When religious believers stop believing, the catalyst is usually reason

When religious believers stop believing, the catalyst is usually reason December 5, 2019

I like to read stories of religious deconversion even though they are generally pretty much the same: a once-devout person slams suddenly (or gradually) into realities that completely unmoor their inherited supernatural assumptions.

apostacy deconversion christianity atheism
The road less traveled: Spotsylvania National Military Park, Virginia, site of the Civil War’s bloody Battle of the Wilderness, 1864. (Ken Lund, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

For me, divinities seemed laughably fictional from the get-go. Raised Catholic, I never believed, and in my adolescence I grew steadily more and more incensed at being forced to “confess” my “sins” every week or so to some man I didn’t know and whose authority to violate my privacy seemed entirely arbitrary.

You must “obey,” everyone told me. It seemed coercive and unjust. So at 17, I told my dad I would not go to Mass anymore. Curiously, he didn’t even attempt to change my mind.

I like these fleeing-from-Jesus stories because they reaffirm how reason, common sense and acknowledging the real world’s substantiality can strip away the illusory facade of fantasies only stipulated as facts.

I read about another of these deconversions — this one gradual — earlier this summer in the June/July issue of Free Inquiry, published by the secular Center for Inquiry (CFI) in conjunction with the Council for Secular Humanism. The article in the magazine’s “The Faith Left Behind” feature was titled “From ‘Sunday Christian’ to Freethinker.”

In the piece, writer Craig Gosling, a retired professor emeritus in Indiana University’s Department of Medical Illustration and an author of children’s books, puts his college deconversion in this nutshell:

“I had evolved from a believer in a supernatural god to a believer in an ambiguous god of nature and, finally, to a professed atheist/agnostic.”

As is often the case when the real light of science blinds once-true believers to the only-figurative “light” of scripture, Gosling crossed the secular Rubicon in college and knew there was no turning back.

Notably, as is also common in deconversion stories, the testable, verifiable, repeatable clarities of science are what finally slew his religious beliefs, which demanded unverifiable faith rather than facts.

His doubts had emerged in high school, Gosling wrote, when he was formally introduced to science. The experience was “an eye opener” akin to an epiphany, he says.

“Like Eistein, who wrote that he rejected religion after reading his first biology book, I too become a skeptic and a growing atheist/agnostic,” Gosling wrote. “As I became addicted to science and nature, I found myself slowly rejecting everything supernatural.”

He could no longer see truth in biblical stories of virgin births, a mankind-saving ark in global floods, people arising undead like zombies from their graves, and man named Jonah being swallowed by a “big fish” and living to tell the tale. None could be substantiated or actualized in reality, then or now.

But discarding beliefs is only one of the first steps in disbelief, especially for people like Gosling, who were raised in largely Christian communities of believers, and whose friends were the same (although he later discovered some friends who were closet atheists and skeptics had hidden in plain sight — as he had — in his youth).

Gosling endured a typical deconvert’s experience of hiding his deconversion long after he discarded his faith.

“I did not want to be ostracized,” he said, explaining that all of his friends in college were religious.

Over the years, however, he relaxed and grew comfortable publicly acknowledging his unbelief, going so far as to become a periodic impersonator at CFI events of Charles Darwin, the discoverer of biological evolution by natural selection.

One stanza in a poem he wrote some years ago and dedicated to his grandmother (During Sunday Service) reveals his solidifying disbelief and unbelief.

Instead of myth, try some reason, mix science into your brew,

Add common sense, a pinch of logic, to your rational stew.

Share your meal with others longing for good nutrition;

Don’t worry about your evil nature and your pathway to perdition.

And so this is the road less traveled, so to say, of yet another prodigal son who doesn’t return. And the reason is reason.

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