Am I better for leaving Christianity?

Your Partitioned Mind

Your Partitioned Mind

Even though many ex-Christians notice a radical change in their inner life when leaving their faith, my inner life did not change greatly.  Maybe because my exit was gradual, maybe because my world was not tightly entangled with other Christians or maybe because I had a milder Christianity.  But I certainly did not feel less deluded, more insightful or wiser after I left my religion. Likewise, neither did I feel huge improvements in my mind when I left behind Marxism, Homeopathy or Acupuncture. On leaving all of these, I still felt like the same person.  That is largely because only one area of my life changed while most stayed the same.

Meditation Explosion

Indeed, even weird things stayed the same for me. For even though I left behind what others would consider bizarre belief systems, I still kept having many of the unique experiences similar to those I had when I was a believer.

To illustrate these points I have done two series of posts (“My Confessions” and “My Supernatural Experiences”) with the goal of making believers seem a little less weird to that segment of blogging atheists who fight tooth and claw to typify religiosity as being totally deluded, illogical, naive and outright stupid. Those posts coupled with explanations showing that religion is far more than just adherence to supposed truth propositions — even if religious folks say otherwise.  For I think these hyper-rational Atheists misunderstand the complexity of religion and the complexity of the human mind.  This is revealed by their fervent desire for huge generalizations.

A Modular God -- more than simple belief

I also felt that my stories would help some believers see more clearly how the believer-mind works. I thought that if I told my changes in realms other than their Christianity, it would allow believers to be a little less defensive and to admit to similar mental moves.  I hoped my ‘testimony’ would help some religious folks to change their religion in good ways.

I  contend that we are all full of mistaken ideas, use helpful compromises and employ creative metaphors to navigate through life.  My posts on psychology are meant to show that the same brain that feeds the religious mind, feeds the secular mind — displaying equally odd behavior in realms which these hyper-rationalist atheists may feel self-righteously exempt from their own criticism.

Sure I am very critical of many of the horrible things religion can do. But religion can be used to do wonderful things too.  Generalizations are feeble. And yes, I am especially offended by exclusivism and self-righteousness — but that can happen in secular realms as well. The greatest danger I see in religion is the cloak of sanctification which closes down communication, concentrates power and capitalizes on the taboo brain — it is this manipulative side of the believer mind I often attack.

So my approach criticizes many aspects of both atheism and theism — only because they are both embraced by people like me. But has this approach succeeded with any readers? I am not sure. Have any religious readers read these posts and had their view of atheists broaden? Have any believers felt safer to question their minds as they have heard my vulnerable confessions? Well, those are part of the many reasons I blog — because I hope the answer is “yes” for a handful of people.

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35 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

35 responses to “Am I better for leaving Christianity?

  1. Had I only run up against atheists who were full of condemnation I would likely have shut down and stayed inside the perceived safety of my little religious bubble.

  2. Had I only run up against atheists who were full of condemnation I would likely have shut down and stayed inside the perceived safety of my little religious bubble.

  3. The greatest danger I see in religion is the cloak of sanctification which closes down communication, concentrates power and capitalizes on the taboo brain — it is this manipulative side of the believer mind I often attack.

    Yes. I call it “self-righteousness”. Even if not explicit, religious people tend to think they are better than others because they are acting in the name of god. Once they are possessed, they remain possessed and this possession is used in their brains to justify their actions. Sometimes, this leads to altruism and help towards others, but it may also lead to dangerous things–you know what I mean…

  4. @Ruth: I have actually heard lots of stories of religious folks whose opinions were changed greatly by listening to strident atheist voices. Strident is one thing, but inaccurate with gross over-reaching generalizations is another. But everyone responds to different voices, eh.

    @ Takis:
    “Self-righteous” is when someone feels they are without error. The “cloak of sanctification” is something like: “this is from the Qur’an, the only holy perfect revelation, you may not doubt it.” or that equivalent with the Bible. Or worse, “This is what God/Allah/Krishna told me”. So the righteousness does not have to in the self, but in revelation from a god or a messiah. The “cloak of sanctification” is an epistemological move that depends on taboos of fear.

  5. Strident with evidence is one thing, Strident and demeaning are another. Indeed, though, I understand why a person who has never been religious might be insulting because they see the inherent [in their minds] silliness of religion.

    Regardless I feel it’s important for those of us who have been in both camps to openly share so that those who are questioning don’t feel so alone.

  6. @Ruth,
    Right, I agree. Evidence is everything. But for religious people, with their cloak of sanctification and self-righteousness geared-up, anything (even evidence) can be felt as “demeaning” or “insulting”. Sometime demeaning wakes people up.

    And I agree, it is easier for those in both camps to seem less demeaning. But if there is evidence and the religious people are doing harm, then demeaning, offensive and insulting things are subjective and sometime effective. I think I wander between the two.

    I am an ex-smoker. Sometimes when talking to patients, I find sympathy works, other times, being demeaning and insulting or offensive can wake up other types of personalities. You’ve heard that ex-smokers can be the least tolerant of smokers (“I quit, why can’t you?”) , well sometimes they can be the most understanding too. It takes all sorts of voices, eh?

  7. I definitely wander between the two. It definitely varies person to person simply because personalities are different. I just find that insulting fundamentalist believers isn’t very effective because that actually, as you know, only proves to them that they are truly “in the faith”.

  8. Yeah, Ruth, maybe that is true that insulting is least effective on fundamentalists. Sounds like a good study (survey type) to do — ask former believers what type of message finally got through to them.

  9. @Ruth:
    Sometimes, I can’t help but “insult”. (And that, I put in quotes…) But I don’t try to deconvert anyone. On the other hand, as Sabio pointed out,

    Sometimes when talking to patients, I find sympathy works, other times, being demeaning and insulting or offensive can wake up other types of personalities.

    So, if someone is in the business of deconverting (I am not), then sometimes sympathy may work, other times pointing out facts may work, etc. Depends on the personality, I guess.

    The reason I am not insulting to religious people (at least not always) is because I realize that there is often a great deal of irrationality (and “religiosity”–of different kind) even among people who consider themselves rational. (This includes academics as well, even in sciences.)

  10. I do think it helps to understand what your “goal” is. I don’t try to deconvert anyone either.

    May I ask in what context it is that you are “insulting”? And what your definition of “insulting” is?

    I think in attempting to hold debate or conversation between atheists and theists it is almost inevitable that “insult” will happen. By that I don’t mean name-calling and belittling – which is what I am referring to when I say “insulting”. The inevitable insult is simply because sometimes the truth hurts, even when we don’t wish to acknowledge the truth of a matter.

  11. “The greatest danger I see in religion is the cloak of sanctification which closes down communication, concentrates power and capitalizes on the taboo brain — it is this manipulative side of the believer mind I often attack.”

    The truthful religion open the mind of its followers; only those who don’t understand religion correctly are narrow-minded and need a cloak of sanctification or cloak of self-righteousness.

  12. @Ruth:
    By “insulting” I don’t mean name-calling but insistence on pointing out irrational beliefs. Although I can’t say I never insulted anyone. For example, I have called Tony Blair and idiot and an opportunist for his decision to turn to Catholicism after his term finished and for his using religion in order to justify evil acts and for the money he is making by selling religion and politics classes (at Yale). By “insulting” I mean being cynical and sarcastic to people like this “paasrsurrey” who, after lots of questioning, reached contradictions. I know I wasn’t nice, but I find it stupid to have someone claim that the reason that the Quran is the true is because it says so itself. If (a grownup) cannot see how moronic this is, then he’s got some disorder. I do understand, however, that this is probably not his choice because he was indoctrinated in this particular religion early on. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but sorry it is. Most of the time, I don’t like to insult, but when I reach a wall of irrationality then I start being sarcastic.

    Having said that, I am fully aware that it is not religious folk who reach contradictions. My world of academia is full of “academics” who will lie to others and themselves, go against scientific principles, because they’d rather please their boss rather than admit the truth. Vested interests (monetary or religious or both) make people behave irrationally.

  13. Yes, as I said, sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes it’s hard not to be sarcastic and cynical when irrational people have irrational reasons for thinking the things they think and have no supporting evidence for such, yet feel the need to pontificate to others how they should think or believe.

    But such is the irrational mind. I usually just start asking a series of questions when I’m dealing with the “paasrsurrey’s” of the world. I just don’t enjoy frustrating my own self. Then again, I’m not really a debater, either.

    I’ve just been thinking a lot about the fundamentalist believers lately and Sabio’s post sort of stood out to me as I was one of those.

  14. @Ruth:

    it’s hard not to be sarcastic and cynical when irrational people have irrational reasons for thinking the things they think…

    True. But it’s actually worse when [supposedly] rational people have irrational reasons for thinking the things they think and, even though they know they are being irrational, try to convince others that they are not so or enforce their irrationality by fiat when they happen to be in a position of power.

    As for frustrating oneself, I don’t really mind, personally, so I can get into very lengthy discussions and debates. Alas, I live in a country where speaking and expressing one’s opinion is almost prohibited. This is one of the reasons I spend so much time writing in blogs.

  15. True. I like to think of myself as a pretty rational person Yet, I deluded myself with fundamentalist Christianity and held some pretty irrational positions based on that.

    I live in the U.S. where there is supposed freedom of religion. I also happen to live in an area where there isn’t much freedom of expression if there is a lack of religion.

    Where are you from?

  16. @Ruth:
    From many places. Originally from Greece. Spent some 20 years in the US, many of them in Texas, a couple of years in France, some in Scotland, and I now live in Sweden. I know the US well and visit often. I became particularly hostile to religion due to my sojourn in Texas where I realized that fundamentalist Christians are oh so dangerous. (I didn’t know this before. My years at Berkeley never raised an alarm for the dangers of religion.) Welcome to take a look at my blog to see my rants.

  17. Ah, Texas. Not much different than my native Georgia, then. Yes, they are oh so dangerous.

    I did click on your avitar, but I didn’t see much there so I’ll have another look around. You are, likewise, welcome to peruse mine.

  18. @Ruth:02/23/2014 at 1:46 pm

    “I usually just start asking a series of questions when I’m dealing with the “paarsurrey’s” of the world.”

    I don’t get you exactly. We all live in the same world. Please express yourself fully.

    What are your questions? Please

    Whenever I quote from Quran; I quote for the reason-content mentioned in it. I don’t quote it as an authority to stifle the questions. If one does not understand the reason-content in it; I will explain it myself.

    Please

  19. @Ruth:
    No, not on my avatar, but here.

    Georgia, at least Atlanta, looks better to me. I used to be in Austin. But then again, it’s always brighter on the other side of the river. (Also, I know there are other places in GA besides Atlanta…)

  20. Hey Takis, why be sure to link only your blog. You can add a link to your professional stuff on your blog. When blogging, link to a blog.
    Just a thought.

  21. I don’t get you exactly. We all live in the same world. Please express yourself fully.

    Did I say that we live in different worlds? Are you Muslim?

  22. arghhhhh ! Ruth bit the hook.

  23. Oh brother, he’d already found his way over to my blog, else I would not have.

  24. “I usually just start asking a series of questions when I’m dealing with the “paasrsurrey’s” of the world”

  25. So, Ruth, to get back on track: Do you feel you changed a lot after leaving your fundamentalist Christianity?
    BTW: Takis probably never had the privilege of knowing God like we did! 🙂

  26. @ Sabio:
    Your suggestion sounds reasonable. In fact, I had not realized that, in clicking on my name, one was led to my professional page. However, II tried to change this and failed! Is this controlled by something called “gravatar” or by “wordpress”? I tried the both and didn’t see how to change the linked page.

    As for your last comment, no, I’ve never had that privilege.

  27. “So, Ruth, to get back on track: Do you feel you changed a lot after leaving your fundamentalist Christianity?”

    Yes and no. I feel freer to love and am not nearly as judgmental. I still think “do unto others” is a pretty good jumping off point for social justice. I don’t think it’s actually practiced all that well within Christianity.

  28. @Ruth,
    Interesting — me too, the number of people I could freely relate to in an open way increased. I also was less judgmental about many things. But essentially my personality was intact. And I was no better of a person before or after my Christian era.

    But as you said, jumps out of Fundie Christianity tend to be dramatic — I wasn’t a fundie — more like a moderate Evangelical with pentecostal and hippie mix. 🙂

  29. @Sabio,

    I was a pretty uptight conservative in every way so I’ve become much more socially liberal. I’ve changed my opinion about LGBT issues, women’s issues, and poverty/social justice issues just to name a few.

  30. Wow, Ruth, your change was much bigger. It all shows that it depends on the flavor of Christianity or religion that matters.

  31. Earnest

    It is unsafe to leave any tightly held, tribal belief system. Also dangerous to totally enter the complete nothingness of Zen counting. To become nothing but an integer. Is there value in facing fear of complete aloneness for its own sake? Some say yes, some ignore the question.

    I guess one might have various degrees of need to belong. These days I find myself attracted to those with very interesting yet defensible ideas, who do not care if people believe them or not. Prostletism is a big turn-off for me . So the more gentle an nuanced the argument, the more attractive I find it. Most attractive are those that are comfortable with all data everywhere having non-absolute yet varying degrees of certainty.

  32. Earnest

    I have such a mutable and weak belief system that I can blend in with most social structures. Learned behavior I suppose. My parents took me “church-shopping”, and we ended up in a Krishna temple in Washington DC. So it was actually a bit jarring for me, a mostly ethnic German, to see a Jesus image that had pink instead of the expected blue skin.

  33. @ Earnest,
    Hmmmm, which is worse, feeling less lonely because you imagine a blue Jesus talking to you, or staying out of your head and knowing real people?

  34. Earnest

    @ Sabio the greatest good is tribal membership with access to food, shelter and mates. I guess it depends if devotion to blue Jesus gets me that endpoint or if I have to meet people as an individual, with all the social vetting that can entail.

    It is a very new human development that we now have some capacity to change tribes. I think we are still figuring out what that new flexibility means.

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