The Deprogrammed Atheist vs. The Non-deprogrammed Atheist

Today I have been reflecting on the difference between me as a not-yet-deprogrammed atheist for 35 years and me as an almost deprogrammed atheist. I first became an atheist in 1975 after studying evolution in college. I kept my beliefs to myself, although if anyone asked, I would admit that I was atheist. I never read any books about atheism and I never learned much more about my atheism, until recently.

As a not-yet-deprogrammed atheist, I was not upset by religion. I could easily go to church for a friend or relative without any negative emotions. In fact, after having two sons, I joined my wife's Catholic Church so that we could be together as a family and my sons would get training in "morals."

However, just about the time the priest pedophile scandal started to gain visibility, I started to have feelings of disgust about priests and going to church. I continued going to church until my sons grew up and I found out they had both independently decided that there was no god.

Once I knew my sons were atheists, there was no reason for me to hide my godlessness. I read Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett. I began befriending atheists on Facebook.com and Atheistnexis.com and getting up to date in the latest in atheist thought.

Now that I know what damage religion has done and is still doing to the world, I have become passionate about my atheism and anti-theism. I have never in my life been so passionate about anything that did not have to do with my family or me. I am really a different kind of atheist than I was a year ago or 35 years ago. Although I do feel more anger and disgust than I used to as a still-programmed atheist, I definitely feel it was worth the anger and disgust because now I feel more like myself than I have ever felt before. I feel like I have been hiding or being someone else for 35 years.

Before my new awakening, (dare I say re-birth?) I still had remnant religious thoughts. For example, as a not-yet-deprogrammed atheist, I use to believe:
1. Overall, religion is good because of the good things churches do, such as giving food to the poor.
2. It is okay to pray to yourself because it is like giving yourself positive affirmations to improve your life, e.g. “Help me be more successful.”
3. Religions help people be good by giving them morals. The Bible teaches people good ways to live.
4. Jesus existed and the historicity of the bible is pretty accurate.
5. The universe has some fate for me and is giving me signals as to the right direction to take.
Although these troubling thoughts still creep into my consciousness, at least now I know that these beliefs were blatantly false and I can easily detect them and reject them when they enter my mind. Now I wonder how many other not-yet-deprogrammed atheists there are in the world. I give Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett a lot of credit for helping to elevate atheists from the not-yet-deprogrammed to become deprogrammed atheists.

One reason why I am publishing the blog, beside its self-therapeutic value, is that I thought it would be beneficial to find a better name for these two types of atheists. Not that we really need more labeling in this world, but being aware that these two types of atheists exist and being able to discuss them might help people advance from not-yet deprogrammed to deprogrammed. I am looking for a better way to describe these two types of atheists. Some of the ideas I have had are as follows.
Not-yet-deprogrammed atheist: Naïve atheist, infected atheist, uneducated atheist, programmed atheist, or recovering atheist.
Deprogrammed atheist: Informed atheist, educated atheist, cured atheist, recovered atheist.
Does anyone out there have some ideas for what to call these types of atheists?

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Comment by D R Hosie on July 6, 2010 at 7:22pm
Matt VDB, Your argument here is very well developed. And I think your point must certainly be conceeded, by anyone intellectually honest enough to acknowledge having received valuable instruction, from someone sharing a much deeper background and understanding of the facts.

Thanks for broadening my understanding of the historical underpinnings for the actual life of this messianic figure.
Comment by Matt VDB on July 6, 2010 at 11:16am
Sigh. With all due respect to you, Rudy, my first thought when I see people trying to specify the already bad label "atheist" with more precise connotations, I feel that they are attaching too much of their emotional energy to that particular aspect of their life. I don't really feel to need to call myself a "cured global-warming-skeptic" or a "cured socialist", because those are not the key aspects of my life. Similarly, trying to divide atheists in groups like programmed and de-programmed based on some arbitrary set of criteria is just plain silly. What about people (like me) who have been atheist for pretty much their entire life and have never been programmed? Are you going to make a special category for us too?

Similarly, by setting this dichotomy of cured and infected, you are quite literally poisoning the well of intellectual conversation. I wouldn't ever think of setting in stone that an atheist has to think X in order to be a proper atheist. It would be strategically idiotic, but also intellectually bankrupt.

Ironically, I also have some sort of dichotomy by which I divide atheists: rational atheists and emotional atheists. Many atheists get really into books by authors like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, without realising that these authors are sensational authors and probably give religion far too much blame for societal problems than can reasonably be done. They are doing necessary work (as in savagely critiquing religion), but care has to be taken when you lose your religion by people like this, because what tends to happen is that once-fundamentalist religious believers now become emotiona atheists, who pick their beliefs not on reason but on emotion. That's why my test for a rational atheist is whether they can give religion a little bit of credit. My test is whether they can say: "Yes, I recognise that Christianity has helped Christianity more than other belief systems" or "Yes, I recognise that some religious believers have done an amount of good that they might not have achieved if they had not thought that their actions had cosmic implications."
It's simply statements like this that make me realise that I'm dealing with someone who really has moved on from black-and-white thinking and who does not wield his atheism with the same kind of emotion as he once did with his religion.

Sadly, that's not what I see. Many people, young and old, get deconverted by popular writers and become Hitchens-like individuals: always exaggerating, always trying to provoke emotion, never giving any credit. Many religious fundamentalists wind up trading one type of uneducated fundamentalism for another.

And the irony is that you, Rudy, who so happily proposes terms like "infected atheist" have fallen into that very trap: you've been infected by the fervently-anti-religious mind virus, and it tends to cloud your judgement just as much as any other kind of mind virus. The fact that you think it is the thing in the world you are most passionate about show it.

As does the way you harp on those of us who believe Jesus existed and who think that the Bible contains a core of historical truth. These are positions held by the vast majority of scholars (atheist and religious) and yet you dismiss them and even propose that those of us who believe it should be called "infected" or "uneducated". Well, let's see how "educated" your beliefs on the historicity of Jesus are.

"Dannyisme, to answer your question about what I would think of a person who believed in the historicity of Jesus Christ: Yes, I would say that person was uneducated in the history of that time period. For historians to accept something into the history books, they want there to be eye-witnesses who wrote at the time of the event in question."

Completely wrong. If historians only accepted things that had eye-witnesses reports, we would quickly find that our knowledge of the Ancient world would be non-existent. We don't have eye-witnesses reports for the vast majority of ancient events because, well, most people who saw any particular event either could not write, or were not part of the very small class of people wealthy enough to spend their time writing books. Just about everything we know about history is hear-say, yet we still have enough information to make informed statements and conclusions.
We don't need these eye-witness reports to recognise that Jesus existing is a far more plausible and rational explanation than that he did not.

"With Jesus they had anonymous authors who wrote their stories bases on oral tradition (hearsay) of the previous 40-80 years."

In other words, practically the same you have for most other figures in the Ancient world. Do we have eyewitness records for Hannibal (arguably the most powerful and influential enemy the Romans ever faced)? No. Do we have any for Arminius (a German strategist who destroyed 3 Roman legions and who the Romans were able to subdue)? No. The list goes on. So why would you expect anything more for a person like the historical Jesus?

And by the way, we don't just have the gospels that attest to Jesus' existence. There's also a small number of historians (most notably Tacitus) that references him, as well as a long history of anti-Christian polemics mainly by Jews.

And then we get these set of gems:

"Even I believe that there was some wise man said some of the original sayings of Jesus. Quite a bit of his material was borrowed from prior pagan religions. I am sure you aleady know this, but nevertheless, for those who do not:
"The Christian story is appears as composite of much older pagan myths of “gods” who died and were reborn in the spring; a demigod, who had a human mother but a god for a father. These mythological religions also had sons of god: Mithras, Osiris, Attis, Dionysus, Hercules, Krishna.""

Again, this is what the supposedly "educated" and "informed" atheist believes? Christianity is not a composite of pagan myths at all: the supposed parallels are either completely overblown or vague, or completely made up (such as the ones above). The truth is that the virgin birth and Jesus' divinity are not pagan elements (especially since they were not believed by early Christians, which blows your point out of the water anyway), they are respectively the result of a misunderstanding of the Jewish tradition, and a product of Jewish tradition.
Christianity grew from a Jewish tradition.

Any research at all would have taught you that these theories are the hallmark of New-Age gurus and virulent atheist apologists, not those of objective historical scholars. Yet you just blindly accepted them because they sound nice and conform to what you would like to be true. You just engaged in the lowest form of wishful thinking. I'm sorry, but you're not cured.

"Jesus??? Why would an angel want to name the son of god a Greek name ― Jesus?3 Unless the angel was from Greek mythology, the angel should have named the baby-god a Hebrew name."

Ugh. Stupid mistake. Of course they didn't name the baby "Jesus": the greek name Iesous is a Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic name Yeshua.

"Even the anonymous writers of the Gospel who wrote down the oral stories could not get their stories close to being consistent. Many of the events of the Gospel could not have possibly happened, like the prospect of getting Jesus circumcised in 8 days."


Classic "baby-and-the-bathwater" fallacy. Just because aspects of the gospel stories have clearly been embellished and exaggerated into mythic proportions, doesn't mean that there's not a core of truth to the story. That's historical analysis 101.

"I deeply respect all those scholars, many of whom are Harvard and Yale educated, who believe that Jesus existed and take great pains to analyze the words of Jesus. However, if one of these educated people go much farther beyond, "There was a Jew in the year 1 who had many followers" I would start to think that scholar was smitten by the God virus."

Through historical analysis, we can know much, much more. In the category of "almost certain" we can put facts like:
- there lived a man in the reign of Tiberius named Yeshua
- he was born in Nazareth
- he was an apocalyptic preacher
- he was crucified by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate

"Dannyisme, I have heard the argument before that we do not even know whether other ancient men ever existed, but their existence did no affect one billion lives. When you get one billion people to believe a story with extremely weak historicity, it becomes important whether he existed. If we found out that Socrates did not exist, it would affect only the erudite. If Jesus were discovered to not exist, a whole culture would come tumbling down. So maybe a little oral tradition could be tolerated for some historical figures, but not one of the most influential historical figures of all time."

Here your bias clearly shows. Just because Jesus' existence is important to modern people now, doesn't mean that we can therefore expect greater amounts of historical evidence for him in Ancient times. That's completely non-sensical: it would be like expecting a great deal of evidence for the teenage George Washington, because hey, he grew up to be the first President of the US, right?
Historical analysis has to compare evidence to a reasonable benchmark. In the case of Jesus, that benchmark is that of Jewish preachers in the First Century: and we have far more evidence for Jesus' existence than for any of those preachers. So clearly, it is much more plausible that he existed. The only reason why you would set the bar higher for Jesus than for other similar figures, is pure bias.

The moral of this story is: don't trade one set of dogmas for another. Don't stop thinking critically just because you like a certain conclusion. Never engage in wishful thinking. You have much to learn there as well. That'll be your real de-programming.

Kind regards,

Matt
Comment by Sigmund on July 4, 2010 at 11:39am
Whoa, where did Danny disappear to? Most of the discussion doesn't really make any sense without his contributions...
Comment by Sigmund on July 2, 2010 at 6:53am
Ah, well, regarding Voltaire - God does not exist, and it has clearly been found necessary to invent him...
The necessity of inventing Socrates or Jesus would appear to be more complicated.
I would say that the formation and development of any religion stems from similar desires, which rive rise to similar ideas; i.e. religions are specific manifestations of a more universal urge and the ideas this produces.
I fully agree that disproving Jesus' existence convincingly would not necessarily convince Christians, or at least not many - they believe because they have been conditioned to and because they want to, facts aren't all that relevant. It would thus be significant in a purely theoretical way, but would hopefully encourage a more abstract consideration of the ideas encapsulated in Christianity and their origins (the society they represent, rather than a mythical figure who distracts from the societal and psychological roots of religion). As always, I argue that it is the ideas we need to explore - they are real, whether Jesus existed or not. It's a minor point, but I thought it was worth making...
Comment by Sigmund on July 1, 2010 at 2:28pm
Rudy - would the revelation that Socrates didn't exist really affect anyone in more than a slightly sentimental, nostalgic sort of way? More pertinently, would the acknowledgement that we don't know whether Socrates existed affect anyone?
'The man Socrates' is not really significant, as 'his' ideas have intrinsic significance and are accepted as having such. His non-existence would not affect this. The non-existence of Jesus, were it to be convincingly proven, would have considerable significance - the attribution of 'his' ideas to 'him', rather than society, is a crucial factor...
Comment by Rudy Ruddell on June 30, 2010 at 10:36pm
D R Hosie, I agree with everything you just eloquently wrote. I hope I did not lead anyone to think that I would advocate total disregard for a person's writing just because that person believed that Jesus existed. Even I believe that there was some wise man said some of the original sayings of Jesus. Quite a bit of his material was borrowed from prior pagan religions. I am sure you aleady know this, but nevertheless, for those who do not:
"The Christian story is appears as composite of much older pagan myths of “gods” who died and were reborn in the spring; a demigod, who had a human mother but a god for a father. These mythological religions also had sons of god: Mithras, Osiris, Attis, Dionysus, Hercules, Krishna."
http://rudyruddell.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/the-jesus-story-is-a-re...

But just because I believe there was somebody back then who made some wise statements, does not mean I believe this person even remotely resembled the Jesus of the Gospels. We do not even know his name.
"“…and they named him Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived.” (Luke 2:21)

Jesus??? Why would an angel want to name the son of god a Greek name ― Jesus?3 Unless the angel was from Greek mythology, the angel should have named the baby-god a Hebrew name.
http://rudyruddell.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/gospel-inconsistencies/

Even the anonymous writers of the Gospel who wrote down the oral stories could not get their stories close to being consistent. Many of the events of the Gospel could not have possibly happened, like the prospect of getting Jesus circumcised in 8 days. (http://rudyruddell.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/gospel-inconsistencies/ )

Entire books have been written to enumerate the inconsistencies (e.g. John E. Remsburg’s The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence).

I deeply respect all those scholars, many of whom are Harvard and Yale educated, who believe that Jesus existed and take great pains to analyze the words of Jesus. However, if one of these educated people go much farther beyond, "There was a Jew in the year 1 who had many followers" I would start to think that scholar was smitten by the God virus.

Dannyisme, I have heard the argument before that we do not even know whether other ancient men ever existed, but their existence did no affect one billion lives. When you get one billion people to believe a story with extremely weak historicity, it becomes important whether he existed. If we found out that Socrates did not exist, it would affect only the erudite. If Jesus were discovered to not exist, a whole culture would come tumbling down. So maybe a little oral tradition could be tolerated for some historical figures, but not one of the most influential historical figures of all time.
Comment by D R Hosie on June 30, 2010 at 7:53pm
Danny, I agree with the point you are making here whole heartedly - that work of genuine and earnest scholarship can't just be unknowingly, and unthinkingly, dismissed out of hand - especially by anyone simply unaware of the facts. One of the reasons those insights need to be shared.

For many of the same reasons, I feel that those epiphanies experienced, and insights gleaned through the earnest intellectual struggles and emotional triumphs of those going through the very personal process of extricating themselves from the death-grip of religious belief, can never be fully appreciated, and certainly not unthinkingly dismissed, by those who have never had to face the same existential struggle to find truth and meaning for themselves.

In attempting to move towards greater understanding, from often very different beginnings, we must all learn to first extend our mutual respect to each other, especially when it comes to acknowledging the unique backgrounds and experience of others. That is, if we are to benefit at all from sharing those different perspectives with each other.

There is often no absolute right or wrong - just a larger understanding of the situation.
And I applaud your return to civility, here and elsewhere.
Comment by Rudy Ruddell on June 30, 2010 at 12:13am
Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. This post generated more discussion than any other post I have done. Plus the Atheistnexis police did not even correct me about anything. Woo! Woo:)
I am aware of the danger of labeling people. I have felt the resentment of myself being labeled too many times and it does not feel good. More to the point, when you label people there is a lot of collateral damage because you may wrongly accuse someone of something. For this reason, I have no plans to write a book or article targeting the general population. That being said, I felt the collateral damage here would be minimal, based on my assumption that Atheistnexis.com has a very high concentration of deprogrammed atheists who will gladly adopt the label deprogrammed atheist.

The main goal of the labeling, at first, was to express my excitement about my epiphany about how different I am now versus a year ago. As I read the response posts, I began to realize that there is a good reason to categorize atheists as deprogrammed and not-deprogrammed: To help atheists on this spectrum of various degrees of remnant religiousity identify where they are and perhaps encourage some introspection that will atheists discover their remnant beliefs, like I did.

Dannyisme, to answer your question about what I would think of a person who believed in the historicity of Jesus Christ: Yes, I would say that person was uneducated in the history of that time period. For historians to accept something into the history books, they want there to be eye-witnesses who wrote at the time of the event in question. With Jesus they had anonymous authors who wrote their stories bases on oral tradition (hearsay) of the previous 40-80 years. If there were someone who claimed to be historian who would believe the Jesus story was true based on that flimsy evidence, I would say that historian would have done a very poor job of abiding good historical practices.
Comment by Sigmund on June 29, 2010 at 4:08pm
Danny - you're absolutely right, we're the only ones who have explicitly argued against the use of labels, although...
both John and Danny - I'm not necessarily disagreeing with the labels you have suggested, John, but I find those suggested by Rudy unhelpful (I thought I made this clear in my response), I had taken some of the other replies to imply a similar opinion, although I may have been mistaken. Further, accepting the validity of the process that produces a standpoint doesn't mean one agrees with the standpoint itself... there may be labels appropriate to various elements of the process, although these should avoid implying that the process is itself teleological, i.e. orientated towards becoming the 'perfect atheist'.
Finally, John - the formulation of labels is in many ways analogous to the formulation of ideas and it fulfils a similar function: dealing with our experience of the world by way of categorisation. Obviously, we all do this all the time; but in the sort of discourse presented here a little more rigour is required in order to be useful. As to the use of labels for ideological purposes, I would suggest that that's a different matter altogether... and again - everyone always thinks that their ends justify their means (otherwise they wouldn't 'do them')...
Comment by Sigmund on June 29, 2010 at 3:03pm
Rudy - interesting post, although I would agree with the general consensus that the formulation of labels is not particularly useful in this case. Your five points are an excellent example of the type of variations and personal (i.e. personally-motivated) interpretations of belief people formulate in order to deal with the world (and let's not forget that theists do this too - people always believe what they want/need to believe; yes, they are conditioned, but their interpretation is subjective - obviously).
To address your question, I would suggest that, as Danny points out, 'atheist' refers simply to someone who does not believe in God (people point this out all the time, but the term still tends to come with a lot of extra baggage) - the variations you identify are simply a spectrum of positions arrived at as people deal with the implications and consequences of that fundamental element.
Accepting the validity of this process and the standpoint of anyone going through it (i.e. any atheist) perhaps overlaps with Danny's rejection of dogma (this implies working it out for yourself, and there is no alternative). We are all going through this process. For obvious reasons, we all think that our own standpoint is 'the correct one' (even if this includes acknowledging that we may be wrong - that is part of the standpoint) - we wouldn't have the opinion if we didn't think it was correct. As we have seen, we disagree on some issues and agree on others. Danny's style of arguing for his own standpoint is particularly forceful, and is characterised by an evident desire to disagree with other people's posts, even when (to me, anyway, and John appears to share my opinion) there is no real need to do so. The tendency to attack what he reads into the post rather than what it actually says, as well as to focus on minor points or fail to take them in the context of the principal argument, is not always helpful. (Danny - does this clarify my previous reference to the 'rigid and unnecessarily combative' nature of your opinions?)

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