Thursday, July 06, 2006

My Religious Deconversion Story

     This blog has been running for over a year now and I still haven't posted my deconversion story. What the hell is wrong with me? I figure I should remedy this now.

    I come from a family that I guess you would call Catholic. My father's parents are Baptist, but he's rather apathetic to religion, much more so now since my parents know that my brother and I are both atheists. So the religious aspect of our life was dominated by my mother, who had gone to a Catholic high school. Although she wasn't really dedicated to Catholicism, much more to just the general picture of Christianity, seeing as part of my early childhood we went to a Methodist church rather than the Catholic one we later went to, and then even later we went to one of those non-denominational, "worst concert you've ever been to" churches.

    My early church life was probably what's typical for most Christians. You go to Sunday School, learn about Noah's Ark and such, don't really believe it, but don't really think about the fact that you don't believe it. I really just didn't think about religion at all for the first 10 years of my life. I used to read the Sunday comics in church, which is a little odd because to this very day, I've never laughed at a comic in the comics section.

    My religious life changed when I was about 11 years old. I remember my mother was in my 9-year old brother's room trying to comfort him because he was crying about something. When my mom came into my room I asked what was wrong, and she said that he was worried about dying. Perhaps most 11-year olds wouldn't be affected, but in my youth I was a huge worrier. I worried about everything, especially about my health. I worried about cancer, leukemia, brain tumors, internal bleeding, brain damage, and even AIDs. From this and other behavior that I had as a youth I think I probably was obsessive-compulsive, although luckily I don't have the symptoms anymore at all (*saves post as draft 8 times for good luck*). Just kidding, but that would have been me before.

    Anyway, one of the ways that I stopped from worrying was to research what was bothering me and convincing myself that it was extremely unlikely that I had whatever problem I thought I might have. When I started worrying about death (eventual death, not immediate death due to some cause) my mother tried to comfort me by saying that I would be going to heaven when I died, in essence living forever. This is where my OCD (self-diagnosed, in retrospect) really kicked in for me. Now, in order to stop worrying about death, I felt that I should really explore this idea of heaven and be able to convince myself that I was indeed going, and that this place did actually exist. I wasn't going to simply take it "on faith" because like I said, I was a huge worrier. It had to be overwhelmingly clear that I didn't have a problem. So at this point I decided that I would more actively think about my religion, with the hope that I would soon convince myself of the near certainty of heaven, Jesus, God, etc. It didn't quite work out that way.

    I started to pay attention in church, which is probably the worst thing you can do if you want to keep your faith. The preacher would sometimes say something that was either racist, something against science, or some other absolutely ignorant statement. This bothered me, and I attempted to discuss it with my mom on the way home from church. They were legit criticisms, so she couldn't really defend them. She'd usually just say the typical "god works in mysterious ways" or "you just have to have faith" sort of garbage. The more and more I saw this excuse, the more I translated it to be "yes, you're correct, our pastor is psychotic, and that part of the bible doesn't make sense at all". So after only a few months of this increased attention in church, I began to seriously doubt the competence of the preacher, and I was probably also a little angered by some of his statements. This was convenient because it put me, at least in my head, opposed to him. And when you're opposed to someone, you usually put in a lot more critical thinking into trying to debunk what they say. I should say that by this time I probably had moved on from worrying about death and was probably worried about some skin-eating disease or something instead, but now I was focused more on religion.

    So being opposed to the preacher, I would listen to him talk and actually think critically about it. And so you can probably imagine how easily I began to doubt the most blatantly stupid of the stories in the bible, like the one of Jesus cursing at a fig tree for example. After enough of these examples, I just decided that organized religion was completely wrong. I didn't really believe anything that the Bible contained, although I held on to the vague idea of Jesus dying for our sins and the existence and nature of God. I probably held this general state of belief for a few years, until the age of about 14. I don't remember what prompted it, but I began to think about these issues again. I thought about the necessity of Jesus coming down to save people. My thinking was as follows

  • Jesus came to forgive us of our sins, and allow us to go to heaven. God sent him to die on a cross.
  • God controls whether we go to heaven or not; nothing is outside of his power. God could allow us to go to heaven unilaterally if he wanted.
  • God sent Jesus down to die so that he could tell himself to let us into heaven. God is a moron, and so doesn't exist.

    The night I thought this, I said to myself "omg, I'm an atheist". Instantly, the connotation of "devil-worshipper" and feelings of having done something wrong came to mind, because that's what I had learned to associate with the word atheist. I realized that these feelings and associations were completely unjustified, and this made me doubt religion even more for having made me think otherwise.

         So that's pretty much the entire story. While my atheist position has surely become more sophisticated with time, reading of books, and reading of all the great blogs in the atheist online community, my actual deconversion was complete.
  • 14 comments:

    SH said...

    It looks like you had a logical progression from worrying about death to losing your religion. I guess it did help that you had a predisposition for researching and figuring things out. I don't know about a "religious gene" but it definitely looks like it takes a certain type of personality to be able to break away from the mainstream views and religious biases. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with person's intelligence but with their approach to life. I think it is an empiricist's worldview in a way. Like you wrote, "in order to stop worrying about death, I felt that I should really explore this idea of heaven and be able to convince myself that I was indeed going, and that this place did actually exist." You had to verify the idea before you could accept it. I think it is a great approach in many situations and exactly the type of thinking that leads people to freethinking. Or perhaps it is the Freethinking...

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks, Delta!


    -Mookie

    Fair Enough said...

    Very interesting, glad you decided to share it with us! I would definitely agree that actually paying attention to what's said and done at religious organizations or churches is the surest way to lose your faith.

    I'll have to start working on my deconversion...

    Alan said...

    I enjoyed reading that. My deconversion was similar.

    "I started to pay attention in church, which is probably the worst thing you can do if you want to keep your faith."

    LOL! Great.

    Anonymous said...

    What made you promote atheism? Was it a reaction against what religion did to you, or was it a realisation that religion is horrible in and of itself?

    Not to gloat, but I never had to go through a deconversion of my own, at least in regards to religion. I prayed or asked favours from god a few times as a test and just thought it was silly and counterproductive. I promote atheism because I see what religion has done to undermine human progress. I have to wonder how others managed to do it, especially such a long struggle like what you did - going from the depths of religion to being completely without it.

    -Mookie

    Delta said...

    sh,

    You had to verify the idea before you could accept it. I think it is a great approach in many situations

    Yeah, I agree. I think simply the desire to verify ideas before you accept them is the only criterion needed for someone to break free. Most mainstream religions are very easy to break free from if the person actually thinks about it. It's not like it takes a high IQ or anything. I think most people just don't question it or think about it.

    fair enough,

    I'll have to start working on my deconversion...

    Sounds good, I'd definitely be interested in hearing it =)

    alan,
    Thanks!

    Mookie,

    What made you promote atheism? Was it a reaction against what religion did to you, or was it a realisation that religion is horrible in and of itself?

    Religion never gave me any scars and I never dedicated any significant part of my life to it, so I didn't have anything in that respect to "get revenge" for.

    I promote atheism for basically the same reason that you do, because it impedes human progress. It prevents society from planning for real problems (we'll just pray instead) and wastes human energy and resources on temples and holy wars. I suppose growing up in the south and seeing a gigantic church on every corner and "Real Men Love Jesus" bumperstickers might have helped a bit too ;)

    Not to gloat, but I never had to go through a deconversion of my own, at least in regards to religion. I prayed or asked favours from god a few times as a test and just thought it was silly and counterproductive

    Well don't feel bad, you didn't miss anything! Did you ever have a political deconversion though, or were those beliefs pretty static as well? Perhaps this is a topic more suited for my political deconversion post, but I'm curious.

    Anonymous said...

    I was a redneck-in-training. Air Force ROTC in high school, targeting hairs aimed at the Air Force Academy. I thought the people that protested the Vietnam War were pussies and the soldiers that didn't fight were lazy cowards. Yes, I was in it deep. I walked around as if I had something to be proud of, i.e., I looked like I had a stick up my ass.

    Such a black and white world can be comforting to a teenager undergoing puberty. I liken it to the transformation the hulk must endure, but stretched out over several years. So of course the animal testosterone takes over, hijacking reason and twisting my perceptions to fit into the narrow field of my belief system.

    I do remember still liking communism, and arguing for hours about it with my fascist Opa. This was when I was 12. I don't really remember when I first learned about communism. Maybe from Civ2 or something. A lot of the memes I got from Star Trek were also enough to keep me from the dark side. In either case, I was a living contradiction.

    My first year I was a hard-working, ass-kissing cadet and was selected to go to officer training camp. I passed it, flying colours and with honours, but didn't get promoted. During my second year, they had us take a promotion test. It was very difficult. Out of the 350 people that were in the corps and took the test, 13 passed it. I was one of the 13, and found a question that did not have the correct answer listed. I was still not promoted. I always thought the point behind working hard was so that one could be rewarded. Turns out it was a game of snide and creep.

    One of the instructor sergeants had a crush on my mother, who repeatedly turned him down. The other instructor sergeant knew I was better than him and wanted to use his supreme lordly power over me. They both had it in for me.

    One day I was carrying a spinning rifle indoors, in uniform, with my hat on. Normally one is supposed to remove the hat when inside, except when carrying arms. Or so said the rule book. The snide sergeant ordered me to take off my hat, because either he didn't notice that I was carrying a rifle, or that he forgot that such a rule existed. I informed him I was sticking with the book and strolled out. He called me back in, and a half-hour argument ensued.

    I quit the second half of that year. I had had this plan to be an astronaut and colonize the moon. The stars were reflected off my hopeful eyes. Everything I was doing in high school at the time was geared towards that. I took German because it was the closest thing to Russian. I took swimming to get used to low gravity. It was very discouraging to know that my dreams were now shattered. Stumbling blindly through high school, I took a sociology course with a teacher for whom I had almost no respect. We had to work on a project that detailed some social event or system. I did a report on communism, read the Communist Manifesto, thinking I would find how it was similar to Mein Kampf. My initial like of communism was instead re-affirmed. I did the presentation, and was hit with a few hard questions. Most of them I answered with "the USSR (Vietnam, China, Cuba) is not really communist." I think my name went on a list after that.

    I was also sent to the office for drawing hammers and sickles on my algebra quizzes. I explained to the principal that I understood what communism was, so that it was equivalent to drawing a smiley face. Another check was added next to my name.

    Junior year I had a history teacher that responded to my symbols with an old worker's slogan. He later admitted to the class that he was a bit of a Marxist. No one noticed or cared. He and I had a short talk about it, and he warned me that most people don't know what it is, and so I won't find many people that know much about it outside of academia.

    Senior year was Bush's election year. I was very adamant about opposing that man. I knew they were evil scum, and the more I found out about them, the more I didn't like them. Of course, I was still a pseudo-lib, and so assumed that Gore was all good.

    Come college I was trying to explain the world in as a complete manner as possible, so tackled a lot of philosophy, political science, and economics books. I sure know a lot now, but I doubt I am much closer to understanding what is going on, at least enough to change it. Such despair was overcome with the realisation that this will all take time, and the best I can do is the best I can do, and better to do the best than to not even try. Hence I'm here, trying to get to know others of like minds and see if we can make something happen.

    I moved to Austin a few years ago and found a neat little coop system going on. It was just a matter of finding it and getting involved with it. Makes me happy to know I'm at least not causing too much harm.

    Phew. Maybe I'll post this on my blog and see how it looks. Stumbleupon is just not as amenable to comments as this and other blogsites are.

    If you want me to elaborate, or have any questions, I'm as open as the sky.

    -Mookie

    breakerslion said...

    Delta:

    Quite a tale. Recently a site/forum crossed my radar devoted to deconversion stories. If you are interested in posting there, I'll see if I can dig it up for you.

    In retrospect, my deconversion started quite early on. I was a devout Methodist as a kid, active in the choir. (It's the only kind of music lessons poor kids can afford, and we had a good German Choirmaster. He really wanted us to be the Vienna Boys Choir, and worked hard to make us better than average.) My first problem came about with "bow your head and pray". Somehow I knew that this was shenanigans time for early religious cerimonies, and I refused to stop watching what the Reverend was doing. Mostly anticlimactic, but there was some "setting up" going on during the Doxology. Strictly theatre, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I guess I had an early aversion to "Peekaboo!", and I had an uncle that did sleight-of-hand magic tricks. I was not a trusting kid.

    I never read comics in church, but I did pitch pennies with another kid against the raised "kneeling rail" of the "stage" (pulpit left and right, choir "loft" left, organ right, and altar center and up one more level) during choir practice. The choir loft was reserved for the adult choir, the children's choir sang from the first row of pews. The kneeling rail was used for communion, and also without cushions for baptisms. Made a nice curb for pitching pennies. Good bounce off the wood. I also remember staring at the two lit candles on the altar, waiting for something tto happen. Nothing ever did.

    Mookie:

    "I always thought the point behind working hard was so that one could be rewarded. Turns out it was a game of snide and creep."

    How true. It's not what you know, but how you play the game, and whose ass you kiss. I and others cannot, by nature, sell out. In contrast, look at our Veneered Presimadent: would you hire him to wash your car?

    Delta said...

    Mookie,

    Wow, what a story, thanks for that! That's really impressive that you thought about communism even at the age of 12.

    Most of them I answered with "the USSR (Vietnam, China, Cuba) is not really communist."

    It's very unfortunate that people are told that events like the fall of the Soviet Union are the definitive triumph of capitalism and that we should forever resign overselves to not attempting to improve the world.

    He and I had a short talk about it, and he warned me that most people don't know what it is, and so I won't find many people that know much about it outside of academia

    That's very true. Communism, socialism, anarchism, etc. are probably more unknown and mysterious to most people than atheism even is. People who don't know about atheism think that it's a strange idealogy that worships the devil and has no morality. Most views about radical economic/political systems are similarly ignorant. The causes of both are essentially the same: lack of exposure and misleading information.

    I moved to Austin a few years ago and found a neat little coop system going on

    Interesting, I hear Austin is a nice place. I went to Texas A&M for undergraduate work, which is somewhat unfortunate since it is the much more conservative school of the two.

    Stumbleupon is just not as amenable to comments as this and other blogsites are

    Ever thought of getting on blogger?

    breakerslion,

    If you are interested in posting there, I'll see if I can dig it up for you

    Are you talking about the deconversion stories over at Positive Atheism?. I don't think they are updating that one anymore, since my email got returned to me.

    Thanks for your description of your early religious life, it's interesting to see what experiences others have had.

    breakerslion said...

    I just checked out positiveatheism, and that was not the site I was thinking about. The one that crossed my radar was by invitation from a person who commented on my blog, and looked fairly new. It was a team blog of formerly religious people (including an ex-nun) and was actively interested in deconverting others. I haven't been back there for a couple of months, so I hope I can find it again.

    KA said...

    The way I figure it, live your life the best way you know how and if their is a God I'm sure he will understand. If there is no God, oh well at least you didn't waste your time or money in church.

    Noxidereus said...

    Delta, thanks for sharing your story with us. I am 31 and have only recently underwent my deconversion. I was raised non-denominational christian, by extremely religeous (born again) parents. I at least had the advantage of parents who didn't buy into all of the Catholic (et al) rituals, etc. I had always felt the bible was logically inconsistent, but chalked that up to human error, as I have never accepted the bible to be the word of god.

    I've held the general belief in christ/god for almost my entire life. It's very hard to escape those beliefs ingrained in your skull as a child. It's very nice to read about other people who have undergone similar transformations, especially since I'm surrounded by Christians in my life who are very protective of their fantastical dogmas, which makes me feel like an outsider, which, I'm sure you all know, is very frustrating. Thanks.

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