© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

A tale of two fingers / Can you hear me now? 2

(Please forgive the parental preening below. Ghastly stuff, but with a purpose.)

fingers095My daughter Delaney (7) is a wonder. I’ve never seen a kid so completely engaged in the world, so committed to life and happy for the chance at it.

At age five, she’d sometimes giggle quietly to herself in her car seat. I asked once what that was about. “Sometimes it’s just so amazing to be alive in my body,” she said.

She is the orchestrator of creative play in our neighborhood. It isn’t unusual to find seven kids in our front yard between the ages of five and ten: two building a tent, two hanging hula hoops on tree branches, one busily mashing seed pods in a bucket, one spreading open umbrellas and safety cones meaningfully across the lawn — and Delaney directing the works.

She wants to be a scientist. Her favorite word is “Awesome!”, used in its original meaning and intoned over an enormous orange spider or under a freaky yellow moon. She reads at an insanely high level, and when she reaches a word she doesn’t know — obfuscate, maybe, or ennui — she asks what it means. When I pause to figure out how to explain it to a second grader, she says, without a trace of arrogance, “Dad…just tell me the regular way.”

And then there’s this: Since the first week of her life, this awesome, smart, creative kid has sucked on the tips of the two middle fingers of her right hand. Never wanted a pacifier, wouldn’t take a bottle. Only the breast and her fingers, then finally just her fingers, would do.

At first it was nearly constant. By the time she was three, it was only when she was tired, worried, or asleep. But at those times, it was a guarantee.

We began to wonder if it could cause problems. Dental experts warned of possible splaying or malocclusion of permanent teeth, possible speech impairments. But they often cited frequent and intense sucking as the most likely to produce these. At age five, she had deep calloused dents just above the nail beds where her teeth rested. By six, she seemed to be resting the tips more lightly between her teeth, but still persisted.

Becca and I were not entirely unconcerned. We discussed it casually with Laney, told her about the dental worries, offered some ideas for stopping. She’d shake her head. Sometimes her eyes would well up, and we’d drop it. Then the same night, I’d tiptoe into her room and find that she had taped her own fingers together to dissuade her sleeping self…and was sucking on the sad little cellophaned flipper anyway.

It seemed for a while like she was finding her own way out of the habit. Other days, not so much.

One night I was about to enter the girls’ room to sing them to sleep. By this time, Laney’s fingers were only in the hatch at night, something we had all noticed. But as they crept into place that night, big sister Erin (11) couldn’t leave it.

“Laney, take your fingers out,” I heard her say.

I watched unseen from the doorway. Laney glared across at Erin and left them in.

“Laney! You need to stop sucking your fingers or your teeth will be weird!”

Glare.

“Fine, suck your fingers if you want to be a baby. None of your friends suck their fingers.”

Laney made searing, defiant eye contact with Erin — and slowly slid her fingers further in, all the way to the second knuckle…then closed her eyes and sucked hard.

I entered the silent room and went to straight to Erin.

“I’m just trying to help her,” she said, half believing it.

I leaned down and whispered back, “I know, but that’s not the way. The more we force it, the harder she’ll resist.”

I switched to Laney’s bedside. Her cheeks were streaked with tears, fingers firmly enhatched. I asked what was up.

“I want to stop sucking my fingers, but I can’t,” she sobbed.

“Well, it’s hard,” I said. “You’ve always done it, right? But I don’t think you should rush it. You’ll know when it’s time.”

“I’m gonna try tonight.”

“Sweetie, I think you can just leave it for tonight. Maybe tomorrow.”

“I think I can do it.”

I smiled at her. “It’s up to you, punkin. Either way is fine.”

Whether she did or didn’t that night is unimportant. What matters is that by morning, she was convinced she had. Which made the next night a piece of cake. And the next. And she never went back.

You see where I’m going with this.

No, I’m not making a simple and cheap analogy between religious belief and thumbsucking. As much of a thigh-slapper as that is, it oversimplifies. I will point out, however, that this habit was a great comfort to Delaney, something she had never been without, something she was convinced she needed. When she felt it was threatened, she clung to it. She sucked harder. Only when I told her that she was in control, that there was no rush — only when we stopped trying to snatch it from her was she able to let it go.

When and if someone lets go of religious belief, I think the same simple principle is at work. Badgering them and ridiculing their beliefs might work for a few, but for most it has the opposite effect. The more you attack, the more they retreat into the very thing. Only when you look someone in the eye and say, in essence, “It’s your call,” can most people see their way clear.

I wouldn’t want to do without Myers and Hitchens and Condell. They speak to me. I think they tell the damn truth. They voice my frustration and outrage. I would never want them shut down. But there’s another thing that needs doing as well — an opening of space around people so they can think clearly, sometimes for the first time in their lives, about their beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs. And it takes place, more often then not, one on one.

My hope in this series is to offer some tips that I’ve found effective. I hope it’s useful.

SO THEN, tell me, secular readers (which again is who this series is primarily for): If you were once religious, what was the nature of your de-conversion?  Were you at the wheel, or was someone else pushing, or some combination? Do tell.

[Complete series]

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This was written on Wednesday, 14. October 2009 at 15:04 and was filed under belief and believers, Can You Hear Me Now?, fear, My kids, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting, Science, wonder. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. I think mine was a combination. My husband tried talking to me a lot about it over the years (we’ve been married for 9 yrs, and his de-conversion happened right after that), but I didn’t want to hear it. I was raised in a Christian home, and that was just how we were supposed to be. My de-conversion happened slowly over the last year. It actually started with us finding a church that we were both comfortable with for the first time. We plugged into a Sunday School class full of older people who were very liberal in their beliefs (to the point that my husband and I wonder how many of them actually believe anymore and are just going to church out of habit and socialization). Through this class, and some meaningful conversations with some very dear friends, my eyes and ears began to open to what my husband had been trying to tell me for years. The biggest question being “Where did this bible come from anyway?”. If you really start to think about it, well, it all starts to fall apart from there.

    I’ve only been de-converted for a few months now, so I’m not comfortable telling my family yet (being very strong Southern Baptists, that will not be an easy conversation). Needless to say, we are no longer attending church. I have no regrets and am thankful to be in this most happy place in my life!

    Comment: NyssaBurks – 14. October 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  2. I would say for me it was self-directed. My dad had made some very poor life decision and was facing legal prosecution. As a result I commited myself to become a better christian (so this wouldn’t happen to me). We (my wife and I) started going to church more regularly and attending bible studies. I started reading and studying the bible on my own. My first deconversion was more of a political change from far religious right to a libertarian/progressive stance. Then the more and more I read and studied the bible the more I realized I just couldn’t accept christian doctrine as fact. In the end it has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

    Comment: jcornelius – 14. October 2009 @ 6:00 pm

  3. Tired of being a member of the “party crowd”, I returned to the Christian faith when I was twenty, after about a ten year absence, in an effort to surround myself with positive, moral peers. Within a couple of years I was engaged in a leadership position in the local Assemblies of God church, and co-teaching an adult Sunday school class.

    Daily bible reading was an ongoing assignment. Not a good idea for open minded, critical thinkers! I soon found that the God being preached in church, and the Old Testament Bible God, were two entirely different concepts. This “revelation”, combined with a community college World Religions class and a good dose of Joseph Campbell (both reading the Power of Myth and watching the Bill Moyers program), pushed me toward a personal universalism.

    About five years ago (I’m now in my forties), having two young children prompted me to revisit the religion question. The writings of the “new atheists”, current and past philosophers, Carl Sagan and others, an exploration of liberal religions, and involvement with philosophical discussions on the Internet resulted in me self-identifying as an agnostic, atheist, and humanist.

    I was at the wheel the whole time, although there were plenty of folks out there putting up those influential billboards along my route. 🙂

    Comment: Steelman – 14. October 2009 @ 6:32 pm

  4. I was brought up in a more or less religious household. I was also a math and science geek in high school but prone to a peculiarly vehement and emphatic atheism punctuated by a an equally vehement and emphatic belief in a more or less Christian God.

    I had some unfortunate visions while wildly drunk (my first time too) during my first semester at college. Saw myself hanging on the cross. It was very vivid, very real.

    I don’t remember exactly when, but I stumbled across “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. I think someone gave me a copy or maybe just recommended it. After my alcohol-fueled visions of the Crucifixion, Lewis made a lot of sense.

    In short, he convinced me. I was baptized the following summer — full immersion, btw. I spent a year and a half as an emphatic and vehement member of my college’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. While that was going on, I was also taking Comparative Religion classes and had plans of going to seminary. I took several philosophy classes. This was all at a secular liberal arts college. It’s hardly surprising that I began to have grave doubts about the truth of Christianity and began to suspect much the horror of fellow co-religionists that maybe C.S. Lewis wasn’t all that we had wanted him to be.

    After the academic dismissal, I worked part-time, read lots & lots of Nietzsche, then decided that my time as a Christian had been an honest mistake and quite a misunderstanding.

    I became a Christian because I thought Christianity was true, and I stopped being one when I no longer believed it to be true. Suffice it to say that I respect the power of both sincere faith and of self-serving & lazy faith, as well as the impossibility of reliably distinguishing between the two.

    Comment: Bob_Kowalski – 14. October 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  5. My was self-directed, but with a lot of outside influences helping me along. When I was 16 I transferred to a non-denominational Christian school that was mostly fundamentalists of different Protestant denominations. It was in a Bible class there that proof-texted major Christian beliefs, and attacked evolution from a naive creationist point of view that I started to realize that the Emperor had no clothes. They were teaching things that I had assumed I believed, but when it was all laid out it seemed ridiculous.

    When I got out I went to community college and took some psychology classes, and an African Studies class that included some comparative religion. The secular perspective that I never got in high school made so much more sense than the religious view I had been raised with. I started reading the Bible and realized that I did not really believe any of it any more. It took about 4 years from the time I started questioning, and a lot of reading, but by early in 2001 I realized that I was an atheist/Humanist.

    Comment: bdack – 14. October 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  6. I was never religious, not raised to be religious at all. My parents were raised Catholic and they both have many siblings who are ardent believers, but life was not easy growing up and there really wasn’t time for religion. I have no idea what my father believes and it turns out my mom believes in “something” which I think is just a euphemism for an agnostic not brave enough to admit to atheism.

    As a kid and being a smarty-pants I caught on pretty fast that there was no great eyeball in the sky taking care of things. However, I was not ever really comfortable in my disbelief. I tried just believing in the idea that we’re all just energy and energy is powerful yet mystical but it felt shallow and dumb.

    In college I had a friend who was arrogant, self-confident atheist and through conversations with him I became more comfortable not having any beliefs but I never thought about it too much,

    Then I had kids.
    They changed everything.

    We got my first son baptized and I knew I was lying up there. I had no intention of taking my son to church or indoctrinating him in any way, yet that is what I “promised” to do. I felt like a scammer. Having a child convinced me more than ever that there was no way I was going to give some desert-god the credit for creating my beautiful, amazing son. I became very concerned about what do about raising my children and more importantly, what to say about Christmas.

    I was on a knitting website, reading some forums and in one a guy mentioned that he was a humanist. I didn’t really know what it was but I dismissed it. Then, on facebook I saw an old friend of mine listed himself as a humanist too. I got curious and started googling. It felt like I had come home, like I had found my place. A soft, comfy, godless world where people were doing their damnedest to be good. Googling further I found this website and started reading everything. I started a very, very difficult dialogue with my protestant husband who now totally accepts my atheism and understands it.

    Christmas was still a big worry (it was winter) and I had been one of those parents who “didn’t want to lie” to my kid (now kids) about Christmas so I had played the Santa hand only under extreme duress and with a heavy measure of guilt.

    Through reading this site and Letters to a Christian Nation and a fair bit of the God Delusion I became more and more secure in my dis-beliefs. I do a secular Krismas to the full hilt and I love the idea of letting my children try on a faith with morals, a deity and judgment – a faith they will inevitably grow out of.

    I still haven’t told my whole family yet. Though I did discover that my sister was an atheist who never mentioned it. She wouldn’t use the word atheist yet I think, but mentally, she’s there.

    The process of coming to terms with my dis-belief was long, organic and gradual. I was born a skeptic but never really needed to apply it my worldview until I had children. I have always been respectful of my grandmother’s prayers and the trips to church and the bowing of heads at funerals – even though my whole life I was faking it. What really helped was knowing my arrogant, asshole atheist friend whose contempt and ridicule of all things holy and mystical gave me a sounding board to express a little skepticism. But discovering what humanism was (8 years later) gave me a much more comfortable outlet for joining others and feeling like I was part of a group that I wanted to belong to. Of feeling like the whole process and logic and the principles of what I had always felt were laid out neatly in front of me and I could now label them and point to others who shared my view.

    I do my best and play both roles where needed – the arrogant atheist who can laugh derisively in the face of silly mysticism and the friendly, moral, ethical, charitable humanist whose husband thinks she’s a better “Christian” than most Christians. We need both kinds of people so all those wavering believers can have room to fit in amongst us.

    Comment: megmcg – 14. October 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  7. No one expected my deconversion.
    No one was trying to persuade me.
    I was testing and pushing slowly but surely.

    Comment: Sabio Lantz – 14. October 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  8. I was raised in a non-religious household, but converted to Christianity in junior high, after one of my deeply religious friends took me to a few youth group meetings. I de-converted on my own a few years later, largely as the result of reading parts of the Bible and being disgusted with the Christians that I saw around me. Although I think another really huge factor that I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d never looked around at the world and seen God; I’d never been completely certain that when I died, there would be a Heaven for me to go to, or just nothingness.

    I do know that my brother was worried about me, though, but he didn’t push it. My parents weren’t ecstatic about it, either, but they still came to my confirmation, made sure I got to Sunday services, etc. And, they were just as supportive of my decision to leave the church.

    Comment: yinyang – 14. October 2009 @ 10:13 pm

  9. My family was not terribly religious. I certainly had no fears of hell, but I did believe in all the good things about an afterlife.

    When my husband and I were dating we had one conversation that has always seemed to be the turning point for me. I was mentioning how much I missed my grandmother, but that I knew she was in heaven and I would see her again. He simply asked me how I knew? He wasn’t trying to be sarcastic. He really wanted to know how I knew, because he wasn’t sure. He never really was a believer, but he was open to knowing what I thought. The problem was I had no idea how I “knew”. It was that first question that just stuck in my head. We had many more conversations similar to that first one. All ended with him asking me why I believed what I did, but never judging me.

    After a couple of years, I realized I hadn’t really believed for a while. Even when I told my then husband that I no longer believed in a god, he just said that’s what he’d come up with too. Now that we are both very comfortable in our non-belief, we have much more lively conversation and aren’t always as “nice” when discussing it between ourselves. 🙂

    Comment: Sarah – 14. October 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  10. I felt like I was being pushed by something, but I wouldn’t say it was any person in particular. I think it was mostly my own mind and the way it was processing my experiences.

    I have already chronicled my story at http://absquefide.blogspot.com, if anyone’s interested in the details. (Just start with the oldest post and read the blog backwards.)

    Comment: cogitoergogeek – 15. October 2009 @ 1:24 am

  11. For the first 35 years, I just tried to make it all fit. In my teens, I began to doubt the Gifts. In my twenties, the inerrancy of Scripture. In my thirties, the one universe. I’m not sure exactly when I stopped believing in the soul.

    Then when I was 35, I finally saw all the duct tape. Things happened rapidly from there, but I don’t think there was really ever a time when I was “driving” my de-conversion. It just sort of happened.

    Comment: Chuck – 15. October 2009 @ 3:03 am

  12. What most of the lovely people above said… Just like Dalaney, I got there “by myself,” but with a lot of helpful support and information along the way! No major trauma, just major relief after shedding all the cognitive dissonance.

    A few resources in particular assisted me…

    – All the freethinking blogs and resources available on the interwebs (a truly transformative force)

    – Finding a local support group via a forum (web again), resulting in social meet-ups where everything BUT religion is discussed

    – Finally doing a proper course in ethics

    – Having kids (really focusses the mind!)

    Comment: Theo – 15. October 2009 @ 3:14 am

  13. This is a very interesting post to me. I really have not been able to pinpoint what got me to the point of critically analyzing my faith to the point that it fell apart but agree very much with the idea that people have to make their own decision to change. For me it was probably an accumulation of cognitive dissonance which got me to that point and it might be irrelevant what the actual straw that broke the camel’s back was.

    I am also interested that several comments above note having kids as a catalyst for examining their lives. I vividly remember my 6 year old telling me, “You don’t *know* people go to heaven when they die. The bible says that, but nobody has seen that happen to really know it.” That was pivotal for me because my faith couldn’t just be something I lived with as a mystery swept under the carpet, I had to, and wanted to, interact with my children about it, and there was no way I was going to tell them things that when I admitted it to myself I no longer really believed.

    Comment: atimetorend – 15. October 2009 @ 7:34 am

  14. Boy am I glad I asked. This is the best comment thread this blog has ever had.

    Comment: Dale – 15. October 2009 @ 8:03 am

  15. This is all soooo interesting!

    I came from a marginally religious family. As small children, we recited bedtime prayers. My siblings and I had to go to Lutheran Sunday School classes until 8th grade and I hated every minute of it. We were “Easter lillies,” as my grandmother would say – we only went to church on Christmas and Easter.

    In my sixth grade Sunday School class, one of the students asked the teacher if he prayed to God to help him pass a test, would it work? The teacher said it would. So, as an experiment, for my next science test, I prayed I’d get a good grade. I got an A. Then I thought, what did that prove? I always got A’s. Why would I think God had anything to do with it?

    In college, a classmate introduced me to Ayn Rand and that totally blew my notions of God and religion away. Rand confirmed things I already knew – people are who make things happen; people are to blame for bad things; people are the reasons there is good in the world; the only way to improve your life is to improve yourself. No God has anything to do with it.

    A few years ago I realized that no one in my immediate family really believes in religion, and I suspect that most of us are atheists. We were all at my grandfather’s Catholic funeral last week — all of us agnostics/atheists in one pew — and it seemed fitting that we were alone, but together, in that church.

    Comment: rajawa – 15. October 2009 @ 11:03 am

  16. The first time (yes, there were two such periods in my life) I was 19. I had spent my high school years involved in a fundamentalist Catholic teen church movement. I was raised in an extremely punitive environment at home, and it was one extracurricular activity that my parents could not take away from me because it was religious, which they valued. I was still living at home, going to community college, and I experienced a “crisis of faith” that was also a rebellion against the house rule. (As long as you live in my house you will go to church.)

    I soon moved out of my parents house, and not long after became involved romantically with a woman for five years, with whom I lived. It was part of my self-definition. My family actually accepted and embraced my relationship.

    I spent my 20s in anger, depression, and searching, considering other religions, studying psychology. It took a long time to become an adult, but I did. Then at 31 I moved 1800 miles away from home, to a city that held promise (Austin, TX) — with no job waiting for me, just a little savings and a sibling living there. About 6 weeks after I moved there, I was sexually assaulted in my home. I did not receive help from a rape crisis center (I called, but did not receive the help I needed). I happened to be befriended by two fundamentalist Christians (and then more), and for the next four years took refuge in the religion. I was estranged from my sibling living there because of my escape into religiosity.

    I remained depressed. Then I started graduate school for counseling at age 35 (ironically at a Catholic university, which was a really great place and a great education). I began to get therapy to deal with the depression and rape. I told my sibling about it and received support. I had long been uncomfortable with my church’s dogma (the inerrancy of the bible, anti-gay standing, among other things). I then saw the movie, Chasing Amy, and it was a watershed moment. Something about that movie (it’s too long to describe here) made me realize who I am, and I was able to reclaim myself.

    I left my church and consequently lost almost my entire social network. It was a very lonely period in my life, but I also felt a homecoming within myself. I felt reunited and whole. I could probably write a book about all this; maybe someday I will, if not for publication, then for my daughter.

    What a wonderful question. I’m glad you asked it!

    Comment: kathryn – 15. October 2009 @ 11:03 am

  17. I have no idea where my disbelief came from. I do remember having doubts while taking confirmation classes and telling my mother I didn’t feel right “confirming” a faith I didn’t truly have. She didn’t take me seriously.

    I married a believing Christian. We never attempted to convert each other, though he did insist our wedding be in his parents’ church!

    At some point in the past 9 years, my husband became agnostic and, eventually, an atheist. He’s recently gone public with that little factoid, which has been quite interesting.

    While I feel we were both self-led and came to our conclusions without anyone specifically trying to sway us, the mere existence of our religious backgrounds (however liberal they may have been) made it difficult to turn away. It felt to me as though I were alienating myself from the rest of the world – the only world I had known. That’s a big deal for a teenager! It wasn’t an easy journey.

    It’s a big deal for adults, too. Which is why I’m grateful for the internet and sites like these. 🙂

    Comment: Pearl – 15. October 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  18. Hi Dale,
    Thanks for doing this series of posts in particular.
    Before deconverting and even in the process of, had I been told I was an ignorant Christard, a Christofascist or any number of extremely insulting descriptions I’ve occasionally read online in atheist forums, I would most certainly have reacted defensively. I would have refused to hear the person further and their behaviour would have reflected badly not only on themselves, but on their ideas in general, regardless of whether this was a logical reaction by me or not.
    I am thankful that I didn’t have that experience during my deconversion. I actually had no idea that there were resources out there (either in book or internet form) that could help me. I managed to make it through the process without knowing who Russell, Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, Hirsi Ali, Mcgowan, Myers, et. al even were. What helped me was simply knowing that there were people whom I respected that I knew personally who didn’t believe. There weren’t many of them (an uncle, a friend of a sibling…and then eventually a sibling too) that I knew of, although there may have been more unwilling to have their unbelief be known. They didn’t accuse me of being a “fundie moron” but let me know they were there if I ever needed to talk.
    I couldn’t agree with you more Dale, when you said that what people need is “an opening of space around people so they can think clearly, sometimes for the first time in their lives, about their beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs.“ It was this very thing that helped me to simply ALLOW myself to think about what it was that I believed. In a religious environment where terms like atheist, agnostic, humanist, secular humanist and evolution were all verboten and laden with huge amounts of negative associations (not the least of which was that even thinking about them might have meant I was under demonic influence), allowing myself to think about them, let alone talk about them or read about them, was a hugely significant and difficult process. Just knowing that there were people who treated me kindly, who also treated others kindly and who obviously lived moral, ethical lives and who did not believe, helped to give me permission to THINK and this was the beginning of my deconversion. Had they not been there, I really think I wouldn’t be here.
    Internet forums &, online blogs have now become a place where I sometimes go, perhaps like you, to be able to vent some of that rage and frustration –even if only vicariously as I generally only read and don’t comment, but in my relationship with those who believe, I tread lightly. It is most important to me, to be kind and to be a good model of the secular humanist values I hold. It was this that got my attention in the first place.

    Comment: Nettie – 15. October 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  19. “What helped me was simply knowing that there were people whom I respected that I knew personally who didn’t believe.”

    Beautiful. Perfect. That sentence could serve as the punchline of this entire series. THAT is what we need to be doing, first and foremost. More to come.

    Comment: Dale – 15. October 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  20. Wow, this is a really great thread. I never believed in religion, so it’s very interesting for me to read these. The only so-called superstitious belief I recall overcoming was being a kid and a Donahue episode coming on in which he interviewed the authors of the book The Amityville Horror movie was based on. Until then I had thought that people on TV wearing coats and ties and such must know what they were talking about so when I heard them saying that the freaky things in the previews were REAL messed me up. Ghosts…REAL!?! When I figured out they were a couple of liars trying to make $ I just got mad. I think that, along with my love of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series must have been why I’m such a skeptic. But I’ve been to church, read the bible and never once saw it as anything other than tradition, folklore and myth.

    Reading all your stories is quite enlightening. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Comment: teacherninja – 15. October 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  21. I’m a former believer.

    I made the mistake of reading the Bible and saw alarming parallels between the Judeo-Christian worldviews/history and Islamic worldviews/history.

    I thought hard about Pascal’s Wager and decided I could not be such a hypocrite. As I let go of my psychological crutch, my self-esteem went up and I felt such a freedom when I came to the realization that there is nothing beyond the physical.

    I was tired of being considered unworthy, unclean, in need of salvation because God had not made me perfect to begin with, or an infidel who deserved to die if I didn’t run into the arms of a psychopathic warrior-god.

    I will not make excuses for genocide nor mental/physical slavery, therefore I reject all religions. The 2nd reason I reject religion is because of the lack of physical evidence for the supernatural..

    I personally have no problem with calling myself an atheist, though many people seem to have a hard time with it. They think an atheist must assert that there is NO god/supernatural realm, when there is no proof either way. I do not make a negative assertion. I assert simply that the non-temperal cannot be proven or even indicated by the temporal. Therefore, as there is no evidence for god, I am literally “ἄθεος–without god.”

    Comment: Misnomered – 15. October 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  22. I grew up in a nominally Catholic family. We went to Mass sporadically, and my parents largely left our religious education to the Catholic schools that we attended. I spent my youth simultaneously in love with science and immersed in Catholic dogma. Fortunately, I received a scientifically rigorous, theologically liberal K-12 education. Still, I had questions that I never really voiced. I went through a brief devout period in response to a personal crisis that I experienced at 15. The crisis was resolved and I returned to my former religious stance of unconvinced, but too busy living my life to give it much thought. That was essentially the position that I held through college and my young adulthood. Fast forward to the birth of my son. Suddenly the Big Questions loom large, too large to be consigned to the back of the intellectual closet any longer.

    A funny coincidence occurred around the time of my son’s birth: Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace was released. I love the Star Wars story; I think it’s a great modern myth. I loved the idea of The Force permeating and binding together all living things, even if the Jedi powers were impossible. Anyway, the release of The Phantom Menace was accompanied by a lot of commentary, as well as interviews with George Lucas. As a result of what I was reading regarding the movie, I got interested in reading Joseph Campbell’s books. Once I started reading about the power of myth, I was hooked on finding out as much as I could about what people believe and why. From there it was only a short step to reading about the history of Christianity and the Bible. After reading Joseph Campbell, I devoured everything I could find by Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong, Garry Wills, and Bart Ehrman. Once I learned that the central beliefs of the Catholic Church were decided by committee (look up “Council of Nicaea” on Wikipedia if you don’t know what I’m referring to), I was done with religion.

    For a while I tried the “spiritual, but not religious” approach, exploring Eastern philosophy and especially Zen Buddhism. I tried meditation, mostly hoping to become more mindful and to develop a “pause” button for the runaway train of thought in my head. I also started reading some basic philosophy books, and returned to my first love, science, with the works of Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins (wearing his biologist hat), Michael Shermer, and Natalie Angier, among others. And of course I eventually got around to reading Dawkins (the atheist version), Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Victor Stenger. (I have an addiction to reading . . . one book just seems to keep leading to another.)

    This has been a very roundabout way of saying that on my journey into disbelief, I was definitely at the wheel. I just needed access to the roadmaps and guideposts that were there all along, obscured by the overgrowth of indoctrination. And the baby in the back seat certainly refocused my attention from the straight and narrow superhighway to the much more interesting side streets. Now, ten years later, we’re traveling companions.

    Comment: codysmom – 15. October 2009 @ 5:33 pm

  23. “Beautiful. Perfect. That sentence could serve as the punchline of this entire series. THAT is what we need to be doing, first and foremost. More to come.”

    Gosh,THANKS!
    I’m looking forward to your next installments!

    Comment: Nettie – 15. October 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  24. My very Lutheran father-in-law rolls his eyes every time I say it, but I used to be a good old fashioned Cincinnati Catholic boy. I said my prayers, went to confession, wore my Cub Scout uniform to Mass on Sunday (and later my soccer uniform) and got baptised, communed and confirmed etc. When I had the chance to go to St Xavier HS, one of the premier Jesuit institutions in the country I jumped at it, for not the least reason that it would take a whole new batch of bullies a lot of time to figure out how geeky I was (am). And I remained a good Catholic boy until my junior year.

    Then things got iffy. I remember starting to feel like there was no one on the other line when I prayed (which I did less and less of). Ironically, just as the relentless “men for others” regimen was turning some of the jerks in our class into halfway decent people, geeks like me were drifting away.

    Now at X, you had to take religion classes every year. Seniors had to take at least one semester. Some folks took bible study, others did community service (it got you off campus). Me and a few others saw our opportunity and made a beeline to “Introduction to Atheism and Agnosticism”. So there was me, a few drama majors, my buddy Rama Donepudi the Hindu and Mr. Lammameier, who was the freakin Mission Leader!. But he duly introduced us to Pascal’s Wager and Russel’s Teapot and by the end of the year most of us who weren’t already spoken for by another religion (I think Rama converted by the end of the year!) were comfortable enough with ourselves to identify as agnostic at least.

    I spent my 20’s drifting along as primarily a Pantheist, with a trace of woo sprinkled in, and my thirties in a Bill Hick’s influenced “it’s just a ride” nondenominational psychedelic universalism. It wasn’t until I discovered the Humanist Magazine that I realized that there was a “serious” way to describe what I really believed. And it wasn’t until i had my first kid 4.5 years ago and discovered Dale’s site that I began to become comfortable identifying as an Atheist. The thing I really realize now is that I still am all those other things too… all of them are part of the thing that calls itself me. My opinion about the existence of god or gods is much less important than the process I took to get to that opinion.

    Oh yeah, check out my new blog
    http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/
    It uses a lot more dirty words than Dale’s.

    Comment: blotzphoto – 15. October 2009 @ 6:38 pm

  25. I was raised in a *very* religious household, one that both believed in going to church every week, grace at every meal, and prayers every night before bed. Luckily, my family also believed in *knowing* about religion – my father loved knowing the history and the language etymology, my mother loved world religion and cultural myths and how they related to Christianity. Christianity and Jesus were the unquestioned norm, but I also grew up with myths of the Romans, Greeks, and Navajo.
    I also went to a *very* religious elementary school that was completely different than my religious home life. At school, there was no other story, there was no questioning of where things cam from, and any one who even had questions was a doubting sinner. Like many folks, I went through a fierce fling with being *really* religious myself at the same time I was entering adolescence and quickly realized that I was *more* miserable that I had been just being an average Christian.
    And then, I went to high school – to a liberal, free-thinking, debate every idea school based on self-directed learning and personal governance philosophies. But more importantly to me, there were Jews. Raised in south, cloisted in Christian schools until that point, I had *never met* anyone who wasn’t Christian and suddenly nearly 10% of my peers were Jewish or other. I was floored, confused, and amazed. The mere connection to people who didn’t belong to a world where Christianity was an “of course” left me wondering why I did believe. It didn’t take long for all of my “knowledge” of Christianity, the history and etymology and familiarity with myth to kick in and by the end of the year, I was a firm athiest.
    However, I never said a word to my parents and devoutly went to church every Sunday I lived in their house, even sang in the choir all through high school, busily scribbling down dogmatic articles of “disbelief” in cramped handwriting on my chruch bulletin. Being an athiest to my family is part of the story I’m still working on, but if I can help it, my kids will know all about the myth of the Romans, Romans, Navajo…and the Christians.

    Comment: downfroggy – 15. October 2009 @ 8:42 pm

  26. “If you were once religious, what was the nature of your de-conversion? Were you at the wheel, or was someone else pushing, or some combination?”

    I have to say that my de-conversion was an accident. Nobody was pushing, and I had no intention of abandoning my strong Christian faith. It began gradually, with reading science books as well as the Bible, and thinking a lot about everything. After many years of gradually moving to a somewhat unconventional personal version of Christianity, I arrived at a teachable moment when I decided that the forgiveness of my sins wasn’t the most “saving” experience of my life. At that point, my religious beliefs quickly unraveled, and I found myself with a naturalistic worldview.

    This is indeed an inspiring thread, and I’m a big fan of your whole blog, Dale. I wish I had another chance to raise my sons with the benefit of your wisdom.

    Comment: JoelJ – 15. October 2009 @ 9:07 pm

  27. It was a combination of factors. I was raised Catholic but seeds of doubt were planted early by my WASP grandfather. In my early twenties I realized I did not need the middleman, or “God-in-the-box” when a priest denied me absolution during confession. Later, all three of my kids were baptized and one even made her First Communion before I decided I wouldn’t be a hypocrite and finally quit the church entirely (we were down to the nominal Christmas and Easter visits by then.) I began to consider myself officially agnostic when homeschooling my children, seriously studying history, literature, and science, and I credit Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins for knocking me off that fence.

    Comment: LynneD – 15. October 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  28. My dad is a Baptist pastor, so when I was growing up, church was his job and our life. Sundays were a double dose with morning and evening services. Monday was Bible memorization club night, Wednesday night was prayer meeting. We attended seminars that assured us that the Bible was 100% historically and scientifically accurate, and that the earth was 6,000 years old.

    In college I studied comparative religion at a state university, and was exposed to a critical point of view on christianity for the first time. At the time I believed it was helpful to have an “outsiders” perspective so I could empathize with non-believers (with the ultimate goal of witnessing to them, of course).

    After an intense period of passionate zealous faith in college, I had a rough year when I felt that God was distant, if even there at all. I took the nervous step of sharing my doubt with some christian friends, fully expecting comfort and empathy. Instead I got distrust and bible verses lobbed over the wall at me. No one else understood, and I think what made it worse is that no one wanted to understand (perhaps for fear of losing their own faith).

    In spite of this experience I went into full-time ministry after college. My rationale at the time was that being in ministry would keep me surrounded by faith and therefore prevent me from “coasting”. (This I’ve since realized is a truism of faith: it takes continual effort to keep it.)

    Once faith became my job it was horrible. After a few years of misery, working for a christian evangelistic organization sharing my “faith” all the while trying to make myself believe, I got out. I was in this place of limbo where I didn’t believe but was sort of waiting around for something to happen, like I’d snap out of it one day and go back to blissful belief in God.

    Finally about a year ago, I picked up The God Delusion and was amazed by how much sense a lot of it made. That led me to Dan Barker and Julia Sweeney whose stories resonated so much with where I was at, that I finally started to admit to myself that I don’t believe.

    I’m still in the process of working that out, and have only started to out myself with a few people. I know the next hurdle will be to tell my parents, but that scares me because I know it will be really hard on them.

    When I first admitted to myself that I was an agnostic/atheist, I thought that I could continue to live my christian life on the outside and keep my unbelief on the down-low. But after finally admitting to myself after 10 years of doubt that I just don’t believe, suddenly church has become really uncomfortable to me. I still attend off and on with my wife (who still loosely identifies as a christian), but at this point the only thing that keeps me going to church are the dear friends I have there.

    Comment: kj84 – 16. October 2009 @ 4:21 am

  29. I should have asked this question long ago. This is just a remarkable thread. Please keep it going.

    It seems like few if any so far were first driven to question their religious beliefs because of the arguments against it. Most common here is a two-step process. First comes a kind of freestanding doubt that develops naturally in your own head — a growing discomfort with the inconsistencies, etc — and then, once you are receptive, DawkinsHumeHitchensHarrisDennettMyers take you the rest of the way, and brilliantly.

    That’s why I don’t support the calls for Dawkins, et al. to tone it down or go away. They represent a vital second step for so many of us. But we do have to devote more thought to helping people with doubts explore them calmly, honestly, without defensiveness, in that first step.

    Comment: Dale – 16. October 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  30. My story is very different. I was raised without religion, and never had any faith to lose. But like the people in most of the other posts, I too have had a “conversion” in the last few years. And once again, I think Dale is on to something here in exploring the lines of communication between believers and non-believers.

    I spent most of my life avoiding religion. I didn’t need it, didn’t respect it, and didn’t want to hear about it. I am a scientist, so most of my colleagues are not people of strong faith, but you’d be amazed how people can compartmentalize things in their minds, and a higher percentage of scientists than I would have expected continue to maintain religious traditions in their home, despite the lack of a strong faith. Being an atheist had become such an ugly thing, that no one wanted to admit it publicly. People I would encounter in my personal life almost uniformly seemed to defer to the presence of a powerful God in their lives.

    I could peacefully co-exist with people who did not proselytize, and I just walked away or inwardly rolled my eyes when people prayed or suggested that their accomplishments were an act of God. It just seemed easier to be the silent minority, since faith and some sort of belief seemed to be omnipresent in my world.

    As already stated in this thread, having kids definitely challenges you to re-explore topics that you previously thought you had “all figured out”, and reading PBB changed everything for me. Suddenly I realized that there were people in all walks of life who could see that the emperor was not wearing any clothes, and they were not afraid to admit it. Their courage inspired me to stop avoiding the topic of religion, and to comfortably reveal my lack of faith and disregard for strict adherence to a strange piece of literature written more than 2000 years ago.

    It started as just a small moment of clarity, but my continued reading of this blog and others has allowed it to blossom into a true ease and comfort in understanding who I am and what I believe.

    But it has also created a problem. Now that I have “seen the light”, I find it harder and harder to have respect for people that I used to think of as intelligent and open-minded who believe in God fervently. I don’t understand why such an illogical tradition as Christianity continues to this day for more than 80% of Americans.

    I’m looking forward to this series of posts on communication and hope that one of them might inspire me find the right tone when talking to people of strong faith.

    Comment: mother of one – 16. October 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  31. Like others have said, i wasn’t really deconverted so to speak. I think i always had a general sense of, “if you can’t show me some hard evidence, i don’t really buy it.” This was most early evidenced when my Catholic-raised mom (another good old fashioned Cincinnati Catholic actually!) suffered from a bout of “my daughter needs religion” when i was between the ages of 3 and 5. I went to Sunday School a few times only to hate it (not the religion of course, just the kids, the teacher, the fact that they tried to make me eat broccoli and cauliflower). And then there came the most defining moment when she bought a few Bible story children’s books and read them to me at bedtime when I was 5. After she finished one about Jonah and the whale, i just looked at her and matter-of-factly said, “Mom, that can’t happen.” And that was that.

    I did go to church with lots of kids around me though as i grew up. I’d spend the night on Saturday, we’d wake up and go to church on Sunday. It was just me participating in activities they did, but it gave me a taste of several different churches and what they were all about (or *not* about as the case may be). I saw all types, and i saw the appeal of religion and its ceremonies at times, but it was never “me”…and i’ve always known who i am and what i’m about.

    The bigger deconversion story is really my husband who was raised amongst Southern Baptists and Methodists. He bought into most of it, though not actively. He had his doubts probably, but there was no one to voice them to and no real reason. Until i came along. I think i gave him that space around him to let him think clearly and gave him the idea that it was ok to think about it differently. What’s funny is he’s really quite a skeptic about *everything*…but not long after i first met him, i ended up having a conversation with him about things like Adam and Eve as if it were actually true. He and i would never have that same conversation now nearly 15 years later.

    I’d say we’re both agnostics now…and i don’t call myself atheist because, like i said, if you can’t show me the hard evidence one way or the other, I don’t buy it. I’m one of those people who are just fine with not knowing where we came from, how we got here, who is up in the sky or not. Of course i have the same questions as everyone else, but i’m not going to cling to one idea or another just because i’m desperate for an answer. I’m fine with there not being an answer.

    I’m looking forward to more of these posts though…I went to the bookstore this morning and saw a bumper sticker that said “Coexist” which made me think of these posts. If we communicate effectively enough to let down the barriers of fear amongst those who hold different beliefs, then we’ll all feel better. I think communicating about religion, for me, is not about trying to convert or deconvert anyone, it’s just a dropping of the head and wagging of the tail, letting others know i’m cool with them if they’re cool with me.

    Oh, and i just noticed that you’ve added Birmingham to your list of cities you’ll visit next year! Now i’m all giddy 😉

    Comment: wenzday – 17. October 2009 @ 11:44 am

  32. I’m coming to this thread rather late, but thought I’d put in my story as well…

    I was raised in a nominally religious family. We went to the Lutheran church every Sunday until I was twelve or so, and then fell away from it because our church was becoming “undignified”, in the words of my proper Dutch mother. We never discussed religion at home – church was just something we did. I never thought about religion. I said all the words that were expected of me, did all I was supposed to do, but never had a sense of any meaning beyond that. I think I believed everyone thought the same way – if pressed, I probably would have said “oh, no one REALLY believes all that”.

    Fast forward – my husband and I were married in a church, because that was simply the thing to do. We even attended church a few times, still not discussing any of it. We had our first child and the question of baptism came up, but we decided not to do anything about it as it didn’t quite feel right, but I did have a vague sense of being remiss; that we were somehow, on some level, putting her in danger (I suppose that goes to show my years in church had instilled some sense of fear in me, after all!)

    Fast forward three years. We moved to the US with our two kids (three and one). We met a family, also new to the area, whose first question was “have you found a church yet?” My reply was “not yet” – because it seemed like it was something we had better start thinking about. (They turned out to be a very strong Baptist couple – I wonder, in hindsight, if I had answered in the negative, if we would have become friends at all…)

    We did become friends – they were very vocal – I soon realized I was TOTALLY wrong in thinking “oh, no one REALLY believes all that!! It was because of them that we realized religion/what we believed was something we were going to have to figure out. We tried a couple of churches, but found the minister spoke gobbledegook, so discarded the church idea, all while having the feeling we were somehow being remiss with our kids (I did. My husband didn’t think we were doing anything wrong at all).

    I started reading – John Shelby Spong, Charles Templeton, others – but rather than feeling positive about what I knew now to be my disbelief, I felt negative about it. I still, deep down, felt the cultural sense of “Christianity = Goodness”, the corollary being, of course, if you are not a Christian you are not a good person. Maybe it’s more correct to say I felt the injustice of that cultural sense, because I knew we were good people and yet not Christian.

    We discovered the UU church, found there were others like us, which gave me some relief. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Then, one day, a few months before the election last fall while cruising the internet, absolutely dismayed by the religiosity of US politics, I “stumbled upon” the PBB website.

    Reading your books and blog has completely changed how I think about religion and it’s opened up new lines of communication with us and our kids. They get a great sense of comfort in knowing we are not alone in our views and it’s given them (and me) the courage to not be afraid to speak our minds. They often read over my shoulder as I check the forum, and I have told them several times, “Dale says if we are open in what we believe, people will realize you don’t have to be a Christian in order to be a good person.”

    Thanks, Dale, for doing what you do.

    Comment: canuck – 18. October 2009 @ 8:10 am

  33. For me, it was a combination. Reading more about religion in my college program of Middle Eastern Studies and the History of Science brought up too many questions. The more I studied and researched, the less probable god seemed. It occurred to me that I’d never actually thought about it. I was raised an Episcopalian and just followed along in the stream. But when I got older and saw how much of politics was tied to religious leanings in this country. I realized that religion wasn’t benign.

    Like many others, kids have thrown a new wrench into my disbelief. We homeschool and there are a lot of families that are homeschooling because they are religion. Our challenge has been to talk to our kids about other people’s beliefs without sounding like we’re ridiculing them. We don’t want to our kids to end up being religious as a sort of rebellion against us.

    Now the finger sucking thing is something else entirely. I don’t understand why you and your family shamed your child into something that made her happy when you’ve given extremely slim chances of it actually hurting her–she wasn’t engaging in behaviors that your dental experts were particularly worried about. (This of course is where your analogy really has problems: religious people do cause harm–they vote and try to enact their beliefs on others.) I know you say you left it to her, but did you? She cried when you brought it up gently; she was very aware that you were disappointed by the behavior. If you tell her, “You’ll know when it’s time,” I’m pretty certain she’s smart enough to deduce that you think it is time; it is something that must be done. She didn’t really have a choice, did she, if she was going to please you and the rest of her family?

    You have a an awesome, smart, creative kid who sucks her fingers?! Oh horrors! Smart people can and do suck their fingers/thumbs. Don’t worry so much that people are going to judge her for that behavior.

    Comment: Song – 18. October 2009 @ 9:15 am

  34. I didn’t get the impression that Delaney was being shamed about the finger sucking. In fact, when I read Dale’s posts about his interactions with his kids, I wish I could be more like him. You go, Dale! You’re an inspiration.

    Comment: codysmom – 18. October 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  35. I don’t understand why you and your family shamed your child into something that made her happy when you’ve given extremely slim chances of it actually hurting her…You have an awesome, smart, creative kid who sucks her fingers?! Oh horrors! Smart people can and do suck their fingers/thumbs.

    @Song: I must have been very unclear for you to misread so many points. (1) Delaney cried not because I brought it up, but because her sister had tried to shame her seconds earlier. I intervened to stop that. (2) The point of including the first several paras was precisely to show that awesome, smart, creative people of all ages do turn to such comforts, and that they are not fools for it. (3) There are indeed indications that she has affected her alignment and has developed a slight speech impairment from it, so we were right to be concerned AND the analogy holds. But thanks anyway for chiming in!

    Comment: Dale – 19. October 2009 @ 7:40 am

  36. Thanks Dale for your explanation. Your reply and your post say two different things. Your references to the dental problems were rather noncommittal–“Dental experts warned of possible splaying or malocclusion of permanent teeth, possible speech impairments. But they often cited frequent and intense sucking as the most likely to produce these.” The use of the word “possible” twice and the conjunction “but” told me that these things weren’t the case for your daughter.

    I wasn’t thinking about the incident with her sister. I was referring to this: “We discussed it casually with Laney, told her about the dental worries, offered some ideas for stopping. She’d shake her head. Sometimes her eyes would well up, and we’d drop it.” Yes, welling up and crying aren’t exactly the same, but….
    And that quote also contributed to my confusion (and probably Laney’s as well.) A casual discussion that is then dropped if it upsets the child sounds more like you’re talking about a habit you’d really like for her to quit, rather than a problem where you’re really worried about her health.

    Comment: Song – 19. October 2009 @ 11:51 am

  37. It’s awesome to read all these comments. I really feel the sense of community online which is lacking in my current place of residence.

    My family started going to church when I was about 9, and I got baptized at 11. It wasn’t a huge part of our lives until I got to high school and really began to be more conservative in my religious beliefs. I broke up with my boyfriend a couple of times, which were extremely wrenching, the most pain I’ve ever felt to this day, all because it was what Jesus wanted us to do. (Side note: said boyfriend and I are now married, so take that, Jesus.) I then became a bit more liberal when we got a VERY conservative youth pastor who had an extremely self-centered way of looking at religion. When we asked him why the giant tsunami happened a few years ago, he said that he didn’t know but that we should thank God it didn’t happen to us and be thankful that the people affected by it might be more receptive to Christian missionaries.

    I went to a Baptist college in a small, predominately Christian town and tried to be more Christian, and I even got seriously into Assembly of God beliefs, including the speaking in tongues and healing aspects. I suffered a big blow to faith when I attended a healing conference and was not healed for my scoliosis or my resentment against my father. Throughout college I only attended church sporadically and began to feel intense feelings of guilt. The last time I voluntarily attended church (not due to family obligation) I sobbed uncontrollably for the duration of the service, not understanding why.

    I got married the summer before my junior year of college, and my husband was having serious doubts about religion. I wasn’t too concerned because he’d always gone through these periods and come back to Jesus. However, I found that this time, it was I would would lead the charge against my religion. I have always struggled with “seeming” contradictions in Christianity, but I would read the Bible regularly and sought in earnest to understand how those “seeming” contradictions fit together. Like the idea of a loving God sending people to hell. Or ordering genocide.

    After talking on the phone one night to my very smart aunt, she asked if she could send be a book. She sent me “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris. I’m not sure why I started reading it, but I’m not even done with it and have seen so much evidence for the arguments that Harris makes, in my life. I am a staunch feminist and can’t believe I ever supported any institution that would justify the subjugation of women. I never believed that God would send people to hell for not ever hearing the name of Jesus. So many things I’d been raised with began to collide in my head. Then I stumbled upon this blog. I am 23 years old and do not have children, but I plan to have kids someday, and the way that childraising is described on this blog is irresistable to me. I want so badly to raise my children in an environment that says it’s ok to question things. I want my children to challenge the status quo.

    I am still hesitant to self-identify as atheist (in part because Christianity has been such an enormous part of myself for years) but more and more I am finding that I agree with atheism. Not a day goes by when I am not reminded of some lie that I’ve accepted as truth. I feel like my brain is untying all the knots that the church tied it into, to keep it bound and submissive to dogma. I have learned that my body is my own and my worth comes from within.

    Finally, instead of trying to make all my personal beliefs about the world fit into the views of Christianity, I removed the one element that didn’t make sense (my religion) and suddenly a weight was lifted. All my life I’d been lied to and told that I would find true freedom in Jesus, and in following the Bible. But I am finding true freedom in rejecting religion. I am finding true freedom in letting myself make up my own mind and trusting my judgment.

    Thank you for your blog, Dale. You are a huge part of my journey. My de-conversion has been very self-motivated but very supported by the online community.

    Comment: smartlyprettylacey – 19. October 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  38. Dale, Thank you so much for posting this thread. I have been searching for something like this for months. I have even posted on other blogs asking for other “coming out” stories to find inspiration and courage to talk about my de-conversion from Christianity.

    I was raised in a religious household, church every Sunday, youth group on Wednesdays, but religion was not something that we discussed. I never questioned my beliefs growing up and enjoyed the social activities of my extended “church family”. I defended prayer in high school and prayed everynight before I fell asleep. My boyfriend in high school was exploring other faith options, but we didn’t really discuss it on a deep level. He just explained to me that he didn’t know exactly what he thought on Christianity, or other religions, he just wanted to do what he could for the people he came into contact with.

    In college I studied science and math. I knew evolution was true, but chaulked it up to ID and rationalized my religion with science. I took comparative religion and philosophy courses, even debating against my faith, because I was so certain that I knew it was right…it was better a believer put up a fight against their own beliefs (in my mind) than someone who did not respect Christianity.

    I had my fair share of bad relationships and turned to God to help me in difficult times. I was engaged to a particularly butal man and prayed for peace (in my life) every night for months. I finally ended the engagement and realized that I had brought myself peace (by ending the relationship) not God. I started having conversations with my mom about how I thought that the GLBT community should have equal rights, and she told me how it was ok to be GLBT but it wasn’t ok to “act” on it (I was blown away…especially since my mom was a huge feminist–How could she want rights for women but not others!) I was contacted by my high school ex and we started talking on the phone for hours (as we were living 3 hours from each other) on a nightly basis. He never pushed me into anything, but always asked me “Why” and “How” I believed certain things. We moved in together and he brought his collection of atheist literature. I think I read them all within a month. (We were married about 2 months later, in an outdoor secular ceremony–That my mom still blames my husband for, even after my numerous defenses).

    I couldn’t get enough information. I then found your books and blog and cannot wait to raise children (although actually having them are many years off) in light of what I have learned. I came out to my sister (who is very close to me) about a month ago with mixed emotions. She wasn’t shocked but she isn’t really comfortable talking about it. I am afraid to come out to my parents, who become more relgious with age, but I’m working up to it.

    Thanks for being out there and spreading hope for those who are finding their way in atheism, agnoticism, humanism, and the like.

    Comment: alisonj – 19. October 2009 @ 11:23 pm

  39. My parents were (are) Jewish and had indoctrinated me accordingly. The authority of the basis of Judaism, the Torah (first five books of the bible), comes from the words, “I am the Lord thy God”. Without those words, the Torah is nothing more than an ancient book of stories from a primitive people. It seemed to me, if those words were true and if God was the omniscient, omnipotent being that was claimed, then religion was the most important thing in the world and the Torah (bible) should be taken literally. If the Torah wasn’t meant to be taken literally (or seriously), then that book couldn’t have been written or even inspired by an omniscient and omnipotent God. Presumably, no such God would create a flawed book. One would expect that an omniscient God would speak clearly, say what he means and speak the truth.

    It bothered me that almost everyone I knew, including my parents, picked and chose which laws from the Torah they would obey and which laws they wouldn’t obey, seemingly based on whether the law was convenient. Did they really believe or were they just being hypocritical?

    At age 14, I asked myself, “Is the Torah important, or is it just a collection of fairy tales?”. The best way I figured I could answer this question was by answering the question, “Does what is described in the Torah match the real world?”. So I spent about a year studying the Torah and related rabbinical commentaries with that question in mind. There was a regular way of doing this as, during a calendar year, one section of the Torah is read in the synagogue every Sabbath. I could concentrate on that section during the Sabbath service, especially during the sermon. Yeah, sermons are boring in a synagogue too.

    Of course, the Torah and science did not agree and I had to believe that facts revealed by science carried more weight (Why? Because they have all that physical evidence.). Besides that, one thing that struck me was a chapter in Deuteronomy which basically says, If you obey God’s laws, you will be successful. If you don’t, your life will be miserable. There is no heaven nor hell mentioned in the Torah so one’s reward is on earth. Well, the bloody history of the Jews definitely proves this wrong as does our everyday experience that evil people often prosper while good people often suffer.

    Before age 15, I was an apikoris (unbeliever).

    Comment: rrose – 20. October 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  40. I read the bible when I was 18 and decided to was clearly not true, but maintained a sense of the existence of God. My brother killed himself when I was 20. No one told me he went to hell, but no one said the usual “he’s in a better place” reassurance either. I decided I didn’t believe in an afterlife and I certainly didn’t want to worship any God that would allow what happened to happen when he could stop it. I didn’t even know atheism was an option until I met my husband and he told me that what I believed had a name. His example made me feel more comfortable with who I was. It was after I was already an atheist that I began reading Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. . . Happily atheist for six years now and busy raising freethinkers!

    Comment: beckyleah – 26. October 2009 @ 7:09 pm

  41. When I was 6 years old, I went to Vacation Bible School held in the backyard of a neighbor down the street. I don’t remember a thing about it except being lined up outside at one point and all of us asked if we “accepted Christ as out personal Savior”. I was only 6, but I knew somehow that even though it was phrased as a yes/no question, I could only really answer Yes.

    Like–who’s gonna say “no”, ya know what I mean? (intoned in approporate Mafia accent). I said “yes” with everybody else, but I felt bad because I knew I wasn’t telling the truth.

    I had 3 best friends growing up. I was brought up in the Episcopal church (Catholic Lite–no Pope). One friend was plain vanilla Church of Christ. Another was a Seventh Day Adventist. The other was an outspoken atheist. Used to go to summer camp with my SDA friend–sang their songs, ate vegetarian food, had a ball. I got so good at explaining the SDA version of Christianity to others that eventually when someone asked her “What’s an Adventist?”, she’d just point to me and say, “ask her–she’s better at explaining it.” It bothered me a little that her version of Christianity insisted that it was the *only* path to Righteousness (so, what, I’m a devil-worshipper because I eat pork and go to church on Sunday?). We talked about religion sometimes, but never in a confrontational way. I knew all 3 of my friends were good, decent ethical, thinking people, so it just couldn’t be that only one of our versions of religion was the “right” one.

    I taught German when I graduated from college and became an official Grownup with a Paycheck. Taught in a small town in Indiana filled with Mennonites, Bethel Bretheren, and buggy-driving Amish who lived just ouside of town. Saw an Amish mother with 5 or 6 kids in their horse and wagon getting cheeseburgers in the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Priceless. Listened to my students rag on the Amish as hypocrites because the would come into town to use the laundromat, or bum rides with someone who had a van, or use a pay phone. Not being the confrontational type, I mostly listened–to what they said and the uncharitable way they said it.

    Went to Japan with my ex-husband and became fascinated with Zen–because of the lack of dogma, I now realize. I used to lie in bed at night with that verse from the gospels ping-ponging around fearfully in my head, ” Those who have will be given more. Those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away.” Terrifying in the context of an emotionally abusive marrige.

    Then I found Joseph Campbell–Masks of Ged. Read all 4 books–twice. The first time took a *long* time because I drifted off into a brown study every other page. For a long time I was content with what I knew for myself–I never felt the need to discuss it with anybody else. Then I got remarried–had the ceremony in the church I grew up in. All 3 of my kids were baptized there, too. I felt hypocritical doing so–knowing full well I had no intention whatsoever of “bringing them up Christian”. But at the milestones of life there is a longing to take one’s place as an adult in the community you grew up in. These are my people, as they say in the South. The church part was unimportant to me– but the people I grew up with were and are important to me. I sympathize strongly with those who wonder whether speaking out will lose them family or community relationships they cherish. That was my rationale.

    I still didn’t really know what to do about my kid’s questions that I knew would come, probably sooner than I wanted. We live in Japan, so I wasn’t too worried about them growing up with no morals just because I didn’t take them to church. But still… without the church in the background, how would I convince them what’s right and wrong? Then I found John Brockman’s site– The Edge, and Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris,…and best of all, an article by a dad named Dale, which led me to this site.

    Mr. McGowan–words cannot exprss the relief I felt reading your articles and your book. Waves of peaceful relief when I realized that religion does not equal morality, that their moral sense is inborn, and I culd raise them to be moral, ethical, caring, compassionate, thinking individuals without any other baggage. Thank you. Kokoro kara arigatou gozaimasu.

    Comment: amyoinyokohama – 02. November 2009 @ 5:43 am

  42. […] Shared A tale of two fingers (can you hear me now 2) […]

    Pingback: Daily Digest for October 18th « Bridget K McKinney – 07. November 2009 @ 10:46 am

  43. My deconversion process was long and painful, and I’m just now emerging on the other side. I’m still going through the anger phase of my deconversion, but I’m going to try my best to stay un-bitter.

    I grew up in a very conservative, evangelical church and family. I accepted everything I was told and spouted it all back out without too much thought. I had my moments of doubt and struggles to be a ‘good Christian’ but was told that everyone does, so it’s okay. I spent most of my childhood ostracized by classmates because I was ‘too Christian’ for them and trying to convert the friends I did have because I anguished that all of these good people I knew were going to hell.

    As I got into high school, those old doubts came back stronger and I tried harder than ever to beat them down, and even succeeded sometimes. However, those doubts mixed with a slow separation from my church community (I was always a bit more open minded than everyone, all of my friends went to a different school and lived close enough that they could interact outside of church.) made me uninterested in finding a Church group once I got into college and primed for deconversion.

    Within a couple of months at college I met my husband, and we went through the rest of our deconversion together over the course of four years, through what we learned in our courses and many long discussions about religion. The one question that had always bugged me, and ultimately sealed the deal for me is, “How can I say that as a Christian, I am right and everyone else is wrong? If I’d been born into a Hindu family, I’d believe that just as strongly. Also, what about all of those people who died before Christ came around?”

    My husband recently ‘came out Atheist’ to my family, which should make for an interesting Christmas. I was initially repulsed and saddened when he told me he was Atheist, but I quickly realized that it was just a remnant of my Christian indoctrination and now support him wholeheartedly. The whole process has brought us a lot closer together, and if we have to be the black sheep of my family, at least we’re doing it together. I’m not quite ready to call myself an Atheist yet (who am I to say there’s no god?), but I don’t imagine it’ll be too long at the rate things are going.

    Thank you for this whole topic, it’s incredibly well timed for us.

    Comment: Valerie – 18. December 2009 @ 10:41 am

  44. Hi Valerie — So glad to hear that, and thanks for sharing your background story. As for “who am I to say there’s no god?”, you’re right — few atheists are silly enough to say they know it for a fact. This post might help clarify what most atheists actually believe.

    Comment: Dale – 18. December 2009 @ 10:59 am

  45. little late to the party, but i just found this blog through my random internet crawling (i’ve got a lot of free time). just going through and reading from the beginning now.

    “How can I say that as a Christian, I am right and everyone else is wrong? If I’d been born into a Hindu family, I’d believe that just as strongly. Also, what about all of those people who died before Christ came around?”

    that’s the EXACT question that caused me to “deconvert” (weird word as i don’t know that i was ever converted?)

    i was raised catholic, went to catholic school from Pre-K (yeah, that’s right, catholic daycare) to 12th grade. we went to church every friday (with school) and every sunday (with family), and at one point i even went every morning to 6:30 mass with my dad (though this was more to visit with a specific one of my dad’s friends, Mr. Glenn who was an awesome human being and really fun to talk to). i was part of the schools religious retreat team and i even participated in an extra-curricular retreat team outside of school.

    some time close to 11th grade i think i started realizing that this kind of stuff simply wasn’t for me. i realized that i was going to church because my family was, or because i wanted to hang out with my friends, or (as stupid as this sounds) because at church an introverted xenophobe like myself is forced (in the middle of service) to shake the hands of people you don’t know. i could VERY easily do all of these things (hanging out with friends/family, talk to new people) without having to sit through a long string of invocations that i didn’t believe and a bunch of songs that sucked.

    but the question that dropped the hammer on religion as a whole was the “who the hell gave the catholic church the right to tell everyone else that they’re wrong?” and then i applied that to basically every other organized religion. it’s a very difficult realization to have and still continue practicing a religion.

    no one has enough facts to answer that question and all of the feeble answers that people try to use to answer it are even more enraging than those that refuse to even contemplate it.

    Comment: dsenette – 10. September 2010 @ 1:14 pm

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