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Why I am an atheist – mouthyb

My childhood sounds like the word “jesus,” repeated until it falls into noise, and you realize that it never meant anything to begin with.

My mother used to repeat it in the car, on road trips. She spent twelve hours of reminding us of this: jesus said that he had no mother, no brother, and that no one would get into heaven but by loving him more than anything or anyone else.

It was okay that she didn’t love me, she said. It meant that she was going to heaven.

She used to pray to die at night when my father wasn’t home, sometimes telling god that it was from the shame of having something like me.

I am aggressive, and score within the 96-98th percentile on intelligence tests. I also forget social norms, forget to sit with my knees together, forget to not ask questions or to play some of the games we are taught to play with one another. Social events overload my senses, and I retreat to a corner and read, giving me a bookish persona which my family despaired of ever marrying off, though my father tried to arrange a marriage.

He says it was a joke. I remember the boy’s face when my father sent him over, and telling him why he did not want me. The boy couldn’t look me in the eye afterward. My father was upset by this.

When I got married for the first time, my father grabbed my ass during the pictures, as if to reassure himself that I understood that I was being given away, not marrying under my own will. He joked about that, too, during the reception.

My father is an angry man, in his own way. An engineer, he believes in logic, which stems from his masculinity and his belief that god is also male. He believed that men were created first, and that women were the gate with which sin enters the world. My childhood was punctuated by his appearances— a work-a-holic, he believes that if he works hard enough, he can have everything. He believes that if only women and people of color would work hard enough, they could be almost as good as he is as a white man, and that discrimination is just a way to cheat your employer of your work. He believes that god set him at the head of his family, and that his job is to discipline us.

He beat us. My mother passed hers along.

They were Southern Baptist libertarians. I don’t know what they are now. Southern Baptists believe, canonically, that women are inferior and weak. They must be molded and made subservient, that domestic violence is a result of a woman refusing to take her place. And if she, or anyone else, steps out of their places, they should be encouraged to get back in them.

My father did not, because artists were in his opinion leeches and whores, as was anyone who was dependent on someone else, want to provide for us and did so grudgingly. Part of the threat was embedded in that grudging support, and was explicit in what my parents told me: we do not have to love or take care of you if we don’t feel that you work hard enough.

In my case, that threat was magnified by the school system. We lived in a small town in Texas for some time during my childhood. I went to school purple from kidneys to midthigh while I was in elementary; my teacher discovered it from the way I moved, but the school decided that it was a matter of religious freedom, and they would not intervene. I literally thought that no one cared. I was told that this was god’s will, and I believed this for many years.

I ran away from home just before my 16th birthday, stealing one of my parents’ cars as a home, because my family was trying to institutionalize me. I’d already been exorcized three times, at their churches. They would only consult Christian therapists, who told them that my depression and dissatisfaction meant that I was mentally ill. I got out, but leaving that way of life, that baseline assumption that women are worthless, was less easy. I sometimes rewatch the movies from the late 80s and early 90s, my childhood; that assumption was and sometimes is everywhere in popular culture, and it’s no wonder it took me a long time to start detangling the conditioning of my childhood.

I suppose that is typically the way these things go; my first and second husbands were unpleasant men, but I managed to divorce them. In the second husband’s case, that involved hiding from his family.

Along with my fight for survival, a seed of doubt kept blooming: why can someone call religion good, when it takes as a baseline experiences like mine? What kind of god would be satisfied with a situation like mine, like my mother’s?

Why? Why did my mother keep living with my father? Why did the people in the churches we went to always ask to be forgiven for the same damn things, and never seem to learn not to do them?

Why could my father believe that his actions were things which were good, right and necessary?

I read the bible repeatedly trying to answer those questions, but the real breaking point was in a bible-study, as these things tend to be. I was twenty and had come back to the church my parents went to, trying to understand the things about them which were so incomprehensible to me. I made one too many comments, and one of the (male) bible-study leaders turned to me and quoted that verse about women not speaking in church.

I have a quick temper, and asked him, since cock was so fucking important, to show me god’s cock right there or I would assume he was being an asshole. I couldn’t stand it any more, the silent waiting for permission to speak, to eat, to sleep, to piss. The bible-study leader was only convenient, not that I am sorry for what I said.

They asked me to leave. It was the first time I had been called ‘free-thinker,’ a deadly insult in that community. I’ve dabbled with religion since them, but I lack the ability to believe. Those questions keep nagging at me and I read too much history to take a gloss of belief.

Since then, I’ve several times tried to talk to my mother about faith. My father is, for obvious reasons, not someone I can talk to. He typically insults my intelligence, gender and orientation (queer), because my existence disturbs him. He believes anyone who is not heterosexual must be a pedophile and anyone aberrant of his expectations deserves any cruelty he is capable of without incurring the negative opinion of his peers; the barbarity of his words is all the more horrible because they are naked of pretense or self-reflection. There is no reason for him to learn anything more. This is the world he sees, the world he believes everyone else lives in.

I wanted to encourage my mother to leave my father, to go somewhere where she would be valued. She will not go, but she has since changed churches over my father’s objections, to a Presbyterian church.

One conversation we’ve had repeatedly is germane to our differences. We were talking about guilt. She feels incredibly guilty for my childhood, as does my father, in his way (what he says is that he feels bad for what I made them do).

I told her that guilt is supposed to be a transient emotion; we are meant, in my experience, to suffer guilt for an action, consider the action, learn from our mistakes and amend our behavior.

She looked at me sadly and said no. Guilt, she said, is a punishment from god that we cannot escape and must only live with. I wanted to scream when she said it; the guilt she lives with is crippling, awful.

My heart breaks for her, and also for my father. I realize they choose their burdens, but their environments as children are a strong influence on the situation they live with. I researched them, trying to understand that unanswerable question: why me? Why them?

The answer is that there’s no satisfying answer, but I have resolved the following after a long time of thinking and writing about it: they do not have to love me in a conventional sense, and we can never talk. I will never have holidays with them, cannot go to family reunions, cannot call my mother when something good or bad happens, though I sometimes try to talk to them anyway.

I want what I cannot have.

No matter what happened, no matter how angry I am at them (and I am enraged) and how much I sometimes wish I could forget they exist, I love them. I always have. It will not ever make a difference for them and it does not have to. It is love: complex and ugly and painful and terrible.

I do not need a god for that.

mouthyb
United States

Comments

  1. 'Tis Himself says

    Guilt, she said, is a punishment from god that we cannot escape and must only live with.

    This is the most nihilistic thing I’ve read in a long time.

    Guilt is a feeling of culpability for having committed offenses (real or imagined). It is a motivator for us to examine our behavior and to make amends for hurting others.

    Guilt can have negative effects such as feelings of worthlessness or inferiority. It may make someone over conscientious so that they may neglect their needs to avoid affecting others with the negative consequences of an action. Oversensitivity can become a problem, as one is obsessed with every aspect of right and wrong in the making of a decision.

    Guilt can also have positive psychological effects as well. Guilt tells us when we have let ourselves down, though sometimes it’s not really our fault. People are reminded of their morals because of guilt, otherwise we would never feel that we have done something wrong. This serves as an encouragement to change. As guilt causes discomfort, it can be used as a motive to change things in our lives and eliminate the guilt.

  2. says

    mouthyb, despite having parents from hell (who you still love and that’s a good thing) you are a genius and you were able to throw out the brainwashing, also known as child abuse. Many thanks for your amazing story which shows that religion can cause great harm to people who believe in it.

  3. amateurscientician says

    This might be the most beautiful “Why I’m an Atheist” yet. Thank you for sharing that story.

  4. Trebuchet says

    Thank you for your story. It must have been very hard to write.

    As an engineer myself, I’ll never understand what makes so many of them believe utterly irrational stuff outside of work, which is so firmly evidence based. I’ve known creationist engineers, 9/11 nutter engineers, Mormon engineers, New-agey engineers, you name it. All perfectly sane and competent when it comes to their jobs.

  5. AshPlant says

    mouthyb, I flirt with writing horror from time to time, or at least stories that horrify, and I have yet to nail the art of that understated sense of terror that you communicate so easily with quiet, gentle sentences like:
    “She feels incredibly guilty for my childhood, as does my father, in his way (what he says is that he feels bad for what I made them do).” or “My mother passed hers along.”
    I suspect that context is the important part, and your story has the most terrible context of all; real, unforgiving life.

    You have done exceptionally well for yourself to free your mind from that, and I’m always shamed to hear of parents being so callous. I feel that there’s still a good deal of pain in your words, but it is so, so good that you got out instead of retreating into a shell of fear, and that you still tried to approach your parents like they were reasonable people.

    You have my respect.

  6. Hekuni Cat says

    Thank you for sharing. You are amazing, and I am so happy you have escaped from that horror.

  7. brazenlucidity says

    That was hard to even read. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. Thank you for sharing your story. When my family asks me why I have to be so antagonistic toward religion, why I can’t just be nice about it, it’s stories like yours that I think of. Congratulations on overcoming so much.

  8. davidcortesi says

    Just when the WIAAA series was beginning to seem a bit repetitive, Bam! comes one of the best yet. This should be featured in the book that I assume somebody is assembling…

  9. Brownian says

    Wow. That was incredibly powerful. A little hard to read, from someone whose parents share some of the qualities of yours.

    Thank you, mouthyb.

  10. archaeopteryxlithographica says

    Mouthyb, reading that made me ashamed to be a human. It’s amazing that you survived. I salute you.

  11. Cipher, OM says

    Thank you, mouthyb, for having the courage to share that story with us. *hugs* You’re a brilliant writer and a wonderful person and I am so glad you made it out.

  12. stevebowen says

    I have no idea how you managed to write this. I have read only one other story so traumatic and that from someone who has since become a personal friend. If any of these biographies of de-conversion need shoving in the faces of the religious apathists this is the one. Take care.

  13. festersixohsixonethree says

    mouthyb – Thank you for sharing your story.
    It takes a particularly strong character and a peculiar type of courage to be able to throw off the heavy burden of being raised “worthless”, especially in the midst of “God’s love” that is as close to love as is rape.
    You are strong, and courageous, and I admire and respect you.

  14. lynnwilhelm says

    Wow, thanks for sharing.
    Like the other commenters said, your story really moved me. I’m so glad you survived all of that. It’s so sad that some children have to endure such things.
    My dad was an engineer too. Luckily, the beatings weren’t really religiously motivated.

  15. says

    Thank you, mouthyb.
    blockquote cite=””>Guilt, she said, is a punishment from god that we cannot escape and must only live with.

    For many years, I would have more or less agreed with your mother; I believed that as a result of original sin, we were all guilty, all the time, and there was no escape. That if we didn’t feel the guilt, that only meant that we were willingly blind, and therefore more guilty.

    Until I was in my forties, I managed to feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough.

    I’m so glad you found your way out while you were still young.

  16. No One says

    mouthyb,

    As a father I am horrified at the treatment that you suffered. How any man could fail to overcome his conditioning when confronted by the unconditional love of a daughter… I know it happens, but it hurts me just the same. I’m sure that any father on this blog feels the same. You have one good remedy (of many). Break the cycle and raise your children the right way.

    You have my compassion and support in whatever you chose to do.

  17. jwood says

    Thank you for sharing your story. If the gender were changed, it could be my husband’s story. I still fail to completely understand how you can love your biological creators (I refuse to call them parents) but at least know that you are not alone and that like my husband, you are a courageous and worthwhile individual.

  18. says

    Your strength just oozes out of those words. As I approach 50, I’ve only recently shed the fear and shame that seemed to permeate my being. It’s easy, satisfying and true to say “mouthyb’s parents were *&%!@)s, but that does nothing to heal anyone. I pity your parents for choosing to sentence themselves to their nightmares.

  19. eddyline says

    A childhood like yours would have had me in the grave thirty years ago. You have an incredibly strong sense of self.

    Other than that, words fail me.

  20. Grumps says

    I don’t usually comment here just to say “wow!”, but wow!

    This is the first thing I’ve read in a long tome that has brought tears. So eloquent, so heart-rending.

    For example this

    She feels incredibly guilty for my childhood, as does my father, in his way (what he says is that he feels bad for what I made them do).

    I told her that guilt is supposed to be a transient emotion; we are meant, in my experience, to suffer guilt for an action, consider the action, learn from our mistakes and amend our behavior.

    She looked at me sadly and said no. Guilt, she said, is a punishment from god that we cannot escape and must only live with. I wanted to scream when she said it; the guilt she lives with is crippling, awful.

    is so horrible and so wonderful.. thank you.

  21. opposablethumbs says

    Shit, mouthyb. There aren’t any words after that – except maybe to thank you for telling us about it. I’m glad you left them, I’m glad you got out of those marriages, and I think you must be an amazing person with an inextinguishable intellectual honesty and strength of character to have come through such experiences and yet become the strong, courageous and eloquent person we read here.

  22. David Marjanović says

    *petrifies*

    *dumps load of hugs on floor*

    *quietly leaves*

    This might be the most beautiful “Why I’m an Atheist” yet.

    “Beautiful” is really not the word I’d use. Comment 4 says it best.

  23. casparks says

    I have never read anything that has made me want to know someone more. My heart bleeds for you.

    Thank you for posting such an amazing story.

  24. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    As an engineer myself, I’ll never understand what makes so many of them believe utterly irrational stuff outside of work, which is so firmly evidence based.

    Having done the two of them (I’m a computer engineer who also has a degree in chemistry), I sort of understand why.

    Even though engineers study science, they don’t study it in the same context as scientists, and most know very little about the scientific method. Furthermore, they don’t go that deeply into scientific disciplines but concentrate only on what they need to know.

    From that limited knowledge, some develop an impression that they know everything about a subject – I have a engineer brother in law who frequently argues with me about basic facts chemists know, or about biology with my brother who is a microbiologist.

    And since they normally build/design things, it’s not that far-fartched for them to think everything is designed.

  25. says

    Thank you, everyone. Feel free to route the devout to the story. It was no fun to write, but it will probably be useful.

    And I am grateful to be able to talk about it, and for your comments. They are most kind.

  26. Amphiox says

    And since they normally build/design things, it’s not that far-fartched for them to think everything is designed.

    It’s projection. Human beings are very good at projection, it’s one of the evolved specialties of the human brain.

    Sometimes it is very adaptive.

    Sometimes not so much.

  27. Esteleth, Who is Totally Not a Dog or Ferret says

    Mouthyb, I don’t know what to say that isn’t trite sounding or hasn’t already been said.

    So, instead, I offer *hugs* and *chocolate.*

  28. Esteleth, Who is Totally Not a Dog or Ferret says

    Re: engineers: what everyone else said.

    Also, engineering is all about making or finding the order in chaos, and making stuff fit.

    Not all authoritarians are engineers, and not all engineers are authoritarian, but the Venn diagram does overlap substantially.

  29. Ichthyic says

    this is not a story of conversion… it’s a story of survival and triumph!

    It dropped my jaw.

    I salute your ability to survive such a horrendous upbringing!

    your story is, and should be, an inspiration to everyone.

  30. Ichthyic says

    Why? Why did my mother keep living with my father? Why did the people in the churches we went to always ask to be forgiven for the same damn things, and never seem to learn not to do them?

    authoritarian personalities.

    seriously; this single thing explains the vast bulk of what is witnessed in cases like you describe.

    until the APA and AMA finally officially recognize this as a personality disorder, instead of a natural variant of behavior, nothing will ever change.

  31. magness says

    Mouthyb,I didn’t know until I read your essay that I could be proud of a complete stranger and right now I feel very proud of you.

  32. christophburschka says

    An engineer who believes in logic, biblical creation and Christian patriarchy… what?

    Also, wow. It sounds like you grew up in a literal kind of hell. That you made it out is impressive on its own.

  33. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Thomas Lawson:

    Incredible…in every sense of the word.

    Ahem.

  34. doofusmagnus says

    Wow. I’m misty-eyed and beside myself, and just feeling such a mixture of sadness and happiness for you. My face doesn’t know whether to contort into a look of despair or a grin of relief. Thank you for sharing.

  35. says

    I generally don’t read very far into WIAAA posts, but this one hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. So powerful a piece of writing. Warm internet hugs to you, Mouthyb, for living through that.

    Can I nominate Mouthyb for a Molly for this? When’s the May Molly voting due?

  36. 'Tis Himself says

    Thomas Lawson #41

    Incredible…in every sense of the word.

    You don’t give Mouthyb credence for telling a truthful story? Either you’re calling her a liar or you don’t know what every sense of incredible is.

  37. 'Tis Himself says

    I believe John Morales noticed the same thing I did in Thomas Lawson’s post #41.

  38. kevinalexander says

    I’m not privy to Tomas Lawson’s thoughts but I’ll guess that he didn’t mean what he seems to have said.
    There’s one thing that bothers me about how English speakers screw up superlatives. Words like unbelievable and incredible are used where the speaker does believe it. The phrase ‘in every sense of the word’ has joined this group.

    I mean, it literally blows my mind out the window when I see these usages a million times a day. I swear I will kill the next person who does it. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

  39. FossilFishy says

    mouthyb: You say that you’re aggressive, intelligent and quick to anger, but there are two characteristics of yours that come through in this post loud and clear despite no outright mention of them: you are strong and courageous. Strong and courageous in a way that fills my eyes with tears and covers my arms in goosebumps.

    I had a bad childhood, but the abuse was all emotional and the bastard had the good grace to die when I was 13. It was nowhere near as bad as what you described nor did it go on for as long and yet it nearly broke me. I know it’s presumptuous to say this, I’m an internet stranger after all, but never, ever forget just how much strength and courage it took for you to pull yourself out of that situation.

    Never, not even when the past crawls up your brain-stem and threatens to pull you back down into the learned pain, terror and self-doubt. Your strength and courage are things that are as much a part of you as those negative emotions, and by sharing your story here you inspire others, well myself at the very least, to emulate that. Thank you, thank you so much. May your future be filled with peace, joy and love in exponential proportions to the way your past was not.

  40. kazzaqld says

    “In my case, that threat was magnified by the school system. We lived in a small town in Texas for some time during my childhood. I went to school purple from kidneys to midthigh while I was in elementary; my teacher discovered it from the way I moved, but the school decided that it was a matter of religious freedom, and they would not intervene. I literally thought that no one cared. I was told that this was god’s will, and I believed this for many years.”

    This part for me was the most chilling – that the school could ignore a badly beaten child on the grounds of religious freedom.

    Reprehensible.

    Mouthyb you have my respect.

  41. Azuma Hazuki says

    MouthyB –

    Thank you for sharing that with us. It was full of pain from start to finish but it’s also evidence of your inner strength. I’d have killed myself long since had I been raised in a environment like that.

    Do you know Nate Phelps? If you use Facebook you should consider friending him; his story reminds me somewhat of yours and I think you’d get along well. You suffered awful things but you made it out, and this world is far larger than the ones who hurt you would have you believe. You have allies in us.

  42. Ichthyic says

    I mean, it literally blows my mind out the window when I see these usages a million times a day. I swear I will kill the next person who does it. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

    I see what you did there.

    :P

  43. speedweasel says

    @humanape #2

    mouthyb, despite having parents from hell (who you are still able to love and that’s a good thing) you are a genius and you were able to throw out the brainwashing, also known as child abuse.

    FTFY. I’m glad for mouthyb that she can still love her parents, but she owes them nothing and I’d think no less of her if she wished they would die in a fire.

  44. MattP says

    mouthyb, you are a far stronger and better person than myself. I’ll just leave it at that.

    On the topic of extremist engineers, it really does not surprise me in the least anymore; perhaps see here for some more insight. My dad* is a ChemE and the vast majority of students in the engineering department I attended were very ‘christian.’ There were a couple YEC’s and a few devout protestants (who would argue with each other about Calvinism and assorted doctrines at great length, yet blindly accept the ‘historicity’ of jesus and the historical ‘fact’ of the bible), but most were just ‘southern’ (for lack of a better word). The whole engineering curriculum seemed geared less towards encouraging an inquisitve nature and more towards just reinforcing a ‘plug and chug’ mentality. It actually leaves me feeling a bit frightened/frustrated/ashamed when I remember some of the people that made it through an ABET accredited program and are now practicing engineers.

    * A ‘when it suits me’ catholic who acknowledges his parents were part of ‘the greatest generation’ while his will likely be remembered as ‘the worst generation’, but honestly believes the teabaggers are the ‘remedy to cure all ills.’ …And that we should keep drilling everywhere we can because oil will never run out becuase that would be disasterous for the economy, and may still believe that the ‘fossil myth’ of oil generation has been thoroughly debunked (pro tip: it hasn’t, and an approximation of the process – thermochemical liquifaction – can be used to synthesize bio-oil from algae and other organic feedstocks). Sorry for the rant, it all just frustrates me to no end.

  45. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    @Ichthyic

    until the APA and AMA finally officially recognize this as a personality disorder, instead of a natural variant of behavior, nothing will ever change.

    When I first started college, I took some psychology courses because I considered doing it for my major. When we started talking about delusions and things like that, I asked my teacher that exact question: why is it that if someone talks to an imaginary being, we class that as a disorder unless it’s justified by religion? His answer was that given the fact that the vast majority of the population exhibits that behavior, then it’s not by definition “abnormal”; it apparently *is* normal.

    I think it’s more productive to focus on educating people, changing their minds, so that we can work towards a new normal. Classifying most of humanity as mentally ill isn’t gonna do that*.

    *This is not an accomodationist/tone troll-y argument. The treatment of “mental illness” in people who don’t think they’re sick is way more difficult than people who do; compound that with a society that caters to their beliefs, delusional or otherwise, and it’s almost impossible.

  46. Ichthyic says

    I think it’s more productive to focus on educating people, changing their minds

    you didn’t go far enough into your psych studies.

    It’s not possible to educate an authoritarian personality, only lead them.

  47. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    @Ichthyic

    you didn’t go far enough into your psych studies.

    It’s not possible to educate an authoritarian personality, only lead them.

    I studied enough to know that “personality types” are descriptive, not prescriptive. No teacher I ever had said “you are an authoritarian and that’s all you’ll ever be”. I find the idea that there are people you’d deem both maladaptive *and* “unfixable” troubling. If that’s how you think it works, what exactly should we do with these “authoritarian personalities”? They’ll never be “lead” with atheism, because atheism is the antithesis of authoritarianism, at least in a religious sense.

  48. Ichthyic says

    I find the idea that there are people you’d deem both maladaptive *and* “unfixable” troubling.

    and I find your argument of individuals as opposed to groups to be naive.

    how many creationists have you seen “convert” as opposed to those who have not?

    there is a reason for that, and this is why I say you haven’t studied the issue enough.

  49. Ichthyic says

    They’ll never be “lead” with atheism, because atheism is the antithesis of authoritarianism, at least in a religious sense.

    all you have to do is change the message the people they trust as information sources say.

    this is what WAS done already over the last 40 years to manipulate them into being knee-jerk “conservatives”.

    if you can change the primary information being provided by the authoritarian source, THEN you can change their behavior.

    you won’t do it by arguing with an adult authoritarian utilizing evidence and reason.

    you CAN do it by changing the message they hear early on though…

    http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~deenasw/Assets/bloom&weisberg%20science.pdf

    so, in a sense, you are right that it can be done “through education”.

    good luck changing the education provided by their trusted authorities.

    Hells, haven’t you noticed how hard they push to NOT let their kids be “indoctrinated” by public school system?

    yeah.

    here’s another thing you need to read:

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    30 years of sociological data has convinced me pretty damn thoroughly that you will not affect adult authoritarian personalities via education.

    The gallup poll data support this as well.

  50. Ichthyic says

    …so, in the end you only really have two choices:

    you can choose to treat the disorder, and try to focus on making authoritarian personalities… less so.

    or you can choose to manipulate the message they follow and achieve your desired goal that way.

    History suggests the latter course as the only productive one, but nobody can even BEGIN to even try the former without acknowledging that authoritarianism is not a desirable personality trait to begin with.

    You mentioned how the AMA will not classify religious belief as “delusion” simply because so many people exhibit it.

    do you not see how this is nothing but a politically expedient cop-out?

    can you imagine the AMA classifying pneumonia as “not a treatable illness” because so many people get it?

    it’s fucked up logic, and it’s wrong. I’m not the only one to notice, either. This battle has been going on within the APA for decades now.

  51. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    @Ichthyic

    and I find your argument of individuals as opposed to groups to be naive.

    how many creationists have you seen “convert” as opposed to those who have not?

    I think we’re having a disagreement of perspectives here.

    Your position seems to be that people are authoritarian and are simply attracted to authoritarian religion as a consequence. (If I’m wrong on that, feel free to correct me.)

    My position is that people are inculcated into an authoritarian religion that instills in them a mindset that is strong but not immutable or inherent, and when that mindset breaks, it is invariably broken by gaining new knowledge.

    I think my position is supported by the evidence:

    1. This series. WIAAA is just one version of “deconversion testimonials” that I’ve seen on the internet, and I can’t even count how many of them include some variant of phrases like “I was a believer until I really started to look into my religion from independent sources” or “I started to change my mind because I met an atheist and how they acted and what they said conflicted with what my church taught”.

    2. The indoctrination. It is focused almost entirely on children. Ya gotta get ‘em baptized or circumcised or confirmed. There are Christian cartoons and books and music groups, summer camps, youth ministries. To paraphrase something Angie Jackson said on one of the Godless Bitches podcasts, it’s easier to indoctrinate a child than to convert an adult.

    The reason for that is that you have to get there before they learn things like critical and independent thinking. It’s hard for me to label that as an inherent authoritarian personality when the reality is that they weren’t given another option for development. To quote something else Angie said, “I don’t know who I’d be if I was never indoctrinated.”

    3. Statistics. I admit there are probably several reasons why Europe tends to be less religious than the US, but I think a big part of it is the educational system. Assuming the distribution of authoritarian personalities is uniform in the population, how would you explain Europe being much more irreligious? There’s at least an inverse correlation there.

  52. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    @Ichthyic

    Commenting fail on my part, I spent longer than I thought drafting my comment and didn’t refresh. I’m reading your other posts now.

  53. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    Hells, haven’t you noticed how hard they push to NOT let their kids be “indoctrinated” by public school system?

    30 years of sociological data has convinced me pretty damn thoroughly that you will not affect adult authoritarian personalities via education.

    Yep, I have noticed that. I agree with the point that adults are harder to indoctrinate than children; in fact, I stated it in my post before I saw yours.

    My point was that I think the persistence of religious beliefs is systemic, not individual, and classifying individuals as mentally ill and treating them as such is not going to fix a systemic problem. If that’s not what you’re talking about doing then I don’t think we have that much of a disagreement.

  54. Ichthyic says

    My point was that I think the persistence of religious beliefs is systemic, not individual, and classifying individuals as mentally ill and treating them as such is not going to fix a systemic problem.

    then define WHERE it is systemic, please.

    I tried for decades myself, before realizing that within education, the problem is NOT systemic, it is indeed simply one of peer groups reinforcing authoritarianism.

    If you mean, rather that the problem is politically systemic, this is true, but then, this has been known in greater or lesser detail for generations.

    If you mean to address authoritaranism via education, you will have to do so over the more than vehement objections of the peer groups that normally influence authoritarian children.

    it’s not the education “system” that’s the problem; it’s the authoritarians themselves.

    you either deal with the problem directly, or you manipulate it such that it is no longer a problem for you.

    Leo Strauss long ago realized that there was a large swath of any given population that was authoritarian in nature, and could easily be manipulated via religious ideology to support any idea pushed to them by someone they view as a trusted authority figure.

    Neocons made “good” use of this for the last 40 years to create a political base they could push at will.

    The modern education system was not at fault here; it’s that there was a carefully formulated message given to authoritarians to guide them AWAY from trusting the education system as an information source.

    so, again, you have two realistic choices:

    you can attack authoritarianism itself; work to get people NOT to rely so much on authority, and instead foment independent and critical thought. I can’t see how this will be successful on the large scale, especially since, like yourself, so few actually will admit to themselves that this behavior needs to be modified to begin with. I used to think this was the noble way to go; to work towards convincing people that independent and reasoned thinking was a better way. But, it’s quite clear that heavily authoritarian personalities are simply UNABLE to think along these lines. If pushed, all they exhibit is extreme psychological defense mechanisms (denial and projection being the most common). It’s simply unrealistic to think that the effort required to overcome such defense mechanisms can even be done on an individual basis, let alone for 10s of millions of people.

    so… there’s only one other option: Do the same thing the neocons did, but change the message. This won’t be easy either, given how entrenched the message machine has become in favor of the neocons over the last 40 years, but it was done, so it can be used in the same fashion to simply get authoritarians to trust different information sources. This is not a part of the educational system at all, but is OUTSIDE of it. It’s media, word of mouth, things their pastors tell them, etc. Yes, the likes of Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh are needed as talking heads, just that they need to send out a different message.

    it truly IS a culture war, but it isn’t being fought at the level of the general populace. It’s being fought by those who realize the message can be controlled, and who is going to do that.

    them’s your choices IMO.

    if you see another way, by all means, go ahead. Just don’t be disappointed when you find out, like I did, that reasoned debate and education won’t get you anywhere.

  55. theophontes 777 says

    @ mouthyb

    Wow. That was really well written. I have been following the strange ways of the goddists for many years. There are so many examples of just how damaging religions and the delusions of their followers can be. But your writing really brings it home with a bang.

    Re: The engineering mindset.

    I must raise my paw in defense of engineers here. My own university experience (n=1, South Africa) has been quite different, with fellow students generally being open minded and left wing. Could this be because the curriculum was very science based as opposed to those described by MattP et al?

    There are some traits that I have noticed in engineers though. Tenacity is a characteristic that can be useful in someone headed in the right direction. That very same characteristic can be a bane if applied in the wrong way. Another common trait is to look at a very large system, in which the engineer must involve themself (such as “the city”), and then seek to prioritise and optimise one aspect of it (“roadways”). This misguided, specialist approach causes untold problems. The understanding that a complex system may function at its best while its components are sub-optimal goes past them. The attempts to remedy large scale, diversified, problems by focusing on one element leads to a mugs game.

    There are any number of examples I could cite to show that many engineers of today are not focused on dogmatic or lopsided thinking, but rather on innovation (socially and not just technologically relevant) and pragmatism. Gnu engineers anyone?

  56. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    Leo Strauss long ago realized that there was a large swath of any given population that was authoritarian in nature, and could easily be manipulated via religious ideology to support any idea pushed to them by someone they view as a trusted authority figure.

    They’re trusted because they’re indoctrinated to believe that they should be trusted because they happen to claim they have the same beliefs. Ya know, like how your parents tell you to always trust a police officer, and it takes a long time to break that down even as you watch them taze and gas Occupy protesters for the heinous crime of sitting in a park. If that’s what your parents did and you trust cops, that doesn’t necessarily make you “authoritarian in nature”, it makes you authoritarian by design.

  57. RahXephon, Giant Feminist Mecha Robot says

    However, Ichthyic, I admit it’s pretty small point. Whether or not it’s inherent it is still really, really hard to fix; I’m just making a distinction between “really really hard to do” and “impossible”.

  58. says

    MattP: Thanks for that Guardian link.

    I was reading the comments, and a few jumped out at me:

    I remember long ago a statistics lecturer telling us the difference between engineers and social scientists was that engineers would ask questions like ‘how to we maximise flow through this pipe?’ while social scientists would ask questions like ‘should we really be gassing these people?’. (and no, we didn’t laugh, well, just maybe a titter of recognition).

    And, charmingly (bold is my emphasis):

    I am an engineer and by the time I was 14 I was buying sodium chlorate from Boots and using it to make pipe bombs. Most people are inferior to engineers, in my view, because they don’t understand how the world works, they can’t build or fix stuff, they stand helplessly by broken down cars. Probably just as well I don’t live in the UK any more because it is, these days, a society that doesn’t value engineers or engineering, which is why the UK is an economic basket case.

    Theophontes:

    I must raise my paw in defense of engineers here.

    I don’t see that anybody here is denouncing the entire profession.

    Your experience could be due to, as you imply, the scientific basis of the curriculum at your uni weeding out the RWAs. As for “Gnu engineers,” there are atheists with authoritarian personalities, and still others who buy into certain authoritarian beliefs, such as male or white supremacy.

  59. Ichthyic says

    I’m just making a distinction between “really really hard to do” and “impossible”.

    understood.

    I tend to deal in probabilities, not possibilities.

    :)

  60. MattP says

    #67 theophontes 777
    #70 Ms. Daisy Cutter

    There were quite a few in the department who spent their childhoods (myself included) taking things apart to see how they work and then putting them back together again (and having it all still work). So, the inquisitive nature was there, it just was not universal in its application (religion and politics got a pass). Also, it was a very small department in a very large university in the deep south, so not likely to be an accurate representation of engineering schools at large. Given the location, it had a surprisingly diverse grad/doc/post-doc/prof population, but the u-grads were still mostly what you would expect.

    Further off topic, but there were also quite a few who found the sound of thunderstorms relaxing, which I thought was kind of odd. I always thought I was more than a little weird to find thunderstorms so soothing. Better still is the prelude to a thunderstorm: mid-60’s to mid-70’s, very overcast/cloudy, smell of rain in the air, light breeze, occasional rumble of thunder in the distance. I could feel like crap after spending a day without food in front of a computer working on a FEA project to then walk out into that and suddenly all is well.

  61. KG says

    What a powerful – and disturbing – piece. Mouthyb, if you aren’t a professional writer, it might be worth considering.

  62. Cheezits says

    Holy smoke. If I wasn’t an atheist already, that story would make me one.

  63. David Marjanović says

    There’s one thing that bothers me about how English speakers screw up superlatives. Words like unbelievable and incredible are used where the speaker does believe it. The phrase ‘in every sense of the word’ has joined this group.

    <terminology pedant>None of these is a superlative. Superlatives are “best”, “greatest”, “worst”, “reddest”, “damnedest”, “most”, “most expensive”…</terminology pedant>

    On the topic of extremist engineers, it really does not surprise me in the least anymore; perhaps see here for some more insight.

    Another such article is linked to in a comment.

  64. Trebuchet says

    With apologies to Mouthyb for starting the digression in the first place, I’ll just add that after forty years in the business, it has long since ceased to surprise me that engineers hold goofy views. I still have a tough time understanding it. Perhaps the fact that until my freshman year in college I intended a career in science, rather than engineering, is part of it.

  65. Trebuchet says

    One other thought that just occurred to me: Electrical Engineers seem to have a higher percentage of evangelicals than mechanicals. Perhaps that’s natural since they work all day with stuff they can’t see but have to believe in!

  66. nooneinparticular says

    Powerful and moving. I’ve sent a link to this to one who would most benefit. I sincerely hope it does.

  67. says

    No apologies needed. The best thing I could hope for, when I sent out this piece, was to start discussion.

    Anecdata: my father has dual Masters; one in Electrical Engineering and the other in Business. And he does, in fact, believe everyone else is inferior.

    More anecdata: I am a writer, but in training to become a scientist.

  68. mrevan says

    Mouthyb, That was a beautiful telling of such an ugly story. I’m very glad you came out the other side who you are and not who your parents are or wanted you to be.

  69. hypatiasdaughter says

    I read Ron Number’s “The Creationists” a few weeks ago. It is more a history of how the Institute for Creation Research was founded, than of creationism as an ideology.
    I was surprised at the number of degreed biologists were involved in the ICR’s formation (- their real struggle was to find a degreed geologist who would sign up for the Flood and a 6,000 year old earth).
    It seems that many xtian colleges and universities offered degrees in medicine and engineering. I suppose it steered their xtian students in professional careers, while by-passing the sciences that are highly theoretical (and possibly anti-xtian) – like physics and astronomy.
    I was wondering if this had anything to do with the apparently large percentage of these professions that are religious and creationist?

  70. cicely. Just cicely. says

    mouthyb, I….

    I don’t have words.

    I don’t have enough *hugs* to give you.
    -

  71. says

    mouthyb-

    I’m late to the party (as usual), but I just read this and couldn’t simply move on, like it’s something I read every day. It isn’t. Your writing is powerful, your story is powerful, and what comes across most to me is that you are powerful.

    Admiration. Anger. Awe. Amazement. Appreciation. And that’s just the A’s.

  72. says

    It is frightening how often hard core application of Christian belief is indistinguishable from child abuse. Yikes.