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About MichaelS

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    Dallas, Texas
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    rock climbing, working out, hanging out with my girlfriend
  • More About Me
    I was raised southern baptist, and had small doubts, but nothing out of the ordinary. The big move for me was when I realized the bible was grossly inconsistent on a number of different fronts. I stayed a Christian for about seven years after that. I was finally convinced to abandon Christianity by going to a debate almost a year ago between Christopher Hitchens and an Intelligent Design advocate.

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  • Still have any Gods? If so, who or what?
    agnostic/weak atheist
  1. I have to pronounce New Atheism dead. Honestly I wonder whether it ever was truly alive, so it may be dead only in the sense that a rock is, namely, something that never lived. However, it is hard to see the viscious debate that has raged over sexism in the New Atheist community (for several years now), without realizing that there is something deeply wrong with the New Atheist paradigm. If New Atheists can't solve an argument about the differences in the biology of the human species (or at least gloss over differences and work towards something better), we have a bit of a problem. Wasn't our embrace of evidence and reason supposed to arbiter our differences, and offer common ground with which to solve our problems? What happened? The answer is there is a fundamental problem with the rationalist/empiricist paradigm: humans are not just about rationality or evidence. We have values and motivations, and these motivations and values are not rational, nor are they always neatly validated by the evidence. We have a preference for life over death, for pleasure over pain, for happiness over sadness, for social membership over exclusion, for distinction over irrelevance, and stability over instability, and these desires are not rational. They are a part of us, as surely as we have five fingers or a heart and lungs, and they are known by each of us, but they are not rational in and of themselves. Desires vary from person to person, and identities are forged around different totems. These totems are not just religious in nature, they can be biological organs (penises and vaginas), abstract ideas like "reason" and "evidence," locations, sports teams, spouses, races, genders, presidents, kings, and, yes, gods, goddesses, scriptures, and religious leaders, institutions, and imagery. These often start out as rational pursuits, but they take on a life of their own, as our biology kicks in, and we start to feel good about the distinction and membership these totems bestow upon us. The lines get blurred between our thoughts and feelings, and our reason gets subverted to our values and our identity. Battle lines are drawn, flags are raised, and people start engaging, using reason not to discover the truth, but to influence and manipulate the outsiders to become a part of the in-group. Virtually everything I say here has been backed up by mountains of evidence accumulated by psychologists and social scientists over the years. Yet since the times of Plato, rationalists have insisted that we simply pursue what is "rational" and what can be justified by logic. It's always been a problematic exercise. There are axioms: things that can't be logically justified, even if they can't even be coherently denied. There are ideas like love or compassion that often offer little evolutionary benefit, but are pursued regardless. And there is the simple fact that often we get along best, not when we consciously try to arbiter our differences using some supposed common ground, but when we recognize that there often is no common ground on which to arbitrate our differences at all, and we simply suppress those differences and emphasize our commonalities instead. The New Atheists are not the first people to make this very fundamental mistake, but I doubt the philosophers of old have crashed and burned as spectacularly as the New Atheists have. As much as the people on this website have suffered at the hands of flawed religious doctrine, New Atheism and the Skeptic community is not the answer. Of course we need community, but not a community whose sole purpose is to cast dispersons upon other people. That is a recipe not for arbitration of differences, but stagnation, lack of accountability, hatred, strife, and division. In short, religion at it's worst. I love reason, evidence, and the search for truth more than anything else in the world, but I recognize them as my totems, and the use of them as my religion, and try to maintain a humility and devotion about them comparable to what I regard religion at it's best is. I respect my Catholic wife, have started attending a Unitarian church with her, and am as ravenous in my quest for knowledge and truth as ever. But I have found happiness in not saying that reason is my sole guide, but that simply that, in the words of an ancient roman playright, "I am human, and nothing about being human is alien to me." Lastly, I don't regret for a second my stint as a New Atheist, and I understand the cathartic tendencies we as former Christians have to watch the latest NonStampCollector video, refute the arguments of Christian apologetics, and decry the hypocrisy and barbarism of fundamentalist Christianity. I am so grateful to Christopher Hitchens for shepherding me out of the erroneous dogmas that I had becomed accustomed to, and unleashed a ravenous curiosity that will never be quenched, though it may be stifled by death. As such, I fully understand if you're still mad at Christianity for being wrong (I still am too from time to time) and need a community where you can vent, laugh, and cry your way out of your pain. But the way forward is, I believe, grounded in understanding ourselves and our fundamentally non-rational tendencies, not so we can correct them (although that will often still be necessary) but so we can humble ourselves before them, and learn to love those with different totems and non-rational tendencies. That is, I believe, the most reasonable way forward.
  2. It goes back to what Evid3nc3 said about "mega-belief." This guy either has arguments that he regards as persuasive for Christianity, or strong mentors or parental figures that hold him in his views. My mom's conversion to Catholicism played a role in my deconversion, and I think that had she had stayed Protestant, I would have stayed Protestant longer too. Like it or not, it is our experiences, and our preprogrammed and reprogrammed response to them, that determines who we are and what we believe. If someone doesn't have enough common experiences with you, they aren't going to listen, period. That having been said, it isn't the immediate response to an argument that's important, but how that argument plays out in someone's head over time. It took me seven years between the time when I realized that the Bible wasn't inerrant, until the time I stopped being a Christian. In that time I led Sunday School, went on a mission trip, and went to several conferences of the type you cite in the series. You've put yourself out there; just give it time, and if you end up preaching to the choir and encouraging people, there's nothing wrong with that (remember Christians do it all the time).
  3. A beautiful and important series. I am ambivalent about whether religion helps or hurts people in general, but it definitely hurt you, and I am glad you found your way out. I am not "out" to most of my former friends, but sometimes I wonder if I should post it on facebook as a talking point.
  4. A lot of people made a big deal about Anthony Flew's conversion to deism from atheism, but I am mystified as to why this is. I am an atheist, an agnostic, and a deist. I don't think there is a god, I don't know whether there is a god, and if there is a god, I am worshiping him in the best way I know how: by being honest about what I think is the most likely. Because before I can worship a god I must first find one worth worshiping, and not despair that I have to put up with cheap imitations that I have come across so far. That is a recipe for damnation, and even if I never find one, I can always be confident that someone, someday, might, and that whatever god that actually exists will see my sincerity and reward that. Wagering against what we regard as the truth seems to me to be a very risky business indeed.
  5. For me it's not as all depressing as an either-or. For me an afterlife is unlikely, but not impossible. Also it really isn't clear to me why a life that is infinite would be any more worthwhile than one with a limited span. Christians believe that those who believe in Jesus will have everlasting life. Buddhists believe that those who achieve nirvana escape the cycles of reincarnation and annihilate themselves. One (very popular) religion is seeking eternal life, and the other (very popular) religion is trying to get rid of it. For me, if I start a family and help others out in their lives, I will get to live on in a small way, but for me mostly it means trying to be more humble and accepting the world as it is presented to me.
  6. Thank you all for the kind words. It's good to be here.
  7. iMy name is Michael, and I'm an ex-Christian. I suppose posting this is good therapy. Honestly reading all the accounts here I don't know how people could say it wasn't possible for real Christians to fall out of their faith. If you don't care particularly about your faith, you probably have no reason to "fall out of it." It's the people who really end up taking it seriously, by and large, that end up being the people who reject it. My father and my girlfriend are both Christians, and because they don't take it too seriously, they don't really ever reject it. Anyway, here goes: I was raised a christian. My father and my mother were both from main-line protestant denominations, but at an early age my mother signed onto evangelical Christianity. I was taught whole bible passages, and often floored people with my biblical knowledge throughout my life. I was home-schooled, and my mother one year taught us the history of the world by teaching us apologetics based on the works of Francis Schaeffer. This was cool because we learned about the classical thinkers, including Socrates. Socrates was a man I was really impressed by. Here was a guy who had no experience with monotheism, let alone Christianity, and yet he saw that the polytheistic gods weren't really doing it for him. I also found his observations on God and morality to be interesting, but filed them away in my brain. In high school I joined the youth group and became very active. We went to discipleship conferences, and got to hear entertaining speakers, and were "on fire for God." Our church was small enough that we were allowed to give testimonies after these conferences, and I participated in this several times. The first thing that bothered me was something that someone who was not home-schooled probably wouldn't even think about. There's a narrative in conservative Christian circles that "no prayer in school" meant that all expression of religion was banned in schools by the supreme court. When I later found out that there were bible studies going on in public school I thought, "That can't be right." Slowly I began to understand that this was a gross exaggeration. I must digress a little at this point and talk about science and origins. My mom took me to a creationist seminar when I was very young. Most of the criticisms of evolution I can't remember, but I do remember that the particular person who was teaching us told us how he saw this teradactyl in New Guinea: a frightening beast with a 40 foot wingspan. I was too young at the time to realize how absurd this was, but later on when I realized how absurd that claim was and also observed how no records of large teradactyls have been found in New Guinea, I was forced to conclude that he was either lying or delusional. My second experience, and more important, was when I went out to Big Bend in west Texas. You can see the stars shine there really well, and I was able to pick out a large smudge with binoculars in the sky: the Andromeda Galaxy. The explanation for this that I was given is that God must have created the light "in transition" or that he "sped up the light" and that the universe really WAS 6,000 years old. But why would he make something look that much older? I concluded that if God sped up the light that must mean he wanted us to see the universe as that old. But why stop there? Why not put telomeres in the middle of chromosome #2 ( as I learned later) or put half-a-million years of ice sheets down in the arctic (ditto)? There could only be one conclusion that wouldn't make God out to be a dishonest douche-bag: God must want us to give the universe a naturalistic framework, the better for us humans to understand it. Thus creationism lost all its appeal to me, and intelligent design was even less appealing than that. Intelligent design is the attempt to curtail the scope of evolution without proving creationism, but they are forced to be very cagey about what they believe, because they aren't defending the biblical creation account. Their essential position is that God not only reverse engineered the Bible out of the evidence, but did a crappy job and left all sorts of holes for us to find. While this might prove some generic god, it disproves the God of the Bible, leaving the ID movement two sandwiches short of a picnic. The biggest move for me was when I began noticing the contradictions in the Bible. At first they were minor such how long it took Jesus's fig tree to wither or what David paid for the threshing floor, but when someone pointed out to me the contradictory mess that was the resurrection accounts, I was flabbergasted. How could a good God who wanted to be worshiped get this (the most important miracle in the bible, according to Paul) so wrong? The differences in the gospel accounts are to numerous to point out here, but you can probably get a good summary on SAB. From then on I looked at the Bible on "the other side of the looking glass." I read it skeptically, and even assuming an all-powerful God, there were things that just didn't add up. Also Paul's emphasis on the resurrection was puzzling to me. surely the substitutionary death was what was important. why did we need a literal resurrection? The accounts, besides contradicting each other, seemed visionary in nature, with Jesus walking through walls, appearing and disappearing, etc. It just didn't add up to a serious history of the events as they actually occurred. I finished my degree in accounting, and my last year stopped going to church (just fell out of the habit). After about two years, I started going back to church at Prestonwood Baptist in the Dallas area. I had no girlfriends to speak of, but started up the old habit of Sunday School only and met some cool people. As time went on, however, I began to see that Christians were pretty shallow people, living normal lives (not good lives or bad lives, just normal ones) and that being a churchgoer meant almost nothing when it came to whether you were a good person. One of my favorite observations about people seems Yogi-bearish, "people are people." That is, human nature seems pretty intractable and most people live the same lives despite what intentions we have. People in church are not "new creations" nor are they possessed by a "spirit of power, love and a sound mind" just like everyone else. To often this is used to guilt Christians into trying to live better lives, but these verses are not commands. They're predictions. God isn't staking anyone's reputation on these predictions but his own. Like a bad weatherman, if he gets it wrong, it's his fault. The concept of Christian responsibility is seriously screwed up as well. If i do bad things, that is somehow my fault, but when I do good things, god takes all the credit. For example, if you look at "dirty" magazines, it's you looking, but if you don't, god "gave you the strength." You just "let god work in your life" except that you didn't, God did. Apart from being logically incoherent, this is a thoroughly miserable way to live. You have to make your choice. Either god is responsible for your virtues and deficiencies, or you are responsible for them. Like an investment, reward takes risk, and vica versa. It's that simple, and life is much better when you take responsibility for the whole. After my Sunday School class fizzled out, I joined another class, but it was ridiculously superficial. There were two twin brothers that dominated the whole thing, and while the girls were cute, they all ended up pretty much dating people outside the group. I also met this Catholic girl and started dating her, so the whole singles church experience lost it's appeal. About a year ago, I went to a debate between Christopher Hitchens and an ID proponent named William Dembski. I knew this was going to be fairly one-sided, given my above views on ID. By this time I more wished than believed Christianity to be true. I hoped that there was a savior to save us from our sins. Christianity is the biggest lie ever told, but like all lies, it has a kernel of truth and our fallen nature (or as Darwin put it the "unmistakable stamp of our lowly origin") and I had, and have no doubt that I am an imperfect person. I thought he got some good licks in, and that William Dembski's responses were mostly ad hominems and cheap shots. But it wasn't until his closing statement that Hitchens won me over: I gave him a standing ovation, and then went out in the hallway thinking for a long time. This was the heart of the absurdity of Christianity, more than all the miracle claims and contradictions of Christianity combined. It was the idea that god would expect our certainty to save us. Certainty is epistemiological vanity, no how much you cover it in devotion to an external figure. The limits on human understanding are profound, and what god is asking us to do is lie to ourselves and say "we know" without earning that certainty first. It attempts to assault an orderly set of certainties, held in porportion to the evidence, by laying out a ridiculous set of rewards and punishments to scare us or tempt us into belief. But pursuing such a certainty is vain, because an honest assessment of the evidence is the key to obtaining everything in life, and it only stands to reason it would be the key to obtaining any afterlife that might actually exist. If you give up your honesty, you give up everything else that might set you free. I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. It was OK now to doubt, OK to ask questions. In fact, my new worldview demanded it (too much, I think sometimes). Thinking this over I went down to my house for thanksgiving, and dropped hints to my mother about why transformation. she was upset, and gave me several books on Catholicism. she was now a catholic, having given up evangelical Protestantism. This was yet another confirmation of the absurdity of certainty. Here was a woman who had been certain twice, and wrong at least once. It emphasized to me further the absurdity of a saving belief. Finally, right before I left to go back to Dallas, she cornered me and asked me if I believed that I was no more than a bag of chemicals and water, and I turned and looked her dead in the eye, and said, "Sometimes the honest answer, the only honest answer, is I...don't.....know." From that moment, I was no longer a Christian.
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