What has surprised me the most, in my transition from devoutly passionate Christian to skeptical atheist, is that very few (if any) of my Christian friends or family have been remotely interested in why or how I lost my faith. That lack of curiosity I've taken very personally. If they knew me, then they would know that losing my faith was a big deal... and not just because I'm now apparently going to Hell.

For one, they should know I'm analytical, and not led around by my emotions. They should also know I'm not easily influenced! I was the one person out of my group of friends to abstain from drinking and drugs; to abstain, even, from sex! I took my faith the most seriously. I was the one always lecturing and advising. After I reached a certain age, I went to church on my own... sometimes by myself. I moved to Nashville to "get closer to God". I lived and breathed Jebus.

Honestly, yes, I expect my friends and family to be shocked, and for that shock to drag them into a burning curiosity. "But why?! She was such a strong Believer!"

Perhaps I have not been perceived the way I felt I was projecting myself. This would not be surprising. It happens all the time. I wouldn't be the first to lament the misunderstanding of myself by the world. Even still, very few else can say they waited as long as I did before having sex. I was going to wait until I was married (until I realized that it was becoming borderline creepy). I was "the virgin", and what goes wrong when even "the virgin" ceases to believe?

For all that effort I put into my faith, the reaction of all whom I knew as a Christian has been disappointing... maddening... invalidating. What a waste it truly was. When I dedicated my entire being to trying to discover God's will, it's hard to accept it was not a noteworthy undertaking. And if they now notice my sudden transition into atheism, they're silent. No one is asking me, "But Cara, why?" And if they do ask why, they've already interjected their own answer before I've uttered a word.

I must think too much of myself (or must've thought too much of myself as a Christian). I'm not sure what my own reaction would have been if one of my Christian friends suddenly fell off the bandwagon. The fact is, Christians are so well insulated from critical thought that I'm sure I would've had the same silent contempt for those who lost their faith while I was a Believer. There's no inkling in the mind of a Christian that something is amiss.

But then, I did have atheist friends. Though I couldn't understand how they could reject a Creator in general, I didn't question their inability to accept Jesus Christ. He did seem like a strange character to accept, even as someone who believed in him. I think that aspect of the narrative never sat right with me, but I couldn't articulate why. I couldn't rule out other possibilities, either. The Bible is full of some strange stuff. Why not other strange stuff? Whatever. The point is... I enjoyed having intellectual discussions with nonbelievers. I was curious. Of course, I wanted to convince them to be a Christian, but I was still fascinated by their lack of belief.

So why is no one I knew as a Christian somewhat curious to know why I lost my faith? I have a burning curiosity to know why they don't want to know why! And, not even for my own benefit. Doesn't it strike them that nonbelievers are usually extremely intelligent? Of course, I know all their conspiracy theories. Arrogance! Pride! Selfishness! Rebellion! None of it has to do with a thirst for understanding.

Okay, I know... I know why they reject obscure evolutionary scientists, or far-off biologists. World-renown scientists are so... out there, so... inhuman. But why does it not jar them when a devoted Believer suddenly flips the switch? When they go from pastor and apologist, to outspoken atheist? There should be something in their little brain that wonders what happened, and that is not satisfied with "sin" as the answer.

I think I've answered my own question. They're not curious why I lost my faith because they're not curious at all. While they were busy ostracizing Christians-turned-atheist, I was busy engaging in intellectual discussions with them. But there is at least one friend from my past life that seemed like an inquiring mind; she was tantalized by atheists, yet she converted from borderline Pentecostal to Episcopalian! What a weird direction. And, as far as I know, she's still got her V-card. And... it makes me sad, because her beautiful, creative mind is being wasted. Like mine was.

Views: 304

Comment by Tom Margolis on January 6, 2012 at 4:38pm

Cara: Thanks for the clarification (April 12, above).  Wow, was that way back in April?  I can see how it would be frustrating to have an intellectual epiphany and essentially be ignored.  I suspect there is a good deal of discomfort - even fear - felt by the believers around you.  Maybe they think atheism is, in a way, contagious ... they're afraid of being convinced, or of having their faith shaken.

Comment by Andrew Viceroy on January 6, 2012 at 4:53pm

@Cara Yeah, I find that not only repulsive, but also ignorant. It's just not smart. They should know better about entrenching biases. Well, as Christians and atheists alike point out, just because you're atheist doesn't make you moral/humanist- that's another step. There are atheists with authoritarian streaks and empathy deficits too.

"religion is SOOO convenient! If you just follow a few rules, then you end up in eternal paradise. PUH-LEEEZ!"- Cara

What kills me is it is not even about your actions/morality as much as it is about asserting a belief via faith that none of us have evidence for. Since we know that true belief is not a choice, this amounts to playing the role of 'a believer.' THIS is what gets you into heaven? Really?! According to some Christian philosophers, this is how we start being a Christian, then eventually (or immediately) it supposedly happens for real. But you never really transcend 'playing the role' IMO.

@Kir I think it has to do with insecurity, yes, but especially insecurity about in-group acceptance (see Scott Atran's work about 'sacred values' there are some great recent podcasts on POI that discuss this with him, as well as George Lakoff, and Dan Kahan). As you said, we use confirmation bias and other biases to perpetuate delusions... It's never going to totally go away, even if there are better and worse periods, as the traits that perpetuate religion are selected traits. What's important is to perpetuate science and skeptical thinking, as those CAN go away (because they're not intuitive) and HAVE gone away. That's scary.

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 6, 2012 at 4:57pm



Your juxtaposition of the atheist experience with that of the adherent is telling. I also think people will tend to believe what's convenient. So, maybe I'm too idealistic but I think the key question is what is meant by "convenient".

... people only want to believe what's convenient.

In your case, you are believing what is inconvenient. But you are the free thinker with curiosity. So, this makes sense. But the adherent lives in a common, homogeneous social and cultural support structure that assuages their fears and heartaches.  

... I miss ....

You miss the very things the adherent doesn't want to give up, it seems. Studies consistently show that a person is considerably more likely to believe a falsehood when everyone around them also believes it. This is all that is happening, imo. The pressure to remain within the group is strong.

For the same reasons you gave, I think, they are afraid to consider anything else. They don't want to be where you are. So they just believe.

And, again, I may be too idealistic, but for the deconverter I think he or she has to address the issue of the social support structure to be successful. These people need *a lot* of help to break free of this social network before they can even begin to think clearly


- kk

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 6, 2012 at 5:02pm



@Kir I think it has to do with insecurity, yes, but especially insecurity about in-group acceptance (see Scott Atran's work about 'sacred values' there are some great recent podcasts on POI that discuss this with him, as well as George Lakoff, and Dan Kahan).


Very Interesting. Yea, my understanding is that fear of rejection, particularly of those closest to you, is the greatest source of emotional insecurity. And thanks for the refs, I'm going to check those out.


As you said, we use confirmation bias and other biases to perpetuate delusions... It's never going to totally go away, even if there are better and worse periods, as the traits that perpetuate religion are selected traits. What's important is to perpetuate science and skeptical thinking, as those CAN go away (because they're not intuitive) and HAVE gone away. That's scary.


That is scary ... in fact, it is what makes me so interested in deconversion. I think this is Humanity's Achille's heel and it's going to kill us off if we don't do something about it.


- kk

Comment by Andrew Viceroy on January 6, 2012 at 5:08pm

I think Tom is right: atheism is perceived as contagious.

There is a point when it is pointless to go on too. Wanna talk about frustrating: I had long intense email discussions for 7 years with my Fundy father that consumed countless hours of frustration and heartache only to get an email from him last summer saying something to the effect of "I never actually read your replies all these years. Once I determined if they were negative [whatever that means!] I deleted them or ignored them." As if I didn't notice, but that he freely admitted this kind of wilfull ignorance after I spent so much painful time trying to explain why I lost my faith and to explain the evidence and arguments in philosophy, not to mention how I was suicidal for years when I was Christian because of the guilt of my being a worm (what Nietzsche called 'bad conscience') just.... was too much for me. At that point it was over. This is still emotionally fresh with me and perhaps why Cara's post really hit home. We don't talk about it anymore... because I guess you could say... we never really talked about it anyway.

Comment by CJoe on January 6, 2012 at 5:32pm

Ouch, Andrew... that would really make me angry, and hurt deeply. I have a feeling my mom has done something like that herself, at least when we've emailed. She gets so emotionally riled that she doesn't take in anything I say or type. But your dad admitted he didn't read what you painstakingly wrote? Okay... I get that if it's just a friend, but... I did think my mother would want to know "why". Just like your dad, she doesn't really want to know why. She's just going to keep praying for me. Seven years of writing is such a long time though. How awful of him.

Comment by Andrew Viceroy on January 6, 2012 at 5:51pm

@Cara Yeah, that's what I wrote in a reply email that is still sitting in my Drafts box 7 months later. "I guess you really don't want to understand me, you just want to get your way." It's pointless to go on with him until he's ready and the hard truth is that he may never be ready and will probably die over the next decade or so (he's 69) and that will be it.

As Tanner Edis wrote, belief is rationally chosen in the consumer sense, and as a consumer in the marketplace of ideas, it makes more sense to him to ride out this belief 'til the end, even if it estranges me to some very tangible extent. We try to continue connecting and avoiding religion now, but his distrust of me creeps back in, just as it did a few days ago when he totally laid in to me over nothing as "always having to be right- I bet people hang up on you, etc..." Even the most tenuous connection of any opinion I offer, say a politcal or psychological or even artistic opinion can be traced back to some extrapolation of my religious views. I've been blamed for 'trying to sneak it in' too.

So, one thing I have learned is that even when a believer and skeptic 'agree to disagree' it doesn't ever completely go away and is sometimes actually still very salient.

Comment by Andrew Viceroy on January 6, 2012 at 5:57pm

Yeah, you cannot imagine how much work I put into my responses, collecting resources, anticipating rebutals. Of course, so often he would say something I completely addressed and I would ask if he read what I just wrote and he would change the subject. I think he did read more than he admits and was trying to hurt my feelings (as he even said he thought I was in league with 'the devil' a few times). Ugh. Anyway... Pascal's Wager sold to another victim. Not much I can do now.

Comment by Andrew Viceroy on January 6, 2012 at 6:07pm

@Kir Yeah as Robert McCauly recently pointed out, we have to work very hard at perpetuating the kind social paradigm that engenders a scientific community. It can dissolve more easily than we think. I was listening to Richard Carrier on Conversations for The Pale Blue Dot podcast recently talking about how Christianity (wasn't necessarily the initial cause of, but) perpetuated the great loss of knowledge in the Dark Ages. He offers a sound rebuttal to the notion that Christianity invented physics, has always been pro-science- even responsible for it, etc.

Anyway, back to the point of this thread. If we can't talk about religion with some people for some reason, we can debate the value of skepticism epistemologically (methodological naturalism). Perhaps that will help erode cognitive dissonance over time as it is further and further habitualized.

Comment by Tom Margolis on January 6, 2012 at 6:29pm

If you want to talk about religion with a devout Christian, talk about Hinduism.  I'm sure the Christian will tear Hinduism apart for its irrationality, its basis in a semi-historical collection of fantastic tales, its internal inconsistency, and so forth.

Everyone is an atheist about some god or another.


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