Five years ago this month, I don’t recall the precise day, I shed the delusion of the Christian religion and stepped into the bright glaring light of reality.
Well, as best I could anyway.
As a person, I’ve always been very enamored of dates and anniversaries. Their arbitrary nature doesn’t move me at all. I become very reflective on my birthday, New Year’s day, and other benchmarks in time.
Such as this one.
I don’t write this to pat myself on the back. Why brag about taking a few minutes to check your assumptions, examine the evidence, and come to a reasonable conclusion? That should be the default. Yet we know it’s not. It certainly was not for me for many years.
But now having crossed the threshold, having exited Plato’s Cave and seen in the brightness of the sun all the colors of the world, where have I come? What have I learned? What is different than I thought it would be? What has turned out just as I guessed?
In a broader sense, my wife and I have laid claim to our lives as our own again. We were not bought with a price by anyone. We have no owners. We make our choices and live our lives in the present moment, all we have. We are not forsaking the pleasures of today for the promised riches of tomorrow, because they’re fool’s gold, they’re vapor, not worth the onion-skin paper they are written upon.
We have recently moved from our inland town to a town on the coast, 5 minutes from the beach. We are happier here than we have ever been, though it brings its own stretches. Soon we will go to our first official Atheists United get-together as members of the community.
But there is one specific thing I see as I look back, and it makes me think of one thing I wish to do going forward.
When I first awakened, as I like to term it, I still had the freshest memory of what it was like to be so deeply indoctrinated that I knew the truth of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Atheists on Facebook and in other public forums like to make the (usually snide) comment that “faith is pretending to know something you don’t.” But it isn’t like that at all. There is not a bit of pretending. You know. As well as you know the sun is coming up in the morning, you know that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. You know the Holy Spirit lives inside you and guides you. You know His Spirit is giving you the ability to understand the scriptures in a way unbelievers cannot. You know that those scriptures are the very words of God and that even on their own they have within them the very power of God.
And you know that He is coming back, and that He is coming back very, very soon.
And when you doubt a little bit, when you wonder a little bit, well, you are constantly reminded that everyone around you totally knows, and that you just need to stick with it till the doubt goes away and you simply know again.
Knowing all that (see what I did there?) I purposed to be compassionate and patient with believers. I would avoid the snark as much as possible and engage with believers on an equal, if rational, basis.
Yeah, that didn’t go so well.
First problem is I’m competitive, combative, and confrontational by nature. One of my favorite high school activities was my time on the debate and mock trial teams. So I have a tendency to go into an adversarial conversation with the desire to win rather than understand. I had made a discovery, and now everyone was going to learn the truth of it and immediately capitulate to my power of reason despite the decades it took me to figure it out.
The second problem was that I quickly grew to resent repeating the same shit over and over again, having to address the same very basic arguments over and over again. I think I had the unreasonable expectation that the conversation would continually progress to different points, different levels, different targets. But what really happened was that at the first sign of opposition, theist number one would tire of the opposition and depart, and the next white knight would ride in and try to convert as all again. It wasn’t that we kept going back to square one. The truth of the matter is we never got to square two.
The real issue here, of course, is that I had an unreasonable expectation that somehow I would have the opportunity to address the same theist individual continually to the very end of the discussion. But in the same way that I spent most of my Christian life unwilling to honestly pursue a discussion to its logical end, so were most, or almost all, of the theists I engaged with unwilling to pursue the question to the point where they had to admit to being willfully dishonest or abandon their faith.
And why should that have surprised me? It shouldn’t have, truthfully. And to that point, each theist who enters deserves a reasonable response to their questions or assertions. It’s not like they’ve been there for all of the previous discussions. Most of this is usually brand new to them. I don’t know why some of them show up. Some, I’m positive, have doubts to the point that they do want to poke around and see if there’s anything to those doubts. Others, like one person who found me on Twitter a few years ago, genuinely think they’ve found the right approach to win the hardest, most lost souls around.
It’s been much easier than I hoped to depersonalize the Christians I interface with and let the conversation devolve into argument and insult, at which point nobody is helped.
Having had the opportunity to interface with believers in a positive, sharing environment recently, and seeing how up front personal dialogue tends to diffuse the confrontational nature of the online interface, I’ve resolved to approach these conversations differently – on the blog, on social media, and in real life. I think the approach of the folks at Street Epistemology is much more productive as a means of dialogue, and I’ve been studying their materials. They strive for a more humble approach, where I tend to act like I already know everything there ever was to know.
Hopefully you’ll see that sort of change here on the blog and in my other interactions.
I’m looking forward to another five years and more of clarity and learning, of living in the present reality with my family, of all the ups and downs that make up this things we call life.