This letter is for my Christian family and friends, but may be relevant to any other religious person who happens to read it. Due to recent conversations and comments, I think I should talk about a few things and clarify my position.
Hello. I’m a secular humanist. I think all religions are made up by humans, because none of them have produced evidence beyond ancient books and lots of hearsay. None of them have given me any good reason to think their gods are real, and in fact most of them make claims that contradict observable reality.
However, I used to be a completely serious Christian. Contrary to what I’m often told by Christians who are aspiring (and failing) to be mind-readers, I did in fact want to believe in god, and I did not leave because of some bad experience or because I was never saved or because I wanted to sin. The only reason I got where I am now is because I was open-minded and genuinely wanted to know the truth, so that I could more effectively spread the religion I was indoctrinated to propagate. I just wanted to find the true version of Christianity, never imagining that the true version would be fictional.
I really did believe, and my deconversion was something that happened to me despite my desires at the time. Believing something you know to be false isn’t easy, even if you really want to believe it. By attempting to become the best Christian I could be, I set myself on a path straight out of the religion. I learned that the bible is riddled with demonstrably false claims and internal contradictions, and after studying it deeply I couldn’t ignore that the god portrayed therein was the most evil character I’d ever seen. I really had no choice. As the evidence piled up that the bible was untrustworthy, I still believed in a god, and I prayed, trusting that he would set the record straight.
He never did.
People have often tried to insist that I simply must accept the existence of supernatural forces, if not specific deities, because they say that the evidence makes it clear. As I’ve written before, I don’t think they understand how evidence works.
Some of you might know that if you go back far enough on this blog you can find me making a similar argument, because even after I left Christianity I was still ignorant of cosmology and thought the cosmological argument supported the existence of some order-causing force beyond our universe and its natural laws. I know better now, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles. This doesn’t mean I’ve ruled out such a thing; all I’ve done is recognized that there are numerous other possibilities that do not involve supernatural forces, so my only reasonable option is to refrain from believing any of them and keep my mind open to additional data.
I think I’m driven by logic more than emotion due to my place on the autism spectrum, which is why I find it so easy to discard old beliefs when I encounter new data that disproves them. But I wasn’t immune to the emotional draw of religion; I could still fall for it if I remained ignorant of the contradictory data.
How I feel about what Younger Me believed.
This isn’t my first blog. I’ve been blogging regularly since February 2010, when I was eighteen and unemployed. After four and a half years, I started this one and abandoned my old one, right about the time I realized that most of my old beliefs were rubbish.
Recently I scrolled through my archives of blog posts and read a lot of my early ones, and my reaction to them was complicated. I’m embarrassed by Younger Me’s ignorance, yet the love for truth and logic is apparent even in the bad arguments I made. I was thoroughly indoctrinated, but committed to finding my own way to truth using evidence and reason, and I can remember clearly my state of mind and the circumstances around a lot of that old writing.
It’s unsettling to see myself thinking and reasoning as a devout Christian, because I believed everything I said. It was all so real to me back then, and my search for truth really began with a burning desire to share my deeply emotional religion with as many other people as I could. To have an impact on the world, I figured my beliefs and message had to be based on evidence and reason, and since I believed those things were created by an omnipotent god there was no way for me to comprehend an outcome other than discovering the correct version of Christianity. From my 2+ years on this blog, you can see how that actually turned out.
The following list of questions have been gathered from various Christian sources for my own amusement. They are taken unmodified from their sources, so all the original punctuation, emphasis, and errors have been preserved. Most were presented as questions “atheists can’t answer”, so I’m going to answer them all quite easily and then laugh about it.
How did you become an atheist?
By not believing in gods.
What happens when we die?
Our bodies stop functioning and our consciousness ends.
What if you’re wrong? And there is a heaven? And there is a HELL!
What if you’re wrong and there is a hell for people who believe in gods?
There’s a crappy Christian webcomic that I keep running into, which tends to utilize worn-out apologetics fallacies while failing to actually answer the questions. For example, I just saw this one in which he attempts to tackle the problem of evil, but instead ends up writing a bunch of nonsense that only adds to his problems.
Let’s rewrite the dialogue with an analogy to see how it holds up. Instead of god, we’re going to hypothesize the existence of omniscient and omnipotent dragons that obsessively hoard precious metals. The greatest desire of these dragons is to obtain all precious metals, and since they are omniscient and omnipotent it is impossible to hide any precious metal from them or stop them from taking it. In this analogy, the dragons represent the Christian god, precious metals represent evil, and the dragons’ obsession with obtaining all precious metals represents god’s obsession with destroying evil.
My friend Neil Carter over at Godless in Dixie shared a set of ten questions for atheists about Christianity, along with his excellent answers. Since answering questions is an easy way to fill up a blog post, and they are good questions, I decided to answer them as well. (I consider myself fully agnostic–I have no belief about the existence of gods in general, but I do think all gods with names were probably invented by humans.)
Have you ever been to church?
Whether in my own home, someone else’s house, or a dedicated church building, I attended church about every week until I was 21 years old, and was thoroughly indoctrinated from infancy to believe a certain type of Christianity (which changed slightly over the years as my parents bounced from church to church). For many years in my teens I participated in mid-week bible studies, and I frequently played piano for worship services both at home and at churches. I’ve been to churches a few times since I deconverted, for various reasons, but I find that climbing a mountain on a sunny Sunday morning is far more beneficial for my physical and mental health than sitting for an hour or more while somebody bloviates about their personal opinions regarding an ancient book of myths that I’ve already read cover to cover multiple times.
In retrospect, science for me was more like the blinding sunlight that made everything clear after logic drop-kicked me out the door.
I’ve been through some shit. Some of it I’ve mentioned on this blog, some I only share with close friends, and some I never talk about.
In the particular strain of Christianity that produced me, every single thing that happens is said to be planned by god, and thus either caused or permitted by him in order to achieve his desired results. So, perhaps in an effort to encourage me, religious friends and family would often take that shit and try to paint a happy little picture with it. God’s teaching you this, or that, or he’s doing his generic “making you a better person” thing.
I have to say, it seems a little counterproductive for such a god to teach me that he isn’t real.