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IvyOwl

The road back from Damascus

I've put this here as although I've specifically referenced Christianity in the above choice of words it can apply to any other faith/belief or loss of it to be more correct.

Many Christians usually of the BA variety can point to a specific moment of divine revelation a moment when they felt the HS and 'knew' it to be true.

I'm just curious to know if any of the ex believers on here had had a similar experience but in reverse. Was there a specific moment when the 'it aint necessarilly true' struck in it's full force. Maybe as a surprise or maybe after doubts had been slowly fermenting just beneath the surface or even after months of diligent study.

I'm also interested in people who've never believed and the reasons for that non belief. Again was there anything specific that made you realise on which side of the fence you were sitting?

Like most people of my age growing up in Britain where school started and ended with prayers with one in the middle of the day before the meal, where weddings and funerals where held in the village church, where the Easter, Christmas and other bible stories were told as true  where even my mum who didn't go to church would say to Dad whenever he had annoyed her 'god doesn't pay his debts in money, God was a given.

Oh for sure as I grew older I had a fair few niggles about this God which I won't go into here but none of them pushed me to non belief. No that didn't come until I was 21 and after I'd been, sincerely at the time, through all the Born Again power and evidence of the HS experience.

What set me off was the insistance that our particular belief was the right one not just Christianity itself but our take on it. I was so worried about my granny who was not a BA and all the other really good people I knew and didn't know but who hadn't been 'saved'  Then I began to resent all the power that the male church elders had and found myself during quiet prayer in a 'breaking of the bread' service letting things bubble to the surface, things that had lain dormant since childhood that I'd suppressed in my joy of the reality of Jesus Christ in my life and the certainty of salvation.

Those bubbles popped gently at first but they grew bigger and popped louder as the service progressed each burst gave me confidence to try more. (Bear in mind it was also a very scarey thing to be doing after having spent so many of my formative years espousing the belief) Then one really big one as I was  peeping at the other people in the meeting almost expecting them to be able to see them as well, I noticed one girl really 'well gone' rocking on her seat and telling Jesus how much she loved him.

That was it the whole edifice that I'd been nurturing for so long came tumbling down. Oh not because one girl was getting aroused, she probably had no idea where her good feelings were coming from, and not because I felt that suppressed sexuality necessarily plays a part in other people's belief any more that it had mine,  although supression certainly is a big deal. However she poor love was the catalyst in the final letting go of the burden of belief. I no longer had to do mental gynastics, no longer had to decieve myself to keep my belief afloat

Oh the relief!

Whatever joy I'd felt at the beginning of my faith was as nothing to that moment!
Shaker

Re: The road back from Damascus

IvyOwl wrote:
I'm also interested in people who've never believed and the reasons for that non belief. Again was there anything specific that made you realise on which side of the fence you were sitting?


This fits me - I've always been fascinated by whether there are differences between 'cradle' atheists, as it were, and those who are ex-believers. From reading around and experience of people online over seventeen years it seems as though most atheists I've come into contact with have once had a belief which they subsequently lost, and people like me and one of my heroes, John Stuart Mill* - those who never had any belief to lose in the first place - seem to be in the minority; but since most of these have been American, and since America is such a religious society in a way that Britain simply isn't, clearly the picture is going to be skewed. It's the complete opposite here where not so much overt atheism as complete apathy and indifference to religion reigns, generally. The fact that the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of one of the main political parties are both self-declared atheists, and this doesn't cause the slightest stir whatsoever, isn't something you'd see in the USA. And won't, not for some considerable time to come I expect.

Clearly if you've had a belief and then lost it (by whatever process; for whatever reason) you're going to have an insight into both sides of the fence which you won't if you've always been a believer or always a non-believer. I'm fascinated by it but frankly admit I can't possibly imagine what the process must be like since I've never had any beliefs of that kind to lose. There was absolutely no religious input of any kind whatever in the home when I was growing up - perhaps unusually not even the standard weddings, funerals and christening, since the one or two weddings I attended as a kid were in register offices and the first funeral I attended (as a teenager) was in a crematorium. I've still never attended a christening, a church wedding or a church funeral with a burial. Not that my parents would have thought of themselves as explicit atheists, necessarily; simply that religion never impinged upon their lives and therefore mine in any way whatever. Matters of religion were no more likely to be raised than the economic performance and manufacturing output of Honduras.

At primary school there were (I think daily) assemblies with hymns and suchlike, and a couple of times a year - harvest festivals, that sort of thing - trips to the village church nearby. These made no impression whatever. They were just part of the school day and year, things that were done just because, which didn't invite anyone to think about the beliefs behind it.

At secondary school we were already into the province of what's now almost universal law-breaking, in that there were no assemblies, or extremely rarely and only for some very big special event where they needed all the pupils together in one place for an announcement. Religion only manifested itself in the form of RE, which I enjoyed greatly and for which I took it on myself to read the Koran (which I didn't).

I didn't really consider the 'G' issue properly until I was about eighteen or nineteenish - I don't know why it started then, it might have been something I read which interested me. From that point on I read everything I could lay my hands on. I had started out from a position of non-belief, it's true, but what somebody once called implicit atheism - the sort of never-really-thought-about-it non-theism. In short order, having been presented with the evidence of what people purport to believe about gods, that switched over to active, explicit and acknowledged atheism. Not only have I not seen anything to make me deviate or diverge from that stance, if anything it has become more firmly settled.  

I can give you the full nine yards on all the standard arguments against the existence of gods (the best one: well, the glib answer would be 'all of them'), but to me, Nietzsche's comment near the end of his life in one of his very last books, that atheism is simply obvious by instinct, is one from which I've never wavered. That by itself clearly isn't good enough to satisfy any theist who might say the same about God's existence, which is why I took the trouble to familiarise myself with so much of the literature and the arguments in the perennial debate, but that's pretty much how I see it.

If I can't understand what it's like to have a belief and lose it, I also don't feel that I'm missing anything. I don't feel I'm lacking something I once had but now don't. There's no God-shaped hole anywhere. Perhaps some people simply don't have a God-spot in their brains, who knows?

Thanks Ivy for an excellent OP and the chance for an interesting discussion  


* "I am thus one of the very few examples, in this country, of one who has, not thrown off religious belief, but never had it: I grew up in a negative state with regard to it. I looked upon the modern exactly as I did upon the ancient religion, as something which in no way concerned me." - J. S. Mill, Autobiography, 1873.
Powwow

Are you admitting that you are lacking Shaker?

"atheism is simply obvious by instinct," Evidence does not support that notion.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/p...of-human-nature-Oxford-study.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/p...of-human-nature-Oxford-study.html
Shaker

Certainly - in the sense that a man who walks freely is lacking a ball and chain around one ankle  

Your "evidence" is only the conclusion of one particular study. This philosopher thinks otherwise, as do I.
Powwow

And what study have you undertaken or that dead atheist? Zilch.
So against you and that dead atheist, we have 57 academics in twenty countries that tell us you are full of crap. You lost. And not only that but you personally, your human nature, is fixated on God and Christianity. The evidence is shown to us daily by you around here. God is naturally on your brain Shaker, day after day after day. Then your tired old body will stop. What comes next is also something that gnaws at you day after day after day. You can deny it to us and of course you will, but we know, don't we, the two if us.
trentvoyager

pow wow wrote:
And what study have you undertaken or that dead atheist? Zilch.
So against you and that dead atheist, we have 57 academics in twenty countries that tell us you are full of crap. You lost. And not only that but you personally, your human nature, is fixated on God and Christianity. The evidence is shown to us daily by you around here. God is naturally on your brain Shaker, day after day after day. Then your tired old body will stop. What comes next is also something that gnaws at you day after day after day. You can deny it to us and of course you will, but we know, don't we, the two if us.


The evidence shows us that you have bollocks (as in 'a load of old') on your brain - but it doesn't actually advance the discussion very far.
Shaker

pow wow wrote:
And what study have you undertaken or that dead atheist? Zilch.

Sorry? To whom are you referring here?

Quote:
So against you and that dead atheist, we have 57 academics in twenty countries that tell us you are full of crap. You lost.


Yet there will be other academics in other countries which say that your study is full of crap.

Quote:
And not only that but you personally, your human nature, is fixated on God and Christianity.


Hardly 'fixated', but in the words of Sun Tzu, know your enemy

Quote:
The evidence is shown to us daily by you around here. God is naturally on your brain Shaker, day after day after day.

God isn't, but the people who claim that they believe in such things - yes, that's a matter of continuing fascination. How and why people so firmly believe the palpably untrue and patently absurd absorbs me. How could it not? Michael Shermer once wrote a book called Why People Believe Weird Things and some of my activities online over the last seventeen years have been in pursuit of understanding that same issue.

Quote:
Then your tired old body will stop. What comes next is also something that gnaws at you day after day after day.

False. I've no reason to believe that anything happens at all.

Quote:
You can deny it to us and of course you will, but we know, don't we, the two if us.

No, the two "if" us don't know any such thing. You have no more knowledge of my opinions here than you do of the normal rules of English punctuation, spelling, grammar and syntax.

In other words, not much, Butch.

ETA: I see that trent has summed up pretty much all of what I was trying to say, though in a considerably more concise manner
IvyOwl

Thanks for your reply Shaker I'd got that you'd never been a believer from a reading of your posts but I'd often wondered how you'd escaped the indroctrination (albeit in the low key and semi apathetic British sort of way) altogether. If you had had it and still not ever believed in a god did that say more about your ability for critical thinking or a possible lack of imagination?

Brains are not all wired up alike so for some people believing in an invisible god comes easier than others.  I guess it's down to exposure as well as genetic make up, all mixed in with what life has thrown at us and how we cope. What our needs are.

I being the very imaginative child of an angry, highly critical mother, found it not only easy but necessary to escape inside my head. Into that fertile ground god was easily planted and grew in line with my developing understanding of how the world worked. For instance my four year old self noticed the similarity of sounds between thunder and our coal being emptied into the bunker so concluded that thunder was god having his coal delivered. Finding out what really caused the rolling thunder and the lightening didn't make god disappear ... he changed to a being that didn't actualy need coal!

And so it went on God didn't dissappear with my new understandings .... just kept one step ahead. He'd been planted as a fact and so had to be accomodated. Why I didn't question the whole concept, even when I started noticing holes in the narrative, I've no idea. [Sadly no one gave me an 'Occams Razor' for Christmas to save me the mental manoeuvring ]  Of course that kind of thinking enables a lot of people to keep their god belief. He's mutable if nothing else.

Supernatural thinking does indeed seem to be a useful stage in the developing brain as I read in Supersense by Bruce Hood. It seems we all have some vestige of supernatural thinking even after we've reached adulthood as can be ellicited by such questions as 'Would you wear Fred West's cardigan?' 'Would you knowingly live in his house if it hadn't been knocked down?' If no then why not? it's just a cardigan it's just a house.

Incidently when I read those questions and answered 'no' I was thinking 'I bet I know a man who would!' So would you then Shaker? I asked my son's friends, a down to earth practical bunch, and got a roughly 50/50 split.

I hadn't even realised until then that an unwillingness to live in a house where murder most foul had been committed was as example of 'supernatural thinking' but I got his point. He went on to develope his arguement that supernatural thinking is what enables empathy and the development of morals. The notion that we nearly all buy into if not consciously that we have 'essence of being' that isn't confined to our physical bodies. Well the argument went something like that I can't now remember precisely how he developed it.

I only brought it up to make the point for PW's benefit that just because the human brain has a propensity for making supernatural assumptions and a belief in a higher being it does not in any way shape or form say anything about the actual existence of any god and it most certainly does not back up or provide evidence for the god of the Bible. It's just a facility on the road to our pattening and making sense of the world as we find it.

Now many people on here find their god belief gives great comfort and meaning to their lives whether they've got there via a charismatic approach or some sort of logical series of deductions.

Well and good if they are happy with their path. The people that really concern me are those that have had a fearsome, terrible and or exacting god implanted which they either want to shake off and can't or which they espouse and commit terrible acts for.
trentvoyager

I find it hard to dig back in time to identify when I finally realised that I didn't believe.

However one point I can remember that did have an effect on me was a Sunday School I attended - my parents had packed me off there, I think mainly to get some peace and quiet on a Sunday rather than an overwhelming desire to promote the gospels to me, anyway one Sunday the vicar was doing the old Noah's ark story - I was at that time going through a fascination with all things Australian and was driving my mother nuts with requests for various books to read on the subject. One such book was one on Australian wildlife and I was fascinated by Kangaroos and how they had developed quite differently due to the isolation of the continent.

I asked the vicar how Noah had got Kangaroos onto the ark. He blustered and couldn't really answer - told me that Noah was a very wise man and had travelled far!

Told my mum about this afterwards and said I didn't have to go if I didn't want to anymore - which was a result as far as I was concerned.

Since then various things have come together in my mind to convince me that the Christian God as widely touted does not exist.
IvyOwl

Quote:
I asked the vicar how Noah had got Kangaroos onto the ark. He blustered and couldn't really answer - told me that Noah was a very wise man and had travelled far!


I wonder if he ever realised that that spectacular fail to answer your question inteligently resulted in your leaving? You'd obviously touched a raw nerve. You didn't say what denomination it was but I didn't think CofE or the Catholics were still committed to the flood being a real historical event by the time young Trent was in Sunday school.  Actually he was probably glad you left, bright young sparks like you posed a threat to his authority. (You shoud have done your duty and stayed asking your awkward questions for the sake of your fellow pupils!  )
trentvoyager

Quote:
young Trent

 

Well in the backwaters of Nottinghamshire it was treated by one vicar as real - he may have been in a minority.
Powwow

How did Noah get roos into the ark? Seriously? The non answer made somebody turn into an atheist? Good grief man! How those damned stones were moved to the henge is still speculation you know.


Shakey, waiting eagerly for studies that proves "atheism is obvious by instinct". And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

Yes, most have left Christianity because they were angry at people at church or didn't like how things were run, or didn't like what they found in scripture. You see, it was all about them and those damned feeeeelings. People really need to clue in and realize that we Christians, every single one of us, remain a sinner.
I walked out of the church for 20yrs because of feeeelings. Some people in my church hurt me and angered me. So I opted for a twenty year party. But I never decided that God did not exist. Evidence tells us that belief in God is human nature.

I think a lot of people use this or that as an excuse to walk away from church and or God. Like a vicar that can't answer a question or some pervert girl getting aroused talking to Jesus. And in my case I used the bad behavior of a pastor. A Parson that thought it right that he should question my girlfriend about me and then go around the community trying to dig up dirt on my father.
Shaker

pow wow wrote:
Shakey, waiting eagerly for studies that proves "atheism is obvious by instinct". And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

I wasn't aware that I'd claimed there were any studies proving this. I said that it was a remark by Nietzsche in one of his late books (Ecce Homo, to be specific, sometimes regarded as his intellectual autobiography) and said that I agreed with it in that I have always seen it the same way.

I've no idea where you get this "studies" business from.

Quote:
Evidence tells us that belief in God is human nature.

Not in my nature, it isn't.

What the evidence actually shows, and I can only do a potted version while I've got so little time at present, very young humans have an imperfect theory of mind but a very hyperactive agency detection device. Essentially this means that the very young attribute conscious agency - deliberate intent - to things where it doesn't exist, and this form of what's known as magical thinking has been linked to the formation of religious and superstitious beliefs. The proportions here swap places as the child grows up - better theory of mind, less hair-trigger attribution of conscious agency to inanimate things.

I'll be able to provide reams of links to this effect when I come back later, if anybody's interested. There's some interesting stuff out there.
trentvoyager

]
Quote:
How did Noah get roos into the ark? Seriously? The non answer made somebody turn into an atheist?




Can you at least make an effort at reading for comprehension.


Quote:
Since then various things have come together in my mind to convince me that the Christian God as widely touted does not exist.
Shaker

trentvoyager wrote:
Can you at least make an effort at reading for comprehension.

Oh, you and your witticisms!
IvyOwl

Quote:
Can you at least make an effort at reading for comprehension.


You beat me to it Trent!

A careful reading of my OP will show that I did not stop believing because a girl was getting aroused by her prayers of love for Jesus! I happened to see the incident at the  culmination of all the doubts that that at last I'd let myself express. The insight into the sexual suppresion that the church was so keen on together with the attitude to women in general was just a bonus revelation. I'd sat through service after service not being allowed to speak listening to the men who were spouting for the large part garbage with Bible quotes thrown in for good measure. Oh how they loved strutting their stuff in the name of Jesus.

And as for humans being natural born theists which bit of


Quote:
I only brought it up to make the point for PW's benefit that just because the human brain has a propensity for making supernatural assumptions and a belief in a higher being it does not in any way shape or form say anything about the actual existence of any god and it most certainly does not back up or provide evidence for the god of the Bible. It's just a facility on the road to our pattening and making sense of the world as we find it.


were you unable to take aboard?

Shaker also has links which I see he has promised to find for you. The Hood book I mentioned is a nice easy read and is as good a place to start as any. He's not an angry atheist or anything so you'll find it informative rather than offensive.  Go on have a read and educate yourself.
IvyOwl

Quote:
How those damned stones were moved to the henge is still speculation you know.


I'm suprised you didn't suggest that they got floated there in Noahs flood as according to AiG which calculates the beggining of the flood as 4359 years ago and Stonehenge has been radiocarbon dated as roughly the same time they could have been.        


Seriously though Powser sweetheart, although we don't know for certain sure there have been plenty of possible ways suggested as to how people without all our heavy lifting gear could have done it. We can't say for definite how it was done but at least we know without a shadow of doubt that it was done as we can see it and touch it!

A world wide flood on the other hand ....... <sigh> no I'm not even going to go there you've been presented with the evidence enough times .... you can take a horse to water and all that ... ho hum.
Shaker

Powsers has made the bold claim that "studies" show that belief in God is inherent to human nature - that it comes naturally and easily to us.

I have heard of a number of scientists from different disciplines not so much make this same claim but suggest - scientists tend to be rather tentative and provisional in their statements, something by which powsers is sublimely unfettered - that there are cognitive modules in the human mind which make magical thinking and hyperactive agency detection normal for young humans, specifically between the ages of about 2 and 7. There's a good body of evidence that this is not only quite normal for youngsters but well nigh universal.

Then again, so is measles; and quite apart from the fact that there are other studies which contradict this thesis, I should say that it's distinctly problematic at the very least to hold up as admirable something which exists in human juveniles. Magical thinking and hyperactive agency detection tend to ebb from the age of about seven or eight, on the basis that as a child matures it extends its experience and knowledge of the ways in which the world actually operates. A more efficient theory of mind takes over; the youngster is more able to make critical and sceptical judgements about which things in the world have conscious and deliberate agency and which do not. Clearly, this ability is more finely tuned in some more than others.

What interests me most is that, even if were true that belief in the supernatural is inherent and innate in humans beings in this sort of crude, bald manner, this - perhaps unsurprisingly - doesn't take into account one tremendously powerful factor: evolution. Change over time. What has been true of the past is not necessarily true of the present or of the future: believing otherwise is a fallacy commonly known as Russell's Chicken, after Bertrand Russell who formulated it as a simple explanation of the problem of induction in his book The Problems of Philosophy. Nietzsche (one of many, but nobody stated it better than he) believed that the collapse of theism in post-Enlightenment Europe was bound to create - to breed - what amounts to a new species of human being: one for whom belief in God wasn't automatic, inherent or innate at all. And he was writing in the late 1880s, never mind 2014.

Now, I think that if you crunch the numbers and look at all available data, what he and many others thought would come to pass actually has: whole generations, hell, whole populations who don't believe in God, not because they've once believed and then ceased to do so but because they never have. Post-Enlightenment Europe in particular can be seen in this sense as a grand experiment, partly deliberate in some ways but not in others, in 'breeding' (not quite the right word I'm really after as it implies too much conscious intent and deliberate planning, but it'll have to do for now) generations where it's simply not possible to say that belief in God is somehow inherent or innate. Even if the innateness thesis were true on its face, and I don't believe it is, it founders on the rocks of its own lack of vision. It doesn't take into account change over time; it treats human nature as a fixed and unalterable thing set in stone, incapable of mutation according to circumstances (which is in itself pretty much a capsule summary of biological evolution anyway).

This is what the sociologist Phil Zuckerman calls 'organic atheism',* organic because it is in itself a natural outgrowth of increasingly secular societies. The most secular nations in the world - Norway; Sweden; Denmark; Finland; the Netherlands; the Baltic states; the Czech Republic; the UK - are not so because of coercive state atheism (such as Albania had under Enver Hoxha, still the world's one and only officially atheist state for a time). It's not imposed from above on an unwilling populace. It's not foisted on the citizens by a small elite. It's the result of people being born and growing up in societies where religious belief has become more scarce and intensely privatised for the most part.

So even if it were true, the fact that it has been true for the past perhaps 30,000 years - the blink of an eye in evolutionary time - doesn't tell you that it's going to persist. To think thus would be to deny evolution, and we all know what people who do that are like, don't we?

* .pdf file
IvyOwl

Hi Shaker .... not ignoring your interesting post which I read this morning but have had no time to reply properly today.
MikeRan

Ivy Owl: I'd sat through service after service not being allowed to speak listening to the men who were spouting for the large part garbage with Bible quotes thrown in for good measure. Oh how they loved strutting their stuff in the name of Jesus.

To be a preacher you have to like the sound of your own voice and have a big ego. There are churches where they only do short homilies (I think they're called), much kinder to my mind. And to my ears.
Leonard James

Shaker wrote:

A more efficient theory of mind takes over; the youngster is more able to make critical and sceptical judgements about which things in the world have conscious and deliberate agency and which do not. Clearly, this ability is more finely tuned in some more than others.



Hi Shakes,

I agree with all you say in your post, and particularly noticed the above excerpt. I think you have pin-pointed the relevant factor, the ability being more finely-tuned in some than in others.

It explains perfectly why many otherwise very perceptive people are ensnared in a belief in a supernatural god. Their ability "to make critical and sceptical judgements" in this direction is less finely tuned than in non-believers.

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