Ask Richard: Not-Quite-An-Atheist Seeks to Clarify His Beliefs

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Hi Richard.

I just stumbled across your site a couple hours ago and have been reading your Ask Richard articles and I thought maybe you could help me. I am not quite an atheist, but I am close. I don’t believe any religions have it right from what little knowledge I have of them, but I still can’t help but think there must be a god or some other force at work. I am the youngest of 4 (I am 31 years old right now) and my brother is an atheist, but my sisters are quite religious. My oldest sister has recently gotten my mother hooked on her religion (Baptist) to the point where it’s annoying. Whenever I am around them, I am bombarded with their religious beliefs. I haven’t been very clear about my beliefs with them since I really don’t know what I believe right now. I think that they think I might be atheist, but I’m not sure since I try not to discuss it with them. I don’t know what I should do. I’m wondering if I should maybe read up on all the different religions just to have something to back up my thoughts. I have no clue where I would start that process though. I imagine it would take a long time to read all that stuff. To top it all off, I am horrible at arguing. I have a hard time getting my point across. Just writing this email has been a challenge. Do you have any thoughts on what I should do? I’m sorry about how long this email has been, but like I said, I’m no good at this stuff :)

Thanks,
Erik

Dear Erik,

I think the first thing you should become very clear about is that you don’t have to justify anything about yourself to anybody. You don’t have to even reveal anything about yourself to anybody. You don’t have to explain, defend or excuse how unsettled and vague your beliefs currently are. You don’t have to please theists or atheists. If anybody has a problem with where you are right now, that’s their problem, not yours.

If you’re not good at arguing, you don’t have to argue. If being bombarded by your sisters’ and mother’s beliefs is annoying, you don’t have to sit there taking it. Quietly walk out and find something more pleasant to do.

If someone confronts you with a challenge to argue about your beliefs, you have every right to calmly, politely, but firmly say something like, “I’m not interested in discussing that. Let’s talk about _____ instead.” If they persist, asking why you don’t want to talk about it, just repeat your response, word-for-word, more quietly and slowly until they give up.

Accept yourself exactly as you are right now, which includes the desire to change. You don’t have to become stronger, or more confident, or more knowledgeable, or better skilled at something first, and only accept yourself after some kind of successful confrontation with someone else. Politely refusing to play someone else’s game is perfectly legitimate. No explanation, justification, or excuse is required. Paradoxically, such permission-to-be-you can have an effect of gradually giving you more self confidence and the ability to change.

If you want to educate yourself about religions and about freethinking, do so just for your own interest and for your own comfort. You don’t ever have to prepare for “belief combat” with someone else. Many people on blogs such as this love arguing. Some have samurai-like skills, while others just like to brawl. But that’s not the only way to participate. You can share your ideas and views, but if sparring isn’t your sport, you can skip that.

I mentioned educating yourself for your own comfort because I get the impression that just within yourself, you are uncomfortable with things being unresolved. Doubt and uncertainty are the very healthy “discomforts” of thoughtful people, so never be entirely free of them. They help to keep us honest, humble and human, and they help to keep us inquiring.

You don’t have to be a dedicated scholar while learning about these things. Enjoy the process, take your time, and don’t make it a chore. General works on comparative religion for the layperson might be a good place to start. Include a collection of ancient mythology. Myths can be fun to read just for their own sake. If books are discouragingly too long, (as they are for me with my snail’s pace reading speed) essays can be very efficient at crystallizing ideas for a searcher who is in the fog. For insights about atheism, try old classic essays like Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell, or The Gods By Robert Green Ingersoll or many of his other remarkable essays.

I’m sure the readers here can recommend excellent resources that are understandable for people like you and me who do not have black belts in philosophy.

Here and on other websites you can also begin to learn about yourself from others’ stories that resemble yours. While your path in many ways is unique to you, it also is very much the same as the paths that other people have walked before you. Some of those people might introduce themselves here today…

Being able to talk openly with someone about your unanswered questions and under-construction ideas can be very helpful, but it’s easier with someone who is not invested in getting you to eventually think what they think. Such people can be rare, but they do exist. They just want to help you find whatever you’re looking for. They care about you, rather than about your conclusions.

I don’t get the impression that your sisters and mother would be able to be that free of agendas. Generally, very religious people are “under orders” to turn everybody else into very religious people. Your atheist brother might be able to accept you as you are and as you will be, but sometimes people just can’t get their own preferences out of the way. Perhaps someone who is not part of the family would be able to be impartial.

By the way, even though you said that writing your email was a challenge, It is clear and concise, and it portrays your feelings well, in a way that makes it easy to care about you. So you already have good expressive skills; it just gets easier with practice. Keep coming to sites like this, and share your reactions to things with your comments a little at a time.

There are many other readers lurking out there who feel as undecided as you do. You’re all welcome. Hi there! Say hello! Some of the more outspoken people here might want you to eventually see things as they do, but they’ll generally be up front and honest about it. You don’t have to argue with them; just take what works for you, and keep thinking. Others like myself will only want whatever helps you to discover you, with no agenda for you to agree with any particular view. Agreement is not important. Only understanding is.

Erik, I hope that we hear from you on this site as you gradually feel comfortable to express yourself, and as you gradually see yourself more clearly. The people who are in flux, in process, in transition to wherever they’re going can add vitality to our discussions.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Johannsone

    I love the first paragraph. That applies to everyone.
    And your advice to express himself when he feels comfortable is great. Building compassion comes from understanding. If we all take time to understand transitional phases, we all become better at helping, if that makes sense.

  • http://twitter.com/terriaminute terri jones

    Wonderful question, brilliant answer.  I was where the questioner was, and I agree with Richard’s answer – enjoy the process! And don’t let anyone rush you, Erik. The only person with any right to your destination is YOU.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mujica.alex Alejandro Mujica

    Best advice I’ve heard all day. Something we need to be reminded of from time to time.
    “Accept yourself exactly as you are right now.”

  • Edward Tarte

    Hello, Erik.  Not too long ago I was an agnostic leaning toward being an atheist.  Now I am an atheist.  Mine is a story that is of particular interest to some:  I was once a Catholic priest (half a century ago).   I document all this in YouTube videos, and I invite you to access and watch one or more of them.  At YouTube, search edward tarte.  I wish you the very best.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Arnold/1282804220 Joe Arnold

      Edward’s videos are excellent, and fascinating. I second the recommendation.

      Other good Youtubers include Evid3nc3 (his story of deconversion is powerful), AronRa, Thunderf00t (those are zeros, not ohs), and nonstampcollector (funny cartoons).

      You could also check out The Atheist Experience. It’s a Texas public broadcast call-in show run by some very smart people who answer questions. The videos of the episodes are easy to find on Youtube, as well.

      And you’re fine where you’re at now, man. The best thing a person can say is “I don’t know”, especially when followed by “let me find out”.

  • WebHybrid

    This is the finest atheism blog entry I have seen to date – a dilemma shared by so many, a caring and wise response. Bravo.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Erik! I want to add to the chorus to “Accept yourself exactly as you are right now”. It is not some sort of a flaw in you that you’re undecided and there is absolutely no requirement that you belong to any one of the “teams” that you see around you, including team atheist.

    In addition to politely but firmly telling your theist family that you don’t want to discuss the matter, you could also say something along the lines of “I’m thinking about things right now. I want to figure them out on my own before I discuss them with others”. When they inevitably offer to “help” (read: “push”) you gently tell them that “on my own” is a non-optional part of the deal and they are simply wasting their breath in the meantime.

    Even though it’s fine if you are unclear on your position, you do seem to want to learn more. Comparative religion is one way to do it, but it can be a daunting task considering the sheer number of religions involved. You seem to be at a point where you don’t believe in any “religion” but still think there is some kind of a god, which depending on what attributes you give that god could mean you are a deist.  As an option or a complement to comparative religion, I think you might be interested to learn about the origins of religion. Daniel Dennett’s book “Breaking the Spell” is a great read, and if you aren’t quite an atheist you’ll find Dennett to be very gentle and soft-spoken compared to the more prickly Dawkins or Hitchens.

  • http://twitter.com/deanrobertsnet Dean Roberts

    Even though being a Christian, I do, for the most part, agree with Richards answer. Though the only way you’re going to find out about religions is by researching. Some people have already commented saying how the process was a good one, almost explicitly saying that this process only leads to atheism. Which is nonsense. There are equally those who travel this same journey only to find themselves following a particular religion. I would also say that whilst it may be annoying to hear your mother and sister talking about Christian faith, it would be well worth joining in the discussion just to see what THEY make of it all. And because atheist book recommendations have been given, I have to say that if you want to search Christian stuff, anything by Tim Keller, Lee Strobel, C S Lewis, John Stott, John Lennox,  Alistair McGrath, Peter S Williams, William Lane Craig,  and N T Wright would be useful reads.

    http://deanroberts.net

    • Anonymous

      I’d stay clear of stuff by Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig. Both are demonstrably idiots without any real intellectual insight. It’s Christian apologetics at its very worst. CS Lewis isn’t exactly very bright either, considering his “trilemma”

      • Anonymous

        William Lane Craig is far from an idiot: He’s a highly intelligent  charlatan. He is one of the very best advocates for the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Just because his dishonesty makes him detestable most certainly does not render him an idiot, and underestimating would be a grave mistake.

      • Alice

        Bet he doesn’t like your books either.

      • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

        I disagree.

        I think that getting someone with genuine intellectual curiosity and honesty to read Craig, Lennox, McGrath and Lewis would be a brilliant method for making that person a committed atheist.

        Because these authors are only convincing to people who are rather desperate to be convinced. I think anyone with a basic grasp on intellectual curiosity and honesty should be able to see the endless waffling obscurantism and question-begging for the acts of blind desperation that they are.

        As these are names that are regularly touted as prominent examples of top Christian thought, so much the worse for Christian thought.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593675787 Glenn Davey

      But you WOULD say that. Very religious people have an obligation to go and make very religious people.

      Thanks for evangelising on this thread and basically stepping into your own stereotype.

      Hey, Dean’s right. You should research religion.

      How about Islam, the religion of peace? Or Hinduism? Or Jainism?

      Or Jehovah’s Witnesses?

      No, Dean Roberts just means HIS particular brand of Jesus myth…

  • Anonymous

    Erik,
    You can certainly find lots of people to talk to online.  If you feel like you’d be more comfortable finding someone to talk to in person, I’d recommend you try out attending a UU church.  Those usually have an assortment of people of different opinnions about faith, including deists and atheists, and they put an emphasis on looking for answers instead of having all the answers handed to you.  You could find a group near you at uua.org if you are in the US.

  • Cait Obando

    You give such brilliant, sound advice. I really needed it right now. I can apply it to other areas of my life, not just with atheism (which I’m quite content with lol).

    I might write to you sometime. I’m having issues with my fundie mother. It physically hurts to hear her shun me and force religious paraphernalia on me and my child. The advice you gave right here was very welcome :D

  • KatParks

    Erik, I was once there, quietly unsure, and quietly doubting, for a long while, and quietly being angry at other people’s overzealous beliefs. I started reading “Good without God” (long book, haven’t finished it) and it was, for me, like the door was finally opened. One thing that impressed me was how he took the one basic tenant of the top 10 most common religions practiced today and quoted them one right after the other – the golden rule. (Don’t do something to someone else if you would not like it done to you).

    It is more identifying as Humanist than Atheist, but it is also accepting of other people’s beliefs, though also showing clearly what stygmas non-believers still face.Like I said, it is long, I am only a third of the way through…

    The other advice I can give is to visit a few different churches, maybe even a synagogue, ashram, mosque, etc. See if the message that they deliver is comforting or unsettling, if it is welcoming or not quite your cup of tea. Maybe just different types of christian churches, like universal unitarian (a fairly liberal/looser interpretation of Christian beliefs). Then find a local group of Atheists or Humanists to meet up with, they usually end up meeting in public places, like coffee shops, etc. After testing the waters at a few different places, consider what each has to offer, which you feel most at ease with, and then go back for a second and third visit. Do they still seem the same? Are they welcoming and friendly, or a bit overly assertive? Are you comfortable with the message they are giving and how it’s delivered?

    The one thing that most places offer is a sense of community, something that is lacking outside of religious meetings. That community is what the Humanist and Atheist meetings also offer, without the rhetoric.

    • Anonymous

      I’ll add to this,…exercise caution when visiting new religious establishments.  My formerly religious self went on a mission to find the “right religion” and was a little too generous with my personal information.  There was a place that I visited one time and they had me sign a guest book and provide my address and phone number and being a bit naïve at the time I signed it.  For the next two years this particular church would call my home and mail me pamphlets and such and seemed awful desperate for me to come back.  I would later see this same organization make local news for a book burning they had, inviting teens & young adults to bring “sinful materials” such as comics, dungeons & dragons stuff, magazines, etc. to their wackadoo bonfire.  Eeeeeks!

      • KatParks

        Oh, wow, yeah, great advise! I guess I have been lucky to have never visited a church like that.

    • Anonymous

      It might be a great idea to visit a variety of groups, yet feeling comfortable with a group is not a reason to choose a religion or atheism. Feeling uncomfortable or bored is a good reason not to join.

      Feeling comfortable is a good reason to join a group you agree with and where you subscribe to their beliefs.

      If you are uncomfortable or bored with a group but you subscribe to their beliefs, keep looking for another group or just simply don’t bother joining any. 

      If you want to be part of a group, then you can also look into other areas and interests in your life to find compatible groups. Like religion or atheism, there is no need to part of a group at any time.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    I love your advice.  I’ve personally found that reading articles and essays are a good place to learn about religion.  Short stories and novels that provoke thought about religion are also good if you’re not really interested in argument but rather exploration.
    Erik, don’t worry so much about what conclusion you’ll come to, but look into topics that interest you.

  • Xenaqui

    Erik, I feel ya. I have been on my personal path for a long time going from Wiccan to Baptist to not quite sure what in the world I am but knowing that nothing has fit my feelings yet to a T and feeling like I really want to connect with like minds.

    I’ve been focused on earth faiths recently (I’ve gone so far as to create a local pagan group in my town to support other searchers of any faith other then mainstream monothiestic faiths) but have felt like most “pagan” faiths are a bit to magikie for me.

    My church is on a hike, on top of a mountain, camping, fishing, watching grass sway in the breeze. And my general idea about religions is that not one has it right all the way for every person in the world. If the truth were a giant diamond in the sky everyone would see a different facet and religious warfare is everyone argueing over their facet being the truth when no one is seeing it all.

    Okay, enough preaching from me. I hope you find your answers Erik and I hope you feel comfortable with yourself soon. If anything I said interests you and you would like to keep in touch just to bounce ideas around let me know. Enjoy your path and good luck.

  • Xenaqui

    Erik, I feel ya. I have been on my personal path for a long time going from Wiccan to Baptist to not quite sure what in the world I am but knowing that nothing has fit my feelings yet to a T and feeling like I really want to connect with like minds.

    I’ve been focused on earth faiths recently (I’ve gone so far as to create a local pagan group in my town to support other searchers of any faith other then mainstream monothiestic faiths) but have felt like most “pagan” faiths are a bit to magikie for me.

    My church is on a hike, on top of a mountain, camping, fishing, watching grass sway in the breeze. And my general idea about religions is that not one has it right all the way for every person in the world. If the truth were a giant diamond in the sky everyone would see a different facet and religious warfare is everyone argueing over their facet being the truth when no one is seeing it all.

    Okay, enough preaching from me. I hope you find your answers Erik and I hope you feel comfortable with yourself soon. If anything I said interests you and you would like to keep in touch just to bounce ideas around let me know. Enjoy your path and good luck.

  • Anonymous

    I’d recommend leaving organized religion behind and finding your own spirituality if that’s what you want. What really harms people and mankind as a whole is religion and people telling other what to think and do. Believing in gods may be wrong, but in of itself it’s not necessarily harmful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000019835554 Patrina Chamney

    What a good conversation!  Hi, Erik.  Where you are right now is fine, and where you’ll end up, I expect, will be a good place (you seem quite thoughtful).  I don’t have a specific book to recommend, but I was fascinated by a History of World Religions course I once took, and there are certainly books that cover that same territory.  Which is not to ignore modern religion/belief systems by any means, but a historical look can be very illuminating.  There’s no need to rush to a decision about your beliefs; many people who do that make very bad mistakes (as I can attest, having done it myself a few times).   The best thing I can tell you is to take your time and don’t use the methods suggested to avoid being pressured into anyone else’s way of thinking.  You’ll find what’s right for you, in your own good time, and the trip can be an enjoyable one.

  • Erick

    Admitting you don’t KNOW the Truth is the first step in learning, and you’ve done that.  You may never come to a certainty, but exploring what does and doesn’t make sense, and hence coming to a better understanding, can’t even start if you simply believe what you’ve been fed.

    I wish more people could start by questioning.  I think I know where it will lead you, but that’s up to you.  I’m sure lots of people here will happily discuss this with you, and almost all will give you well-reasoned arguments.  Don’t take them as gospel (pun fully intended), but consider them on their merits.

  • Alice

    If it doesn’t interest you, don’t bother with it. When I came out to my family and friends as an atheist, I was bombarded with reading material. Long, dry books making arguments I had already heard but more boring than I would ever phrased them. It got to the point where I avoided these people because I felt I hadn’t done my homework. I finally had to just say no. If you feel like you have to study before you spend time with your loved ones, tell them you’re just not up for an argument and use your time the way you want.

  • http://youratheistmuse.blogspot.com/ Lina Baker

    “You don’t ever have to prepare for ‘belief combat’ with someone else.” Here here! I’m about to recommend some books, but I want to make it clear that I am NOT saying, “Here’s what you need to debate everyone.” These are books that helped me (and continue to help me):

    Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible & Why
    by Bart D. Ehrman
    This is a very readable, interesting account of how the Bible was written and repeatedly changed over the years.

    Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
    This is about the secular origins of the USA – startling to read how much more separate church and state used to be.

    The Dummy’s Guide or the Idiot’s Guide to… whatever: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, take your pick. These books are super simplistic about explaining different religions.

    And you might want to take the “what religion are you” test on BeliefNet.com. Take now, take it in six months after you’ve done some reading. If it says you are a mostly Quaker, then check out the Quakers, for instance. If it says you are mostly Universal Unitarian, go with that.

    Heck, in a year or so, you might want to read or re-read the Bible cover to cover. And the Koran. And the teachings of Buddha. Just so you can understand others and know, when you are listening to them assure you that such-and-such is in the Bible or the Koran or whatever, how to separate the wheat from the chaff (oh yeah, baby, I was raised Baptist).

    Do all this not to prepare yourself for debates, but just simply to figure out where you are now, and where you might want to explore. Maybe you end up 100% Atheist. Maybe you stick with being an agnostic. Maybe you really do go the Quaker route. Ultimately, I hope it just keeps you being a caring human who delights in knowledge and learning.

  • Guest

    Stories like this are candy for Richard.  It’s great to read the conversation (and I particularly enjoyed the “black belt in philosophy” metaphor).

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001071231218 Andrew Pfaff

      I agree, I thought that was pretty great

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I think Richard is spot on with his advice. Your personal beliefs are your own business, and you don’t have to explain or defend them to anyone. You don’t even have to make a decision if you don’t want to. It’s perfectly fine to spend your whole life undecided about these issues, and you shouldn’t let people pressure you to identify one way or the other.

     “I don’t believe any religions have it right from what little knowledge I have of them, but I still can’t help but think there must be a god or some other force at work.”

    If I may, I would suggest that this attitude is simply a result of cultural conditioning. You weren’t born with that thought in your mind, but you’ve been raised in a culture that assumes a supernatural realm and gives credence to the idea of a deity (or at least a sentient force) when in reality there is no evidence to support the existence of either of those things.

  • Greg

    Erik – hi, and good luck! First thing I’d say is that there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘I don’t know’ – and that seems to be where you are at the moment. It seems you think that there might be/is a god of some sort out there, but don’t know where to look to make up your mind. If you’re happy leaving things like that, then I don’t think you should worry about it, even if the rest of your family might be absolutely certain of their own views. Maybe you just aren’t particularly interested in the question.

    If you aren’t interested, then there’s nothing wrong with that! Myself, I tend to really enjoy philosophical questions, and ponder them for hours if I can’t get to sleep, but there are still parts of philosophy I simply couldn’t care less about (the whole ‘free-will’ question, for example). There’s only a limited amount of things we can have interests in, after all. It’s not a bad thing to say to someone ‘I don’t know’, or ‘this doesn’t interest me’.

    If you do want to delve into the question further, one thing I’d suggest is simply working out what it is you do believe, and what you have discarded as being false and why. For example – you seem to have discarded Christianity: why is that? If you have a fundamental problem with organised religion in general, then there is little point in looking at other organised religions to Christianity. (That was something that applied to me, actually, which is why I mention it.) In that hypothetical situation, unless you resolve your issues there, you might decide to look more at something like deism.

    If you do believe in a deistic god, and the subject is important enough to you to want to pursue the subject further, then the best advice I can give is to work out exactly why you believe in that god (for example, maybe you think something has to have created the universe), and then look to see why other people don’t believe it. It may be that they can explain something you can’t, or show why your particular solution doesn’t work.

    I’d always suggest looking at the arguments of people who believe the opposite to you, and if they don’t persuade you, then working out exactly why their argument fails – that way you help avoid confirmation bias. However, if the argument looks far too complex for you to understand, don’t feel cowed, that only suggests that the person giving it (whether atheist or theist) is trying to appear more intelligent than they actually are, perhaps in an attempt to impress the reader as to their credentials. If they’re hoping to persuade you of something, then the best way to do that is to make an effort to keep it as understandable as possible. Doing the opposite is remarkably suspicious, as if they fear that if you do understand it you would see why the argument doesn’t work.

    If you don’t really know where to look for arguments as to why you should believe or not believe, because you have no real grounding in the subject, then the best place for you to start may be books that give a basic introduction to the philosophy of religion. The book I personally have that might best do that sort of job is:

    ‘An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion’ by Brian Davies.

    It does a reasonable job of introducing some of the arguments for a god and their responses – although he does try to give both sides of the arguments, with the argument he personally holds to the most, he does get a bit pushy (argument from design). (Disclaimer: I am an atheist, and one who doesn’t think much of that argument, but someone who does agree with it may not find him pushy at all! :))

    There are probably other books that can do a similar job. From there, you might be able to gain a starting point to look at things in more detail.

  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Just Al

    I just wanted to observe the number of responses making it clear: do what you feel the best about. Take a look around, not just at religious sites but also political, alt med, and so on, and see how often you get the same style of response.

    Erik – I’m chiming in too; be yourself. Moreover, face your current state not as if it’s something undetermined within you, but undetermined within the universe. This is a subtle distinction that takes the weight off of you in believing you might be wrong or ambiguous about belief, and may be providing that very opening your relatives seek. It’s a common tactic to seek those who aren’t “sure,” for whatever reason.

    If you like, you can actually turn this back on itself, too. There’s some indication that your state of mind comes from not finding satisfying answers, and if this is so, it might help you to hash out exactly what your questions really are. Then, instead of seeing what religion, if any, seems most comfortable, you can instead present these questions whenever someone wants to talk religion. In my experience, most such questions have never actually been answered, and most religious people don’t like being put on the defensive – it can put a halt to proselytizing pretty quickly ;-)

    There are two perspective tricks that I’ve found work fairly well. The first is the ability to ask oneself whether they are seeing something, or wanting to see something – those are two entirely different things. The second is placing arguments/explanations into an imaginary court of law; would the evidence stand up? This often highlights the difference between convincing evidence and confirmation bias.

    Good luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593675787 Glenn Davey

    It’s OK to say “I don’t know” for the rest of your life.

  • Janus

    Erik,
    My best to you. It took many years for me to finally come to terms with what I believe. I am in full agreement that it’s OK not to know. Nobody really knows the answers for sure.  And I still find reading about other religions to be fascinating, even if I don’t believe in them.
    I think other posters here are right that reading is a good place to start. I know there’s a lot out there…but it’s worth a try. I would seek out books that simply look at the different faiths out there in a scholarly manner. Some comparative religion books are true to their name and really don’t try to convince you of anything. Try Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions”. It’s known for its lack of bias. You may also want to check out a book on Deism as others have suggested. I haven’t read any myself, but a search on Amazon brings up quite the array.
    I also think that taking the BeliefNet.com quiz would be worthwhile. It can at least illuminate some of the things you DO and DO NOT believe and that can help direct your learning.
    I’ve been where you are. Don’t fight your doubt. Embrace that there are no solid answers but that we always can be empowered to seek them out anyway! Good luck!

    • KatParks

      I had completely forgotten about Beliefnet, it’s been at least a decade since I was last there. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

    Erik

    Everything here so far has been pretty sound advice.

    Only thing that’s missing is this:

    When it comes to reading during your own leisure time, never read a text that bores you. Life is too short. Keep to the texts that thrill you.

    But also note that this may change over time. I remember reading Plato’s Apology in high-school and being bored out of my wits at the time. I read it again a year ago and couldn’t put the damn thing down.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Erik,

    As Richard and others have said, it’s OK to say “I don’t know” to life’s mysteries. Sometimes it’s the only honest answer. Ever.

    As for dealing with your annoying religious relatives, I can offer the following advice.
    Theism (as opposed to Deism) has it that people can (or some special people historically could) gain “revealed knowledge” about God. Some religious people think these revelations only happened to special people in the distant past and these revelations became scripture. Religion then becomes all about decoding and interpreting scripture. Others think that anyone who believes (in the right way) can gain revelations right now about what God wants for them.

    One way to deal with the spectrum of believers is to simply take an agnostic stance that you don’t believe that ANYONE now or in the past has gotten any revelations from
    God – that both scripture and the musings from the quiet-time of the modern evangelical was/is merely their own thoughts. You can brush all the mumbo-jumbo away and just state your agnostic position.

    If you are mainly plagued by evangelicals who believe in current revelations from God, you could simply say that God has revealed to you that He doesn’t want you to engage in public religion (including the evangelical movement). If the evangelicals take issue with that, just tell them that you don’t feel you can disobey God’s purpose for you. ;)

  • Jenea

    A lovely response from Richard, as always!

    I would like to recommend to Erik or anyone who is struggling with what they believe to start your journey by brushing up on your critical thinking skills. Learning about science and skepticism is really fun and will help you in all aspects of your life, whether you are trying to decide whether you believe in a god or whether you are trying to make a responsible washing machine purchase! There are lots of great ways to learn about skepticism. The Skeptoid podcast (www.skeptoid.com), for example, is a great low-impact introduction (just ten minutes at a time!).

    Once you have learned about how to evaluate ideas skeptically, you can apply those skills to your understanding of religion.

    Good luck and have fun!

  • quirkeegurl

    Like you I think it would take ma a long time to read up on all the different religions. I’d suggest freeing yourself from that obligation and just take your information in whatever form is most convenient for you. And you’re not alone in feeling like you’re in a state of transition, most thinking people go through them as well; as time passes you’ll reach a calmer state of mind and that may last for a long time or only a short while. It’s all part of the journey. Relax and allow your journey to happen at its own pace, you might just find yourself enjoying it!

  • quirkeegurl

    Like you I think it would take ma a long time to read up on all the different religions. I’d suggest freeing yourself from that obligation and just take your information in whatever form is most convenient for you. And you’re not alone in feeling like you’re in a state of transition, most thinking people go through them as well; as time passes you’ll reach a calmer state of mind and that may last for a long time or only a short while. It’s all part of the journey. Relax and allow your journey to happen at its own pace, you might just find yourself enjoying it!

  • Sambricky

    Thanks for that link to Robert Ingersoll “The Gods,” Hemant. Ive never read it. This will be quite enjoyable. Any time some one posts an Ingersoll quote, It’s totally amazing.

  • NickDB

    Erik, welcome to the club. Most of us just don’t know. And it’s not such a bad thing. Constantly questioning, researching, learning and growing is, well to me anyway, a good path to be on. 

    Just like anything, the more answers you get, the more you realise you have to learn. 

  • NickDB

    Erik, welcome to the club. Most of us just don’t know. And it’s not such a bad thing. Constantly questioning, researching, learning and growing is, well to me anyway, a good path to be on. 

    Just like anything, the more answers you get, the more you realise you have to learn. 

  • Mihangel apYrs

    Erik
    there is no answer, despite what atheists or religionists say: there is room for doubt in an infinite universe, so all you can do is to ask questions and see what comes out that feels “right”.

    However, while there is no definitive, purely objective answer, you have to find the PRACTICAL way to live/behave that matches your personal ethos.  The golden rule has been mentioned as the best way to formulate conduct (and note that religions tend to use the GR as a way to regulate and maintain communities – the practical use of religion).

    My personal stance is that of an intellectual agnostic – absence of proof isn’t proof of absence – but practically I live as an atheist – I need to be able to look myself in the morning and know I’ve lived to MY standards not some mumbo-jumbo

    • Greg

      Just FYI, intellectually you live as an atheist too. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a god, not someone that believes there isn’t a god. Very common mistake to make. I guarantee you that if you go around asking atheists what they believe, then you’ll find it’s not that a god definitely doesn’t exist, but rather there is no reason to think it does.

      Basically if you aren’t a theist, you’re an atheist. That’s essentially what the word ‘atheist’ means: not a theist.

      This is coming from someone who identifies both as an agnostic and an atheist, btw.

      • Greg

        That should have read: ‘then you’ll usually find’, apologies. There are some atheists who are certain a god doesn’t exist (about some gods, I guess I am one of them, as they are defined incoherently).

  • Riley

    how do I ask richard a question

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Riley,
      At the bottom of the original post, look for where it says “You may send your questions for Richard to…” and then either click on the small white box with my email address in it, or copy that address to use in your email. 


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