[This was intended as a reply to a post here about struggling with deconversion. As I was composing this reply, the original post was removed. I don't know why. But I thought this was a good reply, and maybe could help someone else, so I hope nobody minds me making it a separate post. If the original post's author would like me to remove this for any reason, let me know and I'll delete it.]

Hi, sorry to hear your struggle is so difficult. I have never been religious myself, but I know many people who were and I know the damage it can do. I have respect for your will to keep searching for a reliable way to freedom of thought.

(Forgive me if some of my suggestions you've already done. This is general advice I give to everyone who struggles with deconversion and reversion. I don't know your specific situation.)

In my experience, the people who deconvert the most reliably are those who take the time and effort to learn critical thinking skills and self-introspection. The goal is to examine your beliefs and really attack them: "How do I really know that? Maybe I don't. Can I defend that belief with logic, reason, and evidence? Am I committing a logical fallacy? An informal fallacy? Is it wishful thinking?" Etc. Only the beliefs which are really true will be able to withstand honest, determined skepticism. When you develop these skills, it is like developing an immune system against infection from all sorts of 'viruses' like the 'God virus'. As you throw away each false and unnecessary belief, you'll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders.

I recommend trying to debate with theists. You will see all the terrible lines of reasoning that people put themselves through in order to maintain their irrational beliefs. When you can start to see the flaws in other people's thinking, you will also begin to see that you commit many of the same errors, and you can then correct your own errors of thinking. There are many online forums where you can practice debating theists, and watch how other atheists and skeptics tear down the arguments. The one I go to is the Rational Response Squad (RRS). (They also have an AN group here, though there are no theists to debate on AN.) If you go to the RRS forums and post an introduction, explaining your struggle, you'll get a warm welcome and possibly some additional tips/links. Then you can join in the vigourous debate and learn how to defeat bad ideas (including your own bad ideas, which are the most important ones to defeat). Richard Feynman once said (paraphrasing here): It's very easy to fool people, and the easiest person to fool is yourself.

Also, the second thing you need to do is examine your feelings about religion and try to figure out what keeps drawing you back into it. Is it fear of hell (many deconverts have lingering fears of hell, even though they no longer actually believe in it!)? Getting a kind of 'buzz' out of wishful thinking? The sense of community and belonging? Etc. Religions have what I call 'emotional hooks', which are specific beliefs or ideas which trigger particular emotions in people, which 'hook' the person to a) believe in the first place, b) continue believing, and c) deepen belief and draw you closer to fundamentalism. I highly recommend the book, The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund Cohen, for a detailed analysis of how fundamentalist Christianity sinks its hooks into you and twists your worldview (it will also shed light on other religions as well, I'm sure). Once you've identified the major emotions tying you to religion, you will need to 'de-program' yourself by finding non-religious alternatives to satisfy those lingering feelings. Analyze the idea of hell until its absurdity is so obvious that fears of hell begin to fade away (see this video for a great demonstration of how this analysis can eliminate fear of hell). Find a local non-religious support group just to get some social contact in a non-religious setting. That kind of thing. This is how people cure themselves of phobias, by confronting their irrational beliefs and then accommodating themselves to the situations they fear.

I recommend tapping into your sense of wonder (hence my username) at the natural universe. Begin learning about science, how it works, some of the amazing things we've discovered, and ground yourself on the solid facts of reality. Watch the fantastic series Cosmos by Carl Sagan, which explores the incredible universe through the lens of science. Study evolution until you *really* get it, and when it sinks in, I guarantee you'll start to look at the world differently, and with a greater appreciation for nature. God is imaginary, but wonder is real.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you for the suggestions, Wonderist. I have joined The Rational Responders and am looking forward to my first post. I am 34, was raised Methodist, and I've questioned the faith that I was indoctrinated into since I was around 8? I have NOT come out to my family yet, as there are many things that I am still struggling with.
1.My family truly believes with all of their being that there is a god and that the bible should be taken as fact. (Just passover the disturbing parts of the old testament.)
2. I have followed along with this teaching for the past 34 years of my life, even taking my daughter to church with me. (Her seventh birthday is today!)
3. My divorce has recently finalized, and religious upbringing has been brought up in the many custody hearings, as well as my daughter's therapy sessions. How do I explain to her therapists that I have "switched" to Atheism?
4. I'm trying to stay off of Facebook, and one of the reasons is that I am sort of put off by many of the Atheist groups and their members. They seem less interested in rationality and more interested in vampires, the undead, alcohol and S&M? (I'm so glad I found Atheist Nexus!) Sometimes it gets so absurd that I can't help but think these people may be christian trollers trying to make
Atheists look bad?
5. I want to be open and honest about the way I feel with my daughter, but I don't want her to have to take any more stress on than she already does when she is with her father.
6. I don't want it to seem as if I was "converted" to Atheism because of the views of my BF, I want to be sure that my family knows that this is a decision that I have made on my own, albeit his support has given me the prompting to take a closer look at my personal views.

That, in a nutshell, is why I joined Atheist Nexus. I want as much information as I can get, I want to keep abreast of news of the world, and I wanted to specifically find a group such as Recovering from Religion to get some encouragement in coming out.
You're welcome. :-)

You don't necessarily need to 'explain' to anybody that you've deconverted back to your natural state of atheism. Especially if doing so would put yourself or your child at any risk (e.g. custody problems, ostracism, etc.). It's really nobody's business but your own.

It really depends on your circumstances. If you feel like coming out is still risky, I might suggest finding ways to change your circumstances so that coming out would be safer. For example, if your child is in some sort of religious therapy, you might try to switch her to a non-religious therapy. If you're in a community surrounded by highly religious people who know you (e.g. members of your former church), you might try moving to a place that's less religious, or at least to one where the people don't know you and expect you to behave religiously.

The most important thing with a young child is to show/teach them that it's okay to be curious and question things and to think for themselves, and there's nothing wrong with having different beliefs. Lots of people believe lots of different things, and it's okay. In fact, the more exposure to different religions and belief systems, the better. When I read the Greek and Egyptian myths at around age 9 and 10, I was pretty much immunized against religion forever.
Wonderist, your message was extremely insightful. I dont struggle with converting back to chrisitianity anymore. However there are some mornings when when im half asleep and i have that feeling of dread come over me concerning hell. When im fully awake my rational mind returns and i can easily shake off those bronze age myths. I watched that youtube video on hell and i thought it was well done. I also plan on buying "The Mind of the Bible-Believer". I think that the advice given is sufficent. Come out when you're ready. I only came out when i knew that i could sufficiently defend my position in a rational and serious discussion, rather than an emotional tirade on both sides. I agree that you should continue to educate your mind and that will insulate you against all of those irrational of beliefs. For me after about 4 or 5 yrs out of the proverbial closet, i still watch debates on youtube or read different articles and history books. I do this to stay fresh and so my mind wont creep back to nonsense. Religious beliefs interest me so much that i'm currently seeking a degree in psychology. Also, I'm currently in an email debate with a friend i grew up with. We hooked up on facebook because a i told a mutual friend that i no longer believed or preached. (i was a former minister). Amazing that the only reason that we hooked up was so that she can reconvert me.


This is a little off topic for this post, but im wondering if you (aimed to wonderist, but anyone can answer) have any suggestions on how to get more people to actually "critically think" about their beliefs. I have a number of friends who i am currently talking to about my deconversion. The problem as i see it is that most people don't actually think about what they believe. They walk around and have this prior assumption that the bible is true and the revealed word of god. When i mention all the problems with inerrancy, interpolations, editing and downright falsehoods, they just shrug it off. Its amamzing to me that people can see that the bible is flawed and still think that a perfect and ominiscient being is responsible for its writing and content. I have other friends who just don't think for themselves. Some still ask me (they know i don't believe anymore) what the bible means here, or "what or where's that scripture?" i had and have a pretty good grasp on the bible. Does anyone else think that critical thinking is more of just well....more intellectual ability. Some, like us just have it while others just don't....when it comes to some things anyway. (I dont mean to be offensive.)
I've written a couple things which seem relevant to your questions: Wonderism vs. faith, and Why bother with critical thinking?

Personally, I think most people simply do not have critical thinking skills. They either didn't get them from their parents (who probably didn't have them either), didn't get them from school (which doesn't really teach them in any case), or they never picked them up on their own (let's face it -- not many people think of 'critical thinking' as an interesting subject to learn about).

I try to promote critical thinking in a social way, by being an unapologetic atheist and free-thinker. When I hear people talking bullshit, I calmly but bluntly call them on it. I focus on claims and evidence, rather than on the personalities involved. You make a claim, I'm going to ask you for your evidence. You don't have any evidence, I'm going to say you don't have a good reason to believe that claim. If the claim directly contradicts science, I'm going to go further and say that you have good reasons to *not* believe the claim, since science says otherwise.

There's no need to get into the attitude, "Gah, you're such an idiot! Don't you know that such and such?!"

A couple of things I keep in mind, which can temper my approach: There's nothing wrong with being ignorant of something; it's when you are stubbornly and willfully ignorant that there's a problem. The best, most reliable way to resolve conflicts of opinion is through evidence, not through faith. You don't have to sit silently listening to bullshit in order to 'keep the peace'. If someone is offended that I don't believe them or that I disagree with them, that's their problem. There is no inherent right to *not* be offended. I may even ridicule ridiculous beliefs, and there's nothing wrong with doing that either. Beliefs are not people, and people are not their beliefs. If someone doesn't want me to laugh at their beliefs, they shouldn't hold such silly beliefs.

I usually try to remain calm and respectful. Again, ignorance is not a crime, and nothing to be ashamed of, and so not something I should try to make people feel ashamed about. My main weapon for dismantling irrational claims and beliefs is the simple question, "Well, how do you really know that?" Then it's not about the person themselves, but the beliefs and the methods by which they came to their beliefs.

I try to emphasize the importance of critical thinking by simply saying, "There are a lot of people with all sorts of ideas, some good, some bad ... most bad. I just want to be able to tell the good ones from the bad ones. And I even apply the same critical examination to my own beliefs. It's really easy to fool people, and the easiest person to fool is yourself. Critical thinking is a set of methods that helps prevent and reduce the amount of times that you fool yourself into believing bad ideas."

Eventually, I'd like to start working towards or campaigning for a serious curriculum for Critical Thinking taught to kids starting around age 7 or 8. If 8-9 year olds can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, surely they can just as easily learn logical AND, OR, NOT, IF-THEN, and the logical and informal fallacies such as Argument from Popularity, or Argument from Authority.
Again well said wonderist. I'm going to read your articles. Another question;I find that when when I challenge or say that someting is ridiculous, or what they believe is believed for bad reasons, I find that the person feels its personal attack on the person themself. For whatever reason many people can't or don't seperate their beliefs (religious) from them. To attack the belief is to attack the person. I know I can't be the only one to experience this. I remember when I was "saved", if someone attacked my god, I felt as if they attacked me personally. How should we handle this?
This is perhaps one of the most common objections to atheism, that to even vaguely challenge the idea of god is somehow personally offensive and unacceptable. Some people are literally offended by the mere *existence* of atheists!

There are several layers to this, and several angles which you can take. I've started writing about Unapologetic Atheism, and you may be able to find like-minded writings around the web. Sam Harris specifically attacks the problem in the beginning part of The End of Faith.

Basically, there is an assumed taboo against criticizing religion. Religion gets 'respect' that other beliefs do not. This respect is entirely undeserved, and no one can justify it, so the only thing they can do is to try to enforce a taboo against criticizing religion.

Along with the taboo come several related concepts, such as the idea that religion is an 'important part of' a person, rather than just a set of beliefs. Also, there's the idea that 'faith' is a virtue, and you can't argue against faith.

The unapologetic approach to atheism responds basically like, "I'm an atheist. I don't believe in your gods. And there's nothing wrong with that. And there's nothing wrong with me publicly and loudly saying so. In fact, we think it is important to challenge religion because we think it is generally dangerous and harmful to believe ridiculous ideas on 'faith'. In fact, we are willing to ridicule ridiculous ideas. Furthermore, ideas are not people, and people are not their ideas. It is not disrespectful of a person to ridicule their ideas. Finally, if you are offended by this, too bad for you. People can get offended by literally *anything* if they allow themselves to. Offending someone's sensibilities is not a crime, there is no human right to *not* be offended, and an atheist who attacks religion and incidentally happens to offend religious people has not done anything wrong in doing so. Since we've done nothing wrong, we have nothing to apologize for. So we're not going to apologize. We are unapologetic atheists."

At the end of the day, people are just going to have to accept the fact that they are not their beliefs, and getting upset over criticism of religion only serves to bring the unjustified taboo to the surface. We are actively trying to challenge and break that taboo, so that religion does not keep its undeserved special privileges in society.

If someone really insists on playing the "I'm offended!" game, you can show how absurd it is by just playing it right back at them, "I'm offended that you're offended!" or "I'm offended by your beliefs!" When they try to say that their offense is worthy and yours is unworthy, you can just show what hypocrisy that is. It's just the religion taboo brought out into the light of day to show how ridiculous it is.
I'm certainly interested in the unapologetic approach. Personally I dont know how to go about it. We as free thinkers or atheists have a long way to go to persuade ppl that a different non theistic approach is valid. We must take and keep a non condescending tone. I believe the ulitimate goal is to get ppl to wake up and realize that what they believe is silly and without any factual basis. In order to do that we need open and honest dialogue. Both sides need to listen. I agree that we shouldnt apologize for not believing in silly ideas, just like no one apologizes for not believing in Batman. The trick is to walk the fine line of non apology and keeping the dialogue going.
I'm of the opinion that there's no one right way to do it. In fact, I think the 'right' way is to go about it in a thousand *different* ways. Some people will go the 'friendly atheist' route, some will go the 'in your face' provocateur route, some will go the intellectual route, some will write a song about it. Each of these are legitimate, IMO, as long as they maintain an ethical grounding, for example in non-violence and in human rights and respect for freedom of speech and expression.

There are many different ways, and many different audiences. I won't condemn someone who takes a deliberately offensive 'tone', such as outright blasphemy, such as drawing cartoons of Mohammed or calling the Pope a mother-fucker (which, ironically, has been censored by Atheist Nexus, when I posted it here recently).

On the other hand, I agree that we must keep dialogue open. It's just that not everybody has to play the 'keep dialogue open' role.

Also, what can appear to be a condescending conversation-ender for one audience may be just the thing to tip an on-the-fence theist toward agnosticism or atheism when they see the silliness of religion soundly mocked.

An example: I've participated in many online debates where I (and others) ruthlessly tear apart some particular theist's shoddy arguments with mockery and ridicule. Of course, this never convinces that particular theist. But our audience in that case is not *only* that particular theist. Our full audience is everyone reading the debate, which includes hard-core theists, moderate theists, liberal theists, on-the-fence theists, deists, agnostics, etc. When all of these people are fully considered as the audience, then a ruthless tear into one particular theist's arguments can become an example of just how harmful religious faith is to rational thought. If this particular theist can delude himself with such shoddy arguments, what does that say about the millions of other theists who really don't have any better arguments than this person.

I don't condone mockery and ridicule of *people* per se. But I do condone it of ideas and beliefs, no matter how 'cherished'. Some people with cherished beliefs will get offended by that. It is inevitable. It's also unavoidable. Even super-mild criticism will offend some people. Let's stop beating around the bush: Ideas and beliefs are not people. It is literally impossible to 'insult' a religion. A religion is not a person that can be insulted. The flip side is that *people* are not their ideas or beliefs either. To mock a belief is not somehow to mock the believer. Unfortunately many people allow themselves to tangle up their egos with their beliefs, but that is their mistake. If one day I discover that the Big Bang theory is false because new evidence supports a stronger theory, I'm not suddenly going to be 'offended' by the scientists who invalidated my prior belief in the Big Bang. I don't have my ego all tangled up in my belief in the Big Bang. This makes perfect sense. But for some reason, many people think religion is somehow different and deserves special kid-glove treatment. Well, frankly, it doesn't.

We can keep the dialogue and conversation going, no problem. And we don't need to treat religion any differently than we treat politics or sports or art or music, all of which are frequently mocked and ridiculed, and no one throws a hissy fit when they are. In fact, the only *real* way to keep the conversation going is for religion to be treated exactly the same way we treat other topics of conversation: Not as taboo to criticize, but as fully legitimate to criticize, just like anything else. When religion demands special respect, and when people give it special respect, *that's* what kills the dialogue, because that requires genuine critics to hold their tongues and refrain from saying what they really think: Religion is mythology at best, and bullshit at worst.
I dont believe that religion should be off limits to anyone either. When one says they know something like I'll spend an eternity in hell for not believing certain bronze age myths, they should put up or shut up with evidence. I believe that trying to convince ppl through whatever works for them is the path to take. This will occur in one on one coversations in which there is true dialogue. If one appeals to emotional reasons for having faith, then point out the inadequacy of emotions. For those who are a little more reasonable, then appeal to scientific facts, history, etc.
I've had a few email debates and of course then i also take the gloves off. Until the general public says that religion is open to the same scrutiny that any other subject is, we have much work to do.
I'm reminded of my christian days when a popular saying (from the bible) goes; one plants, one waters, but god gives the increase. The point is that what we say to one person today may have an effect on tomorrow. The first time I heard an atheistic argument when i was still a believer, i wasnt convinced. However, as time went on, i heard more and more and gradually the blinders came off. The slow process of listening, reason and study worked for me. Maybe i'm too optimistic in thinking that it will work for all.
I often feel that emotional tirades that attack only make the believer more firm and hunker in like a tick who is trying to be pulled away. Another bibilcal quote says 'with love and kindness have i drawn thee.' Also remember tha adage about the wind and sun having the conversation about who could get the guy to take the coat off.
My point is that there is time for nukes and times for tactical and surgical strikes. Just keep the lines of communication open. I like to leave ppl with something to think about.

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