Telling Others I am an Atheist

Over the past 3 years I have told several people that I am a former Christian, now an atheist. Interestingly, but probably not surprisingly, I’ve found that telling strangers is much easier than telling those I already know. I’m talking about face to face conversations here.

In my former job, I spent a good deal of time on the train to and from London; a journey of over three hours. So it is inevitable that I’ll occasionally end up in conversation with my neighbour and sometimes that conversation will go on for most of the journey. As a result, there are times when the subject turns to science or religion. In these circumstances I found myself being very open about my religious status. In almost every case the person I’ve been talking to has been a fellow atheist or agnostic. On revealing that I’m a former Christian, very few of these fellow travellers took the subject further and showed any interest in why I changed my stance. Those that did found my ‘science convinced me’ explanation sufficient and acceptable.

Basically, those who already hold a view that the god concept is either questionable or false have accepted my change of religious state with a ‘Cool, good for you’ and moved on. Sometimes that can be a little deflating; this is a subject that dominates my life after all. I lived a Christian life for many years and the step away was difficult and challenging and the ripples do continue. Changing your stance on religion is not comparable to changing your preference of car. This has been a good experience for me because it has forced me to step outside of what dominates my life and engage with others on what is meaningful to them. Something I didn’t do often enough when I was a Christian.

On the flip side, telling Christians is, predictably, a whole other experience. Those that know me are understandably sad, this is because they know me and care for me. Their response is out of love for a friend and I fully get that, but it is still not an affirming response.

Last week I told a total stranger, who is a Christian, and the result almost comical. I say almost because her reaction was instinctive, she wasn’t faking it. Thinking about it after the event I wonder how my Cristian self would have responded in the same situation. My timing also sucked a bit too. I was on my way home after a week of work and happened to sit next to her, with a work colleague, she overheard us talking about my upbringing in Africa and how I was from missionary stock. This encouraged her, because she happened to be on her way home from a Christian event called David’s Tent. Not something I am familiar with, but from what she said it seems to include extended sessions of worship that last over 24 hours. Not something I’ve done myself and strikes me as a tad excessive. Anyway, this girl, is on her way home, tired and full of the effects of having spent a week with fellow Christians; something I most certainly can identify with, I’ve been there many times, as a leader on a summer camp and as one of thousands at a popular Christian festival. Probably not the best time to get faced with a former Christian.

When I told her I had turned my back on faith she actually winced and leaned away from me. It was as though I had caused her genuine and severe mental anguish, maybe I did. The trigger seemed to be the phrase “I just don’t believe anymore”. It was as though her brain was trying to shout back, “that’s not possible”. I changed the subject onto her job and she relaxed again. It turns out she takes the same train route to and from work so maybe I’ll bump into her again, who knows.

Breaking it all down into its simplest states, Christian responses to my atheism are understandably sad while non-religious responses are either indifferent or congratulatory. Which brings me to a very serious point; this balance of reactions only encourages me to seek out my atheist brethren and form friendship bonds with them. If Christians want to win atheists back, they need to develop a better response.

 

The Cowardly British Media

 

At the tail end of last year there was an incident where students at the London School of Economics (LSE) were asked (forced even?) to cover up their T shirts during a freshers fair because they depicted images from the Jesus and Mo cartoon. Apparently the images could be construed as offensive and radical Muslims have been known to react violently when images of their prophet are publicly displayed (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jan/04/danish-cartoonist-axe-attack).

The incident at the LSE made national headlines and the LSE apologised to the students concerned (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/20/lse-university-apology-students-atheism-tshirt-religion-jesus-muhammad). That wasn’t the end of it though, the ripples continued when Muslim Maajid Nawaz tweeted a Jesus and Mo cartoon stating that it didn’t offend him (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/28/maajid-nawaz-muslim-lib-dem-candidate-cartoon). He appeared on the BBC show The Big Questions, where he reiterated his comments and reinforced his position that he is defending his religion from the loud radicals. The show is not available on the BBC site, but is on his own site (http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/in-the-media/maajid-nawaz-on-the-big-questions-should-human-rights-outweigh-religious-rights/).

It is at this point that the press show their yellow colours. BBC News and Channel 4 News each showed clips from the show, which featured wearers of the same T shirts. Both organisations blurred out the Mo image and claimed they were doing it out of sensitivity and desire to not offend. Each framed their actions as though they were doing an honourable thing. When I heard that explanation, my mind immediately went back to when the BBC received a bucket load of complaints about the Jerry Springer opera (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4154071.stm). Back then the BBC did not back down and insisted they had a right to air the show as it was a cultural commentary. I was a Christian then and despite not seeing it, I argued against it because I held the view that the show intentionally meant to offend Christians. I did not go so far as to be one of the thousands who complained officially, but I did think there was an argument to be had. So far as I am aware, no Christians went out and killed anyone over it, or publicly threatened to, a detail which marks the event as different to that of Muslims and the publishing of the Mohammad image.

Oh how times have changed.

I suspect that if the Jerry Springer Opera were to be happening now, the BBC would still go ahead because what is really going on here is that death threats and murder has actually made some organisations to become cautious about what they publish and have by default allowed the bullies and the scoundrels to get their way. The problem with this is that it gives the message that this is a good method of getting your own way and will only encourage similar action again.

What bothers me more is that it is often reported that displaying the image of Mohammad is contrary to Islamic law, well the last time I checked, this country was not answerable to Islamic law. What is happening here is that bullies and radicals are forcing their own laws into a foreign culture through threat and violence, while also using the same tactics in their own land to force visitors to abide by their own existing laws. This is an imbalance and one that needs to be resisted and the BBC and Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves for being so cowardly.

The creator of Jesus and Mo has a good retort to the recent events (http://www.jesusandmo.net/2014/01/29/black/).

I also like what the Richard Dawkins Foundation has to say on the matter (http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2014/2/4/what-is-wrong-with-channel-4-s-censorship-of-jesus-and-mo)

For those who which to buy a Jesus and Mo T shirt here:  http://www.cafepress.com/jmoshop

 

Evolution vs God

Thanks to this link at Evolution is True (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/odious-ray-comfort-movie-watch-it-below-to-be-distributed-in-public-schools/) I have been able to watch the much talked about Ray Comfort movie; Evolution vs God. I found the whole thing painful to watch and, having been a creationist for most of my life, I could see the thinking behind most of the questions, which made it all the more agonising. Odious is certainly a good word to describe it.

Elsewhere on the web I have seen the movie described as confrontational. There certainly are some confrontational elements to the questioning, but that doesn’t adequately describe the whole movie.

The movie basically takes the form of a question and answer session, with Comfort asking the same questions of several people and stitching it all together so that it forms a basic narrative. That narrative being, first challenge evolution, then imply a creator, then condemn the person and then offer salvation. It’s a basic evangelical tactic. As is usual for this form of product, there is no way for the viewer to know what was omitted and what the exact questions were that are being answered by the participants; the questioning appears to be a post edit voice over. It is clearly edited together with a specific end result in mind. Not unusual for most movies of this style really.

There are a couple of things that stood out for me.

Kinds

The creationist adherence to the word ‘kinds’ is as meaningless as it is annoying. Biologically, it has no definition and that gives Comfort infinite weasel room. At one point he asks for an observable example of one animal changing. A few examples of speciation are given. PZ Myers gives the best one, which is a fish type in a lake in Africa (http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijeb/2012/349485/). The predictable response is ‘but they are still fish’.

Well, of course they’re still freaking fish you moron!

The fish species given in the example have changed to a different fish with different attributes and characteristics and don’t inter mate. Comfort knows this is how Evolution works and is simply pandering to something that requires such a long period of time that it is only possible for us to show the smaller step of a species changing into a different sub-species.

You’re a sinner

He asks many of the responders if they have ever lied or stolen. He then extrapolates that into making those people admit to being liars and thieves. I’d love to know if anyone turned that back on him. Getting people to admit that at some point in their life they did do something insignificantly wrong and then making that out to be a defining characteristic is a low blow tactic. Worse than that it is devious and manipulative, not something I consider fitting for someone who represents an evangelistic organisation.

Defensive Looks

At several points several of the respondents looked like they were in very defensive poses. This tells me that the questioner was taking a line that irritated them and they could see what was happening and were doing their best to keep cool. My respect to them because I found myself getting quite cross with the directions and daft logic leaps that were being displayed.

Summary

I am actually quite shocked by this movie. It is a despicable example of manipulation. I was going to say it also displays poor understanding of Evolution, but I think Comfort is more intelligent than that, I think he understand it better than he shows. He understands it well enough to frame his questions from a specific position that he knows will not give a good enough answer to satisfy his requirements and he uses that knowledge to build a straw man for easy bashing.

I have seen Ken Ham praising Comfort and this movie and frankly, having watched it, both have sunk in my estimation. It does not show the supporting Christians in a loving light.

If you must watch the movie, don’t have a drink nearby, you will end up spraying it out. Also do not watch it just before going to bed, you’ll be tossing and turning for hours trying to get the stupid out of your head.

 

Swearing on the Bible

 

A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I found myself swearing an oath with my hand on a bible.

In my Christian days I this practice bugged me somewhat. I always considered the verse in James which talks about not swearing on the book of the law and letting your word be reliable. In my more arrogant moments I would say that if I were ever in that situation I’d open the Bible to the relevant passage, read it, and then refuse the request.

These days, I’m not quite so hot headed about the issue, but I do wonder why it is done and why people still accept it. There is good argument for both Christians and atheists to object to the practice. The way I squared with it was that I took the view that it was better to have a bible there on display and seen as a symbol of trustworthiness. The issue now, is that it is only Christians who have that option.

I get the reasons; there is solemnity in putting your hand on the bible and making a promise. As a child, the challenge from people doubting ones word was to “swear on your mother’s life”. People who really wanted to be believed would do this in an effort to show their reliability. My mother’s life is more valuable to me than a bible; can’t that be used as a sign of my reliability? Of course the legal process would consider that a flippant offer, so why should the bible be seen as less flippant?

As it happens, the oath swearing was a requirement of my being an executor of my late mother’s will and in order for my brothers and I to get our inheritance, I had to make a visit to a solicitor and swear that I am me.

It is interesting that for items such as passports it is sufficient for me to get a photo signed by someone who knows me or that for me to go and get a benefits payment I just need to produce a document with my name and address on it, along with something with a signature. However, this process required something more, and that something more is for me to visit the office of someone who has never met me before, put my hand on a bible, promise I am me and sign a form. My neighbour could have done it in my place and no one would have been any wiser. Well technically, the signature could eventually be checked and found to be wrong, assuming it was checked downstream of the swearing.

The actually event took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. The first alert came when I was introduced by the secretary as being there for a swearing oath, she then informed the duty solicitor that there was a bible in the meeting room. Because of the background detailed above I was immediately on alert for what was about to happen.

After a brief chat with myself I decided it wasn’t worth kicking a fuss over and that I would go with it.

The moment itself was me with my hand on the bible repeating a phrase that was being read out to me. The only other times I have repeated stock phrase was at the dedication of my daughter, when I was a god-father and when I got married. All those seemed more solemn than the moment I was having in that average meeting room with my hand on a slightly battered bible.

I took it seriously, but it didn’t feel as wholly solemn as it should have. I dare say that if I was still a believer I may have felt differently.

Afterwards I asked the solicitor if there had ever been anyone object to the process. She said not, but that there was an alternative phrase for the occasion should someone prefer to forgo the bible option. I was both impressed and pleased there is that option but I don’t think I missed out on anything by choosing not to object; after all, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. My promise would still mean the same and any falsities would still hold the same punishment.

I couldn’t help wonder though, if this practice should be consigned to history and what value it really has. Those that will intend to lie their way will do so, bible or not, and those that wish to be honest will do so, bible or not. I don’t believe the presence of the bible in situations like this makes a difference. It’s the solemnity of the moment that is important; in which case it probably is time that something was found that will be equally acceptable to Christians, atheists and other faiths alike.

Though, honestly speaking, it is not something I’d consider important enough to campaign for. There are far bigger issues in the world than the need to worry about the technicalities of convincing people to tell the truth.

 

 

Dying to see God

Recently I watched a video from Discovery News on the phenomena of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). Video here (http://testtube.com/dnews/dnews-517-white-light), I recommend watching it before continuing, its only a couple of minutes and worth your time.

It gives a very good summary of the current state of understanding of NDEs and its very interesting. For years NDEs have been jumped on by the religious community as being proof of an afterlife, specifically heaven. Over the years I have heard of several testimonies from people which included an NDE as part of the subject’s journey. They are always used as an indicator of the reality of heaven and the teller typically tells of a joyous sense of calm during the experience.

It is worth noting that the testimonies I have heard on the subject have always been from a Christian perspective and so my knowledge of NDE reports is heavily skewed with that bias.

NDEs as proof of heaven

Whenever I hear a story of an NDE I always think of this story (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Proof-Heaven-Neurosurgeons-Afterlife-ebook/dp/B008TTPQXA/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1) or at least one like it. I am sure the book I have heard of is a lot older than the book in that link.

From the perspective of many Christians, stories like this are seen as tangible proof of the divine and when someone has an experience like that and tells it in Christian terms it can provide very real encouragement and confirmation to those who sometimes struggle with their faith.

Thinking back to my Christian days, I’m asking myself how I felt about NDEs, there were certainly times when I never doubted that they were real and that people were provided with a glimpse of heaven. However, there were also times when I found myself wondering about the details that were occasionally provided. These are now so long ago that I honestly can’t say what effect they had on me at the time.

With this latest scientific research I find myself being relieved that there is an explanation that makes sense. Though I do also find myself wondering how the believing Christians will respond to this news.

 

I’ve been working with a Creationist

I must confess I find this amusing.

In my work for an IT consultancy I tend to work at a variety of customers and not always with the same colleagues. The past few weeks I have been working with a chap who I first met about a year ago on another project and during the three short weeks we were working together we got on well.

This time round we it is nearer 3 month and we’ve had the chance to get talking on various subjects, including personal things and it came out that he was a Christian. I told him my wife was and I used to be. There wasn’t time to continue that conversation at the time but he did indicate that he would be interested in the story of why I left the faith.

Well, last month that chance came, by coincidence it was the last day I was on the project and so I don’t know when we’ll next work together.

I told him that I used to be a creationist (this piqued his interest) and that as I gained a better understanding of science the realisation that I could no longer trust early Genesis to be true caused problems and as that realisation spread through other parts of the bible I eventually realised that no Adam meant no original sin and therefore there was no point in Jesus; at which point it was game over.

Of course he disagreed with my conclusion and during the conversation it became clear that he was sympathetic to creationism, even though he didn’t out himself as one specifically. When he said that the flood was global in his mind and that carbon dating was shown to be flawed I knew his creationist credentials were there.

I tried to counter his claims with the standard scientific explanation and he came back with the same creationist stuff I was saying 20 years ago. It was a very bizarre form of déjà vu.

He also came out with the classic claim that scientists are always changing (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/oh-science-why-do-you-change-so-much/) their minds while the apologists stick to the same message. The explanation that mind changing is good because scientists follow the evidence simply didn’t wash, much the same as with my 20 year younger self.

It also became apparent in the conversation that he was swayed more by good rhetorical argument then he was by good scientific explanation. I guess the same would have been true of me once too, though I am not conscious of it.

It was sad to experience, maybe my conversation will help to challenge him to look at science more, we’ll see. He probably equally hopes he has helped me back onto the right path and may even pray for his witness to me and for my eventual conversion.

Maybe there will be an update when we cross paths on the next project, who knows.

 

Is it deconversion or just another conversion?

Since the great admission to my wife, almost two years ago, that I had rejected my Christianity and considered myself an atheist, we’ve had a number of discussions on the subject of faith and our opposing attitudes to it. On the whole these have been positive discussions, in the sense that we’ve mostly been able to have them without unhelpful emotional extras. This is how I had always hoped we’d be able to converse about faith, it’s a source of sadness that I spent several years alone in my journey afraid that we’d discuss my loss of faith in a negative or hurtful way, only for that fear to turn out to be unfounded.

It has not always been a smooth ride, we have had difficult discussions and there have been moments when one or other of us has got angry or upset. Those times have been the minority though and it is to my shame that I must admit I did not give her enough credit, having known her for all those years, I should have been able to predict her reaction better.

We’ve discussed many aspects of faith, getting braver with the depth of subject as time has moved on. We’ve probably discussed faith in greater detail in the past eighteen months than we had in the previous ten years of marriage, maybe even our whole marriage, though I’m less certain to place a bet on the latter. We’ve challenged each other and answered deep questions. We clearly disagree on the value of faith but we’ve been able to display to each other that it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker and that disagreeing with dignity is possible.

One of the lighter discussions we’ve had is over the semantics of how to describe my loss of faith. I refer to it as a deconversion, and all across the internet, where people of former faith hang out, the same word comes up. It makes sense to use conversion with the ‘de’ prefix because it signifies a step away from and in the opposite direction to the original conversion.

My wife does not like the deconversion word and prefers to describe it as another conversion, because it is a second conversion from one form of faith position or worldview to another. I have a bit of a problem with her logic, which is that I associate conversion directly with religion. I had a conversion to religion and now I have deconverted away from it. Her definition is not as narrow as mine, she takes the broader definition that conversion does not have to mean a religious conversion, it could mean a significant change in world view. In this case, my world view was one of a religious bent and now I have converted to an atheistic world view. Using that logic deconverted doesn’t make any sense and my experience is in fact, just another conversion. That makes sense semantically, to change world view is to convert from one to another, you don’t deconvert or unconvert, it’s a nonsense word to use.

Further complication arises when I see Microsoft Word underlining deconversion with a squiggly red line, clearly my computer thinks that no such words exists. If the word does not exist in Her Majesty’s beautiful language, then clearly it is not a word I can use to describe my position. So what is the best word to use? Does it matter?

Like many former Christians on the internet, I embrace deconverted as a description of my current faith state. The word has a great benefit because it immediately gets across the fact that the person to whom the word is being applied has not just moved away from religion but moved towards atheism. No further explanation is required. Try to get across the same meaning using ‘conversion’ instead and suddenly a whole sentence of supporting explanation is required. ‘Deconversion’ gets the meaning across far more efficiently; that it may not be a real word is irrelevant. However, I do accept that there is a negative connotation associated with the ‘de’ prefix and I do not consider my atheism as being negative at all.

Does that mean I should call myself an atheist convert?

I need to think about that one. I don’t like that description because saying convert tends to imply a position of faith and I absolutely reject any notion that that is where I am. I want it to be clear that I do not subscribe to a faith position. For now I’ll settle for no I would not call myself an atheist convert, maybe this is just a side effect of my rejection of faith and I’ll soften in my attitude to this word we’ll see. It is an interesting thought and I am sure we’ll return to it again at some point in the future, after all it does help to unpackage the thought processes of the past few years.

I’m now wondering what other semantic discussion are possible within this situation.

Answers on a postcard ….

 

And So The Pendulum Swings

When I first realised that my questioning of my Christianity meant that I was on the road towards atheism I made myself a promise. I promised myself that I would always be sympathetic towards Christianity.

Having slid slowly out of Christianity, I knew that there was much to admire about many Christians that I knew. I also knew that there was much that the churches behind organised religion do in their locality. I wasn’t leaving Christianity because I hated anything or anyone; I was leaving because the basis of the belief system isn’t true. People who I know are good people don’t suddenly become bad and meaningless just because I no longer believe what they believe.

I knew some atheists who were vocally anti religion and their comments would bug me because I viewed the comments as either ignorant or hateful and certainly without compassion. I wanted no part of that mentality so I promised myself that I would never become that sort of atheist and that I would always have that sympathetic attitude towards Christianity. It seemed like a sensible thing to do.

Unfortunately I now find myself in a place where I consider that promise naive and I can’t keep it anymore.

I Don’t Hate Religion

Let me be clear on that, I don’t have the hateful and mocking attitude towards religion that I so often see on various places on the internet. I find that deeply unhelpful.

However, I do find myself being less tolerant that I expected to be. It started with little things, like hearing or seeing comments about praying for situations but not seeing any evidence of actual practical effort to achieve the desired result. Or seeing that there are different ways to interpret bible passages with no clear guidance on what is being determined. If the message of Christianity is correct, then why are there so many arguments about what various passages mean? Surely if there is one God, it would be more obvious what was being said to his created beings in the bible. Such widespread ambiguity must surely be strong evidence for falsity.

I was starting to find myself agreeing with sentiment that I would have once discarded as atheistic nastiness. The fact is these were legitimate questions that I had never seriously considered.

There is a difference between honest criticism and religion bashing for sport. I am all for the former but want no part of the latter.

More than that, I do find myself wanting less and less Christian influence in my life. I’ve rejected the theology; I’ve rejected the lifestyle and now I found myself wanting to purge the influence of Christianity from other parts of my life. This is more serious because it has a direct impact on those close to me and has led to some difficult conversations and analysis of what stage my life is at.

Sitting back and analysing my atheist journey over the past, there has been a clear move further and further away from tolerating Christianity. I’ve moved further away from that point than I expected I would and it has been a bit of a surprise.

For the moment I am assuming that this is just a part of my deconversion experience and that at some point I’ll soften my attitude and the pendulum will swing a little back again. Until that happens, assuming it does, I’m going to have a fun ride while I wait to achieve a balanced viewpoint.

 

Conversing with atheists and former christians

To follow up on a previous guest post I have had (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-does-the-online-ex-christian-community-affect-those-who-have-questions-of-faith-or-doubt/) I asked unkleE of http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/ to answer a similar question from a Christian perspective and to touch on what its like to converse with ex-Christians. UnkleE has impressed me on other blogs with his calm and considered responses to questions where others have become defensive and aggressive.

The below is his post for me on the subject of conversing with atheists and former Christians.


 

Human beings are tribal

Most people seem to like to be part of a group and to take sides against other groups. Football fans cheer, argue and sometimes even fight on behalf of their teams.

It seems that atheists and Christians are often tribal too. Each group has its own heroes and gurus, its own predictable arguments, and, too often, a penchant for scorning those they disagree with.

 

Justifying nastiness

Both sides can find ways to justify nasty behaviour towards their opponents. Some Christians argue that atheists are dishonest and rebellious, and need to be forcibly reminded of their perilous position. Some atheists, finding their arguments bouncing off, conclude that Christians are delusional, and since rational argument isn’t working, ridicule just might.

It rarely works of course, but who needs truth to justify tribal behaviour?

 

The web is a different ballgame to real life

Often we use pseudonyms. It is easy to feel anonymous or separated from others, and easy to press the ‘Post Comment’ button too quickly.

When I first ventured onto the web about 7 years back, I found myself in an argumentative and polarising environment. At first I argued back, but I now feel there is a better way.

 

The world doesn’t need any more aggro

I don’t think many of us think the world needs more aggro. Yet somehow, we can convince ourselves that our little nasty comment is OK.

But as a Christian, I believe humans are made by God to have worth, gifts, feelings and logical minds. We are made for relationship and we need some affirmation. People should be treated with sensitivity and respect, something the New Testament emphasises.

So I try very hard now, without always succeeding, to respect each person, and only make comments that add to the discussion, not attack them. I try to ignore barbs that come my way and not respond in kind, even if it means I miss an opportunity to ram a point home.

 

Responses

I find many atheists I talk with appreciate this. But unfortunately many atheists on the web still seem to follow the inhumane model of ridicule a lot of the time. To my chagrin, a fair number of christians are just the same.

Consequently, I avoid some forums and blogs, and I avoid or ignore some who comment. It’s just not worth the aggro. Fortunately, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are happy to play by rules of common courtesy, and I gravitate towards them.

 

Talking with ex-Christians

Talking with ex-Christians is a special challenge. I naturally feel sad that they have given up what I believe is the truth. But often they have been hurt by the church, sometimes leading to their change of mind, sometimes as they went through the process of leaving. I think they need special sensitivity and patience from Christians – fierce argument is likely to be specially harmful here.

It is easy to feel they have betrayed the team, and to wonder whether they were ever personally convinced or their ‘faith’ was just cultural. But I cannot know what has happened in their lives, so I should respect what they tell me.

Perhaps the hardest thing is when I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too. I want to explain this to them, but sometimes they are not ready for anything except friendship, the wounds are still tender. Sometimes I think they are better off out of there – as long as they come around eventually to a more thoughtful form!

Ex-Christians often assume they have made a permanent and final change in their worldview, but statistics show that people who change once are quite likely to change again. So patience and courtesy are needed.

 

Ways forward

We all need to learn not to take offence easily, to have limited expectations of changing people’s minds and not to take it personally when others don’t agree with our arguments. We should enjoy getting to know and understand people who are different to us, and be willing to be in conversations for the long haul.

At the very least, we may help remove some misunderstandings, and who knows, we may even be part of a process of someone changing their mind. I still hope and pray for the people I talk with, for I do indeed want what is best for them.

How does the (online) ex-Christian community affect those who have questions of faith or doubt?

I would like to thank M. Rodriguez of the The BitterSweet End  (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com) for the following post. I suggested the title to him in response to his invite for me to write him a couple of guest posts because I was interested in another persons experience on this subject.

How does the (online) ex-Christian community affect those who have questions of faith or doubt?

For Many atheist or ex-Christians who really were not involved in evangelism during their Christianity they may not fully realize how much their interaction with a believer or doubting Christian impacts a person or affects the psyche of a person.

Now for the doubting or skeptical Christian there are a lot of skeptic websites debunking Christianity; but a good portion of those websites are really designed for other atheist to mock Christians.  Personally during my de-conversion I did not visit a lot of atheist websites for that very reason (and also a lot of them had a lot of profanity).  Fortunately I did find several Christian friendly atheist blogs that were about intellectually challenging the dogma of religion, and not mocking it.  Now for me the majority of my experiences have been good.  I have found a number of really good atheist blogs that I visit occasionally that are focused on being against the delusion of God and NOT the Christian person.  And I have a very supportive group that visits my blog on a regular also.  And they were very supportive when it came time for me to tell my wife about my de-conversion, with words like good luck, best wishes, our hearts and thoughts are with you.   Just real encouraging.

However not all my interactions have been positive.  During my deconversion process, I put up a post called the Atheist Challenge, which was 10 questions I thought would be very difficult for an atheist to answer.  And being a doubting wavering Christian, (but still a Christian) they were phrased in a way as coming from that perspective.  In saying that the Christian perspective, that they were loaded questions which assumed God.  And for me at that time, I did not fully comprehend that they were assumed loaded questions, because to me God was assumed true, so to put it any other way would be illogical.

Because of this questionnaire, I did receive some very sarcastic, uncooperative comments from atheist.  Calling my questions stupid and really not trying to answer, but provide a sort of reverse Ad Hominem argument with ridicule.

Fortunately there were other atheist and ex-believers who knew the background of why I asked the questions.  So they quickly came to my defense, against those who criticized me and the intelligence of the question.  Not that I was trying to prove atheist wrong, but these were genuine questions I really had and personally experienced.  And questions, that I knew I would get if and when I deconverted.  (And I did get a version of every single one after I did de-convert).

In that post questionnaire many of the so called difficult questions were not so difficult.  And because of the massive response I received, I can confidently say, that the atheist questionnaire/challenge did have a direct effect into me finally coming into the realization that the Christian Faith and Belief is fallacious.   So I have to say thank you to all those who took those questions seriously, and really did try to answer the questions of a former doubting Christian.  I appreciate the online community of atheist and ex-believers who took my questions seriously; because it was a turning point in my de-conversion, because those last 10 questions really closed the door on my doubt.  However this could have been a different story…..I could have dropped my inquiry into my religion right then and there, because of the negative perception & reaction of a few atheists.  And just returned to my Christian belief, because I did not want to be like all those other angry atheists.  And that thought really did cross my mind….But like I said, those Ex-believers and Atheist who were familiar with my story and my blog gave me the hope and confidence I needed to come to the terms of truth.

There is a saying that gets passed around in the Christian evangelical community…  you might be the only God people see…  Meaning that your actions and treatment of others might be the only interaction that a person might have with that belief system.  And that they may reject your God, not because of rational argument, but on how good or bad their interaction with you goes.  It further implies that the impression you give is a direct reflection of your belief.

Never more true is this statement as it applies to atheist & atheism.  What I mean by that, is that a Christian may say some harsh and mean things on an online forum or blog (Go to Hell, Burn in Hell, God hates you) but for every unkind Christian on a blog, there are 2-3 more who are willing to say I Love You or Jesus loves you.  Atheist-Atheism-Unbelieviers don’t have that luxury.  If an atheist puts up a mocking and ridiculing comment on believers, that really might be the one and only interaction which that believer might have with an atheist-unbeliever.  And that negative perception of an atheist will carry with that believer, and spread because there are not very many other atheists to help correct that one mis-action of the angry atheist.

Now some may think, that this point is really some type of irrelevant emotion appeal, and that atheism is the intellectually honest position, so that they don’t have to be nice or loving or show compassion, because the believer should be able to recognize and rationalize intelligent argument and be able to come to the right conclusion regardless if I am mean or nice.  Well that misperception becomes irrelevant in the grand scheme of human interaction.  Just ask yourself… Would you rather be Intellectually Right/Correct OR Loved & treated with kindness and respect?  And if you act in a way that is unloving and mean, why would a person want to be a part of that group?

And this answer right here is why so many people flock to religion, especially the liberal versions of it.  We can be as intellectually correct as much as we want, but if we don’t genuinely care about the wellbeing of a person it means nothing.