Mentally liberated, but socially imprisoned

Sent in by an Ian L

I really need some encouragement and feedback right now. I've recently become an agnostic, and, while I'm not afraid of what happens after death (if anything), I am afraid of how my wife and family will respond (I'm not brave enough yet to tell them of my change of heart and mind).

Anyway, the process of reasoning my way out of belief began when I realized that I couldn't bring myself to go up to someone of differing belief and tell them that I am absolutely right, and that s/he is absolutely wrong. Such a claim would be groundless.

My line of thought goes like this:

1. Religious belief is founded on fundamentally irrational assumptions (that there is a god, that a particular scripture is literally true, etc). With irrationality as the source of religious truth, anything can be claimed to be true, and anything claimed to be true based on irrationality is equally defensible and refutable using reasoning corrupted by irrationality. Therefore, religious belief should not be synonymous with absolute truth.

2. The apologist may counter this by saying that there are many good reasons to make the irrational leap of faith. But if you review them carefully, the reasons commonly given (design in nature, coherence of scripture, "look all the intelligent people who have been believers," etc, etc, etc.) are all applicable to one or more OTHER religions as well. Therefore, none of the reasons commonly given for belief are good reasons, and do not justify a claim of absolute spiritual truth.

3. The only good reason I see for belief is if one has had a mystical experience of a spiritual/divine nature (that can't be explained by epilepsy, an acid flashback, or simply a very emotional experience as a result of intensely wanting to see god).
However, while this establishes spiritual truth for the individual, it cannot be used to convince anyone else of this subjectively experienced truth. Further, belief is irrelevant if one has had a spiritual experience, since faith/belief is unnecessary in the presence of experience, so once again, belief seems to me to be invalid and groundless as an act and state of mind.

I'm not an atheist. I can't prove there's no god, nor can I prove that there is one. I refuse to squeeze 'truth' out of irrationality, have no good reason to believe, and I have not had a spiritual experience. I am therefore agnostic.

I think that agnosticism, based on this line of thinking, is an extremely reasonable position to take. Yet I find it so frustrating because I know that those around me will not accept this. They will say that I am just using faulty human reasoning (corrupted by my fallen nature), and that I should rely on scripture and prayer. They will say that the devil is misleading me. I know that they will say these things because several months ago, I began to question basic assumptions about Christianity and recanted after the intense backlash that I felt from my wife and in-laws.

I don't want to disappoint my family. I don't want to lose my wife, whom I love. But how do I, someone who desires to be rational, compete with the drone of irrationality?

While I feel spiritually and mentally liberated, I also feel, socially, more imprisoned than ever.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are not alone, for what that is worth. Many of us are in (or have been) you very situation. I cannot offer any easy answers.

I must remain "closeted" because of my family and professionasl situations. It is not easy, but it is easier than trying to fake it and live the lie of a "believer."

Hang tough, take comfort in the fact you are right in your decision. Read good books (anything by Carl Sagan), and read the testimonies of others on this and similar websites. See if there is a free-thinkers group that meets in your area.

Trust your reason and logic, which has always served the giants of mankind's progress so well.

Sorry I cannot offer more, but if knowing someone cares is helpful, then accept such help as that provides, because it is here.

Anonymous said...

Although nitpicking over definitions of atheist or agnostic is not, in the final analysis, of great importance, I still feel I must correct you on one point. Atheists, at least the ones I know, don't claim to know (certainly not in an absolute sense) that there is no god. For one thing, proving negatives is rather difficult. Break down the word, a = without; theism = belief in a god. What I say is that the religious person must prove their case, as the burden of proof is on the one making the claim; they fail to prove, therefore I fail to believe. This leaves open the possibility of belief if irrefutable proof is ever given.

Having said that, I'm not holding my breath.

How is this different from agnosticism? Not a lot, really. I just prefer the atheist term because the connotation is less wishy-washy.

The good news for you, since you are concerned with "softening the blow" with your friends and family, is that saying you are now an agnostic is less strident to their ears than hearing you are an atheist.

The term "freethinker" is even softer and will likely confuse them, which is ok.

If you really want to confuse them, tell them you're a Pastafarian now, and quickly change the subject. If you don't know what that is, just google it.

Anonymous said...

If your wife and family (and you) read much, the right books, both fiction and non-fiction, can be very effective lead-ins to a discussion of your own beliefs.

There are fictional works by both religious and non-religious authors that can help this discussion and transform the playing field from the black and white such a conversation could, in the worst case, turn into, to something more nuanced. One example is Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov, which could be good for this; you may be able to discuss Ivan Karamazov's point of view and move on from there.

There are some movies that are good for this as well, and if such a movie is something you both enjoy, it could lead into the topics you need to discuss. Woody Allen's films, though not everyone's cup of tea, could work for this; Allen is an atheist, and his characters often are, too. Look up directors, scriptwriters, and producers who have agnostic or atheistic beliefs, and see if any of their work is something you can work with.

I wish you all the best.

Edward T. Babinski said...

There is no certain advice that anyone can give you in such a situation since nobody can predict how it will work itself out. I know some couples in which one spouse or the other left the fold, or one of them grew intensely conservative in their biblical beliefs. And it's a difficult situation in either case. Sometimes marriages break up over it, sometimes they don't. You cannot predict.

Some gays or lesbians are in a similar situation and feel that it's best if they don't tell the world they are gay or lesbian (unless someone asks them point blank for a date), or unless their family beings to suspect and asks them point blank.

Same with annoucing your agnosticism. You could continue attending church and no one might ever ask why your hallelujiahs aren't quite as loud or joyful sounding as before.

Or you might cease attending church. Even in that case you have more options than a gay or lesbian does when confronted, since you can say stuff like, "I'm post-theological at the moment." Or "I'm giving church a bit of a break."

Perhaps you could ease your family into it? Though people can get quite inquisitive once you don't explain to them "why aren't you going to church?" So you may have to add, "I'd rather not talk about it." But they'll probably see some of your reading material in that case and continue asking questions, unless you keep such materials well hidden, along with hiding bookmarked URLs on your computer and history of past sites visited.

Speaking of easing people into things, remember the old joke about the college freshman who phoned home and her parents told her, "Your cat's dead." And she said, "Ouch! Couldn't you break news like that to me slowly, in stages? You could say, 'Your cat won't come off the roof.' Then next call, 'Your cat fell off the roof and is staying at the vet's for extra care.' And then, next call, 'The vet tried her best but she kept getting worse, and so we put her to sleep.'

"O.K, sorry" her parents replied.

And then the girl asked, "So how's grandma?"

"She's up on the roof and we can't get her down."

Or course you could take the opposite tact and make yourself more evangelistic and outspoken than the rest of the family, in which case, they might be the ones cowering to keep you quiet and asking them questions all the time. You could ask for a session with your church's pastor and with your wife and kids present and tell them all you've become agnostic and you "doubt" they can present you with any sufficient universally convincing reasons not to be. And maybe then they won't pity you but instead fear you, and themselves stay off the subject of trying to convert you, at least to your face, though they will pray for you behind your back.

I'm not advising you to use one method or another, just pointing out various methods, and noting that no one can predict the outcome of any of them. Only you know your wife and family and pastor best too. So there's options. Some meek, others in between, and some aggressive.

Speaking of the aggressive method, which I am only playing round with inside my head, you could place a pile of books down on the table when meeting with the pastor, books about people leaving the fold, or leaving church, books by agnostics for instance. There once was a society called the "Society of Evangelical Agnostics," whose logo was a porthole through which a horizontal yin yang symbol appeared (mimicing an ocean wave), the symbol was meant to represent that "people think agnostics are all at sea, so we chose this symbol." They even gave members a tie tack with the symbol on it.

At any rate there's my own testimony online you might want to peek at, "If It Wasn't For Agnosticism, I Would Know WHAT To Believe."

And there's several
Christian-->Agnostic testimonies in the third section of a book I edited, "Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists"

And there's also books like these:

Wrestling With Doubt: Theological Reflections on the Journey of Faith by Frank D. Rees
http://www.amazon.com/Wrestling-Doubt-Theological-Reflections-Journey/dp/0814625908/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I152QRSVGEB87V&colid=2CQDBZYQXUFB8

The God Problem by Nigel Leaves
http://www.amazon.com/God-Problem-Nigel-Leaves/dp/0944344984/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1AHT0VXFII8HT&colid=2CQDBZYQXUFB8

God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer
by Bart D. Ehrman (Author)
http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Problem-Answer-Important-Question-Why/dp/0061173975/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2W065J1YZD1L6&colid=34WLYCPYOOKUM

God, Do You Exist?: The Questions of a Curious Agnostic by Lester C. Graham
http://www.amazon.com/God-Do-You-Exist-Questions/dp/1414079362/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I11HSVCEBA88BJ&colid=34WLYCPYOOKUM

In God We Doubt by John Humphrys
This is not a Dawkins or Hitchens kind of book that believers can fairly attack as one written by a 'Militant Atheist', though the people who use that description have not explained whether they meant it to be used to disapprove of militant atheists as they would religious extremists or whether they are saying it's all right to be a religious extremist but not a militant atheist. Humphrys just asks questions. Intelligent questions that believers and non-believers alike would and should be asking. He takes the neutral ground of an agnostic; he can't prove that there is no god, but he wants religious people to explain and prove what the god is that they are worshipping. His chapter on interviews with a rabbi,a an Anglican Archbishop, and a Muslim academic is worth reading carefully. The reader must judge for himself whether the answers given by these three learned men clarify the religious stand. I suspect most neutral people would be left skeptical.
http://www.amazon.com/God-We-Doubt-John-Humphrys/dp/0340951265/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2ZUCMKYHX4L98&colid=34WLYCPYOOKUM

The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism by J. L. Schellenberg
http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Doubt-Justification-Religious-Skepticism/dp/080144554X/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I34IHAFCSS5DK4&colid=34WLYCPYOOKUM

Divine Hiddenness: New Essays Daniel Howard-Snyder (Editor), Paul Moser (Editor)
http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Hiddenness-Essays-Daniel-Howard-Snyder/dp/0521006104/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I28043A3AMFRKM&colid=34WLYCPYOOKUM

Divine Hiddenness And Human Reason (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) by J. L. Schellenberg (Author), Zainam Bahrani (Editor), Marc Van De Mieroop (Editor)
http://www.amazon.com/Hiddenness-Cornell-Studies-Philosophy-Religion/dp/0801473462/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=IWLCGVV4BS5I0&colid=2CQDBZYQXUFB8

Wrestling with God: The Story of My Life by Lloyd Geering (Author)
http://www.amazon.com/Wrestling-God-Story-My-Life/dp/1845400771/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2OB5W04KAYYDV&colid=2CQDBZYQXUFB8

Honest to God by John A. T. Robinson
http://www.amazon.com/Honest-God-John-T-Robinson/dp/0664224229/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1QSDJ84VMVD0M&colid=2CQDBZYQXUFB8

The Unknown God: Agnostic Essays (Continuum Compact) by Anthony Kenny (Author) For some years, Kenny was a Roman Catholic priest. he lost his faith and resigned from the priesthood. But, as this book demonstrates, he has never been able to let go of God and he continues to struggle with the intellectual problems of theism and the possibility of believing in God, especially in an intellectual climate dominated by Logical Positivism.
http://www.amazon.com/God-Agnostic-Essays-Continuum-Compact/dp/0826476341/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I4NKVBDSM8AUM&colid=DCTP3UDWLVBH

The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner (the author of a regular column for The Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and a philosophical theist who left the fold of Christianity)

And there is a published response to Gardner's book by Smullyan!...

Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness by Raymond M. Smullyan (From the author: 'Martin Gardner has left us a host of thought-provoking thoughts on religion (as well as other topics) in his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, and I would like to share some of my own thoughts that his have provoked.'

Philosophy as it should be done.
Smullyan's writing and thinking in this book is witty, engaging, and subtle without being pretentious, dogmatic, and overly technical. We are most fortunate that this magician/logician should turn his attention to the greatest puzzles of all: Does God exist, what are God's attributes and can we, or at least some people, know God? Countless volumes have been written on these questions. I have sampled not even an insignificant fraction of such work, but I'd bet good money that you could travel a long way in those jungles before finding a book as lucid and as accessible as 'Who Knows?' Here is a book that manages, in relatively few pages and in a style that is consistently readable, to address provacatively and intelligently some of the central questions that men and women throughout time have pondered.
http://www.amazon.com/Who-Knows-Study-Religious-Consciousness/dp/0253215749/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1QVDKI8GRVNXQ&colid=DCTP3UDWLVBH

Edward T. Babinski said...

There are also agnostic & atheist and liberal Christian "meet up" groups listed at meetup.com that you can look into visiting if you need some friends with whom you can share a cup of coffee and talk about your situation. But I can't be certain what the outcome might be in that case either, since your wife and kids will want to know where you are going.

psychman said...

Ian,

Thanks for posting. Welcome to the world of rational thought. Man, there is no easy way to let your loved ones in on your new worldview. But don't back down simply because you fear their reprisals.

Keep reading and most importantly keep thinking. Thinking is how you extricated yourself from the mindfuck that is religion.

Don't let anyone tell you that "you think too much" or that "god's ways are higher than man's ways". These are all statements designed to keep you from developing confidence in your own ability to reason.

One thing that I started using with my christian friends was to state that if god made me then perhaps god put a questioning nature in me. By asking me to quit thinking they (christians) are actually stifling the work of god. It got them to think a bit and gave me some breathing room.

It's a great psychout and perhaps it may lead to some constructive conversation about where you are at at this stage of your life.

Keep reading the other posts from other extians and know that you are not alone.

Later

Edward T. Babinski said...

Perhaps a way to ease people into your agnosticism is first to speak about "leaving church." Recently there's been a spate of books on the topic, many by Christians who have left church:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1YXZKOOZPMG2Z

One of the most famous Protestant "church leavers" is
Barbara Brown Taylor--Author of LEAVING CHURCH: A MEMOIR OF FAITH. (published in 2006)

HER HOMEPAGE
http://www.barbarabrowntaylor.com/

Ten years ago Baylor University published a list of the world's "most effective" English-speaking preachers and only one of the top twelve was a woman: Barbara Brown Taylor. After having had volumes of her sermons published and spoken round the country and overseas, she surprised her growing number of admirers by resigning from her church and accepting a teaching "chair of religion" at a local liberal arts college. Taylor isn't the first to leave parish work in search of a second career as a professor. Religion departments are full of clerics and/or former clerics, but few compose memoirs as honestly and masterfully as she, that walk the reader through the conscious and subconscious hopes and fears of all the years of "church life." Not that Taylor betrays parishioner's confidences; her writing, rather, covers interior ground.--Evelyn Bence]

Taylor's new revealing book is titled, LEAVING CHURCH: A MEMOIR OF FAITH (Harper, May 2006).

Here's an excerpt:

"By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained.

"Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday mornings with friendly Quakers, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists as I am with the Episcopalians who remain my closest kin. Sometimes I even keep the Sabbath with a cup of steaming Assam tea on my front porch, watching towhees vie for the highest perch in the poplar tree while God watches me. These days I earn my living teaching school, not leading worship, and while I still dream of opening a small restaurant in Clarkesville or volunteering at an eye clinic in Nepal, there is no guarantee that I will not run off with the circus before I am through. This is not the life I planned, or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me--that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human--seems important enough to witness to on paper. This book is my attempt to do that."

Taylor's website also features an address she gave at the Washington National Cathedral in June, 2006, a few paragraphs of which appear below:

"If my other books have been whole milk books, this is my single malt scotch book, which is the main thing I want to speak with you about tonight. After twenty years of telling the public truth-—the truth I believed was both true for all and good for all, or at least all within the sound of my voice--my first attempt at telling the private truth—-the truth that may only be true or good for me—-well, that was quite a stretch. Clergy spend a lot of time talking about what is right, in case you hadn’t noticed. For once, I thought I would concentrate on what was true--just for me, from my limited point of view on planet Earth-—in hopes that might be helpful to someone else trying to do the same thing.

"Making the move from sermon to memoir has been one of the more strenuous passages in my life, and it also makes the reviews a whole lot scarier to read. A couple of weeks ago I received one via e-mail with “Review of You” in the subject line. Just for the record, my mother confirms that everything in the book is true...

"A preacher who wants to keep his or her job would do well to avoid trying to say anything true about sex, money, politics, war, or existential despair in church. It is also not a good idea to question established readings of scripture or tradition...

"While I knew plenty of clergy willing to complain about the high expectations and long hours, few of us spoke openly about the toxic effects of being identified as the holiest person in a congregation. Whether this honor was conferred by those who recognized our gifts for ministry or was simply extended by them as a professional courtesy, it was equally hard on the honorees. Those of us who believed our own press developed larger-than-life swaggers and embarrassing patterns of speech, while those who did not suffered lower back pain and frequent bouts of sleeplessness. Either way, we were deformed.

"We were not God, but we spent so much tending the God-place in people’s lives that it was easy to understand why someone might get us confused...

"In 1997, after fifteen years of full time parish ministry, I left my little church in the north Georgia foothills of the Appalachians to become a college teacher. My soul was sunburned, for one thing. I thought there was a chance I had lost my vocation, for another, although I continued to preach and to teach preaching in between my undergraduate classes on everything from the religions of the world to the life and letters of Paul.

"The teaching was and is wonderful. I get to work with nineteen and twenty year olds—an age group I saw very little of in church. I get to ask the questions instead of providing the answers, which is a great freedom and relief. I also get to give grades, which clergy only do in their secret fantasies. (I am sorry, Mr. Smith, but your efforts have been so minimal that I am afraid you have flunked Lent.) I am still a Master of Divinity—isn’t that an interesting name for a theological degree?—but more importantly to me now, I am a member of the Department of Humanities, whose truth-telling has taken a decidedly private turn.

"My last book came out six years ago—a long time, for a wordy person. When people asked me what the hold up was, I told them I had lost my long time editor at Cowley Publications, which was true, but I had also lost my voice—or my voice was changing, anyway, and I did not yet trust it enough to put anything in print. I was no longer a parish priest. Many of my old certainties about life and faith had slipped from my hands."

And here are a few more quotations from Taylor's book, LEAVING CHURCH:

"I learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty."

"I empty the bag of my old convictions on the kitchen table to decide what I will keep." [Ultimately what Taylor keeps will not satisfy orthodox Christians, as it has more to do with faith (as a verb) than with beliefs.--Evelyn Bence]

Anonymous said...

Ian,
Sakefoot mentioned reading Carl Sagan. I am also a big Carl Sagan fan. I consider him my mentor in fact. Read "Cosmos" to find out who we are, how we got here, and where we're going. Read "The Demon Haunted World" to find out why people believe the nutty things they do and to find out how much damage this nuttiness has done to people.

Good luck

oneida said...

just ask god to help u feel the want and the faith u neeed.maybe u dont believe their is a god because u never had an encounter with him but i believe u will have an encounter with him.may god bless u and your family may god touch your your heart and mined to understading to the spirit of god

AtheistToothFairy said...

oneida wrote:
just ask god to help u feel the want and the faith u neeed
----
Oneida,

May Lord Zeus bless you with some free school courses in Reality Recognition for Xtians, Critical Thinking 101, as well as a beginners class in Basic Writing Skills.


ATF (Who thinks "encountering" a god visitation, would merit a delusion "of the 3rd kind")

sconnor said...

I'm so sick of these fucking, brain dead, deer in the headlight, christians, telling me to ask god to help me feel, "the want" or faith or to reveal himself. What a crock of shit.

Oneida, why do I have to ask or beg god to do anything. Presumably he knows my thoughts, why doesn't he just jump in? And couldn't god do anything better, then granting me an encounter with him? How come all the prayers for children starving to death or dying from unclean water go unnoticed? How can god bless some people, while he let's his other children suffer so egregiously? Oneida, you are delusional and you live in a fucking fairy tale world.

--S.

truthseeker said...

Ian,

Greetings. Thank you for your post. I am in a similar situation to yours. Perhaps I can lend a little help by telling you what DIDN'T work for me. Over the past 3 - 6 months I started having serious doubts about my faith. I won't go into the whole story but you can read it at this link: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/05/assemblies-of-god-pastor-questions-his.html

Bottom line is I felt I could no longer hold this in. I was on the point of seriously contemplating a way to kill myself I was so miserable. Then I finally realized it was the agony of these doubts along with trying to make something work for 20+ years that never really did. I feel mentally liberated, and in so many ways I feel I have a new lease on life. I am happier than I've been in Many, Many years. I have not idea what the future holds, but am excited for all the possibilities. I had a fairly strong conversion experience, but my deconversion is stronger! I want to tell everyone I know who is bound by religion that they don't have to be. But, that probably would not go over real big.

So, I finally decided to break down and tell my wife. In my case, our relationship has not been great and has struggled for most of our marriage (almost 20 years). We have 4 kids age 9 - 17. They are the ones I am very worried about. Anyway, my wife did not take it well at all, but that was partly due to the factor of our marriage problems being in the mix. No, I didn't take the slow-easy-over time approach, I just could not. I did try to leave some materials around and links on my computer hoping my wife would catch on, but it took her quite awhile.

Anyway, she really lost it when I told her. I guess it was just too much. If we had a strong and open relationship, I think it would have gone much better. She immediately told her parents and brother (who is an ordained minister). I am on decent terms with them, but it's been a week now and have not heard from them at all. I believe they've drawn up sides, and I'm on the losing one... That kinds hurts, but not unexpected. I am very open and reasonable to explaine to my wife about my doubts, but it is just overwhelming to her. She just cannot comprehend it, so I've decided to shelve talking to her about it, and try to find others where I can help sort things out.

Anyway, I hope my story can help you in some way. I guess I'm saying if you can take a softer approach over time, that would probably be best. I just couldn't do it. Once I was free, I just can't see going back to the same church again. It just seems like such a terrible waste of time and energy. I wish I could go and put on a happy face for my wife and kids, but even that seems impossible for me right now.

Anyway, if you want to further converse via email, I'd love to chat some more. I've found just writing and putting things out there helps. I started keeping a journal of sorts to keep track of my thoughts / reasoning as well as to give me an outlet. It has been very helpful. I am only about 1 week into my deconversion. Have not told my kids yet.

Best wishes to you.

Mark
markallanf@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Ian,
It's always tough at the beginning, but rest assured that things work themselves out eventually. It won't always be as it is right now.

I can only give you my experience, so here it is.

I did it slowly. Started missing church for any excuse I could find: too cold, too hot, have a headache, my back hurts.

Then I started skipping special events: too much money, I have to clean the kitchen, the laundry needs doing.

One day I didn't go anymore. And eventually I told my husband that I no longer believed. It took a long time, but I did it slowly, too. With off-hand remarks, yeah-rights about things seen on TV, etc.

Today, my husband knows that I am anything but a Christian. He still attends faithfully but has stopped reading his Bible and praying, to my knowledge. I don't like to argue with him, so I leave him alone with his beliefs. It's the only way to save the marriage, which by the way, is going really well.

Paul said...

Welcome to Club Reason! Yes, I have been where you are now and it is yet another of the "discoveries" along the road called LIFE!
I have read the comments made by others who rejoice in the space given by Christian.net - and can say, "Amen"!
I was an evangelist and pastor for some 35 years unti I saw the light of reason. My story and the REASONS for my abandoning Christianity are in my book, EVANGELICALISM, ANOTHER HALLUCINOGENIC. This pubication is available on Christian.net.
Take courage, comrade! You are on a new road of DISCOVERY.
Paul
eurekaplato@yahoo.co.uk

Lance said...

Hi Ian,
I am yet another person in the same boat. Similar to Mark (Truthseeker) I've been married almost 20 years and have three kids ages 7 - 13. However I started having serious doubts about 3 years ago, and completely lost my faith over a year ago. So I've been through some of what you are about to face.

I've told my wife that I am an agnostic, since as chuckyjesus points out, it is easier for her to take. But honestly she does not really want to talk about it too much. We kind of leave the religion subject alone right now.

We are going to start some counseling soon to see if they can help us deal with the differences in our belief systems. I do love my wife and kids, and want to keep the family together. I will tolerate her beliefs if that is what it takes, and she is learning to tolerate mine.

I can give you some advice on one thing not to do, and that is to attack her religion during a discusion with her. I said a few things such as "The god depicted the bible is a complete asshole." and "the bible is a bunch of crap." Both statements I still fully believe are true, but they came across to her, not as and attack on some distant religion, but as an attack on her personally. Not a good move on my part.

Please use this forum to vent your anger, and try to let her understand you gently, as others have already mentioned.

Another piece of advice is try to find at least one other person that thinks like you, and go to lunch or breakfast with them on a semi-regular basis. I've got two such friends and I consider myself very fortunate to have them.

In church, and with my christian friends, I have learned over the past two years how to let them know that I am not a believer, without pissing them off and without the situation getting ugly. But that is not saying it did not get ugly several times during that learning process. So if you are going to get into some ugly or heated discussions, it is best to find non-family member christians to do that with.

Also, it was through my discussions with christians that I found my fellow doubters. There are many of us sitting in the pews. Search them out.

As for the in-laws, they know I doubt and questions more than they think I should, but I've realized that they really don't want to know how deep my lack of faith goes. They don't ask too many questions anymore because I don't think they really want to know the answers. So in the family realm I try to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say.

As for my kids, they take it best of all. They love me more than any looney sunday school teacher, and believe me as well. I have not overloaded them with my deep thoughts, since they are still young to handle them fully, but they know I doubt what the church teaches, and they are just fine with that. It gives me the opportunity to show them how to think for themselves. They understand that mom and dad think differently about the concept of god and church, and they seem to be processing that well. Honestly I think they will be better adults because of the exposure to both sides at their age.

I don't tell them that there is no god, as I'm sure they will figure that out for themselves when they are ready, just as they figured out on their own that there was no santa claus. I just tell them that I am skeptical about things that have no proof, and that I don't believe something just because it is in some book, or on the internet, or because some guy at the front of a church said it.

If you want to converse more, feel free to contact me at lkasari-at-bendcable-dot-com. That goes for you too Mark, since you and I also seem to have a lot in common.

Good luck.

Lance

Anonymous said...

You have a difficult road ahead of you. The line of reasoning that's leading you away from your church sounds similar to one I experienced: it's not so much that you hold god-experiences to be false, it's more that you can't claim the one from your church to be exclusively true. There might be a way of negotiating the situation without coming across to your family as anti-god. If a spiritual community of some kind is something you would like to have, you might suggest to your wife that the family explore different churches. The Unitarian Universalists, for example, stem from Christian tradition but no longer attach themselves to any kind of rigid beliefs concerning the existence of god. The sort of book recommendations you'll get here mostly reject Christianity altogether; you might try reading books with your wife by liberal theologians such as John Shelby Spong. A mutual exploration of what your beliefs mean might work better than framing the situation as a confrontation.

mary said...

I myself believe you should tell your wife and friends and let the chips fall where they may. At least you'll know where they stand and they'll know where you stand.

Jackie said...

Luckily for me my husband and I both walked away at the same time, we just had a bunch of church friends that wondered what in the world happened to us. This is what I told them:
"After praying and praying for clarity an direction and getting nothing I started losing faith and trust in God so i decided to do some in depth research to affirm what I believed. I learned that everything I believed to be true had either been proven to be false or had no proof to back it up. Besides the basic tennants of the Christian faith didn't line up with what I believed in my heart to be true. I prayed against this, I really did. I really did ask God to come into my heart and renew my faith, send me a sign... something. Nothing happened. I have decided that as a grown adult capable of making my own decisions that I would rather live my life being honest with myself and those around me instead of being a total fraud and fake, hate myself and burn in hell anyway. If God knows my heart I would think he would rather me be an honest person than not."
Best of luck. You will make it through, just remember to use tact when talking to people or they will completly shut you out. Unfortunately we have to speak on their level or they will never understand.

billybee said...

To Mark (TRUTHSEEKER);
Your mini-tesimony really grabbed me. What a GREAT story!

I'm going immediatly to read your blogspot article. (I hope it has your email).

People like you are the reason that I have hope that this world and it's people can and will grow out of and shed our old skin.

I have fun imagining that if there was a "Mrs Galileo", she was probably not too happy with her husbands 'crazy ideas'....ha ha.

You are a pioneer and there is a price to pay, but I'd bet that your grandchildren will think that 'grandpa was one radical, cool old guy'.

if you read this, please drop me a note.. :)

billybee said...

oops..my last post was intended for IAN as well as mark.

Anonymous said...

Ian,

Like so many who have answered, I've been in your situation, and have experienced the pain and frustration you feel.

My advice?

First, look at your relationship with your wife, family, and friends. Are you able to discuss viewpoints that differ with theirs without arguing? In other words, are they generally open-minded?

If so, cautiously begin discussions on issues indirectly related, such as the nature of the universe, human psychology, perhaps, and work toward matters of faith. Be patient.

If not, then you have a choice to make, in my opinion: will you confront or live a closeted life?

I'm not here to say which is "right" or "best." The truth is, those terms come from an absolutist mindset, and rational thinkers rarely adopt absolute positions. Either path could be advantageous for you -- you'll have to make up your own mind.

Which is the point, isn't it? You've decided to make up your own mind about god/religion. Don't give that up. It's an all-too-precious freedom in this crazy world of ours.

As other posters have said, you're not alone; there are many in your situation (or have been).

If you want to have faith, have it in your ability to steer your own course through the world.

Peace to you.

David Knapp said...

I don't think there is a problem with having questions but I do think that you may need to take action eventually. For example, leaders in business do not know always which way to take their team but eventually they have to make a decision. Those who follow Jesus can't prove there is God accept through what they see happening in their own life. This leads me into the other thing I noticed you said. You said that you have not had a spiritual experience. I would say that life is the spiritual experience. Whether it is an alive or dead experience depends on our staying connected with Jesus (John 15). When I greet people during the day I have a chance to greet them as Jesus would. If I do this I think that it pleases God and I become more spiritually alive. The more spiritually alive I am the closer I am to becoming what God originally created me to be. I think He created me to be a person who has the right to choose but He desires for me to choose His way. Why would He want me to choose His way? Because it is the most perfect and loving way. Peace, patients, and self-control. These are all better than hatred, no patients, or no self-control. Can you prove there is a God? The only proof I have is when I make godly choices. Everything is a decision. Make the right ones that please Jesus; and again this requires the practice of John 15.

simplyecclesia.com

webmdave said...

"Peace, patients, and self-control. These are all better than hatred, no patients, or no self-control"

Dr. Knapp, I presume?

boomSLANG said...

Ian, taken from the original article:

I'm not an atheist. I can't prove there's no god, nor can I prove that there is one. I refuse to squeeze 'truth' out of irrationality, have no good reason to believe, and I have not had a spiritual experience. I am therefore agnostic.

Dear Ian,

Welcome. Since you are evidently entertaining some newly-found philosophies on the Universe, meaning of life, and epistemology, etc., let me gently admonish you to not derive your understanding of these philosophies/Principles from Theists, such as your family, or former church members, friends, or aquaintances.

Ian, "Atheism" does not state, or attempt to say, that "God" is disproven; it is merely a stance that says that "God" is UNproven, and until there is objective evidence for such a "being", one simply does not hold a belief that such a "being" exists. In other words, it perfectly feasible, and rational, to be an Agnostic Atheist; it needn't be an "either, or" situation, as some would have you believe.(namely, other Agnostics, and Theists)

And while on the subject of the existence/non-existence of "God"---much like it is perfectly within the bounds of logic to state, in an absolute sense, that "married bachelors" do not/cannot exist, the same holds true with the Christian biblegod. Ian, you cannot logically...

- have a being who is claimed to be ALL-loving, yet, only loves those who reciprocate that alleged "love".

- have a being who is claimed to know the future set of events, and who also has limitless free will.

- have a being who is claimed to be omnibenevolent, but who allows "evil" and suffering, etc., to exist.

Additionally, Ian, while it seems you've made the positive move from determining truth with your "heart"(emotions/gut instinct), to determining it with your "mind"(intellect), let me also gently encourge you to stay on that very path, as to avoid doing what I did, and that was to fall into the "liberal Christian" trap(one that is being offered up to you in this very thread), and from there, into the Universalist trap. Ian?....it is a waste of your time, and if you are like most former Christians, you probably wasted enough time already.

Ian, if Univeralists want you to believe that "all paths lead to the same God", yada, yada..or, if liberal/cultural "Christians" want you to believe that you can go into the Christian doctrine and simply discard those passages that create unceasing cognative dissonance, and/or, turn your stomach, and instead, encourage you to extract and extol the passages where "Jesus" allegedly carried out warm and fuzzy deeds, such as being nice to the under-privileged, etc., etc., then fine. Peachy. But just remember one thing, Ian....one needn't have a belief in "Jesus", or "Muhammad", or any other character, living or dead/fictional or real, to practice acts of kindness, or to realize one's imperfections. Good grief.

While I don't know you from adam, I'll wager that you already know what is "good", what is "bad", and that you are imperfect.

In any event, good luck,

boom'

Melvin_H_Fox said...

Dear Ian,

I am sorry to hear that you have never encountered the Living God in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. I pray that your heart will not be hardened as in the days of disobedience but that your spirit would remain open to His call. His desire is that none should perish. I exhort you that you would not lean on your understanding but in all things seek the Lord God Almighty.

In the love of Christ,
-Mel

Ian said...

Thank you for all the comments so far, your encouragement and compassion is a breath of fresh air.

I also apologize to the Atheists out there. I hadn't really looked into the difference between Strong and Weak Atheism/Nontheism before I posted, but now I understand.

To boomslang: funny you should mention Universalism. That's the first thing I took refuge in after my first wave of doubts had come and gone.

Thanks again, All.

jimearl said...

david knapp:
The only proof I have is when I make godly choices.

Just what is a "godly" choice? Is it when God choose to turn someone into a pillar of salt? Perhaps when he choose to destroy entire cities on a whim? Was it a "godly" choice to send she-bears to attack children who were just being children? I just can't figure out what a "godly" choice would be. Want to help me out? On second thought, don't. I'll make my own choices, thank you very much!

THE ACE said...

Note for Melvin Fox and any other
Xians who posted here: Please take
your self-righteous and delusional
drool elsewhere. Can you actually
read English? This is called EX-
Christian.net. Many here spent years trying to find the living God
through Jesus Christ. All they found was emptiness, frustration,
and a growing addiction to the
irrational. Have you noticed
how many former ministers post here?

And Ian, I wish you the best of luck. I think you've gotten some
excellent advice here.

jimearl said...

Melvin_H_Fox said...
Dear Ian,

I am sorry to hear that you have never encountered the Living God in the person of His Prophet, Muhammed. I pray that your heart will not be hardened as in the days of disobedience but that your spirit would remain open to His call. His desire is that none should perish. I exhort you that you would not lean on your understanding but in all things seek the One True God, Allah is his name.

In the love of Allah,
-Mel

boomSLANG said...

D.K...The only proof I have is when I make godly choices.

Those aren't "godly" choices; those are humane choices.

boomSLANG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Ian - A few years ago, I went through a very similar experience and ended up resigning my position as a Southern Baptist pastor. My advice to you would be to take it one step at a time. For the past few years, I have attended a progressive church that is more about asking questions and pursuing social justice than dogma. Being in that community has helped me work through some issues while still giving my family a support network. This may just be a weigh station on the road to atheism, but it has helped to know that some people pursue a spiritual life without all the supernatural trappings and dogmatism.

Anonymous said...

It sounds as if you've already passed through a number of waves of doubt and different refuges before reaching today's agnosticism. How much has your wife known about this, step by step? It sounds as if the backlash from your first questions silenced further dialogue. If that's the case, there's not only the shock of a divergence in belief, but also of a severe and long-term lapse in communication.

Boomslang labeled liberal Christianity and Universalism as "traps," but for you they seem to have been waypoints. It's interesting that you say you took refuge first in Universalism, and I think it supports the point I was making: by visiting liberal spiritual groups with your wife, you bring her along the the path you took, rather than shouting to her from the other end of it that you're no longer in the same place.

I'm not plugging Unitarian Universalism, having only ever attended about three meetings myself while dating an emerging ex-Christian. It sounds as if you're willing to accept your wife if she remains Christian, but that her current take on Christianity won't allow her to accept you as agnostic. She doesn't need to agree with you to accept you, but one way or the other, she'll certainly need to understand how you got where you are.

Ian said...

Yeah, Heavenslaughing, Universalism was a step away from fundamentalism, one which, I'm glad to say, my wife has embraced (for which I am ever grateful: in response to my doubts, she had begun to accept Calvinism--the 'ol "move in the opposite direction as a form of self-defense" technique). I think her Universalism might soften the blow when I reveal this next wave of doubts (since, at least from her point of view, I won't be going to hell forever).

In the first wave, I questioned (and found wanting) Christianity specifically. In this current one, I'm questioning belief in general. This time around it's more final, and my mind is made up. To tell you the truth, even though she's now a Universalist, I really don't know how she'll respond.

I'm hoping she'll be understanding. I think I can explain myself well enough when the time comes (I don't think I'll do it gradually. Instead, I tend to explain my complex changes of thought in essays), but I just don't know if any amount of rationality can be convincing to a mindset steeped in irrational assumptions. I'm not going to try and convert her to agnosticism or convince her of anything. I just want her to understand my position and, maybe, accept it as valid.

I just don't know how possible that is.

Anonymous said...

near-death.com


show them a better example of how you can show more love to others, how you do not have to stoop down to christian or atheist fundamentalism, and just express what you mean. Show that nobody can hold you back, and that you can be a good person. If you claim you are not a good person, you are not a good person. If your God could rape women, so does his people, if your God could alow child molestation and genocide, so could there people. Express pure love and pure kindness.

boomSLANG said...

cadaverscomebacktolife.com

(notice, it's not a legit' website, because cadavers don't come back to life; they're dead, not "near"-dead)

Anonymous said...

Ian,
You have ALL my sympathy! Coming out to family was what I was the most afraid of.

In my case, I was surprised several times by the reactions I got so just prepare yourself for the best and worst case scenario beforehand. Sometimes people react better than we think!

Here's how I decided when to tell my family: I know I have a bad habit of keeping stressful things to myself and pushing myself until I break down. So I decided that I would wait to tell my family until I felt like I absolutely could not hold it in another day.

I made it 8 months. After a trip to the emergency room with a panic attack, many many crying spells and getting really depressed, I knew I couldn't live two lives any more, so I just came right out and told my mom. She took it fairly well, it wasn't too bad.

The best of luck to you, Ian! You can make it!

David Knapp said...

To: webmdave

From: David

Please forgive me for spelling a word wrong. I of course meant to spell it this way: patience.

simplyecclesia.com

David Knapp said...

To: Jim Earl

“The only proof I have is when I make godly choices.

Just what is a 'godly' choice?”

First I would recommend reading Romans chapter 2. God has a law. Some people have a problem with the word law so if it helps you could call it a suggestion, though this makes the text lose some meaning. Though people may want to call it a suggestion it appears to be the best of solutions. God say, don't kill, lie, steal, sleep around, and also, love your neighbor, stay faithful to your spouse, work hard. When we decide to follow His suggestions these are godly decisions.

“Is it when God choose to turn someone into a pillar of salt?” Yes

“Perhaps when he choose to destroy entire cities on a whim?” Sure

“Was it a 'godly' choice to send she-bears to attack children who were just being children?” The text doesn't say that they were children. It says that they were youth. These youth were not little kids. The youth here are young men around the age of 16 to 18. They are acting irresponsible and so a two bears mauled them. They didn't die so maybe they learned their lesson and grew up a bit. She-bears?? I didn't see that in the text.

“I just can't figure out what a "godly" choice would be.” I have just provided some examples.

“Want to help me out? On second thought, don't. I'll make my own choices, thank you very much!” When one is asked questions it is difficult not to try and give answers.

simplyecclesia.com

boomSLANG said...

'Knapp...“Was it a 'godly' choice to send she-bears to attack children who were just being children?” The text doesn't say that they were children. It says that they were youth. These youth were not little kids. The youth here are young men around the age of 16 to 18. They are acting irresponsible and so a two bears mauled them. They didn't die so maybe they learned their lesson and grew up a bit.

As folks might have guessed, I find this "explanation"(rationalization) utterly preposturous....

"they were not little kids"

The suggestion is that it's unethical to allow predatory, potentionally deadly wild animals, to maul "little kids", but it's perfectly ethical to allow them to maul " irresponsible teens"..oh, as long they don't die in the process.

The notion is so idiotic, I won't even comment further---it speaks for itself.

Franciscan Monkey said...

David Knapp wrote:

“Was it a 'godly' choice to send she-bears to attack children who were just being children?” The text doesn't say that they were children. It says that they were youth. These youth were not little kids. The youth here are young men around the age of 16 to 18. They are acting irresponsible and so a two bears mauled them. They didn't die so maybe they learned their lesson and grew up a bit. She-bears?? I didn't see that in the text.

The "she-bears" comes from the KJV and some of the older translations, the NASB calls them female bears, and most of the other modern translations just call them bears.

How do you know that the 42 victims were youths age 16-18 and not children? Please use any proofs you have at your disposal, however, an understanding of the Hebrew may be helpful. You probably use the NIV, don't you? They have "youths," but most translations have "boys," "lads," or "children," the reason being as that is the most likely correct translation. Also, please tell me where the Bible says they didn't die, since you claim that they didn't. Of course, even if they were older youths, it doesn't make it moral, as boomSLANG has noted.

You may think that I am nit-picking, but I have found that Christians will often say something about the Bible without actually having any knowledge of what the Bible really says.

Respectfully,
Franciscan Monkey

It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. - Carl Sagan

psychman said...

You know what is scary about this David Knight character is that he is a missionary trying to raise money to go an evangelize "unchristian Germany". How arrogant! Where does this character get off thinking that it is his job to go a spread a message to a group of people that he has judged as unchristian?

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
-Benjamin Franklin

The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.
-Voltaire

I think these guys said it best.

What as always amazed me about ministers is their willing readiness to let others finance their missionary vacations. Let's face it that's what missionary work is all about. Con others into giving you money so that you can throw your present life away and go off to another nation and tell them about your imaginary friend.

What people need is more education and critical thinking skills and the methods that encourage self-support. Surely a belief in some sky hack is the last thing the world needs.

You will not get any argument from me that humanity should not be more humane in its dealings with one another. The development of ethics and morals need not cultivated by the instillation of fear in others. That is what religion does.

god, in essence, says to humanity "love me or I will banish you to eternal torment". What's funny is that when we encounter individuals who demonstrate this mindset we call them sociopaths. Why the hell do we give any imaginary god a pass?

Listen David, you can come in here and feel heroic by "going into the den of philosophical darkness" and facing the minions of satan himself with your flimsy arguments but if you do you're just wasting your time.

Again, the website is entitled ExChristian.net for a reason. All of us on here have been there and done that. To not respect that is to prove that you have no respect for other people's boundaries. It would be akin to us going to your blog and continually harassing you with our Freethinking rants.

It does not matter what your intention is. What really matters is how it comes across to us. You are the visitor and respecting our boundaries is the conditioning for us respecting you.

But of course, from your perspective, we are warped in our thinking and so that justifies you and others of your ilk rushing in and desperately trying to pull us from the grip of satan himself. It is this kind of delusional and egotistic thinking that many of has are trying desperately to escape and leave behind.

All we ask David is that you treat us like humans who have made our own choices. We are not children and as Paul (yes, the apostle ) said, "we have put away childish things behind".


Think about all this before you respond.

Later

psychman said...

I have to correct myself.

The missionary's name in my previous post is not David Knight but David Knapp.

Please excuse my error.

My bad. ;-)

Anonymous said...

David Knapp: "Whether it is an alive or dead experience depends on our staying connected with Jesus (John 15)."

Why don't you believers ever try "staying connected with reality?"

Jesus being in your book doesn't make him real -- any more than "Treaure Island" makes Long John Silver real.

That's it, I'm going to start quoting Treasure Island as Gospel(hey, it fits with the Pastafarian/pirate thing, doesn't it?).

::::::Hands David Knapp the black spot::::::

Yarrrr, Praise the FSM!!

boomSLANG said...

....::chirp, chirp, chirp::...

(cyber-crickets)

Ian said...

The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.
-Voltaire

I like that quote because it represents the most (to me, anyway) annoying thing about religious belief: it makes complete sense to the believer. Yet it doesn't make sense because it fits with reality. Quite the contrary, it makes sense because believers mold reality to fit their belief.

For one looking through the lens of religious belief, no experience is pure. For instance, if I am a Christian, and I meet someone who is homosexual, my PURE experience of that person may indicate to me that the person is good, harmless, and has every right to be who s/he is. However, my religious belief might require me to alter that perception so that I see the person's lifestyle (and, unfortunately in many cases, that person) as being an abomination.

Same thing with male-female relationships. As a man, I might rationally perceive women as being equal to men. But my belief will require me to alter that perception so that I regard women as spiritually inferior.

This is central to my main argument against belief: based on this alteration of reality to fit belief, anything can be true, and anything can be 'justified,' and it will still make sense to be believer. This creates a gulf between rationality and belief that is hard to cross. The only thing, I think, that can accomplish it, is the will to question, and more importantly, the will to accept the answers one receives, even if they conflict with belief.

That seems to be the turning point. At least, it was for me.

Nina said...

David Knapp
You become alive when you greet others because it makes you feel good to send forth positive energy through your greeting. Jesus can not see you. It is common sense that your greeting is a positive thing. God or no God. Where is the mystery? Where is the divine inspiration. You are just a damn nice guy.
"He" does your thiinking, does he?
nina

Aspentroll said...

To Melvin the FUX:

Your name doesn't indicate that you would be a muslim.
Did you attain this "high ranking" religious persuasion all on your own? Or did an islamic terrorist threaten to behead you for not seeing things his way?
Surely you don't believe that all your female friends should wear bhurkas? They are probably smelly and hot on a sunny day.Or that cutting the "clits" off teenage girls is a godly pursuit?
In any case your post makes you out to be even more deluded than most of the "fundies" who invade this site.

lewis said...

I suppose I am the odd one, as I came around to forming my ideas from reading Robert A. Heinlein books. After reading them and re-reading them over the years, I enjoy the philosophy as much as the stories.

One of my favorite quotes...

"History does not record anywhere a religion that has any rational basis.

Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help.

But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it."

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