Posts tagged ‘deconversion’
It’s been two years since I finally admitted to myself that I was not struggling with doubt any more; I no longer believed in God. The creed below is what I can say with some confidence that I believe in today. I got a little silly with the language, and I did so on purpose, to help me remember to hold my new beliefs lightly. Feel free to argue, challenge or question me, or the entire concept of an unbeliever having “beliefs”. As for me, atheism only defines what we don’t believe in, leaving us a wide variety of beliefs we can still hold onto. I invite you to post your own beliefs in the comments.
Proposition 1: I believe that there is an objective reality; that what is, is; that a = a.
- Clarification of the above Proposition: I believe that what is, is neither as good, as bad, or even as easily defined or comprehended as it first seems.
- Corollary of the above Clarification: I believe that labels, like all nouns and symbols, are useful tools- if you remember they are not what actually is.
- Addendum upon previous three statements: I believe that observation, experimentation, reason, and logic are the best tools we’ve yet found to learn what actually is.
Proposition 2: I believe that actions have consequences.
- Corollary on Proposition 2: I believe that what we think, say, do, and choose matters.
- Conclusion drawn from above Corollary and previous Clarification: What we think, say, do and choose matters, but rarely in the manner we expect or intend.
- Corollary on above Conclusion and previous Addendum: We don’t really know what we’re doing, but that’s no reason not to do our best. Please refer to Corollary two statements previous.
Proposition 3: I believe that value is extrinsic.
- Addendum on Proposition 3: I believe that we attribute value through ritual and sanctification (blessing, or intentionally making sacred/holy).
- Corollary on Propostions 1 through 3: I believe that we create what meaning and purpose there is, and can, through changing our choices, change what meaning and purpose we create.
- Addendum on above Corollary: I believe that empathy, introspection and reason are the best tools we’ve found yet for choosing what meaning and purpose to create, and that the ethic of reciprocity (popularly summarized as the Golden Rule) is the best starting point from which to employ our empathy, introspection and reason, with special attention paid to the resources we have to draw on and the needs which we can fill (including, but not limited to, our own).
Overly simplistic, yet still valid Conclusion drawn from everything said thus far in this creed (much to my pleasant surprise): I believe in love.
- Quester with thanks to all the support, fellowship and inspiration I’ve received on this site over the past two years!
I finally read Richard Dawkins’The Greatest Show on Earth last week. As I read the chapter on embryology a couple of nights ago, I couldn’t help marveling at how amazing life is in all its forms. Religionists often claim that their views enhance the value of life, particularly human life, because all of it has been ordained and designed by the hand(s) of god(s). It seems to me, however, that religious views actually cheapen the value of life. I want to point out three ways in which this occurs.
First, the creation of life forms is not a particularly significant accomplishment for a deity or deities that are capable of doing all sorts of spectacular things. A galaxy here and a supernova there, a parasite here and a mammal there – just another mundane day in the deity office. Ho hum; now it’s time to rest. Big deal.
Second, religious believers frequently assert that earthly life is second-rate compared to what’s ahead in the next life (or lives). Life on earth in the here and now is a trial run, a testing ground, the primary significance of which is to prepare people (or allow people to prepare themselves, or for people to allow god(s) to prepare them – there are many variations on this theme) for the hereafter. If you think this life is great, just wait till you get to heaven; you haven’t seen anything yet. Or, if you think this life sucks, just wait till you get to heaven; god(s) will reward your patience and faithfulness with something much better.
Third, there are religious believers who teach that humankind is the pinnacle of creation. Think about this a moment. As marvelous as human life is, it takes real hubris to believe that humanity is the apex of creation. Bertrand Russell put this idea well when he said, “If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as my final accomplishment.” Human life is remarkable, but to consider it the best thing going (outside of heaven) is tragically impoverished…
I hope I have adequately described our inherent weaknesses in cognition (Part I), emotions (Part II) and dogmatism (Part III). Perhaps I can now continue with some of the reasons why I dismiss the notion of a personal god.
First, much of the ontology of Christianity is dependent on the Bible. The veracity of the Bible must be established before notions such as Heaven, Hell and sin can even be submitted for evaluation. Do not quote the Bible to “prove” to me the existence of these entities. I reject the Bible as “god’s word” for several reasons. As I list these reasons, Christians will contend that I am taking things out of context, yet I have spend years begging to see some objective, consistent and reliable standard of hermeneutics being practiced among Christians. None has emerged. This is the beauty of the “scriptures” of all successful religions; they are all ambiguous enough to provide deniabilty when backed into a exegetical corner. This lack of unity in exegesis I’ll introduce later as a failure of the Holy Spirit.
1) Moral ambiguity.
Polygamy, incest, rape and slavery are just a few of the practices condoned or encouraged in the Bible. Extravagant and elaborate apologetic arguments are employed, and usually track back to the incoherent notion that “God’s ways are not our ways”.
2) Philosophical dilemma
Persons who have not heard of Jesus are, nonetheless, eternally condemned for what the Bible claims is a clear manifestation of his eternal power and godhead in nature. In addition, a finite number of sins committed by a soul who had no choice but to be born sinful are given infinite punishment…
In Part I, I discussed the fragility of human cognition, and the myth of the virtue of faith. In Part II, I discussed the enormous deficiency in human cognition coupled with a propensity to rely on emotions to construct our belief system. Now let me move on to the issue of dogmatism.
Consider the proper way for a person to choose a presidential candidate. Voting along party lines is not considered to be very intelligent, and claiming faith in the party would rightfully make you the object of scorn. A proper evaluation involves exploring all the sources you have to your disposal to assess the knowledge, experience, convictions, competency and character of each candidate. The accumulation of this information is linear; it generally accumulates in a steady manner until you reach a point where you are able to make a decision. It should make sense then that the degree of certainty should also be linear. Instead of suddenly stating that one candidate is wonderful while the other is evil, one should be making statements such as “based on the evidence so far, X appears 20% more competent than Y. But few of us seldom do this due to our propensity for dogmatism.
While facilitating action, this dogmatism is a detriment when attempting to find objective truth. The polar ends of the god question are over-weighted with atheists and theists in my opinion. I am an agnostic. While I can state that there is a very low probability of a personal god for reasons I’ll discuss later, I am less certain when considering an Einsteinian god. And I do not feel compelled to choose a side without sufficient evidence. However, this probabilistic attitude towards questions is not natural to me. It had to be learned. I started out quite dogmatic as some of you may recall.
Christianity encourages dogmatism. Certainty is a goal in most religions…
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…