Its not common that I receive three different endearing labels in just a couple of days. One poster jokingly called me the "atheistist atheist of atheistdom". Someone who had the label hilariously foisted on them gave it to me, "That Little Evil Thang" and I was recently told by my daughter that as regards atheism "I'm kind of a big deal", another joke of a label that comes from a funny movie and one I repeated on TA a couple of times.
When I thought about this I realized people are saying this because I was more or less born atheist; I mean, my parents were both atheists and I was never drawn to religion. And that made me realize that almost every story I've read on TA is about the deconverted; people who have left religion. Is there anyone out there who was "born" atheist? If so, I'd like to hear your story. I'd especially like to know at what age you decided for certain that you would not "depart" from tradition and convert. For me it was 12.
We hear the deconversion stories all the time but I rarely hear our stories. Also, I'm curious if anyone's larger family is all atheist? All my relatives as far back as I know were all atheist. This seems rare. Is it?
One of the reasons I ask this is because when new people join who have deconverted they tell their stories about it and, while I can understand it in a deconversion context, its hard to know how to relate to some of the issues they encounter, especially after deconverting. There is so much tension within their own families and I don't know the right thing to say to them. Any ideas on that?
All are invited and I'm not a topic natzi.
Thanks for reading - kk
Okay, I'm dense. What did your last sentence mean? -kk
I think I intended a rather sharp comment. My point was to imply that anyone surviving childhood should have the option of atheism because culture and 'reality' do not always validate the belief in a god, or that this is the best of all worlds. I meet a man that had survived WWII, but discovered that his survival failed to allow the continued theist youthful beliefs. Fear and disapointment does not need to fill our days inpreparation for a theist break, but for some, it might be neccesary. Since I can not go back and run my personal experiment again, it is unclear if my fear and disappointment was needed to get where I am. I can not speek for you....
James - wow, that's deep. Ummm, I dont' think it made me atheist but I can see how it could serve to deconvert an adherent. Definitely. That's a terrible way to deconvert, though. One thing that has been recognized as a factor in deconversion is that people tend to deconvert when they are in the midst of a life crisis. My mom, grandmother and aunt used to joke about this all the time (in a good way) by suggesting we create all sorts of horrible crises for people we wanted to deconvert.
So, I'm betting you're right.
An alternative point could be made. Tragedy can be reframed by theist's as a test or trial for the soul. The term 'double think' then comes up. If the theist can remap around a tragedy using parts of the ideology, then there would be no reason to de-convert.
Many members of my family did this after a death in our family, but mother seemed to find her exit, while my father only reduced his commitment without a de-conversion. As a nieve child at the time, I attempted prayer, as a way to call upon 'god' to save our sister from death, but found no responce from that 'loving being'. I remember the little one liners that other family members used to encourage the rest of us. 'God called her home', 'God has other plans for her', 'She has gone to a better place', adnausium. Sister died when she was six, after spending most of her short life in a children's hospital.
It was rather clear that my youthful attempts at prayer were of limited utility. Another posting/blog here concerning being 'mad at god' could be possible. In my context, if prayer is of no utility, and the death of an innocent child happens, what does this say about an asserted existence of 'god'? Surely, given the magical powers of 'god', I was not asking much. I consider this as a valid first indication of non-existence of 'god', and a reduction of standing from an 'actual being' to a 'human concept'. My knowing that '2 + 2=4' is of greater power and utility than the concept of 'god'.
It is possible that my bounching between two polls, a very troubled and uncommited neo-theist, and atheist-humanist indicates a search for a last datum. As I stand before and experience the wonders of nature and thought, I think I get a taste of the mind state of theologins or mystics and the scientific viewpoint. This might be the best I can do.
That's a great post.
Those were some very uncomfortable times.
It demonstrates the power of the religious con. Here is a passage (long) from On the Means and Methods of Mass Deconversion, which I wrote:
How to be a Master Con Artist
What we shall see here is that deconversion deals with two sides of a counterfeit coin. On one side are the con jobs of religion and its leaders. On the other side is deconversion which necessarily depends on some of the same techniques used by con artists. So, there is some overlap, but the deconverter is not engaging in a con or a fraud. It is only that the methods required involve fighting fire with fire.
So how do these con artists do their art and magic? What is their secret? There are 6 primary secrets of the Master Con Artist.
Adherents will often seek out a concrete pattern to confirm a pre-existing, general belief. It is a form of failed induction. The capacity for inductive reasoning has been strongly associated with Spearman’s g factor, that is, IQ. Notice how this is being weaponized by religious leaders against those on the left of the bell curve? But failures of inductive reasoning can occur anytime there is a pattern in a set of specific examples in which multiple general solutions are possible. In these cases people will tend to adopt the pattern that induces their pre-existing beliefs. Since life is full of cases in which multiple general solutions exist to specific occurrences in life, this is readily exploited as well. The rate at which this occurs in a randomly selected group of people is around 73%; that is, 73% will tend to confirm a general solution that is incorrect or not verifiable by the pattern given.
The accomplished deconverter will learn how to recognize when an adherent is answering with what academics call Confirmation Bias and he or she will then respond in the following manner:
The deconverter should provide their own pattern of Confirmation Bias to explain the same presenting topic in order to demonstrate the fallibility of what the adherent is doing. It will be done in question format by simpy asking the adherent, well, what if we assumed predicate B instead of the one you assumed, A? Then I can reach the same conclusion, right? The deconverter will feign sincerity in the pattern they present, or at least not offer up the fact that this was an intentional thought provoking tool. But the point is to come up with a pattern that will reach a contradictory conclusion, or that reaches the same conclusion beginning with a different predicate, as the case may require.
People’s perception of events, that is, their reliability as a witness, can be manipulated by superficial artifacts (appearances). The most common manipulation of appearance is language. By using certain verbs and adjectives, you can influence one’s testimony of fact. In addition, by introducing through our Socratic questions details that did not occur or are not true we can increase the likelihood of distorting (or shifting) one’s view of reality. The deconverter should use this in reverse on the adherent by using the appropriate adjectives and verbs in the Socratic questioning we will examine infra. Keep in mind that adjectives and verbs used in this manner must be subtle and camouflaged. Academics have operationally defined this as the Misinformation Effect.
The accomplished deconverter will learn how to use adjectives and adverbs in their speech that serve to perturb or dislocate the adherent’s point of view without making their speech sound histrionic or melodramatic:
The deconverter should use terms that emphasize the absurdity of the position the adherent is holding without it sounding histrionic or offensive and with terms that are more forceful than what would normally be used. Words such as “fiction” such be replaced with terms like “fairy tale”, for example, if the deconverter can do so without being offensive.
How can 2 billion people be wrong? It sounds compelling at first. But research shows that when subjects are asked to make a trivial assessment of fact with no knowledge of anyone else’s assessment, their accuracy is about 98%. And when that same assessment is performed after the subject observes the incorrect conclusions of several other subjects the subject reaches the correct conclusion only about one-half the time. The takeaway from this for the deconverter is that human beings tend to be influenced rather strongly by the ancillary information fed to them.
This has been replicated many times over the years. With a sufficient number of trials, not less than 75% of the general population will conform with the erroneous perception of total strangers.
But what happens when the choice is nontrivial? Now increase the stakes. The accuracy plummets yet further.
The studies have been performed in many different ways. Police line ups, for example, show the same pattern. There the error conformity rate is found to be around 51% when a subject is asked to identify someone in a line up when others in the same room choose the wrong person (they conform to their confederates and are wrong). So, 51% of the time a person will incorrectly identify a suspect solely because everyone else in the room did.
Therefore, false beliefs can be generated with statistical reliability by making an idea popular. And the more ambiguous the judgment the higher the rates of conformity to false beliefs. People do this very thing when acculturated to the religion of, say, a particular geographic region.
This is for you Bobby:
The presence of a single dissenting ally is enought to reduce conformity by 80%. Use this to introduce agents provocateurs in deconversion sessions.
The reason why this is used is precisely because of the effect that not knowing the Lord's Prayer had on you socially.
The accomplished deconverter will learn how to make use of a team during live deconversion sessions; all of whom are also trained in deconversion and can be remain quiet and passive during the entire session except when needed for informational influence, which the deconverter will cue when needed. For video productions, the ideal scenario is to have the adherent watch the video amongst deconverters filling the same role. If not possible, the video should contain scenes that mimic these cues for informational influence. For reasons we will learn infra, one of these assistants will preferably represent an authority figure or emotionally close person for the adherent.
The deconverter should use team members by cueing them at any point during the process in which the the adherent offers a particularly strong objection to a given point in the conversation. At these points, the team members should assist only by asking Socratic questions in a low voice; thence exposing their opinion on the matter through further development of the question and answer exchange. Each team member in turn should do this until at least three deconverters total have expressed the counter apologetic opinion. The experienced deconverter will know how to round robin these questions without intimidating the adherent or making the adherent feel as if they are being outnumbered or verbally assaulted. Video productions will ideally entail acting out these scenes explicitly.
Human beings have a known strong tendency to engage in anthropomorphization. Persons with brain damage and Autism tend to be devoid of this tendency or to have a weakened expression of it. This demonstrates how ubiquitous this is in human beings. It is a strong biasing factor. When confronted with mysterious and dramatic events human beings tend to fill the void of uncertainty with human-like agents. The drama provides the motive and the agent solves the mystery. Intelligent deisgn and teleological agruments used by adherent apologists are a form of anthropomorphization. Independent of religious belief, studies show that people will tend to see a “purpose” in the design of perfectly natural (or even abstract) objects by default. The rates for this in young adults are about 33% for natural abiotic objects, 69% for biological organisms and 96% for human artifacts. But when these experiments are conducted with 5 year old children, children make very little distinction between these things. Their numbers are 73% natural objects, 78% biological organisms and 83% human artifact. What this demonstrates is a strong, innate human bias to perceive design in any object. Only upon being socialized and “educated” do human beings begin to refrain, to some degree, from this tendency. In other words, the entire teleological argument is in reality just an innate, visceral reaction to reality that is not real. Intelligent Design is literally childish.
The deconverter should prepare for the deconversion session beforehand by developing several examples of anthropomorphization in which the appearance of purpose is very compelling. These examples should be examples that confirm or appear to strongly validate principles or “truths” of religions other than the religion of the adherent being deconverted. This can be done by carefully choosing a “truth” or fact that, while consistent with some other religion, directly contradicts the tenets of the religion of the adherent being deconverted. And since this conclusion was reached by seeing a compelling purpose or agency behind the event observed, it serves to undermine the adherent’s confidence in their own perceptions of purpose or “agenticity”, as it is called by academics. Some examples have been provided in the Appendix.
The practiced deconverter will use the Socratic Method described infra to pose these observations as questions in which it is asked, “If there is disagreement in the purpose seen in different examples, how do I know which god’s purpose is genuine in all these examples”? The technique developed infra is one in which the adherent is being asked to convince the deconverter that their god is the one, true god of all the gods worshipped by human beings.
Controlled studies show that, though it may be surprising, belief is generated by simply expressing it as fact; provided it is done in a particular manner. This is why “witnessing” is so popular in most religions; it is a deliberate tool for brainwashing and that is why it is so strongly encouraged.
In many of the studies performed on this phenomenon, a boring, monotonous and trying experience is “sold” using an insufficient justification. This concept is tricky and not at first obvious. But numerous studies have shown it to be true. It is essentially a defensive mechanism used to protect one’s conscience from discomfort or shock when a person is forced or otherwise compelled to act against their conscience. When a person is compelled to lie but given little or no justification for doing so, we tend more strongly to just believe the lie – conveniently sidestepping the guilt of lying, and we tell what we now “believe” to be true. It makes no difference how blatant the falsity of the claim is. But when given much greater justification for lying we correctly tend not to believe the lie when compelled to tell it. This is likely because the conscience is not disturbed or shocked since the individual can justify the lie. This is an utterly fascinating trick used by the creators of religion to brainwash:
… It exploits the very thing that sociopaths and narcissists lack; a conscience.
It is one’s conscience that tends to cause them to do this. Whoever came up with this knew how to run a con job and understood the psychology of a mark. And this is a tell-tale feature of religion; this tendency to observe exploitation of a person’s conscience, sense of compassion and empathy in order to gain their submission and compliance; to make them docile and malleable. It is precisely what persons in positions of power would dream of as a weapon for controlling large populations. This motif will keep coming up throughout this work.
So the con artists of religion long ago promoted this idea of “bearing witness” and extolled it as an adherent’s sacred duty to perfrom as often as possible. All they were doing was compelling their adherent’s to tell lies with insufficient justification. Over time these lies solidify into hardened belief systems.
As for the adherent, the deconverter should attempt to “sell” them on the notion of temporarily withholding “witnessing” and “bearing” of religious experiences for at least a week, the longer the better. This can be framed as a thought experiment in which you are going to ask the adherent to describe to you any difference the adherent noticed once the exercise is complete. The reason for the exercise should not be shared with the adherent, but it should be stressed to the adherent that this is just temporary, and is only a thought experiment in order to gain their consent. Indeed, the “low ball” technique should be used to first ask them to try it until you meet again (hopefully not long). This can be repeated in each meeting so that the adherent does not have to consent to what they might regard as too long a period of time to make it acceptable. The true purpose of it is to aid in decompression during the deconversion process (which could take several days or more). Ideally, this exercise will extend throughout that period of time, however long it may be. Additionally, the deconverter will use insufficient justification on the adherent in reverse.
The skilled deconverter will reverse this con and apply it to the adherent to convince them of the truth of a universe with no gods. But this primary strategy is purely opportunistic: It only works when the deconverter has a strong degree of influence with the adherent. This typically only occurs in close relationships or religious settings. Therefore, this can only be used on adherents with an emotional bond to the deconverter. But should that be the case, the skilled deconverter will immediately apply this technique first. And it is quite simple. The deconverter simply tells the adherent there are no gods and devises a means to get the adherent to repeat this over and over. Specifically, the most compelling evidence exposed during the deconversion session can be used in directing the adherent to repeat that evidence over and over.
And this brings up a fascinating theory I’ve heard proposed in my own family before. What if a “religion” of atheism could be devised? Then the religious nature of the relationship between deconverter and adherent can be used with incredible effect; just as it is with religious leaders and their adherents. We examine this possibility in our discussion of Unitarian Univeralism as a decompression religion to which a hardened adherent can be converted to first. We recommend this be done if time and available effort permits.
Having said this, since these opportunistic conditions may no exist, the deconverter might have to accept a secondary means of exploiting insufficient justification in a reverse con. The best way to do this is to once again employ the agent provocateur who can act in the role of a religious leader (perhaps a Unitarian Universalist) who can use their “authority” with the adherent, if that can be developed, to make requests on behalf of the deconverter that will aid the deconverter in their work. These requests might include convincing the adherent to do the same thing the deconverter would do if an emotional bond existed; as we described above. The only difference is that the perceived authority is provided form a different source. In fact, any source of “authority” (in the eyes of the adherent) will suffice for this purpose.
The need for closure is a recognized psychological trait that comes in varying degrees amongst individuals in the general population. Those with a high need for closure tend to be outwardly observed as people with strong opinions, or who are strongly opinionated. By reaching a certain conclusion on an issue, one can have emotional closure. And whenever there is a void of fact people tend to fill it with certainty, regardless of how silly the conclusion may be. Furthermore, the order in which people receive information also affects how they rate the value of the object to which that information pertains. If received in order of increasing negativity, the final rating is more positive. If presented in order of increasing favorability, the final rating is more negative. The greater one’s tendency to need closure the more the person latches on to the first pieces of information and the value it assigns. This is called the Primacy Effect.
There are specific conditions under which this is more likely to occur; an important observation for religious contexts. If little is known of the object being ranked or valued, this tendency to rank according to the order in which information about the object is given is greater. This is a fancy version of “first impressions count the most” (because they are “first” impressions, the information about the object –in this example the person - is limited).
The need for closure in making value judgements can be augmented by placing a time pressure on the individual, forcing them to make a decision quickly. Loud noise can also cause this. In these cases people will experience a greater tendency to latch on to the information received first. The tendency to base conclusions on earlier information will be augmented in environments where there is:
Persons with low Primacy are almost completely immune to the Primacy Effect. But here is the big takeaway; persons with a high need for closure can be satisfied by simply saying “nobody knows” the answer, and that is okay. This dramatically reverses the observed behavior rendering the person with a high need for closure virtually identical to those with a low Primacy vis-à-vis some given example or trial. In other words, instead of saying that god did it, as an immediate form of closure to any intellectual question, one can substitute “nobody knows” and it works. This is a huge thing for deconversion and why pushing scientific certainty with adherents will always backfire.
This is so important it needs repeating. This is the primary reason why scientists have done such a poor job of public relations in the matter of deconversion: they cannot shut up and have an unstoppable urge to try to answer everything.
Therefore, the adherent with a high need for closure will find any argument that satisifies their high need for closure to be compelling. The god did it answer is one such example. Therefore, the best answer an adherent can give in situations where high need for closure waxes prominent is a strong, firm, “I don’t know” or “we don’t know”. The deconverter should never attempt to answer a question, and thus should always clearly and vocally surrender the question to ignorance, unless two key conditions are met:
When appealing to ignorance, the deconverter is best advised to emphasize the elegant mystery of the lack of knowledge on the matter. This will quickly shut down a high Primacy. The adherent needs closure, so we have to either provide a solid answer or say we don’t know. There is no inbetween or equivocation on this point.
Therefore, the skilled deconverter will always be able to frame these kinds of opportunities in such a way that the adherent is asking the deconverter for the answer (to the question, “if god did not do it, then who”?) and the deconverter is responding; as opposed to the deconverter stating that he or she knows or does not know based on the criteria above. And the deconverter should close in this manner at every opportunity where the adherent might be compelled to use the “god did it” explanation. The opportunities for that are numerous. It takes some practice to be able to do this consistently.
A final note regards something academics call “Normative Influence”; which refers to the fact that people tend to follow the herd. From total strangers in a riot to the modeling of behavior between lovers or parent and child, normative influence is a hereditary trait that is ubiquitous amongst human beings and varies in intensity in like manner as the emotional bond between the individuals involved increases. For deconversion its relevance lies in the effect normative influence can have on the adherent when considering abandoning their religion. For this reason, the adherent must be removed from their social network and “managed” in a new one. The deconverter should take care to create a social support structure for adherents in this regard.
Eventually I realized that nobody knew who I was and only wanted to know if I've found Jesus or not. So I left and nobody noticed.
You sound like there may be a bad taste in your mouth from this experience?
Thanks for asking,
Thanks for sharing
Kids ask funny questions.
Yes, it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't worry about it that much at the time because well, my dad freaking died.
I'm really sorry to hear that. There couldn't be a worse time to be disappointed like that. But that supports what I mentioned ealrier, that people tend to deconvert during a life crisis.
Apparently, this hurt him very deeply that I didn't care enough about my "immortal soul" or something
You think he was power tripping? Some people get off on converting or deconverting people because it makes them feel powerful. As regards deconversion, that misses the point of it, though. Its not about the deconverter and you're friend should have had that attitude (as a converter). A lot of people turn and walk away when I talk to them but that's part of the numbers game. Adherents are victims of abuse who need compassion and empathy and I always try to remember that.