De-Converting? Embrace Nietzsche’s “Say Yes to Life!”

March 18, 2008 at 10:36 am 41 comments

Yes-1As mentioned in my previous post, God, Zombies, and the Meaning of Life, when I was in the long process of leaving Christianity, one of the most overriding questions on my mind was this: if there is no God, what meaning is there in life? Christianity, as we all know, teaches that the saved are integral players in a grand cosmic drama, the unfolding of the telos of all Creation. Giving up on that illusion is, to say the least, jarring. It cannot help but leave one wondering how one’s life can have meaning at all, if it is not given from on high.

More psychologically minded individuals may reflect on a deeper way in which Christianity seems to provide the meaning in life. Children learn that they are important, that they matter, just by being seen – i.e., acknowledged and attended to – by their parents. Hopefully, of course, that attention will be loving and positive. But even if the attention is negative, critical, or even abusive, it is, from the child’s point of view, usually better than being ignored. Children will almost invariably prefer any attention to no attention, because that says that they are at least worth criticizing. So it is not hard to imagine how simply being seen by God is enough, in and of itself, to infuse one’s life with meaning and a sense of worth. It’s how many people support their feeling that they are valuable: you matter because God takes note of you. Giving up God, then, is clearly – viewed from this additional perspective – a powerful loss.

I suspect that, probably, for these and other reasons, almost all those who leave fundamentalism must struggle with these questions of the meaning of life, and meaning in life, to some degree. For me, though, for whatever reason, they were paramount and decisive. I had to find some resolution in order to move through the process at all. So I did what I am good at, as a nerdy, bookish, science fiction geek: I read.

The answer that I first came upon, came from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche struggled mightily with this question himself, and indeed, his whole corpus of work can be understood as an answer to this question, why is life worth living? He understood what the “death of God” meant, emotionally – the fear that, since all values were thought to emanate from God, we no longer can justify, or “ground”, any values at all. God tells us what is Good, and what our purpose is. This nihilism, the feeling that if there is no God then nothing matters, was for him the ultimate threat, and something to be overcome – in fact, the most important thing.

Although this topic could (and has) been the focus of entire books, in brief, Nietzsche’s solution was, as his slogan had it, “Say Yes to life”. It was a raw, naked affirmation of life itself, on its own terms, with no qualifications. Life is its own ground of value. He counseled immersion in the flow of life, and embrace of life in all its sublime beauty as well as its ugliness and pain, as the truly courageous way to live. For us as creatures, life is (at least in part) a struggle to overcome obstacles in order to live, and the groundlessness of our lives was, for Nietzsche, just another one of those obstacles. It was indeed an invitation to self-creation. In other words, he taught that an assertion of the will – life will have meaning because I will create it – would compensate for the many sorrows of life, including (and especially) the loss of God itself. For Nietasche, living well is its own justification, no matter what pain or emptiness may come. In his main work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, his alter ego Zarathustra beautifully puts it: “I carry the blessings of my yes into all abysses… and blessed is he who blesses thus.”

Later existentialists took up this theme, how to create meaning in a universe that was neither made for us nor answers to our needs… including our need for meaning. They refined Nietzsche’s answer, and pointed out the individual, particular ways humans can and do routinely create meaning for themselves — self-expression, for example. And indeed, I myself found that my own meanings eventually expanded, after I finally left the Christian faith. “Saying yes to life” for me meant, initially, the exploration of life, making up for lost time so to speak, from all those years spent as a neurotic fundamentalist. I wanted to taste life in all its forms and in all its experiences — to “suck the marrow from life”, as Thoreau had put it. I developed friendships with non-Christians, I traveled, I explored new foods, I learned about wine (I had never drunk much as a Christian), I started dating (I had never dated much as a Christian, either), I explored ideas I had never allowed myself to consider (like Nietzsche’s!), I learned about other religions, and more. Just going out dancing was one of the highlights of that time of my life.

In short, the main theme, for me, for these many years of my life, was: the world is good, and beautiful, and that is why life is worth living.

- Richard

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God, Zombies, and the Meaning of Life The 10 Commandments are an extremely weak basis for morality

41 Comments Add your own

  • 1. the chaplain  |  March 18, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Another good post. It’s sad to think of all the wonderful, enriching experiences that believers of many faiths deny themselves. The world and its people are rich with opportunities and ideas to explore. And yet, so many religions say, “Do not touch,” “Do not taste,” Do not feel,” “Do not see”…. It’s such a shame to waste the only life one will ever live living in fear of the things that make life worth living.

  • 2. Cthulhu  |  March 18, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    the world is good, and beautiful, and that is why life is worth living.

    Indeed…that is enough for me.

  • 3. Adam  |  March 18, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I find this question fascinating and frustrating. On an emotional level–I haven’t really “thought it through” intellectually–I want to turn it around on the Christian. In Christianity, God and Jesus suck the meaning OUT of life. The get literally ALL the “glory.” All the attention of the Christian is pulled toward these fantasy characters, away from the many details of existence that give it meaning. As Christianity increases, “the world” and worldly things–where meaning is found–decrease.

    I really can’t see how Christianity can claim to ADD meaning to life at all. What It adds is comfortable nonsense and distraction.

  • 4. ED  |  March 18, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    If the poles of our existence are ultimately from nothingness to nothingness, from insignificance to insignificance, from meaninglessness to meaninglessness, then yes, the loss of the ultimacy of God means that we cannot possibly have any ultimate significance or meaning now.

    However, the proposition that I cannot have ultimate meaning in the scope of the universe does not mean that I cannot have significance or meaning. In one sense, life, family and relationships becomes even more precious. Also, holding on to false beliefs doesn’t add significance or meaning. Their are still only two ultimate realities: either there is a self-existent eternal universe or there is a self-existent eternal creator.

    Since the evidence for the later is not sufficient for me to embrace a biblical concept of God, my recourse is to find significance and meaning in the enjoyment of my life and family and the wonder of the universe around me.

  • 5. Richard  |  March 18, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    ED-
    Exactly. The loss of “Ultimacy” is a real loss- but once we mourn that loss, and let go of the fantasy and wish for what does not exist, then we can focus on what we *do* have — and for most people, I think, that will turn out to be enough. As you said, it makes life all the more precious.

    Just like the man in MacCarthy’s novel — his son is all the meaning he needs. That is what most of us find. Once we quit trying to see ourselves from the vantage point of God, we can pay attention to our own vantage point.

  • 6. LeoPardus  |  March 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    “Saying yes to life” for me meant, initially, the exploration of life

    I liked this (and the previous) post. The statement above was particularly pertinent to me as a biologist. Of course I love just learning about all sorts of other things too. [One of my life goals: Learn everything. It's a great goal, 'cause you can spend a whole life working on it. :)]

  • 7. HeIsSailing  |  March 18, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I’m just a maid, but Yes to food is Yes to life.

  • 8. Thinking Ape  |  March 18, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Another excellent post Richard. I greatly anticipate the pseudo-philosophers to come denounce your Nietzschean modus operandi :P

  • 9. Quester  |  March 18, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Perhaps I’m just strange, or perhaps I have been conditioned by decades of reading speculative fiction where what it means to be human is what almost any book worth reading is about. Either way, the question of meaning never really came up for me. If my life ever had meaning, and God does not exist, then my life still has meaning after I stop believing in what never was. If that meaning is not externally imposed, then it must be internally chosen.

    My life has as much meaning as I give it.

  • 10. karen  |  March 18, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I can so resonate with your thoughts here and before, Richard. Very similar to my own, especially the joy and freedom that comes with letting go the hindrance of religion and being able to explore, dance, pursue goals I’d always secretly held but considered too “selfish” to entertain. Thanks!

  • 11. evanescent  |  March 18, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Hi Richard, I agree with a lot of what you say here. Although I completely reject Nietzsche as a philosopher, the feeling for me was the same when I de-converted, I felt as though my life began then. Funnily enough, ever since then, (5 and a half years ago), my friends get me a birthday card with 5 on it! So I’ll be six next year. It’s quite funny to see a grown man walking around with a birthday badge saying “I’m 5 today!” on it. But the meaning is quite poignant I think.

    As you know, I think Ayn Rand’s philosophy provides all the philosophical answers, and also shows that man is a courageous being of moral worth and virtue, and is efficacious in achieving his own happiness by his own productive effort.

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  March 18, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    If my life ever had meaning, and God does not exist, then my life still has meaning after I stop believing in what never was.

    Trying to follow this logic chain out more fully.

    If my life had meaning when I believed in God,
    and God does exist,
    and God gave my life meaning,
    then my life still has meaning,
    and God is still the one giving it meaning,
    even if I don’t believe in Him.

    If my life had meaning when I believed in God,
    and God does not exist,
    then my life has intrinsic meaning,
    and my life still has intrinsic meaning,
    but God is not the one giving it meaning,
    it was intrinsic all along.

    If my life (or anyone else’s) has no meaning without God,
    and God does not exist,
    then my life (or anyone else’s) still has no meaning,
    ’cause there’s no one to give it meaning,
    no matter what anyone believes in,
    and, in this case, I can make my own meaning.

    SO

    Either God gives meaning to life,
    OR life has intrinsic meaning,
    OR we make our own meaning to life,
    and in any case,
    either our life has meaning,
    or we give it meaning,
    whether there’s a God or not,
    and whether we believe in Him or not.

    Of course I’ve left out the possibility that
    God gives life meaning only if you believe in Him,
    and takes it away if you don’t believe.
    In which case I suppose you’d have to believe in the real/true/correct God.
    Else you’re sceereeeewed,
    and God’s a rather nasty character.

    OK. Enough first order logic exercises for now.

  • [...] I like Richard’s post on this subject, so I can just point at it and say “me too”. « Strange speech [...]

  • 14. evanescent  |  March 18, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    I really wish those who were struggling to come to terms with their life could read more what de-convertees have to say, and they’d see that not only is there nothing to fear and nothing to feel lonely about, but a whole new life of opportunity and happiness awaits them.

    I wish I could download my experiences (some of them anyway) into the heads of people I care about who believe, not in an attempt to force them into doing anything, but so that they can understand in an instant why it’s all a big lie and a waste of time, and what they’re missing out on.

  • 15. Quester  |  March 18, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    LeoPardus,

    Yeah, pretty much. Thanks for spelling it out. As for the last option, I’m not going to stay awake nights worrying about it.

  • 16. Yurka  |  March 18, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I wish I could download my experiences (some of them anyway) into the heads of people I care about who believe, not in an attempt to force them into doing anything, but so that they can understand in an instant why it’s all a big lie and a waste of time, and what they’re missing out on.

    evanescent, this is an admission you only have a feeling (albeit strong), but not a reason to believe as you do. Why can you not articulate those experiences? C.S. Lewis summed up the problem:

    “But the doctrine of Satan’s existence and fall is not among the things we know to be untrue: it contradicts not the facts discovered by scientists but the mere, vague “climate of opinion” that we happen to be living in. Now I take a very low view of “climates of opinion.” In his own subject every man knows that all discoveries are made and all errors corrected by those who ignore the “climate of opinion.” (Problem of Pain).
    He also discusses the limitation of this thinking in the last few chapters of ‘Miracles’. Many things seem incredible even though we know they are true.

    LeoPardus, your life indeed will have a ‘meaning’ (in the sense of enacting God’s purpose) whether you believe or not. Whether you rebel or obey. Consider, as C.S. Lewis said, you can either serve God as a son, or a tool:

    Acts 4:
    27For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,
    28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

  • 17. Yurka  |  March 18, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Chaplain #1, by quoting scripture, you’ve shown how ascetics have misinterpreted Scripture, you haven’t that Christianity leads to an impoverishment of experience.

    Richard, you may be acquainted with Nietzsche’s philosophy, but how did that play out in practice? The end of his life was horrible – it may even have drove him to believe he was Jesus.

  • 18. Quester  |  March 18, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Yurka,

    The very existence of this blog you post on shows that people can express their reasons to leave or stay away from various theistic interpretations of reality, including Christianity.

    Secondly, if having a horrible end to your life and believing you are the son of God are signs that your philosophical approach to life are a practical failure, what does that say about Jesus?

  • 19. Thinking Ape  |  March 18, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Yurka,

    Richard, you may be acquainted with Nietzsche’s philosophy, but how did that play out in practice? The end of his life was horrible – it may even have drove him to believe he was Jesus.

    I must not only second Quester’s comment about the end of Jesus’ life, but also must ask about the many Christians who have been inflicted with legitimate mental diseases, as Nietzsche was – does this discredit their entire belief system?
    And don’t bother smearing that Christian campaign about Nietzsche believing he was Jesus – that is as bad as the ol’ Darwin renouncing evolution slander. Every student of philosophy who has done any surmountable research on Nietzsche and Christianity can tell you that Nietzsche saw Jesus, whether he agreed with him or not, as a possible ubermensch, something that he himself never claims to be. The last Christian, Nietzsche proclaims, died on the cross two thousand years ago.

  • 20. Richard  |  March 19, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Yurka, you said: Richard, you may be acquainted with Nietzsche’s philosophy, but how did that play out in practice? The end of his life was horrible – it may even have drove him to believe he was Jesus.

    Im happy to answer. First, beware the mystique that Nietzsche thoughts were so dark it drove him insane. He actually had neurosyphillis, probably, and developed clinical dementia/psychosis.

    Nietzsche was helpful to me because he understood why the “death of God” hurt. He understood what God *meant*, and right there that separates him from other atheists (one think of Bertran Russell and, recently, Richard Dawkins) for whom God is a hypothesis which is either supported or not, next question. But to many of us God was much more than that, and Nietzsche understood why.

    I admired his courage and willingness to tolerate the anxiety and pain that came with giving up belief in God. He showed me it could be done, and it would not destroy you, and you could be joyful and love life nonetheless. Nietzsche passionately loved life, despite all his many hardships (he was a very sickly man, physically).

    Finally, Nietzsche model for spiritual health, rooted in “beyond good and evil”, by which he meant a break from traditional conceptions of morality, to be replaced with something more akin to healthy vs unhealthy. It is another myth that he proposed cruelty and violence (though, to be fair, he can be read that way). What he wanted was for us to be courageous, joyful, healthy and vigorous — and to do good from a place of strength, not fear or impotence. One of my favorite aphorisms from him comes from his character Zarathustra : “Of all evil I deem you capable — therefore I want the good from you.”

    This is a scary saying, in a way, but I do think hes right, in a way. He’s pointing up the need to integrate all aspects of the self, including those conservative religion deems bad/sinful/prideful, and to *use* that power to do right. Are you meek because you are afraid to be anything else? Or are you meek because you are confident in yourself and do not *need* to boast? Thats a Nietzschean question.

  • 21. Richard  |  March 19, 2008 at 1:17 am

    evanescent – I agree with your conclusion (ie., “man is a courageous being..”), just not how you got there. After my experience with fundamentalism, I am very uncomfortable with any system of thought that claims to have “all the answers”, or if I find *myself* believing something has all the answers. My position is more existentialist: there is no system that has all the answers. Life is complex and gray and messy. And actually, Ive come to like it that way!

  • 22. ED  |  March 19, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Nietzsche’s famous declaration, “God is dead,” was not the first time that sentiment was verbalized, Martin Luther three centuries prior said it. (No Excuses, Professor Robert Soloman) Existentialism is not an exclusively atheistic philosophy, Soren Kierkegaard was piously religious. Existentialism is best thought of as a movement, a sensibility that can be traced throughout the history of western philosophy.
    Three themes pervade existentialism.
    #1 A strong emphasis on the individual.
    #2 The central role of the passions ( Passionate commitment.)
    #3 The importance of human freedom.

    For many who have been exposed to the various abuses of “fundamentalism,” existentialism offers a refreshing respite. Fundamentalism, especially legalistic forms are so stifling and censorious that once a person breaks free from its grasp it is very easy for them to become hostile toward those former religious institutions. Been there, done that, got a t-shirt.

  • 23. LeoPardus  |  March 19, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Noting that much of this thread is about existentialism, I recall that I used to say that if I ever gave up the faith, I’d probably go in for existentialism. Guess what I went in for (more or less)? :)

    I also recall thinking that if I had to pick another religion, it would be Taoism. Y’all notice where my avatar icon derives from?

    Gee, I’m a prophet after all.

  • 24. karen  |  March 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Gee, I’m a prophet after all.

    And an accurate one, at that! ;-)

    To add a bit more here, it’s interesting to think about some of these early intuitions we deconverts may have had about ourselves, long before deconversion – which of course would’ve been the last thing on all of our minds!

    Yet, I’ve realized that for much of my life I used to joke about having a “mother of all midlife crises” one day. I was halfway being funny and halfway articulating my uneasy realization that I had used fundamentalism to avoid doing the work of personal discovery that most people do in their adolescent and young adult years. It’s weird to me how the thing I joked about actually happened, and weirder to think that I somehow deep down knew it would.

    I’m not claiming the prompting of the holy spirit, or prophecy, or anything supernatural – just that possibly I knew myself better on an intuitive level than I realized way back when.

  • 25. notabarbie  |  March 20, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Great post Richard, as usual. I didn’t realize how much of life I was holding myself back from, when I was in the fundie mindset, until I let go of those constraints. I kept myself from wonderful literature, art and even people. Now, I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, who stepped out of her house from Kansas and into a brilliantly colorful world. I don’t sit and wait for a heaven that doesn’t exist. I live my life NOW, believing that I’m the only one responsible for making it what it is.

    Karen – AMEN! Since my de-conversion, I have been accused of suffering from a mid life crisis–among other things, but I kept thinking, why is it that when women begin to think and act in a way that goes against the status quo, our hormones are always to blame? I didn’t have a mid life crisis. I had a mid life epiphany…and thank goodness I did!

  • 26. karen  |  March 20, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Now, I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, who stepped out of her house from Kansas and into a brilliantly colorful world.

    My therapist gave me a similar thought picture and it continues to resonate with me. I picture living for years inside a small cardboard shack, perfectly happy and cozy, but never realizing that there was a whole beautiful world outside. Then one day, who knows how, a tiny crack developed in a wall and the sun came streaming in. From then on, it was only a matter of my having the courage to gradually enlarge the hole, then poke my head out, then take that first step outside and the rest was history. :-)

    I didn’t have a mid life crisis. I had a mid life epiphany…and thank goodness I did!

    That’s great! I’m going to have to use that one.

  • 27. HeIsSailing  |  March 20, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    notobarbie:
    “Since my de-conversion, I have been accused of suffering from a mid life crisis–among other things,…”

    NO WAY! Not you too? My old pastor’s wife works with my wife (RoseMary), so of course I am often the topic of discussion. Pastor’s wife wondered if my loss of faith was due to a ‘mid-life’ crisis? This gave RoseMary a good chuckle.

    But seriously though, this made me think. I am 44 now, at the age where the inevitable end of my life is visible before me. It is a reality that I think I must come to grips with. I can either be depressed, or as Richard says, say ‘Yes’ to life. I think I have successfully chosen to live my life with the later mindset. My life is truly great and RoseMary and I have a great life together. But did my age help lead to my de-conversion? I think it is possible. As I get older, I guess I have to decide what I want with the rest of my ever-shortening life. And I suppose deep down inside of me, without my even being aware, age leads to wisdom and that lead to shedding the old baggage of religion and facing what I perceive as reality.

    Christians often accuse atheists of living for self, as if that is a bad thing. But deep down, it *is* what I want. It is what everybody wants, whether they admit it or not. Of course I am not talking about a hedonistic lifestyle; that is absurd. I am talking about, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes, ‘eating drinking being merry, for tomorrow we die’. I want to make the best of this life while I can, because I am convinced this is it. I have fulfilled so many of my dreams and ambitions, and I want to now live to help RoseMary fulfill hers. In Christian’s eyes, this is wrong. No. This is the life we are stuck with. Facing that is bracing. It is sobering. It is exhilerating. It is liberating.

    It is freedom.

    If that mindset is due to a midlife crisis – hey, I will accept that.

  • 28. Richard  |  March 20, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    HIS, Karen, and others-

    I couldnt agree more! You all have expressed exatctly the sentiment I was going for. Many existentialist thinkers have taught that it is precisely the confrontation with what they call “death” — mortality, finitude — that saves us. It makes us aware of both the indescribable preciousness of life, now. It makes us aware that life is to be lived and tasted, *now.* We cannot defer it forever. Lost opportunities are forever lost. No one is going to make it up to us. It is, as HIS said, sobering.

    That is why it seemed so important to me to make up for lost time, so to speak, for all those years spent writhing in fundamentalist neuroticism. Luckily, I was only in my twenties when I “saw the light” (har!) streaming through the cracks of my own cardboard box. It still felt like many wasted years of misery, though. I supposed writing these essays, getting informaiton and ideas and resources out there for others to use, as they start to peek out of the fundamentalist box, is my way of giving back.

    Don Cupitt has one of my favorite phrases — Life is a Gift without a Giver. I think it is no less precious for not having one. In fact, it is more.

  • 29. ED  |  March 20, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Religion’s hold on us as people, society and culture is due, I think for the most part, because we are immersed from our birth in its centrality to everything that we perceive and believe as normal. Religion is a tapestry, a fabric woven into the soul of our perception of what it means to be human, ethical and whole. For those who do not dare to question what they believe, it is incomprehensible that anyone would. For those who relentlessly in pursue truth at all cost, who finally stand outside religions grasp, looking back is tantamount to reading Plato’s, “Myth of the cave” for the first time and understanding the liberation and fear of freedom.

  • 30. Cthulhu  |  March 20, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    HelsSailing #27

    Christians often accuse atheists of living for self, as if that is a bad thing. But deep down, it *is* what I want. It is what everybody wants, whether they admit it or not. Of course I am not talking about a hedonistic lifestyle; that is absurd. I am talking about, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes, ‘eating drinking being merry, for tomorrow we die’. I want to make the best of this life while I can, because I am convinced this is it. I have fulfilled so many of my dreams and ambitions, and I want to now live to help RoseMary fulfill hers. In Christian’s eyes, this is wrong. No. This is the life we are stuck with. Facing that is bracing. It is sobering. It is exhilerating. It is liberating.

    It is freedom.

    Well said – I released myself from the lies at the age of 45 and my only regrets are for the first 44 years I wasted.

  • 31. finallyhappy  |  August 21, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    I know this post is a bit late in the game, but I just stumbled across this article–very beautifully written. I never knew such freedom, to just be exactly who I was, existed until leaving christianity.

  • 32. DeeVee  |  August 31, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I loved your story of embracing life after your de-conversion. In doing therapy with people who were suicidal…and also religious, and also claiming there was a god, I found it confounding for one to become suicidal, since god had a plan for each one of us. The problem was that “plan” from god wasn’t forthcoming, which caused the religious person to feel bereft and abandoned by god.

    So, then how did I construct a therapy, or a personal philosophy in which a person “lived for themselves,” and NOT for god. As a good researcher, I looked at what organisms and entities did NOT commit suicide.

    Highly socialized Primate sdo not commit suicide, and wolves do not commit suicide. Even nonsocialized animals such as tigers and leopards who are loners do not commit suicide. Why was that?

    I think that such animals do not commit suicide, because they do not have a forebrain which allows them to live in a world of fantasy and imagination. Religion and beliefs are the stuff of fantasy and imagination. Therefore, nonHuman species do not have to function, and cannot function on that level…leaving them to get down to the business of surviving, breeding, enjoying a full belly, playing with their mates and babies. I’ve been to Africa and seen a pride of lions all with full bellies and they are very happy animals.

    After reading Carl Sagan’s “Dragons of Eden” in which Sagan describes the evolution of the brain and finding out that we all have reptile brains, a mammalian brain, a primate brain, and finally a human cortex…I figured out that the trick to life is to get back to our more primitive brains in which we can enjoy life for what it is, in the moment, in that experience….and not be acculturated to “live for a reason.”

    I know some people object to Ayn Rand’s objectivism, but that also helped me…in that Rand said, “live for yourself.” You are what’s important. That does not mean to be mean, hateful, selfish, a criminal, or some kind of psychopath who hurts other people. Just the opposite: In order to live a good life, one has to be mindful of the consequences of one’s actions toward themselves and others…meaning, that one is kind, because it feels good. One does not commit crimes, because being arrested and imprisoned does not feel good.

    Therefore, in therapy with suicidal, but religious people, I had them envision what animal they would most like to be. I had them create an inner world in which they were an animal and enjoyed just living, and surviving. My choice was a wolf pack. At times when I became depressed, I imagined myself running with the pack in the moonlight, my paws crunching through a new snow…chasing and killing prey. The thrill of the hunt was exillerating. Thus, I became grounded and in touch with my animal brain…leaving the parts of my brain that dealt with religious fantasies, guilt, and shame all created by culture to control human beings…out of the loop.

    It worked for me and many of my patients. I could actually see my patients become more grounded, more “solid”…and more in touch with “life” and not the fantasy world of religious guilt, shame, and depression.

    There are some offshoots of this kind of therapy, such as “primal and scream therapy, and rebirthing techniques” but I don’t think that really touches the subject on a neurological level, in that we continue to have the “other brains” …still resident underneath the “human brain,”…which is immediately accessable.

    I’ve since looked at many movies in which there is always a story of survival and beating the odds, and defeating evil forces, and so on. Meaning, that I think that many people watch such movies in order to get in touch with their animal brains. The problem is that there is not an official link up between getting in touch with our animal brain and enjoying the moment….and mental health.

    Nietsche was right….however, his quest and concern for the “meaning of life” indicates how much he was seriously abused and indoctrinated by religion before he became an atheist to the point that the “meaning of life” became a life long quest outside of religion.

    I find the “meaning of life” simple…just live and enjoy yourself. If you are not enjoying yourself, then something is wrong…and its your job to fix it.

    The first thing a person has to fix…is to become aware of and remove all religious, utoptian, unrealistic, un natural, bizarre, nonconsequential, and magical thoughts and beliefs out of one’s personality. In that vein, Ayn Rand was right.

    Life is a fun, its interesting, it can be planned and controlled…if one is cognizant of how to “think,” as opposed to “believing” that god or some lottery ticket, or a loved one, is going to change one’s life.

    Having a good life, and enjoying one’s self, in just being alive and in the moment is also about self confidence. Unfortunately, religion brainwashes people into being unhappy. Babires are most often “born happy,” and it is both religion and culture that brainwashes children and adults into NOT being happy.

    Too many religions I found in my work…teach, that you are NOT a good person, unless you suffer. After all, jesus suffered and died for you, so you too must suffer and sacrifice yourself to be a good person. What total poppycock.

    Am I being too simplistic?

    DeeVee

  • 33. DeeVee  |  August 31, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I apologize for the spelling errors and so on, but I have poor vision even with glasses, and I can’t often see my mistakes to fix them. I am sure you understand…hugs, DeeVee

  • 34. Richard  |  September 2, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    DeeVee-

    Your post hit home with me, and it accords very well with my own views about fundamentalist religion, my own experience in psychotherapy, and my work with my own patients.

    I think that fundamentalist Christianity works, at least in part, by alienating individuals from part of their own private experience. In short, it labels some emotions, thoughts, and experiences as “bad” – think of Jesus’ teaching (in Matthew?) about lust or anger. To feel an emotion is to sin. Well, then, we all must be sinners, right?

    And since no one can control their emotions and, mostly, we can’t really control (or suppress) our thoughts either, then we cant help but sin.

    If we truly become convinced that these things are true – i.e., that negative emotion is indeed sinful – then how can we not need the cure that Christianity offers? In labeling a part of the self that cannot be expunged, “bad” and “sinful”, it creates a trap.

    The solution, simply put (I think – and no I don’t think you’re being simplistic, I think youre dead on) is to learn to accept those parts of the self. Having “selfish” thoughts doesn’t make you bad. Feeling anger or lust or envy or greed or malice or whatever doesn’t make you bad either. I think many people find that once they accept those parts of themselves, they quit obsessing about them.

    Have you ever come across a form of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)? I had some exposure to this as a resident but now Im reading the book about it by Steven Hayes. It accords very well with what we’re talking about, but – interestingly – it comes at this from a strict behavioral perspective! From complex arrangements of stimulus-response + language you can construct most human experience, according to this view, and language itself emerges as a culprit that drives much human misery. He says its very hard (or impossible) to not continually evaluate and judge our experience. The solution, according to Hayes, is (like you said) a re-focus on immediate experience without (or without attending to) all the evaluative statement s that always run through our minds.

    So, anyway, I agree with you and I thank you for your post. Part of de-converting is learning to crawl out from under the crush of religiously-learned evaluations and judgments and simply accepting life on its own terms. I.e., saying Yes to life!

    Richard

  • 35. Obi  |  September 2, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Religion is the doctor who creates fake diseases by way of combining words gained from throwing darts at words on a corkboard, diagnosing you with them, and then mysteriously being the only physician in town who can treat them.

  • 36. Richard  |  September 2, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Obi- Roughly put, but I agree. The trick is to figure out exactly how they manage to convince so many people that they are sick. No single, literal, human doctor has that sort of power.

  • 37. truthseeker68  |  September 4, 2008 at 8:17 am

    I don’t know what kind of a “christian” life you led becuase I’ve been a christian all my life and I enjoy life a great deal. God is the author of pleasure. He gives us sex, His idea, for our ultimate happiness, but He laid down the laws to govern everyone’s happiness, not to rob us of our joys. He gave us the faculty called the brain/mind, He gave us this wonderful planet with it’s ability to preserve human life as well as sooooo much to enjoy. You must have been a really “stuck up” christian. Like the devil, you are now “independent” and “free” to “enjoy” life. I beg to differ. You have only short-circuited your many blessings. Even sin is considered “pleasurable” but only for a season. Yes, you can enjoy somethings physically up to a certain point/time but if that’s all you want life to mean to you, then that’s all you’ll get. For me, I’ve dealt with happiness, sorrows, joy, pain and I’ve leant on God through every cycle and came out more and more purposeful. To think you can do dismiss God is the exact reason God is not directly involved with running things hands-on. He’s giving man sufficient time to prove that when we dismiss Him as our Leader, eventually we will reach a point when we can destroy ourselves through our self absorbed way of living, eg nuclear weapons???

  • 38. AJ25  |  October 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I know this is an old thread- but I’m writing a paper on this and I thought I’d add my two cents.

    Read Traherne.

    God wants you to be happy.
    God made the world for you to enjoy it.
    As a Christian, you should take full advantage of life- you should not put yourself in a dark corner and think that you are living life just so you can die and go to heaven and finally be happy.
    You just have to know the difference between the right and wrong kinds of happiness. Don’t find joy in sin but find joy in beauty. Know what I mean? But as a Christian- you should be constantly happy or constantly searching for happiness. If you’re not doing that, you are doing something wrong. You are living only to die. You are not fulfilling God’s will for you (felicity). I mean- he created the world for humanity. He created the world to revolve around and work for us. He WANTS you to recognize that and use that so you can glorify him. You are a ruling creature in creation- and God made it that way. He loves that you’re happy. He hates when you’re miserable. He get’s no pleasure in it whatsoever. That’s why you should find God again, because you are to love the world- even the man who does wicked deeds- you should love him because he is created in God’s image. That is reason enough to be in love with the world. Don’t forget it.

  • 39. LeoPardus  |  October 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Post 38: Another DISC post.

    DISC: Drug-induced stream of consciousness.

  • 40. jones  |  March 28, 2011 at 8:01 pm

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  • 41. jeremy  |  April 8, 2011 at 8:33 am

    KGbNi4 http://dhY3n0fjvTtj48mG9sFnCv.com

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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