A year ago I was a passionate Methodist. Four months ago I was about to become a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and today I am ashamed to call myself a freethinker. I'm not ashamed because I feel guilty for my deconversion, not that I think I've abandoned my religion, or that I am coping with my loss of faith with contempt. I am ashamed, because I still can't tell my family and friends. This shame isn't about guilt. It's about hiding in my own home. (I live with a house full of missionaries designed to reach out to the local college campus of which I am a student.) I believe that in order to be proud of something you have to own up to it. My friends and family know I'm having intense cognitive dissonance and doubts about the faith, but I can't bring myself to say out loud "I'm not a Christian anymore." When I try to say it they tell me things like "you're just going through a phase of doubt," or "Don't jump to label yourself. You've been such a strong Christian all your life!" So I just let them believe that I am struggling with this, and trying to find my way back to the Church. But honestly? I feel so liberated outside of it and have little intention of returning. I genuinely love these friends and family, and they genuinely love me. They aren't trying to push me. I think it is just too painful for them to think of me leaving, especially so quickly. I feel wrong calling myself a Christian, but I do at the moment for their sake.
So I am in need of some advice. For those of you who deconverted from another faith, how long did it take for you to stop beating around bush, stop speaking in generalizations, and become a proud freethinker?
Thank you guys!
Congratulations Roy! You've managed to ask the tough questions and see the answers objectively, which has led you to change your mind of what you once believed. Celebrate that, because it means that you are intelligent, free-thinking, and you are truly open-minded, with a greater sense of morality than you could ever muster up by reading any holy book....
So with that being said, you have the priveledge of living in a country where you are free to think and believe (or not believe) whatever you want. Standing up to your friends/family will not be easy, but in doing so you liberate yourself further because you no longer will have the need to pretend to be something you are not. That to me is the greatest liberation a person can feel. Once you stand up at telling the TRUTH, good things will happen. Even if it doesn't seem like it at first. I STRONGLY believe that there is no better gift you (or anyone) can give the people they love than to be true about who they are, and to not back down from that truth no matter what. Truth can hurt, but lies ALWAYS hurt more....
For those of you who deconverted from another faith, how long did it take for you to stop beating around bush, stop speaking in generalizations, and become a proud freethinker?
It's an ongoing process and different situations require different approaches. Unfortunately, a stigma exists and it sucks but there can be real consequences for being too open in some situations. It's probably worse where I am because you can't throw a rock without hitting 3 churches. My credibility with colleagues and clients is vital in my career, and it could suffer due to the ignorance of others if I am too outspoken at work. So I guess I still play my cards close to my chest in most situations.
Hello @ Roy. Full disclaimer: I'm the occasional visiting theist and Roman Catholic around here.
The sort of houses for on-campus missionaries that you are talking about can be pretty cloistered. In some cases, they can offer a lot of mutual support, but in a lot of cases they can be pretty stifling and even a bit weird. I think they do help with discernment, and what you seem to be feeling is a genuine and authentic discernment. Much as you may like your housemates, that life and lifestyle is not you.
You recognize that, and that's a good thing. Don't cling to those beliefs and lifestyle. Move on. It's OK, and it's much more healthy for you, and even for them. If helps to put it in religious terms (either for you or for your housemates) God doesn't want you there, doing that.
So do something else! Move on with your head held high. Be a freethinker, or any other label you like. God gave you a brain to use it, and no one who listens to their heart nor honestly seeks the truth can be far from Him.
Dr. Bob, another measured and admirable reply. Sorry to keep butting in on these random threads but could I ask another question about your faith? For you personally, what does God bring to the party? Or to put it another way, how do you feel your life would be diminished if God was not in it? As a life-long atheist I am curious.
@Simon - I have asked Dr. Bob a similar question here and I am awaiting reply.
Thanks, Reg - that post makes interesting reading.
Ah, there that old thread is!
Thanks for finding it, Reg.
Yes, well... I confess that's so big a topic that it's very difficult to respond to in any coherent way in a blog comment. A bit like asking someone on their 50th anniversary what their life would be like if they'd never met their spouse. Or asking a physics professor what his life would be like if rather than becoming deeply interested in physics he was a fronkey farmer in sub-Saharan Africa.
So I try to write something and it all seems incomplete and unsatisfactory. In my mind both of those disciplines are rich, nuanced, useful, interesting ways of looking at the world. Maybe it requires something more like a Madison Avenue PR shop than an old academic
I'm curious, can you do the reverse? Can you explain what atheism brings to the party, so to speak? I confess that I just don't get it. As a theory or a way of looking at the world it just doesn't seem to offer anything useful. All I seem to get when I ask is that it's nothing more than not believing in gods, and as close as I can tell the notion of "gods" is so bizarre that I'd have to agree with them.
I suppose the term Atheism itself (being A - theism) is not believing in gods but for me personally it is part of a wider-ranging world-view that rejects anything supernatural or magical. It is the same part of me that rejects psychics, tarot cards, astrology and homeopathy.
So what does this world-view (which, for me, encompasses atheism) bring to the party? One of the capabilities we humans have is that our brains are so sophisticated we are capable of imagining and relaying any information that we choose. For example, I might say to you "Yesterday, I saw a pink tiger who told me that he wanted me to buy him some exploding plums for dinner." It is a well-formed sentence and speaks of things that you know about: tigers, the colour pink, plums. However, you must have some way of evaluating whether my statement is likely to reflect reality or not. If we cannot do that, if we accord all opinions equal weight, then we are stuck having to believe everything anyone could ever say.
So how to evaluate the likely truth of something? For me, I use my experience and knowledge of the world to try and fit any new piece of information into what I already know. In that way, the whole world fits together as a big jigsaw. So when someone tells me about a pink tiger I am skeptical because all the tigers I have ever known or read about have not been pink. Of course, I will not reject the idea outright. I will simply give that piece of information a low probability (until some evidence comes along to support it). The less an idea fits with everything else we know about the world the lower probability I give it. The same goes if an idea has internal inconsistencies or contradictions. It is all part of evaluating information in a critical way.
The alternative is faith. I believe something is true just because... (normally because someone else told me). There is no need for the process I described above to take place because I don't need to question or validate it. It just is. I "feel it in my heart". I "know" it to be true, even if nothing else I know supports it. This doesn't work for me. If I adopt this approach I could end up wasting my time believing all sorts of things that aren't real - such as the things I listed above.
So what does it bring to the party? It allows me to focus on things that are real and important - my family, my friends, my health and, most importantly, it allows me to focus on this life regardless of whether there's a next one or not.
One final point, you said:
"A bit like asking someone on their 50th anniversary what their life would be like if they'd never met their spouse"
I appreciate the point you are making but there is a key difference for me. One has thousands of real and tangible interactions with one's spouse in that time that all build up to form the huge bond and relationship you, quite rightly, say would be impossible to condense to a sound-bite. I understand that you may consider yourself to have such interactions with God but for me you do not. They are not the same. The interactions between two real people are different from the interactions between you and the God of your heart.
Please let me know if I did not address your question.
Well, if that's atheism for you, then I guess I'm an atheist. Just like you, I would evaluate the likely truth of something with reference to the frameworks I find useful for describing the world without "magical" thinking. One of those frameworks is Catholic Christendom, which allows me to roll my eyes and dismiss the nonsense of our fundamentalist friends.
I do think you overstate the case a bit, however. Most cognitive/learning scientists would argue that all knowledge is socially constructed. While I think they overstate the case slightly, they do have a point. Despite our claims to the contrary, most of what we take to be true is really just because someone else told us. More importantly, the frameworks we use to evaluate even observations we make ourselves (and what observations we choose to make) are formed because someone else told us.
The interactions between two real people are different from the interactions between you and the God of your heart.
Fair enough. All analogies limp at some point.
I understand that you do not believe in some of the nonsense that the fundamentalists do. I can see that from your informed posts.
"Despite our claims to the contrary, most of what we take to be true is really just because someone else told us"
I disagree slightly with that. It may well be that what we take to be true comes about firstly because someone told us (or we read it in a book) but by a process of re-evaluation with continual experience of the world we amend our "truths" in the manner I described. I certainly don't believe all the things I was told when I was younger. Some of them I still do because they reliably stand the test of time.
"Just like you, I would evaluate the likely truth of something with reference to the frameworks I find useful for describing the world without "magical" thinking"
But God is magic or supernatural isn't he? Aren't the things that he's supposed to do or have done defined as such? If they could be done naturally then there would be no controversy.