Teen Challenge Ranch—Pentecostal Rehab


I was contacted awhile ago by Tyler, a young atheist living in a Christian town in a Christian family surrounded by Christian friends. Not an uncommon story. At the time he was struggling with coming out and concerned about potential loss of his social support network and how others would react to his deconversion. Since that time he has come out as a strong atheist and anti-theist, lost friends along the way, but seems happier and more confident these days.

He had shared his history with me when he first contacted me. He was raised in a fairly moderate Christian home and experienced a very average American upbringing, until, at 16, he landed in juvenile detention on drug charges. That’s when things began to change, not just socially but religiously. According to his account, he wasn’t addicted or having trouble due to drugs. Like many young people he was experimenting and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But when he was remanded to his mother, she informed him he would be going to the Teen Challenge Ranch in Northwest Arkansas—an all-boy Christian rehabilitation center for troubled youth in the mountains near Fayetteville.

“My parents had a list from Teen Challenge of what to pack and what not to…I needed all of the normal hygiene products, collared shirts and other appropriate clothing, and a NIV Bible. They also wanted me to bring an alarm clock, but it could not have a radio because they said they did not want anything ‘worldly’ interfering with my rehabilitation. The list of things we could not bring was quite a bit larger, though. We could not bring anything that was not Christian with us. No music, literature (not that I read that much back then anyway), no television, and no movies that were not approved by the staff. If it did not praise the Lord, it was not allowed.”

The Ranch itself sounds not unlike other such facilities, but clearly my interest is in the integration of religion into the program. As a Christian facility, it would seem expected that there would be a regular religious study of some sort—weekly or biweekly? But according to Tyler:

“The counselors informed me we would have three-a-day Bible study, which I was not too enthused about. I had been to Sunday school every Sunday for the better part of my life. But studying the Bible three times a day? I did not like studying the Bible for 30 minutes a week, much less three times a day for a total of three hours. That just seemed exhausting. I did not know much of the Bible, either. So, that worried me a little. Would I have to study harder than the rest of the class? I really did not know what to expect. And, somehow, this time spent in Bible study was suppose to be helping with my drug addiction. I did not need help with drugs; I had made my mind up that I was done with them while sitting in jail. But I was curious nonetheless. Also, I was told we would be going to a Pentecostal church twice a week in Fayetteville. We would be attending on Wednesday nights, and Sunday mornings. This was the first time I had heard the rehab center was Pentecostal. I did not really know what Pentecostal was, so none of this bothered me at the time.”

It didn’t take long for Tyler to learn what “Pentecostal” was:

“The chapel was where everyone got together for worship and Bible study. It was a small room painted light blue with a large wooden cross leaning on a bench. When we went into the chapel, the lights were dimmed and the counselors were standing around in a circle waiting for us to enter and join with them. We all joined the circle and the counselors introduced me as the new student. We all were told to tell something about ourselves and what we wanted to accomplish from being at the Ranch. Everyone went through it quickly, and then it was time for Bible study. Everyone grabbed their Bibles and got ready for the lesson. It was just a normal Sunday school lesson which did not differ too much from what I was accustom to. When the lesson was done, it was time for worship. I had no idea what they had meant by ‘worship.’ I thought ‘worship’ was what we had just done by reading the Bible and praying. I was so wrong. The counselors turned on some upbeat Christian music, and everyone started dancing around in a circle. They were praying out loud and holding their hands up. I looked over to the person next to me to see if I could get some sort of confirmation for thinking this was completely nuts, but he had his eyes closed and was jumping up and down. I was just standing in shock. I was a Christian, but all of this stuff was what I had heard about on the news and thought was insane behavior. In my eyes, this was not worship. My version of worship was mouthing the words to hymnals on Sunday morning. Some of the students were crying as they held both hands up and rocked back and forth. Some of the students had their heads bowed praying in the corners of the room with other students’ hands on their shoulders because, apparently, they believed the Holy Spirit worked better if believers touched each other while praying. One of the students looked up at the ceiling and started blurting out incoherent words and other nonsense. I did not know then, but this was called speaking in tongues. Finally, one of the counselors came over to me and said that if I was not comfortable with all of this, I could sit down on some steps in a dark part of the room. I was relieved that this was not a requirement, but that did not ease my dread of the months which would be spent in chapel. I was alone in a place I had never been before, with people I had never met who were doing things which I thought were crazy. I could not talk to my parents and tell them how insane these people were acting. I was completely alone.”

“School” at the Ranch “was taught by Christian home school books, and Jesus was on every page. For example, if you were studying math, the books would give you a Bible story on each side of the page to show how the mathematical problem could be used to glorify the Lord. And, science didn’t exist in these classes. The only science that was taught in these classes was either misleading, incorrect, or muddled with scripture.”

The daily routine consisted of the following: “After breakfast, it was time to get ready for Bible study. Then we were off to school. After school, it was time for another Bible study and then lunch. Everyday after lunch we would have a midday break and free time. We usually stayed in our lobbies or went to the gym. Free time did not last very long after lunch; then it was time for school again. Class lasted for about two hours, and we were released with free time until about 6:30 at night when we would eat supper in the cafeteria. Directly after supper, we would have Chapel until 8:30. Then it was time to get ready for lights out at 9:00. We could stay up as late as we wanted at night as long as we were in our rooms, but we still had to be up 6:00.”

Additionally, “We could only have one phone call home a week, and that was with a counselor. I did not have anyone around me that I knew and could not talk to anyone that I did know. And the people who were around me seemed certifiably insane.”

Eventually Tyler decided he needed to call home and have a conversation with his family away from the counselors’ scrutiny. Although the story of his escape from the facility is intriguing, suffice to say he was eventually able to call home. He explained the religious insanity to his mother, but she held firmly that the rehabilitation was for his own good and that he should stick with it. He sneaked back into the facility that same night and resolved to make more of an effort to work within the program.

“A couple weeks had gone by, and I slowly began to stop distancing myself from the counselors and other students. I did not like some of the things that went on in chapel, but I did not want to be an outsider anymore. I was growing tired of sitting in the corner of the room while everyone else was in a circle worshiping. Even if it was not the sam
e as I was used to, I still wanted to be a part of it.

“One night after Bible study, I stepped into their circle of worship for the first time since the night I arrived at the Ranch. As soon as one of the counselors saw me, he came over and stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders. He told me to just let go and give myself to God. So, I put my hands up toward the ceiling like the other students. I swayed to the music and sang along. Eventually, I stopped feeling embarrassed by what I was doing because everyone else was doing it. I became used to it. Then, a euphoric calm came over me. It felt like God really was there and wanted me to be happy. It was as though I was a child again and had no doubts about god at all—when just the thought of God gave me comfort. I began to cry. I did not know why I was crying, but it actually felt good. The counselor was still behind me. He saw that I was crying and pulled me over to the corner of the room. He told me that I had to ask for forgiveness and that I needed to let God into my heart. I told him that God was already in my heart, but he would not accept that. He said that I needed to ask. I got down on my knees, and I began to pray what he told me to pray. I asked Jesus into my heart and for him to be my personal savior. The other students saw that I was praying and came over to put their hands on me. By the time I had finished praying, everyone in the room was behind me with one hand on my back and the other hand held up toward the ceiling. Most of them had tears in their eyes as I did. I stood up and everyone gave me a hug and, basically, congratulated me. One of the counselors turned the music off, and we started back to the dorms. Just as we were walking in the door, I heard one of the counselors whisper to the other, ‘another soul saved, brother.'”

So, the behavior Tyler had considered crazy had now been normalized, rewarded and reinforced—techniques anyone who has been indoctrinated should recognize, even if you’re not Pentecostal. Tyler went on field trips to religious youth festivals and concerts and began to be more integrated into the Pentecostal movement—meeting more people socially who subscribed to the beliefs and behaviors, which continued to reinforce the doctrines in his own mind.

After a few months, Tyler was allowed a home visit over the Christmas holiday. His new beliefs impacted his reunion with stress and concern that his family was not truly saved, and mistrust of their “worldly” attitudes. This is an issue we hear quite often from openly atheist parents whose children are being indoctrinated by partners/ex-partners or other family members.

“My grandparents had arranged to pick me up…On the way home, I talked to my grandparents about my family; about whether they were really saved. I was worried about my father and mother. I knew they went to church a lot when I was little, but they had stopped going and were not living their lives like the Teen Challenge counselors said we should. I did not want my parents to go to hell. My father concerned me more than anyone else in my family. He believed in god, but besides condemning blasphemous behavior, he never acted like he did. My grandparents were not too welcoming of the fact that I did not believe my father was truly Christian, though. They repeatedly tried to convince me otherwise and made excuses for him.

“Also, I told them about how I had thought about becoming a missionary. My grandfather frowned on the idea, asking me how I would make money and said that it is not a good lifestyle. I did not understand this because I thought he would be happy to hear that I would be living the way Jesus would have wanted me to; I would be saving souls. He was one of the people the counselors had warned us about. He was someone who said they believed but did not really want to give his life to Jesus. And when I thought about it, everyone I knew was not really a believer.”

And so Tyler began to distrust his own family and fear their impact on his own salvation. It’s not uncommon for believers to be “warned” to not become too involved with people outside of their belief system (including family and close friends) who could confound their thinking and undermine their faith. “Worldly” interaction may be necessary, but should not exceed necessary levels. These types of teachings drive huge wedges within families. It’s another concern we hear all the time in our viewer mail.

Eventually Tyler’s time away from the Ranch resulted in a mild breakdown of the indoctrination, due in part to an interest he developed in a girl he met while visiting home. However, in attempting to resolve the doubts and conflicts that had arisen, he turned right back to the techniques he’d been taught by The Ranch:

“The first week back from Christmas break was horrible. I felt more depressed than I had my entire life. I wanted to go home and be with my new girlfriend and the people I knew. I prayed a lot during the first weeks back, but nothing helped. The counselors did not help too much either. They would just say that we cannot expect to be happy all of the time. That our happiness with God comes and goes. I thought that sounded absurd. Why would God not want me to be happy if I loved and believed in him? Was God punishing me for my new girlfriend? Was I on the wrong path? Does he want me to be Baptist or Pentecostal? All of these questions, and many more, were running through my mind at this time.”

So rather than step back to examine the issues objectively, he’d been taught to deal with doubt by diving into the very system he was doubting, even more deeply. This is another common indoctrination technique—teaching a person that the way to resolve doubts about faith is not to question or examine, but to pile on more faith. It makes as much sense as wondering if you’re the victim of a financial scam, and resolving the question by sending in more money, rather than researching the investment.

Eventually Tyler’s stint at the Ranch ended when he was involved with a physical altercation with a counselor. He recounts the ride to the bus station: “They lectured me and preached the whole way there. They condemned me for not wanting to be like those who wanted to spend their entire lives at the Ranch. I did not even try to argue with them. I was too happy to. I was finally going home.”

“It has been 10 years now. I am now a nonbeliever, I have not spoken to anyone at Teen Challenge since I left…

“I feel the Ranch had a lot to do with my disbelief. I came home from there not knowing what to believe. I felt that my beliefs were more Pentecostal, but Baptist churches were pretty much all that surround me in my home town. I went to our regular church on a number of occasions, but it just never felt right. So, I stopped going to church. I was always conflicted about what I actually believed. Was I “once saved always saved” as my Baptist upbringing had taught me? Or, did I have to keep striving to be like Jesus in order to be saved? Was speaking in tongues real? Or, did I just do that because I felt good and wanted to be like everyone else as a Baptist would suggest? All these questions made me want to look into what I actually believed.

“After many years, I finally stopped trying to figure out which Christian belief was right and started to doubt if any of the Christian beliefs I had were right. It was apparent to me that I would never find out whether the Pentecostal or Baptist beliefs were right, and because I could not find that out, I began to question how I knew any of my beliefs were right. It was a chain reaction. It was a long slow process, but after many years of research, and a lot of thinking, I began to think that there was no way for me to distinguish which beliefs were right because none of them were. No beliefs I had ever examined had good reasons to believe them. I still said I believed, though. I deeply wanted to believe in god and somewhat had these habits of belief that were ingrained into my t
hinking. Also, I had a real fear of hell that I could not get past. It all slowly faded away over the years, though. My fear of hell slowly vanished after questioning, just as all of my other beliefs had. I began to realize that I had no reason to believe it, and the only reason I had for so long was because I was scared of the possibility. The need to believe fell away shortly after I stopped fearing hell and the unknown. And I let myself search for the truth instead of what I wanted to see as the truth. I was finally free to think without being afraid of a hell which was built by a loving god. I was free to question whether any god existed. And I saw no reason to think that one did.”

Fear and threats of hell should not be underestimated as indoctrination mechanisms. The sheer number of people who use Pascal’s Wager demonstrates how many believers consider fear of hell a compelling “reason” to maintain belief. Fear of hell cannot reasonably influence an unbeliever, who does not accept hell exists. But for someone who believes in hell already, that fear is often sufficient to convince them that maintaining their belief is paramount, and doubts or questions far too risky. Overcoming that fear can be extremely problematic for people, even after they deconvert. I’ve compared it to an abused dog who cowers when a new, nonabusive owner lifts his hand to pat its head. It takes awhile to overcome childhood terrors that have been so deeply and methodically ingrained.

“I feel I should thank Teen Challenge for making me question the beliefs I held before I arrived at their facility. I feel I should thank them for giving me a place to stay when I needed to get away from drugs and alcohol. But, also, I understand how many troubled children and teenagers have been successfully brainwashed simply because these people manipulated them during a hard time in their lives. I understand that there are students who did not go home for Christmas and never had [anyone] to help them see reality. I understand all of this. So, a ‘Thank You’ will never leave my lips.”

Comments

  1. says

    Great story! Tyler should write a book.When I was young I had some of the "damnation anxiety" Tyler talked about – I got over it by learning about other religions' ideas of afterlife. I think the most effective to talk about in conversation is the Hindu belief in reincarnation:"Why aren't you worried about Hell?""Why aren't you worried about reincarnation as a dung beetle?"

  2. says

    "So rather than step back to examine the issues objectively, he'd been taught to deal with doubt by diving into the very system he was doubting, even more deeply. This is another common indoctrination technique—teaching a person that the way to resolve doubts about faith is not to question or examine, but to pile on more faith."Wow, is that ever familiar! Here are a few quotes from my own deconversion story:"I came away from Young Life camp feeling like a whole new person. I threw myself into my faith harder than ever, diving into the Bible with gusto and wondering at the glory of God’s creation. I was sure that I was saved; that my sins were forgiven and I was free of my past."(later)"At some point I began to wonder if my faith was true. Not if it was correct; just if I was believing the way I was supposed to, or if somehow I hadn’t quite gotten the formula right. … I never really felt like God spoke to me. I spoke to him all the time. I almost always had a prayer in my mind, if not on my lips. But I never got that strong impression that he was giving me any kind of answer – the sort of certainty I heard of people who said things like “God has put it into my heart that X” or “When Y happened, I knew that it was God telling me Z”. I never had this sort of feeling! Was I doing something wrong? It tortured me. I was in fear of my soul all over again. So I pushed even harder to learn about God and the Bible. I read The Case for Christ, Darwin On Trial, More than a Carpenter, anything I could sink my teeth into. I devoured the Bible cover to cover. I took notes. I kept a journal. I prayed more fervently than ever."(then, after I'd begun to doubt my beliefs)"Then my uncle died. Numb from emotional pain and confusion, and hours away from anyone I loved, I went out to a bar the night I found out to try to shift my focus from mourning to just trying to cope. And after a little while at the bar, I returned to my car, where I wept like a lost child, screaming at God to come back into my life and tell me what to do. I poured my entire being into it. I wanted nothing more than for something solid and permanent to reassure me that everything would be okay. I wanted that old comforting certainty again. And for a while, I felt like I had it."

  3. says

    The description of life in the camp is so creepy. It reads like a setup for a Stephen King novel. I'm glad Tyler got out, both physically and psychologically. Others aren't so lucky. I know a guy who got into some trouble and was sent to Freedom Village. He came back totally brainwashed. Now I have some insights into the kinds of things he must have gone though.

  4. says

    It's like reading the story of someone who has been in the Ministry of Love in Orwell's 1984 or the treatment of Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

  5. says

    I grew up in an orthodox jewish family and Tyler's experience sounds very much like religious jewish summer camp. I was also involved with NCSY whose puprpose was to brainwash synagogue going youth and there were similarities there. I also went to yeshiva (Jewish school) where radios, TV's, etc. were forbidden just as Tyler described. I had found a transistor radio in the field in back of the yeshiva and brought it into the head rabbi thinking I had done something good and he accused me of stealing it. He brought me in to a private investigator who threatened to have me thrown in jail and when I still maintained that I had found it, they brought me back in and hooked me up to a lie detector and questioned me again. They could not find me guilty but I wouldn't stay at the school. My parents were upset but after a while, started donating to the school again. I was fourteen at the time.

  6. says

    I sent this note to Tyler after the article was posted to our blog:Yeah, thanks so much for sharing it. I feel like the more stories people tell about their deconversions, the more actual atheist information we're putting out to combat the misconceptions that theists have been spinning for centuries about apostates and atheists. By not telling these stories, we let them run the show and provide all the information.Although in the U.S. it's not nearly so horrible, this put me in mind of a story I posted just the other day to my profile about a guy in Afghanistan who started a show called "The Mask"–where he lets scared Muslim apostates or Muslims who are being oppressed by other Muslims tell their stories. One woman was 15, married to a 58 year old sexual offender. She said she was scared that if she left he would hunt her down and kill her and her children.Muslim countries like to boast about divorce rates being low in their nations. And yet, they don't tell you this is the reason–they try to make it sound as though they have this idyllic family life–not that people are forced to remain in nightmare situations. And they keep people like this women in a structure that makes her afraid to tell her side of it–which means they get to keep spinning it as some sort of utopian family life.In the U.S. there has been social pressure put on people to just keep their mouths shut about their apostasy and atheism. Even now, when you can speak, there is social pressure to say "you're a dick if you question someone else's religious beliefs–even if they approach you with them publicly." They just don't want atheists speaking up and giving their views. They prefer to speak for us and say what atheists "believe" and what atheists think and do. If we start speaking for ourselves–their fantasy construct of vilifying atheists and atheism, eventually falls.

  7. says

    That's both crazy and scary! Glad Tyler got out of and away from that mess. I went through some similar things during my deconversion. Perhaps I'll share that story here sometime.

  8. says

    As a Pentecostal would say, I can testify! I was raised Pentecostal. I never had to endure hourly readings of the Bible, but we went to church at least three times a week, more when there was a revival. My grandfather was a missionary. My uncles were preachers. Everyone on both sides of my family was Pentecostal. My only reprieve was school. We were taught that if you weren't baptized and you didn't speak in tongues, you were going to hell or you would be left behind when the rapture came. My biggest fear was waking up one morning to find myself alone in the world and all my family gone because they had been raptured away. So I desperately wanted to speak in tongues because then I thought I would be okay. I remember trying to speak in tongues. I tried a couple of times but I knew I was just speaking jibberish. Long story short, I'm now an atheist and I finally understand why all the speaking in tongues, crying, and jumping pews seemed so weird and stupid. But at the time, I was convinced I was the one who was weird. Yes, the fear is real. It takes years to get over, if one is so inclined to try. And it does pull families apart. They don't even want you participating in a different religion, forget trying to explain atheism! My personal opinion is that that kind of indoctrination is child abuse. My Pentecostal youth seems so far away and foreign now, it almost feels like a dream. But I still have family to remind me that it was real.

  9. says

    I have to say that I disagree with Tyler in that he doesn't wish to thank them. I think it would be a wonderful letter to send, to explain that they were instrumental in his path to atheism. I imagine that it would terrify these groups to know they were creating atheists, and with enough responses, they would possibly shut down projects like that. But I might be overoptimistic…

  10. says

    First time poster. Hello :)What this story also shows is that many people crave some form of spiritual experience and that, unfortunately, it is almost exclusively theistic belief systems that propose such experiences. If atheism is to woo theists, then an alternative spirituality needs to be offered to them. And yes, I've been heavily influenced by the writings of Sam Harris :)

  11. says

    >If atheism is to woo theists, then an alternative spirituality needs to be offered to them.I am an atheist, raised Church of Christ, and was extremely devout and active in trying to convert others. I didn't even care if I died, because I was saved.I do not have a "spiritual" aspect in my life any more, and I don't miss it anymore than I'd miss a cancerous tumor removed from my brain. Theists-turned-skeptic have only traded in their gullibility for reason.It's simply taking a person who cannot reason well, and teaching them to reason well. I see no need to compensate them for their lost ignorance. They should be grateful for being shed of it.

  12. says

    Interesting how a feeling of isolation might push a person into a religion, even a crazy one. We're social animals after all.

  13. says

    Sam Harris always loses me a bit when he goes on about his spirituality. I'm not against it when it is presented in the context he does, but I don't see it as universally important. I think many people would be happy to be free of it entirely.

  14. says

    "If atheism is to woo theists, then an alternative spirituality needs to be offered to them."I've excised the tumor. I don't need to replace it with a more attractive tumor.

  15. says

    this isnt indoctrination, this is brainwashing. Looks step by step like an examination of recruitment in a sect i once read about.

  16. says

    M said "this isnt indoctrination, this is brainwashing. Looks step by step like an examination of recruitment in a sect i once read about."You are exactly right. Pentecostalism is very similar to a cult in many respects especially those churches that have their own "schools". They have little contact with the rest of the world and their pastors control every aspect of their lives. I fear that some of my relatives would drink the arsenic laced kool-aid if they were so instructed

  17. says

    @tracieh @rrposta @MikeTheInfidelI think you may be misinterpreting Sam's notion of spirituality. It is not another form of religion. It has nothing to do with the notion of a soul or a spirit. It is simply about feeling good, really good in fact. If you look at the night sky in awe and reflect with a smile on the fact that you are made from the stuff of stars, then you are being "spiritual" under Sam's definition. There is no need to believe in an invisible man in the sky to have such feelings of awe. Atheists can be, and usually are, spiritual people, and can fully appreciate the goodness of such feelings while simultaneously understanding the scientific basis behind it all (evolution of the primate brain, neurochemicals, hormones). Just as Feynman described how a scientist can see the beauty in a flower, and beyond!Cheers.RookieRationalist, formerly registered as ga2re2t.

  18. says

    I love Harris and by no means think that his "spirituality" has anything to do with religion. Besides the awe of the universe type things you mentioned, he also meditates often and does other things I consider "touchy-feely" that he would call Experiments in Consciousness. Like I said, I'm fine with people who do so the way he does. It does not make them religious. I just don't think it's necessarily required by the human condition.

  19. says

    Hate to be a downer:Atheism has nothing to offer other than freeing yourself from believing in a god. Rationalism, Spiritualism, Nihilism, all of them, are a secondary step. Atheists can promote them but they aren't Atheism.

  20. says

    And neither does Harris think that it is required by the human condition. All he proposes is that it is possible to be "spiritual" without being religious. That appears to be a very hard thing for many people to understand. Some people remain religious because they enjoy the calm and "touchy-feely" stuff that comes with many of the rituals. All Sam advocates is that such sensations can be achieved through a more rational approach. He probably does think that the world would be a better place if more people contemplated a rational spirituality. I think I do too, but am by no means convinced of it. Bill Maher's Christmas message about the ultra-materialistic nature of today's society is a reminder that materialism is probably as big an enemy as religion. Maybe a move towards a more "spiritual" perspective on life would not be a bad thing, and could be complimentary to a rise in atheism/rationalism?

  21. says

    @Mark BIf you are atheist for no other reason than to be free from believing in a god, then you are a dogmatic religious atheist. Atheism is a consequence of rational thinking (no evidence for God, ergo God does not exist). If an atheist is not a rationalist, then somewhere down the line there is the "risk" of becoming a dogmatic believer in something else (homeopathy, UFO's, etc.) Cheers.

  22. says

    @RookieRationalistGotta dawn my nitpick hat a second.(no evidence for God, ergo God does not exist)It'd be better to say:(no evidence for God, ergo there's no reason to accept the claim as true)

  23. says

    longhorn believer said:"You are exactly right. Pentecostalism is very similar to a cult in many respects especially those churches that have their own "schools"."While that's true, how does *any* religion differ from a cult? A cult is just what the big congregation calls the little congregation, after all.

  24. says

    Wow. I can only be grateful that I grew up in a very liberal Methodist congregation, that was by no means the dominant religion in the area and was not interested in controlling people beyond Sundays and donations.I like Sam Harris, but in general I cannot stand the term "spiritual". It is too slippery in its definition, almost to the point of meaning nothing at all. If somebody tells me "I am a spiritual person" I really have no idea what they are talking about without a LOT more clarification."Being spiritual" always struck me as a goal post move away from more concrete and testable beliefs.

  25. says

    rookierationalist says"materialism is probably as big an enemy as religion"The wikipedia defintion of materialism is"In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions."I am not sure if you are confusing an economic materialistic attitude with philosophical materialism.

  26. says

    @RaymondYes, by materialism I meant economic materialistic attitudes. It does indeed seem that the word "materialism" is restricted to the philosophical definition. My apologies.@JTGood nitpicking, but I would still accept a statement such as "there is no proof for the spaghetti monster, ergo it does not exist". Kind of like the way scientists refer to evolution as a theory, but a theory with so much evidence to support it, that it is considered acceptable to also call evolution a scientific fact.@Mark BIt is somewhat dogmatic to not believe in a god simply because one wants to be free from believing in one. I'm stretching the definition of dogmatic here. Many theists believe in God for the opposite reason, i.e. they feel comfort (thanks to indoctrination) by having God always by their sides. It is liberating to be free from the notion of gods, but it is arguably more so when one has broken free thanks to reason based on hard evidence, or the lack thereof.

  27. says

    Fear can be a powerful tool. Once not long ago, I had a job that I hated with a passion. I hated the company I worked for, and so did several of my co-workers. Often I would find myself in "bitch sessions" with others. And one day, a co-worker of mine stated "yeah I hate it here, but I'm afraid to leave because I just don't know if I could find anything else out there." The thing is, these were skilled positions and I probably would have eventually left even if it was to go work a cash register somewhere. When I heard my co-worker state this, I decided right then and there that I would not let any aspect of my life be ruled by fear.Eventually I applied my new found mantra to my theism, and I am only the better for it. I no longer feared listening to the opinions of others, I no longer feared investigation and asking questions, I no longer feared searching for the truth, and eventually I no longer feared Hell.Thank you to Tyler for sharing his story.

  28. says

    My definite congratulations to Tyler. I was raised United Pentecostal with the "holiness," speaking in tongues, constant horror that everyone I knew (including myself) was just on the brink of angering god a little too much, etc. It's an incredibly hard brain-washing to get away from and my hat is off to anyone who can break that spell.

  29. says

    @John KI would agree that there are problems with the word "spiritual". However, being "spiritual" seems to bring a lot of happiness to some people, just as Tyler felt good at one stage in the pentecostal rehab. There is nothing wrong with feeling good or making others feel good. Making people feel good through lies and false promises is wrong. All Sam Harris states is that it is possible to have similar "spiritual" experiences without forgetting that we are products of natural selection and that the good feelings are simply chemicals in our brains and not a deity. I imagine he uses the word "spiritual" in the hope that it helps theists to transition to rational beliefs. Somewhat like the way early Christians incorporated pagan rituals into their own celebrations.

  30. says

    @ RookieRationalistMaking people feel good is an argument from benefit. I am more concerned with how ideas will actually reflect reality than how people will feel about them. It might feel good to believe in Santa, it does not make it a good idea.All and all, my contention with Harris is a very small one. The way he uses it, the word "euphoric" might be better than "spiritual". I consider a Harris a remarkably rational person and an amazing debtor more than spiritual in any way. My disagreement about spirituality is more of a nit-pick than anything else.

  31. says

    @RookieRationalistI wish to add a few things to topics already touched on by others.You said,If atheism is to woo theists…Atheism has no dogma or tenets, it does not lead to anything, it is simply non belief. It can not, and does not woo.… Sam's notion of spirituality. It is not another form of religion. It has nothing to do with the notion of a soul or a spirit. It is simply about feeling good…All he (Sam) proposes is that it is possible to be "spiritual" without being religious.All Sam Harris states is that it is possible to have similar "spiritual" experiences without forgetting that we are products of natural selection and that the good feelings are simply chemicals in our brains and not a deityYes, Sam states that "spiritual" experiences don't have to be religious. Then why use the word "spiritual?" I understand where he is going here, but almost every meaning of spiritual also implies religion.All of this is beside the point anyways, because once again, atheism is just the non belief in a god.then you are a dogmatic religious atheist. Atheism is a consequence of rational thinking (no evidence for God, ergo God does not exist)again, no dogma…and your reply to JT
Good nitpicking, but I would still accept a statement such as "there is no proof for the spaghetti monster, ergo it does not exist". Kind of like the way scientists refer to evolution as a theory, but a theory with so much evidence to support it, that it is considered acceptable to also call evolution a scientific fact.I have a couple of problems here. Theory, in science, refers to something that has evidence to support it. You may be conflating theory and hypothesis. I had a long discussion on American Atheist with a number of people who kept using the old "just a theory" line.The other issue was covered by JT, but I think you missed it. It does not logically follow to say something does not exist because there is no evidence for it, either god or the FSM.

  32. says

    As soon as one of the counselors saw me, he came over and stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders. He told me to just let go and give myself to God.In other words, cave to the peer pressure. Let go of your rationality and just feel. The counselor was still behind me. He saw that I was crying and pulled me over to the corner of the room. He told me that I had to ask for forgiveness and that I needed to let God into my heart.Fucking sharks. He saw his moment and he took it. Pure emotional manipulation. Disgusting. After a few months, Tyler was allowed a home visit over the Christmas holiday. His new beliefs impacted his reunion with stress and concern that his family was not truly saved, and mistrust of their "worldly" attitudes.Ah, what a wonderful side effect. More stress and worry placed upon people, and of course it's predicated upon bullshit. All that anxiety, fear, worry, it's all for naught. It's criminal, in my view.

  33. says

    "The other issue was covered by JT, but I think you missed it. It does not logically follow to say something does not exist because there is no evidence for it, either god or the FSM. "Lack of evidence where there SHOULD be evidence IS evidence to the contrary.

  34. says

    My nephew, his girlfriend and I recently rented a house together. I've talked with here a few times about my reasoning for being an atheist and how I believed in the importance of accepting impermanence and keeping our ego's in check. I worried that I really rattled her religious beliefs; she was a theist's before and now she is a full fledged pentecostal. She gave my nephew an ultimatum; either convert or I'm leaving. She will not sit in the same room alone with me and avoids talking to me now. I guess she's at a shelter right now, she hasn't been home in a few days.It's fear mongering. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of hearing about how jesus and god are all about love and compasion. It seems to me it's more about twisting a persons fear of death and loss and filling it with a lie, a metaphysical blanket that magically protects us from everything and anything. I don't know how to combat it. Trying to appeal to reason all way's fails, and the realization of reality doesn't offer any immediate emotional reward. Anyway I'm just getting it out, I hope she comes back home soon and can see that we are her real family.

  35. len johnson says

    I worked for a TC boot camp in Bonifay and I have to say that more kids and families left the program more confused and with more issues. These places should be shut down and the people in charge jailed!

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