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Oct 13 2009

What’s So Good About Being Wrong?

If you’re like me, you couldn’t wait to see that six-mile plume of debris kicked up on the pole of the moon recently when the NASA rovers dove into the surface of our most famous natural satellite.

And, if you’re like me, you were totally disappointed by what you saw on NASA channel, or, I’m told, through your telescopes at home—even with a clear sky.

A brilliant explosion of dust and ice was predicted. It didn’t happen.

Again, if you’re like me, you immediately thought something along the lines of “What happened?! What went wrong?!”

NASA, however, announced it was a great success. Data began streaming immediately. And they expect to be analyzing it for weeks to come. Maybe it wasn’t a glorious sight, but certainly we’ll learn something from the voyage. In fact, the failure of our prediction has already taught us something: It taught us that some prediction and some part of the model that NASA attempted and anticipated was wrong. Observably wrong.

When we make a prediction about reality, and our prediction clearly fails, we would do well to go back and rethink our assumptions. I’m sure NASA will be doing just that. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if one of the most burning questions they’re asking is why they didn’t get that plume they expected (and even computer generated). The truth is, when life goes on as predicted, we learn very little. When life throws us for a loop—if we’re so inclined, we have an opportunity to learn a bit more about ourselves, our assumptions, and, most importantly, about the reality around us.

Can you imagine a NASA engineer watching the plume fail to rise, who insists his assumptions cannot be flawed? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt that even in the sciences, there can be such fools. But generally speaking, most average people, and most scientists as well, understand that when assumptions fail, we have an opportunity to learn something. And we ignore such opportunities, generally, at our peril.

And yet, I can recall time after time in my former fundamentalist life, when I insisted it was simply a mystery when my beliefs, or what I read in the Bible, failed to correspond to reality. Why does the Bible say this if it doesn’t make sense? Well, it does make sense, I was taught to insist—it’s just that I can’t understand it with my human mind. And if you think you can—well, you’re just arrogant.

I know that wine doesn’t turn to water. I knew it then. I know a man can’t survive for days in the belly of a fish. I knew it then. I had never seen such a thing. I had never heard of any such things having ever been verified. And yet, the fact that these stories failed to correspond to reality hindered me not at all from accepting they were true and that reality was not to be trusted in these cases. What I observed in reality didn’t matter. This was “different.” This was “god”—residing in a compartment in my brain that reality could never taint.

Recently I heard of something called the Correspondence Theory of Truth—which is just a fancy way to say that if I believe I can run through a concrete wall, and I try, and I bust my head and fall on my ass instead, I would do well to question my assumptions, rather than the wall.

All of us use this method of getting by in life all the time. When you sit in a chair, you believe it will hold you. If it does, your belief has been verified. If it doesn’t, your belief has been demonstrated to have been wrong. When you fall to the floor, it is nothing more than folly to insist the chair really did hold you, exactly as you said it would. The children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a cautionary tale about Correspondence Theory, in fact, that any child can comprehend: A person who can be separated from reality and reason, is an easy mark.

Undermining our reliance on how reality corresponds to our mental models divorces us from the most basic means we have of testing our beliefs against reality as a means to differentiate true beliefs from false beliefs. It is just one way religion can damage a person’s reasoning ability. Getting an adherent to doubt a method of validation he must use day-in and day-out as the basis for how he learns and survives with any modicum of success in this life, is a monumental accomplishment. Shameful—but monumental. The fact that religion accomplishes this on such a grand scale should cause everyone to take notice.

If you’ve never suffered indoctrination, it probably seems ridiculous to you. How could I ever, for example, get you to believe reality is not what is clearly demonstrated before you? How could I convince you, through unverified claims alone, that I knew a guy who flat-lined for three days, and has recently been brought back to life? How could I convince you that moral knowledge is gained by eating magical fruit? How could I convince you that angels can make donkeys speak? That the planet is 10,000 years old? How could I convince you mass infanticide can be a good thing sometimes?

I understand how easy it is to think Christians are merely stupid. When judged from the perspective of a person who has never suffered the indignity of having his own reasoning skills utterly gutted and discredited as a child, it will probably only ever be understood as “stupid.” Honestly, I really can’t defend otherwise. I was stupid. But today, at least, I know why.

Some of you will never understand the sick depths of indoctrination and what it can do to the mind of a child. I am sincerely happy for those of you who never knew, and will never know, what it’s like to have come to recognize that a group of people, including those you loved and trusted most, convinced you for many years to doubt your own ability to think and reason, and to doubt the most basic, objective reality that surrounds you.

Reintegrating into reality can be a chore, a process that can take, literally, years. I cringe each time I see a letter on our list from someone going through this who writes to ask “When will I stop being afraid? Does it ever go away?” or “When will I stop feeling like I’m so stupid? Will I ever learn to trust myself?”

And where am I going with this? I guess on the one hand, if you’re not familiar with anything like this, try to empathize, even if you can’t actually sympathize. Consider mercy sometimes when you feel like being sarcastic or cruel. These are abused people. The fact some of them don’t yet realize it doesn’t alter that fact.

And if you know exactly what I’m describing, know that you’re not alone. Know that you will get better. Know that what was done to you was abusive and wrong—even if it was done by misguided people who thought they were doing the right thing. Forgive them for your own peace of mind. And work on getting past this and finding some way to reintegrate with your humanity and to celebrate the fact that imperfection isn’t something for which you need to continually denigrate yourself.

Remember that being wrong, and recognizing we’re wrong, is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s OK to be wrong. It’s an opportunity. It’s how we learn and grow as human beings.

10/14/09: Addendum
Today we received a letter on the AE TV list. It was from a Christian, imploring us to reconsider our atheism. I wanted to share this quote as a demonstration of the harm caused by childhood indoctrination. It was just such a sterling example of my point:

“So, you are going to live in fear and doubt until you deal with the question of whether Christianity is true or not.”

When I was an adolescent, I prayed long and hard for something to help me to believe. The idea that a vengeful god existed and that he required a belief I might fail to provide was terrifying. At the time, I don’t think I would have recognized I was in terror, because I was so used to that level of fear
. Today I know that there is nothing to be gained by “fearing” ignorance. And the cure for ignorance isn’t prayer–it’s investigation. While I’m not immune from fear in my life, I can honestly say I no longer fear in the sense that I “doubt” my choices about god and religion. I don’t lose any sleep over the thought “what if god exists and I don’t believe?” I recall the day I realized that if I researched as much as I could, and honestly concluded there was no god there, god would be an absolute ass to torment me for an honest, heartfelt effort, which his what I gave. And if god is such an ass, I don’t want to worship and obey him anyway–even if it means eternity in Hell, in the same way I wouldn’t want to follow orders from Hitler, even if it meant firing squad.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    PersonalFailure

    Small children automatically understand your point. My newest niece just turned one in September. Every time I see her she is trying, and failing, at something. Instead of insisting, "I did that right!", she reformulates her hypothesis and tries it a new way until something works.

  2. 2
    BeamStalk

    I have only separated from Christianity for just under 2 years now. I still get that anxiety thinking about death and the silly what if I am wrong. I know that it is silly and I fight it but it lingers there.Tracie, thanks for reminding me I am not the only one that is going through this break up with, so far, a lifetime of indoctrination.

  3. 3
    tracieh

    You're totally welcome. I think I will always wonder how much I'm still affected. I finally reached a point now where I just think that it is so integral to my childhood that it won't ever be unraveled. But I have definitely seen it improve. So, while I can't promise anyone they'll be rid of it. I can promise them it gets better.

  4. 4
    a Nadder

    Great one — an absolute pleasure to read (as are all your posts, Tracie!)Makes me all the more grateful that I wasn't subjected to the sorts of indoctrination you're talking about — just a bit of Lenin-worship in my early USSR childhood but we left early enough for it to wear off. It's so frightening how narrow an escape it was, staying just a few more years might have done something terrible.

  5. 5
    Si-ence

    "Remember that being wrong, and recognizing we’re wrong, is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s OK to be wrong. It's an opportunity. It's how we learn and grow as human beings."I'd love to put a poster/sign saying something to this effect in every classroom of the school I work at. It could potentially kill two birds with one stone, given I work in Catholic school :)

  6. 6
    Shea

    I kind of have a similar feeling. While I grew up "Christian" neither of my parents were really that into going. I mean my Mom always took us to church but my Dad never went. But now days he seems to like Joel Osteen, only because it fits with his prosperity philosophy anyway. Otherwise he's my same father.However, in high school I went through an "atheist only to rebel against the masses" kind of phase. In college I converted to Christianity in fundamentalist fashion. But the way my mind worked, it wore off within a year or so and slowly over years just began to finally crumble until I moved out of the environment, into one that doesn't really embrace religion so much (Japan).While Japan is VERY traditional, personal diety belief is somewhat of a "that's your thing" kinda attitude…so it's much better. But I still have a fear of going home to Texas and being bombarded with either questions or other religious drivel. I also don't want to lose the respect of many dear friends…The atheist label is just evil there it seems. I can be non-religious or even agnostic to an extent, but atheist? What am I some sort of evil Gollum esque creature? So I really feel uncomfortable talking to my friends and family about it. Hopefully I'll find the courage soon. Great post.

  7. 7
    Archaneus

    Being raised by a non-denominational Christian(the really crazy ones) it took me a long time to get over the indoctrination. I stopped really believing at around 12 but it took me another 7 years or so to actually break free of it all and call myself an atheist. Now, turning 22 soon, I finally do feel almost entirely free of it, but every once-in-awhile I'm confronted with something that reminds me there are still traces of fear and anger about this. As much as I would like to invite door to door missionaries in and argue with them I still can't bring myself to do it for some reason. Every time one comes to my door, which happens fairly often here, I can't bring myself to do anything more than telling them I am an atheist and shutting the door in their face and this causes a great deal of distress to me after the fact. I can't even figure out why. Oh well, at least I'm finally over that whole fear of hell thing, that took a long time.

  8. 8
    unholydove

    Shea-I struggled with the word 'atheist' for a long time. I patted myself on the back by settling for the far tamer 'agnostic'. I was middle of the road and non-confrontational, which fit for a while.Honestly, though, I was trying to escape the highly negative connotation of the word 'atheist' more than anything. 'Atheist' to me meant hate and anger. It took me a relatively long time to embrace the word as simply meaning that I lacked belief.Dealing with family is hard, though. Acquaintances and friends I can handle but my family's reaction isn't something I really want to confront at this point in time. I don't need to turn into their cause.Good luck.

  9. 9
    Aardvark

    "Consider mercy sometimes when you feel like being sarcastic or cruel. These are abused people. The fact some of them don’t yet realize it doesn’t alter that fact."This made me stop and think for a second, but I think unfortunately sometimes you're put in a situation where its not that easy to be "merciful" without sounding too arrogant.

  10. 10
    tracieh

    Archaneus:>Every time one comes to my door, which happens fairly often here, I can't bring myself to do anything more than telling them I am an atheist and shutting the door in their face and this causes a great deal of distress to me after the fact. I can't even figure out why.I think this is what I mean when I say it gets better, but I don't know if we're ever shed of it. It's one thing to recognize the damage and deal with it. It's another to not recognize the damage–to just have these "negative" feelings that you know are so clearly related to religious indoctrination (look at when you encounter them–when confronted with door to door preachers)–but you don't know what your brain is trying to communicate.I was also raised nondemoninational fundamentalist–as you say, "the really crazy ones." And believe it or not, for all my work with AE, this blog, and other atheist sites and endeavors, I still have feelings of anxiety when I'm having online debates. I'm pretty sure it's what you experience above as far as how you feel, because I know there is nothing to fear–and yet I feel fear.My personal thought on this is that it comes from the fundamentalist mindset that you have to be "right." I think the doctrine is that being wrong comes with such severe consequences, that fundamenatlists, more than the average person, fear (in a more phobic way) any misstep, any error, any show of a fault or flaw. It's such a defensive stance that they teach "we're right and everyone else is wrong." And you _have_ to be right.Getting past that, and learning that (a) you weren't right and (b) that's OK, is the next "step," I think.And beyond that, being able to project being wrong about other issues in your present and future as being "OK" is still extremely difficult.This is why I call indoctrination of this sort "abuse." It has negative and dehumanizing repercussions for many years for people who try to get their lives back.For me, learning I was wrong about god was very freeing–both when I left the church and when I finally dropped theism entirely, years later. However, the ungly negative feelings that were drilled in about self-doubt have lingered much longer and have been much harder for me to overcome.I really feel envious sometimes of people who have a more "normal" take on being wrong and making mistakes. I've always been far better at forgiving errors in other people more than in myself. It took me many years to finally realize _I_ am not different than the people I can be mentally kind toward and that it was OK to be mentally kind toward myself. No need to beat myself up over not being perfect.I'm not self-pitying. In fact, I'm more angry at times than anything about what was done to me and how I'm still paying for it–even as I am happy to be through what I would consider "the worst" of it. But I still recognize (1) it's sad that I was messed up like this as a child and am still dealing with an aftermath, and (2) people are still doing this to other children–which is inexcusable.People consider it not only "good" to do this to children, but they have actually created a toxic society where, if you aren't doing this to your child, you're considered suspect. You don't take your child to church and teach him about god? What sort of uncaring parent are you?Really, if you're not busying yourself with the task of undermining your child's self-esteem and destroying his reasoning capacity, you're barely a fit parent. And this is the environment we inhabit.

  11. 11
    Tor Hershman

    "I’m sure NASA will be doing just that."Well, you're 100% inncorrect.They may put on a fine show, for the cameras, BUT all They will really do is keep on kissin' the arses of the people in charge and continue to cash their checks.Why?'Cause that is ALL they hav-ta do.Don't you remember the two blown-up space shuttles?If'in not, allow moi to refresh your memory with me wee YouTube film.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m6qC6FCiY0Stay on groovin' safari,Tor

  12. 12
    tracieh

    Actually having lived in Florida and now living in Texas, two states where the shuttle missions are a big deal, not only do I recall the shuttle explosions, I watched one live from my parents' porch in Orlando.I recall the excruciating examination of the replay of the video footage and the fine-tooth-combing over of the debris, as well as the political pressure for explanations–all done in order to discover the most likely reasons for the failures.In both cases extremely plausible explanations were uncovered and reported publicly. In the second case, there was even clear footage presented, demonstrating the failure that very likely led to the disaster. Where I lived we were exposed to nonstop coverage and scrutiny until plausible answers could be provided.I can't agree the shuttle explosions are a good example of how nobody attempts to explain the failures of space missions.

  13. 13
    Guillaume

    Great post, as always.

  14. 14
    tracieh

    I added this to the blog post, but wanted to add it in comments as well, for anyone who may not go back and notice the addition:10/14/09: AddendumToday we received a letter on the AE TV list. It was from a Christian, imploring us to reconsider our atheism. I wanted to share this quote as a demonstration of the harm caused by childhood indoctrination. It was just such a sterling example of my point:"So, you are going to live in fear and doubt until you deal with the question of whether Christianity is true or not."When I was an adolescent, I prayed long and hard for something to help me to believe. The idea that a vengeful god existed and that he required a belief I might fail to provide was terrifying. At the time, I don't think I would have recognized I was in terror, because I was so used to that level of fear. Today I know that there is nothing to be gained by "fearing" ignorance. And the cure for ignorance isn't prayer–it's investigation. While I'm not immune from fear in my life, I can honestly say I no longer fear in the sense that I "doubt" my choices about god and religion. I don't lose any sleep over the thought "what if god exists and I don't believe?" I recall the day I realized that if I researched as much as I could, and honestly concluded there was no god there, god would be an absolute ass to torment me for an honest, heartfelt effort, which his what I gave. And if god is such an ass, I don't want to worship and obey him anyway–even if it means eternity in Hell, in the same way I wouldn't want to follow orders from Hitler, even if it meant firing squad.

  15. 15
    Archaneus

    @TracieWhat you express above is ultimately what finally destroyed any lingering fear of hell. Either god is not so evil as to send me to hell for just failing to believe in him, or he is and the noble and right thing for me to do is to choose hell over heaven because such a creature in no way deserves my devotion or even grudging acceptance. When I told this to my pastor's wife aunt one time she implied a willingness towards physical abuse. Those theists really hate when you point out how evil their god is.

  16. 16
    tracieh

    Archaneus:It's like that question: If god wants me to believe, why did he make me an atheist?When a sincere believer searches for more information about god, and in the end begins to see something is awry, until ultimately he must admit there appears to be nothing there–what can that person possibly do?It's inescapable. I was "on fire for the lord." And I search and search, and finally had to admit that the god I thought (was so sure) was there–simply was no where to be found. By the time I accepted "god"–I wasn't seeking validation any longer. I was seeking simply to learn more about the god I loved. How that search could have possibly resulted in my realizing my beliefs were smoke and mirrors is nearly enough of a miracle to make me believe again! ;-)

  17. 17
    Margot's Musings & Misadventures

    I feel I need to put my two cents worth in.I was heavily involved in the church (a crazy tongue speaking fundy one) for the first 30 years of my life. I was orchestra/band leader, played piano at every service (four on sunday, one on Wednesday, one on Friday) held home fellowship in my home, Monday nights and band practice Tuesday nights.Thursday was church free.. Saturday was usually some church organised social event.I consider myself an intelligent person and yet I allowed myself to believe. And I really really did. I hate when people say "you weren't a true christian then". I really was. I feverently spoke about my faith and gave insane amounts of money to the church. When I did doubt, I was taught that it was satan, so although I did doubt, I didn't entertain those thoughts as they were from satan.I really believed Jonah was in the whales belly.I really believed Jesus created fishies and bread for lots of people to eat.I really believed Abraham was going to kill Issac (why that story doesn't outrage people I'll never know)What started me on my path to atheism was studying how the bible actually came to be. That led me to further study and slowly my mind started to change.It was a long painful process. It's 11 years on now, but I'm still affected by those first 30 years.While I have absolutely no guilt or fear that god could be real, I resent my upbringing.I resent that my parents (my family is all still crazy fundy and don't know I no longer believe) put me through that and taught me a lie.I still struggle over people telling me what to do (the church put huge guilt trips on me if I said I couldn't play a service. They'd tell me that my reward was in heaven and that god watched what I did and it made him happy…. even though I was suffering a nervous breakdown from the pressure… did I mention I also had a full time job???)Although I know I wouldn't be the person I am today if I didn't go through that experience, I still sometimes wish I had a 'normal' upbringing.So while yes, it does get easier and certainly, I don't for a moment think any of it could be real, I still feel it's impact.I did it all by the book and more yet god wasn't there. how could he be when he doesn't exist!!!I remember as a 10 year old walking around saying "please forgive me god' for any unknown sin I may have committed. I repeated this phrase over and over…. how is that not damaging to a child??? How can you allow your children to think they're sinful and unworthy?? What's the matter with you people!!!I do agree that religion is harmful… belief in non existant things is harmful whether it's pixies or gods….But I am thankful that my rational mind won and I now am free from those religious burdens.

  18. 18
    Tyler Olsen

    Reading testimonies from former believers like Tracie and Archaneus and Margot really sends a chill up my spine. I grew up in a completely secular household, not being told to believe in a god, to disbelieve in one, or even what a god was. The earliest experience that I remember where I first had to confront the idea of gods was when I was about 15 and many of my friends in high school attended church regularly. Up until that time, I don't think I even contemplated about the concept of god at all. I was completely ignorant about it, the same as we all are from our birth (I reject the statement that we are all born atheists, because to disbelieve a claim you first have to be told what the claim is). Around 16 I started being pressured by at least one friend to become a believer as she was, but by that time my mind and thinking skills were mature enough that I wasn't going to be easily convinced of anything without proper evidence. As an amusing side tale, when I was about 6 years old my mother and I went on a vacation while my father stayed home and continued to work. He neglected to feed my goldfish and I was terribly upset when I got back home and we found that they had all died. As we buried them in our back yard, my father told me that its okay because the fish would reincarnate and be re-sold at the pet shop. Well hearing this perked me right up. I wanted to go straight to the mall to re-buy my newly incarnated goldfish before someone else picked them up. I immediately and unquestioningly believed such a ludicrous claim and I'm sure if everyone in my life reiterated the claim and we spent time each week paying tribute/respect/honoring the claim, it would have been a much longer and more difficult road for me to become a "goldfish reincarnation disbeliever". Instead, as I grew older I realized that claim was obviously false and my father was just trying to assuage the pain and sadness that I felt (and to cover his own ass for failing to feed my damn fish). Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that I grow more and more thankful every day that my parents raised me as they did and didn't subject me to any sort of indoctrination or dogma, minus goldfish reincarnation of course. Its hearing these stories that you people share that has really motivated me to be outspoken about my views on religion. I hope that everyone will continue sharing their stories of indoctrination not just in places like this, but in other avenues as well to reach wider and more diverse audiences.

  19. 19
    Jennifer Juniper

    I didn't have a "crazy fundie" upbringing, but I was raised Catholic and definitely to believe in god. While my dad never went to church, he claimed Protestantism. My mother, however, tried to take me to church as much as she could, but I made it miserable for her so it wasn't weekly (as I imagine most kids do, I found church incredibly boring and would fidget and whine).I gave up the religion first RIGHT after I made my confirmation. I claimed that I could not be part of a religion that condemned gays and even cited to my mother the ridiculousness of the church's claim that she and my father were "living in sin" because they merely got married in a courthouse (my dad didn't want to convert or do whatever foolishness the Catholic church said he needed to do to marry in the church). While these things were true, I think I also just didn't want to waste my time in a church every week when I felt absolutely nothing.I did, however, continue to spout how I didn't like Catholicism, I still believed in god. I remember saying "the idea of the big bang is just as weird as the idea that a powerful being created us." Ugh. I hate thinking about that. haha While I wasn't raised crazy strict Catholic, I do know the guilt. The guilt I felt for not going to church even though I didn't like the rules of the religion. I remember I started to pray every night (where I had previously only prayed on occasion when I remembered) just to make myself feel better about not going to church.Then I had the fears of dying which where obvious symptoms of my belief fading since I wasn't sure of heaven. I finally admitted to atheism after reading The God Delusion and it's a freeing feeling. I found out too, from an ex-boyfriend (also still good friend), that apparently I used to yell at him for not believing in god. He said it was a big problem. I must have blocked it out though. I remember talking about it and standing firm that god was real, but I don't recall getting confrontational.While I am pissed about being slightly brainwashed, the other stories told here are so much worse. I feel lucky that it didn't last longer than it did for me, and that I am completely comfortable telling my parents how I feel now. They don't like it, but they don't bother me about it (probably helps that I was somewhat rebellious and outspoken about everything I believed throughout my upbringing, they're used to it. haha).Anyway, I just want to say that I am amazed by you guys/gals that have broken through all that nonsense and I hate that it's so hard for you. It's just not right. I do have still a terrifying fear of dying and the occasional thought of "what if…?" but from the sound of it, its nothing like what you have to go through. You are my heroes! :-)

  20. 20
    BeamStalk

    Tracie, I understand what you mean on that fear of being wrong. My parents took me to a non-denominational church but I don't think it was super-fundie but it was a fundamentalist church. It has gotten worse since I left it. My parents and my sister are both YECs. Like I have told Matt before, I teach my nieces magic tricks so that they can see how we trick ourselves, but there are fundies that no magic tricks.I worry sometimes that I am doing the whole I am right because I am right thing without realizing it. So I tend to reevaluate things I have written or said. I don't think I could invite someone inside my house to talk about such things. (The internet provides a level of anonymity that allows me to speak more freely.) I know I have let my family say things in front of me that are just flatly wrong. My sister was talking about how great "Expelled" was in front of me once. I got too scared to say anything right then and later wrote her an email. Turns out she hadn't even seen the "movie". I still get that fear, looks like I need to just confront it and get it over with and then still it will linger for a long time.

  21. 21
    kopd

    "I reject the statement that we are all born atheists, because to disbelieve a claim you first have to be told what the claim is."I'm going to have to disagree with that. First I think that statement conflates "atheist" and "strong atheist." Further, I think it is definitionally wrong, and in fact the opposite of the truth.According to Webster:disbelieve = to hold not worthy of belief : not believe to withhold or reject beliefbelieve = accept as trueTherefore, disbelieve = not accept as true.To accept a claim as true you must be familiar with it (whether told of it or creating it yourself). Thus it is impossible to accept something you haven't been exposed to and disbelief is the ONLY option.Atheism is simply "not theism" and theism is a belief in god(s). Not being familiar with the concept of gods by default means one does not believe in them. That makes one an atheist.

  22. 22
    Tyler Olsen

    You make a good point kopd. I guess I've always viewed atheism as an active rejection of theism. But if we take atheism to strictly mean "not theism" then I agree with you. But I think I would call such persons who have not been exposed to any claims of theism as nontheists rather than as atheists. Strictly speaking nontheism and atheism are the same thing (at least according to what I've gathered on wikipedia), but somehow in my mind I've come to think that atheists are those who both understand -and- reject the claims of theism, whereas a nontheist is someone who has not been told the claims of theism and thus takes a default stance of not-a-theist. This is just my own interpretations of the usage of these terms and I think I am actually wrong about it, just like I was wrong about what I thought it used to mean to be an atheist versus an agnostic before the AE crew enlightened me.

  23. 23
    kopd

    I used to think I was agnostic as well, until straightened out by AE and others. I'm with you on the "nontheist" label, too. I do prefer that over atheist, as it does get muddled in English. The prefix a- is usually used to indicate a lack of something (asymmetry, abiotic, amoral), but it is often taken to mean the opposite of the original word. The prefix non- more cleary means "not". For myself, I am an atheist. For children or rocks, technically "atheist" is correct, but it's not very useful, so "nontheist" is fine with me for describing them.

  24. 24
    stronger now

    Yeah. That indoctrination stuff screwed me up pretty good. Does anyone know what it is like to be nine and think you are going to hell for not forgetting you were molested? I thought, in my childs mind with a childs faith, that I was to forgive others as god forgave me, and by the way god doesn't see what you did when he forgives you because it's covered in the blood of christ…like it never even happened.On a lighter note, sort of, there is a church in WNC(that's Western North Carolina)that plans to burn bibles for halloween.http://exchristian.net/2/2009/10/church-to-burn-bibles-on-halloween.html

  25. 25
    stronger now

    Oh, that forgetting thing never worked for me. The pain and confusion, it never goes away. But thankfully I no longer fear hell. Atheism saved me like no imaginary skydaddy could.

  26. 26
    tracieh

    Margot:>I remember as a 10 year old walking around saying "please forgive me god' for any unknown sin I may have committed.Been there, done that.Tyler:Thanks very much. I also think people need to tell these stories. For too long religion has gone unchallenged as something “good” that we provide to children and families. I want to show people what indoctrination really does. Just because a person doesn’t acknowledge or realize they’re abused doesn’t make it any less abusive.And thanks for all the other comments. I’m happy to see the dialogue here.

  27. 27
    Paul Brown

    "I understand how easy it is to think Christians are merely stupid."Yes. This. Attempts at indoctrination were made on me as a child, but they were half hearted at best and usually made by people who didn't really have any clue what they were saying and weren't used to people arguing or asking awkward questions. As a result, I pretty much came to the above conclusion, that Christian (or Muslim or Hindu or whatever) meant stupid. Not necessarily stupid in all ways, potentially brilliant at crosswords or sports or tracing or whatever, but in the area of critical thinking, stupid.Two things broke me of this – the first, for which I thank you, was people such as yourself, Matt D, Beamstalk and others who are clearly very intelligent people who freely admit to having believed these things.The second was the realisation that I didn't become an atheist through some great thought process; unlike the "deconverts", I just decided that the whole thing was preposterous and wrote it off. Now, preposterous it may be, but I hadn't given any of these things any more thought than the average theist. The only difference was that my assumptions were the opposite of theirs. Only when I was forced to think about religious questions did I "become" an atheist instead of just staying in default, as it were. My conclusions remained pretty much the same, but the reasoning was actually sound and, well, reasonable. A bit like Newton, who didn't change his mind about which way things fall, just work out a sensible reason why.

  28. 28
    liminalD

    "And if you know exactly what I’m describing, know that you’re not alone. Know that you will get better. Know that what was done to you was abusive and wrong—even if it was done by misguided people who thought they were doing the right thing. Forgive them for your own peace of mind. And work on getting past this and finding some way to reintegrate with your humanity and to celebrate the fact that imperfection isn’t something for which you need to continually denigrate yourself…"I needed to read this, thanks for posting it :)

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