Posts tagged ‘deconversion’
In Part I, I discussed the fragility of human cognition, and the myth of the virtue of faith. There remains one more important question. Why do so many people believe in a personal god?
Nearly all religions posit a “god-size” hole of the psyche that only their respective god can feel. However, a careful examination of this hole reveals it to be merely a natural human disposition to have certain emotions that scream for attention and resolution. I’ll try to address the most important.
An aversion to not knowing.
We have an intense drive to explain our world. This emotional intensity causes many to assume that there are answers and that they deserve access to those answers. These conclusions do not follow. Simply having the ability to ask a question does not in any way require that there is an answer and that you have the ability to discover and comprehend the answer. However, religionists assume that they must have access to any question that appears meaningful to them. This does not follow. It may be that we may never have answers to questions that disturb us. This is anathema to many religionists.
Need for significance.
We are all born with the need for significance. This is, however, an emotion, and it does not follow that personal significance exists simply because we feel it must. Successful religions offer significance by typically positioning the believer in a privileged relationship with a god. This emotion, however, does not in anyway validate the existence of a god that bestows significance. The truth may be that we have no significance. We must start our inquiry into truth without the assumption of an objective personal significance. As an added note, this sense of a grand cosmological significance is exhibited as arrogance equally among faiths. If you suppose you are in constant communion with god, it is not at all difficult to become condescending to infidels whom you know must be in rebellion against god…
I have recently been asked by several individuals to detail the reasons behind my de-conversion from Christianity to my current position of agnosticism. As a preface to this, I’d like to state my general disposition towards Christianity.
I spent over 25 years as a Christian, and for most of those years I was quite happy. I forged many significant relationships, and learned much while within a Christian community. I do not feel, as do some non-believers who have never been on the inside, that Christians are, as a whole, evil people intent on forcing their agenda on others. I do, however, believe that most Christians are uninterested in an honest inquiry into what is true due to vested interests of various emotions. I will detail these emotions later.
First, I must comment on what I feel is the greatest overlooked truth when considering knowledge and belief; human minds are not well-equipped to assess what is true. This is in stark contrast to the tacit Christian notion that all truths that matter are immediately accessible to nearly every human without much cognitive effort. Let me elaborate.
Religious sects all around the world subscribe to a set of beliefs that set them apart from other sects. They then claim that these “truths” within their faith are either accessible through common sense, common rationality, or divine revelation. This forces them to conclude that persons in all other sects are self-delusional, and rebelling against the truth that is apparent either through reason or divine revelation. It is assumed that these persons feel some sort of guilt stemming from their rebellion or rejection of truth.
However, this assumption is testable. If Christians were to befriend Muslims, they would discover that this is not true. The Muslims do not possess this sense of guilt, and instead possess the same deep confidence in the tenets of their faith as do Christians. Persons who have spent time among persons of another faith normally do not find people who are evil, bitter and guilty…
On Monday, 12 October, a few days after my 44th birthday, I had surgery on my cervical spine to replace two degenerative discs. This could almost be classed as an emergency surgery since I started having severe pain three weeks prior when my left C7 nerve root became impacted. There were two large left paracentral disc protrusions which caused impingement of the spinal cord. From my initial visits to my doctor, there it was an MRI on the 2nd, consultation w/my doctor on the 5th, consultation with a Neurosurgeon on the 6th, pre-op on the 7th, and surgery on the 12th. Bottom line, it all happened pretty quickly for me. I should note that I have not been in a hospital since birth and have enjoyed a relatively healthy life that has never included this type of pain (I don’t even get headaches).
This is my first crisis since de-conversion and I must say it was a good, solid test of my non-faith. In this blog, we have discussed the fact that dealing with crisis is one of the major reasons humanity has created gods and developed religious beliefs. I was faced with my first challenge of dealing with crisis without having my imaginary deity to run to for security, comfort and the general “it’s going to be alright.”
The other issue I faced was my response to my Christian family and friends. Even though it was difficult at times, I was respectful and said “amen” and “thank you” to the many prayers I received. I realized early on that they needed to say those prayers not to necessarily make me feel better but to allow them to feel secure about my surgery and that I’d be ok. Initially, their prayers were for my healing (I come from a Pentecostal/Charismatic background). I wanted to explain to them that God doesn’t perform these types of miracles (where degenerative discs are regenerated) but I did not. I wanted to explain to them that the only miracles God performs are the once that are scientifically possible (like cancer going into remission, etc.) but, of course, I kept those thoughts to myself. I wanted to challenge them to find ONE instance where an arm or a leg was grown back via a miracle knowing that there are no such cases…
I’ve been reading the comments here lately and I have noticed that a lot of Christian readers say the same things over and over again: “If you REALLY had been a Christian you would have never de-converted.”
Now the details of the statements differ from reader to reader, some saying “if you’d really had faith,” others saying “if you’d really known the love of God,” or “if you’d really read the Bible with an open heart,” “if you really prayed honestly,” or even “if you were a true seeker you would have found the Lord.”
I’ve been struck by another thing recently as well: noticing that many de-converts were formerly in the ministry.
These two things made me think that maybe it’s being TOO dedicated, too devoted, too much a seeker that is the danger.
Here’s what I mean: Maybe we de-converts were more real in our Christianity than the people who can’t believe we eventually rejected “the truth.” We weren’t content with going to church on Sunday and Wednesday, or with going to confession once a week, or with saying our daily prayers and reading the Bible in a year every year — whatever the flavor of true devotion was in our particular version of Christianity.
We wanted more. I know that is true for myself. I wanted to see the power of God, the way it was described in the Bible. I wanted to experience what the apostles experienced on the day of Pentecost. I was hungry for more of God and I read the Bible every day, over and over again in several translations. I worshipped Jesus with all of my heart.
I know whatever I say here won’t convince anyone that I was a “real” Christian…
I put the phone back on the receiver with a hesitant click. Did I really almost end the message with “In Jesus’ name, amen?” Could I seriously be praying too much?
Glancing to the other side of the room I once again fell back into my mind. The thoughts haunted like an itch on the brain that you are desperately trying to scratch, but cannot. Flooding in were the doubts, the questions, the wondering at my every action and thought. Was it a lie if you had honest intentions at the time? Did you need to confess it?
An erection during church service. The horror. Every small slit of cleavage told a story of a young man’s temptation. Except for Mrs. W… I hope God doesn’t put me with a woman like her. How does her husband do it… do her. But God probably will. God knows best and often what we think is best for us is not what is best. Doubtless I would end up with an ugly woman, just so God can teach me how to be thankful for what I have. I wonder if it is all the same in the dark. I wonder what a vagina looks like. What do you call a vagina anyway? I know on men it is called a penis, but dad only explained to me what an erection was and didn’t tell me what sex actually was. I’ll bet I could find a picture of a vagina in the dictionary if I knew what it was called.
Flipping the pages one by one, each one falling with a thump that was only matched by a beat of my heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. B. r. e… a… Jesus wouldn’t want this. Jesus is watching me. Oh, how I love you Jesus, but I am dying of curiosity. A footstep upstairs. What if I was caught with my erection up and my hand on a picture of a naked woman? Lust is sin. Slide the dictionary back onto the shelf, Josh. There, Josh. Thank you Lord for helping me resist temptation…
I was a seminary-trained pastor who felt responsible for those I pastored. I was responsible for telling them the truth, and more- for pointing to the Truth, the Way and the Life. My problem was that I could not figure out what the truth (or Truth) was. At one point, I counted at least twelve possible biblical understandings of Jesus and the Christian gospel- all of which were supported by some verses and condemned by others. What was I supposed to teach? The more I studied, the less confidence I had that I could say anything certain about God’s works or will. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that I had no confidence I could say anything certain about God, including whether or not there was one. When I reached that point, I asked my bishop to release me from my ministry.
Back in April, Leopardus posted a video about critical thinking and open mindedness. The same people have now made a video called Putting Faith in its place. This video shows the reasoning that led me to deconversion better than I could. Enjoy.
It was my sister’s turn to ride in the front seat, so I climbed into the back. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, but that wasn’t unusual, so I sat quietly as mom backed the station wagon out of the driveway.
I was thinking about the doctrine of the virgin birth, that it was simply impossible for Mary to get pregnant without “knowing a man.” I wasn’t stupid, after all. I had read the booklet that my mother gave me about the sperm and eggs joining to form a zygote; I had taken health class in seventh grade. I’d already known everything in the booklet that Mom had given me, but I hadn’t told her that. She was trying to be a good mother, it wasn’t my place to tell her that she was too late to teach me about the birds and the bees. And health class came even later, when I couldn’t think of even one kid in my class who didn’t already know the material that we were taught. We may have been immature, giggling and blushing behind our text books, but we already knew where babies came from. So now, sitting in the back seat of the car, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was impossible for Jesus to have been born of a virgin, it just didn’t make sense. But how could I be doubting such a basic Bible story, one I’d been taught for my entire life, the single fact that was considered true in every church I’d ever attended? I’d known about sex for years, yet I’d never had a problem believing in this miracle before.
My head hurt from the frown on my face, my clenched teeth, and the intense concentration of my mind. I could not come up with an answer but I knew I didn’t want to doubt. I wanted to have faith, even faith as small as a seed that could grow into a tree. If I could only muster up a tiny bit of faith…. but no. The doubt, the science of reproduction, was prevailing over my thoughts. My heart started pounding in my chest, and my breathing got faster and faster. In a few minutes, tears started flowing down my face. I tried to cry quietly so my mother and sister wouldn’t hear me. But they were used to my emotional outbursts by then and probably would have ignored me anyway, after asking what was wrong and getting no response.
Inside my head I began chanting, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief!” I couldn’t talk; my nose was completely stuffed up from the crying…