Openly Atheist

This has been an eventful week.  This past Sunday I called my dad and finally told him outright that I don’t believe in the religion he raised me in.  I told him I don’t believe in God or any of it any more.  He basically told me that he was sorry to hear it, but that he still loves me.  Gotta love him!
A few days ago Ryan Bell over at Life After God asked people to post messages on their social media using #IWantBelieversToKnow.  So I did. I posted #‎IWantBelieversToKnow‬ that the more I studied and prayed about god, and the more I asked him to reveal himself to me, the more questions I had that religious folks couldn’t answer. I seriously tried… For years.”  Now I’m knee deep in a FB conversation between a whole lot of people on both sides of the fence.  It’s very interesting, and no one is being rude.

So yeah.  I’m completely out now.  I am an open atheist.  Hopefully my openness will make it easier for someone else to be open about their lack of belief.

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Update

Hey folks,  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been dealing with some personal issues.  A lot has been happening, but I’ve been having trouble with motivation.  That probably has to do with the fact that I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  I think it’s got a lot to do with my religious upbringing, among other things.  I have been on medication for the last month and it seems to be helping.  I finally get to meet with my therapist for the first time tomorrow.  Hopefully she will help me start working on some of my issues.  This is a big step for me.

Among other things going on…

I got to go to the launch party for Ryan Bell’s new initiative, Life After God.  I took my wife (who is still a christian) and she did the most amazing thing.  When Ryan asked for people to give their opinions on what the movement should focus on, she got up in front of a bunch of atheists and said that she thinks there needs to be more support for people coming out of religion who are still married to religious spouses.  That blew me away!  I was really having doubts about our relationship until that moment.  Sure, there are still things we need to work through, but that’s coming along.

Neil Carter of Godless in Dixie was there and he took a few moments to speak with me and my wife.  He is such an amazing person for caring enough to take the time to give us some advice and try to help us out.  I cannot say enough how thankful I am.  He recommended we read the book In Faith and In Doubt together.  We have started reading it and making notes.  Amazing stuff!  I really think this is going to start some conversations that will improve our relationship and help us for the long run.

There were several other people I met who made a tremendous impact on me.  Cass Midgley of the podcast Everyone’s Agnostic spent some time talking with us.  What a great guy.  He offered to have us on the podcast, but I haven’t contacted him as of yet.  I may do that as soon as I am finished writing this post.

We also met one of the guests that Cass had on his show, Hugh Mann.  He has a great story to tell that shows just how difficult it is to be a nonbeliever in the general area I live in.  What a great guy!

Another great thing that happened just this Saturday was a conversation with my little sister.  She is the one who is no longer a oneness pentecostal, but she is still very christian and very conservative.  Recently she asked me how church was and I told her that I hadn’t been going.  Well, this last Saturday while talking to her she asked whether I was an atheist or an agnostic or what.  I came out and told her point blank that I was both.  To my surprise she said she loves me anyway and she doesn’t want this to mess up our relationship.  She also made a comment that makes me think that my dad will be OK with my non-belief as well, but that is another conversation I will have to have later.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that I received David Silverman’s new book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World.  I read it in about two days (in my free time) and I can now say, “I get it!”  I understand why he seems so confrontational.  It’s all about equality.  If you are a closeted atheist, or any stripe of nonbeliever, you should seriously consider reading this book.  He talks about the reasons American Atheists do what they do and how it helps all of us who are nonreligious.  As a result of reading this book, I joined American Atheists, and I have some advocacy plans (tentative) for the Freethinkers Meet-Up group I fellowship with.  I haven’t discussed it with them yet, but I think they will be on board.

That’s what’s been going on with me.  Sorry for taking so long to post.  I think I’m back on the uphill.

Information Processing in Fundamentalist Christianity

So this happened on Facebook last night.  FBStrBX2
It was a link my aunt shared to this article about the Starbuck’s CEO’s announcement in 2012 of the company’s official position in support of same-sex marriage.  Except the article misconstrues what he said.  The article was posted by Jesus Name News, a oneness pentecostal blog (the same oneness pentecostal that Kim Davis is).  The article says that the Starbucks CEO said that people who support traditional marriage are not welcomed at Starbucks.  One of the comments she made after the post refers to me: she said I “Snopes” everything.  That’s not exactly true, but I have called her out a couple of times on the obvious falsities she has posted.

After she checked Snopes, she commented that the article was true.  So I checked Snopes and posted the link to the article that says it is not.  I feel a bit sad that I had to explain the difference in what the article said and what the CEO actually said.  Thankfully, she finally understood… I think.

So why is it that fundamentalists like this have a hard time understanding information?  Does fundamentalism cause an inability to understand the printed word, or is it that being unable to understand the printed word causes people to be taken in by fundamentalist doctrine?

I don’t really think either is causal, but they are definitely related.  For instance, the oneness pentecostals claim the only right way to perform a baptism is when the words “in jesus name” are said while the person is being dunked under the water.  They take that doctrine from Acts 2:38 and misunderstand the usage of the word name.  It refers to the power or authority behind the name and not the actual name being said, as shown in Acts 4:7.  There are many other instances of misunderstanding the printed word in their doctrine, views of the bible, and apparently modern information sources as well.

I don’t want to appear to be saying that all fundamentalists have an inherent problem understanding what they read, but it’s obviously a problem with many of them.  From my personal experience it is an issue.  I think this speaks to the great need in our education system for a renewed focus on teaching people in our society, especially our children, to understand and interpret information accurately, as well as to understand the sciences and social sciences.  We would all (fundamentalists included) be a great deal better off if as a nation we were more adept at understanding information.

Coming Out of the (Non-belief) Closet to My Younger Sister

When I got home this evening my wife was on the phone with my little sister.  I haven’t talked with her in a few weeks, so I grabbed the phone and we spoke about life and kids and all kinds of typical long-distance sibling stuff.  Somewhere along in the conversation, she asked me about how church was going…

I said that I didn’t know.  She reacted in a questioning manner.  I figured that now is the time, if ever it was.

So I told her that I haven’t been to church in several months.  Then I proceeded to explain why.  I explained that the last six or seven years of my life, since leaving oneness pentecostalism have been a search for “the ultimate truth” of god and which version of christianity is right.  I gave her the whole spiel about 40,000 plus versions of christianity using the same source text, but disagreeing over what true christianity is, so there must be some flaws in the source text.

She asked if I had prayed about all of this, and I told her I had done more than my share of praying.  I also told her that I had read the stories of others who had gone through the same things that I had gone through and prayed, and when they got to that point, that’s when they realized god didn’t answer their prayers.  I went through the whole spiel about 90% of prayers aren’t answered, but christians chalk it up to “god working in mysterious ways”.  She said that he also says “no”.  So I asked her how she knows that he actually says “no”.  An answer from silence isn’t an answer at all…

At some point in the conversation, I actually used the phrase, “when I was a christian…” referring to something about praying.  At that point, I knew for sure that it was all or none.  I basically told her that I didn’t believe any of the christian myth anymore.  I said something to the effect of “40,000 versions of christianity disagree over what true christianity is, even while using the same source text, so there must be something wrong with the source text.  And god doesn’t actually answer prayers, except when it’s coincidental, so either there isn’t a god or he doesn’t really care about us.”

I then said something to the effect of “I know you don’t fully understand this or support this or agree with this decision, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.”

What happened next really surprised me.  She actually said that still loved me and didn’t want anything to come between us as brother and sister.  I returned the sentiment.

I am very surprised in one way that she didn’t blow up or go overboard, but in another way I’m not.  Her Facebook persona is a lot more ultra-right wing religious fanatic than she is in real life.  Or maybe she is a lot like me and wants to avoid a confrontation at all costs.  Or maybe (and this is the one I like) she really meant it.

Hopefully it stays this way and she won’t hound me or become negative like so many of the stories I’ve heard from others who have become openly secular with their families.  Obviously this recounting of events is a paraphrase and I’ve left a lot out, but overall, I am more than pleased with how it turned out, considering the horror stories I’ve heard from others about the same situation.  I’ll keep you updated when new things happen in this story.

A Confrontation at Lunch

Yesterday afternoon I took my boys to lunch at Chick-Fil-A.  We were running around town doing some errands and decided it was high time to get some food in our bellies.

I happened to be wearing one of my favorite T-shirts.  It’s got the word READ across the front, but the letters are made up of little pictures of characters and elements from classic fiction.  After we placed our order I walked over to pick up napkins and ketchup when a man sitting at a table behind the napkin/ketchup area said something to me that I didn’t quite understand.  So I asked him to repeat it.

He said something about liking my shirt, and then started talking about the importance of reading the bible.  I think that him seeing my shirt set him off and gave him a reason to accost a complete stranger in public, as you shall soon see.

“Oh, one of these guys,” I thought.  He was probably in his sixties and sitting with another gentleman and two women, all of whom appeared to be similar in age.  He asked me if I had ever read the bible all the way through.  “Several times throughout my life,” I replied.  Then he goes on, telling me about how much he reads the bible and how important it is to him.  Then he starts talking about how he sees Jesus in everything.  And then he starts talking about geography: “California is like god’s right arm, and Michigan is like his left hand…”  And then I lost track of what he said after that.  Frankly, it was quite confusing.  His wife (I assume) then said to him “Let the man eat.”  That distracted him long enough for me to make my way to where my kids were sitting to wait for our food.

When our food arrived, I distributed the various items to their respective owners; sandwich to you, nuggets to you, sandwich for me, fries all around, and then proceeded to open my ketchup.  And that’s when this guy comes over to my table and starts talking again.  Apparently they had finished eating and were getting ready to leave and he decided to come spend some more quality time with a random stranger…  So before I could take one bite of my food, this guy starts back up about how important the bible is, and how he sees Jesus in everything.  He said something about the bible being the most important book, or some such and I replied “I don’t think it is.”

He asked what I meant, so I started in about how there are so many discrepancies, contradictions, and evil acts attributed to god in the bible that I didn’t think it was that great of a book.  He said something about it being perfect and having no contradictions, so I gave him a few examples: “The bible calls him the prince of peace” I said, “but he ordered the slaughter of thousands of innocent people.  Christianity, in general, is against abortion, but god ordered unborn babies to be ripped out of their mothers’ bodies.  Paul and James couldn’t agree on whether faith is with or without works.  It’s full of contradictions and discrepancies and evil ordered by god.”

“Do you see the bible as the word of god?” he asked.  I told him that it was written by men.  So he said men wrote it after being inspired by a perfect god.  So I asked him why god wasn’t perfect enough to get the men to agree.

“But it’s the perfect word of god” he replied, “and god doesn’t lie.”

“God told the first lie ever,” I told him. “In the garden, god said that when they eat the fruit they would die that day, and when they ate it, they didn’t die.”

“They died spiritually,” He said.

“No” I replied, “he said they would literally die the day they ate the fruit.  It never even insinuates that it’s going to be a spiritual death.”

Then he changed his answer and said that they did die, but it took hundreds of years.  This seems to me to be a typical christian response to looking at evidence for fun little tidbits like this; they change their mind in order to keep their belief system together.  Position A has been soundly debunked, so I’ll switch to position B in order to keep believing what I believe.  Thinking about it now, it seems that may be why there is more than one explanation of so many theological subjects: so that when one is proven wrong, the believer has something to fall back on, except that position B makes less sense than the original position.

We went back and forth for a little while on the same line of reasoning when he brought up Abraham and how he was so faithful.  So I asked him if he had a son.  He said he did, so I asked his son’s name.  It was Mark.  So I asked this guy “If god told you to sacrifice Mark, would you?  He actually said that he would.  So I clarified, “If god told you to kill Mark, you would take a knife and slit his throat open… You would murder your own son because you heard a voice?”  Then I brought my own kids into the scenario. “I would never do anything to hurt these two” (pointing to my kids, who are still sitting here, trying to eat while their dad is trying to destroy their own religion).  “I love them too much to hurt them.  They mean the world to me… But you just said you would murder your son.  That is sick and disgusting!  What kind of person are you?”

He thought for a second and said “Well, I didn’t mean I’d do it in this day and age, but if I was back then, I would have.”  He did the whole switching thing again: position A, position B…

“You just told me you would murder your son,” I said.  “That says a lot about who you are as a person.”

He waffled a bit more and then went back to his original proposition: telling me about how great the bible is and how great god is and how Jesus’ head is somewhere up in Alaska and etc., etc. He seemed to not get it.

Somewhere along the way, he told me about how he was saved in 1973, then he “walked away from the lord”, but now he was back and more sure than ever.  He invited me to First Assembly of God.  I told him that I had been there several times, but that didn’t change my mind about the bible.

Anxious to eat my lunch, I told him he needed to check out the website truth-saves.com.  I repeated it several times, and then told him I was going to eat my lunch.  He told me to have a blessed day and then reluctantly left.

When I looked back at my sons, one had gone to another table to eat in peace, and the other (the slow eater) had already finished his food and was eating an ice cream cone.  Considering that I have paraphrased the preceding conversation and cut out a lot (obviously I don’t recall everything), that was a long discussion.  So, I finally ate my lunch and went about the rest of my day.  Fun stuff!

Morality Comes from God…

Last night while my wife and son were at church, I started watching Richard Dawkins’ Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life on Youtube.  After watching the first episode, I looked for the second but couldn’t find it.  So I started watching the third episode.  About half-way through, My wife got home.  After changing into her PJs as she does every night when she gets home, she joined me on the couch.  She sat down at about 38 minutes into the above linked video, just about the time when Dr. Dawkins starts talking to Ricky Gervais.  A few minutes later, she said something about “When this is over remind me to tell you something about that…” whatever comment one of them had just made.  So I stopped the video and asked her to say what was on her mind.

“Where does morality come from?” she asked me.

“From what I understand, it’s partially genetic, but mostly cultural.” I replied.  “I mean, most higher animals have some sort of rudimentary morality.  Look at the bonobos who protected the dead body of a member of their group from the human gamekeepers.”  I referenced a video I had watched a while back depicting this scene at a game preserve.  Then I continued, “Morality is mostly cultural.  People decide how they want to be treated and they treat others that way.  It’s been evolving like that for millions of years.”

Then she got to the real reason she was asking.  “Pastor J… said in his sermon tonight that morality can only come from God.”

“Oh really,” I replied.  “I know plenty of moral people who don’t believe in god, not to mention the many immoral acts god is recorded as doing or condoning in the bible.”

She actually agreed with my first point.  “Yes, I know a lot of people who were raised in non-religious homes, and most of them are just as moral as a lot of christian people I know.”

Just then, I recalled Sam Harris’ TED Talk about science being able to answer moral questions.  Since we already had YouTube pulled up on the TV, I brought it up and we watched it together.  She didn’t say much. She did say “Hmmm” every once in a while during the video, however.   Afterward, I was going to bring up Sam Harris’ debate with William Lane Craig, but she was starting to nod off.  So we went to bed without much conversation about it.

I thought it was a pretty successful evening.  I’m glad we can have conversations about our differing ways of believing, and more so that she is actually questioning what she believes.  The pastors I’ve had have always said not to take their word for it, but to go study it for yourself.  It appears she is starting to do that… but not in the way they have always intended.  An open, reasoning, logical mind is always the enemy of faith.

Coming Out as a Non-Believer to my Brother

I had a great visit with my brother and his family this weekend.  He came through town and spent the 4th with us.  The next morning, he and I were the first up, so we sat on the deck with our coffee and had a conversation about the way things are.

He’s actually the one who started it.  Since it was a Sunday morning, and my wife had already left for church, I think that’s what prompted him to talk about it.  He mentioned how much more time he has now that he doesn’t regularly go to church.  A few years ago, he moved from the west coast to the northern limits of the South and started attending my uncle’s church.  My uncle is a dyed-in-the-wool oneness pentecostal who still holds to the “holiness standards”, while my brother is a pretty normal guy.  They had a falling out over a lot of things, but mostly my uncle’s attitude toward other people, especially other christians.  The easiest way to describe it is that my uncle’s stance is “they’re all going to hell because they don’t believe the way we do.”  That didn’t sit well with my brother who is a lot more willing to let all kinds of christians into heaven.

After that, they started going to a small independent church that used to be baptist, but some of the ministers there made my brother reconsider.  My brother got into this “hyper grace” movement (I think as a result of the spat with my uncle), and some of the ministers at the new church didn’t teach that.  My brother finally stopped going regularly about the same time that I finally realized I was no longer a believer in the supernatural.  His wife decided to continue going until the current season of AWANA is over, since she is in charge of it.  The last he told me about his situation is that they are thinking about just having a small circle of friends start a house-to-house fellowship on Sundays instead of doing traditional church.

But in the midst of this conversation, I started talking about my own journey.  I reiterated a few points I had already told him about in phone conversations in the past.  I mentioned the archaeology issue and some of the scriptural non-agreement issues.  Then I started talking about John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith and it’s inherent points.  I then told him that this lead me to the point thatI needed something to hold onto about the faith that would make it real.  “The prophesies of Jesus as messiah in the Old Testament” I told him “were the only thing that would keep it real for me.  But when I started studying them, they broke down too.”

Then I told him that I no longer believe any of it.

He almost didn’t react at all.  He just kind of nodded and kept on talking, as if he had already figured that out about me.  No fireworks, no “A-Ha!”, no crazy shenanigans.  Just my brother and me having a conversation.

I really think it’s kind of dead for him too, but he just doesn’t want to go as far as I have.  He still holds on to the love of god.  His Facebook feed is full of posts from Danny Lee Silk, who is all about loving others, and a couple of other hyper grace preachers, who are very similar to universalists.  Back in April he even posted an article about why homosexuals are good for the church, and it’s a positive slant on that issue.  In our conversation he said that he just wants to make the world a better place by being a good person to everyone he meets.  But he didn’t even relate that to being good because of god or religion.  I really think he’s lost his faith in christianity, but hasn’t seen enough evidence in the right places to make his give it up entirely.  As John Loftus says, “Most people won’t find their faith improbable until they find it impossible.”  I think that’s where he is.

The evening before, he mentioned off-hand that while they were living on the west coast they had gone to a market night and were sitting in front of a cafe having a cup of coffee.  While they were sitting there an atheist group started setting up their awning and display for the market night.  My brother said that he got up and helped them finish setting up.  Afterward, one of them asked if he was an atheist, and he said, “No, but you looked like you needed help.”  After a bit more conversation he started to leave.  He shook they guy’s hand and said “God bless you… Just kidding.”  I’m not sure why he brought that up, but I’m sure it had something to do with our conversation the next morning.  I’m still processing it all.