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DKretch

Nearly Out Of The Woods

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This is my first post as a new member. Thanks to all who posted in the Encouraging New Members topic-- it definitely served its intended purpose and got me past the "lurker" stage. I've been in that stage for a while due in part to my hectic schedule (which thankfully has eased up to some extent), and partly because I was attempting to finish my deconversion letter and struggling to finish it to my satisfaction. I would write a couple pages, come back to it later, and decide it wasn't capturing the right tone, etc. Kudos to those who reminded us newbies that we can just post on topics relating to our current stretch of ex-christian road, and not wait until we reach some milestone or another. That motivated me to simply write an extimony for this site, which will help inspire the drafting of the main story, since I have no hang-ups about any emotional reaction you the reader may have in this setting.

 

I'll try to give the *short* version for now. I was raised by tongue-speaking, prayer warrior parents who had themselves been raised Lutheran, getting "Spirit-filled" in college. They put me and my siblings through as much Christian school as they could afford and was offered by the school; for me it was all the way through 8th grade. Then I nearly dropped out my sophomore year from the 50x larger public high school I attended, partly because I was convinced the End Times were upon us. I wanted to head up to Alaska or somewhere remote and live off the land. Thankfully my parents were clear-thinking enough to convince me that was unwise, with the help of counseling from a more moderate Christian therapist. On some level I think I recognized that their belief in the End Times doctrine didn't go very deep, even though they talked about it like it was right around the corner and were stocking up on stuff for Y2K. There are numerous other examples of doctrinal mandates I was taught that I took very personally, but I won't go into all of them here. Initial seeds of doubt about the Christian religion developed when I looked around me, saw rampant hypocrisy, and realized that most people aren't so idealistic and don't follow the babblings put forth by their church quite so literally. However, I was told unbelief was a struggle we all have and we should pray until it goes away. I see this now as intellectual suicide.

 

My Christian indoctrination began to crumble when I served overseas in the military for 4 years, and completely fell apart when I returned to the Midwest. I fell into a circle of family and friends that had either New Age-y spins on Christianity or straight-up pagan belief systems, and pondered some of those ideas as I began studying applied science in college. Training in critical thinking skills, secular ethical systems, and the overwhelming evidence for evolution broke open the floodgates of my doubts about Christianity. I made a decision to use the brain given to me (by God possibly) and search for intellectual answers until I was satisfied. No longer was I just going to accept that my pastor, my teacher, C.S. Lewis, or McDowell had delved into the evidence and found rational justification for the claims of Christianity. I became very interested in skeptical methods of inquiry, judging the strength of evidence needed to support a particular claim, picking out logical fallacies, and taking into account all sorts of bias. I read a wide swath of both print and online material and weighed the arguments and supporting evidence from both the atheist and Christian apologetics camps. I pretty much kept my doubts to myself, except when I was around those whom I knew were not religious at all. As I continued to dig into the basis for my own beliefs, I finally reached the conclusion that Christian claims such as the resurrection, virgin birth, and global flood were nothing more than myth and legend. I realized that others may still cling to some type of more moderate Christianity, and that faith and evolution can be reconciled in various ways (one of my undergraduate biology professor/research mentors, an outspoken believer, had done this), but my already-eroding faith did little to keep any worldview territory sacred from scrutiny. Eventually all the "nodes" of my Christian belief network were eliminated (a beautiful concept I've borrowed from the Evid3nc3 YouTube videos).

 

I remember the moment I realized that the word "atheist" described me, instead of just saying I disagreed with "organized" religion. I was reading Dan Barker's Losing Faith in Faith, and my scientific training kicked in. I realized that I can't keep suspending judgment on the evidence for God. Scientists must continually make tentative conclusions based on the available evidence, which are open to reexamination if new convincing evidence comes forth that contradicts the working model. My tentative conclusion was and still is that the most parsimonious explanation for belief in a god or gods is that it is merely human psychological projection. It is a socially and culturally reinforced set of symbols, which offer comforting (although insufficient and superficial) explanations for life's difficult questions. Perhaps there is some kind of higher power driving the formation of the universe, tinkering with probabilities during evolution, etc. It's probably impossible to know. But we do know about our human tendency to find hidden purpose or pattern in completely random events, such as "streaks" in a series of coin tosses. Thus, without any compelling evidence of a god or gods, especially of one that has human-like qualities and intervenes in human affairs, I must fall back on the position that they exist only within our minds.

 

In that sense, they do exist though, and this is something that I've struggled with. Deities, demons, angels, fairies, etc. are symbols for concepts that may not be demonstrable empirically but provide a conceptual framework that helps make sense out of the chaos. They can serve a purpose until we can come to grips with the full bleakness of our own mortality, our insignificance in the universe, and find meaning in other ways. Also, myth symbolizes that which is only revealed upon deep contemplation, and so is not completely useless for everyone. Some aren't willing to dig into the abstract in such a way. But, I think that any seeker of the truth will eventually have to discard dogma, and any true skeptic must be willing to consider new evidence that challenges their assumptions.

 

I commend the hard-line atheists and firebrands such as Dawkins and Hitchens for shocking the theocratic status quo and bringing atheists/freethinkers more into the mainstream. However, I've known all along that that's not my style, and I wasn't willing to tell my family that what they have based their beliefs on is ignorance, and a house of cards that can only be propped up with intellectual dishonesty. I didn’t want to be so in-your-face about it, but I didn't see how to go about it differently. So I just left it alone, looked at the floor when they prayed before a holiday meal, tolerated going to church for Father's Day one year, and changed the subject when my parents asked me how my walk with the Lord was coming. Luckily I did have atheist or more moderately religious friends for a support network, since I was finishing my undergrad in the biological science field and I still hung out with some of my old pagan friends. However, my loss of Christian faith was one of the factors in the failure of a long term relationship around that time.

 

As I transitioned to graduate school, I lived with my parents for the summer and became more acutely aware of our differences. I began to feel like a phony and emotionally cut off from the family that I had always been very close with. Once I got settled into a new place, I was able to find time periodically to attend events held by local groups of fellow freethinkers, which was a great source of encouragement and helped me move past the typical feelings of isolation. Still, I hesitated to bring up my deconversion with my family. My hand was forced about a year ago when my brother and sister-in-law asked me to be a godparent for their third child. After a long talk face-to-face, they knew where I stood and were still ok with my godless "godparent" status. They were respectful and understanding about it, and could see that I was struggling to come up with a way to help them see my point of view without coming across as condescending. Condescending is fine if you're doing a debate or writing a sensational book, but not when it comes to people you love and relationships you care about. They agreed that a written deconversion story would help them understand how I lost my faith, and that I should use it to have a similar face-to-face conversation with other close family members (my parents especially) and not make them just find out about it via email or facebook.

 

A year went by while I stayed busy with classes and research. Then I met a moderator for this site at a local event for former fundamentalist Christians. [Thanks so much, it was great to meet you Antlerman!] He seemed to understand my predicament perfectly and offered some great advice to help me get past the block of talking about this with my family. First, he told me to check out this site for help and ideas to move things forward. Then we talked about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, which I was just beginning to develop an interest in, and how fundamentalism can swing from the religious side to the "scientism" or flat-earth thinking. I had been contemplating this in my continuing training as a molecular biologist, since I was aware of numerous instances even just within my own field where it was thought by some that all the components of a system were worked out and explained everything, only to find there was another complete level of regulation happening that explains the data. He recommended that I read two books by Ken Wilber, Eye To Eye and A Sociable God, before continuing to fret about how I was going to approach the rest of my family about this.

 

Some more time went by as I completed my grueling preliminary examinations, but now that I've had a chance to glean much insight out of those two books, I'm a bit more accepting of the esoteric. It's exciting actually. I'm more able to relate to people such as my pagan friends and my brother who asked me to be a godparent, and find common ground instead of immediately feeling like I need to yell "Bullshit!" when they start talking about how Jesus helped them get a new job, or the faeries left them an agate in the driveway. I even talked about my deconversion to my other siblings recently, which actually didn't surprise them all that much, except when I used the term "atheist." There's still so much stigma about that word, but I was happy to explain why it doesn't equate to nihilism. So now I've just got my godmother (who is a bit overbearing and a Lutheran minister now) and my parents to tell, as far as close family members go. Then the rest of the family will probably get updated online. It's going to be so awesome not having to pretend anymore! I'm really looking forward to getting some meaningful dialogue going that will hopefully temper some of the craziness of fundamentalism.

 

Well, so much for this being a short version of my extimony. Thanks for reading, and thanks to all the volunteers and members that help make this site possible. I can see it will continue to be a great resource for dealing with the upheaval of my (and many others') worldview.

 

For the record, I've been "tithing" to the site monthly and will continue until further notice. smile.png

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DK, Welcome to EX-c! Thank you for finally sharing your story. It always breaks my heart to hear the pain of each x-timony. I am so glad you came out of 'lurking' and decided to join us!! Relax and take a deeeeeep breathe. We are all here for you and know what you are going through. You are with people who share the common sense to question what we have been brought up to believe. It takes a while to deconvert. Some of it is scary. Go easy on yourself. Keep reading as much as you can . Ask all your questions. Some intelligent person on Ex-c will answer you and it will make sense. I am so glad you are with us. Post all your concerns!!

 

Sincerely,

Margee biggrin.png

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There is nothing like waking up in the morning, getting a cup of coffee, and seeing what new friends have joined us here. It beats my old devotions time hands down! Welcome DKretch!

 

I know we will all be looking forward to your communications. It is obvious you bring a clear and transparent perspective to what has happened in your life. And it is very clear that you have a gift for writing. And you are a scientist to boot!

 

I loved so much of your post, this line was a gem and I have found it so true: "Condescending is fine if you're doing a debate or writing a sensational book, but not when it comes to people you love and relationships you care about."

 

Welcome and I look forward to your future postings.

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DK, I am also new to this site (joined yesterday!) and also a new de-converter. I joined for the same reason as you - to get support from other non-believers as I go through this journey. Thanks for sharing your story.

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No longer was I just going to accept that my pastor, my teacher, C.S. Lewis, or McDowell had delved into the evidence and found rational justification for the claims of Christianity.

 

Love this!

 

Thanks for sharing your extimony, DKretch, and welcome. Stick around here; you have a lot to contribute!

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Thanks for sharing your deconversion journey. The one thing that will never cease to amaze me is how people like you and the others around here have taken so many painstakingly long and gruelsome steps/tasks to reach the reality you are now living in. What I mean is the incredible amount of reading and studying all of you, and now me, do to ensure we are not going off on some kind of irrational tangent.

 

I've finished a couple of works by atheists or former xtians and have another 1/2 dozen or so books to get through. The more I read and study and ponder these things, the more I'm convinced, like Dawkins, that what 'they' are mired in is nothing more than a delusion in order to try to cope with living in this sometimes hostile world.

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Welcome!

 

You sound like such a loving and caring person and I truly look forward to getting to know you. Your godchild is lucky to have such a thoughtful and kind godparent. Though yes, it can be really hard to take those first few steps to living clean and honestly, you're well on your way. Be welcome and at ease :)

 

(lol@faeries leaving agates in the driveway...)

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Welcome, DK! I read your extimony with great interest. I think our ultimate goals (since "truth" often evades us or does not exist as we once thought) should be basing our beliefs on facts, and finding peace. You are well on your way to both, friend. Hope to see you around!

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Thanks for sharing, DK! Welcome! A few members here have shared letters which they wrote for coming out to family. It would be great to see yours as well. That's great that you were able to meet Antlerman early in your process. He rocks.

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Thank you for sharing your story... you have a way with the written word... very lucid and easy to read.

 

welcome.. hope you will find this as comfy a place as i have :)

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The non-religious often appear to me to be bewildered by the inability of Christians to process information in a rational and logical manner. They fail to grasp the mind controlling power of repetitive indoctrination and peer pressure. When a Christian cannot respond rationally or logically to the evidence they revert to their programming and quote scripture. “God’s ways are not our ways”, has been pounded into their brain. The more bizarre and unbelievable the doctrine the easier it is for the church to sell it, because God’s ways are rarely logical and often appear to be nonsensical to the human mind, that’s why faith is necessary. Faith makes anything and everything possible because faith, by definition, requires no evidence. And if a believer ask for verification that is evidence the believer lacks faith and lack of faith is sin. There is a bizarre brilliance in the way the founders designed religion. They are never required to prove any of their doctrines or traditions and anyone who questions them is sinning. And sin will send the offender to hell. The King can do no wrong and the penalty for questioning the King is death.

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The non-religious often appear to me to be bewildered by the inability of Christians to process information in a rational and logical manner. They fail to grasp the mind controlling power of repetitive indoctrination and peer pressure. When a Christian cannot respond rationally or logically to the evidence they revert to their programming and quote scripture. “God’s ways are not our ways”, has been pounded into their brain. The more bizarre and unbelievable the doctrine the easier it is for the church to sell it, because God’s ways are rarely logical and often appear to be nonsensical to the human mind, that’s why faith is necessary. Faith makes anything and everything possible because faith, by definition, requires no evidence. And if a believer ask for verification that is evidence the believer lacks faith and lack of faith is sin. There is a bizarre brilliance in the way the founders designed religion. They are never required to prove any of their doctrines or traditions and anyone who questions them is sinning. And sin will send the offender to hell. The King can do no wrong and the penalty for questioning the King is death.

Nice way of putting it and very easy to assimilate. It brings to mind the famous quote by Tertullian who said it was so absurd that it had to be true.

 

You can't argue with that non-logic.

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Thanks so much for your comments and words of encouragement, everyone! I was expecting a typical Ex-C warm welcome and was not disappointed in the least. Now I need to fix my notification settings.... thought it was a bit strange that I hadn't heard anything for a day or two, and then I was out enjoying the motorcycle-friendly weather. My brief stop at my parents' house tonight made me aware of just how chatty they are feeling and how much they miss me. In other words, they're primed for a good long discussion. When it happens I'll be sure to post an update!

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A year went by while I stayed busy with classes and research. Then I met a moderator for this site at a local event for former fundamentalist Christians. [Thanks so much, it was great to meet you Antlerman!] He seemed to understand my predicament perfectly and offered some great advice to help me get past the block of talking about this with my family. First, he told me to check out this site for help and ideas to move things forward. Then we talked about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, which I was just beginning to develop an interest in, and how fundamentalism can swing from the religious side to the "scientism" or flat-earth thinking. I had been contemplating this in my continuing training as a molecular biologist, since I was aware of numerous instances even just within my own field where it was thought by some that all the components of a system were worked out and explained everything, only to find there was another complete level of regulation happening that explains the data. He recommended that I read two books by Ken Wilber, Eye To Eye and A Sociable God, before continuing to fret about how I was going to approach the rest of my family about this.

Hey! What a pleasant surprise to see you here and to read all you wrote! At first I was thinking as I read this that this is someone I need to talk more with, and it turns out I've already met you in person! Yes, I remember. It was at the Dunn Brother's coffee house, and you were sitting I believe to my left and I was at the end of the table. I would definitely like to hook up with you for some one on one discussions sometime. Do you work downtown per chance? In any case we can PM each other info where we could enjoy going deep into these areas outside of a larger group setting. I haven't been to one of their meetups for a while with summer and all.

 

Great to hear you got value out of those two Ken Wilber books I recommended. It helps put things in perspective for where those like you and I are at, without having to compromise one aspect of ourselves for another when it comes to the intellect and the spiritual. Not to mention just philosophically having to favor one philosophy (materialism) in our pursuit of our general knowledge and worldviews. I find the Integral approach much more where we are ready, and needing to head into. It also helps in how we understand where others are at, and better to temper our own understanding of them in how we choose to communicate with them.

 

Enjoyed reading your 'testimony' above, and I hope you enjoy looking around and participating as you are able to in the various forums here on the site. I'm hanging out mostly in the Spirituality forum lately fleshing out thoughts into the contemplative areas. Feel free to jump in if you wish. Welcome again!

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Hey back and thanks! Yes, you recall correctly, it was one of those Sunday coffee events at Dunn Bros. I don't work downtown, East Bank actually, but I would certainly look forward to a chance to pick your brain again. I still have a ways to go with the Wilber books, but I got the gist from what I've read so far and by scanning ahead a bit. Looks like it will a lot of fun to get all the details. I got a bit sidetracked in my leisure reading (a newly-reinstated concept in my life!) by The Belief Instinct by Jesse Bering, and Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Henry Cloud. The latter was recommended to me by my brother (the one whose child I'm a godparent for) after another great conversation I had with him and his wife. Ironically, the book's central idea is an expanded, nuanced definition of the word "integrity" and that we can't fully develop our character until we integrate the full complement of ourselves into our daily lives-- obviously not too distant from what I'd been digesting of Wilber's. He had an interesting point of view, and only rarely got into typical Christian cluelessness about other concepts of transcendence, but I won't go into much more detail on that tonight.

I did actually notice one of your recent threads on meditation, and had a chance to look through it. I have had a difficult time developing or keeping in the habit but the resources and advice looked like a lot of help. I'll check them out in more detail and contribute over there soon.

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I got a bit sidetracked in my leisure reading (a newly-reinstated concept in my life!) by The Belief Instinct by Jesse Bering,

I just looked at a summary of it on Amazon to find this comment in it, "But now that these psychological illusions have outlasted their evolutionary purpose, Bering draws our attention to a whole new challenge: escaping them." I would enjoy discussing that point with you over some coffee/tea sometime in the near future here (I quit coffee). I'll bet his points about the advantages to belief structures is valid, but I'm not so sure I'd agree that they have outlasted evolutionary purpose. That seems to presuppose we are no longer evolving. :). We're just shifting the objects of this belief, not changing its nature or role. I see God "belief", as some call it, to operate much more deeply as well, depending on the objective (you can see that expressed briefly in this post here: http://www.ex-christian.net/topic/53847-belief-in-a-god/page__st__20#entry810338 ). I can go in depth on this here, but it would go way outside the purpose of your topic, which is to talk about this stage in your shifting away from Christianity and dealing with family members.

 

I'll PM you my contact info and I'd like to maybe see if some upcoming Saturday (or Sunday) to meet somewhere convenient for us. I know this Sunday is another meetup of FF over in St. Paul, not sure I'll go our not. If you do, I might if I attend if I stay in town (at the Coffee Bean). I love plumbing the depths of these areas. So much to be gained in insight and perspectives.

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So.. I think an update is in order to get this topic back on track. Last week I went over to my parents on a weeknight to do some laundry, save some spare change, and get a discussion going since they had seemed so chatty last time I was over there, as I mentioned in a previous post.

 

The bad news first: I chickened out again to some extent. I didn't broach the core subject of my deconversion. My dad got going on some of his usual rants that are so obviously from a sheltered Christian worldview, and I resorted to mostly just passively listening and finding bits and pieces of the perspective that I agree with in order to keep the conversation going. I realized this is a bad habit left over from my teenage years and is a key part of why it's been so difficult for me to talk to them about this.

 

The good news, and luckily there are several pieces: During one of my dad's above-mentioned rants; this one [paraphrasing] about how there are all these "vote NO" signs around town [MN is soon to vote on a restrictive marriage amendment], and how obviously God created man and woman so it's just silly for people to claim that they were born gay/lesbian, and the testimonies he's heard of people who were able to pray the gay away at the evening meeting he's been attending lately...etc., I realized two things. One, I don't have to revert to my teenage conflict-avoidance and can ask him probing questions to make him pause and reflect on some of the reasons why others take a different view. Two, I have a lot of ground to cover if I intend to help them understand my deconversion on some level instead of just 'ripping the band-aid off,' if you will. We differ significantly in views on many topics now, including evolution, abortion, witchcraft, etc. which are all interrelated to my story and if they don't understand the basics about many of these it makes communication much more difficult.

Regarding this particular rant of his, I interjected, "What about hermaphrodites? Where do they fit in?" ..... I caught him with his mouth open and it stayed there for second. Turns out he didn't remember what the term meant, but he could tell by my tone that it pretty much shot his argument to shit. So I explained it and could see the wheels turning in his head, and then he changed the subject.

So I felt like that conversation, and others during that evening, were a step in the right direction. Especially since nothing about them was confrontational. Later I emailed him an article describing how the male/female dichotomy is a rigid traditional view that ignores the spectrum of physical characteristics that does in fact exist at low frequency in the population. I haven't heard back yet, and I doubt he read it, but that's ok. The fact that I sent it is a conversation starter in itself.

 

Which brings me to the rest of the good news: I'll be seeing one or both of my parents on a weekly basis from now on, since I'm going to be helping them out in exchange for some assistance with my grad school finances [Loving this spare time thing!]. This will provide me with the perfect opportunity to continue to dig into the subjects that we have disparate views on, and eventually, when the time is right, to break out my full written story.

 

This is starting to get fun actually. None of my other siblings have felt the need to try to broaden our parents' horizons, apparently preferring to let sleeping dogs lie whenever their views start to come across a bit crazy, so it's amusing that I, the one who avoided conflict at all costs, am taking this on.

 

Bookworm-turned-soldier-turned-scientist-turned-diplomat ha ha... I never would have guessed this was the direction my life would take.

 

Thanks again for reading, everyone. More updates and a heavily revised draft of my story are sure to follow.

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I'm glad you're finding a good way of coping with your dad. It sounds like he's never really had any challenges to his beliefs. It must be hard to face someone like that, even someone as strong as you. Maybe you can help your parents be less crazy :) It certainly won't hurt their relationships with you or your siblings!

 

I'm glad you updated too :) Keep doing what you're doing!

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Thanks, Akheia. I hope the faeries leave you some agates or whatever gem would most brighten your day :)

 

As soon as I posted that update, the thought crossed my mind that I was taking on too much and making mountains out of molehills by trying to influence them on so many subjects. But I do think it's a good strategy as long as it moves the process along, and they're unlikely to understand even a lengthy written explanation without some time to digest it all. Might as well start laying some foundation now.

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