Time to introduce myself. I've been prowling around this site for a few months and have finally added a pic. He is Colonel Thomas Blood, a supposedly distant relative of mine and 1st class scoundrel. I use his name, as mine is sufficiently unusual to show up on a Google search. I am a nurse, and health care is rampant with xians. I am also an ordained clergy person and - well things are just a bit complicated right now. Folks who I don't want in the know, will not come snooping here on their own.
Enough intro: Here is the morsel for you to chew on. I have heard it expressed explicitly at least once, and implied by several of you that if one is an atheist, the is NO WAY that you could ever become sufficiently delusional to believe in a god. Well I was. Or did.
I grew up with a believing mother and an atheist father. We never went to church and my religious training was minimal (one year of a generic protestant Sunday school). I was atheist by age 15. I was always fascinated by xians however, especially the really confident kind. Long story short; over several years I developed and pursued the hypothesis that the only way I could be sure that there was no god was to diligently seek him. This led me on multiple pathways until I wound up in a fundamentalist country church one night where I was invited to "come to Jesus" Multiple threads in my life had brought me to the place where I was able to suspend my skepticism enough to accept the possibility of this being real. When I stood up, the world changed. The event and my theories about would take another blog.
The result of this "encounter " was that I became a fundamentalist xian . My lack of religious upbringing actually worked against me as I had no framework for my new life, only that "reason" had failed as method for finding the TRUTH. Over the course of decades my inquiring mind kept pushing me into ever more "liberal" understandings of God until I finally realized that my theology had become "Jesus as metaphor" and that I no longer needed the metaphor.
So here I am, full circle again. The experience has not been a complete waste of my life (Thank GOD!!!). I have a very full, hands on type of understanding of religious faith and have first hand knowledge of many of the different flavors of belief. I find many of you off-putting. You can be so bloody sanctimonious sometimes, as if all people of faith were idiots. I am sure I actually had more IQ points when I was religious than I do how. But I DO understand how you feel. I sometimes have to stop myself from thinking "How can anyone BELIEVE that crap?" when it was not so long ago that I did in fact believe it myself.
I've rattled on long enough. Have at it!
I had sort of the opposite experience as you. I grew up in a fundamentalist home and was, myself, a fundamentalist until I was 24. Of course, I'm giving the really short version: I believed with my whole heart, was baptized at six (by my Southern Baptist preacher grandfather), but it seemed not to have taken and I was baptized again at 12. That was a pretty intense experience. Then, at 19, I had some crazy questions and just about became Wiccan or something. Whatever it was didn't have a name, but it was... well, ridiculous, but my thought was that it was no more far-fetched than Christianity, and I decided it was compatible... for a very brief moment. Then I fled from that stuff, basically rededicated my life, moved to Nashville (buckle of the Bible Belt), and had an amazing "Christian experience" there for three years. Then the questions crept back in, and I kept getting the patronizing, pat-answers. Some apologist actually told me I was on the right track when I asked him all my questions and basically said I was losing my faith.
And then I did lose my faith. And I think I lost it for all the "right" reasons. My atheism has never been passive or default, which is the impression I got from your experience as an atheist the first time around (correct me if I'm wrong).
I believed the Bible first, with my whole heart. I had all the experiences, enjoyed the community, witnessed what I believed were miracles and signs. I wasn't a passive Christian any more than I have been a passive atheist. The entire reason I lost my faith is because I actually had too much faith: I was fearless in asking questions because I didn't believe there was a chance I'd discover anything that would cause my faith to flounder. I thought the answers to my questions would draw me closer to "God", after all... truth does not fear inquiry. But I was dead wrong. When I stopped making excuses for the inconsistencies in the Bible and in Christian theology, it all just started falling apart... which is what seemed to happen to you, too.
So, after having been fully Christian, and then having all of it totally undermined by facts, by better and more comprehensive explanations, and by recognizing outright contradictions and the immorality of the Bible and the Hebrew god, I could never be a Christian again. Even if there happens to be a god, and he happens to be Yahweh, I wouldn't worship that god because he is a cruel, evil being. I cannot, however, think of anything that could convince me there was a god. "Miracles" always have a scientific explanation, even if they come later than we'd like.
I don't feel I'm being sanctimonious. I simply feel that the "god hypothesis" is so clearly man-made as to be totally dismissible. There's no evidence that points towards a divine creator. The idea came first, before any evidence was gathered. You cannot come to a conclusion first... unless you have nothing better to explain life than an outright guess. You simply observe, piece things together, and eventually the larger picture becomes more clear. The more we find out, the less sense a god makes in the grand scheme of things.
Anyway. I don't think you need to hear of any scientific proof. I know what you believe (or rather, what you don't believe). But theism is simply off the table for me, forever.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. "Passive atheist" kind of rubs me the wrong way, but I can't honestly think of a better expression. Not having had to wrest myself from any dogma as a teenager, I certainly lacked the edginess I now feel with my new-found un-faith. And though I try to remain as open minded as possible, I can't imagine what could change my mind, short of a god actually appearing unambiguously to pretty much everybody (and registering his presence on independently maintained scientific instruments followed up by multiple peer reviewed articles in multidisciplinary journals, and somebody gets the Noble Prize.)
Of course, 40 years ago, I did not have the science we take for granted today. When I got "saved" there was no evolutionary genetics, no evolutionary psychology, no evolutionary ethics, plate tectonics was unknown to the man on the street and Richard Dawkins was still 10 years away from writing The Selfish Gene. There's nothing like great science to assuage the hunger for truth.
Every once in a while, we read or hear about an atheist who has converted to Christianity or Islam or Judaism. I just can’t wrap my mind around what that process must entail. How do you move from atheism to religion: rationality to superstition? It just doesn’t make sense. However, it’s a bit easier to understand if the ex-atheist became a Buddhist, deist or pantheist: these belief systems aren’t really full-blown religions – they don’t have a personal God who meddles in human affairs or performs miracles or answers prayers.
Atheists have, ostensibly, reasoned their way free of superstition, religion and God(s). This implies an aptitude for the application of logic. Yet we sometimes run across atheists who see conspiracy theories everywhere they turn . . . or who soak up Islamic or other extremist propaganda without critical analysis . . . or who get suckered into New Age bullshit, like Satanism, Wicca, or pyramid power . . . or who are prone to anthropomorphizing . . . or who reason viscerally, by feelings, rather than logic. These kinds of things make me question if their atheism is well grounded in reason. If they reason so poorly with other issues, how well did they reason with God and religion?
Then it struck me . . . this is where those inexplicable ex-atheists come from. They never really grounded themselves in freethought. They may have wanted to . . . but simply failed. Fortunately, ex-atheists are a rare breed. I guess that’s testimony to the staying power of enlightenment. So now I have a plausible theory for what might actually be happening: some people identify with freethought but have never really freed their thoughts. Their atheism was never really solid in the first place. It’s not so much that they’re ex-atheists; rather, they’re failed, would-be, atheists.
I know that nobody has actually ‘freed their thoughts’ entirely. We’re human, not Vulcan. So I suppose it must be a matter of degrees. Nonetheless, I think most atheists are reasonably grounded in logic and that there’s no chance in hell they’ll ever renounce logic in favor of superstition — not even for an 11th-hour, death-bed, conversion.
Most ex-atheists who adopt a formal religion probably never really shook themselves loose from God’s grip. To them, God is a meme they can’t ignore.
I think you have really nailed it. There is a difference in definition between atheist and skeptic. I know of christians who are skeptics. I became a skeptical xian myself. If you are one, and live long enough and get exposed to good science, you're probably going to become an atheist. But an atheist is not necessarily a skeptic. As a young man, I was attracted to the idea of a deity, I just didn't think it was plausible. When I had a powerful religious experience (met Jesus, encountered the holy, became one with nirvana, each religion has its own label for these things), I lacked the skeptical foundation needed for dealing with facts and ideas (and for differentiating between the two). The religious community I was part of affirmed the "reality" of my very subjective experience. Exposure to good science eventually saved me from jesus.
I also know atheists who don't believe in god for emotional reasons. My father was one. He was very bright, but could not engage in an intellectual conversation on many issues, especially religion. Xians were just "godamn christers" I have a brother in law who is atheist and believes in UFO's, Bigfoot and every conspiracy theory out there. God help us if he ever meets jesus! He can be pretty insufferable as it is.
Yes, Thomas, atheism doesn't require skepticism . . . but it sure helps. There are examples of ex-atheists, like British philosopher, Anthony Flew, who don't fit the stereotype I described. They're REALLY hard for me to understand.
By the way . . . the red pill versus blue pill scene in The Matrix seems like perfect symbolism for atheists versus ex-atheists. And, of course, the scene with Cypher eating a juicy steak while negotiating his return to the Matrix.
You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
I'm only offering you the truth. Nothing more.
Atheists contemplating reconverson are Cyphers.
Why, oh why, didn't I take the blue pill?
I also suspect that some ex-atheists we hear about are actually believers pretending to be ex-atheists . . . for propaganda value.
I like that line, by Cypher, who, while contemplating his juicy steak, says something like, "I want to be somebody important . . . like an actor."
I recently watched 'The Matrix' again last night. Even after my first view of the movie in 1999, I always wondered why that transition point into wonderland involved a pill?
Within a year of the movie's release, the OSU campus Christian student group had a showing of the movie as a means to reach new recruits. They were promoting the film as a means to show that the present reality, that for them was against Christ, was a good metephor for that return to Christ as the true reality. Most of my friends in the Philosophy department did not attend, with the thought that it was just another 'come-on' and 'misuse', similar to the 'debates' promoted over the course of a few years.
Sadly a few profs from the Philosophy department took up the 'debate' challenge, falling into a game plan where the agreed upon 'rules' were thrown out and replaced with a insipid monologe so the attended trolls can root for their team. I remember getting up during one of these 'debates', and speeking rather loudly, 'I do hope this improves sooner or latter, have at it!'.
If I have taken, metaphorically, the 'red pill', I must have cut it into rather small pieces, then dosed myself over the course of atleast 30 years. It is unclear if it is a slow acting poisen, or another 'tool' to open ones eyes or perception. I have a feeling that the walls of this culture have become porous, and the concept of 'god' seems more like a bad joke, where to survive, I must atleast give the walls some lip service and humor my friends in their rather limited view. When I am away from the crowd, I can honor the wonder of being, and touch the more open minds that cross my path.
Sadly this slow doseing has not offered me the ability to fly or even to write better code, but I do, at times see an overlay of immense complexity when I look at the world. I find no 'god' looking back through the multiplicity, but more than once I have been touched enough to cry.
I have found no 'ex-atheists' so far, but I expect that they would be artifacts of an orbit through life where the bitterness of lose is rather unbarable. Religion seems to offer some respite from the unsettledness of life, but I expect that it would be short lived without fanaticism.
your brother in law is great. I see so much of that. Easter bunny type stuff. It is hard not to get sucked into stuff.
ASJ - I agree, there's nothing wrong with alternative methods. Atheism works for some people; religion works for others; a mixture of two things is always fruitful in my opinion.
I know you aren't talking to me, but I can say that I don't want to take away anybody's "medicine." I want them to stop trying to get me to take it, trying to teach it to children in public schools, and enacting it into law for believers and non-believers alike.
"I know you aren't talking to me, but I can say that I don't want to take away anybody's "medicine." I want them to stop trying to get me to take it, trying to teach it to children in public schools, and enacting it into law for believers and non-believers alike."
I'm all for school chaplaincy Diane because I think that school chaplaincy reaches the disadvantaged child.
It's not for the child who is loved by parents who nurture their childs emotions and care about the childs well being. I believe that school chaplaincy is there to maybe identify and reach out to the neglected and abused child - that they are loved - despite their unfortunate parents and homelife.
and since I think that too many children are raised in dysfunctional and abusive homes - then the more that religion is needed. Bring on the school chaplains.
Good parents have nothing to worry about with religion in schools. Allow it to be introduced as medicine for the invisible abused ones.
It doesn't belong in public schools, period, not in the U.S. anyway. I get what you are saying but I do not trust "religion" with anybody's welfare, especially the most disadvantaged and needy. My mother was one of the "invisible abused ones." by whom was she being abused, you ask? By her alcoholic, southern Baptist lay-preacher father. Many of us who distrust religion have a good reason for it. I was raised as an atheist because of the actions of Christians.
The Scientologists claim they are helping people but clearly they are taking advantage of people. I see little difference between Scientology and any other "religion."
Bring on the school chaplains all you want in your country, but not in mine. I understand that there are good religious practitioners and that people can be helped, but those same people can be helped by secular means.