Beyond an Absence of Faith

Beyond an Absence of Faith October 23, 2013

Tristan Vick (Advocatus Atheist) and myself are editing a book of deconversion anthologies entitled Beyond an Absence of Faith. It has been, unfortunately, on the backburner for a whole since our workloads have been phenomenal. There are a potential couple of exciting additions to the anthologies of such accounts to add, and then we are there. This is the Foreword that I have pencilled in. Let me know what you think:

As a philosopher who deals predominantly with the abstract ideas concerning religion, such as Cosmological Arguments or Ontological Arguments, I am guilty of being one step removed from the reality of religion; that is, the act of having faith and believing in something on a daily basis which moulds my every action and character. Indeed, it often seems as though I live in an abstract world of endless argument in a predominantly online life where emotions and invective are easy to come by, but easy enough to walk away from, coming, as they do, from far off corners of the web-connected world.

Belief is, arguably, predominantly a psychological affair. That is to say, if one is arguing about whether to believe, one is rationally engaging with arguments and evidence. However, in believing, one is committing one’s mind to a faith and a set of directives in a deeply personal manner, handling evidence and non-believers in a truly psychological and emotive way. When one’s family member is a non-believer and one sincerely imagines them serving an eternity of torment in hell, then one’s rationality is fundamentally tainted with emotion, which in turn can mean one then acts in a highly emotional manner.

As well as being psychological and social in nature, belief is often experiential insofar as believers can be impervious to philosophical and rational arguments because they are trumped by the notion that the believer has experienced God, communicated with their Creator, interacted with, and had things revealed by, the entity in which they have faith. This presents further problems for the person who then deconverts. What, then, explains these phenomena? Has the believer been lying to themselves, or mistakenly deluding themselves over a long period of time? Is it the influence of important others which lends itself to aiding the delusion? Will there be an emptiness in place of this kind of experience and (possibly) comfort? All these aspects of belief can play merry hell with the believer who starts on that long and often lonely journey into disbelief.

This theme of loneliness, of having to pit oneself against the will and determination of significant others in families and communities, is commonplace in the deconversion paradigm. However, as the non-theist community grows in size and voice, so there is more comfort and support for the person leaving a religious faith. The internet, for example, with its plethora of social media and bespoke online communities offers sounding boards and support networks where once there were none. The road need no longer be lonely, though it is far too often immensely painful.

This scenario is admittedly alien to me. And that is why this collection of accounts is so fascinating. Everyone is an armchair psychologist, if one is to be honest enough, but unless you have been through the whole process, then the difficult, painful, life-changing process of leaving an all-pervasive faith, then this is the next best thing to understanding the challenges facing people who undergo such transformations.

So the reason for this book is twofold. Firstly, it is a cathartic process for the authors involved; a final piece of closure, perhaps, for a long and arduous journey; a final purge, if you will. Secondly, it has been written as a source of comfort and support to those others who are going through, and will go through, this difficult process. You are not alone. Not anymore, in this global and progressive community, where there are people like you, brave and willing to break out of conforming to the religious orthodoxy of whatever community they, and you, live in.

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