It’s a fair question: Why write so much about my transition from religion to reason?
Don’t most people just say, “I was raised a Christian but I’m not
anymore” and be done with it? As you may know, I’m not “most people”.
What This Is NOT
I want to be clear. I did not sit down to compose these pages with the intention of
convincing or “converting” anyone. If that had been my purpose, I would
have approached the subject differently, in the form of persuasive writing rather than the form
I used: expository writing (to explain, describe, inform).
None of what I’ve written here should be interpreted as an attack or
Secondly, none of what I’ve written here should be interpreted as an attack or
polemic against any person or organization. For that very reason, I have been careful to leave
anonymous many persons mentioned herein — lest they take offense or think I blame them. I
The only things criticized here are ideas and
a book, all of which were very important to me for much of my life.
I Need To Know
So why write it? The most important reason I wrote all this is for myself. I needed to understand
it. An odd personality quirk of mine is that I often understand something fully only after
writing it or speaking it.
Much of my character arc occurred while I wasn’t paying attention. My beliefs
changed gradually and unevenly. I always questioned, but the questions changed over
time. Early on, the questions concerned tiny details; later, the questions concerned the entire
paradigm, but I didn’t realize the difference at the time.
Sometimes I didn’t even know I was changing until I’d reached a new
milestone and could study my progress.
It is always difficult, at least for me, to fully evaluate any stage of my life until I have
moved on from it. For example, I didn’t understand the hormonal growing pains of
being a teenager until after they’d passed and I could look back on it, aloof. The same is
true here. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was changing until I’d reached a new
milestone and could study my progress.
As for why it’s important to me: I now recognize that I’m still in the middle of the
character arc that is my life — that I’m still changing and will likely always
do so. In fact, my viewpoint changed even as I wrote and developed these web pages.
With increased knowledge comes increased understanding, and with greater experience (plus
knowledge) comes greater wisdom. In the future, I’d like my changes to be more
directed, more reasoned, more controlled. In order to do so, I need to understand where I came
Others Need (Or Want) To Know
Maybe not today, or next year, but someday my children will want to know through which lens I view
the universe. And if that is different from what others present to them, they’ll want
to know why I believe differently and how I came to that place. This is partly for
them, if they ever care to read.
My wife, thankfully, doesn’t care what I believe — or what I choose to avoid believing.
She’s more concerned with behavior and how I interact with the world around me. As long as I
can function in normal society, she doesn’t care whether I believe that sand particles are
gods and the Moon is made of Play-Doh. But I still want her to know. As one of the most intelligent
people I’ve ever met, she’s well-placed to counter any arguments I make here, to
challenge my memory and thought processes. And knowing the way I handled
the journey might give her some insight with someone else someday.
Mostly this is for those who
will have the most difficult time understanding my shift.
But mostly this is for family and friends who have known me throughout my life — those who
will have the most difficult time understanding my shift from blind faith into careful reason.
It’s important to me that they know I don’t resent them for pushing me in any
particular direction, or for teaching me something I would later have to pry forcefully from my
mind. It’s also important to me that they know I don’t think I’m superior
to them for having come to (what I insist are) superior conclusions. Many (most?) of them are still
in a place much closer to my origin than to my destination, and perhaps will not understand —
but I want to them to try.
And, I am convinced that they care enough about me to want to know where I stand.
It’s also for those friends who have only known me during the latter stages of my
enlightenment, or those whom I’ve not yet met. They will wonder why I react to certain
phrases or behaviors in particular ways. If they ask, I’ll tell them, but I have to
understand it first. And the best way for me to understand something is to write it down.
Others Will Have Similar Struggles
I have never read an account similar to mine — though I know that others have lived through
it, and likely some of them wrote about it. More often I read about the opposite: someone
living without faith who was drawn in, “converted” to Christianity. These stories are
popular material where I come from.
My story is — in at least a few
ways — akin to those who have been “deprogrammed” from life in a cult, though
there are certainly differences. Many of them “escape” into mainstream religions,
which — from where I sit now — isn’t that different from the cult they ran from,
other than the level of societal acceptance.
Would it have helped me at some point if there had been (or if I had found and read) an
account such as this? I think so. At least if it was written in a clear and reasonable fashion, without
attacking the point of origin too harshly.
So, on the slim chance that others like me are out there, I’ve struggled through forming
these few web pages — for more than a year — partly in the hope that another lost soul
will wander in and find solace.
Idiotic Portrayal Of Agnostics And Atheists
(Note: I considered myself “agnostic” when I began writing these pages. Partly
from evaluating my own beliefs and partly because of studying definitions, I changed my position
to “atheist” before completing this project.)
Long before I began to seriously question my faith in God, I was often confused by portrayals of
atheists and agnostics, both in the media and by fellow Christians — even in the Bible. The
Bible famously describes as “a fool” the person who says there is no god. Preachers and
fellow Christians in my circles often announced that atheists only pretended to not believe in God
so that they could sin with impunity. Atheists were portrayed as dark, sinister creatures, only
interested in their own evil pleasures, probably laughing by candlelight at abortions and the
Holocaust, and cackling gleefully while plotting to ban religion everywhere.
I’ve seen both atheists and theists poke fun at agnostics as “intellectual
cowards”, fence-sitters unwilling to commit. Even South Park famously
lampooned agnosticism, depicting parents
that forbid their numerous foster children from expressing any notions of certainty about anything,
even soft drinks.
Even in my most fervent Christian years, I knew these depictions weren’t accurate. I had a
high school English teacher who was an open atheist; she simply found no evidence for any gods and
in fact found the idea somewhat humorous, but was never hostile to religion. One of my managers at
one of my first jobs was an atheist (and gay, which at the time seemed even worse to me). He was
kind and considerate, as well as brilliant and witty. He just didn’t believe in any gods.
We probably shouldn’t have, but we spent considerable time talking about religion and faith,
and whether my God’s existence could be proved. Mostly, I made assertions and he asked
questions that I couldn’t answer.
I also met a few self-described agnostics, none of whom were as described. They simply realized it
is impossible to prove — with current information — whether or not any gods exist. A
few went so far as to say it could never be proved. But none were intellectually deficient.
So, when I realized I was agnostic on the entire question, and as I came to realize my position
could be more accurately described as atheism, I wanted to counteract some of these
still-perpetuated myths about atheists and agnostics. Before I considered “coming out”,
I considered a series of positive and explanatory blog entries about atheism and agnosticism.
In fact, I wrote a couple of them, including
this one, regarding how different
people might visualize a graph of beliefs, and
talking about atrocities blamed on religions or lack of religion.
But I knew that I couldn’t be completely honest in these types of discussions if I did not
own up to my own lack of faith. I had already begun to notice in several discussions how difficult
it was to word my responses carefully so as to not give away my utter disbelief in gods. I had been
attempting to play both sides, thinking I was freer to discuss both religion and atheism if I kept
my own position hidden. It simply wasn’t true. I have always favored honesty, and have never
wanted to be a hypocrite. I wanted to be able to discuss these issues plainly.
In a blog entry (here), I list many
examples of negative media portrayals of atheists. The more of us that “come out”,
the easier it will be for the general public to know those portrayals are false.
Why Write So MUCH?
My first instinct was to have one blog entry about this, simply stating my new position with
a paragraph describing it. Of course, I realized, many people would not
understand without a little background. Once you know the background, there is the question of
how and why I made the change.
Further, because I spent so much time on the side of faith, I anticipated a thousand questions.
Some of the less crazy ones, I warded off by adding new lines of explanation, some of which grew
into new pages.
I still would rather have just one simple page, and perhaps someday — in a fit of
brilliance — I will edit this accordingly.
This is the updated version of this page. To see the original version,
click here. Known edits are listed
Edit, 2015.07.25: Changed “most” to “much” in