Saturday, April 28, 2012
A few days ago, I was snapping at my kids. It was the end of the day, I was tired, and they were just annoying me - there was no excuse for it, just me being short-tempered. I realized that I would usually end that night by praying for patience. I would wake up with a new attitude and I would feel like God granted me patience, and I would act accordingly. Now I think that was confirmation bias toward what I wanted to believe. And it makes me sad. I miss having something that worked for me ... even if it was a placebo.
I miss having someone who was there for me no matter what, who listened when I asked questions and who loved me for me. I keep thinking I can try meditating on patience or peace or joy, and maybe that would help. I just can't imagine I would "act accordingly" the next day with the same enthusiasm as when I thought it was God granting my requests. Only time will tell.
If there is anyone out there who has had any luck with this, or has any answers, I'd love to hear what works for you.
Friday, April 27, 2012
This has surprised me, as I think it does every person who takes this road. The thing about leaving any major belief system, is that all of a sudden, it's no big deal. If there is nothing to believe, there is nothing to really think about. I'm not really sure how else to put it because I know that explanation is lacking. Let's look at the opposing view: there IS something to believe in. There IS a higher power who demands nothing less than ALL of you. Well, that's one all-consuming idea! So, once you leave that lifestyle, all of a sudden, you're no longer bothered by it. However, many people you love (and who love you!) still believe and it is their everything. They believe you are going to die and burn in hell for all eternity because you no longer believe. You hear things like "you've been on my heart/mind lately" and "we're so sorry to hear about this" and "we're praying for you." And you know they are worried sick.
I take all these things as signs of love from these believers. Obviously they are doing everything they know how to "help" me. It is sweet. I know not all atheists agree, but I think it is sweet. I hate that they are worried about me, but in time it will blow over.
There are those friends and family who try to argue with you. As if you've not looked all the facts already. You get: "For every atheist argument, there is a Christian argument that is just as good." What? First of all, wha-what??? You cannot make an all-encompassing statement like that. It just proves how ignorant you are. The funny thing about "atheist arguments" is that we don't need any. We are not trying to prove anything. We just think the religious arguments don't hold up. We can't prove that something DOESN'T exist. It's like trying to disprove you are not a thief. What? [Thanks to JT for that!] The proof must come from the person making the claim. In this case, there is a group [theists] making an extraordinary claim: There IS a superpower/god. Furthermore, [from Christians] he wrote a book, sent his only "son" [and part of himself in this awkward Trinity arrangement?] and demands your entire self, promising you an eternity in the hereafter with Him... just to be clear: this is an extraordinary claim. Therefore, it requires extraordinary evidence. I'm still waiting for that evidence. I digress ...
Overall, my family has been very supportive. They lovingly have bought us books (some laughable but I appreciate the thought). I am certain they pray for us. I have been lucky enough to have one family member de-converted with me! We are now able to respond in the same manner (we laugh) about some of our old beliefs. We also mourn over not having a superpower to pray to when things get hard. But we lean on each other and we get through it.
Friends... the first time I mentioned on Facebook that I had become an atheist, I had approximately 25 friends drop me overnight. I have no idea who they were, but I'm guessing they didn't really care about me. The surprising part has been the friends I didn't know all that well who have offered support (albeit usually through prayer), and even offered to gather evidence for me to re-convert to Christianity. It is so sweet. I've had some very, very close friends ignore the change altogether. It's like they're in denial. I don't even think they've read about my journey here. It has been SO strange.
The highly annoying people are those who say: you want proof? Well there's this scientist ... who proves a God through science ... here see this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0-NPPIeeRk. OK, sorry but don't waste my time! I had a large handful of people try to sneak in sermons in the name of science. It was at first laughable, then just plain annoying. The sad part is, once I asked these people about the videos, they personally had not watched them. UGH!!! The same thing was happening with books: read THIS or THAT. It is a response to ______ [insert anti-religious book title here]. And then as I'm TRYING to get through the ridiculous reasoning (or lack there-of) in the books they recommended, I find out said person hasn't read said book and is only offering it because he/she heard it was a good response ... do NOT offer "evidence" to someone who is genuinely seeking unless you have checked it out yourself. It will just push them further into the "Christians are ignorant of science" direction. Just sayin'!
I know a lot of my friends have been scared about family response. I am from a fundamental Christian background (Baptist actually) and my husband was raised Pentecostal. I can only speak for our experiences, but our families have been overwhelmingly supportive. So, don't be scared. Be open with your friends and family. It must be so hard to hide something so big from them. I think you would want honesty and openness from your child/friend/loved one.
On a sidenote, I have received many private messages on Facebook and e-mail, numbering into the 20s, saying they lost faith a long time ago but could not "come out" publicly because of work, spouse, family etc. I hate this for them. And that is why I'm here, sharing all this with you.
I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THERE IS A SAFE PLACE TO LAND HERE. Atheism is not scary. After the initial shock, it's quite pleasant. And you will still have your true friends, and sometimes even a few more <3 to everyone and have a great day!
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
This above all else, was my biggest concern when my husband came to me with his newfound disbelief in our decade long religious foundation. What about the kids? I am a believer; you are not. How will we raise the kids?
How does one answer that? I was adamant about one thing: the morality that Christianity teaches. He was no longer a believer, and we still enrolled our oldest daughter in a fundamental Christian kindergarten (Bible inerrancy and all!). I was still questioning, but one thing I knew for certain: those atheists have no moral absolutes. I would not raise my children that way! *sigh*
Now I'll be honest: I did not know where to file this blog, under My Journey or My Struggles, because to be blatantly honest, I still struggle with it. Brian and I both do. However! I did find an excellent book called Parenting Beyond Belief that answered many questions for me. I would FULLY recommend it to anyone who is questioning their faith and want to know if they could possibly see themselves raising their children as free thinkers.
My fear here is that I know how I was raised. I know how my husband was raised. We are good people. It stands to reason that whatever we were raised with as our moral backbone "works." HOWEVER, it does not exclude other options. It's just an unknown to us. I do not like unknowns. We have decided, after months (years even?) of talking with friends and debating, to just be honest with our kids. To always keep an open conversation going about all things. To ask the questions: how do you know? what evidence to you have for that? and what do you think? This opens the doors to many deep conversations. You'd be surprised how deep 6 year olds and 4 year olds can get when you don't shut the door with "well, that's what the Bible says."
My daughter still believes in a God. We don't argue with her about it. My husband has been known to ask her "which God" over waffles. Lol. We don't allow any opportunity to communicate with our children to pass.
How will they behave as teenagers? Only time will tell I suppose. I have to be honest here - I was a Bible-thumping, Bible believing, kiddo who went on mission trips with my church and I was still sexually active as a teen. So, even though I'd love to think that a belief in God would guarantee that my children would be little saints, I know this for a fact is not true. I know too many Christians IRL.
So we have decided above all else to build true self-esteem in our children. This requires some serious sacrifice. We are dedicated to never turning away the question "why" and we take our children on one-on-one dates, spend time with them over dinner and breakfast. We do not have any cable or anything besides movies and hulu, so we have a LOT of time to just sit and stare at each other! We go on hikes, build legos together, color, and just spend quality time with our children. We feel this is the answer to a positive morality structure. Teaching our children that they are WORTH something. They are unique and special and deserve to be heard. We encourage them to build hypotheses (what is a hypothesis we ask our 4 yr old? "a theory that can be tested!" he replies!) and then to do experiments to test them.
I'll share a quick story my creative husband came up with for our 6 year old. She was scared of ghosts. Swore she saw/heard them one night. He asked her: how can we test that? She came up with tying a string between 2 doors - one was stationary and the other not - to see if it moved ... (not the most perfect model, but it worked for her). After about an hour she looked at it and concluded that the door had not moved, therefore no ghost had entered or exited w/o her knowledge and therefore there were no ghosts in that room. *Applause* to Brian for encouraging evidence-based belief for our daughter.
We also had a death in the family shortly after I'd deconverted. This was new territory for both of us since becoming non-believers. My husband had to comfort his religious family without compromising his new beliefs (he even spoke at the funeral). We also had to explain to our daughter where her great-grandmother now was. We told her that she was a part of all of us in that when she went into the ground she would deteriorate. Her body would nourish the trees which give us air to breathe. We would literally inhale her for the next few thousand years. When we want to think of her, we stop and take a deep breath. We also remember her in some traditions. We talked in length about what it means to celebrate someone, both living and dead. It was difficult but we made it through with intellectual honesty.
What about morals? Why be nice to people as an atheist? Since there's no God to give me rules, can't I just do whatever I want??? Is it a 24 hour/day pornfest with stealing and murder as my new favorite things to do???
Yeah. I know. It sounds over the top, but I did ask that. Where in the world would we get our morality from? True story, I called a few of my non-religious friends and asked very personal questions about sexuality, morality, and how the hell we decide what is right or wrong? You know the response: what do you think?
What do I think? Well I think murder is wrong, unless in self-defense. Why? Well, I live in a society that would not work if everyone went around killing each other. If we as humans lived alone, we could and should do whatever it takes to survive. However, we live in a village. We congregate. We need each other. Therefore, we must hold ourselves to a system that keeps that group intact and we must do the things that allow us to function as a society. For example, we cannot steal or personal property would not be a reality. We cannot murder, or our society/village would deteriorate in size and structure. We must find what works as a group. And we have! We protect the weak with our concept of minority rights while furthering our society through the democratic system of voting on issues we find important. In short, we do what works to further humankind. This is where we get our morality, and this works (we all have to do what works for us!).
The long and short of it:
How do you raise your children to be free thinkers? You allow them to think freely. You answer very few questions for them. Instead, you allow them to reach their own conclusions and you help them along the way. Be forewarned: this takes time and energy. But I feel that our future generations are worth it. And it feels right.
On a more controversial note (and I considered leaving this out), the idea of spanking is really only upheld nowadays in religious circles. There are numerous studies that have overwhelmingly shown spanking to be ineffective and destructive. However, it is still continued with the "spare the rod spoil the child" Bible verses among my religious friends. This is very, very hard for me to watch. Knowing it leads to aggression, bullying, lower IQ, and even statistically speaking prison time, I despise knowing my friends readily hit their children as a form of discipline. This is just another sidenote, but a way that I have moved from doing something just "because the Bible says so" into the world of evidence-based answers.
Monday, April 23, 2012
... The Struggles
There have been hard times. My very first struggle began when my husband started to change his beliefs. I was afraid! WHY would he stay married to me? Where would he get his morals? Was he going to all of a sudden be one of those guys who goes to strip clubs, watches porn, and leers over women? What would become of our marriage? And we did have some interesting events and discussions along these lines, but what I found was this: A person is going to do something or not REGARDLESS of their religion. And I could not deny the overwhelming evidence that Christians cheat as often as non-Christians. Christians get divorces as often as non-Christians. And non-religious people stay monogomous as often as Christians. I believed the myth that Christianity made marriages stronger. But after I started looking at the evidence for this, I realized there wasn't any! So, Brian and I decided what works for US. And to be honest, as long as we're not hurting anyone, it's none of anyone's business what we do! It was refreshing to be able to finally TALK about all of this.
And you know what? It brought us closer. I finally asked: what if we both agreed it was better to be apart than together? Well, then we'd be apart. It's silly to do otherwise! On the flip side of that, knowing he's with me because he LOVES me and NOT because the Bible says he has to be with me is quite nice. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am worth being with for ME. And the other way around. He is an unbelievable man and I WANT to be with him! We have a lot vested in our marriage and our family. We are in it for the long haul.
Another hard time was the original realization. It was very depressing to think that it's all me. Every single decision was not affected by a higher power. My life isn't orchestrated by anyone other than ME! First of all, it felt like a big weight and responsibility. But after a few weeks I began to realize that it had always been this way. There had never been a God, so really nothing changed. And now it's quite empowering.
Also, how are we going to raise our kids? This is still a very tough one. It's so easy to say: don't have premarital sex because the Bible says so. Honor your father and mother. Don't lie, steal, cheat, ...etc all because the Bible says so. Let me tell you one thing - I now have to think. for. myself. Seriously, for the first time since grade school, I'm having to explore the why's. It's not good enough to say "because God says so" because frankly, we did those things anyways! I mean really ... even as a Christian, most of us had sex before marriage (or everything but- HA!). Let's be honest, being a Christian gave us guilt about it, but we still did it. So, let's look at a real reason to behave morally. How about because we live in a society. Therefore we interact with other people daily. We must make these interactions pleasant so people will want to interact with us. We will be able to maintain trade (and thereby eat and play!) if we are honest. People will want to be around us (and therefore marry and procreate and play!) if we are humble and generous and kind. We, as humans, must work together to make this world a better place if we want to live in a society and play and enjoy life!
Let me tell you, I've had to THINK more than I ever did as a believer. I can no longer say "I'll pray for you" because, frankly, the results are no different. So now I ask: What can I DO? Can I bring a meal? Can I watch a kid while you go through this hard time? I've had to actually give of myself. I miss the easy answers, but ... in the voice of Barney Stinson: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
I was a dedicated, Bible-believing lover of Christ. I fully believed that God was in full control of my life, and that He cared fully and deeply about every single detail of my life. It was a comforting feeling.
A couple of years ago, my husband of over a decade starting questioning his belief about our God. He started being "critical" of the Bible and reading books and blogs by Atheists. I supported his search because I believed in my God fully and knew that if he was seeking truth he would find it. And since Truth = God, he would eventually come back to Christ.
The months turned into years, and I continued to pray for him. I held fast to the "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Pr22:6) and believed that he would return to the faith. He started tentatively asking "what if" questions of me. "What if" there were no virgin birth. I said "I would still believe. I can believe in my Christ, even if he was not born or a virgin." My husband had a harder time with this and I felt like my faith had been tested and I had passed. There were many more "what if" questions to come, and I held firm. My God had proven himself to me and I would believe in Him. I had "experienced God."
About this time, my brother started studying psychology. He had random ideas to discuss and random books lying around I would sometimes look over. One caught my attention: [Insert name of book here]. It talked about how we cannot trust our own memories. It made me uncomfortable to think this could be true, but apparently, our minds (as humans) are creative. When we access a memory, we pull it up in our minds-eye and "look" at it. Any pieces that may be missing (was it daytime? who was there? where were we exactly?) are filled in by our creative brains. When we "put the memory away" those details go with it. When we pull it up again to "look at it," those details have become facts and we see those as part of the memory. The MORE times we access a memory, the more chances our brain has to make changes, and the more inaccurate the memory becomes. It's like a great game of telephone. I could not help but apply this to my memories of experiences with Christ. Were they really what I remembered?
I also learned from a friend about confirmation bias. When someone believes something, their minds look for evidence to support that. In applying this to my faith, I realized every time I prayed for someone and they got better, I attributed that to God. But when they did NOT get better, I never thought to BLAME God. That just doesn't make sense. Either he IS in charge of my life and hears my prayers, or he is NOT in charge of my life and does not hear my prayers. But I cannot reasonable thank him for the good and "overlook" the evil, or non-good. So I realized how very many times I had confirmation bias. The same idea applies to placebo pills. If you believe you are given a drug, you act as if it is working. When you find out it is only a placebo, your mind is blown. Confirmation bias.
The final "What if" really got to me. "What if the original "Bible" or some of the first Codices (first bound books we now call the Bible) did not contain the resurrection story. What if they were added later?" This, I admitted to Brian, is a deal-breaker. Tell me more. Here is the Wiki article on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_16
Damn. Now it was time to get serious. If there was no resurrection, then let's face it, there is no Jesus=God. He's just a dead man in a grave. So, why would I believe there is a resurrection? Well, it's in the Bible. How do I know the Bible is true ... aha! This is what I need to study. I had SO MANY people tell me to "read my Bible" to find answers. This is ludicrous. This is what any brainwashed person would tell you. I needed to KNOW if I was brainwashing myself. So what does that look like? Well, if I believed something without reason, and even IN SPITE of reason. If it no longer makes sense, but I continued to hold to it ... so, I needed to KNOW. I became desparate to KNOW the TRUTH. It was very important to me, as we have 3 children and are indoctrinating them into the same beliefs we were raised with. We had them in private schools and churches and prayers at night and the answer to EVERYTHING was God. I needed to have answers.
So we began our journey down the field of textual criticism. Of course, Brian had read Misquoting Jesus by Ehrman. Ehrman went to seminary and studied the Bible more than I can ever claim. His book is eye-opening, but Ehrman learned under Metzger, who studied the same facts and reached a different conclusion. I wanted to read Metzger - I wanted to find the same guy who had the facts of the Bible but reached the conclusion I WANTED. So, we ordered the book.
In the meantime, I was observing. I observed Christians and non-Christians. I've always held to the Matthew 7:16 idea that we should "know them by their fruits" http://bible.cc/matthew/7-16.htm
In other words, Jesus' followers should be "fruitful" people (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). So, well - I have a Facebook account. I have many, many Christian friends. I have many that I would say were not Christians. So I watched. For about a year. I was looking for a general "happier" mood amongst my Christian friends. I was looking for "miracles." I believed in a God of power and a God who could literally move mountains. So, it stands to reason that when friends asked for prayer for their sick family, or for job interviews, or for dying friends/family, my Christian friends SHOULD be getting, on average, better "results" than my non-Christian friends.
That wasn't the case. Sadly. However, I noticed a strong trend to thank God when things went right and to say "well, it wasn't God's will" when they went wrong. It all started to look like BS to me. And I actually started getting annoyed. I'm still there. I find it highly annoying that intelligent people can't see through the bullshit. Sorry. I digress.
It started to look like many of my friends were lying to themselves. And the answer I got a lot was that "Christianity makes me happy." I don't argue with them, or anyone else about it for that matter. I won't share my knowledge on the subject unless asked. And I am completely willing to admit that I might be wrong.
On that note - Pascal's Wager. Everyone has heard of it. Wiki has this: "since the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved through reason, and there is much to be gained from wagering that God exists and little to be gained from wagering that God doesn’t exist, a rational person should simply wager that God exists and live accordingly." In short: If Christians are wrong, they have lost nothing [by believing], however if they are right, atheists have lost everything [by not believing]. This is an argument that deserves attention. Is there anything lost by believing in the God of the Bible?
Now that I have gone through the process of changing my beleifs, and have seen many other people "deconvert," I've seen many negative issues related to a belief in God. I know this is something that many Christians do NOT want to hear, but Brian and I had some serious issues in our life directly related to the Bible's view of lust and sex. We were personally and strongly and negatively affected by this aspect of our belief-system for our entire married life until we moved away from our beliefs and began tenderly asking each other what WE LIKED. It has been refreshing.
Another problem with Christianity and a literal translation of the Bible is that if you follow it, you'll do some horrible things in the name of Christ. For instance, [here are a few! http://www.evilbible.com/]
And the overwhelming guilt. I have never felt so free as I do now. I was never able to pray enough ... never had enough faith ... never converted enough people ... never grateful enough to God ... I had guilt when I did not go to church, guilt when I did not pray before a meal, guilt that I wasn't a missionary in a foreign country. There was guilt!
Here's another thing about Pascal's Wager. Is there really nothin lost by believeing in Christianity? What happened when I realized that I did NOT believe? Every. Single. Day. Is. Worth. Savoring. For the first time, there is no afterlife! This is it!!! These relationships! This night sky. This unbelievably complex, gorgeous universe! Wow! Humans cherish things more when there is a possibility of losing it. Now I know it can all be gone in an instant, so I cherish every single second. I hug more, especially my kids and family. I am faster to forgive and just let everyone live there own life! I was tired of fighting the devil at every turn, what a waste that turned out being. Now I live every moment in awe of its beauty and the fact that it doesNOT get better. There are no streets of gold and mansions for everyone. This gorgeous reality is it. Of course at first this was a little depressing, but now it's awe-inspiring and beautiful. I almost lost this by believing that I'd see everyone after we died, and that the after-life was so much better than this life.
Another negative trend in Christian circles is LGBT bias. Christians lean toward legislating AGAINST LGBT freedoms, while telling me and everyone else that they treat homosexuals exactly like they treat everyone else. Again, I began calling BS (my own way of saying they are lying to themselves and everyone else). They would ask me: how can you ignore what the Bible says about homosexuals? I began to have very strong feelings about the subject, which is unlike me. I pride myself in my analytical, critical thinking side ... and I often distance myself from any emotions (from an admittedly erroneous belief that showing emotions makes me weak). However, I began to feel that there was an injustice here. That there was a very large group of people (Christians) that were denying rights to a much smaller group of people (LGBT). I began to want to help the smaller group because they were being wronged. This led me to distance myself from those who called themselves "Christians" or those who believed the Bible is the infallible word of God.
I also began to feel like I was doing mental gymnastics to defend my belief in the Bible and God.
... to be continued