Sunday, April 4, 2010

De-conversion story 5

A reader sent me this:

A while back I said that I was trying to de-convert a 'liberal' christian, and that I was rather close. Well, I've done it. I'm so proud. I don't want to post it on my blog, for fear that he reads it, draws the wrong conclusion, and I lose a good friend. oh, and btw, this'll be long. For the sake of my story, I'll refer to him as Xian.

I'll start by pointing out the few factors that made this possible. First, this website, for giving me all the information I needed against circular logic and strawman arguments. Second, he wasn't a fundamental christian, so he was completely blinded by faith (Admin's note: I assume the author means wasn't completely blinded by faith). Third, he already was thinking about things in a rational way. And finally, I told him about the debates I was having with some fundamentalists.

When I first met him, he was just out of high school, and starting university. Me being in my 4th year, decided to show him around, and help him out with study orginasation, and what-not. We were fast friends, and ended up meeting up whenever we could. We'd discuss things ranging from art to music to science. It was a little odd, but for the first few weeks, I didn't even know he was christian. I guess I assumed he was atheist.

One day he was wearing a cross around his neck, so I asked: "So, do you believe that stuff?", pointing to the cross. His reply was "Yeah, of course. Don't you?"

This is what you'd call an awkward moment. I wasn't sure how to say it, but realised I'd have to... Now that I think about it, my response could have been better. "Pffft, no", was not particularly tolerant. But it worked, and from that point we'd on occasion talk about it. He tried to determine why I didn't believe, while I tried to determine why he did.

Then a chance encounter changed the way I would see deconversion. I met up with 2 fundamentalists. They were particularly good at pinpointing weakness, and latching on. After one particularly draining encounter (I posted about it), I went to meet Xian. He noticed my general downheartedness, and tried to cheer me up. I explained what happened, and he, as an already thinking person, decided to help me with thier arguments.

The next debate took a strange turn then. I'd meet the fundamentalists alone, and we'd debate as per usual, however, I'd occationally have a bible verse or two to throw at them from a christian perspective. The next day, I met with Xian to talk about how it went. I found him reading the Greatest Show on Earth. When questioned, he told me that he was a little scared because he wasn't sure if god existed.

Anyone who gets to this point has really got to tread carefully. I person who just regained his sight won't want to look at bright lights and flashy things. I knew what it's like to be scared (for different reasons, but still), so I closed the book, took him somewhere quiet, and asked him to tell me why. His response will never leave my mind. "God is illogical.".

He was obviously confused, on the verge of tears, shaking wih rage, but still smiling. In roder to allay his fears a little, I pointed to a nearby tree. I asked him to look at it, and tell me whether it's any less beautiful. He didn't answer, but instead seemedd to draw within himself. He left me alone.

A couple days later, he came up to me and told that the tree is more beautiful, because it managed to survive without help from something else. I gave him a pat on the back, laughed in relief, and we went to have lunch. He's been reading some of the easier athiestic tomes, such as an Illustrated History of Time, and The God Delusion since that day, and wants to learn more.


Jim said...

Fair play, and well done.

I would feel sorry for this person, but in the end they are better off. They no longer have the blinders of religion to oppress them anymore. They are free to learn and question without consequence. Very good.

On a somewhat related note, I have been in debate with a person who does not believe in God, per say, but does believe that there must be some higher form of life. I explained that it is theoretically possible for intelligent life to evolve into a higher plane of being, but it quickly became apparent that this person wanted a creator, not a higher being. They questioned what was before the Big Bang, and what the universe was expanding into, I, in turn explained what we know so far. But they just couldn't grasp that there was no 'being' to kick start it.

And then we discussed specific creation mythology, specifically Christian Creation. I explained that the Big Bang was the theory with the most evidence, the most supporting facts, and thus the best answer. I explained that Christians were very wrong about Adam and Eve. This person countered that most Christians do not believe in Adam and Eve and think of it more as a myth used to teach children about good and evil.

I was dumbfounded. This was the first I heard that Christians (as a whole) didn't believe everything in the Bible. There were several problems I saw right away. One, the Bible is to be taken as fact. Two, the Bible draws exact lineage from Adam and Eve, for them to not be real, the whole lineage must not be true, and so on.

Now. To continue my argument, I need some proof that Christians (More than one or two here or there. I need a entire Denomination to believe this way.) think of some stories as pure myth. I have tried to find it on my own, but came up short. All I could do was confirm that Christians tend to believe that Adam and Eve were real.

I know they all do, but was wondering if anyone could find something I missed. I hate going into battle missing my maps.

tina FCD said...

Very interesting.

Magnamune said...

I shouldn't compliment this. S I wont. If you're wondering why, I'm sure you'll figure it out. :P

Jim, I've done some searching as well. I found this one guy who claimed his church didn't believe in Adam an Eve, but refused to take me there... So, I'm thinking he was bullsh*ting me, either to not sound like an idiot, or cause he thought I was an idiot.

I'd suggest you go in with the point that you don't know of any denominations that believe some parts of the bible are myth, and politely request he suggest some.

Although, that idea probably already occured to you.

Admin said...

Guys, I was raised Roman Catholic (the largest denomination in Christianity, as far as I know), and I was definitely taught that a large part of the Bible is myth, not to be taken literally.

Admin said...

Specifically, the Catholic Church endorses evolution. My teachers taught me that Adam/Eve was myth, 6-day creation was myth, guy living in a whale was myth, etc, etc.

Jim said...

Thanks Magnamune and Admin.

It was a very weird debate, because this person did not believe in the Christian beliefs. And my dad is Roman Catholic, and he was raised to believe in Adam and Eve. And I was raised Lutheran, and we were taught that everything in the Bible was true. This was honestly the first I've heard that a major part of the Bible was to be taken as myth. I knew that some parts here and there were story-telling devices, or metaphor, but this was odd.

I think that some of the more progressive schools of thought inside religions tend to see how Adam and Eve and other parts are grossly inaccurate, so they tend to ease up on the mythology. But I have still not found an entire denomination that believes this way, but still insists that the Bible is true even though most of it made up.

I asked this person to name me a denomination, and the only one that could be thought of was Catholics. But my dad insists that Catholics are taught Adam and Eve. But he was taught in a very strict, hard-core Catholic school where meat on Friday meant eternity in Hell. So, again, this leads me to assume that it tends to be more progressive schools of thought within denominations that cut out the implausible myths.

Feki said...


Like many of us here, I also spent several years in a catholic school (Jesuit) and was told that all stories in the bible were mostly metaphors. All except for the ones about Hay-sus, which were the ones that really counted to them anyway, and so all the attention focused on how to stay good friends with the guy. The book of apocalypse was also considered metaphorical, although this varied from priest to priest, as we had a few wackos who believed the end was near.

I guess what I am trying to tell you is that the church’s official position (as an institution) is: “the bible is the word of god”. Period. The church will never claim that Adam and Eve did not physically exist nor that they were australopithecines. Now, on an individual level priests can assert and publicly announce that bible stories are not literally true. To them this doesn’t mean god is wrong per se, but rather that “his uncanny wisdom” is expressed as fables so that our feeble, human minds can understand better. Mind you, not all religious orders share the same views (some more liberal, some more conservative than the Holy See) and none actually state their position on the scriptures in writing, but their leaders will demonstrate a particular stance by publishing papers debating certain issues, like celibacy, abortion, evolution, divorce etc. This way, dissent is allowed but constrained to the mysteries and the absolute truth that god can’t be wrong.

Also, a few voices among the church are strong opponents of creationism and intelligent design. You might want to check who was actually in Bill Maher’s Religulous (film).

Jim said...

I appreciate it Feki, thanks.

I knew a lot of people consider the stories to be highly enriched fables or myths, but at the same time the church stuck by them as word of God. This is what I was looking for, the Church's stance, not the individuals. People are always wrong, and it's the institutions that implement the ideas.

Thanks a lot everyone, you have helped my place in this debate.

Although I would appreciate any more insights everyone might have on what the people generally believe over what the Church teaches. After all, the collapse of an institution comes from the people's dissent.

ANTZILLA said...

I would think that the suddern realisation that everything they believed was a lie would be rather confronting and embaressing. Has this persons changed any other beliefs now that they aren't religous? e.g. do they still hate homosexuals?

Jim said...

No. This other person is actually border atheist and has been for years. They aren't against religion per say, but do know that all religions are wrong. This person just believes that there is a being greater than all of us, though they stop short of calling it a god. I was trying more to explain to them that there is no proof of a higher being creating or controlling any part of the universe and they agree. However they do believe (for some reason) that the universe must have had a 'Prime Mover'.

I tried to explain that this was an unnecessary belief, but they won't commit to the universe being all there is.

ANTZILLA said...

Just finished reading "A brief history of Time"

"what is there for a creator/ prime mover to do?"

Anonymous said...

Probably they want a 'Prime Mover' because without one, reality is pretty bare. There is all of the wonder of the universe hurtling away from itself and being drawn into black holes, but beyond that, infinite nothing.
It's scary and profound, but I accept this rather than put something in all that nothing to make myself feel better.

Jim said...

This is a little harsh, but not meant for anyone here. At least, not the atheists here.

Like I have always said, I get why people need a god. I know that sometimes people want to believe that there is more. And that's fine. Go for it. As long as your beliefs do not ever hurt or hinder anyone.

And this is the problem. I am not against people believing in a god. I am against the religions (and the people who follow them) that attempt to brainwash people into believing in them. The religions that attempt to force or coerce people into believing in them. Or religions that attempt to hurt others for not believing the way they do.

You need to believe in a god or a 'Prime Mover', by all means, go for it.

But for the love of your made-up gods, stay out of the way of progress.

Feki said...

Jim, I see your point. People need a god to feel accompanied, to believe they are special, to cope with death and to have someone to blame on when something goes wrong.

But believing in the man in the sky is not "neutral" thing. this "harmless delusion" inevitably leads to brainwashing, intolerant religions since there's always been creative douches and ignorant masses who will follow them.

The same douches and the same masses who condone pedophilia within their own sacred places, or who blow themselves up in train stations.

These people are possibly good neighbours, excellent professionals and loving friends, but their "reasonable delusions" add up and cannot be considered safe.

I just don't believe the vast majority of people can have a responsible, private belief in god which will not eventually end in some sort of gregarian fanatism.

Jim said...

I agree. When they congregate and put someone in charge, the religious overstep their bounds, naturally, by trying to recruit more people. The more people they have, the more power they have. This is why I am against established religions.

Except Buddhism. They keep to themselves.

Magnamune said...

For now. The subject of organised religion is touchy. I think people should be allowed to congregate with like-minded people, and discuss certain things. There's nothing wrong with this, though the rproblem occurs when people take this to new levels.

The thing is, we can't stop organised religion, cause people should be allowed to go to church, in the same way nerd go to a comic book convention (I am a nerd, so I can use this term). I would bee against marvel fans attacking, or belittling DC fans in an organised way, but there is no way to draw the line, and create laws, at that point.

Anonymous said...

We could always make insanity illegal.
Oh wait...
Why do we have religion again?

Feki said...

Magnamune, it is touchy. But the case is not against universal rights, it is against patent lunacy (thanks Cypher).

Sci-fi/comic fans do recognize that their fantasies were made up by someone. Trekkies may dress up and talk in klingon (at least they do it in tv shows) but by no means do they seriously believe that a klingon mothership will come to take them home. Somewhat, they draw a line between fantasy and reality, despite the fact they would much rather live on the Enterprise. Correct me if I am wrong.

Ultimately, hardcore sci-fi fans may have conspiracy theories, may believe in UFOs and may think that elusive creatures lurk in our lakes and mountains. Still, their delusion has not yet resulted in child molestation, suicide bombing or armed conflicts.

In my opinion, delusions of sin and afterlife cannot be compared to or brought to the same level as innocent willful wishing of superpowers or spaceships.

Magnamune said...

I suppose you're right. But the point I was trying to make is that people should be allowed to meet up and discuss their religion. I don't see a problem with it. I don't even see a problem with telling other people about thier religion, though forcing it upon them is another matter. Where do we draw the line between casual discussion and formal discussion? Or formal dscussion and breeding fanaticism? If we can draw the line, we can stop the radicals before they become radicals.

Feki said...

Yes, freedom of association. But, I guess the line is clear to me:

If you truly believe in a dude with superpowers that knows it all (past and present), and that waits for you to die so you can be judged by him alone then you have a delusion and should not meet with other people.

If you like to believe in a dude with superpowers that knows it all (past and present) and blah blah blah, BUT YOU ARE AWARE THAT IT IS JUST A FANTASY and that it will never become true, then by all means dress up in lycra, glue on your prosthethics and go meet your friends.

Jim said...

I think we should add a little more definition here.

If this dude with superpowers that knows it all (past and present), and that waits for you to die so you can be judged by him alone, tells you to DO anything, and you listen and act accordingly, then you should be put in a straight jacket and placed in a room with padded walls.

Anonymous said...

Guy saved a girl with Asperger's in CA after she got lost in a swamp, in today's newspaper. Says the holy spirit told him to walk into the sunlight so ge did and found this girl.
Now the local sheriff believes in miracles.
The attribution to god really dragged down my happiness for this whole scenario.

Magnamune said...

I agree. My brother has Asperger, so I understadn it's hassles. When things like this happens, the person should be praised, not god.

I see your point Jim. That is a very clear line. The main problem, though, is if he "gives you" a suggestion in a moment of desicion, is that crazy. If so, what's the difference between giving the suggestion to turn left, and the suggestion to hate gays?

Jim said...

The problem here is, no one is there to give you any suggestions. It's all in your head. It's called an internal monologue. Everyone has it. The religious people think this is God talking to them, whereas sane people know this is themselves talking. It's called 'thinking'.

Magnamune said...

Yeah. True. I guess I just don't like the idea that so many people are insane. It's kind of scary. And there's nothing we can really do about it. Except the occational de-conversion and similar things.

Jim said...

But there is something that can be done. And it is being done everyday. Educating our children about evolution.

This simple device is the cornerstone of true scientific atheist beliefs. Evolution is the easiest theory to teach our children. And it is backed up with mountains of facts, examples and observations. No one can successfully argue evolution does not exist.

We also need to keep bogus religious science (like Intelligent Design) out of our schools. We need to emphasize that humans are not special, just a higher intelligence. We need to stop brainwashing kids with religion, and let them make their own decisions based on all the fact-based evidence.

It is no coincidence that the greatest historical rises in religion coincide with the greatest decreases in education. Even today, countries that are ruled by religion (Iran is a great example) have terrible education systems.

So we need to educate people. Plain and simple.

Magnamune said...

I know. *Sigh* I just wish there was more I could do personally.

Magnamune said...

Apart from my normal everyday attempts to educate others.

Charles said...

I find this post a bit offensive, actually. There is a difference between trying to intentionally 'deprogram' fundies, and trying to "evangelize atheism" which is what the person in this post did. He's made himself no better then the fundies he was debating against.

50 years from now, I fully expect to be an old man watching the intellectual heirs of Dawkins making all the same sort of intellectual mistakes the fundies they rail against are. Actually, in a sense, the seeds to that have been planted now. Evangelical, monolithic -anything- is against the sort of free-thinking principles our society relies on. You don't get the homophobia and zealotry because of inherently religious problems, but through inherent problems in how humans think.

If men like this are the future of atheism, its on a dark, dark road.

Charles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles said...

Hmm, apparently its been too long since I last used blogspot, I forget there's no real way to edit things, you have to do multiple posts. How primitive!

In any case, anyone who says that all christian denominations take the bible literally is very ignorant. Not only do not all of them take the bible literally, but there are even Christian denominations which don't even necessarily believe in the divinity of Christ!

The most obvious example of that are liberal Quakers, a number of which actually meet not far from where I live, but there are many other such denominations. Its far more common however, for these sort of beliefs to vary by individual church within denominations. I personally know a baptist minister, for example, one of the most evangelical, conservative denominations, who doesn't believe in hell at all, which is far from a literal view of the bible. (Actually, of the 6 or so ministers I knew and debated with in college, none of them professed a belief in hell, once I debated them in depth enough).

Anyways, yeah. Don't stereotype, especially out of ignorance.

ANTZILLA said...

I think we (individual atheists) run into problem when we say "Christian, catholic, Baptist, whatever,"

All these are smaller groups of creationists which is a smaller group of theist.

De-conversion from THEISM hence creationism is what is being discussed. If you affiliate with a sub-group (bapist,islam, FSM whatever) and even if you have a sub-group of individual,theist beliefs to help you keep your faith and your delutions get hurt from reality SO WHAT!

Jim said...

Charles, I agree that we should not treat atheism like a religion. Because, well, it's not. That's the definition.

While we shouldn't force others to believe the way we do, it does not mean we should be afraid to have open discussions, free debate, or pride in our views. What I have noticed in my dealings with other atheists is that we tend (not all of us)to be hesitant to acknowledge that we are atheists. There is a severe social stigma surrounding atheism these days.

I don't agree with converting others against their will, but I, with the original post, I do not believe that is what was done here. While, yes, it is a story of de-conversion, there is nothing really forceful about the way the person went about it. I see two people having intellectual free debate and discussion. I also feel that the person being de-converted was having doubts to begin with.

I was the same way when I was thinking about announcing my atheism. Like I said, there was (and still is) a social stigma. Even my parents and my sister have a hard time with it, even though both me and my brother are atheist. My parents feel like they have failed in some way. So when I started having doubts, there was really no one I could talk to about it. I would have loved to have had another atheist to talk to like the person in the post did. Someone to help me with breaking down the logic, breaking free of the brainwashing that religion really is to some people.

One thing that I have really learned since breaking free of religion (ironically, I suppose) is tolerance. I no longer fear the religious stigma of supporting gay rights or the rights of others to believe in what they want. I have said it before, and I will say it again, I will not tolerate anyone, atheist or religious, forcing their views on anyone. And I frankly do not see that here. In fact, I have yet to see an atheist here forcing their views anywhere. Religious nutters have tried. And if you read the other posts (which I'm sure you have), you can see that we will not stand for that.

I do not think atheism should be forced on anyone. Again, I believe people have a right to their religion, and I have come forward and acknowledged that I understand why some people need religion. In a lot of cases a personal belief that this life is not all there is helps a lot of people get through tough times, or even just wake up in the morning. And that is fine.

I'll admit it right here, the knowledge that all this around me is all there is for me, depresses the shit out of me sometimes. When I stare into space on a clear night, it makes me feel small and pointless when I think about how vast the universe is. Because of that, I know that there are people who will never accept that there is no god or heaven, or anything.

But this does not mean they are right. And it does not mean we should not educate people on the reality. I equate it to telling a person if they have cancer or not. If you come to me and ask me, I'll tell you. But you have to make the first step. Because, like I said, I will not force any of my beliefs on anyone. But I will engage people (who are willing) to open debate.

Anyways, I can see where you're coming from, and I agree with you for the most part. But I have to say, I don't believe the poster did anything wrong. Just my opinion.

Jim said...

On a side note, I don't like it when religious people don't believe in Hell. I mean, I know it doesn't exist, but religion is partly based on negative consequences for your actions. Why do anything good, or follow the doctrines of you religion, or worship your god if there is no punishment? This was the first thing I can remember being taught about religion. You do something bad, you don't pray, you don't be kind, etc., you will be punished.

For a religious person to say they don't believe in Hell is a cop-out in my opinion. It's like they give themselves free pass to do whatever they want and still believe in all the good things.

"I can't go to Hell if I don't believe in it!"

Seems kind of shady to me.

Feki said...

I think christians who don't believe in hell are all the more dangerous:

If the invisible guy will always forgive them and thus they would not ever go to hell then... what stops THEM from raping, killing, torturing small animals and all those things they blame us atheists with for not having "religious morality"?

I mean, how can they choose which delusion is real and which one isn't within their own friggin' fairy tale of a book?

ANTZILLA said...


It is wonderful living in Australia. People here are mostly atheists and it would be more unconfortable for theists to "comeout" because that is not the statusquo.

I find it hard to fathem a society were it is mostly theist. I must be hard having BS ramed into you all the time.

Unfortunatly people in Australia still revert to the birth religion when asked, so what has to change is when the census is rolled out people have write what the ACTUAL beliefs/lack of beliefs is stead of what religion there great,great grandparents were.

Jim said...

We all know that religion is made up nonsense. But how is it that some denominations of the SAME religion can decide they don't believe in Hell, or that Jesus was the son of God, or that eating meat on Friday is bad, etc.?

Do religious people not see this as religions just giving the masses what they want, so long as the masses give them their money?

Feki said...

Hi Jim

I think the issue at stake here can be defined as Freedom of Hallucination, which seems to be a right every christian exercises on a daily basis.

It is sort a "gift" from society that allows them to choose between popular delusions such as hell, jesus, divinity of jesus, sin, holy pidgeons, saints and papal infallibility without being labeled schizophrenics.

Charles says we should not stereotype theists, but he misses the point that THEY ALL HALLUCINATE, and that refusing to believe in hell does not make them any more sane/intelligent than the rest who do believe in lakes of fire.

Yes, we all like liberal theists over fundies. Sadly, liberal theists refuse to acknowledge the implicit nonsense of their beliefs: denying one fact in their sacred, god-dictated book amounts to denying the whole book. So why care about having a religion anyway? They can just make up their own personal one, with a FSM or Chuck Norris to worship.

ANTZILLA said...

Believing in a God/s or variation there of is the same a owning Ivory,
you may not have actully killed the elephant yourself, however owning/buying the Ivory (god) is giving the pochers (religous fuddies) support though creating a need as well as support.

Jim said...

Excellent analogy, Antzilla.

Jim said...

I had a chat with my mother in law. I was telling her how Hitler claimed himself to be a Christian, and how he also claimed he was doing the Lord's work, and how the Catholic church was silently supporting him (by not stopping him). I gave examples, and proof. Standard argument fare.

Her retort?

"Well, he wasn't a real Christian, so it doesn't matter."

True. He probably wasn't a real Christian. But that's not the point. The point is much more scary.

Hitler thought he WAS a Christian. He BELIEVED he was doing the Lord's work.

People like to claim that people who do evil things aren't good people, and aren't christian, or whatever religion they are. This is an easy way for people to separate themselves from anything bad. But they fail to see that when the person doing evil claims to be part of something, that is where the negativity really lies with religion.

Hitler was claiming to be Christian. Terrorists claim to be Islamic. People who claim to be Christian blow up abortion clinics. Some nut-job Baptists protest funerals of fallen American soldiers while holding signs that say things like, "God hates fags", or "Thank God for IED's".

These people need to realize that the problems are not what you believe in, so much as what the other (read: crazy) people believe in.

Anonymous said...

You can't be married outside of religion!
Without (insert any God(s)) there is no real love for you.
Silly (read: unholy/demonic/hellbound) man.

My CAPTCHA is 'faith' haha.

Jim said...

There's another thing.

Do religious people (mainly in America, as I am not too sure how the battle for same-sex marriage is doing outside the US. Mostly because America tends to forget that we are not the only country around.) understand that marriage existed before their religion?

Marriage generally started as a way for men to ensure that their offspring belonged to them and that they could set a line of inheritance for their wealth, land, etc.

This predates, most likely, all religions currently being practiced in the present. People started shoving God in there as a way to ensure that people remained faithful, and that the women couldn't leave the men. Does everyone remember that divorce (specifically in Christian religions) was either illegal, or carried with it such a stigma, as to almost never occur?

I don't want to turn this into a gay-rights post, or anything like that. But I think we can all agree that anyone should be allowed to marry anyone through the court of law, without religious wing-nuts (whose religion, you've probably never been associated with anyway) getting involved in you personal affairs.

Religion needs to stay out of my marriage, stay out of my government, and stay the hell out of my schools.

Anonymous said...

Apparently it's been legalised here in the UK, but I saw on my passport application a bit about changing your name 'up to three months before your wedding or civil partnership(a legal binding with all the right of a marriage) etc.'
I thought it very sad that we've taken the whole, 'marriage is man and woman' cop-out, to please all the hateful people who would be totally unaffected by EQUALITY.
Now that I check it, we haven't yet adopted the marriage thing.
Only 5 US states and D.C. perform marriages, CA did but the voters made it illegal again. 3 other states recognise it but do not perform, and all 42 others do not recognise same-sex couples.
Obama supports legal unions but not marriages.
Gay-rights covered, something to consider before anyone says America isn't a friggin' Theocracy.

Jim said...

It blows my mind that religious people, with all their talk of morality, can not see how negative and dishonest they are being when they deny a group of people (any group) their fair and equal rights.

Gays can't be married. What's next?

Blacks can't do anything but farm?