More De-Conversion

Ever since my initial link to this site, I’ve been following it with interest. Why? I don’t know if I can put the reason into words sensible enough to be written in the middle of the night; but possibly because I’m a little surprised that there is a need for atheists/agnostics/people who are questioning their faith/people who are in the process of rejecting their faith to have the kind of group support that this blog provides. And because I find some of the discussions interesting.

Right up front, let me declare myself (for those who haven‘t watched me spar with Harry on this subject). I’m a believer of the Christian persuasion. My reasoning can be found here and here and even here, to some degree.

The long and short of it is that I’m a Christian because I choose to be. As an anthropologist and as a person who grew up in a society that allows for far more possibilities than are found in anyone’s philosophy — while steadfastly swearing allegiance to the Bible — I cannot accept the material world as all that is, which is what seems to me to lie at the bottom of any atheist discussion. There is a fundamental, political arrogance that lies at the bottom of atheist theory that turns me off; as a person from the so-called Third World, I choose not to accept the idea that all the theories about life and the world that at least half of my ancestors — if not most of them — believed are in error, which becoming an atheist would force me to do.

I choose not to label the wisdom of the elders as “superstition”, which appears, unfortunately, to be part and parcel of the atheist creed, and I choose to see the material world and what we can learn about it as a part of the truth, and a huge and very useful part of the truth, but by no means not all of it. I tend to regard agnosticism as more honest, and more politically palatable. The fundamental truth is that we do not know what lies beyond our experience (which for some people is a religious experience and for others is a material one, and both experiences are similarly bounded by our physical and physiological limitations), and to assert that we do know is fallacious.

The difference, of course, is that religious people believe in revelation, while atheists and agnostics don’t, and there’s not a whole lot any human being can do to change either perspective.

What interested me about the De-Conversion site is that its purpose is to provide a place for the critical consideration of religion, primarily Christianity. I agree wholeheartedly with its stated aim:

We believe the teachings of Judaism, Christianity, & Islam, based on the perceptions and myths of a nomadic ancient Middle Eastern tribe, should be viewed critically – as should the holy books of these religions. This blog attempts to critically, but respectfully, address issues with these religious ideologies, especially Christianity. If you are a skeptical, de-converting, or former Christian, you may find these discussions interesting.

and many of the discussions are indeed interesting. But I confess that they are also sometimes a little predictable, rather to my disappointment, possibly because the Christianity with which most discussions engage is in reality the sort of legalism that the Christ I believe in condemned, if the writer of John’s Gospel is to be trusted.

I’ll leave it there for now. The night is indeed too advanced for me to make this discussion make sense. Let me sum it up thus: at times the discussion on De-Conversion, rather than addressing real solid issues of belief and non-belief, appears to be attacking the straw man that fundamentalism has created of itself, and thus perpetuates the same error of argument that fundamentalists themselves do. Neither the Christianity that has appeared in recent posts nor the lack thereof that many fundamentalist discussions latch onto have much relation to the vast range of human belief, ritual, or behaviour, to my mind, which is why I don’t always find the arguments as satisfying as they could be.

Ah well. I’m a good one to talk. The night is not young, and I’m off to bed. Good night.

8 thoughts on “More De-Conversion

  1. I think a lot of Atheists seem to take the position that ANY religion is just as bad as fundamentalist religion. I must say, I disagree on that point, although I still feel most of us would be better off without religion.

    I think you can be an “atheist” without fully rejecting all the history and tradition that has been accumulated over many generations. I think there are certainly SOME Christians who take a critical view of their beliefs, but these people are definitely in the minority.

    I, personally, believe that there must be SOME amount of truth in religious teachings, although I certainly wouldn’t align myself with any one religion. Atheism itself is a hotly debated concept – I’ve tried to examine some of the definitions of “atheism” on my blog.

    (Oh, and if you’re interested, I came across this post after it was linked to from de-conversion).

  2. Hiya Scavella,

    just to add to your discussion; I’m agnostic because I choose to be – *smile*. At one stage , I would have described myself as actively and vehemently atheist (only because of some early-life bad experiences with those of a particularly zealous, religious bent).

    Personally, I still have a lot of reservations about the concept of a singular god (there’s so many to choose from and all followers of a particular god will proclaim their own god as the ‘one and only true god’, won’t they?) but I like to think that I’m open-minded enough that I can at least consider the possibility, even though, as an empirical kind of person, I currently consider the concept of an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity, highly unlikely or improbable.

    I like to consider myself reasonably well-read, so I visit many sites, agnostic, atheist, and religious, in order to get a better understanding of the subject, but my current stance still boils down to two basic premises;

    a. there have been far less atrocities committed in the name of agnosticism/atheism than there have been in the name of [insert deity of choice here], and

    b. which religion/faith is the true religion/faith? or which, if any, is the true Christian church?

    Just by way of another example of my current stance , I was speaking to a guy at work the other day who told me that Roman Catholics are (apparently) not considered to be ‘true’ Christians because they worship God (through Mary) as opposed to worshipping God (through Jesus). I mean, if you guys can’t agree on anything, how you can expect me to believe in it…?

    Anyway, great discussion (you too, Harry) and I hope my viewpoint contributes something to it.

  3. L., thanks for dropping by! And thanks for adding your pov, Scotty.

    My only quibble with your first premise is this: I don’t buy the idea that philosophies automatically cause atrocities. Of course, if your philosophy includes the concept that all people of X ancestry are enemies of your civilization, and that you are doing the world a favour by eliminating them, that’s a different matter; but there isn’t a whole lot more in Christianity itself that directs Christians to commit atrocious acts than there is in any other philosophy, democracy included. In fact, Christ’s injunctions to forgive people ad infinitum and to turn the other cheek are pretty consistently overlooked by people who blame Christianity for the atrocities committed by churches and countries in the name of God. Considering the fact that Christianity is two thousand years old and has been adopted by all kinds of people, from monsters to saints, I find that a particularly weak argument.

    And then there’s the fact that atheism as we know it is (let’s say) no more than four centuries old, and as such is a fairly young philosophy (or anti-philosophy). So it’s rather unfair, to my mind, to compare the history of atrocities committed by the Christian church with the history of atrocities committed by atheists; one would do better to compare atheism with Mormonism or Bahai or spiritualism, philosophy-religions of similar ages.

    And finally, the insidious thing about atheism, for me, is that it’s not a philosophy per se, which can be debated without reference to internal logic, but “empirical truth”, which can’t. This makes the atrocities it has committed — such as the development of the concept of “race” and the categorization of human races into a hierarchy of progress and evolution, with the European races at the top and the African races at the bottom — far harder to challenge than any religion or philosophy, because of the intellectual weight that the concepts carry. I understand that atheism is the product of a particular world-view, and is eminently logical and reasonable within a paradigm that posits that the natural world is all that exists. But when that paradigm is challenged (which it can logically be, because it is, paradoxically, based on its own tautology — the one that claims that the natural world is all that there is, and thus cannot be challenged by anything that refers to things beyond the natural — dreaming, say, or visions, or emotions, or other yet-to-be-naturally-codified human sources of knowledge) if the challenge comes from any realm but the natural, it is considered invalid. It’s the same self-referential trap into which all religions fall, IMO, and it’s just as intolerant, because (like religions) it automatically categorizes everything that does not stem from the same foundation as erroneous.

    It is true, though, that atheism is open to challenges from within, far more so than religions. I’d argue that the fundamental democracy of atheism — there isn’t any organized political centre to atheism per se — is a definite advantage. But to claim that there are fewer atrocities committed in its name — well, I could refer to Stalin’s purges and Tianamen Square, which may not have flown the flag of atheism (no such thing exists) but whose inspiring documents, Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto, legitimized for a theist culture the first political system to be created in millennia without reference to some sort of deity, and which classified religion as the “opiate of the people”.

    I’m not going to take on the question of the “true” Christian church. I could ask the same question of atheists — was Stalin’s application (or misapplication) of atheist principles the “true” atheism? Is Dawkins’? Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s? Huxley’s? Economists, biologists, historians, and poets all break up into schools of thought, but the existence of those schools doesn’t negate the validity of the disciplines. Humans are humans, and we love to create groups that are more “right” than other groups. None of us are exempt.

    This is why, while I respect Harry’s and Julie’s positions, I find most atheism to be less honest philosophically than agnosticism. By relying wholly on the idea that the natural world is all that is (rather than claiming, perhaps more reasonably, that it is all we can definitively know), it negates the possibility that there is something beyond (not gods, necessarily, but anything at all). There’s no evidence to suggest that there isn’t.

    I found Philip Pullman’s take on the issue pretty interesting, by the way. In his Dark Materials series, there’s lots of stuff beyond; there just isn’t any Supreme Being ordering the world. A-theism at its purest, probably.

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