Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two different types of atheists

It has been my experience that when it comes to religious discussions and groups, that there exists within those groups two types of specific atheists. Not too long ago, I was at an atheist meet up here in New York City. It had been my first, so I went not really knowing what to expect.

At the end of the meet up the floor was open for discussion and one of the things most were interested in was my experience in the church as an evangelist and my deconversion story. Someone asked me: ' What made you renounce your beliefs?' The best answer that I came up with was that before I read the bible in its entirety I had already started having some doubts, but after reading the bible it pretty much sealed the deal for me that my beliefs were in fact false.

As I described my experiences in the ministry some of them looked at me as if I was a damn nut job! At first I was perplexed and it took a while for it to register when they began to reply to my questions. I had been dealing with a whole different class of atheist! There are only two; there are those that at one time or another were former theists like myself, and there are those that never had known what it was to be a believer. This second class of atheists see religious beliefs very differently than myself since they themselves have never had a "spiritual" encounter such as speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, or having visions ( I've experienced all of these and more first hand).

This experience helped me to understand greatly why I find their approach to dealing with Christianity so different to my own. They look at it from a purely reasonable position (which I do now), and they analyze everything through the eyes of science, history, and mythology. When it comes to the supernatural experiences they technically don't have a  clue what the hell you are talking about. They fall back on their knowledge of psychology, and the mysteries of the mind and body connection such as psychosomatic disorders as a means to explain some of the apparent faith healing claims.

I have to ask myself though: Is this method of confronting religious beliefs effective? I honestly don't think it is. To put this into perspective, think about a drug counselor who has never used drugs trying to counsel a user struggling with addiction. It is my opinion that all of the book knowledge in the world would not suffice in helping that addict unless you have personally walked in his shoes. I believe that when it comes to theism and confronting Christianity that my approach is different than many because I have been there and had many similar experiences as the most fundamental believer anywhere. Because of my experiences with what I believed to be encounters with God, because of what I believed was a solid relationship with the divine, I can help others explain those feelings and encounters much better.

Book learning is good, but if you really want to help some of these theists break free from the bondage of superstitions and get back their self esteem and confidence and help them understand  that they too could be good without God, then nothing beats experience. The premise here is that it takes a thief to catch a thief. Even our government does this when they hire former convicted hackers to help secure our nations secrets.


  1. Looks like you have the makings here for some very interesting posts. My former denomination was pretty fundamentalist, but didn't do the hand waving in air, speaking in tongues, etc.

    Your explanation of how experience causes your take to differ from those who have not experienced them is something to look forward to.

  2. First, excuse my English, it's not my native tongue. But have you thought over the fact that all christians are atheists regarding all other gods and religions? Without studying any books about the subject. Myself I was brought up to believe in christianity and I'm sad for all the wasted time spent on not learning fact, but fiction. My children (now grownups) has learned fact, not fiction and has always seen religion from the outside. They cannot understand the position about believers of any religious denomination. Lucky them.

  3. @Exrelayman, thanks for your comment. I will be posting some of my personal experiences with the so called "Holy Spirit" and the gifts that come with it soon. I just think that if you have lived it to the extreme that you are better able to understand why those experiences seem so real to the believers.

    @Anonymous, I too was brought up with the belief that God was real and interested in us as his supreme creation. It took me about six years to fully get over the fear of abandoning my beliefs and its imaginary consequences (hell). Knowledge truly is empowering, especially in the context of escaping silly beliefs and superstitions one has held most of his/her life.

  4. Chatpilot,
    That's an interesting observation/perspective.

    Asyou may know, I was never brought up with religion, and certainlynever eperienced any"spiritua;" mumbo jumbo. Similarly, I has long ago trying to expect the most religiously afflicted to come around to reason by using reason, science, and logic. I'd have as much luck trying to convince someone who "really " was abducted byaliens that it was a delusion. Or perhaps, telling an alcoholicv to just quit drinking, 'cuz it's no good for your liver.

    I focus on activist issues, educating other atheists as to threats to our secular government and freedoms, and promoting actions that defend the separation of church and state.

    It has been my long held perspective (note the avoidance of the word "belief," which I disdain) that if a religionist has the intellectual curiosity and intellect to question what they've been taught, and what they've experienced, and explore secular knowledge and evaluate scientific evidence- that they'll come around to reason on their own. I don't hold out much hope for the Santorums, Pat Robertsons, Bachmanns, Grahams et al, of this world.

    1. Hump said:"if a religionist has the intellectual curiosity and intellect to question what they've been taught, and what they've experienced, and explore secular knowledge and evaluate scientific evidence- that they'll come around to reason on their own."

      I wish it were that simple, actually by my experience something very drastic had to occur to lead someone to question their faith. Eventually, it was a series of events that led me to begin to question my beliefs. That was the easy part actually. The hard part was overcoming the very real and irrational fears that came with those beliefs.

  5. Yikes... Please excuse the grammar and typos.
    First day with my new hooves

  6. @Hump, thanks for the comments my friend. Coming from the other side of sanity myself I can certainly attest that the "fear of God" that is ingrained in ones psyche is a very powerful deterrent. I will be writing a response to you on this in my next post later today.

  7. Chat...
    I understand. Irrespective of what the catalyst was to jog you out of religiosity, it prompted discovery/questioning.

    I guess my point was that simple reasoning and debate is not an effective means , in my experience, to bring a devout fundie evangelical born again, god fearing right wing carrier of the god virus to accepting reason and rejecting supernaturalism.

    It has to come from the person themselves...for one reason or another.

    1. @Hump, that is exactly the point I was trying to get across. Just like there are many roads to theism there are many roads that lead to atheism. Every story is unique in its own way, and as you stated simply reasoning and debating theists is not enough. You can't help an addict who is not quite ready to quit.