Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about a Christian book called Atheist Overreach. In particular, yesterday we discussed the ways that Christians mangle and negate science — and even deny reality itself — to make their claims look more valid. That line of thinking led me to memories of my own deconversion. Today, let me show you how reality drained my faith pool dry.
(Previous Atheist Overreach posts: The Law of Conservation of Worship; Blaming the Wrong People; The Wrong Questions to Ask About Atheism; Avoiding the Burden of Proof; Wingnuts Galore; The Courtier’s Reply; Atheological Metaphysics In MY Apologetics Book?; He’s All About That Scientism. Also, the full tag. Page citations come from the 2019 hardback edition of the book. All emphases exist in the original sources unless noted. I don’t use scare quotes without forewarning, so all quotes come from cited sources unless I mention otherwise.)
A lot of currently-believing Christians have tried to tell me I wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ during my many years as a believer. When I ask them how to tell if anyone is a real and true and honest Christian, they have always taken a vow of silence at that point. I can understand why. Once they tell me what they think the tangible signs of belief are, they know I’ll say that I manifested those signs in spades.
Generally speaking, Christian sites (like this one) offer up the same basic essential traits of Christians. These usually involve heartfelt repentance, conversion, and a subsequent life spent in an intense but one-sided made-up relationship with an imaginary friend.
It’s not till deconversion that we see the real definition of a TRUE CHRISTIAN™:
- Someone who believes about the same doctrines embraced by the judging Christian,
- Who hasn’t gotten caught red-handed doing something the judging Christian would consider totally out of bounds,
- And who dies in the traces (ie, hasn’t deconverted yet).
Among themselves, though, the first definition holds sway. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus, claims to love him, and tries to live the way they think Jesus commanded. And even from my earliest childhood, that was me — completely. Indeed, I grew up swimming in a world of magic and wondrous events and magical beings that I thought I could just barely perceive out of the corner of my eye. I even considered becoming a nun.
I’ve never once heard any convincing reason to think I wasn’t as true a Christian as ever Christian’d. I still think I was considerably more fervent and faithful than the entire lot of my accusers all bundled together.
Not that it matters overall, of course. Attacking my validity as a onetime Christian functions only as a red herring for those accusers, a way to negate my criticisms of their religion. Here, I mention it only because it matters in the context of my faith pool at the time.
Mine happened to be full to bursting.
Cup Faith Pool Brimmeth’d Over.
In terms of the Faith Pool, my cup brimmed over with reasons to believe. In addition to my own needs for validation and acceptance, I was indoctrinated very young with a terror of Hell and death. To bolster the religion’s false promises of meeting those needs, I got stuffed full of hand-waving and talking points and bad arguments justifying my religion. I took these elements of my indoctrination as valid reasons to believe, because everyone around me thought the same.
So water constantly flowed into my faith pool.
I was simply too young to have had a lot of life experience. Thus, I’d experienced very little that might have told me my beliefs weren’t based on reality — at least, at first.
In addition, I didn’t know anybody who wasn’t also Christian — so there was none of the pushback from others that might give a believer any reason to suspect something’s not right about their beliefs.
So for a long time, my faith pool remained full to overflowing.
The Slow Incursion of Reality.
Reality drains every Christian’s faith pool. There’s no way it can’t. In every single way, our universe contradicts every single Christian claim they make about their god. And I don’t mean the awful kind of Christian there, either. I mean all of them. Even the nicest Christians with the nicest, most consent-based version of Jesus imaginable must live and make their homes in a world that evinces no signs whatsoever of any gods at all.
So all that sustains any Christian’s belief in Christianity is the water pouring into their own faith pool.
As I’ve said, I only very gradually became aware of the many ways that reality contradicted my beliefs. I’m not even sure exactly when my prayers shifted from requests for big tangible easily-measured objective results to vague, wishy-washy pleas for “guidance” and “assistance” and “comfort” for myself and my loved ones. It’s just that at some point I must have recognized — subconsciously, but still — that prayer does nothing whatsoever in the real world.
And so that “reason” stopped pouring into my faith pool.
The Faucets Start Turning Off.
At the same time, I began learning more about my religion’s underpinnings and how other people approached it.
I began to receive pushback about my beliefs — both from non-Christians and from fellow Christians who simply believed different doctrines. All of this pushback was enormously helpful, because it showed me how other people approached topics of belief — and how they navigated those waters.
Often, there was no way whatsoever to convince my fellow Christians that I was right and they were wrong; they used exactly the same reasoning I did and they imagined they loved Jesus just like I did, and yet somehow they consistently came out with completely different takes on the same source material we all revered. That should have been impossible, in our shared belief system. If it was based on objective and literal and real truth, then we should have gotten the same results. And yet no two Christians agree completely about exactly what doctrines are the best and most correct ones. Nor have any two Christians ever agreed.
I was beginning to notice these truths, though I didn’t yet understand them as such. I was noticing that the more seriously my tribemates and I took our faith, the faster we fell into serious trouble — like cults or abusive relationships.
Christianity turned out to be very easy to mangle into literally anything someone could want (like this one I often spotted on the HBO Forums years and years ago when Big Love was on: “How do I convince my wife of 30 years that Jesus wants me to marry a bunch more women who are all coincidentally way younger than her?”). And once someone believed strongly enough in an obviously-wackadoodle idea, nobody could talk them out of it.
As I learned about stuff like logical fallacies and history, too, other faucets pouring into my faith pool turned off. What I thought were reasons to believe turned out to be errors in reasoning or misunderstandings about history.
The faucets began to turn off, one by one.
Not the Evidence of Things Not Seen.
By far, oh by far the worst and most devastating hit to my faith pool came from how my fellow Christians lived out their faith. In Hebrews 11:1, we learn this:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
BibleHub’s Good News Translation of this verse runs thusly:
To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.
But I saw very little substance and evidence in Christians’ lives. I saw no sureness, nor any certainty that they believed truly in what they hoped for but couldn’t perceive.
Patton Oswalt has a funny bit he does about how ridiculous Christian hypocrisy really is:
What if I 1000% believed that there was a Giant Invisible Anus hovering over me. And if I wasn’t nice and helpful and courteous and charitable to everyone I met, the Anus would appear, suck me up into it, and I would be devoured by shit-piranhas. And I mean, I believed this a thousand percent. I would be the nicest guy you ever met!”
(Here’s a video of an audio clip source.)
So, simply put: very, very few Christians really live like they believe in anything supernatural at all.
But That’s Not A Bad Thing.
Y’all, that’s a good thing.
It’s good to live in the real world and to make one’s home there. The only bad comes when such Christians loudly insist that they live elsewhere when we can see they don’t — and worse, when they loudly demand that all of us should join them there and decorate our sky-castles exactly as they say.
I realize the trendy new insult is for TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to call those less-wackadoodle Christians “Christian atheists” — there’s a post brewing on that topic on the back-burner now. However, these accusers are much worse than the people they insult. The more seriously any Christian takes Christianity and the harder they drill down on false beliefs over reality, the worse a person they seem to be.
When I was Christian, I’m not saying I wasn’t upset at constant shows of hypocrisy. Obviously, I was. To me, hypocrites represent the inflamed hangnails of the body of believers as a whole, the high fever indicating sickness within. Even then, I subconsciously recognized what their presence in such numbers indicated about my belief system.
But as I look back at my Christian communities, what bothered me way more than over-the-top hypocrisy were those constant implicit declarations that all of us made to some extent that reality mattered more to us than anything Christianity had to say.
It’s like we were toddlers who’d run to devotions of our faith to “check in” when our fears or needs got too pressing. Afterward, we’d wander off again to play in the Reality-Land sandbox.
Those play sessions all represented a steady drip, drip, drip of water from my faith pool.
My Faith Finally Dissolved.
A lot of water was pouring into my faith pool at one time. But it came in under false pretenses. The reasons that water represented weren’t actually good reasons to believe in Christianity’s claims. As I learned more about what evidence really looks like and how someone really supports a truth claim, I compared this information to my reasons for belief.
And every single time I did that, another source of water for my faith pool closed off.
Eventually, none remained.
And so my faith quietly dissolved to flinders and scattered away on the winds — like a fuzzy but intense dream does once we awaken and begin to meet a new day’s demands.
It’s not easy for someone who believes very, very strongly to deconvert. My last night as a Christian was one of pain and a great deal of terror — which I wouldn’t wish on anybody. And yet it’s those super-fervent believers who tend to deconvert like that, like a messy breakup. Others drift away, telling themselves they just need a better church home — but somehow don’t ever find one.
I couldn’t do it that way. I was Christian because I thought it was the real, objective truth. When I discovered it wasn’t, I was angry — and no longer wanted any part of the religion. I’d only been involved in the first place because affiliation with Christianity represented a necessary cost that I felt I had to pay.
Affiliation became the price of admission to the Christianity movie theater. But then, I discovered that no movie was actually playing in that theater. Suddenly, I had no reason to pay that price. I didn’t much like the people there, and gradually came to see the theater’s management as toxic and controlling.
So there was literally no reason at all for me to continue paying to be there — especially once I realized we all just sat in the dark staring at an empty screen! We were the ones making up the stories we claimed played across it!
It turned out I could make up way better stories with people I actually liked, and then not feel bad about leaving the theater afterward to walk around in reality again.
Reals > Feels.
Since then, I’ve demanded one thing of myself:
All of my beliefs must be formed from reality itself. If one of my beliefs turns out not to do that, then it’s the belief that must shift — because reality won’t. Denying reality brings pain. Accepting it brings healing.
If anybody tries to tell me that I shouldn’t trust reality, I immediately distrust them. There’s only one reason they’d go there: They seek to sell me something that is not in my best interests to buy.
These hucksters know that reality would tell me not to buy whatever they’re selling. So it’d really help them out if I would kindly disregard reality in weighing their sales pitch.
Yesterday, I mentioned Christian Smith’s attempts in Atheist Overreach to make readers feel inferior for embracing reality over his false claims. I said then that I’d never feel bad about going with the truth of reality over the lies of hucksters selling a harmful group based around something that isn’t even real.
And today, I tried in my humble way to explain why.
Keeping Out of Trouble.
My life after deconversion has been consistently way, way better than my life as a Christian. Even when I suffer misfortune, my response to it is informed by reality and not by false beliefs. My approaches to problem solving and personal improvement derive from reality (subprogram: compassion). I no longer labor with a defective roadmap that can’t actually get me to my destination.
It turns out that I get into way less trouble this way. What a bonus! I’ve kept myself out of all kinds of mischief because I refused to lay aside my critical-thinking skills. (And when I’ve ignored warnings from reality, I’ve always re-learned that lesson very quickly and painfully.)
I’ve now been deconverted for longer than I was Christian. It’s a strange feeling, to think that just a bit less than half my lifetime was spent believing in all that mess. Even the years afterward in paganism were not marked by so much reality-denial — and I stayed well away from the few fringe weirdos in that crowd. And now, I can’t brook any false beliefs in my life at all.
So when Christian Smith tries to shame me for caring more about reality than I do about his false claims, when he chides me for rejecting his claims as being incongruent with reality, it makes me feel like he’s asking me to sign up for something that will, without a doubt, harm me and cause me untold grief — all of which will go unaddressed and all of which will only worsen the longer I use his product.
Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. I refuse. Dude’s about 30 years too late for me to care about the insults and demands of a frustrated salesperson.
NEXT UP: My goodness. We have got to check out this advice link for Christians afflicted with narcissistic pastors. See you tomorrow!
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