The Apostates vs. The Never-Believers

In this post I just want to raise a topic for discussion rather than give any firm opinions of my own. I am curious as to whether you notice any significant differences between atheists who deconverted from once being devout believers in a god or gods, those who only nominally were part of a religion that believed in a god or gods without that belief really ever becoming important to them or accepted by them as true (at least after early childhood), and those who were never theistic at all and were raised either with no religiosity at all or with an atheistic kind of religiosity.

In your experience do these (or other) different kinds of backgrounds lead to any patterns of differences in the kinds of atheists people eventually become? Are there noticeable differences in how they approach non-atheism specific issues? Are there noticeably different value concerns or triggers that they have? Are their attitudes towards religion’s relative value or the nature of its function differently affected? Do they feel towards religion differently? Do they think differently? Do they have different intellectual virtues and vices? Do apostates feel deeper kinship and mutual understanding with fellow apostates and never-believers feel like they understand other never-believers better? Does anyone think about this as at all relevant when interacting with other atheists?

Does it predict in any way whether someone will wind up being a secularist atheist, an identity Atheist, an evangelical atheist, an constructivist Atheist, a pro-theist atheist, an apatheist, a Humanist, a libertarian, a nihilist, an existentialist, a philosophical atheist, a scientific atheist, a scientifically focused atheist, a scientistic atheist, or an avowed atheist who participates in Buddhism, Universalism/Unitarianism, Wicca, Judaism, or some other religion that has a degree of hospitality towards atheists?

I think this is an interesting topic for empirical psychological study. Let’s spitball hypotheses that might be worth testing.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • SammyCat

    I have always been an atheist brought up by non-religious parents and in a mostly non-religious family… it felt completely normal and for a long time (despite hearing things to the contrary) I actually thought that most people were probably atheists and only called themselves religious because of culture of family history. We didn’t discuss religion very much, and if we did it was usually to shake our heads in disbelief or have a laugh. Looking back I was very sheltered and I don’t come from a very diverse city. My old approach used to be that I’d rather religion didn’t exist and I’d prefer a secular society but that it wasn’t my place to challenge religion/the religious directly. Since joining Twitter, however, and realising how much of a negative effect religion has had on so many people worldwide my view has changed and I’m now more *angry* about religion and things being carried out in the name of religion. The online community has definitely opened my eyes to the level of brainwashing and exclusion of atheists from ‘religious communities’.

  • Zachary Moore

    The only pattern that I’ve detected is that apostates make much more of an effort to participate in organized secular organizations. We did a survey of the DFW Coalition of Reason a couple years ago, and 80% of our membership were raised religious and left it at some point.

    • Jessie Kay Pellegrino

      I agree. Apostates or believers who leave are more open and want to reach the masses. We want to help others gain knowledge so tuey don’t have to suffer under the hands of a ficticious God. We want our lovedvones and friends to gain the freedom we now have.

    • asonge

      If your secular organization were a reflection of wider society, wouldn’t you expect 80% of your membership to be apostates? There are more apostates than there are folks raised without religion.

  • Matt Oxley

    I’m writing about this myself currently – but the most common difference I’ve seen from those that never did believe is a lack of empathy for those that do or have. This isn’t always the case of course – but fairly often those that never did have a religion or a “personal relationship with god” think that those that have or do must be insane. Since I have been there and know that place I don’t think it so unbelievable, I understand the appeal of religious experience and why it ensnares so many.

    • John Evans

      As a raised-without-religion type myself, I admit to a lack of empathy towards the raised-religious. Especially the formerly devout. Their experience is entirely alien to me, and it is difficult to find an analogous point of reference. It would be easier to understand the pain of losing colour vision if I had always had monochromatic vision, because I could understand losing the ability to see part of the world. To what, in my secular life, can I compare losing faith to, to understand the struggle and pain of those who have lost it?

    • kagekiri

      Hmm, it might be analogous to learning Santa didn’t exist on your own, except that your parents actually still believe he exists, and all the adults you grew up respecting also think the same thing.

  • nkrishna

    I can only speak for myself, but I think this might be a false dichotomy. I would say I’m kind of a “de-converted spiritualist”. I was never active in an organized religion (my family is Hindu, which is an oddity when compared to the big three Abrahamic religons, and pretty secular about it). We went to a local temple on an erratic and irregular basis and never really attended a service (and “service” is a very loose word in a Hindu context). Now that my parents live in an area where the nearest temple is on the other side of the state, I think the most they do is light the occasional candle and play a CD of devotional music every Saturday.

    For myself, I don’t think I ever believed in a personal god, but I did like the idea of the kind of “universal creative force” favored by many liberal religious traditions. As a middle-schooler, I remember really wanting to be religious and wanting to fit in some faith group, but I think I thought about it too hard and decided to call myself an agnostic for the duration of high school. Even then, I still gave serious consideration to pseudo-religious concepts like the soul, the afterlife, or reincarnation. In college, I don’t think I really considered the question of religion much at all–too much other stuff to worry about. When I was 23, I had what I would call the most powerful religious experience of my life–I took a really awesome nap after reading a bunch of articles on physics and woke up realizing that there was very likely no god and no afterlife, so I’d better get my shit together and make this life the best I can.

    I was never a goddy type, but I can’t say I never believed. I’m sure there are lots of other people out there like me, but I don’t know any. The only atheist community I really connect with is the one online, which is so fractious it hardly counts as a community. I’m not sure if my aversion to ideological communities is rooted in my “never-really-belief” or just a general misanthropy, and I don’t know if my aversion to the idea of retconning religion out of existence is rooted in my “kinda-sorta-belief” or just an appreciation for pretty things you sometimes find in religious art and stories.

  • Pulse

    The biggest difference that I see is that apostates are far more likely to have strong reasoning or emotions backing their beliefs (or lack thereof) regarding religion. Growing up without religion is easy, but growing up within a religion and deciding to leave is not. The latter is bound to influence the rest of one’s life.

    Similarly, we hear about converts to religion all the time. It’s religion’s bread and butter. But we almost never hear about reconverts, people who left a religion, self-identified as atheist, and then returned to religion. It takes a lot more to reconvert an apostate than it takes to convert a never-believer.

    As an apostate, this is why I can’t take converts like Lee Strobel seriously. He may have been an atheist at one point, but I will never believe he was “an atheist like me.”

  • Kodie

    A few differences I notice: the formerly religious seem like survivors of something horrible, which I can imagine. I don’t hear a lot of stories that make it sound easy to leave faith. You’ve been threatened, and you don’t know what actually happens when you lose your faith until it happens. Then most of the time, it’s the best! Being free of the burdens of belief are, you know, so much better! I also get that there’s some kind of re-learning about your environment through an atheistic lens. People seem so upbeat about living their one and only life.

    Another thing I see sometimes is the lack of perspective. There are certain problems that seem to be associated and attributed primarily to religious beliefs, that without religion would be absent. Like patriarchy. That’s not, to me, a religious construct, but a cultural one. Religions reinforce and are reinforced by customs. I grew up in a secular household and yet kind of old-fashioned. I think of things like patriarchy, homophobia, racism, other harmful attitudes, I frame them as “old-fashioned” not singularly religious/Christian/evangelical, or whatever. I had an authoritarian mother, and a lot of ex-religious childhood problems echo things that I lived through also. So there is a “well you wouldn’t understand” theme, well I might not precisely understand things like the quiverfull movement or whatever, but I understand things like modesty and slut-shaming. I don’t know what I’m exactly trying to say. “Getting out” from under the fear and judgment of religious attitudes feels similar enough to what I have been through, but…

    I don’t value my life, my one and only life, all that much. I don’t know what it is about the absence of heaven that makes people want to YOLO so badly. Hey why not, but eh. I am not going to have some kind of scrapbook to keep after I die, so what does it matter. I’ve gotten over the need to check off life experiences just to say I’d done them. I’m not averse, I just don’t get the joy or even miracle of it. I don’t feel like telling religious people that without god everything becomes awesome, or that if I can’t pray it away, I know I have to work on things myself. Life is still hard, it’s not a whole lot of fun, that doesn’t make it easier. It just is, that doesn’t mean I need god to make it better or I have a god-shaped hole. Some atheists, seems to me the ex-religious, are more affirmative about life outside of religion. I don’t have a before and after. I don’t say the problems a long time ago were caused by religion and now without it, everything can be different. It’s the same. I’m ok, life’s alright, it’s just not to me like being born-again. I used to panic because I thought I would die before I got a chance to do anything fun or great or fulfilling, it used to matter a lot more to me to live my own life the way I designed it for myself, and falling behind, struggling, and feeling really bad. I feel a lot better about things if I don’t think I have to be that positive and life-affirming and admired by a lot of people who get jealous because I’m living the dream, or look down on me because I’m irresponsible, irreverent, or outrageous, eating life like a juicy piece of fruit or whatever, while they drive boring cars and have boring jobs or whatever. I can drive a boring car and have a boring job and I don’t even care what other people do anymore. I don’t feel fenced in by that outlook because I don’t care if I never parachute out of a plane or invent whatever replaces velcro or write a novel or live in Paris. That stuff vaporizes.

    I tended most of my life to look at religion from the outside as ideally coming to the same conclusions, I mean ideally. You work hard at something you don’t love, don’t worry. You never get to run with the bulls, it’s fine. “There’s heaven” is a way to, I thought, ameliorate all the bitter disappointments that life inevitably hands some people. Formerly religious people seem to more like to cram as much living into one life as they can but I don’t know where they think that stuff goes when they die. How you’re remembered by other people doesn’t really last that long either.

    • Rosie

      I’d like to try and address the “gotta live it all now!” phenomenon among former believers, having experienced it myself. I spent 20 years as a believer being afraid of everyone and everything outside that little evangelical bubble. I spent 20 years trying to ignore my needs and feelings because they were “sinful”. I spent 20 years not living because I’d been told it was dangerous and evil and that I was happier in that metaphorical padded room. When I finally got out, when I started actually having real experiences and real feelings, when I started acknowledging my needs, when I discovered that “coloring outside the lines” the religion had told me to stay in didn’t in fact result in the end of good things in my life…I went a little wild. I was making up for lost time, in many many ways. You can ask me now if I had a happy childhood, and the honest answer is, “I don’t know. I wasn’t there for most of it.” In some ways I suppose I’ll always be about 20 years younger than my chronological age. And even if it all evaporates when I die (and I suspect it will)…I’d rather be alive while I’m here than go back to the way it was those first 20 years. And I’ll do what it takes to make that happen. After all, if I must spend all the time I have on earth not living (as I did the first 20 years), what’s the point? I may as well kill myself now; it would be easier.

    • Leiningen’s Ants

      Completely Blue Moon Random Style here, but you kinda just reminded me of Rosie the Riveter. n___n~<3

      Ain't it great to be alive?! :D Every danged sunrise is a new chance to be a super-heroine~! I mean jeez, leave those 20 years alone, you're actually alive and kickin' now! Can you imagine the thing's you'll see if you just keep skip-kick-hipscotching to the future?! It's gonna be AWWWWESOME!

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      “In some ways I suppose I’ll always be about 20 years younger than my chronological age.”

      Yes! I feel ten years younger than I’m supposed to be.

    • Valancy Jane

      I just want you to know that I always look forward to reading your posts. You always bring something interesting to the table to share. Thank you.

      I will echo Rosie here and say that when I deconverted, I felt like I’d gotten out of a particularly constricting box that’d contained me for my entire life. My sense of wonder and curiosity got destroyed through that indoctrination until I almost became a slave. Imagine what it was like to suddenly realize that it was all total BS! I’m not an atheist now, but I do agree with them in that NOBODY knows what’s really going to happen. If this is all I’m going to get, then I want to live as fully as I can. Like a lot of deconverts, I went a little crazy after I fully got out of that box, eventually settling into my desired level of life-participation. I’ll probably also always act a lot younger than I am (I didn’t get past my affection for Hello Kitty clothes until I hit 40 and I still wear the jammies at home) because a lot of stuff that non-evangelicals just take for granted was just not part of my life and it’s all still so incredibly new to me. I’m not a Type T person at all–I don’t have any desire to do dangerous things or go out of my way to taste new experiences just because they’re new to me–but I savor what I do and learn, and at the end of my life I truly want to look back and say I had a very fine run and didn’t just exist and muddle through my days. It doesn’t matter to me where those experiences “go” when I die; it matters that I had them while I could.

      It’s okay if you don’t feel that way too. I don’t understand it, but I’m on board with you living your one life however you wish. We’re free now.

    • Rosie

      Thanks, Valancy Jane. You said that quite a bit better than I did.

  • Rosie

    It seems to me that those who were devout experience a lot more psychological trauma in the leaving than those who were not devout. Which means that, for a time anyway, they’re likely to be far more emotional about it (and those are mostly negative emotions). They’ll also probably be far more antagonistic toward their former beliefs than those who never did believe, but less likely to laugh at them because they know how it feels to be in that place where belief seems to make sense. A never-believer might not ever understand why an apostate takes religion so seriously, and spends so much time pointing at it and saying “this is wrong” or “this is harmful” (unless they’re in the States, where it’s becoming pretty obvious just how harmful some of the religious teachings can be in the political arena).

    It also seems to me that different kinds of believers–in the conservative vs. liberal sense–have different experiences around apostasy. More liberal churches seem much more flexible in their definitions of “believer”; some people I’ve thought of as completely non-religious still might identify themselves as nominal believers in the more liberal traditions. Others look like “believers” to me, but it turns out they don’t believe any of the things I always thought (coming from a more conservative tradition) were necessary to actually be a believer. A more liberal faith, it seems to me, is flexible enough to accommodate new information (whether that be science, or textual criticism, or just life experience). Conservative faith seems very brittle in contrast: tap it in just the right place and the whole thing shatters. Those I know from more liberal traditions who call themselves apostates often don’t feel as strongly about it as I do, coming from a more conservative tradition.

    Or the difference may have more to do with parenting styles. I’ve been reading some psychology recently (students of Jung and Erikson, mostly), and am coming to the conclusion that the ways conservative Christians are taught to parent (by Focus on the Family and others) are in fact inherently (and maybe even deliberately) damaging to the developing psyche. A person raised by well-meaning parents following that advice is going to have additional issues to deal with once they leave the church, most notably residual mistrust, shame, and guilt. And (for myself anyway), anger, anger, and more anger as I realize just how much damage was done by my well-meaning parents trying to do the “right” thing, following these teachings they still believe are “good”.

    • kagekiri

      Your analysis and experiences are incredibly similar to my own.

      Belief-wise, I went from extremely conservative Christian to atheist in a very short, painful period of time, as finally letting one doubt through (“God is perfectly good” was the doubted premise) destroyed the foundations of my faith in short order.

      I was apparently the one in our family who was most convinced of the craziness in our religion (apparently, I was the most and possibly only fully convinced YEC in our family, and the most convinced of biblical literalism and inerrancy, and the one who actually pursued apologetics rigorously, etc). My brother and sister now report that they started doubting the church’s beliefs and thinking it was all a bit crazy even in high school, but my fanaticism lasted through college years.

      Now, my brother is apatheist, and my sister is a much more liberal Christian who very rarely attends church, and I’m an anti-theist, so yeah, I would agree that the most conservative believers are more likely to have that fragile rigidity in my personal experience, and more likely to fight back against the belief without thinking the believers are fools.

    • Michael Jacobsen

      My experiences are almost exactly like yours, kagekiri. I was the most devout believer among three siblings (one apatheist sister and one nominally Chrstian sister) and the one who, after decoverting as a teenager, developed strong anti-theist feelings. Maybe I just gravitate toward emotional extremes, but In retrospect I see my anti-theism as a reaction, or coping mechanism, to the very painful process of decoverting and having to rebuild a shattered worldview. Decades later I find that I can still empathize with devout believers and not just write them off as lunatics, while at the same time staunchly opposing the institutionalized childhood religious brainwashing that instilled such passionate delusions.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    Sure, I think background does matter a bit. But I suspect those influences are likely complex and multifactorial. For example, since I’ve never been a part of a fundamentalist tradition, debates about Biblical interpretation are irrelevant to me, along with quite a bit more Christian apologetics which strike me as ethnocentric to varying degrees. (I don’t take for granted that Christian and Judaic theology are necessarily compatible, and certainly dispute the notion that there’s a cross-cultural religious consensus about ideas like a Prime Mover or Ultimate Morality.)

  • Christine

    Speaking from the religious perspective – I have to agree that those who deconverted at some point care a heck of a lot more. But I’m not sure I’d say that applies to those who just drifted away, and never really had any sort of belief in the first place – they’re more like the mainstream atheists, and less like the formerly religious ones.

    • josh

      The formerly religious ones are mainstream atheists. So long as religion is as common as it is, there will be a large cohort of atheists who deconverted. I’d be interested to know what the current breakdown among self-identified atheists (and agnostics and nones) is.

      Also, I think ‘never really had any sort of belief’ or ‘traumatic deconversion’ is too binary. I sincerely believed as a child and young teen but drifted away non-traumatically as I grew more independent and critical in my thought. I think some people are either more completely personally invested in religion, like it is the central fact of their social life and identity, and/or the negative pushback from friends and family is much harsher than my relatively mellow and non-doctrinal religious family.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      You fit the nominal middle category I described in the post. The title was just punchier where it frames things by the extremes.

    • Christine

      Honestly, I’ve only ever met one person who had a strong religious identity as a child and then deconverted. I’m much more used to people who were brought up without religion, or who were culturally religious, which may or may not have included going to church, but who never really cared about it.

  • Editor B

    Fascinating question, fascinating comments. I found deconversion incredibly painful. In retrospect I consider it my transition from childhood to adulthood, but in some ways it took 25 years to get over the associated issues. I was fairly devout, and my church was conservative. I have noticed time and again that other people who deconverted or never believed don’t seem to carry that same painful history within them, and I’ve wondered about why that is. My current theory is that there is also a matter of disposition or character involved here. Some people just take these things (religion and spirituality and philosophical questions) more seriously. Some of us just take it to heart more. I’ve come to realize that I am a religiously inclined, a “spiritual person” if you will; I’m just not theistic.

  • baal

    Flipping the question helps a bit. I know some evangelicals (fundamentalists) who were born and raised in their church and are in good standing with it. The same church has other folk who were born again into it as adults. The later set are much harder to deal with. They are very much given to proselytizing and working hard ‘to be true to the faith’ whereas the first group are more laid back.

    I see a parallel for those who leaving the faith was hard. They tend to be less ‘relaxed’ about their atheism than folks raised that way regardless of the extremity (or not) of their views.

    • George Waye

      When I first read the post, I thought I had an answer I wanted to share. I was going to say that it seems to me (from my own experience) that apostates tend to be more evangelical because they associate their religious (or non) epistemology as something worth sharing. I thought this was likely because they were socialized in a faith that has the same evangelical habits.
      After reading baal’s comment, I have kind of rethought things a bit. I think it is more likely the case that apostates are more inclined to be movement atheists and evangelical atheists because atheism is something that is far more personal to them than it likely is for a never-believer. It occurs to me that my excitement for atheist ethics, social justice, and evangelism might come from the fact that I chose this epistemology. It springs from who I am as opposed to who I am being partly a product of it.
      Atheism is definitional and not merely informative, to who I am as a person.

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Honestly, I think the Universalist Unitarian church of my childhood for all of two years or so left an impact on me, in that, people will believe all sorts of things, even adults who should know better.

    I like to think that the reason I’m not really spiritual is because my mother, thank her, was busy making flashcards for Math Flashcard Half-hour. Also, dad always asked me what I learned from the Mr. Wizard show. Coincidentally, that’s why I cross my 7′s. For us, and baby sister, church was a waste of hours. Then again, mom had a Masters and dad was a Ph.D at the University Of the Pacific, Stockton, California, in the Antebellum and Postbellum South. Wrote a book, “Cry from the Cotton.”

    If anything, all my life has been aimed toward understanding and helping my fellow human beings escape from chains they never knew existed. It’s kinda like that “Give a man a fish” thing, but with bondage. “Unchain a man for a day, and he can walk in circles until shackled again. Break the chains, and he can run to the horizon.” Something like that.

    I really don’t know how to answer this query. I guess we’re all who we are, nothing less, nothing more. Judge not the book by its cover but by its contents. If it is true that Knowledge is King, then Information, which informs Knowledge, is Queen.

    Anybody know any good PvP chess programs?

  • Kenneth Polit

    I was raised Roman Catholic, although my mother was a secular Jew. I attended Catholic school from K through 8. I was an altar boy and sang in the choir. However I don’t think I ever believed any of it. I went through the motions, received the sacraments, but I never accepted any part of Catholicism as actually true. I just couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that knew it was bullshit. For most of my adult life I was a live-and-let-live non-believer. For about the last decade or so I have found it impossible to remain silent. I’ve seen first hand how hurtful and dangerous religion truly is. I no longer give nonsense a pass. If someone’s faith is full of shit they will hear about it from me.

  • faithisfraud

    Having been raised in a Christian home, I feel a deep sense of resentment toward Christianity and the Bible. When I was growing up, I read the Bible devotedly, but I was terrified by the whimsical, callous God portrayed in it. I was told that God was righteous, but reading about all the horrible things the God of the Bible did, I had a great deal of difficulty reconciling the God I was sold in Church and the God of the Bible. When I was older, I came to realize that most Christians don’t really know very much about the Bible or their faith, but simply stick to a few simple things they were told about their religion. This might not be as bad if they didn’t treat science as a threat and insist on clinging to arcane social values. Today I run a blog
    In the blog, I try to expose the Bible for what it is a fraud. The Bible contradicts, science, it contradicts reason, and, let’s face it, it contradicts itself.

  • Zoe Ellen Brain

    By an accident of history, in my early childhood I was brought up in a Baptist church.

    I stopped believing what I was taught in Sunday School about the time I stopped believing in Santa Claus – when I got myself filthy crawling into the fireplace and examined the lower parts of the chimney. Certainly before age 6.

    Either Calvin is right, the Earth is flat and covered by a Firmament that keeps the waters above out, the Earth is 6000 years old etc, and there’s a heartless bastard in charge, or the whole thing is baloney.

    The almost universal practice of cherrypicking from scripture to divide the literal from the metaphorical, with the historical record of converting the former to the latter as we learn more (shape of Earth – see St John Chrysostom’s unrefuted theological proof of platygeanism etc) is fundamentally intellectual dishonesty. And of course anyone who disagrees with where they draw the line is evil.

    “Those who assert that ‘the earth moves and turns’…[are] motivated by ‘a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding;’ possessed by the devil, they aimed ‘to pervert the order of nature.’” — John Calvin

    Such unwitting dishonesty is useful though, it’s converted a really nasty belief system that condones slavery to one that opposes it, one that no longer forces rape victims to marry the rapists etc, I’m not saying it’s bad, merely fundamentally dishonest.

    The recognition of this has led to many people of high integrity embracing the sheer nastiness of Calvinism, as it’s what the Bible plainly teaches. It also plainly teaches that hail and snow comes from storehouses above the firmament of course, but they ignore that. That’s “metaphorical”. They don’t go far enough in recognising bullshit when they see it.

    Only a few have the clarity of thought to realise they must either reject the whole thing, or reject rationality – and do the latter.

    “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” — Martin Luther

    Reason can never be relied on to tell you what you want to hear, only what’s true.

    Christianity is one of the better cults, but the whole idea it’s founded on, punishing the innocent to atone for the guilty, is a moral abomination. Far less so if the victim is a volunteer, but fundamentally wrong in substance, guilt is not a transferable commodity, or the whole concept is meaningless.

    Theology is, to me, exactly the same as those very intelligent people who engage in spirited and closely-reasoned debate about whether the Starship Enterprise could beat the Battlestar Galactica.(Obviously it could – just transport a nuke on board, end of story).

    Then there’s the matter of how many gods there are. None of the “monotheisms” are monotheistic. I’m not going to delve into Trinitarianism, but “You shall have no other gods before me” makes no sense unless other gods exist. Whether you call them thrones, powers, principalities, cherubs, demons, baals, seraphs, rakshasa, archangels, angels, or the winged aerial servants of Innana-Lamashtu.

    None of this would be important unless it was a driving force behind legislation, and even warfare. It’s just amazing to me that such a ramshackle collection of contradictory nonsense-on-stilts could be taken seriously. Possibly because of the gems in various scriptures – 1 Corinthians 13 is sublime. Possibly because of the Santa Claus effect in keeping the psychopaths in line out of fear

  • David Scott

    My guess is that the stricter and more stupid the religion of your childhood, the more evangelical you are liable to be once you break free and deconvert. Certainly works in my case. I’m offended by their failed brainwashing attempt. Having a child recite the Apostles’ Creed before they know what the word “believe” means is simply bad parenting.
    I’m a person who was raised in a religious family, with Sunday school and church every weekend, but I never believed it for a minute. I went along with it, and at one point fell in love with the theatre of the church and wanted to be confirmed, but I never actually believed. The last time I prayed sincerely, asking God to give my father some success in life, I just felt foolish. Nobody there. No answer. So I’ve always been shaking my head in disbelief when Christians explain reality to me. I kept my lack of belief to myself for many years, but finally the injustice of having to listen to nonsense in respectful silence finally got to me. Now I push back. Hard.

  • Karen

    You have to remember that we are who we are. My mom has always
    been a radical. In my childhood she was radically against Christianity and extremely intolerant, never wasting a chance to spit venom in their direction. Then one day she had a radical conversion, and wouldn’t you know it, she was almost as radical and intolerant in her new found religion.

  • Peter Moritz

    I find that I lack a certain zeal that many “deconverted” display, especially those that came from a more evangelical/fundamentalist background. I find this evidenced in bloggers who escaped this tradition. They are more “into your face” like almost all those who recovered from an addiction, be it alcoholics who are not able to entertain “social” drinking or smokers who now utterly denounce their still smoking colleagues.

    I actually slid into unbelief between the age of 14 – 16, my family somewhat “social” Catholics, but very weak on following dogma or teachings of the church they found not in line with their live experience or interpretation of morality.

    I was free to explore, and never thought much about religion at all till the shit hit the fan in the US with GW Bush courting the religious voters blatantly and at the expense of other groups, and the attempts by religious fundamentalism to influence education with their creationist nonsense.

    At that point I became aware of the negative influence in the States by religious zealots on the body politics and the sciences.

    Living in Canada that also made me question the new conservative trends after the unification of an originally reasonable Progressive Conservative and very secular party with the ex Reform Party now Alliance Party which was heavily influenced by the religious fundamentalism of their Albertan founders.

    I have no desire to convert anybody away from their religion, and have found discussions with most of the more doctrinaire religious adherents of all convictions fruitless and time wasting. I find it even more frustrating to discuss religion with liberal adherents, their flexibility makes them like catching eels – they slip through by conceding almost anything but not questioning the rationality of their core believes in a creator, the most central question.

    I when asked clearly state that I am an atheist and have been that for almost fifty years without any mental anguish, atheism was a natural progression and never a struggle for me. I only get righteously annoyed when religion influences political decisions unreasonably (religion can influence politics reasonably, as witnessed by the social democratic movement in Canada that was based on a compassionate socialistic interpretation of the NT specifically) and fundamentalism tries to gain influence in schools to the detriment of critical thinking and scientific education.

  • Danny Klopovic

    In my experience, it seems that people do not change significantly whether they convert or deconvert. For example, if one was an evangelical / fundamentalist Christian and they deconvert, as atheists they often seem to retain the very same habits of mind that they did pre-deconversion. They also tend to be more “in your face” as well – whereas say ex-Quaker atheists are much more irenic by comparison.

    More amusing is that ex-Christian/religious atheists often seem to retain a “theological flavouring” to their atheism in arguments / discussion – to the extent that even if details of the past is not disclosed by the atheist interlocutor, by listening carefully enough, one can even work out what their prior religious or even denominational affiliations were simply by their use of favoured arguments or religious passages. They have simply flipped their past religious views and turned onto the other side of the coin.

  • Shira Coffee

    My own way of dividing atheists is a little different. I think there are two main reasons theists come to reject the idea of god / G-d / gods. Some people want to be right, and some people want to be moral, or at least have a solid basis for morality. (Of course, there are those who have some combination of these basic motivations.)

    It seems to me that certain kinds of Christians base their claim to legitimacy on the idea that their beliefs are right — that is, their beliefs are factual and, in fact, ONLY their beliefs are factual. So, if I can engage in speculation, maybe atheists from that kind of background are more likely to fall back on the habit of asserting that their new beliefs are right (or, at the extreme, that ONLY their beliefs are right.)

    However, I only know a few atheists, and since I tend to duck out when people start arguing about things I don’t care about (like whether “God” exists), I don’t have much data to back up the above speculation. I only offer this view because it’s a little different from what others have said so far.

  • Valancy Jane

    I’ve noticed there is a difference between never-believers and apostates as well. I do feel that I have more in common with others who once fell for Christianity’s lies than with those who escaped other religions or never believed in any at all–like how a veteran feels more comfortable around another veteran, and if they both came out of the same war, so much the better. We are, to borrow cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s impossibly astute phrase, part of the Vast and Benevolent Brotherhood of Them What Been Shot At, and that kinship permeates the interactions of ex-Christians. We know the same lingo; we understand entirely the mindset; we know the same pain and anger and grief–and sense of newfound freedom, and subsequent ostracism or worse at the hands of those we once loved.

    Something that rankles me sometimes is seeing a never-believer act like s/he is so much more evolved than an ex-believer because s/he never fell for any of that garbage. I don’t know how common that mindset is, but I did notice it a few times on an ex-Christian board I frequented–that never-belivers were just baffled at how we’d gotten in so deep or stayed so long. In the end, we’re all people, and never-believers bring a perspective to the table that I value, and every human being alive has felt pain, anger, grief, freedom, and ostracism so it’s hardly a unique thing to ex-believers, but I don’t think that they can ever really understand what it is to be hip-deep in Christianity and then leave.

  • Mo

    I can only speak from experience… I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for 13 years. I got a very good education not only in religion but in everything else including science. I was in youth group, I went to church, I led retreats. But I was also taught to question. My “deconversion” or loss of faith was a slow and gradual realization which has concluded in full on, gnostic atheism. I don’t feel antagonistic toward my former religion, in fact I’m thankful that they taught me as much as they could about their reasons for having faith. But being exposed to such deep thought and reasoning about faith led me away from it in the end. I understand why people of faith cling to it so strongly, but I can say that I’m at peace without it. I never felt traumatized by the process. My husband is agnostic, only because he was raised without religion at all and the main difference I see between us is that I THINK about religion and faith and its role in the world while he does not. Its just not on his radar. He is also not required to occasionally explain why we’re not inviting anyone to baptisms and why our kids aren’t going to the same school I went to (we lived in my hometown, where all of my friends are sending their kids to the same Catholic schools we graduated from)….I know that this is full of long sentences and I’m sorry. So back to atheism. Overall my thoughts are that those raised without faith have it easier because atheism is normal to their loved ones. They don’t have to explain their lack of faith because the closest relationships in their lives (parents!) brought them into this particular lack of belief. I find myself repeatedly having to normalize my lack of belief, explain it, answer questions that are offensive but which I understand are born from a genuine ignorance of what its like not to believe. I’m happy with my lack of belief and happy with my former faith. I try not to let the stupid questions irritate me too much!

  • Christine

    The fact that I’m only in my twenties is probably a relevant datum that I should have included. Sorry about that.

  • Liralen

    Another data point – my husband is a self-described “recovering fundamentalist” who didn’t slide all the way into atheism, but rather stopped at progressive Christian. One could argue that being married to a former “Never Believer” converted to Christianity might have provided a backstop. I found the concept of inerrancy astonishing and had no training on Biblical doctrines, so I interpret the Bible completely differently than a fundamentalist does (such as having google opened in my browser). Or one also could argue that if he did de-convert completely to atheism, he’d never tell me. ;)

    The biggest difference in our upbringing that relates to the topic is that he was never taught to trust his own judgment, quite the contrary. He was taught to obey those in authority. I only learned this about a year ago, and it was one of those time-stopping moments where numerous, unexplainable incidents flashed through my mind that were suddenly explained. It made me furiously angry that this was done to him. On the other hand, his judgment is very good, so his parents got quite a lot right – it’s one of the many things that attracted me to him in the first place. I’m very opinionated, and very few people can make me pause once my mind is made up, but he can make me pause.

    The consequence of not trusting your own judgment is still evident – he’s transferred his faith in religious doctrine to science. Of the two, science is better, but only if one examines the science directly yourself, rather than just trusting people who say “science has proven…” If you don’t then you’ve only transferred faith in one authority to another. Another problem with science is what I mentioned in another thread – if a scientist ever discovered any evidence of a creator, he’d be mocked (google “Georges Lemaitre”). Also, people often confuse “sufficient” and “necessary” when examining the evidence, i.e., whether the scientific evidence is mutually exclusive to the existence of a creator. Nothing that I’ve read related to either evolution or physics suggests that is the case.