domingo, 9 de junho de 2013

Deconversion: The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back (Part I)

I remember some years ago - I think it was about the year 2008 -, when the last logical fortress I had to stand for the existence of a biblical god finally collapsed. Just before that I still had myself as a Christian by definition; I took the Bible as the divine revelation of a supreme personal god, believed in an afterlife and the redemption from our sins by the sacrifice of Christ; heaven, hell, and so on. There’s one thing I must point out however: Looking back, I reckon I’d never exactly fit the fundamentalist, literalist archetype of a Christian. Despite my raising in a pretty zealot Christian family - I guess fanatical sounds more accurate -, since early childhood I paid special attention to some controversial topics regarding what I heard in the church and read in the Bible. I remember attending Sunday classes when I was about six, with that missionary teacher arranging biblical pictures on the flannel board (man, I’m really getting old…). Figures of Jesus and his disciples, the white dove representing the Holy Spirit, a majestic white throne portraying God the Father, the cross symbolizing redemption,  and so much more. I was too young of course, but I clearly remember wondering what all that stuff was about after all. To me, it wasn’t just… convincing enough. Almost 35 years have passed since then, but I still keep a strong recollection of my looking at that board, listening to the missionary and asking within myself, “How can they know it’s all true? Has anybody personally seen or touched some evidence, or proven this histories and characters are real?” (Though I was too young to put it in these words, they pretty accurately describe what the feeling was like at that time). Of course, I had to keep these questions to myself, for I knew I wouldn’t find any mind supportive/sympathetic enough for me to share my doubts with. In the very few occasions when I tried putting something out of my chest to someone, specifically in family, the outcomes were never positive at all. I think I was about twelve when I exposed to my mother some delicate issues about contradictory passages in the Bible, asking her some explanation to that – because I was a Christian, in my puerile mind, I was eager to believe with all my heart and sincerely. But in order to accomplish that I needed to be fulfilled, I needed honest answers. I’d rather expose that to my mother, since she always showed a less severe fundamentalist approach if compared to dad. The only answers I ever got even from her, however, where the known clichés like ‘you don’t need to know that; just believe for the sake of believing and that’s all it takes’. But, as it turned out in that occasion when I was twelve, I kept demanding consistent answers to these issues from mom, I wouldn’t just let her go so easy this time. “You atheist!” was her direct response, uttered like an explosion, and with an unforgettable expression of disgust and reprobation in her face.

As I said before, I wasn’t even close to call myself an atheist back then. Actually, I was very sorrowful that atheists existed, I could hardly conceive someone who wouldn’t take for granted that a supreme god existed. After all, it was so plain and so obvious to me! No, I wasn’t an atheist, I was not even close to that – not at that time at least. It would still take more than two decades for me, from that time, to come across the straw that broke the camel’s back, and then clearly realize the dimension of the mistakes I had lived by since I was born. 

Coming next.

sábado, 8 de junho de 2013

Nobody is Willing to Hear You

Openly declaring skepticism has ever been – and still is – a painful issue for me, especially when it comes to family events like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthday parties and so on. It’s hard to find yourself alone when surrounded by people you’ve learned to respect and love since you were born. Many years passed after my deconversion while I kept the habit of showing contradictions in the Bible, arguing on the logical flawed biblical concept of god, hell and so on. Eventually, time showed how this approach was meaningless and counterproductive, at least in the context of a more radical fundamentalist environment like mine. Fundamentalists won’t try and see something differently from what they’ve ever seen because they just don’t want to. Therefore, I personally don’t see honesty (in this sense of the word) as the best choice to all occasions. That said, I avoid talking on this subject (atheism) as much as it’s possible for me among relatives. That brings such an amount of isolation of course. Just as I use to say to myself, ‘I’ve lost my family to religion’.
There’s another point to it: asserting different points of view, be it political, personal, or religious, can sometimes change a pleasant meeting into something not so enjoyable. As we know, most human beings would rather hear something they want than someone speaking the truth – Unfortunately. On the other hand, we all have the need of being part of a group. Depending on the people you are talking to, saying you are an atheist means breaking links between you and everybody else. I mean, of course people who really know me are aware that I’m no longer a theist, it’s just that they feel uncomfortable with my openly declaring that. So now I see no reason for that anymore. I think it’s the same case as to political views, when I used to be very opinionated at defending my personal convictions on politics, and after some years acting like this, noticed there weren’t much profit from it.
Let’s picture a situation in which you are surrounded by Christian relatives in a family meeting, and the subject of God, Jesus and the Bible is brought up – as usual. Now I see if I just keep silent about my personal view of reality, that doesn’t mean I lack honesty towards what I believe/disbelieve or my way of seeing reality. Of course, if someone comes to ask me directly if I believe the God depicted in the Bible exists, he’s going to hear a sound “No, I don’t”.
Like many other issues in life, I don’t find necessary to expose my opposing opinion every time other people say things I disagree with. That’s what went wrong with me in the past, I used to think that ‘intelectual honesty’ implied pointing out my opinion whenever the opposite opinion showed up. But as I said before, it’s necessary for us to feel part of people who see important matters in a way similar to ours. That said, I see the internet as a sound alternative for us to be connected with each other, and so share a few pieces of thought with the rest of the world.

terça-feira, 14 de maio de 2013

Atheistic post: of god and hell

I keep wondering to which point this gruesome concept of hell can affect one’s individual psyche. I was raised in a very fundamentalist/baptist environment and was indoctrinated from early childhood with the concepts of salvation, eternal damnation in hell etc. I totally identify with the first statment in this post, when you say it’s impossible for you to absolve any theistic doctrine with everlasting punishment amongst its set of basic dogmas. As a Brazilian former christian/pastor (Rubem Alves) pointed out: ‘What would be of the church if it wasn’t for hell?’. In principle, I think any religion or supernatural belief may have some inner damaging potential, since your way of seeing reality may get impaired to some point. But there may be some positive sides to it to, for instance, if someone prefers believing in the existence of a post mortem life better than the present and feels better believing that way. But any creed involving the teaching of eternal torture as punishment to non-believers can do massive psychological disturbance to any person. I’ll give a brief account from my own experience: as a child I learned to see non-believers as doomed to hell, and therefore evil doers and sinners, followers of Satan (they knowing that or not). In my teens I got to be very disturbed in mind and anti-social, completely frightened. As an adult I became a depressed man with suicidal tendencies in my early thirties, with panic disturb bouts, and I’m quite sure all this emotional misfortune was directly linked to the way I saw human existence, including mine, at the time. The concept of hell was the core of everything, as far as I look back at it. There’s plenty more to say about it, but to make it short I found myself definitely as an agnostic by the end of 2008 in my middle thirties. This deconvertion may have been ignited by the harmful mindset the concept of hell caused me to suffer. But it eventually led me to resort to reason and evidence in search of what could make more sense, of what could be more plausible and realistic in order to get on with life for the best. But I still suffer the consequences of the concept of hell. Not that I still believe (the idea of this punitive and ‘loving’ god is absurd to me some years now), but because my whole family and most beloved people in my life still believe in it. What’s worse: they’re terrorized by the idea I’m one of the bound to hell unbelievers. That’s what makes me sad sometimes, that is, it seems I was the only one who could leave the Matrix. At least I feel lucky for having left it.

quinta-feira, 7 de março de 2013

Saturday Morning (foreword to the weekend)

Last Saturday I woke up early in the morning and left bed to live my weekend. And the thoughts came to me like this:
It's Saturday morning and most people see it as a good day. Why's that? Because we have two whole work-free days on which to do whatever we please. Well I must confess I don't like my job much. I guess this is one of the biggest trouble in one's life if one is not enthusiastic about his/her job. I mean: waking-up sleepy and lethargic every morning early, to go where you don't want to and do something you don't really enjoy doing. Ok friends, that all may be sort of childish from me, I admit that. But I can't help wondering how great must it be for someone to wake-up every Monday morning to start a new week and feeling glad by knowing he/she's going to spend the next 8 hours in a place he/she finds pleasant and doing something he/she likes. Yeah, maybe I'm just being childish... Does this life even exist for anyone? For many people I believe it does, but do they represent most people? I'll keep the faith that someday my daily life will be like that, and I struggle hard for it to happen, you bet people. In my free time I study a lot and do whatever's at my reach to be working someday at something fulfilling to me. I do what's possible for me to do, but who knows? Well... Maybe "working" doesn't necessarily have to go along with "enjoying". But I'm trying hard, folks. Is it possible to make such a huge change in your life when you're almost 40? Will there be time for that yet?

Then I suddenly remembered a brother of mine telling me that changing our lives is possible when we believe it.  That’s a very attractive statement, I agree. But still, I think some facts in life operate in a random and chaotic way so to speak. There's nothing certain and no guarantees at all. Well, almost nothing. For instance, if I work hard and drive all my energy and effort to some objective, it's certain that the chances for it to happen will increase. That's guaranteed: the more I work towards getting something, the more likely I am to get it. But that's the whole point: if the possibility for something to happen is increased, it doesn't mean that it will happen.
So we must fight and try hard at all times. But we don't fight with grounds that we know we'll get to victory. We fight just to expand our possibilities of a non-guaranteed future victory. That said, it's not necessarily about victory. It's all about fighting. So perhaps the focus shoudn't be aimed to victory but to the process of fighting itself.

segunda-feira, 4 de março de 2013

Talking to Casey (Neo-Zelander friend from FB)

Casey: Listening to my old Christian CDs, and one thing that occurs to me, even as an Atheist: there is a certain transcendence and raw integrity in Christian music, be it the modern "Christian rock" or old hymns, something that secular music hasn't even begun to reach. Francis Spufford is well known as saying that Christianity makes a certain "emotional sense", even if it does not make sense to rationality.

Me: Whenever I listen to Christian CDs from years ago, it brings me some feeling of mourning, as if I had lost a very close and precious friend years ago, someone I used to say a few words every night before sleeping. Like when you listen to a song that reminds you someone who died and then you feel blue. I guess that's what happened after all in a sense. Sometimes I compare God to drugs: you're not born addicted to anything. But if other people start giving you heroine since your early childhood and then you just drop it at some moment, you'll surely go through withdraw symptons. That means, if I'd never been given the drug, I would have no idea what such feeling is about. By talking to people born in secular/atheist families it seems to me like that.

Casey: Thats nteresting about your observation about secular/atheist families. For me it felt so natural to believe...I wasn't born Christian. but it was like I was searching for deeper meaning...and once I found Jesus it was kind of like finding the women you are going to marry. No one told me to believe, but I found it out for myself and it felt so right. I found the emotional rollercoaster when i deconverted really you say, it feels as if your best friend just died. I wouldn't call it an addiction...I think is like the imaginary friends you have as a kid, that it is quite normal.

I dont feel mourning when I listen to christian least i only feel a little mourning now.

Me: Well Casey in my point of view it's really natural for us (as thinking beings) to ask questions like "where did I come from?" or "what's happening after I die?" even for people raised in non-religious families. From your experience I deduce everybody can reach a point in life at which such questioning get to its height, that is, "what do all this mean? There must be something and I want to know at any cost!". I believe I got your point, that is, it's something one may naturally ask himself someday (my secular friends included). Anyway, giving a deeper thought to it, maybe the mourning is not just because "god is dead", but mainly because of the religious community. I mean, as a believer I knew that if I moved to any city in any State I'd find "friends" and "brothers" at a local church there. After all "faith unites people from the same flock" (at least that's how I used to see it in my past Christian life). You know, a big family all over the world under the same father. It's a human need to feel part of some group and that's something I lost forever (unless I disguise my disbelief, but that would be just meaningless as well). It would be like having a wife and lose all love and affinity for her, but faking it just to keep together... What for? Impossible.
Back to Christian music and thinking of it again, I suppose it's not God I miss more. I was very strongly tied to the Christian community in all aspects, since they were the only people I was allowed to be tied to. Seriously. And I wasn't raised in a Jehova's Witnesses environment, it was Baptist. The music reminds me of that time. But one thing is to be said: some Christian songs I used to listen were just great, the arrangements, harmony, the way they sang and played and everything. I myself can play a lot of them in the guitar as I played in the church for years.