Posts Tagged ‘deconversion’

A Mission of Deconversion – True Altruism

History is overflowing with stories about the religious or ‘saved’ trying to convert heathens to belief in a god. Many believers feel they are ‘called’ to the task of converting people who would otherwise be damned to Hell without their intervention, all while securing their own spot in Heaven. The selfish nature of these “altruistic” missions has always seemed ironic to me.

But what about a movement to deconvert the faithful? Should this be OUR calling? Should we care about the millions of people who are squandering their only opportunity for happiness, this one life, on prescriptive fairytales and voodoo? Should we be working hard, as many New Atheists believe, to put an end to religion for the good of humanity? This would be true altruism!

 While we all hope that logic will prevail and the world will be a safer place without religion, do any of us actually expect to change the minds of believers? We haven’t a hope of convincing someone to give up their god if they aren’t already questioning and flirting with apostasy. Deconverting from a belief in god requires not only embracing truth, but abandoning faith. And faith is wrapped up with promises, community and a false sense of security. It doesn’t matter how water-proof and logical the arguments are for non-belief because Faith is the antidote for logic.

It is shocking to me the number of times that otherwise seemingly intelligent people have informed me that evolution is just my “opinion”, or that they can’t ‘believe in’ dinosaurs because they aren’t in the scriptures.  These denials of unbiased, scientific facts are exhausting because they remind me of the futility of reason in this debate.  

Is there a line of reasoning or argument that would help people who are happy in their belief and who have faith up the yin yang question their religion? I appreciate the resources available for those who are doubting or looking for community – books, videos, journals, comedy, etc. But beyond those of us Atheists who have already joined the club, who else is listening? Who is being convinced? 

I don’t think that deconversion can be coerced. We can’t offer promises that can compete with those offered by religion, at least not initially. While every deconverted Atheist I have ever met admits to being much happier without belief numbing their lives, these personal testimonies just don’t seem persuasive enough on their own.

Perhaps if Atheists could come up with the massive funding of religious organizations we could sponsor young skeptics to travel to the far ends of the Earth on a mission of deconversion. As an organized and well-funded group we could help to deconvert those who need it the most – those communities already touched by the mind-altering drug of ‘faith’. However, without the bait and impetus of salvation we probably wouldn’t get further than the corner pub.

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Who’s The Better Atheist?

 Lately my husband and I have debated about which of us is a better Atheist.

He is from a country where religion is less central to society and there is little pressure to have any belief. Many people there probably walk around their whole lives without ever having to think about or discuss their beliefs concerning a deity. He has always been an Atheist, although he never felt the need to label himself until coming to America, where the assumption of belief is part of the dominant culture. 

I however, am deconverted from a devout belief in god. I also grew up in rather conservative parts of America.

We often discuss the extent that religion is institutionalized in American society. The differences in our previous programming are evident. He doesn’t fully appreciate how most Americans view non-belief. He is proud of our non-belief and does not hide in any closet. He sees it as the most normal thing in the world.  On the other hand, I, the VisibleAtheist, am more cautious.

Visible is a notion I aspire to, not one that I have accomplished. I walk more gently when I am on “hallowed” ground. I know that some people WILL be uncomfortable if I inject the ‘A’ word into a conversation. And sometimes, I just need to get some work done, need to advocate for my child in a delicate situation or don’t feel like watching others squirm when I am trying to make friends. He is perplexed by my relative timidity in such situations.

I also have a profound respect for the few positive roles that religion plays in culture. I don’t know whether this sympathy is rooted in my personality or my religious past. Maybe it comes from a bit of both. However, my husband is more in line with the New Atheists in that he believes all religion is harmful, even in the context of culture. Perhaps this is part of his personality or comes from never being part of the “The Fold”.  Perhaps it’s a bit of both for him too.

On The A-Unicornist a fellow blogger referred to “Cultural Atheists.”  Adding this term to my lexicon gave me a framework for deconstructing our tension on the issue.  The definition of a Cultural Atheist according to The A-Unicornist is a person:

“who hails from a place where there is far less (if any) sociocultural pressure to accept supernatural magic as infallible truth. Thus, they tend to treat theistic claims about reality the same way they treat any other claim about reality – as claims whose credibility is contingent upon evidence

It reminds me of the different ways that Atheists often incorporate or claim Atheism as part of their identity. In my research I found that those who deconverted generally held their atheism very dear, were sensitive to societal exclusions and defended non-belief with passion. Anecdotally, I find that those who have always been Atheist are less connected to their non-belief as a part of their identity.  In short, I am more sensitive to just about anything having to do with religion and he is much more matter of fact in his knowledge that this is the way and the truth.

When we got married almost a decade ago I expected some cultural adjustments for each of us, but I never expected we would argue about who was a better Atheist. I guess it could be worse.


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Death Of An Afterlife

One of the greatest lures of religion is the ability to achieve the magical – an afterlife.  As a species we have imagined our superiority to include a fate beyond what the rest of the animal kingdom faces. Many people would be paralyzed if they did not get to believe in their version of eternity, instead of having to face the banal finality of death.

 For those who have deconverted from believing in a personal god, the death of an afterlife is a right of passage. Whether it is mourned like the loss of a close friend or celebrated like the death of a villain in the theatre, there is no denying it has a place in the process. Some find release and some struggle with losing the compelling picture of an afterlife constructed during belief.

I have been encouraged to believe in god, simply on the possibility of an afterlife.  The “What if you are wrong? Are you willing to take that risk?” argument makes me sigh with futility, although there was a time when I gave it some space.

During my deconversion I suffered a protracted phase of denial simply because I didn’t want to risk being wrong. In the end, I argued (with myself) that denying the giant tsunami-size force of logic in my own head was not going to fool the Christian god anyway – as he was all-knowing. I might as well stop fighting it. I was using a lot of energy trying NOT to THINK so that I could still “believe” in god and an afterlife.

* I’ve heard statements from deconverts who feel wonderfully liberated from the idea of eternity. The pressures to perform in order to get into heaven are heavy, and the consequences of not getting the formula right (fire, brimstone and gnashing of teeth) can be terrifying. And every religion has a different prescription to get there – some include arbitrary tasks like baptism, confession, saying a prayer correctly or joining just the right denomination.

* Others tell me that life is richer now that they can focus on this life and stop delaying gratification to some unknown eternity.

* And still others tell me they are relieved that there is no eternity because it’s just to long anyway!

Personally, when I look at my children, I still miss the comfort of thinking something could be there when we die. Just being honest here.  But yes, I also know that we have all gained much more in non-belief.

My mourning of an afterlife may have been born of my religious past. In my family we went through various Christian religions including: fundamentalism, Jehovah’s Witness and Catholicism. These traditions offer very vivid descriptions of what awaits you after death. They are not metaphoric either. People who practice these faiths really believe that streets will be gold, there will be gates to heaven, a big book with your name, etc. And Hell really does resemble Dante’s Inferno. It’s very important to be on “god’s side” if you want to enjoy true happiness. To my child-self, this was more than I could process, and like any foolish excess it left a big hangover. 

In my research study, the participants widely suggested that losing the afterlife was a point of discomfort and contributed to their want to “make religion fit”. But like myself, they got over it eventually and moved  on to the things we can control about life. I haven’t met an Atheist yet who is not happier without religion, despite or because of the death of an afterlife.

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