Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Story

I am going to start off saying this blog isn't always going to talk about religion, that is what the SMRT board is for. I just thought I would talk about my own personal experiences and thoughts. Today I am writing about my deconversion story.

It started back in High School. My parents are religious people have been as far back as I can remember. I grew up in the church and it was all I knew. I only went to church camps a few times, though. Basketball camp, science camp, or both usually took up my summer time. It was in junior high that I was baptized, one of the last in my age group. Two of my friends who grew up with me at the same church are now preachers. My belief was ingrained and never really thought about. It never occurred to me during these early years to question my beliefs.

In High School, one summer, I went with the youth group to a national youth convention in Tennessee. The trip was very enjoyable for me, until one of the last nights there. First there was a lot of pressure to sign these stupid abstinence pledges. I didn't want to sign it; I thought it was stupid. Why should I have to sign something why is not my word my word? In the end, I caved to peer pressure and signed it on the last day, pretty much at the last minute. One of the guys, that would become a youth minister, kept his pledge and I am fairly certain he only got married to have sex, since he dated the girl for like a month. I am only speculating on that. The pledges were only the first thing that didn't seem right to me (I did not keep my pledge I had teh sex in college).

The second thing that seemed off to me was the key speaker for the event. I was always taught that we had free will to make our own decisions, again I never questioned if free will was actually possible with an omniscient god or just an illusion. This speaker was going on about how free will only let us choose who was driving the car of life, whether it was Satan or Jesus. What he said was that we have no control over anything we do. In essence we are either possessed by Satan or possessed by Jesus, there were no other options. This seemed very wrong to me, it meant that my thoughts were not my own and that we couldn't trust anything. At this time I looked around the crowd and everyone there was nodding in agreement. I realized that no one was really listening to what was being said but just absorbing this all and agreeing because this man was touted as a great Christian man. Sheeple is such an apropos word for this kind of mentality. I left this youth conference weaker in my faith than when I started. Everyone else in the group talked about how they were strengthened by it and how great it was and how awesome the speaker was. I remained quiet.

I graduated from high school and went on to college not really considering it all again. The first couple of years at college, I didn't attend church, partied, and basically rebelled. In my third year I started going back to a church. It was a proto-mega-church. They had several services and I attended the last one. I started giving lip service to Christianity again, but was still partying with friends on every other night. This was the second school I attended; it was a junior college. I graduated from it and went to Oklahoma State University. At OSU I stopped attending church and just had a good time but this time in balance with school work and studying. Eventually graduating from OSU. My degree is in Management Information Systems and I graduated just as the dot com era crashed, so getting a job was very hard. I moved back with my parents to save money.

My parents are still religious and I consider myself to be, so I attend church with them again. I finally get a job and meet a girl who was to be future wife. She is pentacostal, yet we still had premarital sex. We marry after a couple of years and attend church together. Around the time we get married she goes through some religious zealotry and stops wanting to do anything "sinful". While I am with her, we attend church regularly. After almost 3 years of marriage she wants a divorce. The divorce sends me into my zealot stage, but it also starts the seeds of atheism in me. If it wasn't for my divorce, I would have never started messing with scammers. I would have never started watching Derren Brown's T.V. show on the SciFi channel. These two things started teaching me about how people fooled themselves.

This curiousity of how people trick their own minds got me into investigating psychics. I started to notice though that these same people who debunked psychics tended to be atheists also. For me, I couldn't accept that position, yet. I started reading Derren Brown's book Tricks of the Mind and got to his chapter on religion. He talked about how he used to be a Christian and how he started to realize that it was based on confirmation bias. He also talked about a book on the early Christian writings and why they wrote what they wrote and who wrote them. This lead me to ask the question, for the first time in my life, who wrote the new testament. Through trying to find that out and the fact my parent's church had started leaning towards creationism (I broke my parents free of creationism with the help of Kenneth Miller's books), I broke free of the spell of Christianity. It was not easy and my feelings rebelled at me several times but the facts just said this could not be as I was taught.

I am an atheist now and it was not an easy road, ingrained thoughts are very hard to break. I owe the breaking of these thoughts though to Christians, Derren Brown, Penn & Teller, James Randi, Michael Shermer, Bart Ehrman, and my wonderful girlfriend (who thinks way too much like me). I am so happy that I am getting to go this year to TAM 7 and get to meet Penn & Teller, James Randi, and Michael Shermer among many others, and I will get a chance to tell them how much they have impacted my life and my skepticism in positive ways.


zilch said...

Great story, BeamStalk, and I'm glad you'll be in Hell with me.

cheers from finally sunny Vienna, zilch

Whateverman said...

I like knowing these kinds of things about the people I associate with. It helps me understand their reactions to various questions and such.

Without sounding silly, thanks for sharing that Beams.

Besides the atheism (and the divorce, et al), have there been any social consequences to the conversion? How's your relationship with your parents, if you don't mind me asking...

BeamStalk said...

Well I haven't told them. I don't go to church and my mom asked me about that the other day (I live in the same small town as them). She asked if I was going to another church and I said I was making my own way. She accepted that answer and hasn't asked anything again.

My friends know and a couple of them are atheists also, so no big shocker there.

I haven't told my sister because I don't want the hassle. I tried to talk to her about evolution and she went off saying how Jesus was real and working in her life. I just dropped it at that point. My mom even tried to get her to read the Kenneth Miller books and my sister refused. So now I teach my nieces magic tricks and how people trick themselves. I can be a bit passive aggressive at times.

BeamStalk said...

Forgot to add, what is funny is my sister is friends with me on facebook. This is where I am friends with PZ Myers, the Atheist Community of Austin, fan of Pat Condell and Edward Current, my religion is listed as the Cult of Yivo (Futurama movie religion). So it is not like I am hiding it.

FrodoSaves said...

Great story BeamStalk. Like Wem says, it's always interesting to hear people's back stories, because an atheist is not an atheist is not an atheist. I've never lived anywhere where being an atheist would actually be difficult, so I'm pretty impressed by your courage. Good stuff.

You've got yourself another subscriber.

Frodo loves you.

ImtheRabbit said...

I got off lucky with my family, My Dad's parent were fairly religious but they died when I was 14, my other Grandmother is very catholic but she's more pagan then anything, real superstitious. My parents couldn't be bothered. I went pagan for a little while and being the little shit that I am, I announced it to EVERYONE ;) I still tease them about how pagan Catholicism really is. I still wear my pentacle but mostly because I like stars and it shows I'm a little different in my religious thinking. For the most part, I'm atheist but hey, anything is possible ;P I'm my nephew's Godmother despite my sister knowing I don't believe so it really is a nonissue in my family. While the kids are young, I'm not going to go telling them there is no God anymore then I'd tell them there isn't a Santa, but I with both, I don't like lying to them.

;) Bunnies be with you.

ExPatMatt said...

Good story Beams,

Derren Brown also had something of a revelatory impact on me, as I hadn't truly realized how easily our minds can be deceived (especially when we make no special effort avoid being deceived!). Watching him ask people for the wallets/cellphones and having them willingly oblige, or seeing him 'cold read' a room full of people with ease really hammered home the fact that we have an innate ability for self-delusion (unique to our species, I think!).

And that's without getting into the authorship of the Bible stuff!


BeamStalk said...

The wallet stuff cracked me up. My dad and I both watched that episode. The one guy who realizes that Derren just stole his wallet and then Derren immediately steals it from him again had me literally rolling in the floor.