Looking At Some
De-Conversion Stories
Brian Marchand

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Little River Business Solutions"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tuesday, February 06, 2001 10:29 AM

 
• Deconversion is Unique To Specific Varieties of Religious Experience

I suspect that if one goes online and solicits "De-Conversion Stories," one will not hear from very many people such as myself who were raised in an atheistic home whose roots were a blend of atheism and Deism (the "Spinoza's god" Unitarianism of the American Founders) for as many generations back as anybody can remember. Neither will one hear from someone who was raised in a rather liberal, vaguely religious home but later decided that the god-question was not worth pondering. The "De-Conversion Story" is an experience which is basically unique to those who once believed very devoutly, eventually woke up and realized what they were doing to themselves, and then did something to change the situation by reverting to atheism.

 
• Varieties of Nonreligious Inexperience

The vast majority of atheists, I think, simply don't buy what little they've considered. If they've heard very much (in man-hours), chances are it was that theologically narrow sliver of Christianity which monopolizes television and radio religion, a viewpont that more and more modern Americans find unsavory, cheerless, and most disagreeable, to say the least! Such atheists just don't think the god-question is of any importance.

Only if you approach them, explain that an atheist is simply one who lacks a god belief, not necessarily one who asserts that no gods exist, will such atheists think for a moment and say, "Yeah, if that's what an atheist is, then I guess I'm an atheist." We see this again and again, both as part of the Positive Atheism project as well as in the personal lives of various volunteers as they explain what they do to this or that friend or relative.

After hearing this explanation, they will usually go back to their doing and probably not think about it again unless asked. The subject might cross the minds of some when they notice something that appalls them (such as a pogrom or a lying preacher on TV or a priest who got caught fiddling around with the altar boy or an American President bent on funding religious "charities" with tax dollars -- but who gets caught secretly admitting that he's promoting faith-based "charities" only for the purpose of arming the anti-abortion movement with funding from the public treasury).

Such newsworthy events will be the only times that the vast majority of atheists think about religion (or atheism) at all. Most atheist rarely if ever think about their atheism, because most of us don't care about the subject of theism.

 
• Adjusting To Normalcy is Difficult: Help is as Unavailable as God

Many people who were trained in a religion at a very young age have a tough time shedding the fundamentalistic styles of thinking once they revert to atheism. This is sure to show in a collection of "De-Conversion Stories," and is, actually, one of several aspects we wish to examine in ourselves by participating in the "De-Conversion Stories" process. Trying to adjust to this often shocking and occasionally life-shattering experience is often very difficult -- there are no groups or psychological disciplines designed to help one come down from religion, so all we have is to work this out on our own. By offering the "De-Conversion Stories" pages, we can watch our own stumbling and bungling in others, and can also learn what to anticipate in our own journeys.

A few of us made this change quite gracefully, but these are a fortunate few. Most of our experiences were quite awkward, and many of us will never completely shed the vestigial fears which were hammered into us while we were vulnerable children who lacked the ability to critically examine what we were being enticed or coerced to believe.

Thank you for visiting our world for a few moments. Our hope is that by exposing yourself a little bit to who we are, perhaps you will better be able to identify and perhaps openly the slanderous stigma that we atheists endure whenever we make our views known to others.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Little River Business Solutions"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Wednesday, February 07, 2001 8:27 AM

One of my hopes is that by displaying bigotry, we all can hone our skills at recognizing it. I repeatedly admit that this is why I post the letters of theistic bigots. One thing I am doing hearkens from former gay rights activist Luke Sissyfag, who said, "Make yourself the object of their bigotry" when explaining to radio talk show host Tom Leykis why he disrupted one of President Clinton's speeches while wearing a pink chiffon. By coding the e-mail links to <editor@positiveatheism.org> in such a way that I can tell which page a person clicked to open the e-mail, I have discovered the sad fact that most of these people appear never to have investigated beyond our front page before launching our salvoes against us. I have concluded, from this and from elsewhere, that I need do nothing more than identify myself as an atheist to become an object of bigotry and discrimination. They cannot get beyond the word atheism.

I realize that any effort to reduce -- or even to understand -- bigotry must begin by recognizing and confronting one's own tendencies toward bigotry. That is part of the unspoken point of our Forum in general and of the "De-Conversion Stories" section in particular: to display our own tendencies toward bigotry as a sub-section of the larger point which is to describe just how difficult is the process of renouncing one's previously-held faith. This is no easy deal, and if there were centers for helping people come down off of bad religion just like there are groups and businesses that will help you come down off drugs (another harrowing, often fundamentally life-changing experience), either this form would not be needed, or it would be so common that it would not have drawn your attention.

I will not tell you if I saw "an attack" or "a smear on atheists" in your first letter: how you felt about atheists was not the vector I focused on either while reading your letter or while composing my response. My appearance of being oblivious to this is deliberate: I wish to focus this dialogue in a specific direction because I feel this to be a wonderful opportunity for us all to learn a great lesson. So I limited my focus specifically to your questions about the "De-Conversion Stories" section, which is a unique animal that I can only begin to explain to myself -- much less to you. Unlike the "Singles Night On Wednesdays" at the Chinese bar where I sometimes drink, this concept is basically unprecedented: there are no rules either spoken or unspoken.

If you are interested in understanding or even reducing bigotry in this world, I would suggest you examine the following statement that you made:

I never thought that everyone must or should become an atheist (and even downplayed this stated mission of the group to which I once belonged). However, I did once wish that everybody could see what I have seen.

I no longer think this way for several reasons.

(Today I am not nearly as sadistic as I was at that moment! Gaud for bid that anybody would have to walk in my shoes!)

First and foremost, I realize that even if the fierce and widespread bigotry against atheists were to suddenly vanish, being an atheist, in and of itself, can be very hard on a person: thinking for yourself; no afterlife; no "invisible friend" (which, for some and at times, means no friends period -- as all evangelists who emphasize the "invisible friend" line will more than gladly point out); few short-cut roads to "learning" things (resting on faith so you can move on, rather than leaving the question open); no artificial source of social contact (artificial in that it centers around an ideology -- which can, for some, mean no such source: none of my Christian friends remained friends after I left the Church in 1983; few of my Stepper friends remained friends after I left the Program; I am universally shunned now that I have successfully implemented European techniques of moderate drinking; none of the members of the organized atheist group stayed in touch after I was given the ol' nudge); I could go on. And I'm sure that a Christian can invert this list and describe the intrinsic hardships of being a Christian. (And anyone who has written a "De-Conversion Story" would be more than willing to help you with that project! Though not all of us sympathize like I do, we all know what it's like!).

Mostly, though, as polarized as we tend to get when "they" foster such an us-vs.-them mentality within the popular mind set, whipping their people into a frenzy and prompting them to come after us or slander us or marginalize our existence, I have trained myself to realize two things: First, most people are not among the meddling fundamentalists, and most importantly, that doesn't matter to me: what people believe is not my concern, it's how they behave. True, I'll oppose legislation such as President Bush and Al Gore have proposed, but that's in the public arena, and even were I still a Christian, I'd still oppose this legislation because I've always recognized that our best prospects for religious liberty come when the government takes a completely neutral stand on religion.

But as tempting as it is to react to the polarizing that we are, by default, a part of, there are steps I can take to keep from playing in to it. I'm not sure what all those steps are, at this point (the whole "Positive Atheism" thing is, and will always be, a learning experience -- and always merely one learning experience among many), but I am confident that I can learn and grow.

And if I document what I learn and share it with others, perhaps someone will be able to assemble some of what we've learned into a format that will be as easy to present as an hour-long workshop or a small book. That, basically, is what I'm doing here, though I cannot speak for any of our readers as to why they're here. The file "Religion Reporter Interviews Cliff: Why Do You Read PAM?" has a few clues, but we're all trying to do this thing called life and we each have limited and varied experiences and abilities with which to accomplish this thing called life.

What sets us apart, as far as I know, is that as far as we can tell, this is the only life we get; I cannot tell you if we're different from theists in any other respect. But if this is our only crack at existence, it makes no sense to make it needlessly hard on other people, seeing as how it's their only chance to live as well.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

"My conclusion is that there is no reason to
   believe any of the dogmas of traditional
   theology and, further, that there is no
   reason to wish that they were true. Man,
   in so far as he is not subject to natural
   forces, is free to work out his own destiny.
   The responsibility is his, and so is the
   opportunity."
      -- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970),
            "Is There a God?" (1952)

"The legitimate powers of government extend
   to such acts only as are injurious to others."
      -- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
            "Statute for Religious Freedom"

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Little River Business Solutions"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Friday, February 09, 2001 3:08 AM

I will say that you seem representative of some very hopeful changes I see taking place in certain corners of Christianity. I am a supporter of the Center for Progressive Christianity and have threatened to join, except that I would never be able to agree with their theology. I can understand their wish to retain their "Christian" identity, even though many of them are panentheists. They have, however, placed us on their links page. We have also been endorsed by Chaplain Al Holm of An Interfaith Chapel of Common Sense Ministry.

We receive lots of taunts from fundamentalists who ask what good has atheism done or what good have atheists done. My inevitable question, even if I don't ask it directly, is, "What is good in religion that cannot be found outside of religion?" The point I try to make in this is that almost all the good we find in religion has an extra-religious source (that is to say, that even assuming the existence of God, all the real good that we see, all the morality, anyway, is of human origin). The Baptist religion of up until about twenty years ago is a vast improvement over the Presbyterianism of yore, and the Roman Catholic Church has bowed to cultural pressure and thereby made improvements that nobody can deny.
 

I am finding that a lot of what passes for "harm done" is probably unintentional, but is, nevertheless, bona fide indignity. The reason it is unintentional, I fear, is because antiatheistic bigotry is so ingrained into our culture that, for the most part, not even atheists recognize it when it happens to them. Even when we do recognize it, we discover that by trying to address it (much less change it) we inflict a whole world of damage to our quest to live normal lives.

For example, for someone to announce to a known atheist that she or he is praying for their salvation is, in my opinion, flat-out bigotry. To cloak it in the context of the known atheist being ill and praying for that person's recovery is just plain rude, but is, I think, understandable. I would never tell a known Christian Science practitioner, "I hope your doctor brings you good news" (but I would support prosecuting the same person for allowing her child to die from medical negligence).
 

Still, some think He sent them to administer love, while others think He sent them to set us straight.
 

This is not unique to religious groups, I've even seen it in the atheist groups.
 

On this, everyone but the reincarnationists agree. So why is it that when people posit "another" life, this life so often seems to become cheapened? With atheism, there really is no excuse for cheapening life for any reason. To those who would question whether atheists have morals or would wonder how atheism could foster morals, this is my response. If morality equals obedience to a god, I am not sure I know whether even to call that morality. But if morality is trying to make this a better place for all of us to live, then being acutely aware that this is our only crack at living that we know of is, to me the strongest motive I can think of for doing good to your fellow-human and for refraining from doing harm.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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