts.

    1. One thing that some people who have left fundamentalism have said is that it is a massive relief and a deshackling of the self, as the person no longer has to feel guilt or fear for doing perfectly normal and harmless things (e.g., masturbation, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, birth control, abortion, learning new ways of thinking, etc.).

    2. If he does experience ostracism, as horrible as that would be – and realistically speaking, this will not go smoothly – he will have received the first hand experience to supplement his budding theoretical experience on just what sorts of deleterious roles dogmatism can play, particularly with regard to religion, where dogmatists can be motivated to remain closedminded by the notions of being *with God*, being righteous, and being on a path to heaven, and scared silly of objectively considering things by the prospects of being away from God and being hell-bound.

    It could indeed be a very rewarding instance of making lemonade out of life’s lemons. One would be able to provide educated help in promoting awareness of this social problem, helping and being helped by those with similar experiences, and building deep meaningful social connections based on a desire to help and be helped and to make a positive difference regarding a set of personal and social issues that are at the core of all that is important for individuals and societies.

    3. Another thing I suggest is, if he’s interested in jumping into learning new philosophies and so on, looking at some secular Buddhist ideas. I’m a non-religious atheist, but I meditate almost daily – which has received strong scientific support for producing many great personal benefits, and I also read some Buddhist life philosophy. I’ve found that some of the philosophy helps the meditation and the meditation helps me to appreciate the philosophy. Some relevant values promoted are compassion, calmness of the mind, acknowledgment and over-coming of vices and weakspots (e.g., being easily angered by certain things), a calm acceptance and increased ability to not become agitated by things and people as they are (this doesn’t mean that you don’t try to improve things; but you become better at not letting things eat away at you, for example).

    It also promotes an increased ability to be present in the moment, to appreciate now, to make the most of now, and to better apply and understand one’s attention, hang-ups, and so on. All of this promotes the development of wisdom (i.e., how to live well and happily and continuously grow), self-sufficiency, and better social relations.

    I think all of this would be great for your friend. He’ll need to be able to understand and accept both himself and his family and friends – to be able to empathize with them, but also be strong and independent enough to make the decisions that he thinks are right, though they may not be the easiest. And really, no matter what he does, all of this would be beneficial to him or anyone else for that matter.

    4. I’ve heard one ex-cult member say, after leaving, “what kind of friends are friends who would leave you for changing your mind” (i.e., leaving the cult)? Now, in considering your friend’s case, I’m thinking it’s not that simple. It’s not about simply changing one’s mind. In the mind of the belief community, you didn’t just change your mind, you’ve gone to the dark side. From Good and Righteous to, at best, dangerously and horribly lost, but more likely, possessed by Evil and destined to Hell. In the eternal struggle of Good vs. Evil, you’ve switched to Evil. And you’re vocal – so you’re contagious. This just points to the dangerousness of religious dogmatism.

    Hope some of these thoughts may have helped.

  • littlejohn

    This may sound like a cruel joke, but I’m serious. He can stop worrying about hell. Many of the fundamentalists I know obsess about going to hell. Now he knows he won’t, not even if he kills himself.

  • K

    “What helped you stay positive when you left your faith?”

    I don’t even know how to answer that. EVERYTHING about religion was so negative and I never looked back. Did freed slaves ever look back at the plantations and cry? Probably. There are always going to be weak-minded individuals who prefer slavery, mental or physical. Oh well. Right there is a fine argument for not, “converting.” A part of their mind knows good and well that religion is a lie but they keep that tiny spark of reason muzzled. They can’t live with themselves otherwise.
    “Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

  • Patrik Beno

    (sorry for double post but 1st time I got a blank page response so I don’t know what state I ended up in. Posting again, edited a bit)

    I was in the very same situation. I know how the guy must feel.

    First of all, he himself must be OK with his new unbelief. For now, I just assume this is done and skip to the relation issues.

    Beside obvious fact that he needs new local friends (support group) who will help him to get through this, here’s additional advice:

    – show your wife you’re the same trustworthy person as before
    – show her you love her
    – show her atheist does not mean evil
    – regain her trust and respect
    – do practise things she thinks only Christian is capable of: charity, empathy, consolation, understanding, loving your neighbour etc
    – do not burn the bridges: Defend your opinion patiently but do not fight family’s way of living (go to church with her, attend team praying when required, do not fight her too often about her religious opinions,…)

    Do not hope she’ll become atheist herself. This hope is doomed (in the short run at least). But she will eventually accept you the way you are and she will learn to suppress the issues she has with your atheism.

    Do not tell the whole your family about your unbelief. Fight one person at a time. Don’t let them join against you.
    If you already allowed this, well – sorry about that but it was a huge mistake.
    But do not fail so fast, just keep fighting if your family is worth anything to you.

    I had a very hard time with my wife when this happened. But we eventually got through this (well, more preciselly, we’re in a not-so-painful transition state now).
    – We go to the church with kids together but I am not expected to say the grace or pray with her.
    – We still have Christian Christmas but I am not leading them anymore.
    – We avoid confrontation but we do not pretend there are no issues in this area. We just avoid exhausting and disharmonizing verbal violence – words that hurt. It is more like “I know what you think, don’t explain it to me”

    Well, hope this helps. I could tell more, possibly, but now I ran out of time.

    Any questions? Mail to: patrikbeno@gmail.com

  • Jon

    — “It is better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you are not.” —

    That was the mantra that got me through my deconversion and my divorce. It’s a painful reality that friends and family can be lost.

    Find new friends and a new social network that embraces you for WHO YOU ARE. Use Myspace, facebook, meetup, whatever.

    Remember that you are not the one abandoning anybody. If they reject you, that’s THEIR problem. If they truly cared about you as a person, they would be able to set the religious stuff aside. If they are unable to communicate with you because the religion is always getting in the way, the relationship they had with you before was shallow and empty.

    The beauty of truth, the elegance of the universe, the freedom of seeing the world as it truly is, that can come later, with time. I am absolutely happier now than I ever was while a believer. It took a little time, but reality is so much cooler than myths and fairy tales.

  • andyinsdca

    I second the mention of Dan Barker (his book Losing Faith in Faith) is a killer look at the deconversion process.

  • You can go through hell leaving conservative Christianity, but at some point it can be a greater hell to stay in it, so to speak. My experience.

    Some excellent comments above. My two cents. The process takes time, takes time for conservative Christians to adjust to your new perspective, and often to shift their own perspectives. And it is sometimes surprising to see how willing Christians are to reevaluate where they stand in regard to their faith when confronted with someone leaving the faith. So patience is very important, on both sides.

    And to second some comments above, finding some people who have gone through the same thing is very helpful. It is very important to know you are not alone and you are not crazy in thinking what you think. It is far from a unique experience, and people do come out on the other side doing well.

    It gets better and easier over time, but it still hurts sometimes. That’s life whether you stay in the religion or leave it.

  • some guy

    I don’t have too much to add.
    ‘The Atheist’s Way’ is a nice book to check out.

    And watching Spongebob may help as well.

  • RE: ATL-Apostate’s comment above, steering spouse towards more liberal Christianity, that is very much my experience in marriage as well and should bear serious consideration. It takes more work than just turning your back on Christianity though.

  • Santiago

    Oh man, thank you everyone for your help and support, and thank you Hemant for posting the letter, I think some of the advice here may really help “Bob” out. I will definitely be telling him about exchristian.net, which I think is exactly the sort of thing he needs right now, so thanks Todd. I’ll obviously let him know of de-conversion.com and other atheist sites in time, but right now I think he needs to read testimonials of Christians like him who’ve gone through the whole losing-faith ordeal.

    I’m also hoping he can feel better now that he doesn’t need to feel guilty about things that might have stressed him out before, like thinking homosexuality is not evil and that abortion is necessary in some cases. I hadn’t thought of that, so thanks. The thought that he can follow his own moral guidelines instead of the cruel arbitrary ones just might cheer him up a bit.

    You guys may be relieved to know that at least he doesn’t have any children, we’re both actually still in college. You can imagine that he got married quite young.

    But well, thanks again everyone, it means a lot to me that I could come to this group of people and know there’d be people who could help me, so, many thanks.

  • llewelly

    I’m not a psychiatrist, but the research I’ve read says one of the best ways to feel better is to volunteer for a cause. (For me, that strategy has always backfired – so it doesn’t work for everyone.) Perhaps there’s a local skeptical or atheist organization that could use some help?

    Oh, as far as ‘positive thinking’ goes … it can backfire.

  • Skeptimal

    I agree with those who’ve said this friend needs people in his life (good listeners) and not advice, so much. He’s going to be manipulated as hell by his family and former friends, belittled in subtle little ways, ridiculed in some cases, and made to feel that his escape from superstition is instead based on his inability to be a moral person. He’s going to have every incentive in the book to abandon evidence-based reality for blind faith, and it’s going to be tempting. What helps, though, is knowing that he no longer has to “make himself believe” something that deep down he knows is not true.

    Having someone to talk through some of that manipulation can be a big help. It may also help him to know that people who leave most faiths go through the same fears and discomfort he’s going through. Christianity really isn’t that different from other religions in that regard.

  • Gordon

    In the bad times during the deconversion process, I held to the belief that living in reality is far better than anything else. Some of what I discovered about me and my prior faith based life was surprising and painful, but knowing the true reality about these events and relationships was much better than not knowing and keeping my eyes closed. It did not feel good at first to have these discoveries but it was much better to know the reality. After a while I became more compassionate toward myself and toward others. Now when I discover something new about the life I lived in a faith based community, I quickly laugh at myself and make the necessary adjustment or try to discover the necessary change in my thinking to re-align with reality. It gets easier and quicker.

  • medussa

    I’d recommend 2 books for when he’s at a point where books will help (not exactly crisis intervention, is it):

    Don Barker’s “godless”. He was a fundamentalist christian minister who found reason and left the church, at which point his wife left him. This is his biography, and might let Bob know he’s by far not the only one out there.

    “The Atheist’s Way”, by Eric Maisel, subtitled “living well without gods”. Great approach to developing a meaning to life for recovering fundamentalists.

  • Jon

    Sounds a lot like my experience. Pretty much all friends and family were devout evangelicals, including my wife. We were even home schoolers (and still are 4 years later).

    It was misery at first, but it did get better. I was lucky that in my case my marriage was really built on more than just our religion. My wife may never see things my way, but I’m fine with that and at this point she’s doesn’t exhibit an urgent need to change my thinking.

    I discuss these issues all the time with all of my religious friends and family. It was tough on them at first, but now that they are used to it it’s a lot easier. The initial hostility from some towards me wore off in my case. Hopefully that’s not unusual and this is what your friend will experience. He may lose some friends, retain others, maybe build some new friendships. That’s normal anyway, but with the religious change it accelerates for a time, which can be painful. In time you get settled back in an it isn’t a problem.

  • @Cherie M: I was lucky. When I decided to turn in my official “I’m no longer a member of the Mormon church” paperwork, I didn’t get quite the shut out that you did. My lovely wife was actually sympathetic – as she explained it, she didn’t want to see me suffering week after week listening to things I didn’t feel were true or helpful.

    I’ve heard of some people have really bad times of it when they leave their church. I think the way I described it is like going through a divorce. You don’t know how your family, your friends, the people you used to hang out with will react. Will they still even *be* your friends after you’ve come out of the atheist closet?

    Still, it’s been worth it. I’d rather stand for what I feel is right and true than stay silent just to keep other people happy.

  • J. Allen

    I would say to Bob…it’s about integrity. You can go on pretending to believe so your family shows you affection, but you will know in your heart that you are lying to yourself, and you will be miserable anyway.

    If your family’s love for you can not overcome you thinking for yourself, then why do you want their love? If you fear loneliness then try and be brave, there are many athiests and non-judging believers who will appreciate for who you are instead of demanding you be someone you are not.

    You have made decisions based on faith that perhaps are regrettable, but putting on a charade to attempt to justify your actions seems equally regrettable. Why not seek atonement, not from God, but from yourself by promising to never make serious decisions until rational thought and evidence have been properly used.

    Take responsibility for your mistakes, do not run from reality or you will always be running and hiding and disguising yourself.

  • Brian

    Like somebody already said, definitely going to http://www.exchristian.net and post a de-conversion story will help a lot. He’d be surprise the amount of people who have gone through similar situations. If not posting please read the stories there.

    I second Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith suggestion and also suggest Godless from the same author.

    “What helped you stay positive when you left your faith?”

    Reading, reading and reading. The learning process is fascinating; there is a world of knowledge waiting out there. I have read several atheist books, but I have also read several apologetics books (Lee strobe, D’souza, etc) suggested by my christian friends to help me “clear” my doubts. And honestly the apologetics books pushed me further in atheism.

    I will never go back to stupidity and a life of lies.

  • cicely

    What helped you stay positive when you left your faith?

    The knowledge that I have privacy in my own head, that my thoughts aren’t being auditted for “wrongness” (and tallied up for punishment), and never have been. Related to this, the cessation of guilt and fear over “sinful thoughts”. Also, no longer having to worry about whether I am interpretting the contradictions in “Holy Writ” correctly, and acting accordingly.

  • EndUnknown

    When I deconverted, I felt like crap. i was severely depressed before(was a factor in my deconversion)but after i felt so hollow and alone. It almost drove me to suicide(thankfully a friend stopped that). When my mom said she ‘wasn’t proud’ of me after i admitted atheism, I felt worse than I ever had in my life. The thing that helped me was the lovely community of the atheist blogosphere (hugs to everyone here at FA)

  • Scott

    As a teenager I attended this place: http://www.eigonline.org/ in what would be the 7th and 8th grade equivalents. This was in 1983/1984 when they had a general education program in addition to their bible school. I hated every minute of it, although at the time it didn’t occur to me why I was so miserable.

    I was living with my father and step-mother who were both fundamentalist christians and believed in fundamentalist doctrine to the letter.

    What finally snapped me out of my confused haze into full blown skeptical mode was a particular sermon given by the founder of the EIG, Joseph Carroll. This sermon started off as they normally do; reading scripture, interpreting some life meaning from same. It then degenerated into berating the congregation for not tithing enough to the institute. It wasn’t a generic request for more money, the kind you might make if some extra funds are needed for various projects. It was a full blown attack directed at the audience for not giving enough money. I remember looking over my shoulder at Carroll’s house, A nice F. Lloyd Wright style joint with a caddy and bmw in the driveway. The caddy had been bought recently for his wife after her hip surgery and the bmw belonged to his son. It became apparent to me this guy was running a business, and as long as business was good, all was well. If business was good and funds were flowing in as normal, then the institutes evangelical work was the main mission. One the other hand, when funds were not flowing, interestingly the solution was not to pray, or ponder gods will. But to read the riot act to members for not contributing enough to the church. It was exactly at that moment I went full skeptic.

    From then on I examined everything that was said to me from the opposite viewpoint. For me, removing superstitious belief was a great relief. I dont regret a minute of my life as a skeptic.

    Bob shouldn’t feel guilty about his beliefs or lack thereof. It’s not his beliefs that are the problem, it’s the interaction with those close to him who do not share his skepticism. The tension generated when fundamentalist beliefs are not shared in a close relationship can be enormous – which I know well as I went to live with my non-religious mother shortly after the experience i described above.

  • One if the first things I would tell Bob is that a lot of atheists go through a dark night of the soul — or rather, a dark night of the soul-less — when they first let go of their religious belief. I certainly did. It passes. It’s a hard and scary thing: you’ve let go of a major foundation of your life, and you have yet to build a new one. But the building does happen.

    In this particular case, I would also strongly urge Bob to find a community or communities of non-believers: in person if at all possible, on the Web if not. It sounds like his entire social support system is built around religion, and that’s going to make this transition harder. Having a new support system will help.

    As to feeling better about bad decisions made for the wrong reasons? I think a lot of people go through that, religious or not. It’s part of the process of maturing… a process that (hopefully) continues until we die. We make the best decisions we can based on the best understanding we have at the time… and if those decisions turn out to be wrong, we learn from it, and forgive ourselves the same way we would forgive anyone else who made bad decisions with good intentions.

    As for positive things about atheism: Rather than repeat things I’ve written elsewhere, I’m going to take the liberty of doing a little self- linkage. (I beg forgiveness for intruding my own blog into this one, but it really is relevant.)

    Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen
    Dancing Molecules: An Atheist Moment of Transcendence
    Why Are We Here? One Agnostic’s Half-Baked Philosophy (written when I was still calling myself an agnostic)

  • AnonyMouse

    I know how hard it can be to be the only believer (or one of a tiny minority) in a family of fundamentalists. Many times you feel like you’re locked up in a box and all you want to do is scream. When you get into a religious discussion, you feel like you must agree with them or else you will become the antagonist. Even in your day-to-day life, you feel like a criminal – a rebel, pointlessly poking holes into the things your family most holds dear.

    Sometimes I feel like it would be easier just to quit and become a Christian again. Even though I no longer believe, I sometimes long for the comforts that it gave me – of belonging, of being part of something bigger than myself, and of having someone out there who was watching out for me.

    But there is one thing I’ve learned that I cannot give up no matter how hard I try: the value of honesty. Even though it was painful – and still is, to a degree – I have learned that it is more important and rewarding to be honest with myself than it is to fit in.

    The hardest part, without a doubt, was giving up God. I wanted so badly for Him to be there for me – to watch over me, take care of me, make sure my life went okay. And when I first stopped believing, it felt like my best friend had been ripped away. Without God, who was going to make sure I got married? Who was going to heal my mother and secure me a job?

    One of the best things I learned about being an atheist is that I have the power to organize my own life. I may not be able to change everything, but I can make decisions every day that improve both me and my life. I’m still trapped inside my fundamentalist family, but with the help of the Internet, I am working to better both myself and the world around me.

    One thing that has helped me is that my family does not know. Obviously, I would not suggest that you out-and-out try to deceive them, but here’s what I would do: when you talk with your family, focus on the things you agree on. Don’t bring up the things that are going to bother them. Even though I have basically gone from a conserva-moderate Christian to a liberal atheist, I still find things that I can discuss with my mother without divulging my more undesirable opinions.

    One thing I am very glad for is that I was still a young woman when I learned the truth. True, I had dedicated my childhood to fundamental Christianity, but really I have my whole life ahead of me. I can only imagine what it must be like to have devoted the best years of your life to something so time- and effort-consuming.

    But know this: Although it may be late, you still have the rest of your life ahead of you. What you do with that is your decision – educate yourself, take a new job, help to save the world, or try to cope with your family – but whatever you do, don’t let the time you’ve lost devalue the time you still have.

  • Lynet

    There are huge numbers of deconversion stories of all sorts on the Ebonmusings Atheism Pages, towards the bottom. Ebonmuse also an essay on the subject titled Into the Clear Air, which discusses four stages of deconversion, the third of which is the dark period after a person’s faith is gone, but before they have found their new life. It sounds like both the essay and the decoversion stories could be very helpful to ‘Bob’.

  • Unless you have been precisely in Bob’s shoes, it’s hard to grasp what he’s up against.

    Several people have said; “if your family only loves you as long as you believe, do you want that love?” Everyone needs love, and who wants to come to the painful realization that their family’s love is conditional?

    One of the things that religion does well is construct networks of social and familial support. That can be all gone in a flash. In addition, Bob has only known himself as a Christian so he is facing the loss of the known self. How will he understand himself now?

    An honest person doesn’t join or leave a religion for how the move will affect them, but because they are following the truth the best way they understand it. Even if it leads to unhappiness.

    I’m very happy, now, but it was a rough ride and my family isn’t even fundamentalist. Bob should visit exchristian, and read other deconversion stories. (here’s mine). And he should get to a UU church right away, attend regularly, and build a network of supportive friends who will understand him. My best wishes to him.

  • Anne

    I think a lot of people go through exactly this experience when they first realize everything they believed about the nature of the universe for their entire lives was WRONG. I mean, you’d have to be pretty stupid and insensitive not to. So it’s normal.

    What helped me is humanism. Atheism has nothing to offer. Atheism is a lack of a position. Humanism is the positive worldview that takes the place of religion.

    Also, your friend might hang out on some of the blogs that have deconversion stories and places like ex-christian net where he would find some support for what he’s going through. Also a very good book I recently read is Dan Barker’s “Losing Faith in Faith”, in which he recounts his journey from minister to atheist. Another similar book is John Loftus’ book but I have not read that so I can’t comment.

    Best wishes to your friend. He’s got a hard journey ahead, but not without rewards.

  • Scott M.

    Just a quick note. I’ll write back a bit more later.

    Ask “Bob” to pick up a copy of “Letting Go of God” by Julia Sweeney. It’s about her de-conversion and wonderfully done. It’s actually quite inspiring.

    Best wishes.

  • absent sway

    Let him know that there’s no rush. He needs to know where he stands and evaluate what his best options and worst-case-scenarios are, then test the waters with his wife. If she supports him, even tentatively, he will be so relieved (and likewise, um, he should proceed with caution if she’s unlikely to be supportive because that would be devastating). Exploring more liberal forms of Christianity, at least at a lifestyle level, might ease the transition in practical ways, too.

  • Neil

    I wrote mine under the assumption that “Bob” might read this personally:

    I come from an Evangelical Southern Baptist strand of Christianity so I think our situations may be similar. I was truly a warrior for Christ – daily Bible readings coupled with prayer, tri-weekly Church visits and I made every decision in my life based on the Truth I knew from the Bible. Of course I was still a teenager at the zenith of my faith so my decisions can’t truly compare to those made about a spouse or career.

    I was 22 when I told my mother that I no longer believed Christianity was valid and it initiated the single hardest time in my life. She effectively disowned me and we did not speak for several months. In her rage she told our extended family of my betrayal and even “outed” one of my friends to his own family. I was told that I was to no longer speak with my own brother.

    It was at this point that I discovered the oddities in my family tree, as I’m sure you will in your own. Specifically, I grew closer than ever with a cousin of mine that had recently come out to her parents (as a lesbian, not an atheist – baby steps).

    And though I was denounced by her, my mother and I did eventually speak again and we’ve reached an uneasy truce, for now. Where your wife is concerned I must admit that I can offer no parallel experiences. However, I have found that as long as you show people that you can be a good person they will accept you. In fundamentalist circles I’ve encountered time and again people with the impression that atheists run around drinking sheep blood and sodomizing everything in sight. Show them how mild-mannered and moral we can be and they will come around.

    Finally reaching the point of positive facets of atheism I would say simply that you can be a moral person without a thing hanging over you, willing you to do good. You love your fellow man now, not because God commands you but because you recognize that there is no God to take up their cause. A popular contemporary Christian song said “we need to be Jesus to the world” and I found that this doesn’t change. It likely only gains immediacy since now you recognize that Jesus can’t, won’t, and never could help people.

  • Nine

    Last year, I finally made the jump from agnostic to atheist.

    Before that, I was still carying a lot of guilt with me, thinking that without “something out there” the world would be a much sadder and colder place. There’s no finality, no grand purpose, no signs or destiny.

    Now, this was a leftover thought from my religious days, but it still prevented me from enjoying life. I now think this was a false thought, let me explain.

    When I was an (undecided) agnostic, I began looking more closely at the world around me. I think I saw the beauty, but I couldn’t really appreaciate it, because of my leftover religious thought, a prejudice against the world really, in the back of my head.

    Once I embraced atheism fully and got read of the false impression that there “must” be something, I realized that life is not about finding oneself according to the design of some diety, it is about creating oneself.

    That is a truly empowering thought. Now, I feel every day like I could hug the whole world.(sappy, I know…)

    Maybe “Bob” needs to know that the emptiness he’s feeling is just in his mind, an expected consequence from his religious life, but ultimately, he’ll let go find happiness. It _will_ happen.

  • DemonAura

    I would also invite Bob to a community called the atheist forums (http://atheistforums.org/index.php).

    Theres deconverts here he can talk to amoung plenty of other great people. Of course any community will likely help, part of what he is feeling is a loss of commmunity. People need friends that think like them.

    Nobody said dealing with reality was an easy path for people whose family and friends won’t deal with it with them. But, I wish the man luck and friendship in the future days.

  • Richard Wade

    People here have given excellent advice and insight. The only reservation I have is in the title of this post. I don’t know if it was Hemant’s or Santiago’s idea, but saying “I’ve Successfully Deconverted Him…” is a mistake both for Santiago and for Bob. The deconversion was not “caused” by Santiago, even if he was there to witness it and even to encourage it. Bob has his own mind. That is the whole point of a deconversion.

    Bob has to take full, personal responsibility for his decisions. That is the essence of the atheist stance. No god is involved in causing his thoughts, feelings and actions, and Bob answers only to himself and to his fellow human beings for his thoughts, feelings and actions. Bob completely owns his life. This starkly simple realization will be the source of both his initial grief and his eventual healing.

    Stay in good, accepting company constantly, Bob, and talk frequently about your feelings. Do not isolate. Depression is a silent, stealthy predator.

  • NowAHappyHumanist

    What helped you stay positive when you left your faith?

    1) Forming a very close, deep, meaningful relationship with another non-believer who accepted me fully and did not judge me and with whom I could share any thought or doubt or feeling. In hindsight, I think it was almost like this person was a surrogate god for me at first. I no longer had a god to pray to but I could talk to and connect with another human instead.

    Santiago, you may find that the best way to help your friend is to continue to be this kind of “surrogate god” to him. I think Bob’s misery that you describe is perfectly normal and understandable. Not something that you or anyone else can fix with simply getting him to “stay positive”. As Julia Sweeney says “it was like I had to re-wallpaper my entire mind”. Surely most people who go through this kind of massive transition will experience some existential angst and pain and depression. If you feel that providing this type of support to your friend is overwhelming you may even want to gently suggest he talk to a counsellor or a UU minister/chaplin who has experience being with and listening to people who are in the middle of re-wallpapering their minds.

    I wouldn’t recommend running out and joining an atheist or humanist group. Some atheist groups are wonderful and accepting but most I’ve come into contact with tend to have an air of “religion sux”, “religious people are stupid” about them. Most atheists I’ve met have never had the experience of being a “true believer” and just don’t understand how radical the change is to go from not just believing, but KNOWING, and having a relationship with a loving god to doubting and then to unbelief. Not to mention going from devoting most of your time to church related activities and relationships to being completely rejected by your former “brothers and sisters in christ”.

    2) Accepting my emotions – even the ones that were so completely unreasonable and annoying to me. On the one hand I revelled in my newfound freedom to think and ponder and try on dangerous ideas, to follow my conscience instead of always trying to please god or my church community. On the other hand, in my first few years of non-belief I still missed many aspects of my former xtian life. It sounds completely daft – in many ways I WANTED to still believe. But belief was just impossible – once my belief was gone it was GONE, like that believer part of my brain just didn’t exist anymore. Or more like once the non-believer part of my brain woke up it sure as hell wasn’t going to fall back asleep!

    3) Philosophy, the beauty of the natural world, science….

    I joined a humanist philosophy book club and thoroughly enjoyed reading & discussing Julian Baginni’s “So what’s it all about?”, “The Pig that Wants to be Eaten” and Richard Norman’s “On Humanism”.

    I read Richard Dawkins’ “Unweaving the Rainbow” and “The Ancestor’s Tale”.

    I watched Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series.

    4) Dark times….

    I think one of the best things about being an nonbeliever is when I experience crisis and dark times over which I have no control.

    Instead of pounding on the gates of heaven and trying to figure out what I have done wrong and why/how god would let this happen and fervently praying to god to change reality, etc… I can ACCEPT what is happening and decide how I am going to deal with it.

    Now I could wax on and on about joy and wonder and how awesome reality is and how amazing it is to live in a time we can know so much through science, how my former belief obscured this beauty of the real world, but I’ll stop here.

    I hope your friend is able to slowly let go of those past regrets and enjoy his journey and discovery of a world sans gods, myths and demons.

    -D

  • Wordstolearnby

    “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – H. D. Thoreau

  • magdalune

    Unfortunately, I’m still in the “my whole life was borderline fundie Christian, my family is borderline fundie Christian, and I’m miserable because I’m different” phase while I watch my faith cling to life with pathetic, struggling gasps of breath.

    I plan to read over everyone else’s answers.

  • Scott M.

    A couple of comments:
    1) It’s important to remember that religion was done TO Bob. It’s kind of like the stories one hears about the little old lady who was scammed by the psychic who promised to bless and then double her life savings and then makes off with it. The person who was conned tends to feel stupid and ashamed because in hind-sight it’s obvious how foolish they were acting. The victim tends not to report this crime or talk about it with friends and family out of shame. The victim feels as if they’re the only one that this crime is committed against. They feel as if they should have been able to prevent it.

    The way out for the victim is to realize it was a crime that was done to them, that they should talk to others to expose the fraud, that they should not feel guilty for being gullible. Because we tend to believe others think and react like ourselves, gullibility is actually a sign of a very kind person. The victim should take some solace in that.

    After my deconversion, I learned to accept that religion was done to me. I was a child and could not be expected to put up an adequate defense against religion. The adults I trusted allowed this to happen to me. It happens to most people and EVERYONE walks around feeling isolated in their doubt about religion.

    2) After my deconversion, when I wondered what was I supposed to do with my life, for a while, I had to remind myself that God is like Zeus and would ask myself, “How should I behave now that I don’t believe in Zeus?” The answer of course was that I shouldn’t do anything differently. I still went to work, ate, laughed, loved. Nothing changed except I no longer had my thoughts and desires being tallied and written down in some magical book to be judged against after I die.

    3) A personal message to Bob. It gets better….It takes some time but it gets better, and better, and better! I once had a Jehovah’s Witness come to my house. I explained I was an atheist. They asked if it made my happy. For the first time I really thought about it, broke out into a smile and answered Yes! Since becoming an atheist, I’ve been so much happier than I ever was as a Catholic. I hope it gets better for you.

    My personal best wishes,
    Scott M.

  • Duane

    If the word ‘happiness’ has any meaning or importance, then it does so only in dealing with the world that exists. What meaning is there in a ‘happiness’ that is grounded in unreality? Why is that kind of ‘happiness’ something to be sought or valued?

    If ‘happiness’ is important, then the important thing that we need to remember from his upbringing is not that you learned religion, but the extent to which you learned to be happy or unhappy with reality.

  • John Morales

    As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt”.

    Based on my life experience, I consider that not long hence, as human lives go, this whole event will not seem as outré, to “Bob” or his acquaintances, as it now does.
    “Bob” will be as honest, as likeable, as helpful as before; acceptance of science is not inimical to one’s basic nature.

    That will be a good time to take the next step into rationality! 🙂

  • Great success Santiago. Congratulations for breaking up a family on the basis of your “rational dogma”… seriously. If there’s no God how is it helpful freeing someone from happy delusion into broken isolation?

    I guess there’s no God given imperative for “Bob” to stay married, so who cares hey.

    This just makes me, as a Christian, sad. Sad for all of you. Sad for Bob. Sad for those of you mistreated by your families upon your deconversion (which is a freedom I feel we should all enjoy). I thought atheism, and particularly secular morality, was based on a benefits based schematic. Who benefits in this situation? Really.

    Christians proselytise because they think you’ll end up in hell if you don’t listen – why exactly do atheists proselytise? Who does it benefit? It’s self interest. Smug superiority and a census based inferiority complex/siege mentality.

    I wonder what you’d do were the boot on the other foot? If Bob had converted Santiago? Or, if one of your children came home with a dirty secret that they’d converted to atheism? The intolerance goes both ways. Listen to you all.

  • My advice Bob is to find Terry Eagleton’s critique of this aggressive atheism’s views on Christian theology – atheists, and I suspect Santiago – are arguing with a caricature of Christianity – not the rich, fulfilling and rational version of Christianity promoted by the Bible, when read as a rich narrative linked together by God’s grand design (not “Intelligent Design” ).

    Look at how the rational theological thinkers face the issues you’re confronting – not the dogmatic Westboro Baptists or Dinosaur Museum builders… and appreciate the richness of living out your faith in God.

    I have been reading here for a few weeks now – and find atheism’s champions to be a depressing mix of ill-informed generalisers who fail to grasp the arguments put forward by those they critique.

    Yeah, people have done some terrible things in the name of Christianity, and Christians have done some terrible things under misguided understandings of their roles and responsibilities in society – but so have atheists. And this potential break up of a family for the sake of feeling right is a case in point.

    I’m sure you’ve all heard this before. So I’ll stop this now.

  • Carlie

    Also, it’s ok to be sad, and it’s ok to be angry, and it’s ok to be both at the same time. I went through a period of absolute rage, thinking of everything I had spent my life on that was for naught. Also sadness that I was now different. But all of those feelings moderate in time.

    A note for everyone who hasn’t been in that environment: it’s not as simple as family either loving you despite your beliefs or not. They’re just as brainwashed, and to them it’s a terrifying thing to have someone they love reject eternal life for evil, as they see it. The main reason I haven’t told most of my family isn’t to avoid conflict, but to keep from hurting them that badly.

    My spouse is still devout, and we went through a rocky period, but we’re working it out fairly well. One fundamentalist/one atheist doesn’t always mean divorce will happen.

  • Bryne

    When I deconverted, I realized I wasn’t scared anymore. I had always been scared of death when I was Mormon. Terrified, even. The thought of being alive forever in a place where nothing changed was very upsetting. Strange as it might sound, the idea of heaven did not appeal to me. I hated the boringness of church, with its hymns and thoughtless people. The notion that I might be stuck there for eternity was highly unnerving. I am happier now knowing that I will be dust again and that maybe in a few thousand years (or whenever the resurrection is said to occur), my zombie body will not rise from the grave to feed on the brains (literally and figuratively) of the living.

  • Desert Son

    Nathan wrote:

    Congratulations for breaking up a family on the basis of your “rational dogma”… seriously.

    Interesting. I’m not sure if you meant it (or even if you’ll read this, but I’ll proceed as if you will), but this statement suggests that “Bob” does not have any agency in his own life, that the decisions and realizations weren’t “Bob’s”.

    Which, incidentally, doesn’t square with what you posted later when you stated:

    which is a freedom I feel we should all enjoy

    So, you feel we should all enjoy the freedom to deconvert, but we (or at least Bob, in this case) don’t have the freedom to deconvert. In your characterization, Bob didn’t do anything. It was all at the hands of the nefarious Santiago, is that correct?

    I don’t think that’s fair to “Bob,” “Bob’s” family, or Santiago. It’s also not a very realistic view of the world, it seems to me. Even if “Bob” had never encountered atheism or skepticism in Santiago, he might have encountered it elsewhere, and still deconverted, in which case, the “elsewhere” would be the subject of your vitriol, not Santiago. But the net result is the same, and the agency is the same. The thinking and skepticism and debate and decision was “Bob’s.” The counter-arguments against Christianity could have come from anywhere. One of the biggest counter-arguments to Christianity I’ve ever encountered was a text popularly known The Bible. The decision to abandon faith in gods for which there was no evidence was mine. According to the post you put forth, Nathan, the blame for my decision would rest heavily on The Bible.

    Then,

    I guess there’s no God given imperative for “Bob” to stay married, so who cares hey.

    This is true. There is no god-given imperative for “Bob” to stay married. The imperative for “Bob” to stay married (or not) rests on two people: “Bob” and “Bob’s” spouse.

    I object to the second part of your statement that “so who cares hey.” My guess is, “Bob” and “Bob’s” spouse care. My guess is their families and friends care. Whether or not that means the marriage will survive and be successful is unknown at this time, and frankly, irrelevant to the statement you made. When there’s no god, there are only people left to care, but you certainly erected a beautiful straw man, stuffed full and brightly clothed.

    I thought atheism, and particularly secular morality, was based on a benefits based schematic.

    Sounds like you need to do some more reading. Belief systems are based on things. Atheism is a lack of belief. That’s all. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods. Atheists still have to chose behaviors. Secular morality, as the example you sight, requires choices, but you’ll need to elaborate more on what you mean by “benefits based schematic.” Do you mean a utilitarian schematic, along the lines of the philosophy of Mill?

    Christians proselytise because they think you’ll end up in hell if you don’t listen

    Where’s the independently verifiable and testable evidence?

    – why exactly do atheists proselytise?

    Again, I think you may need to do some more reading. Proselytizing requires advocacy of a belief, statements that can be tested. Proselytizing includes statements like, “Accept Jesus Christ as your savior in order to avoid eternal punishment in hell.” Testable claim (i.e. acceptance of Jesus Christ prevents eternal damnation) that requires statement of belief. Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods. Atheism does not say there are no gods, because that’s a statement of belief. Atheism says, “I see no evidence for the existence of gods, so I see no reason to believe in gods.” People who become atheists aren’t taking up a new belief in place of an old one, they’re abandoning a previously held belief altogether.

    Who does it benefit?

    There’s more to that than you know, but the short answer is, in my opinion, everybody, in the same way that a lack of belief in unicorns benefits everybody. No one loses much time looking for unicorns in reality. Instead, we can devote our energies to other things, including the artistic expression of our imagination, which includes depictions of things like unicorns in painting and storytelling.

    It’s self interest. Smug superiority and a census based inferiority complex/siege mentality.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “census based inferiority complex/siege mentality” or where you’re going with it. Again, atheism is a lack of belief in gods. To bring this all back to the focus of the post, “Bob” has reached a point where “Bob” sees no evidence for the reality of gods, and thus does not believe in gods.

    As an aside, if it weren’t for self-interest, humanity as a species might not have survived. Self-interest is biologically coded into our being. That doesn’t mean we always act out of self-interest, but it doesn’t mean that self-interest is somehow inherently bad. It’s especially humorous to hear a criticism of something in the service of self-interest from an adherent of a belief system that suggests human beings are special, not because of our own agency in creating meaning, but because there’s a unique, ineffable spirit that exists that loves all of us, individually, so intimately it knows the number of hairs on each head. That same ineffable spirit loves all of us so much it will hurt us if we don’t believe in it. Ain’t love grand? Talk about self-interest.

    atheists, and I suspect Santiago – are arguing with a caricature of Christianity – not the rich, fulfilling and rational version of Christianity promoted by the Bible, when read as a rich narrative linked together by God’s grand design (not “Intelligent Design” ).

    Ah, yes, the “No true Scotsman” fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_scotsman_fallacy

    “Those Christians you all are talking about aren’t real Christians.” Of course. After all, Nathan, you have found The Truth(TM); all others need not apply.

    I’m sure you’ve all heard this before.

    How’d you know? Just ask Great Christina. Or Hemant Mehta. Or any of us. We have heard it before, and we’re tired of the dodges and the games and straw men and the self-righteousness.

    You want to know what else we’re tired of? The guilt that those who believe try to foist on us for not believing. Go back and read Richard Wade’s post.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your lengthy reply, I was perhaps overwhelmed with emotion when making my first comment.

    I believe the use of “I’ve Successfully Deconverted Him!… Now What?” as the post’s title suggests an element of proselytising.

    I just wonder why you would, in the safety of your belief in no God, make an effort to convert someone from what you must consider “happy delusion”…

    I guess I was confusing atheism with secular humanism – not through not understanding either, just through haste.

    Re the no true scotsman fallacy – that’s misleading, there must be one absolutely true Christianity. One that, if there is a God, is consistent with God’s intentions. I would suggest that is more likely to lie where the intelligent theological debate is happening and not at the fringe. And having a wikipedia article does not make a “fallacy” any more legitimate. This is a strawman. You throw out baby and bathwater when assessing theists on this basis.

    We don’t judge atheists on the behaviour of Pol Pot or Mao – why do you not extend theists the same courtesy?

  • StephanieB

    Nathan,
    I’m going to take it on myself to reply to your last post, though you directed it to Robert.

    I’m not a big fan of the title of this post either. My opinion, based solely on Santiago’s own words in the post and his comment: I don’t get the impression that Santiago set out explicitly to deconvert Bob. I see Bob’s questioning his faith as arising out of the depth of their friendship, as well as part of Bob’s own personal growth (see Santiago’s comment yesterday at 10:17 am where he talks about Bob’s non-conforming opinions about homosexuality and abortion. That leads me to believe that Bob was already wrestling with his faith and the dogma accompanying it before he and Santiago started this process.) Arguing–not fighting, arguing–debating, and wrestling with deep questions is, to me at least, an important part of serious friendships. I see Santiago as a caring friend who is trying to mitigate the pain that Bob is going through by finding and sharing the paths that others in his situation have taken through it.

    I know that for me, I was already beginning to question my faith when I met someone with whom, as part of our deepening relationship, I talked about the heavy stuff, and he asked questions that rocked that faith to its core. Not because he wanted to change me or score some kind of atheist win, but because he asked a question as part of our conversation that, at that moment of my own journey, was the one that reverberated with my doubts. The question for me was, “Is there a way the world is?” I suspect that if Santiago asked Bob a reverberating question it was very different from mine, because Bob and I are coming from very different faith backgrounds, but the effect is likely the same. It set me reeling, and yes, it was tough for a while. The hardest thing for me to give up, besides life after death, was ultimate justice–it’s still very hard for me to accept that some people will live out their whole lives in inescapable suffering, and others will cause that suffering and never pay for it or be forced to empathize and learn from it.

    But things are as they are and I can’t force myself to believe things that aren’t true. So the only thing left to do is to try to make things better for people here, where the suffering is happening.

    For Bob: I can’t speak to your family issues, which sound potentially heartbreaking and scary to me. I didn’t lose any friends or family over my deconversion. A lot of other people in this thread have given you resources for finding a compassionate community to help you through this time–I hope you take a look at those options.

    I will tell you what I gained from deconverting though. One of the big things is the freedom to rattle around inside my own head knowing that no one is watching me. That has been incredibly liberating. I also learned pretty quickly that despite what some might tell you, awe, wonder, transcendence and, of course profound love were not exclusively religious emotions. Life on this side of the divide is every bit as joyous and rich and connected as it was before. I know it seems a long and rickety bridge across that divide now, but I assure you that it’s a very good place to be–and it feels a lot more real.

  • Ber

    It took me a couple of years of pretty much…sad. But I finally got it after awhile – the possibility of a universe without a divine plan. It’s more beautiful than I had ever had the capacity to appreciate. As if I had never noticed how miraculous it all is when I actually believed in miracles.

  • Santiago

    Hello everyone, first I’d like to thank all of you again for your help and advice.

    To Nathan, I can tell you that “Bob” was trying to convert me to Christianity just as hard as I was trying to convert him to atheism, and I don’t hold that against him in the slightest. He was doing what he thought was best for his friend (namely trying to keep me away from hell), but so was I. I honestly believe that Bob will be able to live a much richer, more fulfilling life as an atheist, free from arbitrary moral codes and free to come to know and understand the true wonders of the universe. “No matter what you would like to believe, surely the best story is the one that is true?” this is something Bob said himself, although I don’t think he realized the full significance of his statement at the time.

    If you must know, I do feel like shit right now, why do you think I sent that e-mail to Hemant in the first place? More than anything right now I want to help my friend and spare him as much suffering as I can.

    I’d also like to say that Richard Wade up there is also saying something important: switching from Christianity to atheism is a very personal and internal experience, Bob had to come to his own conclusions on his own. Having said that, I did eventually come to realize this (something which is very important for anyone hoping to deconvert someone) and I acted accordingly. Instead of bashing Christianity in general I went to great lengths to fully describe the theory of evolution to Bob, as well as the wealth of evidence supporting it. I explained to him how you can be moral without God and I challenged him on what grounds were things like homosexuality amoral.

    In fact, I’ll admit that at one point I chickened out. When Bob finally accepted the theory of evolution he started getting in a lot of trouble with his wife and family, and at that point I no longer tried to bring up religion into conversation any more, because I realized the amount of damage our conversations were having on Bob’s life.

    I talked with some friends about this, asking about the morality of knowingly putting your friend through potential real-life hell in order to deconvert him, and they all invariably told me to go through with it. I now think that maybe my friends did not have all the facts or they wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about Bob’s imminent conversion, but at any rate, a few days ago I finally asked Bob how he had managed to solve the conundrum that if there is a continuous line of ancestry from apes to humans there is no definite point for God to have put a soul in. This is where Bob finally admitted to me his serious doubts about Christianity, and that he had been thinking that there might not be a god. It’s very difficult to describe it, but if you had known the old Christian Bob you would agree with me that after this conversation that Bob would not be believing in God for very much longer.

    But yeah, that’s my story at any rate. Please, if there are any more Christians reading this, don’t say that atheists are selfish, or that we try and deconvert people for fun, our reasons for deconverting people are the same as yours: because we think our friends and loved ones would be happier after.

    PS: On a lighter note, I do actually have Dan Barker’s “Godless” book, and I lent it to Bob a few weeks ago (he actually asked me for it). Unfortunately, his wife seems to have confiscated it, so, books are a no-go in this situation guys 😉

  • Santiago

    Damn, I don’t know why I didn’t see StephanieB’s post before, but, yeah, as you can see I did set out to convert Bob, although I never thought I’d be successful. I think I was trying more to at least limit the negative aspects of Bob’s belief, he was anti-gay, anti-abortion, and a creationist when I met him, and I tried hard to change those beliefs of him.

    But, again, Bob is a very intelligent, very inquisitive person, most of what I did was to offer the seed of doubt and to challenge Bob’s preconceptions. There was almost never an argument where Bob said “you’re right” but eventually, and slowly, Bob changed his mind.

    I will say this though, to any atheist with Christian friends, be careful what you wish for, and be aware of the repercussions of your actions. I can’t shake the feeling that it cost me nothing to ask Bob questions that could potentially shake the foundations of his beliefs, but I never stopped to think about the consequences of my actions until it was too late. I don’t regret that Bob will almost certainly become an atheist, but knowing that I had a large part in causing him a lot of pain and suffering is no picnic.

  • Rachel

    I deconverted from fundamentalism to atheism in my second year of college. It was difficult at first but it was also incredibly exciting because suddenly I was having to really figure out why I made every decision. Before I became an atheist, I just thought of what God would want or what the Bible instructed, but all of a sudden I had to really figure out what was right for me. I found myself becoming more compassionate and caring because I tried to imagine myself in other people’s shoes instead of in Christ’s. The moral decisions I had to wade through became exciting challenges to figure out who I really was and it was difficult but really positive as well.

    While I personally enjoyed this challenge, I can imagine that there would be some regrets. I have definitely had moments where I felt like I had wasted parts of my life on something that no longer has value to me. That being said, I am the person I am today because of those experiences and the same is true for Bob. He can find ways to learn from them and try to develop positive views of them in time.

    It’s incredibly difficult to come out to your family but after 2 years, my parents have accepted my atheism. We’re able to have pretty civil conversations about it and they’ve accepted that even though they don’t like it, they can respect my decision. I wish that this option was open to him but I doubt it is. The biggest emotional support I’ve found is in finding a community. If he can join a skeptics or secularist group, I think he’ll find himself happier than he is at the moment.

  • Then perhaps, Santiago, you’d be keen to point out to Bob that there are plenty of Christians (and indeed the Catholic Church) managing to reconcile faith in biological science and God at the same time – there are many questions not answered about origins of both the universe and the species – that can’t be answered accurately because we weren’t there.

    While I’m personally hovering somewhere in the happy medium between the literal camp and the theistic evolutionists – I don’t think faith in Christianity hangs on it. It’s not the important and defining question in the debate – which is “was Jesus who he said he was” – the question of the existence of God is far more complicated than many convicted atheists care to admit. The fact that you struggled to the point of conviction in many cases would suggest that there are actually issues to grapple with – it’s not a lay down misere.

    Perhaps, if you are really concerned for Bob – you should encourage him to read more broadly than the particular school of thought he’s been brought up in?

  • Desert Son

    Nathan posted:

    I just wonder why you would, in the safety of your belief in no God, make an effort to convert someone from what you must consider “happy delusion”…

    You have misrepresented what I said.

    I never said that I believe in no god. That would be a statement of belief, and a claim that would require proof. What I said was, “I do not believe in god.” That’s a default, and makes no claim whatsoever. It merely asserts that I have seen no evidence convincing me of the existence of god, therefore I do not believe. It’s possible that evidence in the future will be sufficient to demonstrate the existence of god, at which time I would need to reexamine my position. As of this writing, I have yet to see evidence of god, hence I do not believe. Note I do not say I believe there is no god. If I were to say that I believe there is no god, then that’s a claim I would have to back up with proof. Just like the claim of believers that there is a god has to be backed up with proof.

    Further, you ask why I would make an effort to “convert someone from what you must consider ‘happy delusion.'” I’m not sure where I stated I would make an effort to convert someone. In fact, as near as I can remember, I’ve never tried to convert someone from their religious beliefs. I may have questioned someone’s religious beliefs, I may have argued against those beliefs, but I’ve never couched those statements in terms of, “hence, you should change your way of thinking,” which would be the language of conversion. I’d appreciate it if you would not ascribe to me actions that I have not undertaken.

    Re the no true scotsman fallacy – that’s misleading, there must be one absolutely true Christianity.

    Then which one is it? Catholicism? Eastern Orthodoxy? Coptic Christianity? Lutheranism? Contemporary non-denominational evangelicism? You mentioned previously that true Christians would be ones who are informed of the divinity of a supposed god via The Bible. Which Bible? The King James version? Pre-Renaissance versions? The New International Version? English translations of the Latin translations of the Greek translations of the original Bronze-age Hebrew writings? Korean translations of the English translations of the Latin translations of the Greek translations of the original Bronze-age Hebrew writings? Which one is it, Nathan?

    One that, if there is a God, is consistent with God’s intentions.

    Ah, excellent, a tautology.

    Assuming the premise

    Indeed.

    And having a wikipedia article does not make a “fallacy” any more legitimate.

    I’m not citing wikipedia as a source for your argument being a straw man nor as a case for the legitimacy of the fallacy, I’m citing it as an example of the definition of the fallacy. You can check other examples of the definiton:
    http://www.logicalfallacies.info/presumption/no-true-scotsman/

    Or perhaps you prefer to see the origin of the term, proposed by philosopher Antony Flew. You could consult an edition of his text. The original was from 1975, but I found a listing for a 1989 paperback edition:

    Flew, A. (1989). Thinking about thinking. Waukegan, IL: Fontana Press. The ISBNs are # ISBN-10: 0006861628 and # ISBN-13: 978-0006861621

    Regardless, the definition of the fallacy exists. I’m not citing wikipedia as proof, I’m the one making the assertion that you exhibited the No-true-Scotsman fallacy in your argument by virtue of the construct you erected, not because wikipedia told me so. I supplied the link in case you were unfamiliar with the definition.

    If you assert the fallacy is illegitimate as a logical component and rhetorical qualifier, then we are at an impasse.

    This is a strawman.

    No. I asserted your argument represented a logical fallacy, and indicated which fallacy it was. I further conclude that your argument is less rigorous for the presence of the fallacy. In the particular case I mentioned, I attacked the statement you made about “caricatures of Christianity,” which means I addressed a specific argument and rebutted with a criticism of the presence of a fallacy. Erecting a straw man, by contrast, is misrepresenting another individual’s argument and then tearing down that misrepresentation, which I did not do.

    You throw out baby and bathwater when assessing theists on this basis

    Actually, I just find it frustrating to argue from a position of non-falsifiability (faith). Perhaps you don’t. Besides, can we establish a common measure of theistic assessment? Religions have been unable to do so, even within their own traditions, since their origin. By what equal measure will we assess the theistic principles and arguments of Christianity with those of Zoroastrianism, or Aboriginal Mysticism, or animistic Shintoism, to say nothing of traditions with far more adherents than those examples, such as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam? My vote’s for the scientific method. How do you think it should be done?

    We don’t judge atheists on the behaviour of Pol Pot or Mao

    Classic! Nathan, that’s outstanding! I’m so glad you brought up the absurd example of Pol Pot and Mao! Really top form.

    Of course, the reality is that Mao and Pol Pot didn’t act as they did from a standpoint of atheism (that is, a standpoint of non-belief), they acted from a position of their own cult of personality and the socio-political philosophies to which they demanded others adhere, much as many religions do. Again, atheism is a lack of belief, but Pol Pot and Mao were absolutely demanding belief (or at least the appearance of belief) from others: belief in their particular political systems, often under penalty of death. Sounds a lot like the Inquisition of Medieval Spain.

    Of course, since it’s not clear yet which Christianity is the One True Way(tm) that you mentioned must, by tautological necessity, exist, we don’t yet know if the Catholic Inquisition, or the Crusades, or other sectarian violence by similar religious organizations and events are actually following the god you’ve suggested may exist.

    – why do you not extend theists the same courtesy?

    Not the issue at hand. Besides, I judge the theists I encounter on their individual character in circumstance, for the most part; I judge religions, as entities and ideas, based on the tenets they espouse, as well as their ability to demonstrate veracity. It does raise the question, however, that if adherents of a religion claim agency through the importance of their religion, can we not draw some conclusions about the religion through the actions and words of those who claim it as a basis of living?

    But even if courtesy were the issue, I’m far less interested in extending courtesy to theists. Too long has courtesy masqueraded as a cover or pass for injuries done in the name of religion. I’d rather extend honesty to theists, instead.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Desert Son

    Well, html didn’t seem to work, so my most recent post is a complete formatting failure. I can’t seem to get html tags to work.

    I apologize for how bad that post reads given the lack of separation.

    I’m frankly not very interested in fighting it out with internet formatting just now, so I think I’m done with this post.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Ahh DesertSon, where do I begin… your comment was long, and I have limited time so I’ll try picking the interesting bits…

    “I never said that I believe in no god. That would be a statement of belief, and a claim that would require proof. What I said was, “I do not believe in god.””

    Interesting distinction, but probably only for the sake of appearances rather than net effect. The fact that you’re here, arguing with theists, suggests that you’re investing more into the debate than passive dismissal. It’s really a distinction so subtle that it’s rendered irrelevant for the purposes of discussion.

    “Further, you ask why I would make an effort to “convert someone from what you must consider ‘happy delusion.’” I’m not sure where I stated I would make an effort to convert someone.”

    Ask yourself DesertSon if this question was directed at you – or Santiago. The subject of the post on which this comment sits. Who has since confirmed that he did try to convert his friend Bob…

    “I’d appreciate it if you would not ascribe to me actions that I have not undertaken.”

    I suggest you apply the same standard to yourself.

    “Then which one is it? Catholicism? Eastern Orthodoxy? Coptic Christianity? Lutheranism? Contemporary non-denominational evangelicism?”

    That’s a very good question – and one that has obviously confounded scholars and theologians for years. Does a lack of consensus on the nature of God provide evidence that counters the existence of God? I call shenanigans on that assumption. But one of them is right. The fact that you can’t tell which doesn’t render the whole excercise a futility. I suggest it’s the one that most closely conforms with the narrative of the Bible – taking into account context (rather than prooftexting obscure behaviours). But other theists, and Christians will no doubt disagree – again, they will all no doubt throw the “no true Christian” accusation at each other… but again, that’s not grounds for suggesting there is no true Christianity… you seem to place more emphasis on consensus than is normal. I would suggest that the existence of “creation science” throws the idea of consensus on any position out the window. Does it make them right? Does it change the evidence? No. But to argue that anything is false on the grounds that people adhering to the same principles (a faith in scientific method perhaps) are having a disagreement is also fallacious.

    “You mentioned previously that true Christians would be ones who are informed of the divinity of a supposed god via The Bible. Which Bible? The King James version? Pre-Renaissance versions? The New International Version? English translations of the Latin translations of the Greek translations of the original Bronze-age Hebrew writings? Korean translations of the English translations of the Latin translations of the Greek translations of the original Bronze-age Hebrew writings? Which one is it, Nathan?”

    DesertSon – I would suggest, as I have done elsewhere (I can’t remember if it’s this particular thread or not) – that english translations of the original Hebrew text (for the Old Testament) and Greek text (for the New Testament, if you did some research you’d know that they are the predominant standard in the protestant church, and the ones taken seriously by theologians. What Ricky Bob and Sus-Ann read in the bible belt is not the standard by which you should be judging theistic thought. That’s discourteous.

    “If you assert the fallacy is illegitimate as a logical component and rhetorical qualifier, then we are at an impasse.”

    Then an impasse we are at.
    “Which means I addressed a specific argument and rebutted with a criticism of the presence of a fallacy. Erecting a straw man, by contrast, is misrepresenting another individual’s argument and then tearing down that misrepresentation, which I did not do.”

    Wow, thanks so much for the lesson in logic, of course, by the very nature of being a theist I must lack the cognitive ability to grasp these heady concepts, and should therefore also limit my ability to disagree with your superior wisdom… pfft. You’ll always win this argument providing you’re setting the rhetorical rules.

    “My vote’s for the scientific method. How do you think it should be done?”

    Good idea. Why don’t we test the supernatural by using a method that presupposes that the supernatural does not exist. That sounds like a fair fight.

    How bout we settle it like men, pistols at dawn. We both shoot ourselves, and see where we end up.

    “Of course, the reality is that Mao and Pol Pot didn’t act as they did from a standpoint of atheism (that is, a standpoint of non-belief), they acted from a position of their own cult of personality and the socio-political philosophies to which they demanded others adhere, much as many religions do.”

    I would argue that Pol Pot and Mao would not have reached the philosophy placing themselves at the centre of the universe had that position been occupied by a God. I would also propose that were they theists their actions would most probably have been different. But now you’ll bring up the Crusades, and again an impasse will arise because I’ll say “ah but they weren’t “true” Christians because they weren’t adhering to the teachings of the Bible.” And a circular argument will begin. Oh, but wait. You already did that. It’s like the Atheist’s Godwin’s law – you’ll note I did not cite Hitler.

    “Of course, since it’s not clear yet which Christianity is the One True Way(tm)”

    I would suggest that given the etymological roots of the word “Christianity” and the fact that Christ himself claimed this – Jesus is the One True Way – measure
    “Christian” behaviour against that of Jesus. Would Jesus have gone on Crusade? Umm, “blessed are the peacemakers” – probably not… and if you’re going to cite “I came not to bring peace but a sword” remember that it was essentially bookended by the beatitudes and the scene in Gethsemane where one of his disciples did use a sword and was rebuked. Perhaps this was a metaphor for the division caused by Christianity?

    “Not the issue at hand.”

    So now you care about the original discussion having personalised every criticism I made of the original post. That’s inconsistent.

    “Besides, I judge the theists I encounter on their individual character in circumstance, for the most part;”

    I’m sure you do. You seem like a nice enough guy.

    “I judge religions, as entities and ideas, based on the tenets they espouse, as well as their ability to demonstrate veracity.”

    I ask again, from a sociological perspective what’s the harm in people being Christian? Why are we celebrating this deconversion? Why is it a “success”?

    “But even if courtesy were the issue, I’m far less interested in extending courtesy to theists. Too long has courtesy masqueraded as a cover or pass for injuries done in the name of religion. I’d rather extend honesty to theists, instead.”

    How do you go about extending honesty? Atheism, as a lack of belief, is not even remotely testable – are you that honest when you talk to your theistic friends. I think you should change to this worldview that can’t even begin to be scientifically tested… just like the theism that you’d be leaving because it can’t be scientifically tested…

    That doesn’t seem likely.

  • Desert Son

    Yay, html tags are back!

    Nathan, thanks for your reply. You posted:

    your comment was long

    You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

    Interesting distinction, but probably only for the sake of appearances rather than net effect.

    Perhaps for you, but not for me. It’s significant enough for me that it’s effect is such that I do not make claims to the existence of god, or the non-existence of god, only make statements as to my lack of belief in god or gods. If clarifying that position amounts, in your perspective, to my saying that I believe there is no god, then I’m unlikely to convince you otherwise, as you’ve already made up my mind for me.

    The fact that you’re here, arguing with theists, suggests that you’re investing more into the debate than passive dismissal.

    Again, it’s not dismissal of god. It’s non-belief in same. Dismissal would suggest there is proof, one way or the other (for or against), of god, and then a choice based on the evidence was made. I’m still waiting for the evidence. In the meantime, while waiting for the evidence, I didn’t realize there was a proscription on being interested in a topic and desiring to comment on it.

    But if you’ve already decided that waiting for the evidence means I have dismissed god, what can I do?

    It’s really a distinction so subtle that it’s rendered irrelevant for the purposes of discussion.

    As I said above, for you, perhaps, but not for me. I am interested in the discussion, to be sure, especially from the standpoint of asking theists for the evidence of their god.

    I was raised Episcopalian (perhaps not on the short list for “true” adherence to Christianity), and most of my family remains sincerely devout. I got a chuckle in another thread where someone said something along the lines of, “It’s hard to reconcile real serious devotion and zealotry with Episcopal churchgoers.” I got a chuckle because those posters haven’t met my parents. That background aside, I believed for a long time. I prayed. I tithed. I served as an acolyte at my church for seven years, as a Sunday school assistant teacher, and as a senior high school representative to the vestry. I had faith that with god, all things were possible.

    Over time, I continued to examine those beliefs, and over time there was less and less evidence, especially as I learned what constitutes evidence in scientific inquiry. It turns out that when I prayed for some future event to unfold favorably, and it did, that owed more to working toward some end, or even just chance, than it was evidence that there was some ineffable spirit with agency in the universe.

    Ask yourself DesertSon if this question was directed at you – or Santiago. The subject of the post on which this comment sits. Who has since confirmed that he did try to convert his friend Bob…

    You are exactly correct, and when I read those posts I saw Santiago did, indeed, aim to “convert” “Bob’s” thinking. I humbly withdraw my accusation that you had posed the relevant query to me; I apologize for ascribing to you an intent unfounded.

    I suggest you apply the same standard to yourself.

    I remain ever attempting to hold myself to the standards I espouse. I also fail to do so on occasion, and further attempt to hold myself accountable enough to admit my mistakes.

    That’s a very good question – and one that has obviously confounded scholars and theologians for years. Does a lack of consensus on the nature of God provide evidence that counters the existence of God? I call shenanigans on that assumption.

    I agree with you, and also would call shenanigans, and cheerfully so. Indeed, lack of consensus does not constitute evidence against the existence of god. Again, I was asking for which theological tradition would provide evidence for the existence of god, not which traditions constitute lack of evidence for the existence of god.

    Although, as you’ve pointed out, that distinction carries no weight with you, so I’m merely taking up computer screen space by saying so.

    But one of them is right.

    That’s comforting, I would imagine especially to those who are in the right one, whether they know it or not. Just think how comforting it will be when the world finally figures out which one it is, and the issue will be settled for all time, and everyone will know which path to follow.

    Well, comforting, I guess, for the Christians. Less so, perhaps, for the Muslims, and the Jews, and Hindus, and the animists, and the Wiccans, and so forth.

    The fact that you can’t tell which doesn’t render the whole excercise a futility.

    This may very well be true, but my non-belief remains as the evidence just isn’t in. Evidently, it isn’t in for Christians, either, since there are so many denominations insisting they’re the right ones, when you’ve intimated that there actually is a right one, which automatically means that all the other ones (whichever they are) are not the right one.

    you seem to place more emphasis on consensus than is normal.

    I’m not sure what “than is normal” means, but I do place some emphasis on consensus in the sense of the scientific method. If, through peer review of the proffered evidence, through testing and gathering of data, through rigorous application of reason and logic, a group of individuals come to a consensus (such as, for example, that the earth revolves around the sun, or that oxygen is consumed during combustion), then yes, I do place emphasis on consensus. If I really wanted to, I could undertake the experiments myself (given enough time and money) and look at the results and independently decide for myself if oxygen is consumed during combustion. Or I can trust the consensus to have undergone that process for me, based on the idea of peer review and controlled experimentation. The consensus is in on many things, from heliocentrism to the speed of light in a vacuum.

    If you are not interested in consensus on the idea of god, that’s fine. If that’s the case, though, it seems like the existence of god is something that cannot be proven, because there would be no underlying evidence that would ultimately stand up to peer review and produce the consensus you’re suggesting I rely on too much.

    In which case, I am where I was: not seeing any evidence for the existence of god.

    I would suggest that the existence of “creation science” throws the idea of consensus on any position out the window.

    I’m not sure what point you are making here. That disagreement somehow trumps evidence? Are you suggesting that, in order for science to advance, everyone everywhere in the world must universally and unanimously agree that the speed of light in a vacuum, for example, must be 186,000 miles per second in order for it, in fact, to be 186,000 miles per second? That consensus is, in fact, a priori to the evidence suggesting the nature of something?

    My understanding is that facts about something operate whether anyone believes it or not. So, it’s irrelevant that “creation science” doesn’t agree with contemporary biological data supporting, for example, evolution in organisms. The evidence is there. The evidence doesn’t need creationists to believe it in order for it to be valid. The evidence doesn’t even need evolutionary biologists to believe it in order for it to be valid. The evidence is independent of belief.

    But to argue that anything is false on the grounds that people adhering to the same principles (a faith in scientific method perhaps) are having a disagreement is also fallacious.

    Again, I’m not sure what you’re getting at with that statement. One argues that something is false based on the evidence. I apologize if I’m dim on this point, but I’m not understanding what you’re arguing here.

    What Ricky Bob and Sus-Ann read in the bible belt is not the standard by which you should be judging theistic thought. That’s discourteous.

    Discourteous to whom? Have you made inroads into reaching “Ricky Bob and Sus-Ann in the bible belt” in an effort to rectify the incorrect biblical standards those individuals have been relying on lo these many years?

    Wow, thanks so much for the lesson in logic, of course, by the very nature of being a theist I must lack the cognitive ability to grasp these heady concepts, and should therefore also limit my ability to disagree with your superior wisdom… pfft.

    Actually, I made no assumption about what you did and did not know about logical argument. In that case, it seems to me better to default to basic understanding by presenting the definitions in question. I didn’t do it out of an assumption that you didn’t understand. In fact, one of the reasons I wrote it out is that it also helps concretize the understanding in my own mind.

    It seems to me the superiority of one’s wisdom would be hard to establish to a reliable degree in the scant pages of discussion we’ve had so far. It wasn’t my intention, by posting those terms and explanations, to demonstrate any kind of superiority. It was my intention to establish the foundations of the discussion, a point you address in your next comment.

    You’ll always win this argument providing you’re setting the rhetorical rules.

    I’m no more “setting the rhetorical rules” than they’ve already been set by the standards of logical argument. If you don’t wish to have a discussion on the basis of logical argument, what would you like to have the discussion based on?

    Good idea. Why don’t we test the supernatural by using a method that presupposes that the supernatural does not exist. That sounds like a fair fight.

    I’m not sure the scientific method presupposes the supernatural does not exist. My understanding of the scientific method is that it presupposes nothing, and lets the evidence demonstrate the nature of something. If evidence came along to support, let’s say, telekinesis, and it could be tested and re-tested in controlled conditions, peer reviewed and published, and replicated, then it seems like science would have established the existence of telekinesis. Personally, I would say then, that telekinesis no longer fell under the subject of supernatural, because science would have shown it to be a component of the natural universe. But intellectually honest scientific methodology doesn’t presuppose anything.

    Regardless, my question still stands. If you think the scientific method isn’t a good way to examine the evidence for divinity, what method do you propose?

    How bout we settle it like men, pistols at dawn. We both shoot ourselves, and see where we end up.

    I have a theory on that: the hospital, or the morgue. Granted, I don’t have any data, nor am I eager to garner any under the conditions proposed, so it’s possible my hypothesis would be rejected (for further reading on the matter, I direct you to Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad). Additionally, how would we have independent verification of results?

    I would argue that Pol Pot and Mao would not have reached the philosophy placing themselves at the centre of the universe had that position been occupied by a God.

    Does this suggest that in order for individuals to exhibit morally good behavior, they need to have god?

    Since I’m an atheist, would you say I exhibit morally bad behavior, or lack any understanding of morality, not believing (or “having” as the case may be) in god?

    I would also propose that were they theists their actions would most probably have been different.

    So, if they were theists, you suggest they probably would have acted differently. Religious affiliation, then, does explain behavior? If so, does that open up the possibility of judging Christianity by the behaviors of Christians?

    Oh, but wait. You already did that. It’s like the Atheist’s Godwin’s law – you’ll note I did not cite Hitler.

    Noted. What’s the point?

    I would suggest that given the etymological roots of the word “Christianity” and the fact that Christ himself claimed this – Jesus is the One True Way – measure “Christian” behaviour against that of Jesus. Would Jesus have gone on Crusade? Umm, “blessed are the peacemakers” – probably not… and if you’re going to cite “I came not to bring peace but a sword” remember that it was essentially bookended by the beatitudes and the scene in Gethsemane where one of his disciples did use a sword and was rebuked. Perhaps this was a metaphor for the division caused by Christianity?

    Ok, I won’t cite swords vs. plowshares. What if I cite something else? How about 1 Timothy 6: 1-2?

    “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.”

    Since you’ve already accused me of setting terms of the discussion, and then went on to say, “But if you’re going to cite . . . then . . .,” then I’ll just go ahead and say, “But then you could bring up that’s someone’s interpretation, not actually how Jesus would have acted, and again an impasse will arise because I’ll say ‘ah, but we don’t know for sure how Jesus would have acted because the books attributing his words and deeds were set down years after his death (if he actually existed at all) and so there’s no way to verify what he would have felt about slavery,’ or I might say ‘But Jesus also said he came not to abolish the law.’ And a circular argument will begin.

    I ask again, from a sociological perspective what’s the harm in people being Christian? Why are we celebrating this deconversion? Why is it a “success”?

    Counter question: why is being Christian a success?

    are you that honest when you talk to your theistic friends.

    Yes.

    I think you should change to this worldview that can’t even begin to be scientifically tested… just like the theism that you’d be leaving because it can’t be scientifically tested…

    Again, when I talk to my friends, I don’t say to them, “I think you should change.” But again, we’re at impasse, because you think that when I say I don’t ask them to drop a belief, that really, by not having a belief myself, I am asking them to drop a belief. Sort of like when I don’t tell friends who smoke that they should give up smoking, I’m really secretly saying they should give up smoking by virtue of the fact that I don’t smoke. I’m not sure what I’d need to do to act independently of how you’ve already determined I act, but there it is.

    So now you care about the original discussion having personalised every criticism I made of the original post. That’s inconsistent.

    Fair enough. Since statements about how I behave with my friends is unlikely to change your idea of how I behave with my friends, I shall simply submit that this, then, is my last post trying to engage with you on this issue. You’ve already cited my overly long responses (which I engage in when I’m genuinely interested in something), and my inconsistency in addressing one post versus another. Far be it from me to try and shed my own understanding on a circumstance under discussion in an effort to explain what I saw as inconsistencies in a response to the original issue. Now I’m the one who is inconsistent. Carry on.

    Regardless of our disagreement, I have enjoyed this conversation, though as I indicated, I won’t plague you with my thoughts directed specifically to you any longer. Thank you for your time.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Desert Son,

    It’s regrettable that you’re unwilling to continue this line of discussion. I too have enjoyed it.

    Here is my response to some of your points – do with it what you will…

    “Over time, I continued to examine those beliefs, and over time there was less and less evidence, especially as I learned what constitutes evidence in scientific inquiry. It turns out that when I prayed for some future event to unfold favorably, and it did, that owed more to working toward some end, or even just chance, than it was evidence that there was some ineffable spirit with agency in the universe.”

    My question, and it addresses many of your points, is why is making a decision based on evidence the best way to make a decision? Doesn’t it always put you behind the curve so to speak.

    Without referring too much to the concepts put forward by Pascal’s wager (which I note are not too popular round here) – I’d suggest that the answer to the question of the existence or otherwise of God should probably be made sooner rather than later. That’s my rationale anyway. If evidence presents itself that God doesn’t exist I might jump ship.

    “Evidently, it isn’t in for Christians, either, since there are so many denominations insisting they’re the right ones, when you’ve intimated that there actually is a right one, which automatically means that all the other ones (whichever they are) are not the right one.”

    See, here’s the thing. I don’t think “denominations” come into it. They’re more much cultural constructs than “right” or “wrong”. Again, I come back to what did Jesus – and as you rightly brought up – the other writers of the established canon – have to say about things. Denominations are just human structures based on interpretations of these things – none get everything right. Does that mean that they’re all wrong? Well yes, and no. I don’t think Episcopalians are any less likely to get into heaven than Baptists – provided they’re trying to follow Jesus.

    “Again, I was asking for which theological tradition would provide evidence for the existence of god, not which traditions constitute lack of evidence for the existence of god.”

    You sure do care about “evidence” don’t you. Why is it so important to you – surely any piece of information can be interpreted as “evidence” for whatever hypothesis you care to posit… just because consensus is reached on one position does not make it the correct one – every example you cite has been the correction of a previous mistake (often mistakes lead by poor understanding of Scripture… which I guess allows you to ask “but how long can you keep taking that position for”)… evidence is not the objective standard for decision making you hold it up to be.

    My understanding is that facts about something operate whether anyone believes it or not.

    Which puts you in an interesting position should God become “fact” after your life time – given that he’d no doubt have been operating throughout.

    So, it’s irrelevant that “creation science” doesn’t agree with contemporary biological data supporting, for example, evolution in organisms. The evidence is there. The evidence doesn’t need creationists to believe it in order for it to be valid. The evidence doesn’t even need evolutionary biologists to believe it in order for it to be valid. The evidence is independent of belief.

    I agree. But my point is more about the ability for anybody with an agenda to create white noise around an issue. Creation Science has no doubt created “white noise” – by using the very tools that atheists base their lives and quest for evidence on. If a creation scientist convinced you of their science would you become a theist? Or just an atheist operating on a different time scale.

    I have a theory on that: the hospital, or the morgue. Granted, I don’t have any data, nor am I eager to garner any under the conditions proposed, so it’s possible my hypothesis would be rejected (for further reading on the matter, I direct you to Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad). Additionally, how would we have independent verification of results?

    Why do we need “independent verification of results” – surely the important people in this particular discussion are you, and me. No doubt it would be useful for everybody else, and it would be great to be able to ask everybody else who has died. But we can’t. If you’re convinced you’re right would you die for that lack of belief?

    “I’m not sure the scientific method presupposes the supernatural does not exist.”

    It presupposes that the unobservable does not exist… how do you observe, test and measure the unobservable?

    Perhaps all gravity is being caused by angels not angles. How can you test anything that falls outside the scope of testing – and how can you definitively refute that which can not be tested?

    Your example of telekinesis is well realised – but it demonstrates my point that science can only test the natural – whereby telekinesis in that example is actually something natural held as supernatural. If something is supernatural it defies natural laws – so there is no imperative for repeat performances for the purposes of testing.

    Regardless, my question still stands. If you think the scientific method isn’t a good way to examine the evidence for divinity, what method do you propose?

    I’m not sure. How do you assess any claims of truth that can’t be observed. For example, I could claim that I just ate McDonalds for lunch, and I paid cash… how would you test that statement in a month when any trace of it has left my system?

    You’d have to take my word for it wouldn’t you – are at least assess my word on the basis of my character, and decide from there. I suggest that’s how any claim of special revelation should be considered.

    There was plenty of other meaty stuff in your comment, but in the interest of brevity… I’ll stop here.

  • Dem

    Nathan:
    http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/45298142.html
    Delusional thinking is not a harmless thing to be overlooked. Understand that atheists who proselytize do so out of a sincere (if often misguided) concern for the well-being of those listening, not a self-serving “Smug superiority and a census based inferiority complex/siege mentality.”

    As for the dictator argument:
    I’d agree with what you said earlier, in that trying to paint people with guilt-by-association is always idiotic. People of any worldview can commit atrocities, and have, and it’s wrong to frame the faith in general for their crime.

    However:
    “Yeah, people have done some terrible things in the name of Christianity … but so have atheists.”

    No no no. There aren’t crimes committed in the name of atheism. Again, I’m not saying “all Christians are monsters!” or “all atheists are saints!” or anything like that. I’m not talking about or judging people, but the concepts themselves.

    To clarify a bit: Religious beliefs certainly motivated the Crusades and other religious wars – “Since you’re not a Christian, you’re an evil demon who must be put to the sword.” However, atheism didn’t motivate Mao’s career of butchery – his thinking was more along the lines of “Since these people are a threat to my power, they must be destroyed.” You argue that this a symptom of lack of belief, which implies that people who honor a god wouldn’t use such a motivation. Unfortunately, you’re wrong: that is pretty much how Hitler worked, too.

    I’d also like to add that “we don’t compare you to Pol Pot or Mao” is completely false. We get accused of that all the time. I am sorry if you’ve been compared to crusaders.

    No true Scotsman:
    You’re not being corrected because you’re a theist, you’re being corrected because you missed the point. As I understand, you’re claiming that “true” Christians don’t believe in the silly, caricature-like parts. So which ones are the “true” Christians, we ask? You suggest those who are following an accurate interpretation of the Bible. So how can we tell which ones are following the accurate interpretation of the Bible, we ask? Well, they’re the ones who aren’t reading what “Ricky Bob and Sus-Ann [the “caricature Christians,” I presume] read in the bible belt”. So, if we look at only the Christians who aren’t acting like caricatures, we find – what was it we were looking for again?
    Ah yes, we find that they aren’t looking like caricatures. So, the exercise has shown us that if we look only at Christians who don’t act like caricatures, we find that they don’t act like caricatures. Believe it or not, this argument is not convincing me of anything. That’s the No True Scotsman fallacy. (Here “true” isn’t used in the sense of “correct” but the sense of “right and pure.” He’s a “true” Scotsman in the sense of “real” Scotsman.)

    The fact of the matter is, you’re right in one sense – we don’t usually go out of our way to criticize what you call “serious theologians.” That’s because millions of people do not hang on the words of what those obscure theologians say – they listen to Pat Robertson and Rick Warren and James Dobson. We attack the arguments of obvious quacks like the Banana Man because they’re the ones out there shoving bananas in our faces.

    Which brings me to another thing:
    “Interesting distinction, but probably only for the sake of appearances rather than net effect. The fact that you’re here, arguing with theists, suggests that you’re investing more into the debate than passive dismissal. It’s really a distinction so subtle that it’s rendered irrelevant for the purposes of discussion.”
    No. There is a massive difference between stating “I believe that there is no god” and stating “I do not believe there is a god.” The former is making a positive assertion, i.e. “I hold this as a fact: there is no deity.” The latter position is radically different, merely stating: “I do not hold this statement as fact: there is a deity.”

    So what’s the difference, you ask? Well, as you noted later on, it’s impossible to prove the former. You can’t prove that any given entity does not exist, whether or not it exists. So, it would be foolish to hold to that assertion – and that, it seems, would be why you are so quick to dismiss our objection that that isn’t what rational atheists believe. It’s much more convenient for you to assume that we are fools, and then attack the straw man while ignoring our actual position.

    So what is our position, you may ask? If it isn’t the positive assertion that no god exists, how could it possibly be different? Simple: we don’t believe in your God for much the same reasons you don’t believe in any other entity that does not exist. Neither of us can “prove” that Xenu doesn’t exist. Yet we do not take the word of Scientologists on faith, and we are not Xenu agnostics – we weigh the evidence suggested by people who believe in Xenu, decide that it is a load of rubbish invented by a bad sci fi writer, and discard the notion “Xenu exists” as unsubstantiated. The burden of proof is on the prover.

    Please tell me if I’m not making sense here. The distinction between those two views is not intuitive at all – I was an agnostic for years before I really “got” it. Still, it’s there, and to attack the straw man is disingenuous. If you’d like, critique the distinction, and we can defend it more fully than my paltry argument here.

  • Dem

    My question, and it addresses many of your points, is why is making a decision based on evidence the best way to make a decision? Doesn’t it always put you behind the curve so to speak.

    But honestly, I really don’t know what you mean. I mean, just look at your last sentence here:

    Without referring too much to the concepts put forward by Pascal’s wager (which I note are not too popular round here) – I’d suggest that the answer to the question of the existence or otherwise of God should probably be made sooner rather than later. That’s my rationale anyway. If evidence presents itself that God doesn’t exist I might jump ship.

    Emphasis mine. I’m a little confused here, doesn’t this flatly contradict your previously stated position? Please explain a bit more…

    It also presents a large problem. It seems that you don’t want to use evidence as a reason for believing something exists, yet are willing to use evidence to believe that something does exist (correct me if I’m misinterpreting you, please!). This is the reverse of how proving something exists normally works. You can’t provide evidence that things that do not exist do not exist; all you can do is throw doubt on evidence that they DO exist. To use the example of Xenu again: if we could fly all over the galaxy in search of Xenu and found nothing, we wouldn’t have proof that Xenu did not exist. We would simply lack proof that he did exist. If we were to find testimony of L. Ron Hubbard admitting he’d made up the story of Xenu, we would not have proof that Xenu did not exist. It would be entirely possible, if extremely unlikely, that L. Ron had made up a story that was consistent with reality. So we still have not provided evidence for nonexistence; we have simply shown that Scientologists did not in fact give evidence.

    So, it seems to me that you have it backwards: one should simply weigh evidence FOR the existence of something, and reject the idea if insufficient evidence exists.

    How do you assess any claims of truth that can’t be observed. For example, I could claim that I just ate McDonalds for lunch, and I paid cash… how would you test that statement in a month when any trace of it has left my system?

    You’d have to take my word for it wouldn’t you – are at least assess my word on the basis of my character, and decide from there. I suggest that’s how any claim of special revelation should be considered.

    Using the reliability of a witness as a measure of whether their statements are true. But I’ll also decide whether or not I believe you based on the nature of your claim. If you claim something happened that I didn’t observe, but is a mundane event that I could observe – and if I have observed similar events happening before – I’ll be much more likely to believe you. I can go to a McDonald’s and see hamburgers and watch people buying them and buy one myself. I can collect the accounts of other people who have been to a McDonald’s. Or I can simply draw on past experience and find that the claimed event is one I know to be both possible and likely. This is not necessarily scientific, but the whole process is certainly evidence-based. Even your reliability is something I’ll judge primarily on past evidence – have you told me the truth before? Do I know you to be a liar? If I don’t know you well, what do people who do know you say? Do you act in ways similar to people I know to be honest, or people I know to be dishonest? None of these things are proof. But they are all evidence that will sway my decision over whether to believe you.

    If, however, you make an astounding claim, I will be much less likely to believe you. If you say you went to McDonald’s and received a hamburger that spoke to you and gave you divine commands, I would not believe you. I would probably think you were joking, or if you were sincere, would secretly fear that you were developing schizophrenia. Again, this would be based on my past experiences with hamburgers, others’ accounts of hamburgers, and accounts of hallucinations.

    Can we ever be sure? No. We can never even rise above solipsism without accepting some premises about observability. This does not seem to me to be a fatal flaw that necessitates throwing out evidence and reason. If you could explain how you would like us to judge the truth of supernatural claims, please do so. Obviously we can’t just assume that all such claims are true, so if you are correct we need some alternative means of determining whether a claim is consistent with the way the world is.

  • “To clarify a bit: Religious beliefs certainly motivated the Crusades and other religious wars – “Since you’re not a Christian, you’re an evil demon who must be put to the sword.” However, atheism didn’t motivate Mao’s career of butchery – his thinking was more along the lines of “Since these people are a threat to my power, they must be destroyed.” You argue that this a symptom of lack of belief, which implies that people who honor a god wouldn’t use such a motivation. Unfortunately, you’re wrong: that is pretty much how Hitler worked, too.”

    Oh yes, and which God did Hitler honour? He may have used Christian imagery but he detested the concept of God and used religion purely as a forum to advance his ideas.

    If Mao had said “I am butchering these people in the name of atheism” would my criticism be fair?

    I think a better methodology for assessing causation is to look at whether the action is directly caused by the philosophy, as I’ve said earlier I think you can directly attribute the behaviour of atheists to their atheism. You may disagree. I’d be interested to hear why…

    Again, I understand the nature of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy – I just don’t think it applies when there is in fact a “true Scotsman” and you’re arguing with those who might consider themselves true Scotsman but are clearly, for the sake of the analogy, Irish. They look the same, and sound the same to foreigners – but they’re nothing like Scotsmen and to suggest that they are is offensive to the true scots.

    Net effect can only really be judged on outcomes can’t it? What’s the difference for an outside observer? It’s not as significant as you suggest. And it only truly represents the school of apologetics modern atheism subscribes to for logically defending their (un)belief.

  • Let me explain what I mean… with regard to the question of evidence… in the form of an analogy.

    If you’re a police officer confronted with a violent crime, that happened while you were off duty so you weren’t around to see it.

    If you have circumstantial evidence that points you towards a particular suspect and you know that suspect will flee the country (creating a sense of urgency) do you wait until you have concrete evidence and let him escape – or do you let him escape but keep working the case regardless, knowing that you’ll never catch him, but at least you’ll know?

    The theist, when confronted with this analogy makes the arrest presumptively and then builds a case using compelling circumstantial evidence.

    The atheist waits for the perpetrator to return and commit the same crime over and over again, establishing a pattern, before declaring that they have a suspect, but they won’t do anything about it until the suspect is caught in the act. By the police officer – other people’s experience is likely to be tarnished and can’t be trusted.

    Why then is repeatable, testable, observable evidence the standard by which your decisions are made?

    That’s my rationale anyway. If evidence presents itself that God doesn’t exist I might jump ship.

    So continuing this analogy – I’m pretty convinced of my prime suspect’s guilt, in fact I have faith that he did it. Pretty unshakable faith. It would take significant evidence, probably more than one piece of compelling evidence – such is my standard of evidence – for me to change suspects. I will consider other suspects, but my prime suspect will be my prime suspect.

    Onto the next bit…

    If you claim something happened that I didn’t observe, but is a mundane event that I could observe – and if I have observed similar events happening before – I’ll be much more likely to believe you. I can go to a McDonald’s and see hamburgers and watch people buying them and buy one myself. I can collect the accounts of other people who have been to a McDonald’s. Or I can simply draw on past experience and find that the claimed event is one I know to be both possible and likely. This is not necessarily scientific, but the whole process is certainly evidence-based. Even your reliability is something I’ll judge primarily on past evidence – have you told me the truth before? Do I know you to be a liar? If I don’t know you well, what do people who do know you say? Do you act in ways similar to people I know to be honest, or people I know to be dishonest? None of these things are proof. But they are all evidence that will sway my decision over whether to believe you.

    That’s a big quote. But for the theist (or at least for this theist) once the decision has been made to pursue my line of inquiry – assuming that God is – I must then weigh up the testimony of those claiming to speak for God.

    Using the same evidential standard that you do I rule out Xenu, the flying spaghetti monster and others.

    I’m left with perhaps 4 religions to consider – I’m sure you’re familiar enough with the other religions to know why it’s rational to rule them out. We’re really close to being on the same page – I rule out all but one God, you rule out all gods – for much the same reason.

    Then it comes down to making assessments on testimony from either:

    1. A single Desert Nomad/merchant banker/shepherd/prophet
    2. A treasure hunter
    3. A group of prophets, political leaders and records keepers
    4. That same group plus 11 ordinary fisherman, accountants and merchants, following a carpenter and followed by a religious zealot who staged his own Copernican revolution moving from killing believers to producing some of the most theologically significant documents in the religion… where a fair percentage of these men died for their convictions rather than recant.

    I’m not going to go into Christian apologetics on the manner – but using the same standard of considering evidence for historical things unseen – I personally am convinced.

    Does that make me delusional? Perhaps you think so. But my point is “evidence” is not the objective and decisive holy grail you make it out to be.

  • Sha

    Well, I don’t really have an answer to your problem, but I do have a question. I’m an agnostic. Quite frankly because I don’t really care enough to find out enough about a religion to see if I believe in it… I have several friends who are christians, several who are athiests, and what not. And you know what I think about their religions? Nothing, I don’t care. Christians, while they can be overly aggressive, and at times just as annoying as a dog pissing on your leg, are ultimately just “trying” to do you a favor, because they truly believe that if you don’t do this or that, you will go to hell…
    So I don’t see why people hate them so badly. And being an agnostic, I don’t really see why anyone, who doesn’t believe in some sort of consequences in an afterlife cares what other people believe. If your friend seemed to be perfectly happy being a christian, what the hell made you so self-righteous that you had to keep on and keep on until you took that from him? If my friend was happy believing that fairies sprinkled pixie dust and drooled liquid gold on him and at night, I wouldn’t be so hell bent on taking away his happiness. Though I may think its bullshit, it doesn’t affect me, so I don’t give a shit. What is your problem? Athiest are just as pushy and annoying as christians in my opinion, they don’t even believe in anything, but its their primary goal in life to bash, and bad mouth people for something the athiest doesn’t even give a damn about anyways… Doesn’t make sense to me. If athiesm is right, and there is no God, what difference does it make if your friend believed in one anyways? He was at least happy when he had something to believe in…

    I don’t mean to be offensive to any of you, so I appologize if you are offended, I just truly don’t understand…

  • henway

    Atheism means no belief.
    But just because you’re no longer a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t develop spiritually! The world of personal and spiritual development is vast and exciting! Life is meant to be experienced. It’s a journey. It’s a journey where you discover new truths about yourself, and grow day-by-day. You CAN’T have this growth if you remain Christians.

    Tell your friend this: Cultivate courage. Cultivate compassion, love, power, truth, and mental strength. Courage, not fear is the pathway to potential and greatness. It’s the first step to an exciting life! ^_^

  • Sha

    Like I said earlier, I have many friends who are Christians, they don’t seem to have a problem discovering themselves… What difference does it make in discovering new truths about themselves in whether they believe in a God or not? Quite frankly I’ve seen more courage (in standing up for what they believe) in Christians than I have from even myself. So they want to HOPE, DREAM, LOVE, and have a PURPOSE in their life. Once again, I agree they can be quite annoying with it, but that’s just because they care, because they are convinced of an afterlife consequence for us… Check this out, I’ve seen many many many Christian organizations doing their charity work and actually improving the world. Look at all the “missionaries” who go to undeveloped countries, and help get the kids and people off the street, feed these people and give them some sort of education. There may be, but I don’t know of an atheist organization that does this… I’ve watched my grandfather lay in the hospital 3 hours away dying of cancer for months and my grandmother couldn’t afford her eats and the things she needed to stay with him…and her CHRISTIAN CHURCH said “we’ll foot the bill”. They actually paid for her to stay there with him… I’m not sure, but I’ve never heard of an atheist organization that will help like that? I’m no Christian, like I previously stated I’m an agnostic, but I can’t stand to hear people bitching and whining about shit that doesn’t even matter to them… Yeah I may not believe what they do, but it makes them happy to have that hope, and it makes a big difference to the world. If you don’t believe me just ask those mothers who couldn’t afford to feed their children, until they met a Christian…
    Instead of trying to tear people down, and strip their belief from them, just be happy that they are happy. There is no helpful reason to convert someone to atheism, because you don’t think it matters what they believe in the end, because there is nothing in the end…Its purely self-righteousness for an atheist to try to convert someone from their belief to atheism…

  • It’s been one year this month since I deconverted from Christianity. I think for me, the aftermath of all those realisations was to understand that at the time I made decisions and did things based on that belief, I believed I was doing the right thing. Life is a learning process and I think retrospect can kill you if you don’t forgive yourself and move on… one of the ways I am doing this is by trying to repair the relationships with non-Christian friends I damaged when I became a Christian, and also to look forward. Right, now I know that things are not as I once saw them, and it’s a loss, but the knowledge that this life may be the only one I get has cut short my propensity towards moping about the past. Instead, what do I change? What do I want? How do I choose to live this one life that I have? What is important to me

    That being said, it must be incredibly difficult when your entire family is fundamentalist Christian and you’ve been a Christian for many many years.