Help Me Convince My Brother, John!

Some of you may remember Ed Owens, who recently walked away from the Christian faith. Well, I received another email from him. Maybe we can help…

Hi John, I have a question. I'm really stressed out right now. It seems every time I hear someone even mention God I want to rip their head off. What can I do to mellow out? I've never let up on my brother with the examples of Bible error and parallels with paganism. I've also sent an article about the Bible being voted on for which books to canonize but he is super hard headed and won’t budge at all. I've even tried the soft approach and nothing seems to work. Now I know he sees what I'm showing him, he isn't blind. He just refuses to acknowledge any document of authenticity from history or scientific reasoning. Is there something I'm missing? Is there a sure fire question beyond his being able to refute with old dogma answers? I am so wired and have been for a couple of weeks now I'm going crazy. That congregation is in a Gospel Meeting this week with an Evangelist named William St. John. It lasts through next Sunday. Every time I send material he just calls it trash or the devil's garbage. He can be a reasonable person it just takes nearly an act of congress for him to admit he is wrong about anything! The stress of it all is about to drive me insane. I can't give it up for some reason. I am bound and determined to win him over to the truth! Help me John, please!!!

My wife officially moved her membership last Wednesday to the congregation where my daughter attends but intends to attend at least one night of the meeting this week where we used to go. My wife still gets very defensive when she knows I'm researching atheism or bible errors!

My life is so dismal and has been for the last 3 or 4 months. The church used to be my life completely and now I feel all alone. I've tried reading and writing and surfing the net. I'm feeling pretty down and out about everything and everybody right now. I'm not searching for sympathy just answers for peace of mind.

My brother is my big objective right now. What should I do?

Ed

My response:

Ed,

I think you have this initial desire to convince everyone that you're right, especially your brother. You have this need to convince him you're not crazy, and I understand that. But I'm here to tell you that you're not. You know that you're not. You know that you're right. You don't need validated by others. They may never come around. Stop being frustrated with this. You will not be able to convince many people. Get over it. They are brainwashed. They must want to listen. They must want to consider what you have to say before they will do so. Perhaps at this point you should just be friendly. Talk about the things you did before you changed, minus the religion. That may be all you can do. If he rejects you as a person there's not much you can do about it. My advice is to learn to accept that fact. My brother first suggested I seek counseling too. I argued back, like you have done. Then we dropped it and decided to talk about the things we have in common. That's my recommendation with you. There is no smoking gun argument...none. Sorry. Remember back to when you were a Christian? What did you think about the new atheist movement? Think really hard. What did you say? You probably attributed it to the devil, right? Place yourself back in that mindset as best as you can. That's what your brother thinks of you. There's no use in beating your head against the wall on this. People are deluded just like you were. You're going to have to accept this fact. They will probably never agree with you. As a Christian you accepted the fact that non-believers didn't believe without wanting to rip their heads off. Now do the same thing as an atheist with believers. It'll be better psychologically for you. As a Christian you focused on people who were receptive to the gospel. Now do likewise as an atheist with believers. Focus on those people who are receptive to the evidence. Continue searching the net for better arguments, of course. Get into online chat rooms and test your skills to express yourself there, and not with former friends. Former friends will want to see if what you're gong through is a mid-life crisis. That will take years until they figure out it isn't. But you stand as a witness on the other side now. Once they conclude this is not a mid-life crisis they may consider your arguments and may do their own searching.

Maybe others can help Ed with additional helpful comments.

42 comments:

Q.SocNE said...

One does not need to go from being an evangelical Christian to being an evangelical atheist. Your wife and brother are far more likely to reject you as a person if you fight them all the time on such an important issue. If they are determined to convert you and bring up the subject, then fair enough, but do you remember how rude it is when Christians tell you that you haven't researched Christianity enough? When people tell you that you're going to suffer in eternal hell because GodOfLove says so? You are being the atheist equivalent and I would really rather we had a real tolerance. Spread the love ahead of the truth.

I appreciate this is harsh, but I really feel for your wife and brother.

goprairie said...

my advice:
this sort of thing is why we are so annoying. you went from religious fanatic who needed to save everyone to atheist fanatic who wants to save everyone. yeah, i KNOW you are right now, but it doesn't matter. you demanded that your religion be respected when you were in it and you hated it when the 7th day adventists came to your door with literature, so leave him alone. leave them all alone. this country is based on freedom to religicize, no matter how wacky, as long as not laws are broken, so leave him be. you don't need converts to prove you are right. there will always be mroe of them than us. and no matter what denomination you were, there were always more of other demonimations than yours if you added them all up. you'd hate people praying for you to bring you back to the fold so quit any trying to drag them out of the fold. it is your business that you have come to your senses and his that he beleives. find other things you have in common with him, other activities and interests and deliberately and vigourously pursue them with him pointedly on purpose to build the loving brotherly relationship and never ever discuss religion.
oh, and lest someone label me a hypocrit for fighting with them here, they COME here knowing full well our intent, which i view as them asking for it, as giving me liscense to kill their silly beleifs. but until he ocmes here to chat about it, leave him and his religion alone.

Brother Crow said...

Well, Ed, here's the good news...it only gets worse. Eventually, your wife will disown you because she has discovered that your atheism is more than research. Your brother will - if he has not already - turn you over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. You will become a target of the church...your wife's, your brother's, some church somewhere will put you in the crosshairs and pull the trigger numerous times.

The best part of that good news...it will continue to feed your internal conflict and agony. You will - occassionally if not always - wonder what the hell you have done, and why don't you just return to Jesus, because of the all the trouble this intellectual honesty is causing and after all, what if you are wrong and end up in hell?

Atheism/agnosticism is not fun. It is not a day at the park. Faith is a so much easier...all it requires is mindless belief and intellectual dishonesty or denial.

But...by experiencing this you will also discover that you have made the right choice...if christianity was all that, you would not be getting the s--tstick treatment.

And, if they hang in with you, then you have discovered true love - something that rarely happens on this planet.

John's counsel on how to handle the winning of your brother is good counsel. I will just add...You won't ever convince him...God will do that eventually - God is great at screwing people over and having them question him. That is when you can strike. Always remember - faith is easy, reason is hard.

To quote one of my favorite songwriters - "you've got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight."

In the meantime...have fun!

goprairie said...

think of it this way: it is a personal preference, a choice.
you have have a modern black rectangular sofa with chrome accents and he may have a plaid upholstered poofy thing with turned wooden legs. would you go to his house and insult his furniture and take him catalogs and try to convince him to change his taste and style? i hope you are more tactful and kind than that. he may walk into your living room room one day and see your mod cool and go wow, where'd you GET that, but until that time, you both have a right to your own decor without insult from the other.
he might be WRONG but it is HIS wrong.

Josh said...

I'm an atheist who almost drove a wedge between myself and other family members over my Atheism. Luckily I stopped and analyzed things for a moment.

Really, you have to remember that there is more to life than your atheism, and there is more than defines your relationship with your brother than atheism.

If you define your entire life around your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), you're going to miss out on a lot. If you define your relationship with religious people purely in religious terms, that relationship is not going to last.

Expand your horizons. Talk about the wonderful discoveries of science, for example. Or the sports game last weekend. Or that museum you've always wanted to go to, but haven't yet found the time.

It's difficult, especially when someone snipes something idiotic about atheism (or evolution in my case), but you have to decide what is most important to you. They will have to do the same.

Rotten Arsenal said...

I don't know that I have much that is really different from what John has already said. But I would tell Ed that really, you will never convince a believer to unbelieve until they have some experience that makes them want to or need to question. You can't save (or is it "unsave") anyone that doesn't want it.
It's kind of like smoking... I was a pack a day smoker for quite awhile. I had to listen to people harp on me about cancer and life expectancy and how nasty it smelled (and girlfriends who refused to kiss), but until I was ready and really knew I needed to quit, I just couldn't. It was easier to fall back on the comfort and just ignore all of the evidence that suggested what I was doing was a bad choice. All those people were just irritating naggers.
True change doesn't happen just because someone tells you to change. There has to be some catalyst that makes you want to change. For some people, that might be a simple presentation of evidence, but it should be pretty clear very quickly if that method isn't going to work.
It should be noted that many of the converts from other religions to christianity in the early days (and even in the last few centuries) were not simply told the "Good News" and decided to change. There were compromises, such as with the Celts, that allowed pagans to keep some of their old customs (the church figured out how to twist it around to make it seem like they had been actually worshiping the same god the whole time). Of course, there were also threats and acts of violence to convert people. At any rate, many of new christians converted converted for reasons other than a talk from an enthusiastic supporter.

I have never felt comfortable in or around christians who openly talk about their faith. Even as a child, it felt weird and unnatural to me. When I finally broke completely from anything resembling the church, the feeling of being uncomfortable morphed into a feeling of just wanting to lash out at anything christian and anybody who talked that nonsense. Years later, I still have to keep myself in check. I don't discuss my beliefs with my family since they are all strong church people (my mother is actually ordained). I'm fortunate that my wife is strongly non-christian, although she is agnostic/unitarian. She helps me keep in check as well by pointing out when I'm being militant, unfair, or irrational towards christians who may not deserve it.

I don't know what I can tell you about your wife. That is a terrible situation to be in. Secular counseling might help, but from what I've seen, it is difficult to balance non-belief in close proximity to a true believer. It can happen, but I think that in order to do that, there has to be a fine line of how much discussion (if any at all) about the opposing viewpoints can happen. Often, the best you can hope for is to just not bring it up with an understanding that neither of you are interested in changing and so nothing can really be gained. Again, only those who have had the catalyst to change can change. You are probably not the catalyst.

Just this last weekend, I had a bit of a breakdown. Much of it was stress related to school and work, but some of it was from that ongoing problem I mentioned earlier with being uncomfortable and angry at fundys and urban missionary types. The Realtor we used to buy and sell our house earlier this year is one of these. She is a nice enough woman, but I want to tear her to pieces when she starts in on her "praise Jesus" nonsense. But I don't. I stay silent. I know that for one thing, I don't debate/argue well in a verbal, face-to-face setting. The other reason is that I'm not in control of myself at this stage to keep from turning the debate into an ugly incident. Christians already think we're evil monsters and getting into a heated argument doesn't help the cause. I realize some contributors to this blog do openly debate and I applaud them, but I am not a good debater and I wouldn't help the cause (at least at this point).
At any rate, I realized that I need a support group of likeminded individuals to be around to help me focus the rage I sometimes feel into something I can use to promote atheism in a positive way and in a way that christians can't claim that we are evil and without morals. My wife sent me a link to a local humanist group that meets once a month and I think I'm going to check them out. I would suggest that maybe you do the same. Find some people you can meet face to face (which can do have effects that blog commenting just can't match). I think Richard Dawkins website has resources to help find groups like this.
You are in a difficult time and what you need more than anything is support. It's a shame that it doesn't look like you can get it from your family so I urge to seek live people that can offer that support.
Just remember, you are not alone. There are others out there who have felt or do feel the way you do now.

Edward T. Babinski said...

From one Ed to another, Ed, learn to laugh. (Not once does it say in the Bible that Jesus laughed. And the only time Jehovah does is when he's made His enemies his footstool so He's laughing that any dare oppose His might and power.)

So simply learn to laugh. Go see Bill Maher's film due out soon, "Religulous." Or rent Eddie Izzard's "Glorious" comedy concert (in which he satirizes both Old and New Testaments). Or read "The Onion" online, or Fark.com, for some very funny stuff, some of which deals with religious topics.
Or google up "Mr. Deity" videos. Or read Twain's "Letters from Earth," or Voltaire's "Dictionary." There's also blogs by freethinking cartoonists. If you require some exact websites let me know. In fact there's three websites by Christians who satirize the excesses of Christianity:
lark.com
ship of fools
The Wittenberg Door

And besides laughing get some exercise, even casual exercise helps beat the blues. (I like the Tibetan Five Rites postures, though simply standing and pushing your hands up in the air and bending your knees and bobbing your whole body up and down with your arms raised can get your heart, blood and lymph pumping and it's non-impact since your feet stay on the ground.)

As for blowing your top over religious excesses with humor, some people do it in their blogs:

'Iphone to Replace Bible'
http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com/2008/05/iphone-to-replace-bible.html

'I Believe' License Plates We'd Like To See
http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com/2008/04/believe-plates.html

'Jedi Knight' religion growing, seeks formal recognition
http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com/2008/03/religious-tension-in-uk.html

The 92nd Carnival of the Godless
http://jyunri.blogspot.com/2008/05/92nd-carnival-of-godless.html

What Works in Deconverting Christians?
http://kieranbennett.com/index.php/2008/05/12/what-works-in-deconverting-christians/

Laughter and exercise will help anyone stay sane. And of course eat right too. You'll feel lots better and more in control in the end.

Best wishes,

Ed

Edward T. Babinski said...

You can also seek out some like minded folks via meetup.com or is it meetups.com? They list all the meet up groups in each U.S. city on a limitless number of different subjects. We have one such group that formed in Greenville, the Greenville Nontheists. Also search under agnostic, skeptic, atheist, freethinker, etc. I've made some great friends via the group and some people from the local university came to the group and are forming a student organization too starting this fall. It's calming to be around friendly people of like mind no matter what your beliefs (or lack thereof).

Damien said...

Everyone seems to be telling you to drop the crusade. I won't tell you that you're wrong or annoying to try to spread the good news, but I'll offer you what I can.

I know what it's like to be where you're at, when the very mention of God by loved ones makes you sick and the only way to cure the feeling is to explode in a fit of reasonable debate! However, usually you're just served with dose after dose of delusional irrationality and it just fans the fire until your blood turns cold and you can feel your heart up in your throat.

In my experience with trying to deconvert people close to me, your victory will be decided by three things. One of them is your persistance. It's no lie. If you keep up a strong front, they cannot defeat your argument. Christians have to lose because they are holding the wrong position, and if they try to compete in the land of logic they will fail. How much they realize their failing is another thing, which comes to the next part.

How strong their beliefs are. It should seem obvious that a nominal Catholic might be easier to convince than someone whose psychology is so deeply rooted in Christian ways of thinking that facts and reason have the impact of paper airplanes. However, if you can crack that shell even in a small way and actually get them to think for one second that God might not exist, what may seem like an inch is really a mile. That seed has the potential to grow, my friend, but the seed has to be put there in the first place. And that's hard to do. It's nearly impossible unless they go about it themselves.

Third, and this is the depressing part, it depends on how much they care about their relationship with you. I have no doubt that one of their reactions will be to cut you out of their life if they think you are obsessive or selfishly serving your own mania at their demise. You have to know in advance if they love you more than they need God. And in fact, in some cases, you may make things worse as they will run straight to God for support against you or feel like they need to learn more about God or love God more because of what they see in you or what you're making them see in themselves.

Of course, whatever happens in your circumstance is completely situational and I can't speak as to how your close ones will take all of it. It's your judgement to make. I have had successes, but it is extremely hard to do emotionally and mentally, and it can absolutely ruin relationships.

But I'm right there with you. Just remember that truth and reason can seem to be the most important things at times, but they can land you in a lonely place where you'll wish you were stupid again.

Be strong, man.

Jamie Steele said...

Ed,
Try loving your neighbor. i can't remember who said that but it sounds like good advice.

Jon said...

I think there's nothing wrong with being a little evangelical. I share with Christians my skepticism. I like them to know that it's not so bad, that it's worked out quite well for me, and if they are considering adopting similar positions they may find that it works out well for them too.

But if they resist you do have to respect that, and not be pushy. Are you really so sure that everyone is better off embracing your view and rejecting Christianity? What if you're dealing with a happy person that has a happy Christian life, and they're not pushing it on anyone, but just trying to get along. You suggest that they change and cause all kinds of turmoil in their life for an issue that maybe they don't care that much about anyway?

The fact is, Christianity right now works for your brother. His mind and life is not at a place where he could consider an alternative view. Maybe it is what he needs right now. If he ever matures to the place where he could consider changing he knows where you are.

M said...

“To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead.” - Thomas Paine, “The Age of Reason”

"Belief in a Divine mission is one of the many forms of certainty that have afflicted the human race. Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." - Bertrand Russell, "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind"

“If religious belief be indeed so necessary to mankind, as we are continually assured that it is, there is great reason to lament, that the intellectual grounds of it should require to be backed by moral bribery or subornation of the understanding.” - John Stewart Mill, “Three Essays on Religion”

“Religion constitutes just one form of unreason, and the only thing that makes it particularly noteworthy and dangerous is that it has at its heart an explicit, committed, philosophical attack on reason: extolling faith as a virtue.” – Greg Perkins

"A belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, while the brain is impressible, appears to aquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essense of an instinct is that it is followed intdependantly of reason." - Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex" (1874)

"Freethinkers reject faith as a valid tool of knowledge. Faith is the opposite of reason because reason imposes very strict limits on what can be true, and faith has no limits at all. A Great Escape into faith is no retreat to safety. It is nothing less than surrender." - Dan Barker, “Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist” p. 103.

"Christian faith is a habit of flouting reason in forming and maintaining one's answer to the question whether there is a god. Its essence is the determination to believe that there is a god no matter what the evidence may be." - Richard Robinson, "Religion and Reason"

“Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out: ‘it is a matter of faith and above reason.’" - John Locke, " An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (IV:17)

"He alone is free who lives with free consent under the entire guidance of reason." - Benedict Spinoza, "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus"

“Theology has for its object only incomprehensible things [and] it is a continual insult to human reason. […] No religious system can be founded otherwise than upon the nature of God and of man and upon the relations they bear to each other. But in order to judge of the reality of these relations, we must have some idea of the divine nature. But everybody tells us that the essence of God is incomprehensible to man. At the same time, they do not hesitate to assign attributes to this incomprehensible god and assure us that man cannot dispense with the knowledge of this god, so impossible to conceive of. The most important thing for man is that which is the most impossible for him to comprehend. If God is incomprehensible to man, it would seem rational never to think of him at all. But religion concludes that man is criminal if he ceases for a moment to revere Him. […] Religion is the art of occupying limited minds with that which it is impossible to conceive or to comprehend." - Baron D’Holbach, “The System of Nature” (1770)

goprairie said...

we beleive they are wasting their time on silly myths and making the world less convenient for us by forcing it into so much of our culture.
they beleive we are condemming our ETERNAL SOUL to ETERNAL SUFFERING and ETERNAL SEPARATION from them.
who should have a greater stake to evangelicize to whom?

Joey said...

I know how important it seems to go and open the eyes of all your loved ones. But do realize that the only thing that people despise more than a belligerent Evangelical is a proselytizing atheist. Don't be the "crazy atheist" in your family. It's a daily struggle for me to keep my mouth shut, but I do anyway. I have to.

Silence will open up more doors for honest conversation than any other strategy. They now know where you stand, so leave them alone because they don't want to become like you.

More important is to actually find something to actually live for. As Bob Price once noted, Atheist is more of a ground-clearing term than anything else. I am an atheist, but also... what? Humanist, Buddhist (in part),Nietzschean (Friedrich), etc..

Don't switch sides in this religious ball game merely to start batting for the other team. Have a life outside of the ballpark.

All this said, researching what you believe and why is incredibly important so as to prepare you for the open, honest conversations with those who are open to what you have.

Summary: Shut up, live for something, know what you believe and why, and wait.

peace

Scary Jesus said...

I was angry when I deconverted. Well I'm still angry, probably being that I was a minister in such a powerfully evangelistic movement for so long. My advice to Owen would be to use the things you felt justified your faith when you were "sold out", and what kept you a believer. Then most importantly try to understand what caused chinks in the armor of your faith, and what made you ultimately leave. Those are lessons that "atheists since birth" will never experience (lucky bastards) and it can make us more powerful if we use it to our advantage, you know become innocent as lambs yet cunning as snakes as it were (couldn't help it).

Someday I hope to be able to apply this wonderful advice to myself. I'm pissed.

DingoDave said...

Dear Ed,
I'm not sure whether I can add much to what has already been said, but like the others who have responded to this post, I deeply sympathize with your situation.
Most of my family are very devout old school Baptists. Especially one of my sisters who is an ex-missionary. I have found it virtually impossible to have a calm, rational conversation with her about her faith. Whenever I'm visiting, and the subject of religion raises it's ugly head (which is often), I just try to bite my tongue and cop it on the chin.
Even if I make what I consider to be a perfectly reasonable comment or observation which conflicts with her beliefs, she generally responds with anger and resentment.
I've learned over the years, that it's generally not worth commenting about religion when I'm in her presence. What we need to understand as atheists and rationalists, is that 'die hard Christians' have been so brainwashed into their cult, that any criticism of their religion is perceived by them to be an attack on them personally. In their minds they have 'given their life to Jesus', so they seem to be unable to separate the intellectual arguments for or against their religion from their personal emotional attachment to their religion.
I believe that this kind of response is actually a sign of their deep seated insecurity about the reality of their beliefs.
Otherwise why would they get so angry?
My sister angrily asked me one day, after I'd pointed out some absurdity concerning Christian theology; "Are you trying to destroy my faith?" To which I replied; "Yes. Absolutely!"
She responded as if I'd just called our mother a whore. But hey, at least she didn't start throwing rocks at me! ;-)
This is what you're up against. Never forget that.
For the sake of family harmony, maybe it's best if you just 'let sleeping dogs lie' for the time being. If your brother is curious about why you have rejected his religion, he may come to you and ask you. If he never does, then there's precious little that you can do about it. Perhaps for the moment it's enough to let him know that you no longer buy into his crock of shit belief system, and leave it at that. Curiosity may get the better of him one day, and then you will have the opportunity to share with him what you have discovered.

I hope this helps.
Please keep your chin up, and try not to become too discouraged.

With kindest regards,
David Armstrong.

Evan said...

I think the above comments give a pretty full spectrum of opinion. I don't have any real advice but I can give you my personal experience. I deconverted fully and finally when I was far from my family and that made the actual process easier. The people I was arguing with at that time were Muslim so that made it seem quite natural to disagree and made me pretty respectful of their positions since we were so varied culturally.

The way they looked at it, I would die and then burn in hell and they had every reason (given their assumptions) to try to convince me I was wrong. The way I looked at it, when they were dead, they would be just like me. Sure they were wasting their lives, but people waste their lives in all kinds of ways without me needing to get up in their faces about it.

So when I got back to the US and was dealing with my family, I adopted a habit of avoiding conversations about religion or deflecting them, and only discussing it if someone was genuinely curious about what I thought and really asked me what I believed.

So far I have had one brief conversation that ended rather abruptly (that I am sure was sent 'round the family since).

It is a sign to me of the weakness of Christianity that my family, who really ought to be concerned about my eternal soul, don't think they can convince me I'm wrong.

They know what I think and if they want to know more I'll be happy to tell them, but I don't evangelize.

Steven Bently said...

Hi Ed, It's damned fustrating to see people so easily duped into believing a 6000 year collection of ancient bronze age myths, especially in a day of modern technology and space age travel???

It's like, why don't we all just return to living in tents and burn a damned goat to appease the gods?

If it was good enough for Jesus, we could live just like him, in filth and total ignorance?

Another thing, for some reason kin people seem to take much more offence to our appeals than they would a total stranger, I have never understood this quandry, you would think that someone of kin would say you know what, I don't think you would intentionally mislead me and I've always had my doubts about that preacher that they shipped in here from Porto Rico, but hell no they will stand firm in their faith, because they have made a verbal vow of allegiance to Jesus in return for the use of their brains, in essence have handed over their very cause for existing in exchange for a promise that they have confirmed in their minds is unsinkable truth..a good example, jamie steele.

Now here is some breaking news, a bit of ammo, which has been mostly gone unreported...a new amazon tribe just recently been discovered whom has never had contact with the white man and his culture.

Link


Now I would suggest that you show this information to your brother and ask him how this tribe has survived all these years without ever hearing the gospel message of Jesus Christ?

This I want to know for myself, because how have these people lived all these years and generations have died without the knowledge of a heaven or a hell, Jesus or the Bible god or an invisible soul?

I want a Christian to answer this question, without the usual, We will never know the mind of god, or his ways are not our ways, or jesus' gospel has not yet been fulfilled..bs.

Good Luck, Ed

Logossfera said...

From my experience there is nothing you can do to change a christian mind unless you challenge his epistemology. Christians adhere to an supernatural, authoritarian, revelational epistemology while most atheist adhere to a naturalistic epistemology.
What a religious person needs to understand first is that by adhering to a non-naturalistic epistemology they pretty much give up the right to make any claims beyound this claim "Truth is outside nature". Giving the epistemologic premise of a religious person ("truth is in a book") every person should be entitled to choose a book where he/she believes the truth exist.

I've made a little case for naturalism on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cK0sw_21fVQ (part 1) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTkLvS13EHg (part 2)

What you, as an atheist must understand is that you have an epistemological premise that cannot be tested (mine is "nature is true") from what you base all your knowledge. All you know that it is truth is based on that untestable epistemological premise that can be proven to be false. In my case maybe nature is no true because I'm in a computer game or God is a liar. I have no way to test my epistemological premise.

And everybody is entitled to their epistemological premise. What christians don't know is that in order to be true to their epistemological premise they have to follow it to its logical conclusions. Some of them are: evolution didn't happen, god is despicable, supernaturalistic claims are conversation stoppers, revelational "truths" shows arrogance etc.

Emilio Mejia Jr. said...

Wow! I've been reading DC for a while, but this is the post that has affected me the most. I completely understand what Ed is feeling like, as well as the others that have posted similar comments. I get an uncontrollable rage when I hear anything religious being attributed to natural events. Only recently have I begun to let things go.

I just want to say thank you to every single person that commented, and a special thanks to John for his letter to Ed, and by connection, to me. If you don't mind, I'd like to repost it in my personal blog since I have used it to vent my rage in the past. I think it would be helpful to my friends and readers to understand where we come from.

Special thanks to goprairie who said: "you went from religious fanatic who needed to save everyone to atheist fanatic who wants to save everyone." This is what has been letting me mellow out is working hard to not become the very thing I dislike so much about religion.

Thanks to this entire community though for giving me a rage outlet, and for reminding me that I'm not the only one with reason.

Bloviator said...

Wow, does this one ever resonate with me! Ed, I am with you in spirit (if there be such a thing) as I am in a similar situation with both my brother and wife. My wife knows 'something is up', but my brother is in blissful ignorance. I want to shout it from the rooftops "you are all INSANE for believing this stuff!!", but I am old enough and intelligent enough to realize the folly of such.

My blood also rages when things natural are attributed to god. Just a few days ago, a double rainbow appeared and my wife instantly said 'what a great gift for god to give us'. Same thing happens anytime a somewhat rare bird flies by 'what a gift!'. It does drive me nuts inside, but I am just quiet at these exclamations. She is not a fundamentalist, but is rather a modern-day evangelical. In my one attempt at discussion, she asked what happened and I said "I think I grew up". You would have thought I had just slapped her face and called her a cunt. I now realize just how PERSONAL people take their faith (hard for me as I have Asperger's Syndrome).

My brother, who in many regards is a wonderful man, good father, funny-as-hell guy and the type of friend many would line up to have, is a literal bible-believer (no evolution, the Ark was real, etc.). There is no use arguing with him on these subjects, and to his credit, he refuses to be drawn into such discussions.

I am not from a fundie background, and his fundamentalism is a cause of concern for the rest of the family. Indeed, my mother-in-law is an atheist since the '40s and my own parents are a mix of semi-belief (mom) and probable non-belief (dad). That has been a godsend (pun intended)for me as I get to have a sounding board for my thoughts and feelings.

I have trouble, as I see you do, accepting that others can have such a different viewpoint than I, and that they can't see 'clearly'. Perhaps that says more about me than it does about them (think about my brother: believer who doesn't push).

Anyway, I have found some recent comfort in Buddhist writings, especially the concept of just accepting what is.

I can't speak for others, but when I find out something interesting or meaningful, part of the joy is in sharing it with others. With non-belief, this joy often becomes pain, as most do not (and most likely never will) share my point of view. My wife and brother are the most important people in my life, so I have a natural desire to share with them. Sadly, this is not to be.

I believe others have commented in a similar manner, but if my rational belief is one worth having, I might borrow from the writings of Paul and conduct my life with a certain sense of decency, humility, and love. Perhaps then my loved ones will see I am not an 'angry atheist' or 'deceived by Satan' or some such shit, but rather just a human being, one who still loves and cares and helps as he did when once a believer, now with god-belief replaced by love of my fellow human travelers.

Best of luck to you in your journey.

goprairie said...

now that i have expressed a fairly one sided 'leave the silly christians alone' opinion, i will moderate it a bit. for along time i kept my 'religious orientation' a secret. when my son who was 14 then, 'came out' as an atheist, i felt obligated to be honest that i was too to support him and because i was eager for someone to talk over ideas with. it is stressful to keep it a secret. but I did not tell people in a challenging or offensive way, but rather just as a fact when the topic next came up - 'as an atheist, i see that a bit differently . . .' for example. some friends heard it from others - some told me it upset them, some said they would pray i would find god again, some said they had never beleived very strongly either. but i resisted the urge to tell anyone how stupid i thought it all was, unless i knew they were non-beleivers too. (tho one of my pet peeves (in addition to the term pet peeve) is the spike in the rate of christian charity at christmas time and the general lack thereof the entire rest of the year, so it is hard to shut up about that at christmas.) but just casually making my status know allowed people who were questioning to know where i was so that they could ask questions and we could talk about it. so while I am mostly not in favor of trying to deconvert anyone, i am in favor of these things:
1) making sure people know you are an atheist so that if they need help or support, they know you are there
2) keeping religion from hampering freedom to NOT beleive - many people thing the religious freedom guaranteed by our constitution means the right to be any religion you want, but they do not get that that includes not having ANY religion. so to them, a silent moment of prayer in school is fine because it allows anyone to pray in their own way. but it is NOT okay because it implies government support of the idea that atheism - LACK of any religion - is bad. so i am vigilent and outspoken about freedom of religion needing to include the right to have no religion, and so do what i can to keep it out of state matters and get it out in areas it currently is pervasive. i.e. keeping and increasing separation of church and state.
3) when ethics or morality comeup. i am very adamant that these are not due to religion but due to evolution as animals, as primates, as social creatures and are largely instinctive and that 'evil' is an instint or two or more gone defective - so if someone uses the term 'good christian' when they really just mean 'good' i will challenge them, or when they advocate ten commandments i will point out how flawed and incomplete they are and so on. religion and ethics/morality are unrelated and i will argue that when and where i can.
4) failure by christians to be tolerant of others in the same way they expect to be tolerated. people who say the quran advocates violence are bound to get an earful from me on how the bible is too.
so i feel obliged here to admit that i am not as cuddly as i might have been seeming. i just make no effort to deconvert anyone specifically. if they have questions, i am honest. and i do have those issues that i would not let pass, any more than i would let an issue related to race, gender bias, bad environmental policy, etc. go by without comment.

Bloviator said...

One last thought. I am not of the belief in man as a rational being. Rather, man has a rational aspect to his thinking. The import of this should be clear. Our rational thought processes are an addition to what is basically an emotional response system. Our emotions are our primary means of survival (or at least they used to be in our cave-man days). That is why the emotional appeal trumps the logical appeal for most people most of the time. Until such time as that emotional center in our brain structure modifies to one based on a more rationalist POV (in my mind, this will never happen), nutty emotionally based belief systems will be the norm, not the exception.

lee said...

Ed,
As someone who de-converted a year ago I am not that far from where you are. I still attend church with my wife from time to time. Yes it will drive you crazy, but call it a love thing. I do it for her. She has gone from a fundamentalist to a very liberal christian in the past year. I don't try to convert her to my way of thinking, but I will interject into our conversations from time to time problems that critical scholars have found with various biblical text.

She has learned through this past year that if you call the bible inerrant or infallible you have to hold it to a different standard and actually change the definition of those terms.

I am probably a better husband and father as an atheist / agnostic than I ever was as a theist. And my family would tell you I was very good then.

The reason that I do not try to change friends and family is that I have come to realize that many times people NEED their delusion. I have a mother recently diagnosed with alzhiemers, my parents have been christians all their life, they are typical southern church going people, wouldn't know a theological concept or a critical analysis of scripture if it stole the social security check. All they know is that the are old, mom is sick and they don't want to go to hell. They cannot be evangelized, I wouldn't ever try.

There are many who even if they are not old NEED their delusion. Love them (family and friends) with every fiber of your being and support them in their need. I had a friend ask me the other day to pray with him. I did. It made him feel better. Do I believe anyone heard my prayer? He did. If he asked me for to explain what I believe? I'll tell him. I won't attempt an explanation if their isn't sufficient time to cover the subject adequately. I hated bumper sticker christians and bumper sticker atheist are just as dumb.

It's going to be OK. Just relax and enjoy your friends and family. Carpe diem. When its over, its over.

kb9aln said...

Ed, I have a little advice that, like most, you can take or leave.

First, let them come to you. You have already made your case, so to speak. Some of what you have said in your discussions with your brother may eventually sink in. However, it will likely take some time.

Have patience with these people, remember that they are brainwashed, just like a lot of us used to be. It's that simple. Sometimes, it takes a long time for reality to set in.

When dealing with people, don't make an effort to bring up the subject of belief, or lack of it. Let others bring it up and engage them in a calm manner if the situation presents itself.

Other folks have commented that there is little difference between an evangelical Christian and an evangelical Atheist. True. Keep in mind just how annoying evangelical Christians can be when they are on the hunt for souls to save.

It would not hurt if you changed your focus ever so slightly, too. It's exciting to discover newfound Atheism, and drink in all of the knowledge you're discovering. But there is more to life than belief in a god, or lack of it.

There are public service oriented clubs and organizations that you can join, ones not centered on religion. There are a lot of people who suffer in this world, and sometimes one person's time and effort (not always money) can help them a lot.

There are hobbies to engage in. Your hobby used to be religion. Find a new one. There are other ways to enrich your life, and other people's lives as well.

In short, show those people that Atheists are not scary, horrible people. We just don't share a certain set of beliefs. We do care about our fellow human beings in real, demonstrably material ways. It helps if we show that by example.

I hope that did not come off as lecturing. The point that I am trying to make is that while your journey to rationality is an exciting one, there is more to life.

Good luck.

Aquaria said...

Ed:

I can't imagine what this is like. I've been lucky enough to spend most of my life in an intolerant part of the country, but in a supportive, more-or-less irreligious family.

But I've noticed some things about deconversions (and conversions), and perhaps I can offer a little insight that might help you cope with all that's happening in your life now.

Think of your deconversion as an earthquake. Like the earthquake, it had been building a long time, and the right forces came together to cause the rupture of the foundation of all you thought solid beneath you. You may have been aware of some warning shocks in advance, a few rumbles here and there that weren't noticed or taken seriously. Now you know better. How strong the quake was, how many aftershocks that follow, very much depend on how much stresses and pressures were at work before the quake. In the case of many evangelicals, there were a lot. That usually translates to a sizable quake.

As with an earthquake, you don't have much control over what stands and what falls after this. If you've ever seen the effects of a quake, you know that some structures will fall while the house next door will remain standing. The reasons for this vary, and they don't really matter. Some things will be destroyed. And some things won't. Some things will have minor to major damage, and some will have none at all. Some of the things that were damaged or destroyed can be fixed, rebuilt or replaced. And some can't.

--more in next post--

In the aftermath of quakes, there is fear of course. Some people stay scared. Sometimes, the aftershocks are so strong that others can't quite let it go for a while. This could very well apply to your situation; it certainly sounds like you're still having some strong aftershocks there. You'll need to find a constructive way to ride them out until things settle down. Getting angry with your brother or wife for not sharing your view of the quake as a good thing isn't constructive.

You have to remember, that those around you are probably angry, too. Everything they have known before the quake is completely different. They want things to be like they were before. But they can't be. And they don't have much choice about it. That tends to upset people. Some of them never stop being mad about it.

A part of you is of course upset at the pain the quake has caused in the lives of others, but know that you can't change what happened or pretend it didn't happen. It's done now. All you can do is move forward from here, and patch up the things you can as best you can, and in a way that is better suited to the new environment the quake has left in its wake.

You don't have to do everything. Some things, others will have to do for themselves, in their own way, and the way they think best. For some of them, it will mean moving on--they can't cope with all the change the quake has wrought, or the fear of another one. You'll have to respect that choice. But some people will hang in there, whether from sheer determination, orneriness, or, incredibly, laziness. It's just too much effort to pull up stakes and move on, so why not stick around. You'd be amazed how many people in your life will fall into that last category.

But, hey, not all the changes have to be bad. These are some things I heard from Californians about quakes:

"A whole bunch of boulders tumbled into my yard. What a mess, but, hey, I'd been thinking about putting in a rock garden, and I suddenly had a whole bunch of free material!"

or...

"Thank goodness for the quake. I'd wanted to get rid of that Brady Bunch bathroom (or move somewhere else) for years."

These things sound silly, but they demonstrate that some people will find something good in something that was once very challenging, even devastating. They didn't let the quake break them. Heck, some people even seemed a little grateful for getting the push to make some changes.

--more in next post--

Aquaria said...

So where do you go from here?

Maybe there are things in your life that you or others in your life have wanted to change, but you'd never had the motivation to do it before. Now, with a new lease on life, maybe you can do it. Maybe if your whole life has revolved around a church and it's mundane concerns, you'd enjoy going to the swap meet/flea market or visit a historical site with your wife on a Sunday afternoon instead of spending the whole day in church. Maybe you and your brother used to enjoy fishing or watching stupid monster movies, a shared interest that you let fall by the wayside, and now can reconnect through that. Or maybe your wife was the one who liked watching stupid monster movies with you, and you stopped doing it, for whatever reason.

Even if these things don't apply, this could well be a time of great discovery for you, of finding or re-discovering things in your life and your connections with other people that you hadn't noticed or appreciated before, and being free at last to pursue them or make the most of them as you see fit, without dogma to stand in your way.

I think the other people who encouraged you to connect with other atheists/agnostics in your area is a good one. I've always been a loner, but most people aren't. They need to know they're not alone, that they're not crazy, that there are others like them out there.

Most evangelicals are accustomed to a great deal of social interaction, thanks to church alone. You're used to having people around, sharing experiences. It was used against you as I'm sure you know, but you're still in a vulnerable stage where you need an outlet for expressing your questions, concerns and excitement with this radical change in your life.

Other atheists can help you understand how to interact with the religious in a way that is positive and constructive, but without having you compromise your position or your integrity. Of course, some atheists are very confrontational, but not all of them. You may need to try out a few different groups, if such is available to you. As someone mentioned, check Richard Dawkins' site or meetup for any groups in your area.

If all else fails, you might consider attending a Unitarian-Universalist church. All the ones I've ever been to are chock full of atheists and agnostics looking for a safe way to hook up in more conservative parts of the country. It might also be a good transition vehicle for someone who's been involved in churches as intently as you probably have, since you will have the structure of church with U/U, but the freedom of thought you've now discovered.

Going to a U/U church might even work to help other people in your life ease into your change, since going to a church will at least be something they can relate to. It may give them some sense that you're not completely hopeless, and they might even back off. I can't say for sure, and I won't, especially if your previous faith was the extremely intolerant, insular type. If that's the case, U/U might not appease your family in the least.

But give it a try. You never know.

Deconverting is hard, but it doesn't have to be unbearable. It looks like you have a lot of people here who are eager to help. Don't be afraid to ask for it, when you need it.

So much for atheists not being supportive and compassionate, huh?

exapologist said...

I guess I'm a total freak. I really enjoy my Christian friends, which include my wife and my two best friends. I enjoy discussing theology with them, discussing apologetics with them, teaching them apologetics, suggesting ways to strengthen their arguments, etc. If they ask why I'm not convinced by such arguments, I point to the premises that I think lack plausibility, and just rest content if they disagree.

sacred slut said...

Geez, leave the poor guy alone. You've given him the information and he rejects it.

You can't do any more to "convince" someone of the truth. Give it up. Maybe some people just can't handle a universe without God and an afterlife. It's kind of a harsh reality in some ways.

goprairie said...

"It's kind of a harsh reality in some ways."
Which is probably why it got made up in the first place. I remain convinced that it is something to do with timing of processing of sensory input by various parts of our brain and communication among the parts that gives us the sense that there is some 'other', be it a soul beyond our physical being or a higher power or many invisible beings, and it is that warm fuzzy you get from the idea that some part of you never dies that keeps it goin' so stong. it is relatively easy to give up god once you start looking at the evidence or lack thereof, but quite a bit harder to give up souls, because the are mroe personal and we are more needy of them. It is hard to accept that this is all we are going to get and that we will not have a chance to see all those that we naively assumed we would again see in some afterlife.
And it is such a huge part of our culture. Once you give it up, how do you act at a funeral? It all rings pretty hollow and if it your loved one who died, all the nonsense about being reunited with them can make you kinda sick. and if they had a terminal illness that lingered, you hear how they are in a better place now and that can make you downright angry. so it takes a while after you comepletely give up god and souls to figure out how to act in a christian society where there are references to it everywhere along with the assumption that you beleive in it. it takes a while to figure out what to say, how mch to say, how much to let go, how to let it go gracefully without feeling like you are compromising your principles too much. it helps to have a friend who has been out longer to call and say 'im going to my first funeral as an out atheist - got any tips?' and later, you pay that back by being the one who newly deconverted can call on for tips.

Emilio Mejia Jr. said...

"processing of sensory input by various parts of our brain and communication among the parts that gives us the sense that there is some 'other', be it a soul beyond our physical being or a higher power or many invisible beings"

On this note and what you were talking about funerals, I have come up with a method of thinking about this that I cooked up during psychology class. My professor said that what a lot of people may attribute to the "soul" is what others may attribute to "memory". The saying goes "if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear it". I like to think, if a life goes unremembered after it's over, did it really happen? Though I don't believe there is such a thing as the soul, I do feel there is something "spiritual", for lack of a better word, about having people share memories of a loved one after they pass away. On that note, I encourage non-believers to live a life worth being remembered so that their soul/memory can go on after they are gone.

akakiwibear said...

Ed, two comments that may be helpful to you.

First, there is no conclusive proof for theism or atheism - it is a choice, you have made yours on what ever grounds work for you. Acknowledge that this is a choice and allow others to make theirs, after all they have valid rational reasoning to support their position.

Secondly, your atheist faith is clearly strong and vibrant right now. This is what is usually seen in new converts to Christianity or Islam or Krishna and even Scientology or the local rotary club. Yes it causes frustration as you want to share your "truth" - but is your "truth". Like other religious converts your ardour will most likely become more rational and less emotional over time, then perhaps you may recognise the intellectually superior position of being agnostic rather than atheist - who knows you even get religion.

Hamba kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

brother crow "Atheism/agnosticism is not fun. It is not a day at the park. Faith is a so much easier...all it requires is mindless belief and intellectual dishonesty or denial. - oh please, so there is no intellectual dishonesty in atheism? ... your very statement is proof that there is.

I would rather you thought about before you popped off a mindless reply.

Hamba kahle - peace

goprairie said...

"then perhaps you may recognise the intellectually superior position of being agnostic rather than atheist "
my, you do have all the answers, don't you? how, please tell, is agnosticism more 'intellectually superior' than atheism? and who made you judge?
are you agnostic about the existance of santa? I doubt it. sure, you can't prove a negative, can't PROVE he doesn't exist, but all the claims about him cannot be true by logic. he can't get to all houses in one night. it is impossible. he can't actually know if the kids were naughty or nice. there are no photos or physical evidence not explained by parents or others in costume. so belief in santa flies in the face of known facts. there is nothing about the santa myth that makes being open to its truth more intellectually honest than saying it is all a flat out made up thing. christianity and indeed the existance of any god or any spirit is exactly like that for me and many atheists, except that christianity being a much more complex myth, leaves many many more opportunties for contradiction, impossibility, illogic, and well, outright lies. for me to claim that i am even one iota open to the possibility of any of it being true would be intellectually dishonest. i find my willingness to give up believing in the fuzzy cozy myth to be intellectually SUPERIOR as well a intellectually honest.

Evan said...

Akawikibear you say:

First, there is no conclusive proof for theism or atheism - it is a choice, you have made yours on what ever grounds work for you.

There is no conclusive for for leprechauns and there is no conclusive proof for aleprechaunism.

You make a choice based on whatever grounds work for you.

One choice is dumb.

baz said...

First I'd like to say, great blog - I found it from Daniel Florien's "Unreasonable Faith" blog.

Wow, this is a hard situation to advise on. I've been an atheist for some time now but I've always found it hard to debate it rationally with my Christian family. Evan is absolutely right when he questions why his Christian family don't try and convert him more - are they scared they will lose the argument? Don't they care for his eternal soul?

I visited Canada 3 years ago and saw my Dad for the first time in 20 years. His whole family is in the Church, I was the lone atheist in every get-together, but only one or two people ever tried to say anything about Jesus to me - and that was usually a brief (and I thought cowardly) exhortation to "come back to the Lord" rather than a 'debate' giving equal time to both sides.

I even suspect that some of my family would love to hear about life outside the Church - but it's all they know! They can't imagine how to live without the support network of the Church, because all their friends and family belong.

I agree with the posters who've said you shouldn't turn from being an evangelical Christian to a proselytizing atheist. Accept that they won't listen to you and simply get on with life as much as you can without referring to God. If you can show them that you can still lead a normal life - that you are happy and have purpose in your life - that is a much better advertisement for atheism than the moral anguish you seem to describe.

I really wish there were more organisations around to help and support newly de-converted Christians! If anyone knows of any or wants to set one up I'd be glad to join and help!

zilch said...

akawikibear- what evan said. Atheism is the default position; not a "belief" or "disbelief", but rather the standpoint of not believing in entities for whom there is no evidence. And of course there are atheists who are "intellectually dishonest" in various ways, just as there are theists who are as well. But in the absence of evidence for God, the position of atheism is not, in itself, "intellectually dishonest".

Dan said...

Sorry vote on the canon? Pagan Parallels?
What?

akakiwibear said...

it appears that many of those commenting (and Ed in his original plea for help) have confused the discovery that the bible is neither inerrant or literal with the question of the existence of God. Ed says My wife still gets very defensive when she knows I'm researching atheism or bible errors! - sorry Ed there is no linkage, creedal Christians have long accepted flaws in the bible yet retain a belief in God - perhaps your family is ahead of there.

Hamba kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Evan, congratulations on demonstrating the intellectual poverty of your position with your delightful leprechauns example - I could not have asked for more.

I guess you are comfortable adopting a belief on "proof" of that calibre - I prefer reasoned thinking.

Hamba kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

zilch Atheism is the default position; not a "belief" or "disbelief", but rather the standpoint of not believing in entities for whom there is no evidence.

Interesting that you pick an arbitrary default position. I am pleased that in a democracy we don't apply the same "reasoning" to those facing trial and adopt a default of guilty until proven otherwise.

Defend your default position - why should it command respect?

hamba kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Dan, perhaps Ed dramatised the position and used canonize wrongly, but hidden away there is the fact that the Church made a choice on which books to include in the canon of the Church which gave rise to the Bible as we know it.

Knowing the history of the bible helps to understand why it is neither inerrant or literal. What Ed seems to have invented is a connection between selecting books to include in the bible and the existence of God.

Dan, I leave you to do your research on pagan parallels about which Ed also seems to have drawn the wrong conclusions.

But Ed you could do worse than reflect on the parallels between your new faith of atheism and say the beliefs surrounding genocide during the Cultural Revolution (e.g. humans do not have souls). Would you suddenly leap to the conclusion that there is a God? So why on the incidental parallels you "discovered" do you conclude there is no God?

Hamba kahle - peace