I was born and raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and grew up in rural Canada. It wasn’t all bad- I learned how to speak in public, and a lot of basic teaching skills which have helped me in the workplace. But I was queer. This was problematic. This lead to night after night of terror, of frantically asking “what if it happens tomorrow?” Reading the book called “Revelation: It’s grand climax is at hand!” did not help much. The witnesses have a gleefully terrifying picture of the impending end of the world…
In any case, I got so depressed with the bible that I decided to look to alternative belief systems. After all, I knew that I was going to perish in Armageddon anyway, so what harm would come from trying to summon an Incubus in my bedroom? (I was fifteen. Summoning a Demon to have sex with you can seem perfectly logical at that age.) I got way into Demonology for a while, until I actually started reading some “occult” tomes. I thought I was going to get Dungeons and Dragons with a little Lovecraft, but ended up with The Secret meets Count Chocula. And don’t even get me started on summoning… But the Demonology forums I visited often had subforums about aliens and UFOs, which seemed right up my alley!
I was horrified by what I read! Reptilian shapeshifters? Government conspiracies? Parallel universes and Lovecraft-style horrors seeking some aperture through which to invade our cosmos? This was the good stuff! I felt like I was part of a movement- An underground resistance! I balked at the skeptics who posted on various paranormal boards. How could they be so blind? There was so much evidence out there! This was so much bigger than Jehovah and Satan’s cosmic pissing match over the servitude of our species, this was real science-y stuff! I could argue about the true nature of the Mothman, or why the Greys kept on abducting us, and why they were at war with the Reptoids and Nordics. I could have told you all about Bohemian grove and the cult of the NWO. I thought I finally had all the answers, as well as a cause to believe in.
At this point, I still believed in the bible, but subscribed embarrassingly to the ancient astronaut ‘theory.’ I was debating a skeptic on the merits of this hypothesis, and in a fit of self assured superiority, challenged said skeptic to “give me one book- any book- you skeptics have, and I will debunk it page-by-page.”
They gave me The Demon haunted World. Really, it was that simple. I read the book and realized that the way I was thinking was illogical. After examining ancient astronauts, I had to look at the rest of my beliefs.
I never got back to that anonymous skeptic, but I thank them from the bottom of my heart. After that, I began on Dawkins, Hitchens, Randi and so many others. I came out of both closets, moved out, and am doing okay now. I no longer sleep in terror. I look at the world around me and think “Awesome!” instead of “horrible!”
Thank you for sharing your story. The anonymous skeptic probably understood why you never came back. Sagan was brilliant; everyone should read that book. Congratulations on really listening to what he was saying.
thanks again, Dr. Sagan! http://youtu.be/h98P5Ti4xS0
Very interesting read!
In the first paragraph, you have “lead” where you mean “led”. Maybe PZ will fix it for you.
I just hope this does not trigger a flood of “I was the anonymous skeptic” posts a la Spartacus.
Things like Mothman and aliens and cryptids are incredibly fun to talk about, so I can see the appeal of trading religion in for belief in “sciency” things – but the “belief” part of that is exactly the problem. I wish that people in organized religions could see it as “fun” to talk about, but without basis in reality.
Carl Sagan rocks. Yeah!
Meh, they’re still making movies outta that substnadrad sub-genre today. *cough* Prometheus, *cough*
(OTOH, Space Odyssey 2001 was superb and vsorta falls intothat sub-genre too so itan’t all bad.)
Thanks for the great story! I absolutely love the line “the secret meets count Chocula”. Brilliant!
hey, you dissing John Glenn for flying aged lotty-lot aboard the Space Shuttle?!
Nobody disses John Glenn!
Of course, there are “ancient astronauts” John Glenn and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ain’t getting any younger y’know!
This was a great story. I, too, got interested in all the woo when I was young. Not sure I can say I actually believed it, exactly, but I considered it a possibility. Ancient astronauts seemed pretty silly to me, because I could see the underlying racist assumptions (those brown people couldn’t possibly have figured out that if you stack rocks in a pyramid shape the resulting building will be stable). But I didn’t have the “toolbox” of how to evaluate such claims yet. And I was as enthralled by the romance of some of the ideas as you were.
Nova fixed that for me. Their documentary about the Bermuda Triangle did more than debunk the claims. It showed just how dishonest the claimants were. It did more to aim me at skepticism than any other work. By the time I read Demon-haunted World Sagan was preaching to the choir for me.
I’m glad you were freed from both the demons of JW theology and all the other demons. The truth really does set you free.
Did you just repeat what others told you, or did you make up some of the stuff yourself?
What I find interesting in this tale is what I also see is a huge problem for American Christianity. (I know you are Canadian, but the parallels are there.)
Polling shows that Millenials are being turned off of Christianity big time due specifically to anti-gay beliefs. And here we see how that worked in a small way, and does every day, to drive people away from their faith.
All gay people have to do is exist and do nothing else. They are destroying themselves in response. Fine by me.
Good on you being able to escape gay-haters club.
Fellow former Jehovah’s Witness, here. Always nice to hear of someone else getting out of it.
Ah, I was beaten to it! That line made me LOL.
Well, assuming you believe in demons, summoning an incubus (or succubus according to preference) seems perfectly logical to me.
That is such a cool story Justin. I’m also pleased you were able to get away from the homophobic cult and live life as yourself. You know, I’ll say this for the conspiracy nuts: at least they’re not usually looking to police people’s morality.
It’s really striking to me how often Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” keeps popping up in these stories, (including my own when it was published here some months back).
Especially since it’s not an out-and-out atheist book, but it does bring the basics of critical thinking, of how often religion and authority on several issues have been mistaken, and so on.
Thanks again, Carl.
I know I’m a bit late to the party here, but I just wanted to say that this post struck a chord with me, and thank Justin for sharing. :)
Like Justin I grew up in Canada, queer and (vaguely) Christian. I was deeply afraid of what my sexuality would mean for my future. I found my way to atheism through a similarly convoluted path through mysticism and the occult (definitely know what you mean about being 15!). And similarly books helped me let go of my remaining pantheism/deism (though it was Dawkins in my case, via Douglas Adams).
I picked up The Demon Haunted World last night after this glowing review. Looking forward to it!