There is such a thing as righteous anger

I heard good things about Dawkins’ talk at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, so I let my computer crank away at downloading the video overnight—it’s 113 megabytes! Then this morning Norm of onegoodmove lets me know that there are some shorter clips available from the Q&A: a reaction to the abuse of Quantum Theory,
a disparagment of blind faith, and best of all, his reaction to hearing that
Liberty University labels their dinosaur fossils as being a few thousand years old. The discussion with the audience is always the best thing about these talks, and this was a case where the audience had a number of mind abuse cases from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in attendance.

One thing not in the shorter clips that I thought was interesting was the young woman who asked Dawkins if he thought it was normal that deconversion was accompanied by anger, and he didn’t know…so he asked the audience. And they roar back that yes, it is.

I think Dawkins was being slightly disingenuous. I can believe his own loss of faith was easy and unaccompanied by stress, because my own was, as well. In my own case, my childhood belief was fairly shallow, so when I realized that I didn’t believe any of that baloney in adolescence, it wasn’t at all traumatic. But Dawkins knows as do I that that anger can come later, and you can sense it in Dawkins in the question about dinosaur fossils. I feel that, too. We’re both people whose lives are heavily invested in a university and in teaching and in science, and when you see the kinds of vile fraud institutions of bunkum like Liberty University commit against those three values, I can’t help but feel disgust and anger.

Many people, I suspect, are hit harder with those sensations. If you start with a deeper commitment to a religion, if you’ve been compelled by family to invest heavily in that belief (another horror I was spared), if your deconversion is prompted by learning that you’ve been betrayed and lied to—then I can understand how anger is an early and strong part of the process.

All I can say is that yes, you should be damned angry. I am glad that many people are beginning to feel that fury.


  1. says

    I was so lucky to be born in an atheist family in an atheist country, go to school taught by atheist teachers with my friends all being atheists. Arrival in the USA was quite a shock to me, though: what? these people really believe that crap? in the most advanced country in the world?

    So, I am angry at people who screw up with the kids’ heads and mess with science and environment, but I never felt any personal anger.

  2. Nance Confer says

    We caught the Q&A part of the talk last night on C-Span and Dawkins did seem genuinely surprised that anger was such a large part of the process. He mentioned fear. But the audience filled him in. :)


  3. Elf Eye says

    Dinosaurs a few thousand years old!? Sheesh!? I hope my kid never ends up in a class taught by a graduate of Liberty University! About deconversion: Now I see how fortunate I have been. My father never expressed any opinions about whether or not there is a sky daddy or sky mommy (or plurals thereof), and my mother merely owned up to some vague notion that there might be something out there–or at least it would be nice if there WERE something out there. I lived in a community where everyone outside my family professed belief in either a Jewish or Christian god, but at least at home I was never pressured into buying into that notion (the extent of my “religious” training as a child: Unitarian-Universalist Sunday school). So no rage here: I’ve been an atheist since I was old enough to mull over the idea of whether or not there might gods and goddesses ‘out there’, so I never went through any ‘deconversion’.

  4. meerasedai says

    The talk that I attended at the University of Virginia was COMPLETELY different! All I can say is ‘wow.’

    Really, though, I never felt the sort of anger that you describe and I too can attribute this to an initially shallow belief.

  5. says

    in all fairness, regarding the question regarding ‘blind faith’…

    Q: “do you draw a distinction in-between blind faith and reasonable faith?”

    A: “do i draw a distinction between blind faith and reasonable faith?–no”

    the questioner was using the term ‘reasonable faith’ to describe knowledge based on evidence.

    when mr. dawkins explained that he defines ‘faith’ as having a belief with no basis in evidence, both the young man and dawkins agreed that they were using words differently.

  6. Bryn says

    I don’t think he was being disingenuous at all. According to the journal entry for Oct. 24th, Dr. Dawkins drew a blank when he was asked the question; as he says, “Why should one feel anger? Anger towards what, or whom?” So, he asked the audience who clarified what they thought the young lady was asking. He may have originally taken it as the usual question–“Why are atheists angry at god?” I usually tell people that I’m no more angry at god than I am at the tooth fairy, Mickey Mouse or any other imaginary critter.

  7. Carlie says

    Angry is correct, but not necessarily because of being “lied to”. I don’t blame my relatives and other adults in authority positions for buying into that pack of crap, because I know they believe it wholeheartedly and are at least acting in an internally consistent way. I can’t think of a single person in the church hierarchy I’ve encountered who was specifically out to get everyone else by brainwashing them into lies. I’m angry that I wasted so much of my life putting energy into something nonexistent. I’m angry that I made many decisions that were detrimental to my life because I was convinced that they were the right Christian thing to do. I’m angry that I warped my self-image feeling so much guilt for everything. I’m angry that I was able to be convinced of it all for so long. I’m angry that so many other people still believe in it.

    What I’m really angry about, however, is that there seems to be so little way to stop it. I can’t see attacking people in the heart of the beast; it’s cruel to rip away the safety net in one blow. Appealing to reason only works for a few. I consider myself to be fairly rational, and it took me over 30 years to shake myself of the delusion. That’s how much it can claim you if you’re indoctrinated early and hard enough. I’m angry at the religion, not the people practicing it faithfully, and it’s difficult to go after one without having huge collateral damage to the other. That’s what really makes me angry.

  8. rmp says

    At the age of 47, I’m in the midst of a deconversion. As of yet, I haven’t reached the state of anger. I went to 10 years of parochial school (Wisconsin Synod), I’ve been a Sunday School teacher, the treasurer at our church and I still am a reasonably active member. In fact I still serve as a adult guide for youth confirmation classes.

    Simply put, I’m pretty screwed up but believe with time I’ll come through my deconversion a better man. I just can’t wait for the anger phase. Oh boy.

  9. Emily says

    Anger? Yes, somewhat, at least in my case. Though I wouldn’t call it ‘anger’ quite yet — it’s more like ‘frustration’. I’m frustrated at the fact that I spent 10 years in catholic school, taking religion classes taught by nuns every day of those 10 years (sans summers). I’m frustrated that every time I had a thought during my childhood and early adolescence I was afraid that I’d be sinning. I’m frustrated that the idea of “you’re going to hell if you do X”, where X equals pretty much everything, was drilled into my skull for so long. I’m frustrated that currently, when I tell my mother about my thesis committee meeting coming up in a month, she says “If god wills it, you’ll do fine”. And I’m frustrated that when I respond “And even if he doesn’t will it, I have to do fine, dontcha think?” she replies with “Don’t say such blasphemies! May god forgive you for what you’re saying”. So yeah, frustration… However, anger usually comes after I’ve had time to think about why exactly it is that I’m frustrated.

  10. Steve LaBonne says

    I must say I feel bad for the people whose deconversion was long-delayed and I can undertand why they’d be angry- Emily articulates it well. I was lucky- it simply came to me one fine day when I was 12 years old that all my Catholic indoctrination was a load of rubbish, and I never looked back. No anger, just bemusement.

  11. jeffk says

    both the young man and dawkins agreed that they were using words differently

    That may be true but the man was being ridiculous semantiacally. What the hell is “reasonable faith”? That sounds like an oxy moron if I ever heard one.

  12. speedwell says

    I was angry in the process of deconversion, which took the form of trying, over several years’ time, to understand the God and fix the religion I more and more desperately clung to. The moment of deconversion was like a major-key resolution to an overwrought, minor-key piano sonata… just a grand moment of clarity and relief.

  13. JH says

    The clip about quantum theory raised an interesting point which has been bothering me for some time: how can anybody *seriously* compare the predictive powers of science and religion? I think the answer is that, for most people, science hasn’t predicted anything for them personally. Take quantum theory. I’m a physicist. I’ve *seen* quantum theory verified in my laboratory (e.g. electron diffraction). Most people never see the predictive power of science. It’s abstract “science” versus abstract “God” and God seems nice. The ideas are nice. Science is cold an impartial — even menacing. It’s just easier to go with religion.

  14. MG says

    I am angry! I live in Lynchburg, home of Liberty University and his many followers. Now TODAY I find out that Dawkins was in town recently and I missed it, what a letdown. It would have been some small consolation to hear him speak after all of the constant attacks the Fallwellians make on those living here by attempting to convert you at the mall whilst shopping and the like. Finally someone came to “fight back” and all I can do now is read the articles about what I missed. Very very angry, at myself of course. Very very happy about deconversion.

  15. rmp says

    Adding on to Emily’s “If god wills it, you’ll do fine”. The line that pushes me over the edge is “God doesn’t give you more than you can bear”. All I can think of when somewhen says that to me is ‘so for those folks that take their own life, God must have screwed up and gave them a bit too much to bear’.

  16. George says

    I really enjoyed hearing Dawkins read from God Delusion. He brought the text to life. He ought to do an audio version.

  17. says

    I saw it last night on CSPAN. Dawkins was excellent: cool, rational, and sensible even when confronted by questions from the Liberty University plants in the audience. At the very end, after being asked about the ‘3000 year old’ dinosaurs at Liberty University, he said that Liberty University is a fraud of an academic institution, and that students there should simply transfer elsewhere. Perfect!

  18. arch_fiend says

    Religion was a non-issue in my family and from the time I can remember mulling over such things I clearly recall knowing that it was all a bunch of hog swill. But what I find odd about my experience is how much I do and have always hated religion (given that religion was a non issue). I have always pondered this question and I can’t exactly put my finger on the anger, but I think living in Kentucky (born, raised and now returned to), Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee has something to do with it!

  19. says

    The random quote sidebar just delivered this, from Bertrand Russell’s autobiography:

    Throughout the long period of religious doubt, I had been rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief, but when the process was completed, I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject.

  20. Jon Strong says

    I felt anger towards the church simply because they never told the whole truth. There are volumes of evidence that contradict their doctrine, but they didn’t (and also can’t) provide any sound counter arguments. Indoctrinating children and perpetuating ignorance is worthy of anger in my opinion.

  21. CL says

    Like meerasedai, I saw Dawkins at UVA last week. And like meeradesai, I think the difference between the two talks is night and day. Wow.

  22. Steve LaBonne says

    Like meerasedai, I saw Dawkins at UVA last week. And like meeradesai, I think the difference between the two talks is night and day. Wow.

    I’m sure many people reading this, like me, have no clue what you and Meera are referring to. I’d be much obliged if you could expand on this comment- I’m curious. Thanks.

  23. Michael says

    I’m angry at the self-righteous arrogance of the religious leaders I knew. I don’t think it’s misplaced to blame them for all the misery and ruined lives I saw before leaving myself.

  24. Siamang says

    You need a faster connection, PZ.

    I downloaded it in ten minutes, while I was streaming it too.

    Just little old cable-modem from my local cable tv company.

  25. Erasmussimo says

    I have no anger. I was raised as a Catholic and attended Catholic schools through my freshman year in high school. I shed my religion just after leaving Catholic school. I now look back on that religion with much respect. Catholicism is a far more reasonable religion than many of the American fundamentalist beliefs. It has an honorable history of intellectual inquiry along with its many truly horrific episodes. And of course Erasmus represents what is best in Christianity. So I feel no need to denigrate Catholicism, and I certainly have no anger at the good habits of thought they instilled in me.

  26. CL says


    I think it’s due to the questions that were asked. I don’t have time to watch the whole C-SPAN broadcast right now, but I’m willing to bet that the talk itself was pretty much the same as the one he gave in Charlottesville. (Dawkins mentioned that he does the same thing everywhere, reading a number of excerpts from the book, and that he was changing it up slightly in Charlottesville to include more quotes from Thomas Jefferson and a passage on the evolution of morality specifically because a biology prof here asked for it.) Where Lynchburg would differ from Charlottesville is in the types of questions asked, because the general C’ville population would be far more receptive to Dawkins than Lynchburg’s.

    So, for example, the most contentious question that got asked here was, IMO, a question from a gay student about evolution and homosexuality. The student appeared to be angling for Dawkins to say that he thought homosexuality was genetic, but Dawkins didn’t exactly give him what he wanted, instead saying that it didn’t matter whether homosexuality was inherited or a matter of choice, because it’s a private and personal matter. A number of people in the audience seemed surprised by that answer, I think, and it got lighter applause than most of his lines.

    But there were no questions that produced a response like, say, the dinosaur one in Lynchburg. (That physics professor seemed to be on the side of the good guys, but I couldn’t really tell just from the excerpt.) It was the first time I had ever seen Dawkins speak, and I was hoping for fireworks like the end of his response to that question. Unfortunately, Charlottesville apparently lacks a sufficient number of wackos, because I never got to see any.

  27. Ginger Yellow says

    If I believed in God I’d be angry at him. So you’ve made me fallen and sinful and you expect me to be grateful and obsequious? And if I’m not you’ll damn me forever? Thanks a bunch, you narcissistic sociopath.

  28. says

    My own deconversion was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of relief. But I never really subscribed the the heaven/ hell/ Biblical literalism thing, so there wasn’t really that much to be angry about.

    The anger came later, when I started to realize that in becoming an atheist, I’d apparently signed up for the Second-Class Citizens Club.

    And the rage has only been compounded by my continuing astonishment at exactly how low some people will go, the dishonesty which they will excuse, the willful ignorance they cultivate and disseminate, in the name of an inconstant and sociopathic God.

    (I think we’re now in Week Six of my in-laws being icily furious at me for leading their precious boy astray into the hellbound world of the Secular (like “nucular”) Humanists.)

  29. Billy says

    My “deconversion” began when I was 17, and in some ways is still ongoing. I don’t have much anger, but felt a great deal of fear initially. Changing from a worldview in which I knew & understood everything to one in which I knew very little and in which the little I knew was probably wrong — well, what if I was wrong about the whole Hell and eternal damnation thing? I remember a few nights in late adolescence lying awake and apologizing to a god I no longer believed in.

    That’s over, at least. But I have no anger at my family or my church for teaching me what they themselves very clearly believed and continue to believe.

  30. Steve LaBonne says

    CL- thanks, that’s more or less what I guessed you’d say. I’ve spent just enough time in Virginia to know that Charlottesville is very different from the area aroudn Lynchburg so I’m not surprised. ;)

  31. jm_II says

    I’m am squarely in the middle of a deconversion taking place entirely in my skull. I am only angry at myself for my cowardice. I hope that I’m towards the end of it, but it has begun to exhaust my ability to struggle with it. The social fabric of the South is woven from religion, and I can’t ignore this.

    As a kid, I often wondered why there were so many sermons about non-believers in the pews. I know why now. I have taught Sunday school to my 8 and 5 y-o and believed every word of it at the time. What the hell do I tell them now? Kids, daddy was the victim of a mind virus for thirty years…but I’m all better now. However, mommy and everyone else you know will never get better. Oh yea, don’t tell your friends because the virus gets upset if you question its existence.

    What the hell do I tell my wife and parents? Is tentative truth more important than inflicting the pain that would certainly come? For what benefit exactly?

    What if the truth is that the massive social benefits of religion are more important than the pursuit of truth? There is no question that the feelings of extended community and moral superiority are the driving forces of southern churches. The South offers only the latter to non-believers.

    A stark fact is that I would deeply disturb all of the things that I love most: my family, business, marriage, and kids at the satisfaction of truth. Is is worth it?

    My paradox is that my soul tells me that no dogma is true, but my mind is the one telling me that the heart is wrong for practical reasons. Will my children be angry if I don’t tell the truth now? The truth is that I’m not sure.

  32. VJB says

    Referring to RMP’s comment above about God never saddling a person with more than they can bear, I remember in a high school textbook on religion in the early 60’s(Jesuit school, but still had to toe the line) that there were sins that cried out to heaven for vengeance (sodomy, pederasty, robbing the poorbox–there was also something about widows and orphans) and one unforgivable sin: despair. If you thought that God could never forgive you, you were toast. This included many suicides (there was no distinction between the truly despairing and the ethical suicides (why burden the kids with ridiculous end-of-life medical expenses that suck dry all you have worked for your entire life as a bequest to them?) I really hate the idea of suicide as ‘giving up’ but am willing to accept other’s choices (just don’t choose it for me without my consent!).

  33. Carlie says

    jm_II – I’m with you all the way there. That is something I tried to get at but didn’t do a good job with in my post. Only the formerly neck-deep in it really understand what a blow it would be for everyone else to know. I’m keenly aware of the suffering it would cause my parents, have only recently told my spouse (and couched it in the phrases of “maybe it’s a phase” etc.), and have no idea what to do about my kids, especially since my spouse is a diehard believer all the way. What a fun thing for children to navigate – “Mommy is going to hell” v. “Daddy is completely deluded”. It’s so much easier to go along and seethe on the inside. And add that to another reason I’m angry.

  34. Jenn says

    dave: “Do what I say, or you will spend eternity in hell. That’s not love, that’s blackmail.”

    I always thought the “do what I say or you’ll go to hell, oh but you do have free will!” belief was bogus, even as a litle kid in Catholic school. I also didn’t buy the “if you ever question the existance of god, you’re going to hell” rule.

    My conversion was accompanied by anger, but it was kind of directionless. Like many others have said, I wasn’t angry at the people who taught me, since they very much believed what they were saying. I even extended (and still do) that to most of the clergy and higher-ups in the church. They may or may not be delusional, but bottom line is they don’t know it.

    I remember being afraid of telling anyone I knew: my parents were somewhat religious – enough to care that I’d turned atheist (eventually agnostic) – and my friends were all from Catholic school. I had one friend in high school who had gone through the same thing, but it wasn’t really until I hit college, in a very liberal city, that I started feeling more comfortable talking about it. Now I’ve “come out” to my family, and my Grandfather spends every visit with me trying to re-convert me. I just brush it off: he’s sincerely worried for me, which is touching, but I leave it at that.

    I’m no longer angry, but very frustrated with the brainwashers of the world. Believe what you want, but don’t punish the children.

  35. WookieMonster says

    I was raised by an ex-Catholic mother (who’s parents never really believed, but put on the show “for the kids”) and a father who identfied as agnostic if pushed (who’s parents were not religious in any way). They allowed us to attend church with our friends if we wished and generally encouraged us all to make up our own minds. I actually went to a Lutheran church for quite a while (although it was basically so I would have an excuse to stay Saturday nights at my friend’s house, who I went to church with) and got baptized and did the whole first communion thing at around 10-12 years old, but I never really believed.

    I guess I really never had a deconversion so much as I tried religiosity on and found it basically silly, uncomfortable, and a complete waste of time. So no real anger for me, except for the idea of tithing which my friend’s parents pressured my parents into at a time when we really couldn’t afford it. It affirmed that religion is all about greed to me, though now I see it’s all about greed, power, and a BS to claim superiority.

  36. poke says

    jm_II – I’d be interested to know what flavour of Christianity your family subscribes to. Maybe instead of coming out as an an atheist you could just move towards a more liberal version of the same. Take it one step at a time. The great thing about atheism is we rarely ask anyone to martyr themselves for their beliefs.

  37. dale says

    I was born a skeptic, and even though I was raised catholic, I didn’t make any overt statements until I was out of the house, so as to eliminate the conversation strain. Consequently, I never felt anger.
    To me, it is quite satisfying to be standing in line in a
    walmart in earshot of ten or twelve people and have the clerk say merry xmas and to respond that, I’m sorry, I don’t subscribe to your jesus myth. The looks on their faces is so precious. It is my hope that some latent agnostic will hear that and “come out” and feel the fresh air.
    Actually, I’m happy that O’Riely and his ilk have declared that we have declared war on christmas. That saved us the trouble of officially doing so.

  38. JimC says

    Catholicism is a far more reasonable religion than many of the American fundamentalist beliefs.

    That is just patently false. Catholism is every bit as ridiculous and in many ways much more so.

  39. says

    The “reasonable faith” is “reasoning based on evidence” was a semantic difference, yes. Which is why the guy was surprised that Dawkins said he drew no distinctions. But then the guy said that based on this ‘reasonable faith’, whatever you call it – the thing that makes you believe a ball will fall when you drop it instead of rise – you MUST believe in cause and effect and therefore you MUST believe in God. That’s where they parted company.

    And I can believe that Dawkins never encountered much anger – England is a different country in many respects (hee hee) and the depth of religious brainwashing is one of them. Most people who become athiests in England don’t have to fight very hard against much resistance at all.

  40. says

    Carlie wrote:
    “I’m angry that I wasted so much of my life putting energy into something nonexistent. I’m angry that I made many decisions that were detrimental to my life because I was convinced that they were the right Christian thing to do. I’m angry that I warped my self-image feeling so much guilt for everything. I’m angry that I was able to be convinced of it all for so long. I’m angry that so many other people still believe in it.

    What I’m really angry about, however, is that there seems to be so little way to stop it.”

    Saved me the trouble. I would have written almost exactly the same words. I wasted 50 years on this nonsense; I just feel really sorry for my parents who wasted more than 80, “dying in the traces” as Christian missionaries.

    What a waste of time, energy, talent!

  41. says

    I think these were also good and telling exchanges (I have a few more on my blog:

    A young woman from Liberty asked, somewhat belligerently: “How can you believe in extraterrestrials as higher beings and not believe in God?”

    He started to repeat it, puzzlement in his voice, and she repeated it for him. “I understand the words of your question,” Dawkins said, and then gave it a shot. “An extraterrestrial being, if it is an advanced being, came into being through slow, gradual degrees. That’s a very sensible explanation. God isn’t like that. That’s a crucial difference. They didn’t just happen.”

    “But God’s outside of nature!” was the next attempt.

    “Isn’t that just too easy? You exempt yourself from having to explain anything. If you’re satisfied with that sort of reasoning, you’re welcome to it,” Dawkins said, and turned to the next question.

  42. jm_II says

    Carlie, thanks for your words. I’m sure that you have gone further down some of the same paths that I have recently explored. You sound like a protagonist in my internal dialog. It’s not easy to convey the subtle yet pervasive influence of religion on southern culture to those outside. I wonder how much longer I can keep it all bottled up inside.

    I dread the day when my kids ask me why I ride my bike instead of going to church on many Sundays. I constantly have to come up with excuses about training for sporting events and then take my frustrations out on the bike. I named my bike Scarlet and everyone thinks it is a reference to “Gone with the Wind.” – simple pleasures.

    “It’s so much easier to go along and seethe on the inside.” Too true.

    Poke, I was raised a Southern Baptist and E.O. Wilson is my prophet. I am not familiar with any liberal churches that may be in the area, but that is certainly an idea. Of course, some in my family might consider an Episcopalian worse than an agnostic.

  43. Jenn says

    jm_II, unless your children are very young, I would imagine they (and the rest of your family) have figured it out by now. Not attending church, while everyone else in your family does, is a pretty obvious move. They may not have guessed the extent of your questioning, but I kind of doubt you’re hiding much from them. The fact that no one has confronted you yet may mean that they’re more accepting of this than you give them credit for.

    Of course, I’ve been wrong on simpler things. : )

    Hearing your story makes me appreciate how open-minded my family really is (and I have never used that term for them before). Thanks for sharing.

  44. Dwimr says


    I,too, am a Southerner (south Georgia). My wife was raised Southern Baptist with a hardcore fundie father (he once found “A Brief History of Time” in my house and exclaimed, “This is an ATHEIST book!!!” He then sent me a copy of “Intelligent Design” by Billy Dembski to purify me, which I read, then puked.) Anyway, I came out as an atheist to my wife (after 14 years of marriage), realizing she would possibly leave me, but to my shock and joy she admitted she always had grave doubts but kept them to herself. She read “Losing Faith in Faith” by Dan Barker and, presto change-o, we have ourselves another atheist! (boy is SHE angry at the church). So you might be surprised at the reception you get.

  45. Tatarize says

    I think Dawkins answer to the question about anger was the single best answer I’ve heard.

    “I don’t know?”
    To the audience: “Is it?”

    Clearly there would be some atheists in the audience to give him some data points to go by.

  46. says

    Having invested decades of my life and my college major in Christianity (studied for the ministry) I can’t say it is a happy thought that all that time and energy was wasted, especially since it meant a crashed career path and huge economic consequences. I supposed I could have gone into the ministry without really believing, but I am not wired that way.

    Deconversion was gradual, and then I was really pissed for a while.

  47. Carlie says

    jm_II – I should have known. There needs to be a support group for ex-Southern Baptists. We got fucked up but good. It might be the biggest denomination that has so much in common with small scary cults, but is so big that most people don’t realize how weird it really is on the inside. Here’s a snippet of a conversation I was having with a semi-Lutheran who just couldn’t understand why I can’t make myself come out of the closet entirely, as it were:

    him: “What, if you stopped going to church would people come badger you at your house and ask why you weren’t there or something?” (snicker)

    me, note of hysteria in my voice: “YES!!!!!!!”

  48. Karen says

    Carlie, jm_II, others who are coming out of religion–

    I could have written exactly as you did. I was a Christian for 30 years and only within the past six have I woken up to the fantasy. There are a lot of us out here, and more every day, despite the overwhelming numbers of religious believers in this country.

    Please consider exit-fundyism as a resource:

    We are an online support group for people who have left fundamentalist belief (mostly Christians, a few orthodox Jews, and a Ba’hai) and are dealing with issues like lingering anger, questions about doctrine, fear of hell, fear of “coming out” to relatives and friends, pestering churchgoers wondering why we’re not at the 9 a.m. service, etc.

    Some of us (like me) are now atheists, others are agnostic and still others have wound up in more tolerant expressions of religion. It’s a terrific group with some seasoned, wise people who can help and who understand what you’re going through. Please join us!

  49. Amit Joshi says

    I was raised in a very orthodox (Hindu) family, and declared my agnosticism at age 13. I didn’t feel any anger, just an overwhelming sense of relief. It was such a burden to try to make sense of all that crap…and life was so much better once I gave up the ghost!

  50. says

    The comments on Liberty U were grand. The point about accreditation especially. Having worked at a school at a time it was doing up the paper and legwork to reaffirm accreditation, it is hard work. So the idea the Liberty U can teach science, or history is astounding. And my dad, who it seems, is growing less Catholic than Deist, really loved the suggestion that Liberty U students, especially the ones present (with at least one instructor), and should leave their school for a better one. Reminds me of when Colbert went to the Press Club and joked about them and the politicians not doing their jobs. No one seems willing to say these straight forward things, too often.

    I have been all day to think of the best way to describe my beliefs. I was born in Latin America, so was baptized Catholic. My mom’s a Lutheran so we went to Lutheran Churches in my youth. And I went to confirmation classes and got confirmed (my sister never did – but went into a vague militancy early). After that we went less and less to church, my parents less eager to get up and lose a day of sleeping in and travel. I think it was more a matter of tradition for them, heck they didn’t exactly struggle hard to keep up the Santa/Easter Bunny facade; it is another hoop to go through before the fun.

    In the end I think I am a wonder lust type. I like the fantastic, amazing. Magic, myth, and something beyond allows intrigued me. I never had a real belief in St. Nick, but I liked trying to rationalize him. How he could operate accomplish his job, etc. Same with God, dragons, fairies, elves, etc. What if? I liked trying to figure them out. But you either grow to make up rules to how this magical world works to be satisfied with (plenty of books and conventions for that sort) or you hit that wall where you realize, there is no reasonable way for it to fit in a scientific view (i.e. you have to abandon empiricism and materialism). That is just unacceptable to me. So over time, like childhood toys, you have to let this stuff go. Bear in mind if someone generated real evidence of magic or ghosts, I’d be happy, but I’m not holding my breath for that day.

    It is not easy, after growing up a certain way/being indoctrinated to let some stuff go, but my parents were never SO religious. For me, you get to a point and realize the arguments for religion are the same as for belief in Santa (and I never got a good answer as a kid about dinosaurs in the bible). Then you go a little more time and realize you see no empirical support for any god force. Again, maybe we will find some evidence one day, but I won’t put my reason on hold to wait and see. So it was a slow inevitable trip. I was going to get here eventually, being brought up to respect and love science (always wanted to be one, but I’ve got a social science brain), being brought up among academics, and not having The Faith foisted on me (doesn’t hurt that my friends in high school and college were the heavy metal/RPG’ers/nonreligious/artsy major types).

    I suppose I’m lucky I’ve never gotten the amount of pressure about faith, in family or socially (but I have no social life). But it seems anger and ire are better focused on the wrongs promulgated by religion and its wielders. Dictating medical matters, martial matters, and scientific matters, this truly raises my ire. The rest the debate about the truth in religion that is a simple matter of the day to day discourse (as Dawkins and Harris suggest) that we should openly and affably engage in. But that is just me.

  51. rmp says

    Is there a support group that Jim II, Carlie and I should be joining? I hate to abuse this group’s patience. Jim II, as of now I’m an ‘in the closet’ agnostic and can appreciate your concerns.

    Carlie, the whole “Mommie is going to Hell” line nails it. I know I will NEVER put my mother in the situation of ‘worrying for my soul’. I think the kids I’ll be able to come to an understanding with.

  52. Scott Hatfield says

    jm_II, carlie: Look, I’m still a believer, so I won’t pretend to say that I know entirely what you’re going through.

    But I have an inkling, and I would like to commend you for your courage. I mean it. It takes courage, even in a semi-anonymous forum, to admit that you might have been wrong and that you are now privately coming to conclusions that you know could have devastating consequences in your personal life.

    You’re going to need more than encouragement, though. You’re going to need coping strategies. Here’s my advice, from someone who lives in your neighbourhood but wouldn’t choose to walk in your shoes: make sure that you define yourself in terms of what you believe, and not in terms of what you don’t believe.

    You might say something like, “but I *don’t* believe, that’s the point.” Yes, but that way leads to almost endless conflict. It’s going to take a tremendous effort for anyone who has been inculcated in theism to really consider your views at face value. Like me, they are probably not capable of walking in your shoes.

    Instead, tell them that you *believe* there’s more to reality than the stories you find in the Bible. Hold out the possibility that God might exist as an intellectual proposition, but stress that you don’t *believe* the conventional account of God’s nature or character to be either meaningful or persuasive. Stress that you *believe* in freedom of conscience and free inquiry, and that if there is a God these are free gifts of God that, if used honestly, must be honored by believers.

    In other words, don’t try to counter dogma or engage in apologetics in your personal relationships. It’s not worth it. Instead, engage the believers in your life that you think are worthy of engagement by an appeal to values. This in effect puts them in the position of having to abandon values that they too cherish in order to attack your position. The people who really love you will want to continue loving you for what you are even if they don’t agree with you, and wrapping the conversation in values that you both cherish will tend to reinforce, rather than diminish, your relationship.

    BTW, the God I believe in doesn’t cherish you any less for examining the evidence and coming to a different conclusion than I do. I don’t condemn you for your liberty of conscience, and neither should anyone else. Peace….SH

  53. suirauqa says

    Amit, I am happy for you. I have had a similar experience with my parents.

    I have mentioned in this forum earlier that I was brought up in a Hindu family, but my parents’ brand of hinduism verged almost completely on the philosophical side of it, steeped in great ideas such as basic equality of all religions (which are all, I was told, striving to attain a higher truth in their own ways); living one’s life with the golden principles of truth, justice, balance, and helping others and causing no hurt or harm (which I soon modified to ‘unnecessary harm or hurt’); realizing that the Divine Entity exists in everyone and everything, animate and inanimate, and so forth. It became clear to me quite early that God/Ishwar/Allah/Yahweh et alia were more of a philosophical construct than anything else.

    Then I started questioning the need for even that philosophical construct. I realized that in order to lead an honest, virtuous (please, I don’t use this word with any religious connotation), straightforward life, and generally behave in a manner befitting a good citizen of a society, without prejudice and partisanship, one does not actually need any Divine Entity’s guidance or machinations, or even fear. Peaceful and co-assistive co-existence makes eminent common sense, and ensures maximum productivity. That’s where the existing organized religions of today have caused the greatest harm, by taking away the conscious choice of people working towards the greater good of the greatest number, and by attempting to enforce their tenets by instillation of fear (of punishment) and greed (for reward) in a mysterious awe-inspiring zone that nobody has seen – the so-called afterlife. Fear and greed are baser human emotions, and one can imagine how nothing good can come out of a system that capitalizes on these two.

    When I explained this to my parents (being acutely aware all the while that I was on a long-distance overseas telephone call), I was surprised at how calmly they accepted it. My mother said that she was always tormented by the same doubts, but in her age and time and circumstances it was not possible to stand up to her beliefs; she welcomed those doubts in me. I told her that I have still retained the basic beliefs inculcated in me during childhood – the high ‘principles’ if you may – but I am loath to have them associated with any religious fantasy.

    But when I read the plight of Carlie and jim_II here, it pained me. I realized how easy I had it, and so have you. People like Carlie and jim_II, because of their circumstances, have religion intertwined with their lives, whether they want it or not. The consequences of their rightful non-conformity would be enormous, much out of proportion with their alleged infraction, not wishing to believe in made-up fairy tales. Someone said that his wife may leave him for becoming an atheist; it broke my heart.

    And the most unfortunate part is that the religion that they were formerly a part of is not as accepting or accommodating or tolerant as yours and mine have been. History has shown that religions which traditionally advocate proselytizing zeal are themselves the most intolerant, bigoted and narrow-minded of all, and engender the same baser instincts in their followers.

    However, this trend – foaming-in-the-mouth, scripture-toting, religious mania – has not totally abandoned what passes for hinduism in modern India. I am sure you and I can quote enough examples of that. Perhaps, Amit, we were really lucky to escape; perhaps in our families, there were other, more predominant concerns of daily life than blathering about God and religion all day.

    Carlie and jim_II, I do hope you manage to extricate yourselves relatively unscathed.

  54. Kagehi says

    Had a strange conversation with another atheist some place else on just what religion and science are. His point was that you can’t seperate the observer and the observation, so on a basic level “any” description we can come up with is “the same”. But, then you have to do with pragmatism. Pragmatically, “religion” has no validity outside its own box. It can’t predict events, fails to provide useful or observable explanations for anything, etc. Your “faith” can say, “I believe God made X”, but outside of your own head, the very statement is totally meaningless, even in context of the other billions of Gods in everyone else’s heads, which are not the same as yours, save that a lot of those people seem to agree that “their” God made X. The Hindu describe such things as “neti neti”. I am not sure of the exact translation, but in the most general sense it means, “anything you might describe as, or might describe itself as, a god, can’t be one.” Its also, on a basic level implies that what ever “god” there is, in what ever vague sense it exists, is intergral to everything, rendering the very idea of worshipping it to be total gibberish. There is, in the terms the Hindu think about the subject, about as much validity to a man worshipping a rock as a man worshipping an invisible “creator”, since its just God, in the sense they describe such, worshipping himself.

    The *only* difference between the stance that the Hindu came up with and that of an atheist is the sort of vague “presumption” there is some “universal” consciousness. But again, even if so, they don’t consider it “seperate” from every other consciousness, such that kissing its ass and offering to sing it hymns will do anything at all.

    Yeah, we come to a different conclusion than you Scott, but its not just the conclusion we have a problem with, its what we consider worthy of calling “evidence” for those conclusions in pretty much every case (if not all). That’s not likely to change, even if everyone of faith underwent conversion to Hindu. But, we would have a lot harder time finding things to argue about, including just which God might make any damn sense. lol

  55. Brian X says

    My deconversion was a long and somewhat complex process. My mother is devoutly Catholic; I can’t really tell what my father believes. So I was raised in a fairly Catholic household and always came to see post-Vatican II Catholicism as a fairly centrist form of Christianity. Besides, it’s Eastern Massachusetts, where half the population is Catholic anyway.

    I had the experience of spending three years at a non-denominational high school largely dominated by evangelicals (not the strictest place, but there was a lot of propaganda floating around), and then two years in a Catholic school. I trace the beginning of my deconversion to my third year (10th grade, for those of you scratching your head about the math — I started in 8th) when the school chorale did its annual tour up in Maine. The Easter service we went to was in a Baptist church, and I really did get the feeling that it didn’t really matter what branch of Christian you were as long as you had the basics. Freaked my parents out though — they thought I was becoming Protestant and shipped my ass off to a Catholic school to finish high school.

    I’m not sure why I held onto religion for so long — personal identity issues and family pressures were probably the big reasons. I was a regular churchgoer throughout college, singing in the church choir. Along the way, I developed a strong respect for grassroots religion which I still have to some extent — it means a lot more to someone to be personally involved in their faith rather than just sitting half asleep on the fourth pew from the back every Sunday.

    But doubts were creeping in. A lot of my friends from college were atheists, and I was becoming a skeptic mainly due to my ravenous appetite for trivia. So, one morning not long after my 26th birthday, I just decided to stay in bed rather than go to church; factors involving a creeping evangelicalism in the pastor’s sermons (especially annoying when he was so obviously gay) and the snowballing sex scandal in the Boston archdiocese played into this, but really they were just the breaking point for a long journey away from faith and towards humanism.

    I now identify as a deist-agnostic, essentially one of Martin Gardner’s fideists. Frankly I have enough making my life difficult with depression and a general lack of motivation and attention span without having some random section of the entire unprovable pantheon of heaven above me. I actually think the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god is a poor fit for the universe — omniscience is essentially impossible, and to be omnipotent in a universe of the size we know it to be now implies a necessary level of fine control that is simply mathematically absurd.

    I don’t know if there is a God or not. I don’t think one can know. I pray sometimes, but it’s like sending a letter to an address whipped up at random — it might get somewhere, but there’s a very good chance it won’t.

  56. Diana says

    m ngry t. m ngry t th thsts wh md my rltvs lvs hll.

    m ngry t th thsts hr nd lswhr wh dny tht thsts hv dn sch thngs.

    N, f crs thsts dn’t blv n hll, tht’s why thy crt t N TH HR ND NW!!!

    [yeah, yeah, Grady. What is it with you trolls and your inability to stick to a single name?]

  57. suirauqa says

    Diana, it would help if you chose to provide a little bit more pertinent information as to how exactly ‘atheists’ have made your relatives’ lives hell. Come on, give all that anger a vent here; it would calm you down. Let us hear it.

    At the moment, however, you sound like a petulant child who is angry at his mother for having woken him up to go to school on a Monday morning. (Note: I am knowingly using a male example, because in my experience, young girls are far more reasonable.)


  58. suirauqa says

    Damn! PZ’s disemvowelling process is too slow. :) I got to read Diana’s whining post before the process caught up!

  59. Steve_C says

    I think you’re trolling here shows you have some mental inadequacies.

    Try arguing rather than ranting.

    No one is angry at god.

  60. wm says

    I haven’t felt any anger (that I recall, anyway) at my “deconversion,” which occurred when I was in my first year of college. I mostly remember feeling an intoxicating lightness – as if a backpack full of rocks had been lifted from my shoulders. No more guilt at stupid things that shouldn’t have mattered to anyone, but which my parents’ churches had informed me were of critical importance to The Almighty. No more wasting a huge amount of my time on dreary scripture and tedious sermons. No more feeling as if I was constantly under the eye of a cosmic judge who was just waiting to pounce on me for making the tiniest mistake.

    I frequently shake my head in bemusement that I could have bought into all of that religious nonsense for so long. I suspect it had something to do with wanting my parents to find me lovable – and not wanting to find them to be so utterly fallable. Becoming less dependent on them when I moved away from home to go to college gave me the freedom to actually start to think about what I believed. I am overjoyed that I finally did!

  61. suirauqa says

    Congratulations on your weaning from religious mores, wm. However, please allow me to add an idea of caution. Your relief at being freed from the everlasting feeling of guilt is touching. Indeed, no one should be living a life full of guilt. But you have to, you must, understand that the deconversion does not abrogate accountability. You are still accountable for your actions, first to yourself, then to your surroundings, and then to the society at large. A cosmic judge or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even Cthulhu is not going to judge your actions; they never were. But your newfound status as free of religious shackles does not constitute an unmonitored license to do as you please.

    It is more difficult, rather. There is no expiation of sins by confessing to the padré. You do something, you carry the weight of it throughout the rest of your life, even if not a second soul learns of it.

    Life is all about making choices; it is our choices that define who we are. Therefore, my friend, choose wisely.

  62. wm says

    suirauqa – no need for the condescending advice. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I am recklesslessly running around stomping on the lives of others, feeling no accountability to anyone. I assure you I am not, and I am a much kinder, more thoughtful, more ethically conscious person that I was a couple of decades ago. Mostly because now, instead of trying to follow a crippling set of antiquated rules with the concern for failure being punished by eternal damnation, I am concerned with how my actions affect others in this lifetime – this lifetime being what is important, not some mythical afterlife.

    Perhaps you have never experienced the type of crushing, unrelenting guilt that certain religions instill – guilt for accidentally starting the Sabbath a few minutes after sundown rather than directly at sundown, guilt for wanting to spend time with your “unholy” friends at school rather than at pious evening bible study, guilt for the terrible offense of saying “Oh my god,” guilt for basically just being human. If so, I am very happy for you! I can assure you that nothing good comes of it.

  63. says

    Fortunately, I was able to watch Dawkins on C-Span over the weekend. The one thing that annoyed me about it though was that the lights shining on Dawkins were so bright that he seemed to have trouble seeing the questioners in the audience, and he had to repeatedly step towards the edge of the stage and hold his hand up over his eyes to block out the light.

  64. suirauqa says

    wm, I am indeed sorry if I have come across as condescending. I did not intend to be so, in any way, shape or form. You have the right ideas. It is just that your post seemed to be so full of relief from this overwhelming guilt that you mentioned, that I wanted to reach out to you to advise prudence and caution.

    This directly stems from the observation (during my last several years in the US) that in this country, the concept of balance is nearly absent. I realize I am generalizing here, but please hear me out. A parent raises his or her hand to discipline a child, and hits so hard that the child dies; an exasperated mother shouts at a child, the neighbor calls the police; a teenager likes eating a particular kind of food, and eats it so much as to become obese; the mother wants the kid to do well in soccer field and lavishes so much attention that she promptly becomes a ‘soccer mom’; the kids are mollycoddled so much that they start developing an overinflated sense of ego early on; parents totally leave the responsibility of educating the children on the schools, yet take umbrage quickly in the school disciplines the child in any way; people obsess about stuff (work, games, parties) to the exclusion of everything else; a fad is imported from overseas (such as Deepak Chopra, and the innumerable Yoga centers) and people go ga-ga even if it makes no sense. For crying out loud, this country had to install laws to force people to bring some semblance of balance in their lives!

    Do you see the pervasive lack of balance everywhere? It is just what I wanted to caution you against, no offence intended at all. You are, as you rightly mentioned, on your way to becoming a better human being. I just wanted to warn you of pitfalls that I have seen many young men succumb to. I hope you would accept my apology.

    And yes, I am indeed fortunate that neither my erstwhile religion nor my spiritual beliefs have ever instilled any sense of guilt in me. In the Hindu philosophy, every individual or object, living or non-living, is considered a part of Divinity and aspires to realize the whole in the lifetime. There is no born-in-sin business.

  65. says

    I feel a bit out of place stepping in to the conversation here, but here goes. I have never had any religious upbringing. My parents and – to the best of my knowledge – grandparents have never showed any religious leanings. In that sense I “came to religion” late. Which is not to say that I have “found God” or any of that nonsense. I’m just one of those people who (until I started reading blogs like this, for example) could not possibly have fathomed the breadth and depth of religious belief of people in the Western world.

    The notion that there would be an actual accredited university in the USA which taught that dinosaurs were around a few thousand years ago would have seemed impossible and ridiculous to me just five years ago. Similarly with the stories of persecution that I read here and elsewhere.

    To those people that have commented above with real tales of deconversion: I salute you. You’re going through something which I never had to. Let us only hope that our children won’t have to worry about any of that.

  66. wm says

    suirauqa – thank you for your apology and for your good intentions. There has been a great deal of water under the bridge for me since the time that I realized that the idea of an omnipotent creator god didn’t make a lot of sense. I am now a “respectable”, middle-aged mom who is trying to balance her life the best she can and be a decent human being in the process.

    I was originally trying to stress that the deconversion process can be wonderful and liberating rather than full of anger and angst. I’m sure that you have a good point that when throwing off the religious burden of a lifetime it would be possible for one to reject ethical principles that are of great value and lose one’s sense of balance. My experience wasn’t a rejection of ethical principles, however; instead, it was a rejection of religious dogma and a rigid, formulized method for living one’s life in order to have a good place in the afterlife.

    Best regards,

  67. says


    Perhaps it is time to be looking up the process to withdraw, or challenge, the accreditation for university. If there are requirements that Liberty U is in violation of, then they ought to be called on. It almost feels and bit tit for tat, but in education I think we all hold high standards…or at least not promoting fake academics. Free Speech is one thing, but fakery and lies to students/customers is…immoral.

  68. says


    I think that is the key are many people who “decon” (at least those who successfully do so – I won’t speak for those who quit gods, go ccrazy for a while, and run back). They have their golden rule, helping the poor, etc principles. It is the baggage that goes with a good philosophy that is the trouble. Most people are better off without it.

    Help the poor, and worship with god, on a specific day of the week, and don’t eat meat on Wednesday, and shave your head, and never dance, always end sentences with a preposition, and whistle this tune every morning, and don’t forget the free steak knives, and for 5 more dollars you can have the whole dinner set. Throw off all the stuff that follows the principle, and are you worse off?


    Your free, and still principle driven. Liberation (With, of course, some assembly still required. Not available in HA, TX, and SC.).

  69. says

    I’m pretty sure Dawkins wasn’t being disingenuous, he referred to this in the Q&A at either the later Menlo Park Bookshop or the Philadelphia events. It seemed to have taken him by surprise when raised in Lynchburg and I have to say I had never considered it to be an issue either, I rejected religion as rubbish a long time ago but I can now sure see everyone’s point about this.

    The Liberty ‘so called’ Univeristy thing showed just how strong his passion for truth and proper education is – he seemed genuinely and rightly angry at the thought of that place claiming to have 3,000 year old fossils. Teaching lies to people is an “educational disgrace” indeed.

  70. suirauqa says

    wm, thank you. I wish you all the best in your journey.

    Old Jack, you are right about the baggage. However, I think, one essential part of growing up intellectually is the acquisition of the ability to separate the grain from the chaff. We, as human beings, do carry a lot of baggage habitually – the presence or absence of religion and philosophy notwithstanding.

    The goal is to recognize the baggage for what it is and drop it like a sack of hot coals. If I choose to carry it along (and even flaunt it), I am only behaving like the village donkey (or a prize masochist) and I deserve no more than what is due a beast of burden (or a deviant).

    I would like to hope than people who deconvert do this volitionally, being fully aware of the futility of religious beliefs, yet steadfastly adhering to strong, ethical humanistic principles, as wm has been able to do – kudos to her.

  71. LiberalDirk says

    I myself, de-converted at a young age 14 or 15, and I “came out” about it. Wasn’t really angry about it, was angry about the hatefulness and stupidity of the religious leaders though.

    Due to the intense nature of the conditioning I received growing up I have difficulty calling myself a capital letter atheist but seem to wander between agnosticism and weak atheism.

    However, I have a friend who is very special to me, she has fallen into association with, what I frankly find very scary religious groups, you know anti science and anti modernity. Now I don’t know what to do, it means such a lot to her. Should I be forceful in speaking out against the fallacies they are feeding her, knowing that if I succeed it could destroy her happiness.

    Moral dilemmas are never pleasant.

  72. Scott Hatfield says

    LiberalDirk: You are not under a moral dilemma, because you don’t have to put your friend down to affirm your own liberty of conscience. If your friend is determined to see your own liberty as a threat to hers, then that is her problem and there is nothing you can do to change that.

    If, however, she is not yet so determined the following line of reasoning might prove helpful….

    If God exists, he not only permits you the liberty to plumb the sacred depths of nature, he values that liberty, even to the extent of radical disbelief. Honest doubt and a restless dissatisfaction with pat answers and formulaic religion should be pleasing to such a God.

    If God does not exist, then your friend’s delusion places no burden on you as long as she does not impose upon your liberty of conscience.

    In either case, just because the two of you are looking in different directions for answers doesn’t mean you don’t share values. Emphasize these values in your discourse and the playing field is shifted in your favor. Worry about ‘proving’ someone wrong or right, and you’ll be at a disadvantage, for in your honesty you will never be able to affirm as many things with as much certainty as do many believers.

    As for this believer, he hopes that this proves helpful..SH

  73. tihson says

    After having a ‘moment of clarity,’ I still marvel at how adept I am at magical thinking. It’s amazing how being indoctrinated, massaged and conversely threatened with god can tweak one’s thinking even long after religion and god have been rationally dismissed. I have to remind myself that no one is looking after me and that the seemingly synchronous happenings in my life are just coincidences that my mind has fashioned into ‘there’s no such thing as coincidence.’ I’m just curious if this way of thinking is only natural or merely a product of religious upbringing…It’s fairly easy to let go of god. Perhaps not so easy to let go of faith.

  74. LiberalDirk says

    Scott you must understand, I will not be arguing against her, I will be arguing against her faith. Specifically her faith in nonsense.Her faith is leading her into dark places. It leads her to believe that men such as Hovind are making valid points, that their are various conspiracies amongst others by freemasons to take over the world, that Aids is a human designed virus. That global warming is not real. etc, etc. She gets this from other in her “cell” and those others from others who get it from others who ultimately get it from the hatemongers on the American right.

    If it were not for the above, I would not argue against her beliefs, I believe in the policy of “live and let live”. But she is endangering herself, especially considering the misogyny of the religion and our (specific we are not American) culture.

    But I fear she has so deeply entwined the above mentioned nonsense with her religious beliefs that one cannot separate the one from the other, in short I worry that by arguing against the nonsense I would also argue against her faith.

    Actually, strangely enough I am angry now. Why, because of propaganda. Because,in my country we are collateral damage to the American culture wars. It is bad enough that the RW spreads its evil in the US, does it really have to export the insanity?

  75. truth machine says

    BTW, the God I believe in doesn’t cherish you any less for examining the evidence and coming to a different conclusion than I do.

    If God exists, he not only permits you the liberty to plumb the sacred depths of nature, he values that liberty, even to the extent of radical disbelief.

    I always wonder how theists know God’s mental states (and how God can have mental states).

    I don’t condemn you for your liberty of conscience, and neither should anyone else

    So you’re telling God what he should do?

    My advice: don’t take advice from theists.

  76. says

    LiberalDirk: I think I know what you’re talking about. An acquaintance of mine, who was always a bit Jesus-happy to begin with, went off the rails with booze and suddenly announced he’d “found God”. His was also a pyramid religion of “cells” and disciples and a very American style of protestant Christianity. So much so that this guy (a life-long science geek who was studying chemistry and physics at university) started buying in to the literal Genesis stuff.

    The transformation in his belief system was horrific. He suddenly found an opinion on Israel, which strangely enough focussed on the second coming and promised lands. The new-found superiority and assuredness of men’s place in the family was galling. The desire to see women subservient.

    I don’t know who these players are but I’d be interested to know how they came into being and how they have found such a strong hold in the UK.

  77. says

    I would like to hope than people who deconvert do this volitionally, being fully aware of the futility of religious beliefs, yet steadfastly adhering to strong, ethical humanistic principles

    Wondering how many people have deconverted because of their strong, ethical humanistic principles, and their realization that their religion did not support those principles. The anti-feminist, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environment tendencies of much of Christianity certainly did their part to drive both my husband and me out of the fold. And then when we discovered how much of “liberal” Christianity required the same amount of unquestioning, irrational belief as did the fundie whackadoos… that just sealed the deal.

  78. Scott Hatfield says

    truth machine: I don’t presume to know God’s mental states, or to even know if that concept is intelligible. I am merely saying that IF God exists, this God apparently allows the possibility of disbelief. If that God is a god in any meaningful sense, it follows that this God values freedom.

    I could be wrong, of course. At any rate, I wasn’t attempting to ‘convert’ anyone to theism. That’s vulgar. I was just proposing strategies to help people cope. If you don’t find what I’m saying helpful, more power to you.


  79. Scott Hatfield says


    You really are between a rock and a hard place. Some of those claims you mentioned are simply insidious; taken seriously, they undermine that liberty that we both hold dear.

    Well, you know that you have to stand up for what’s right. The question is how to do it and maintain your friendship. You need to uncouple the radical threads in her belief system from the mainstream, I suppose. But here’s the rub: don’t you think that maybe your friend has a similar problem in untangling her faith from her relationships with others in her ‘cell’? She may be in the same place you are, just coming from the opposite side. Maybe you could find some kind of common ground there.

    We used to have an entire group with those kind of wacko beliefs in the lower part of the San Joaquin Valley where I live. They even had managed to operate a radio station with an FCC licence and for several years there was a charming mixture of Focus on the Family and ‘New World Order’/Minutemen militia/paranoid conspiracy programming, along with dollops of creationism. They lost their licence eventually, but it was an interesting time, so I have an idea of the mentality of the people you’re dealing with.

    Good luck. I wish I could be more helpful….SH

  80. suirauqa says

    The anti-feminist, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environment tendencies of much of Christianity certainly did their part to drive both my husband and me out of the fold. And then when we discovered how much of “liberal” Christianity required the same amount of unquestioning, irrational belief as did the fundie whackadoos… that just sealed the deal.

    RedMolly, I think you and I are in consonance about the same opinion, and you are right in saying that people also deconvert when they find that their ethical, humanistic principles are in contradiction with religious dicta. I am not a Christian, but even then I have had the same experience.

    You see, when the fundamental principles (that I wrote of) were inculcated in me, they were associated with the Hindu philosophy and I took it in as such. In the meantime, Hindu philosophy had been mutilated and bastardized into Hindu-ism, and had acquired all the inequities and ills that accompany most ‘ism’-s (the most virulent being religious ism-s, read ‘organized religions’). So when I decided to pay attention and opened my eyes, the Hinduism that I saw was a loathsome culture of ignorance, intolerance, divisiveness, injustice and meaningless ritualism, which had nothing in common with the principles I have been taught. I was not so much angry as disgusted, and I decided to break off any personal contact with organized religion.

    Thankfully, my parents respect my thoughts, and my wife happens to share my ideas. So I did not really have any trouble going beyond the fold, so to speak. But I am really pained and sorry to hear the plight of some people who have spoken out in this forum.

  81. suirauqa says

    truth machine, that dig at Scott Hatfield was very uncharitable and totally unnecessary. Scott, who has never hidden his personal status as a believer, has always been one of the nicest members of this blog, always consistent with his liberal ideas and opinions, and has never, even once, tried to impose anything on any one. Here he was trying to help another person in a very painful and complex situation. Did he endeavor to impose his beliefs on LiberalDirk? Never. Yet, you felt like taking a dig at him anyway.

    And did anyone hear a word of some helpful, constructive idea from you on this matter? Hell, no!

  82. Carlie says

    I think that most everyone has been quite kind on this thread, the disemvoweled excepted. It’s an incredibly touchy subject for some of us, and it’s almost impossible to fathom why it’s so touchy if you haven’t been up close and personal with “that type” of fundamentalist in one way or another. I know that if I were on the other side I might not be as charitable and understanding of why some people seem to need to pussyfoot around the issue so much. I’ll also second the support for Scott’s statements; much as I often disagree with him, he has never gone for the hard sell or insulted/condescended to anyone. A lot of theists could learn from his discussion style.

  83. LiberalDirk says

    Thanks Scott, any ideas on how to uncouple the radical ideas.

    The problem though is three-fold:

    1) Personal relationships, both between me and her and between her and the rest of the cell.

    If she changes her mind about her beliefs, then she will potentially lose a lot of friends. Do I want to do that? Can I act in a way that would cause such things to happen. Yes, I would not be the one doing the rejection, the rest of the cell will, but can I embark on trying to detoxify her of mistaken beliefs, knowing what my potential success can cost her? I am not sure I can.

    Alternatively, she could also simply reject me, consider me a satanist, possessed by demons etc, etc. Which would also be painful.

    2) She is successful in her life and appears happy. What right do I have to “interfere” with that. Her beliefs (including the off the wall ones) seem to be what makes her happy and does not interfere with her success in life. It would be easy for me to justify by saying “the truth shall set you free” but then I lack the enormous ego to believe that my viewpoint is superior to her own to the point that were I believe that it would be better for her to adopt my viewpoint.

    3) Fortunately, both she and I belong to a minority group that has absolutely no say in the management of our country. This means that there is not even that reason to argue against her belief because the beliefs are capable of damaging the country. We vote, but due to other factors our votes quite literally do not matter in the slightest. However I fear for her future, because as Redmolly points out, there are strong strains of misogyny in Christianity and in hers in particular. We also live in a country (third world) were the cultures are significantly misogynistic.

    So say she marries in her faith, to a manipulative, misogynistic man as is likely (in my country the yearly rape statistic is 5 per 1000), and she never divorces him. She is a strong woman (mentally, emotionally), but strength, is no protection to years of abuse.

    So, I act now, and perhaps cause unhappiness.


    I do not act, and this perhaps leads to later suffering.

    Which potential consequence is worse, what responsibility do I feel for my action/inaction.

    Thus the ethical dilemma. Can I allow myself to “interfere” with her beliefs? Even simple strong statements of my own beliefs can have an influence on those around me.

    In retrospect it has become clear to me that I have decided to act, I just hope I am not mistaken.

  84. Scott Hatfield says

    carlie, suiraqua: Thanks for the kind words. I only hope I can live up to them.

    truthmachine: I don’t blame you for being suspicious. As carlie mentioned, there are a lot of folk out there who are insulting and condescending. Many of them claim to be theists. As mentioned, I think such conduct is vulgar at best, and (since I think of myself as a guest on this blog) entirely inappropriate here.

    LiberalDirk: Courage!

    Peace to all of you…SH

  85. Schadenfreude says

    I recently had a talk with someone who was raised religious, and it sure is different. I remember in primary school being asked what religion I was and I didn’t know! I now call myself a atheist, but growing up, it took me many years to learn enough about religion to form a definite opinion on it. I just didn’t care.

    The lack of needing to react against anything leaves me with the kind of bemusement that is expressed so nicely in Heather Mallick’s column.

    What’s it like to be raised atheist? Well, what do you think about the tooth fairy, or the easter bunny, or the story of Thetis dipping Achilles into the river Styx? In particular, how much time do you spend worrying if they’re real or just stories for children? That’s how much I think the Yahweh legends.