Well, the introduction forum exists, I know what to do: Hi, my name is Josh and I'm a former Christian. I'm still at the point where fully embracing the term atheist makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I try to call things what they are and as such, I have to call myself a godless heathen whose going to burn in fire until I'm nothing but ashes when I die. I'm planning on being cremated and scattered anyways...and that way if Jesus does surprise me and come back and wants to resurrect me it'll give him a bit more work finding all the pieces, lol.
I've only read a couple threads on the site so far so I don't know how my story stacks up with you guys, but it seems pretty par based on my reading the testimonials on exchristians.net.
Yeah...so I was raised in a mostly Catholic charismatic community (see yeslord.com for more details if you want to know specifics) going to Church every Sunday, prayer meetings Wed & Thursdays, music practice (the community's music ministry) on Mondays, boy scouts (the community's troop) on Tuesdays. I took Bible classes k-12 in their private Christian school, except 1st grade where I went to an actual Catholic school.
I hope I don't have to explain any of this to people, but I can if I need to...unlike I've had to do with Christian groups, I'm going to assume you people are knowledgeable enough to know or intelligent enough to google it.
A normal Catholic kid growing up, from the point of Catholicism, with one notable exception. When it was time to be "confirmed" I sat in the pew with my friends listening to the bishop spout the same thing they always spout and I contemplated the "voluntary" nature of the confirmation sacrament. While I personally didn't give a crap one way or the other, I acknowledged that if I had actually had a desire to not be confirmed, I would find that I did not have that option.
The inevitable condemnation of my peers, probable out-casting, disapproval from my parents, and so on flooded through my mind. I acknowledged in my mind that I probably shouldn't be being confirmed since I didn't really feel it, but it was these thoughts of impending torture that kept me glued to my seat instead of running for my freedom. However even though I've said the same vows numerous times before and after, (it's the Nicene creed they want you to agree with, if I remember correctly), I did not say them when the bishop directed us to as a group. I will admit, that same fear probably had something to do with why I moved my lips ceremoniously up and down (not forming words, just straight up and down) when everyone else was saying the stuff.
So when I graduated and moved out, I do what all normal Catholics do and I became a hedonist. It's the logical move for an invincible 18 year old Catholic. All I had to do was make sure I didn't do anything so bad as to actually die from it and I could go confess to the priest on Saturday night before evening mass. The whole death thing probably is what kept me from getting into drugs too much, I think, the fear of overdose...dying while sinning was not an situation I was willing to risk. I didn't consider alcohol a drug (sure it is, it's obvious now) so it was my drug of choice.
At this point, I kinda lived 2 distinct lives, one for my family and religious friends and one for my bar buddies. They didn't interact much until I got one of my bar buddies pregnant. We eventually got married (it was a lot more story than that, but not relevant to my religious history) and she moved to my family/religious friend list. She wouldn't even step in a bar nowadays.
So I tried to "clean up" my life a bit. I abandoned all of my bar buddies altogether. I started going back to church regularly and me and the wife joined the Alleluia Community. Sure, it's a cult by any normal definition, but it's not any more dangerous than normal Christianity. It was the same place I grew up and I knew their effective motto was that they were Christians helping each other be better Christians. Went back to Wed & Thursdays prayer meetings, etc. All the motions.
I'll admit at this point, I never really was full-hearted in it and left the community (as in membership and participation, not location, I'm still physically located in their midst) because of this half-heartedness, for my own intellectual integrity. Slightly before I left, however, something amazing happened...
I was having a crisis of faith one night, and while outside I looked up at the sky and prayed for some sign...the next day I found Creationism. I considered it a miracle and an answer to prayer, but now I realize it was simply that I started looking for something and hence I found something. You see, at the school I attended, not only was Creationism not taught, no origins discussion ever occurred. The evolution section in high school biology was simply skipped (as was the human reproduction system...don't worry, I figured out where to put things when the time came). Otherwise, it's a pretty decent school. Having no direction in the matter, except the cutout board animations in CCD, I simply assumed that Adam and Eve really existed, that David was always a kid with a slingshot and that Jesus was a hippy (not the word I would have used then, but the same idea) and didn't think anything more about it at all, ever...until that day.
Creationism spawned my interest in the Bible...I was now of the utmost certainty that anything it said in a matter of fact sense (as opposed to parts like the prophecies and psalms where you're supposed look for "spiritual" meaning) were absolutely true. In a matter of days, I went from half-hearted to utterly obsessed with Christianity. I read everything I could about Creationism and studied the Bible like a maniac. I found myself in the midst of groups I had never even heard of arguing like crazy. Much of the time I spent correcting the Creationists for using bad arguments, you know, like the banana being "designed." I literally face-palmed at Cameron when I saw him pull out the crocoduck...yes, even Creationists think he's a numb-nut.
Now, Catholics are not creationists generally (apparently anyways, at least in this area), but since I grew up without any direction, I had no idea who was what. So, I ended up chatting very much with protestants...who have on their list of things to say, a number of complaints against the Catholic Church. So I went on a mission to prove to them that the Catholic Church was correct. That's when I found out that the Vatican doesn't believe in Creationism...it was confusing, but I set it aside for the moment. I never actually came back to it, I realized they were bullshiting before I would have.
My first goal was to tackle the Saturday/Sunday issue (thanks SDA). When the reason for disregarding one of the 10 commandments was not readily apparent, I stopped going to church...just in case. I was extremely disappointed to know that there was absolutely no rationality behind moving the rest day to Sunday...in fact, it's not a rest day at all, it's a worship day. Catholicism did not have a rest day and every argument in favor of Sunday was effectively based on "you should worship all the time." I had to reject Sunday worship on the basis that it ignores and causes people to violate the 10 commandments. If you're not aware, the Sunday they worship on is the 8th day of the week...retards. The commandment says rest on the 7th day, not worship on the 8th day. I could go on, but I'll move on. I started with Catholic resources only, but even the "8th day" protestants didn't have any reason.
During this time, I found that some people had an issue with the Trinity not being in the Bible. I knew it never directly said it, so I made up a list of the minimum requirements needing to be met and gathered from different parts of the Bible...I searched and searched and searched literally for years before I had enough to say matter of factly, it is not in there. With a handful of other doctrines I was simultaniously researching, every one of the Protestant complaints that xxx doctrine wasn't in the Bible were true. And I never found a church which had freed itself of all the unbiblical doctrine. The only thing they seem to be able to say correctly is that all the other ones are wrong, well you're wrong too! I'd have had to pick a church based on which wrong doctrines they had I was most comfortable with and I wasn't willing to accept any lies with my truth so I went to none of them.
By this time, my family and religious friends didn't discuss religion at all with me. No one came to me and asked why I stopped going to church. I raged on facebook a decent amount and on my blog which I since removed...kinda. It's still stored in blogger, just not displayed. I found one guy I could relate to as he was going through something similar. I even drove from Georgia to Ohio for Passover which was fun, not the Passover, the trip in general was fun, and we visited the Creation Museaum, yay!
Both of us had been banned from Answer's in Genesis for discussing that the Trinity doctrine was incorrect. They banned us before they banned the atheists. They went on a banning spree in order to hide banning two of their most active Creationist members on the facebook page, Allen and I. You see, an atheist isn't a threat to Creationists. Most of the time, atheists will refuse to discuss anything from the perspective of being within the creation model framework (i.e. "world view"), just like a non-Catholic will refuse to discuss things from within the perspective of being inside the Catholic viewpoint. At that point, the atheist is dismissed as not understanding the grander scope, or something like that. Also, atheists would clearly lack "the Spirit." Another easy dismissal.
The problem with Allen and I was that we were discussing the Trinity from within the Biblical framework the Creationists wanted us to use in order to be Creationists, but not within the framework they used for devotionals, spiritual truth, etc., which is where they wanted us to worship. It's a bait and switch tactic honestly and I wasn't falling for it. Allen and I spent a few months writing up a very well documented list of why AiG's Trinity "proof" was a pile of crap if based on the method of reading the Bible they recommend when discussing creation. They largely ignored it. The best I got out of them was that they were too busy...right, too busy to discuss one of the most fundamental aspects of Christianity, sure. I can post a link if anyone is interested in that.
I had a long search trying to find a group that actually believed the whole Bible...and what an adventure. I nearly joined a ton of them, but stopped short at every one. Then I found a guy who investigated Islaam and found it false...and went on to investigate Paul. Paul was a liar who disagreed with Peter and Jesus. I didn't take that's guys word against Paul, I investigated his reasons and they were sound. I learned a lot about Bible translating at this point. I became a Sacred Name'r (someone who believes YHWH should not be replaced with "Lord" and should be pronounced correctly) and eventually dropped Luke's gospel (he was Paul's lackey) and all Paul's letters from my Bible (mentally, anyways, I always use online ones) as well as Job, because he's a retard too. Also, Job's description of Satan's activity didn't mesh at all with the rest of the Bible and it's full of a bunch of crap philosophy from people who don't matter on any scale for a great part.
I want to mention at this point, that the past 5 years are a bit of a jumble in my mind. Some of the events happened simultaneously with each other over the course of months or years, but it's logically coherent as I started one part and starting it led to another in roughly the order they're presented above. Today, I've still got at least 4 different worldview's stuck in there and I hate Christianity from each and every one of them. But removing tainted books from my Bible is when it all really broke down...I eventually realized I had no way of knowing which other books should remain.
The end result was that I had to face the fact that if I knew there were alterations and additions that weren't in the originals, I could not trust those parts, but I knew that there was no way for me to know which parts should be and which should not be. The entire thing had to be trashed because with this uncertainty, the entire thing is unreliable.
What I was left with before I discarded the whole thing still had two distinct concepts. There's the Westboro concept, wrath of an angry God, and there's the Hippy Jesus concept, love dude. Ironically, I found myself the only Creationist as a non-Christian surrounded by Christian evolutionists. (Think about that for a sec.)
That's pretty close to where I am now, but I never stop thinking...being an atheist creationist sounds retarded, so I'll probably have to think about that a bit. Anyways, after that, I came to the same conclusion of statistical likeliness of prayer that you can find on Why Won't God Heal Amputees? before I read that site. Though I would add that the statistic for answered prayer is actually higher than he's indicating because prayer requests are a gamble and people naturally weigh the gamble before making the request. Just an example, kid's don't normally pray for snow unless their parent's prime them with, "It might snow." By that time, the parent has already analyzed that there's a decent likeliness to get a "yes" before the kid even prays.
I realized the psychological effects of praise and worship prayer are completely physical, psychological results of the imposed stimuli and activities. I had to come to this conclusion because I remembered the feelings but knew that where I was when I had them was not what I was told it was (that being "the truth") and their God was fiction. I had made a mental distinction between their God and mine shortly before my dad one time told me, "I'd offer to pray with you but you don't worship the same God I do." That was the day I stopped saying "grace" with my family at family gatherings and participating in any of their prayer or worship.
My ultimate conclusion regarding Christianity is that it is a drug. It is a very powerful drug. I am currently going through withdraw, but the beer and ranting on facebook seem to help a little. Priests, monks, nuns, popes, and every other Christian leader is a conman and a drugdealer, and he is that regardless of whether or not he's fooled himself too. My older brother is a conman. He is a music leader in Alleluia as well as a high school teacher and a "head" (their title for the leader of one of their smaller hierarchical structures).
He not infrequently uses scripture out of context, sometimes for jokes, but normally as part of a bad rationalization probably passed to him from some Catholic book or website. I've called it on him a number of times and now he simply avoids talking about the Bible around me. My father will not discuss anything with me either. My mother will discuss things to a certain extent, and she is the only one in my whole family who will, but it does quickly get beyond her tolerance level. My older sister won't listen, but she will give an occasional advice something like, "You do realize that not celebrating Christmas will permanently scar your daughter, right?" I don't know if I've ever had conversation with my younger sister that was more than small talk in my whole life...things didn't change between me and her as far as I can tell.
Of course, I realize my daughter will have issues and I certainly wish for an alternative. Christmas is the most powerful drug I've ever taken and one of the worst times of the year for me now because of the withdraw. I was literally sick for 3 weeks and my mom told me she was worried about me Saturday a couple weeks ago...I told her it would be gone "by Monday." My dad took their Christmas decorations down Sunday and I was totally over my 3 week nausea the following day. I knew when it was going on that it was entirely psychological and going to a doctor wouldn't change a thing.
Hell yes, I want to celebrate in the style of Christmas, but I can't celebrate a bold faced lie with people who actually believe it's true. Who knows, I might be able to celebrate with people who know it's crap, but it wouldn't be the same...I think that knowing the truth about it's falsehood removes it's power to instill the desired brain chemicals. You literally have to actually believe in order to feel it, as they say. Some of their sayings have an entirely different meaning to me now.
I also want to have sex. However, I'm not willing to cheat on my wife and I cannot have sex with her because I know her main intent is to have more children and those children would necessarily be raised Catholic. I cannot make more Catholics, nor even more Christians. The idea of sex with my wife instantly brings up the idea of children because of her obsession. Even before I left the Church, that obsession made it difficult for me to have sex because I can't think about babies while I have sex. At least I know I'll never be a pedophile. She wasn't like that before we got married, she had sex freely without the intent to bare children. It was nearly instant when we got married that sex was now an action performed for the specific purpose of having kids.
She's perpetually mad at me for this, but after last summer when I told her it was going to ruin the marriage, she suppresses it much better. Though I actually told her that not being open and discussing precisely this entire post of what I've told all of you here is what will eventually ruin the marriage, she only heard that it was the being mad part.
Now you guys know more about me than 95% of my friends on facebook.
No, you must read it now!
EDIT: Just kidding, of course, lol.
After rereading Joan Denoo's comment quoting Sir William Drummond, I realize that not all of what I say seems to apply to every Christian. It's a complicated variety. Most of my perspective is among the "spiritual" but I feel it should apply to every spiritual group. Things are certainly not as simple as I would like them to be.
Being a life long heathen, I have to ask: does it bum you out at all thinking of how much time you have spent on this religion quest? I've been an atheist all my life, but until high school I was forced into attending Presyterian church and Sunday school every week, and I went to a Jesuit high school. However, I never spent a minute of my own free time researching theology of any kind. Religion was never some grand topic of discussion with my family, and they knew I was different than them. It sounds like you have spent a tremendous amount of time doing something that, in the end, netted you nothing. You can rest now, brother. Go spend some time not thinking about god and creation. It's time for you to be you - you have a lot of catching up to do.
No, actually, while the time I spent in my quest was fraught with a great deal of emotional and physical pain the net was hardly nothing, it netted the thing sought most by the founders of my country, freedom...ironically because I didn't even know I was in chains. I might say there is regret of having been fooled in the first place (and so long), and grief today that the friends I've known all my life are fooled such. But the research time and the pain are worth it all for knowing the truth.
Joshua, alas, that is what growing up reveals, life is not easy, there are no right/wrong answers, everybody know how to solve your problems, and nobody understands, are comment comments I have heard.
Given these realities, life can be great, full of adventure, and even equanimity. Today, I am 77 years old and I have seen a lot in my few years. If I learned anything, I have no control over others, pleasure comes from simple things, life is healthier when I close the door to toxic people, and there are 7,000,000,000 human beings on the planet and I can pick and choose with whom I want to invest my time an energy.
That is good advice ma'am, I take it to heart.
Joshua, were you told that Santa existed when you were little? Did you have strong feeling upon discovering it was a fairy tale? Or how about the Easter bunny, or halloween, or did you ever read books about people you thought were heroes only to find heroes often have feet of clay?
There are a lot of people who HATE and I mean literally hate Christopher Hitchens, however I find he makes a lot more sense than a lot of people who are more timid in their observations. I especially recommend "The Missionary Position". That knocked my socks off, I started doing a background check and indeed I talked to some people who belonged to her mission and they agreed with Hitch.
I looked for the specific video and they were all blocked and replaced by christian reviews of Hitch. Hahahah! The response of those who fear words, perhaps. Hitch does like to provoke, and here is an example
I don't ever remember my parents being particularly concealing about who was putting the presents under the tree, stuffing the stockings, filling the Easter baskets. It may have been because I was the 3rd of 4 and the oldest was 6 years older than me. I do not know if they fooled him. Maybe one of my older siblings broke the news before I was old enough to remember the event consciously. We did not celebrate Halloween because it was what the pagans did; we did not watch Journey to Witch Mountain because it had the word witch in its title and witchcraft was evil and forbidden. I don't know the clay feet reference, I'm sorry.
I wasn't familiar with Hitch. I've watched relatively few atheist videos and read no atheist books.
If I understand your point about religious persuasion correctly, religious adherents justify their faith by something mental, a quasi-intuitive “oceanic feeling” (to quote Freud) where they come to be persuaded of an emotional alignment with some projection of the deity that they proceed to worship. Such worship is less the response to priests’ command or some exhortation in a book, than almost something resembling falling in love, a filling of a void, a sudden clicking where it all appears to make sense. That feeling is so satisfying that it’s tenaciously difficult to shake, unless eventually the contravening evidence becomes overwhelming, and often not even then. Does that sound to be about right?
As you point out, one can not succeed in dissipating such feelings by mere recourse to arguments showing this or that contradiction in the bible, or that heretofore-assumed “divine intervention” can not be explained by scientific research. We can however reach the more intellectually honest believers not through disparagement of their faith, but by pointing out that feelings, no matter how powerful or how operative in moving us towards great deeds, are unreliable basis. One might feel love for family or country, and indeed this can be laudable and generous and productive. But if in the end it’s merely a feeling, then the intellectual basis is suspect, even if the emotional basis is impregnable. What one concludes from such assertion is not that religion is necessarily wrong or foolish, but that it can never enjoy the same intellectual basis as say algebra or physics. This won’t turn believers into unbelievers, but it will give cause for them to be more circumspect about the consequences of their faith – their moral constructs and so forth.
Regarding paragraph 1: It's a bit more complicated than that. There's a complicated combination including a number of things. Some are stronger for some than others, hence the variety of denominations, but I think the items I listed are at least a fair start.
Normal human activity produces natural brain drugs which can be considered appropriate responses for beneficial activity like eating and hunting. These can be stronger in certain people, as evidenced by certain eating disorders, anger addiction and the condition known as being a "sports fanatic." The conditions and stimuli in churches and religious groups, like meditation (effectively, yes, but they don't call it that), social interactions, especially with food (think: pot lucks, prayer breakfasts, etc.)...I could keep listing, but I think my point should be apparent. Any normal physiological response is hijacked by some Christian group (and most are by most)...you know what, one more example:
Anger is addictive and so is a superiority complex. Westboro Baptist Church is freaking famous...but why do they keep doing it? They're angry. Granted, the reasons behind their anger are such that few would embrace. And, combined with that there's the feelings of superiority that are probably most apparent in their expressions. Just an example. Again, all of these things are natural body reactions.
I wish I had the money to do the study, or a handy reference at least, but the brain, I'm pretty sure, holds a literal relationship structure for relationships with God and whatever other figures (Jesus, Holy Spirit, saints, dead people, etc.). Thinking you can literally communicate with them, even forming literal mental personal relationship structures, is as good as actually being able to see them in person physically with your own eyes. These structures I imagine (and based on my personal experience I'd wager toward) are much stronger than the relationships with known fictional characters like those from books and tv shows (and while I don't have the reference, I do remember seeing a study that those are similar).
To those who are already convinced already, this one seems absent...but it certainly isn't. Peer pressure doesn't affect people who are already inclined to do the things that their peers want. But on ex-christians.net's list of testimonials, you can see that peer pressure is a highly motivating point. Also, in my original post.
There's a lie going around Christianity about God being the only possible thing to fill the void. "There's a God shaped hole in your heart that can only be filled by Him," is something I've probably heard (if not exactly, definitely that as a paraphrase). Certainly for those who have a loneliness, having a best friend you can access all the time is an intense convincing. "I was lonely, then God came into my life."
But, in the end, maybe we agree. It is definitely an experience that is extremely satisfying...I literally felt like I lost one (or more, depending on how I think about it) of my best friends and pressing "yes" (or whatever) when asked are you an atheist when joining this site was the closest I will ever come to a funeral.
Paragraph 2: I'm not sure it's impossible to dispense with the religious beliefs on a purely "rational" basis, one has to take their condition in mind and work with what you can. Please note the defense systems they've put in place before you try. I think I mentioned them in other posts, so I won't repeat their reasons at the moment. "Not having the Spirit." "He's an atheist." Among other conversation stoppers should be taken into account before engaging. I followed a path that cannot be induced in anyone I've met, but I've understood things at all the places I've been.
It's a very deep mental state. There are very convincing (to them) mental blocks to even encountering the discussion would lead to what we would view as a reasonable conversation. There are the afore mentioned stimuli-induced drugs, and the (from my experience, I'd say more real than with any with any fictional character, for reason of not realizing the fiction) relationships with God, Jesus and (in the denominations that apply) Holy Spirit.
I have them telling me over and over, "If you just believe," but it's a deep psychological condition. Explaining to them why is very complicated. I am confident though...there must be a way.
I missed the community I had in church and feared I would never have another without the binding force of religious concept and like-believers. Even my social groups were all religious and not interested in my questions, challenges or ideas. I sought out people with whom I could discuss such things, finding them first on Atheist Nexus and other local atheist sites and slowly people began to appear who share my interests. I have community of atheists and we discuss interesting things even as we have a lot of fun.
I had no interest in resisting religion until religious people began joining different groups I support locally. We had a project on building strong families, intending it to be religion neutral, supportive of single and GLBT families and very soon there were more religious proselytizers than freethinkers. I could see the role they played in dominating local economic and political matters in our community and telling lies about those of us who are atheists. That got sickening very quickly.
Now I am a very active supporter of speaking out about what I don't like about any religion and why I choose to be an atheist ... indeed, I join the parade of anti-theists, not because I want to be anti- anything, but because I do not like what religion teaches, disagree with their basic principles and feel disgust when I hear exaggerations and misrepresentations.
Religious have homes and places of worship where they can discuss their beliefs. It is very easy for me to say my piece when I hear "I will pray for you," or "Turn it over to god". That is a perfect excuse for not thinking a problem through. Lazy and cheap religion doesn't work for me and I want it known how I think.
Religion is "complicated"? Well, I suppose you can say that. I respectfully disagree. Religion is simplistic. Being fully human is complicated.
Perhaps we're talking about it from two different angles. I would word it that religion makes people simplistic, but the mechanics involved to get a person to do that are complicated.