Ever since “going public” with my atheism, I must admit that I’ve had to work extremely hard to avoid what I see as common mistakes that new deconverts often seem to make. I can’t help but be excited about this new perspective that I’ve discovered, and my first instinct is to want to “spread the good news,” so to speak. And truly, it is good news. We aren’t being eternally judged by our finite actions in this relatively tiny slice of time we’ve been given. No one is going to burn in hell for all eternity. How very precious does this life become when it is our only focus? This is all very good news indeed!
But not everyone will see it that way. In fact, most of the people closest to me will see it in the complete opposite light. And just as I don’t enjoy being preached at, it’s important for me to understand that proselytism is a two way street.
As much as I would love to believe that I can convince all of those closest to me how wrong they’ve been about God and religion, I am under no delusions this will ever happen. The combination of indoctrination, confirmation bias, and cognitive dissonance is incredibly powerful, and most people who are steeped in religion will never manage to break free. Even my most well thought out and logical arguments will have no effect. There is no amount of evidence that can sway them. It’s why religion can have such a powerful hold on someone’s mind; if someone believes blind faith trumps everything else, then nothing can ever move them, no matter how convincing the evidence might be.
“But Justin,” I hear you say, “you were raised as a Christian and held all the same beliefs, and yet you broke free from them.” First, as an aside, there are many that would probably claim I was never a true Christian to begin with, reciting the good old No True Scotsman fallacy. But putting aside for a moment that these people apparently know me better than I know myself, let’s just go under the wild assumption that I am actually being honest when I say that my faith was genuine for most of my life, all the way up until very recently. If everything I say above is accurate, if it’s so difficult for anyone to be convinced away from their faith, then how did it happen to me?
The answer is that no individual could have ever convinced me. Most Christians have heard arguments against the existence of God many times throughout their lives, and I was no exception. But like most Christians (or Muslims, or Hindus, or Jews, or…), I was so steeped in my beliefs that these arguments simply bounced off of me. Nothing could penetrate that wall of faith erected around me. Then how did I end up here?
The first cracks in that wall did not come from outside, but from within. It wasn’t until I came to the understanding within myself that something wasn’t right. That maybe, just maybe, things weren’t exactly as I had been taught my entire life. In time, that hairline crack became larger, then split into two, and then developed into a network of fissures, spreading through every stone. And finally, the wall collapsed, crumbling to dust. Not because of anyone else, but because I destroyed it.
This is why I will not try to convince other Christians. It is pointless to do so, almost literally like banging your head against a brick wall. That said, when those first cracks in my wall began to show, it was the enormous body of work on the internet (and in the Bible itself) that helped me navigate my doubts and make sense of what I was going through. I can’t even catalog how many resources I utilized that time, and still do, although I will try to momentarily.
In doing so, it’s important to understand their purpose. They aren’t to convince the Christian to abandon faith. They exist so that the person finally turning a critical eye toward their own beliefs, just like I did, can see that they are not alone. If not for some of these, I may have never understood that I was far from unique in my new perspective, and I may have never had the courage to admit it. I now imagine myself going through life as I had for so many months, lying about what I believed to those closest to me because I was terrified of what might happen if I told them the truth. What if I’d remained in that state for the rest of my life? What a miserable life it would be! But then I realize, there are many people who very likely do exactly that. Only they can see that their wall has already crumbled, but as long as they can pretend to everyone else that it’s still there, no one will ever know. It’s an awful way to live. I know, because I’ve lived it.
Therefore, I will continue to post my thoughts and opinions on this subject, here and elsewhere. Not to convince the Christian, but to provide support for those going through the same thing I did. So that they’ll know they aren’t alone, that turning away from faith and toward logic and reason is far more common than they think. It happens all the time, actually. So if you are reading this, and that first hairline crack has already surfaced for you, take heart. It’s a scary road, and the journey isn’t easy, but believe me when I say that it’s worth it in the end.
As a final thought, I should also add that no, this blog won’t be devoted to atheism from here on out. There are already numerous resources that exist out there for this exact purpose, and most of them are much better than anything I could ever write. So even if it will come up here as a subject from time to time, it’ll be mixed in with all the other stupid crap I’m interested in that nobody cares about. Because hey, that’s what blogs are for!
And now, as promised, here are a couple of examples of the many great websites and books that accompanied me on my journey:
Why I Believed (Kenneth W Daniels) – More than anything else, this is the book I credit most with giving me the courage to finally admit my atheism to my family and everyone else. Kenneth is a former missionary and was raised in the Christian faith, and deconverted relatively late in life. His story is inspiring, and knowing that there was at least one other person out there who managed to come out to his wife about it and still hold their marriage together was the catalyst that eventually led to me doing the same. The book is an account of how and why he believed, and why he no longer does, and is supported from the perspective of someone incredibly well versed in theology and the Bible. It’s one thing for a lifelong atheist to point out everything wrong with Christianity. It’s quite another for a former theologian to do the same. The book is entirely free to read online, so if you’re even a little bit curious, give it a shot. You might be surprised at what you find.
The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins) – Pretty sure just about everyone knows who Richard Dawkins is by this point, but at the time he wrote this book, he wasn’t the well-known atheist spokesperson he is today. Dawkins, a biologist, wrote this back in 1986, right at the beginning of the Intelligent Design craze that later came to sweep the US by storm. His goal is clear: make evolution understandable, and in doing so, help people see why it not only makes sense, but why it is the only thing that makes sense. Some people see Dawkins as harsh and off-putting, and much of that impression comes from his more recent best-seller The God Delusion. But that isn’t the impression one gets from this book. One gets the impression of someone who is awed by the the natural processes that led us to where we are now, someone who desires above all to spread that awe to others. Mission accomplished, Mr. Dawkins.
Godless in Dixie – Another former preacher, Neil Carter now blogs about a huge variety of topics relevant to atheists today. Much of his perspective comes from his former days as a believer, and so is very relevant to those of us who similarly deconverted. His blog is one of two that I’m particularly fond of on the Patheos Atheist network. I especially appreciate his understanding of what it means to be an open atheist in the South, where non-belief is nearly unheard of. Spoiler – it isn’t easy.
A Tippling Philospher – The other Patheos blog I really like, I came to this one much later on, but I’ve been reading it voraciously since. Jonathan MS Pearce approaches religion from a philosophical point of view, showing time and time again why religion and the concept of God fail in the light of logic and reason. Agree or disagree with him, there’s no doubting that he’s quite brilliant.
A Pasta Sea – It’s a play on words, get it? Eh, I thought it was funny. Anyway, this one hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still worth perusing the archives for the excellent content you can still find. In particular, the chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book of Genesis, titled “Mistakes of Moses,” is an excellent retort to the literature put out by Answers in Genesis. I honestly don’t know how anyone could read through his analysis and come away with any other conclusion than Genesis being a collection of myths and stories written by many different authors over time. Wait, I guess plenty of people can actually (see above).
Internet Infidels – One of the original atheist resources, and still one of the largest. There is more content here than I can ever describe, so all you can do is dive right in and get reading.
Okay I suppose that’s enough for now. Eventually I may compile some of these into a links page, but I’ll have to get not-lazy to do that. Maybe in time.