How Do You Get
I was just wondering exactly how you can get unbaptized. I read your letter from RJ, but I'm still confused. I understand that I have to write a letter to the church I was baptized at, but what else?
I'm also having trouble explaining to my Mom that I'm an atheist. She just refuses to believe me, or something. So I was wondering if you could help me formulate an educated list of reasons why "god" is not real. I know that is a lot to ask but it would really help me out. Thank you for your time.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Exactly how do you get unbaptized?
Date: December 23, 2003 11:56 PM
Leaving Religion, and Leaving Well Enough Alone
You don't have to do a thing to become an atheist. You can if you want, but you don't owe them even so much as an explanation. They cannot possibly be interested in knowing the truth, so why bother giving it to them? Why not just keep this matter to yourself and your close friends, the people who matter, the people who do care about you (not to mention caring about the truth). Deconverting to atheism, to me, is about getting on with my life. It's not about those who are no longer part of my life, and it's certainly not about trying to make them twitch (as fun as that might seem at the moment).
By telling them you run the risk of their trying to "set you straight," as we like to say (with quotation marks around it, of course!). And rumor has it that some groups, specifically Mormonism, will not take you off their rolls. When they gloat about how many members they have, you're still counted even if you've announced to them that you've since converted to Islam -- or become a Satanist, for that matter!
The last church I was a member would not free me of my membership (in their eyes) unless I joined another church and convinced the new church to write them a member! This was one of those "once saved, always saved" neo-Calvinist sects. (Don't ask!)
Yeah, Madalyn Murray O'Hair of American Atheists used to do this! Of course, she just loved to get under people's skin! What she did was this (and this is purely from memory: if my description is a slight deviation from the truth, keep in mind that I said above also applies both to and about Madalyn): if you'd give a specific donation to her organization she'd send a letter to the pastor along with a "debaptism" certificate. The logic was that since baptism is a bunch of religious hocus-pocus, she could simply say that someone was "debaptized" and it would be so! In other words, her frivolous practical joke known as the "debaptism" was every bit as legitimate as their serious ritual wherein The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is said to literally enter your body and become one with you. (Gag!)
Can you imagine being a pastor and getting a personal letter from Madalyn Murray O'Hair, along with a suitable-for-framing certificate on fancy paper announcing that one of your parishioners had deconverted to atheism? I think that's what was so exquisite about her "debaptism certificates" (or whatever she called them): they came from Madalyn Murray O'Hair herself! And I hear she'd personally put them together and write each letter individually and everything.
I don't know if American Atheists does this any more. They might, but it wouldn't be the same, it really wouldn't, not with The Great Nemesis signing the letter and the certificate!
Even though I'm no Madalyn Murray O'Hair, if one of our readers sent us, say, a half-dozen fins or so and asked us to do that, I'd come up with something that was more than worthy of the gesture: a suitable-for-framing certificate on good paper (one copy for each of you) and a personally written letter, reflecting, as best I can, the feelings you now experience in attempting to show just how wrong it can be to indoctrinate a youngster -- all the while empathizing with the desire to do what's best and only knowing what our parents did for us -- rather, did to us!
I will attempt to explain some of that below, something that would convey to a parent or a pastor the rightness of leaving religion behind as a natural part of growing up. Such a letter would need to be absolutely reasonable and at the same time utterly incriminating: it is wrong to pick a child's religion for her the way we humans tend to do to our children -- like giving The Lord yet another brownie point or a feather in His cap, if you will.
On Being an Atheist
As for being an atheist, the bottom line is that being an atheist is no big deal whatsoever. It's the antithesis of religion in a number of ways, of course, but the one manner in which most of us (including yours truly) have trouble seeing is that religion is almost always at least something in the religious person's life, if not the all-encompassing central point of the person's life.
Atheism is never the central point of someone's life (if they're healthy). In fact, most atheists seldom (if ever) even think about their atheism. Many become offended if you call them "an atheist" because you are thereby identifying them with what they are not, rather than with what they are!
My atheism is important to me only because I work at trying to reduce or eliminate bigotry against atheists. One of the things I do in my attempts to accomplish this goal is to study the history and especially the meaning (the definition) of atheism, particularly what atheism means to the various types of atheists who exist. By understanding what atheism is and what it means to various atheists, I hope to disseminate and popularize this information. My thinking is that maybe doing this might "demystify" atheism in the minds of theists.
(Demystify is a word I picked up from film producer Spike Lee: see if you can find his Playboy Interview, because this word is full of meaning; by understanding what Spike Lee meant when he used it in Playboy you can get a glimpse of what I'm trying to do here.)
However, in all this, my atheism -- the fact that I am not religious -- is seldom on my mind. I don't go around thinking about the fact that I am an atheist. Two or three friends who know me well can expect me to make off-hand remarks here and there, very cynical stuff that rolls off my tongue through the course of whatever we're doing together (shopping or whatever: I'm crippled, so when I go shopping it's with a friend).
So two or three people who know better will hear these remarks such as the one I made about the Salvation Army bell ringer today as we went to Fred Meyer. What I said was this: "They let some but not all religions panhandle in front of their store." So what? It's what I said and we both thought it was funny because we've both watched me grow and developed my awareness of antiatheist bigotry and the dominance (and sheer greed) of organized Christianity. We watched my friend grow from having been wholly unaware of her religious outlook (precisely because she's an atheist of the kind I described above) to being able not only to defend her atheism (if need be) but to transcend the differences between herself and her other friends. I wouldn't make a remark along these lines with anybody else except this one friend. One other friend is a Baptist minister, and occasionally we discuss religion. A third friend is very well studied and an atheist, and we spend hours each week discussing history and current events -- and religion -- sometimes, but not very often.
Besides this, the only time I even talk about my atheism (when I'm not sitting in this chair, that is, when I'm not "on duty") is when someone finds out that I'm an atheist and starts laying into me about my atheism (about what they think my atheism necessarily means). Then (and only then) will I defend the true definition of the word (the traditional definition that thinking atheists use) and perhaps even describe what it is about religion that I would need to have explained before I could convert.
Indoctrinating Children into the Family Religion
You are in a different situation because (I assume) you once believed and now no longer believe. Or better: you once thought you believed, but once you reached the age where you became capable of critical thought, you realized that you don't really believe after all: you only thought you believed. This is the problem when parents indoctrinate their children at a very young age: the children are converting without their own consent -- parents are turning them into Christians without their permission!
This is no different (morally) from how the sex laws work: for me to have sex with a 15-year-old is rape, not because she doesn't want to have sex with me but because she literally cannot want to have sex with me: she is not old enough to make such a decision; she has not attained the level of competence that it takes to decide for herself whether or not she wants to do this; she cannot tell the difference between her own desires and what may or may not be coercion on my part. (Or so our laws hold.)
Similarly, when a parent indoctrinates a child into religion, she is expecting a conversion from someone who has not gained the skills to think critically about the subject of religion. She literally places a Confession of Faith into the mouth of someone whose confession is not worth the amount of energy it took to vibrate the air molecules when forming the sound of that audible confession! Why? To answer that, we need only determine precisely what it was that the kid was confessing: He or she was saying the equivalent of, "I am an obedient kid: I did what my parents told me to, because I know that if I don't I will experience rejection, which I find emotionally painful."
Very few children are capable of understanding what the Cross was (supposedly) all about. Very few adults have bothered to study, to do the work it takes to find out what the Cross was (supposedly) about. Fewer still have critically examined the claims that the Cross even happened, as a historical event, in such a way as to be able to argue the issue with a learned atheist (like you will probably end up being simply because you'll have to just to keep the peace and for your own peace of mind; but remember, most atheists are not learned in this respect: we'd rather not think about religion at all).
When indoctrinated kids say, "I believe [such and so]," they are (generally) saying, "I want to believe [such and so]": it is an expression of desire, not a description of how they think. They are saying, "I want to believe for social reasons; that is, I want to fit into my community, to not stand out as a rebel: I want to keep from hurting my family," etc.
Religion is Contrived; Atheism is Natural
They are not saying, "I have completed a critical study of the claims and the facts, comparing the one with the other, and have determined that the evidence in favor of the Gospel stories (as we currently have them) being truthful and historical accounts outweigh the objections in such an overwhelmingly lopsided and unbalanced way that I have no choice but to fall before them in abject fear, trembling at the fact that this universe was, in fact, created by the ogre-god depicted in the Bible (New Testament as well as Hebrew Scripture), and I'd better start trembling and ACT the part of act the part of loyal subjects.
I am slowly working on a book and the drawing on the cover will be a rip-off of the famous Rube Goldberg cartoon motif showing religion to be the "contraption" that it is! Religion is more than just a human invention, it's a contraption-and-an-half! This is shown (for example) in that Christian dogma despises the natural emotions and ultimately the natural state: being born is not good enough, you must be "born again." The ways of the flesh (the human passions) are shunned in favor of a pie-in-the-sky promise. The natural man is juxtaposed against the "spiritual" whatever that means). In many of the Bible-based movements, Christian "Love" (note the capital "C") is not the human emotion but has only to do with obedience to the sect.
The ultimate statement of atheism harkens from one of the former centers of the American Freethought movement, Missouri, the "Show Me" state! Show me! Show me that granting assent to your god-claim is the right thing for me to do, the honest thing for me to do, the truthful thing for me to do.
This is the message repeated again and again in our Forum: the religious person is obligated to explain to the atheist why it is that we ought to believe; the atheist has no such corresponding obligation. The religious people know this, of course, but when it comes down to it, they inevitably try to pass that obligation on to us, shackling us with the burden of explaining ourselves for being fully natural, fully human.
Yes, atheism is natural: theism is the added attraction that comes later, after we've learned to talk. Atheism is not taught but simply is. Atheism is what we are when we're born; atheism is what we remain if nobody teaches us to think like theists. Atheism is what we return to when we realize what a mistake it was to dabble in the occult. (And I dare anybody to explain the difference between Evangelical Christianity and what Evangelicals call "the occult" in a way that a preponderance of atheists will even understand, much less accept!)
It's Not Your Burden to Refute Religion, But --
Did you notice that I haven't said one thing about what's wrong with the theological aspects of theism, the claims they make, etc? I realize that's your question, but it's not your answer! The issue is not history and textual criticism but morality, truthfulness, and the honest pursuit of knowledge with the willingness to follow Truth wherever she may lead.
Your Mom has you on the defensive and that's backwards: she is the one who is called on by her own religion to defend the faith, to be ready to give an answer to all who ask her why she believes the way she believes. Likewise, she is the one who is called upon by Logic itself to prove the truthfulness of her existential claim. (This is a claim that a thing, such as a "God," exists.)
Religion is belief; atheism is without belief. Something that is (something that exists), needs explaining if anything needs to be explained at all, and thus she must explain her belief. You don't need to explain what does not exist, which is your belief. Your belief is nonexistent, it is not a belief that no gods exist, but is an absence of a belief in gods, period.
If you do want to try to explain to her why you don't believe any more, and if you want to try to help her understand, there are plenty of resources for you on the Internet, and I'll give some to you now (and reiterate them at the end). But its more important that you understand the nature of atheism and the role that you play in the discussion of the god-question.
I discuss this role in our FAQ centerpiece, "Introduction to Activistic Atheism" ("Intro"). I also created a reasonably understandable page on the Burden of Proof based upon a book chapter by atheistic philosopher George H. Smith. It is necessary for we atheists to come to as complete of a grasp of the principle of the Burden of Proof as possible if we are to engage in discussions about the god-question. Finally, I wrote a second FAQ centerpiece piece called "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" (with Juan De Gennaro) that tries to show why I think organized atheism gives a fallacious understanding of atheism and why I think that atheism is really nothing worthy of our attention as atheists except in the context of distinguishing ourselves from theists and in the quest to reduce the stigma and bigotry that is everywhere leveled against atheists.
(I have more on this but since the illness I've lost track of where all my notes are and will need to do a lot of work just to find them again so I can put together my third FAQ centerpiece. I will probably simply rewrite the first centerpiece, removing the religion section and inserting a segment on the Burden of Proof.)
We have Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, which very powerfully conveys the idea that Biblical Christianity is wholly degrading to the very idea of a loving, all-powerful God. Paine's message is that if there were such thing as a God (and Paine believed there is), then He would surely be offended by the picture drawn of Him in the Bible!
Joseph Lewis shows just how gratuitously pornographic the Bible gets in places. Mark Twain shows how gratuitously pornographic the very idea of "God" can get, if you let it! Emma Goldman shows how gratuitously pornographic the act of believing can become, that the more fundamentalistic religions, put into practice, often resemble violent crimes such as rape, robbery, and assault.
And that's just the moral aspects: there are Bible absurdities and contradictions from American Founding Father Thomas Paine, as well as historical contradictions, scientific problems, and on and on. The Bible is a bi-i-ig problem, as is the verifiable history of the Roman Catholic Church.
We have many, many works online, and what we have is just a drop in the bucket compared to what's out there. Our affiliate, the Internet Infidels, is a literal library of Freethought material.
(If I were healthier and not committed to doing so much work on PAM, we have, in Multnomah County, perhaps the largest collection of Freethought literature in any public library in the world: I'd go in with a laptop and scanner, or even a microfilm camera, and grab the stuff and post it so that people could read it. My dream is to become a strong enough nonprofit to allow students and others to visit Portland for a week and go spend 40 hours each just archiving this material before it disappears forever. Others could convert it to e-text, and I have some great software that makes doing that child's play.)
It's no secret that the Bible and Christianity are not telling us the truth, regardless of how much of a secret they want to make it out to be! Check our Articles Section, and check our Historical section (especially the "Miscellaneous" and "Tributes" Sections). Check out our Letters Section. Take a tour of my Monthly Editorial Columns (Alert: Slow load: Java application!), and check our our FAQ Section, which is, for the most part, a "Best Of" the Letters Section.
Your Mom will refuse to believe because what she hears is unbelievable to her ears. If she's like most religionists, she has been indoctrinated into thinking that if you aren't religious you will end up being evil. If she's a fundamentalist, she's been indoctrinated into believing that if you're not religious you will spend eternity sizzling away in the Christian Hell forever and ever, amen.
In addition, she believes that "God" will provide. To her, this means you're just going through a phase and you'll snap out of it some day, just like she did. The problem (for her) is that these are not the 1950s or 1970s (whenever she grew up) and today's culture -- especially today's youngsters, the teens, the twentysomethings -- are much closer to catching on to what happened in Europe when that entire continent renounced the Christian religion wholesale.
One of our senior partners is a student in The Netherlands, and told me that fully 64 percent of the university students in Holland wrote down "atheist" in the "Religion" space on some form they fill out for school! There are more atheists in the Dutch universities (per capita) than there are Evangelical Christians in the United States (per capita).
Meanwhile, there are two things at issue, here, and I handled them in one of the RJ letters. First, this is your family. As statistics would predict and the way friendships and relationships go these days, the family revolving around one's mother will be part of one's life for much longer than anybody else. (This is not cut-and-dried, but is a trend with many exceptions.) For this reason, I recommend being extra careful not to hurt their feelings in any way. If this means taking Mom to church now and then, what's the cost, really? If it means lying to her, that is something you'll have to decide for yourself, based upon your own values, what you can life with, etc.
The rule of thumb, here, is first to realize that people are going to hate atheists because that's how they've been trained to behave. They don't know any better and though it is possible to change most people, it takes a lot of work and the prospects of your success are dubious at best. Understanding this, we then assess just how important this or that relationship is to us, and then we behave according to how much we care whether or not this relationship endures.
As for providing "ammunition" against the god-claims of the theists, keep in mind that most people convert and deconvert based upon the emotional fluctuations that we all go through; we rarely make a decision to alter our core values based upon rhetorical arguments. And that's all they are, really, rhetoric.
We're dealing with a claim made by the theists that they themselves cannot prove to be true: it's merely worthy of their own assent, and that's all it's worth. We atheists cannot disprove any claims of this nature: it is logically impossible to disprove a claim that a thing exists. This means that the person making the claim is responsible for proving his or her case, and the one listening has no obligation to prove or disprove anything. All we as atheists can do is listen and then decide if their claims are worthy of our assent.
In my case, the answer is no, the ones I've heard have not been worthy of my assent: I have been given no reasons to believe that they are telling the truth when they make these claims. But I keep listening nonetheless, just in case my fallible brain might have missed something. That's doubtful at this stage of the game, really, since I've fielded at least five thousand individual god-claims over the years and can count on my fingers the ones that sounded realistic even at first glance!
There are several Letters listed in our Faq Section that cover some of the arguments and why I find them unsatisfactory (or why a letter-writer finds them unworthy of assent). We have some of the historical writings, such as Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll, both of whom have written extensively on the Christian god-claim. The Internet Infidels has many articles, most of them more modern than what we have, and you can spend a full year's worth of man-hours investigating this question just on their web site alone!
If you do have any specific questions, particularly, if you have any claims that they make that you do not have the answers to, feel free to send those in and ask us to help you out with them. We might not have the answers, but we will probably be able to show you that the theists making the claims don't have any answers either, meaning that their claim is unworthy of belief.
Thanks for writing! I hope this wasn't overwhelming for you!
Positive Atheism Magazine
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with no reason to believe