You're lucky to be able to find rational thought early on.... :)
Alice, as usual, you are right on target.
How long have you been studying biblical history? Have you taken courses in it?
How have you come to learn so much about New Testament historicity?
Funny how this thread got resurrected after almost two years :P
As for Biblical history, well I've been a history geek for as long as I remember and Ancient history has always been the field I'm most interested in. In my Catholic school we were also taught about modern scholarship on the Bible, which I found very interesting (as well as surprising, since Catholics are pretty indifferent about things like the Q document or the fact that Mark was copied by both Luke and Matthew, even though these things are tantamount to heresy in most Protestant circles).
But my real interest in New Testament historicity came when I read the Da Vinci code several years ago, and pretty much bought the line of the story hook line and sinker since it all sounded so right. Soon thereafter I found myself on Internet fora peddling Dan Brown's poorly researched crap, until someone with a better grasp of the material came along and set me straight (aka kicked my ass for being uncritical enough to accept it).
That experience was very formative for me and taught me a lot, namely that just because you succeeded in debunking religion, doesn't mean anything anti-religious you read is automatically true - and more generally, just because you became an atheist or started thinking rationally about one topic, doesn't mean you are suddenly immune to wishful thinking and mistaking emotional appeal from intellectual consistency.
So that's when I set out to learn more about how Christianity really formed, what we know about the New Testament and what sources it contains, as well as other topics related to religion and atheism; did Christianity cause the Dark Ages, etcetera.
And second, I've learned a lot about the New Testament because -despite being sometimes called a Christian apologist because I debunk some of the cheaper and dumber historical arguments against Christianity- I've come to realise that some of the best arguments against Christianity are to be found in historical analysis.
All in all I think I've been reading about Biblical history for about four or five years. But not continuously, obviously, just as one of the topics I'm interested in.
Matt, your journey through religious history probably presents many more questions than answers, at least that is what happened to me. However, because I, too, come from traditional Roman Catholic background, I latched onto anti-religious materials and found them coming up short.
Your question, "did Christianity cause the Dark Ages," intrigues me as well. What have you discovered?
Matt - I think we all have a story mottled with irrational beginnings - nothing to have shame about - the happy ending is that you have learnt how to follow the rational thought strategy - I realise now that the only way we can evolve our thinking is to expose it and hope that someone steps in to provide some rational education.....
Matt, good for you! You have a bright future being able to shed superstition and take on life with a realistic eye that there is no god out there, there are no miracles, and there is no "Promised Land". Keep your focus and hopefully you won't have the bumps in life's road put there by mystical/magical thinking.
My ancestry is Belgian, Denoo, from Brugge and small towns around there. I love the countryside where our relatives live and visited several times. I am a 75+ year old, little, pudgy woman with snow white hair. If you are like my grandfather who came from Ruddervord, and father who both had thick black hair that turned snow white and they never got bald.
Thanks for the kind words!
I live in Gits/Roeselare, which is like 10 miles from Ruddervoorde tops. Not aware of any Denoo's in my group of friends though ;)
As for the thing about the Dark Ages, well it was more of a tongue in cheek reference to graphs like these, which a friend of mine dubbed "The stupidest thing on the Internet". There's a certain group of people who have tried to project current religious opposition to science (like the creationist movement) back onto the past to say that this dynamic has always existed in equal force: the old Conflict Thesis. Even though Wikipedia can tell you it is now discarded by most academics, it's still quite popular outside of it.
I think religion and science are ultimately not "compatible" with each other (as Sam Harris put it, there is no way believing things for good reasons is compatible with believing things for bad reasons) but the idea that there has always been fierce opposition is somewhat outdated.