I was just thinking back to some of the things that I noticed which started to tip me off about religion's false premises.
For me, I think that learning magic tricks, sleight of hand, all that kind of stuff, at an early age and continuing with it for a long time helped me be less gullible. Over time the performance of miracles seemed less impressive and more like magic tricks.
I could never look at a "demonstration" of religious miracles as anything other than a cynical attempt to prove a god's existence while using a cheap trick. I even learned about the role of tricks in the rise of Spiritualism, a movement that even managed to capture Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
It was difficult, if not impossible, to look at the extraordinary and believe it at its face value.
That, for me, was one of the greatest things that helped me see through some of the religious "proof" and "demonstrations" that were shown to me. I think that learning magic tricks from such a young age helped to insulate me to religious BS.
What helped you?
Growing up Mormon in the epicenter of Mormonism--Salt Lake City--I never actually had strong internal conflicts about things like unbelievable bible stories, ridiculous miracles or the fluid stance of the church on issues it kept claiming to be eternally right about. Part of the Mormon culture is to emphasize family and friends and a personal relationship with God, and to ignore all that other stuff because it could lead to a loss of faith (really, I was often counseled to 'not let these kinds of questions get in the way of your relationship with God'). I left church forever at age fifteen, and when I started to discover all the weird things people think about Mormons and what they believe, it was news to me. I never heard about the planet Kolob, or the idea that we'd all get to be gods of our own little universes when we went back to live with Jesus. Apparently those things are somewhat widely known within the church, but the just don't matter to most people; they're far more comfortable pushing them from their minds than actually taking a minute to think about whether or not they're at all likely.
So then, for me, the thing that led to a loss of faith was not problems with doctrine or the behavior of church officials, but rather what I saw among my friends. I was a very earnest little Mormon boy, always trying to achieve that feeling of fulfillment that most adults I knew said they got from having a relationship with God. I remember spending a summer in my pre-teen years reading the entire Book of Mormon, and I also (embarrassingly) struggled mightily to stop masturbating because I was convinced it was sinful. This was the kind of kid I was, and the other kids struck me as insincere, two-faced and hypocritical. None of them, when adults' backs were turned, had any more personal connection to religion than I did, and we all knew it. Thus, when the time came for us to start fooling ourselves rather than being fooled by our parents and primary teachers, I got a first-row seat watching the assholes I'd grown up with convincing themselves of the stuff they'd parroted all their lives. This, more than anything, threw cold water on my opinion of religious belief of all sorts.
Wow, that last paragraph is exactly what happened with me as I grew up in youth groups. It is amazing how much effort was spent by other kids trying to show how they adhere to and exemplify the beliefs and principles, only to never think about them outside of the group.
I bet that most kids wouldn't act in line with all that because it hurt them too much intellectually to do so. Also, they're kids haha
The "deep" doctrine isn't talked about until after someone has gone to the temple. That is where the whole outer space story and really crazy shit is talked about. Also that is where the white druid/masonic rituals happen.
Have you checked out Newnamenoah's videos on Youtube? He was crazy bold enough to sneak into (not all that hard to do for ex-mormons that have done the temple stuff before) mormon temples and film almost the whole insane process. Most of it is rather tame and it all just spoon-fed crap that people just passively do without question. It is very much like the cult scenes from many movies but with brighter colors/light than the dark little cave rituals in movies.
I remember when I wore the robes for the first time and it felt like I was wearing a dress. It really was goofy and strange. The anxiety of going "through" the temple the first time was extreme for me. The initiatory (he didn't get that on film since it would be nearly impossible given how it is done) that happens before the endowment stuff is really awkward and uncomfortable. I was told to strip naked (they have since changed it and people keep their underwear on now like that is any better? hahaha) and put on a white poncho thing. (this is done alone in a cubicle/locker room so no one is watching you) It was open on the sides completely but it was loose enough that you could wrap it around so you weren't exposed on the sides. Anyway, they then have you sit on some stools in little rooms separated by white curtains (veils) and they say some set prayers/blessings and anoint you to become kings and priests unto the most high god. (women are told they will be queens and priestesses) They literally use olive oil on your head etc. and touch under the poncho to bless your bowels, heart, lungs and even your loins. They don't touch your actual "loins" but they touch you lower on the back and off to the side. These initiatory ceremonies are done separately for men and women for obvious reasons.
Of course I was freaking out like they were going to actually touch in areas that I would have really been angry about. You do all of these rituals with no real explanation beforehand of what they will be doing. It is like a hazing for a sports team or a frat house. They then make you put on the "skins of the priesthood" aka crappy white underwear that symbolize the skins god supposedly gave to Adam and Eve in the garden after they were cast out and magically figured out that they were naked, etc.
I will never forget how tweaked this ritual was to my brain. It went against so many things that I had been taught growing up. I liken regular church to elementary school and the temple shit to a doctorate in bullshit doctrine. They throw people into all of this whole thing unprepared and basically scare the shit out of them.
One of the lines in the endowment ceremony is that "god will not be mocked." Also, they say that if you ever "divulge" the secret handshakes etc. that you will be (or should be) punished by death. (they imply it in the newer endowment ceremonies but said it explicitly in the older versions)
Anyway, in summary, be very grateful you avoided that bullshit and extreme emotional manipulation. The family is at the center of the rituals and they tie it all together so that if you leave the church after doing temple stuff it is like a betrayal and you are guilty of treason in the eyes of temple going members. (and possibly worthy of death)
So when people call mormonism a cult now, I agree with them completely. It can really fuck up your brain and it's priorities. Mormons are masters at putting on a public mask of "virtue" and being hypocritical deceptive pieces of shit in private. (think Mitt Romney or Joseph Smith Jr. etc.) I could go on all day with trashing on the church but I think you get my point so I will stop now. hahaha
Enjoy being part of the free thinking world, it is more precious and rare than many of us may realize. I know I'm glad to be liberated from those chains made out of gilded shit.
Even as a kid I could see that most people believed in things for stupid reasons, and still bragged as if they knew profound truths that most other people didn't know. These "truths" often contradicted each other, demonstrating that most people didn't know shit but thought it was more important to just believe in shit rather than to question it.
As a young teen searching for identity and purpose, I noticed that a lot of smart people were getting into Scientoloty, and they seemed thrive and self-actualize on it. So I started reading about Dianetics and couldn't get past half of the first chapter before seeing how much bullshit pseudoscience was in it. I immediately, consciously put my search for "purpose" on hold, at least until I could understand enough about human nature to understand why (even intelligent) people can be so gullible.
That was the real turning point for me, but I didn't get any good ideas for a couple decades or more about why humans had such intellectual flaws, practically built in naturally. Fast forward to internet times, when I discovered hours of video called the "Fishman Affidavit". I was (and still am) fascinated by how such an intelligent, well meaning man could be so completely brainwashed, and yet maintain such high functionality in the real world. I was immediately hooked on trying to understand human cognition and how cognitive dissonance can not only accompany it, but how it can be intentionally embedded into the consciousness of otherwise bright, normally healthy brains.
If anyone's interested, I picked out a portion from hours of video that still gives me goose bumps. Just watch the first five minutes of this video and see if it hooks you, too.
How far did you get into scientology? Was it just the book or were you talking with people from that group?
Just the book, plus seeing talented people (like Chick Corea) getting into it. I was really open to learning something good, but was disappointed early in the book. At least I got an idea why some people might fall for it. It's like the pseudoscience crap that Deepak Chopra churns out.
The reports on the troubles between Catholics and Protestants
My dad always had a well-honed BS detector and an attitude of derision for "flakes" and all things "touchy-feely", which I inherited. Nonetheless, he is a staunch believer, if not especially religious, and his skepticism is normally directed at liberal politics and people. I found a more deserving target in religious believers and (during the Bush years when I was in college) conservative politics.
This attitude set the stage, but what ultimately helped me see through religion was my own thought processes, specifically about the idea of hell/eternal punishment. I didn't understand why a loving God would doom millions of people to hell who really didn't deserve it, considering their circumstances. What about all the people who lived before Jesus' crucifixion? What about everyone raised in China or India? Could we really expect any of these people to have "seen through" what their entire life experience told them and see the "truth" of God instead? Did they really deserve eternal hell for not rejecting everything they knew, assuming it were even possible to do so? Heck, I concluded, even people raised in 21st Century America could and should be forgiven for thinking God might not even exist, considering the weight of the actual evidence, even having been raised knowing the Christian story from birth.
That did it for me. I later found the whywontgodhealamputees.com video about growing up in the Christian "bubble" and that metaphor really cemented it for me.
As a small child, I thought angels were the next step up from fairies, and God was the next step up from Santa. When my brother told me Santa wasn't real, it popped all the bubbles at once. I think I was five.
Both of my parents are Fundamentalists. My mom was raised that way and my dad converted in his 30's. He was somewhat more rationally minded than my mom (he supported my interest in science while my mom was skeptical of it) and when i was seven or eight years old we would watch PBS documentaries together and I was always way more interested in the scientific reasoning behind why certain things happened as opposed to "the invisible man in the sky did it" explanation. I still didn't question my religion until I was about sixteen and for some reason it just struck me as odd that we praised god for every good thing that happened to us but it was our fault half the time when something bad happened. (the other half was "the invisible dragon guy did it")
It was about that time when I started seriously studying the different sciences and came to the conclusion that religions didn't offer any viable explanation for the existence of the earth. Also, after doing some fact-checking, I realized that religions were all very similar and seemed to just be rough copies of each other tailor-made for the inhabitants of a particular region. Obviously, some are different but there are just about four or five main types.
So... Yeah. Basically it was my pursuit of knowledge that helped me see through religion's BS.
Logic plain and simple, i never had much faith to begin with, but after reading the the bible i felt it was composed of nothing but fairy tales and bad poetry