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Recent de-convert saturated by religious community; advice?

29 Post author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 03:25AM

Edit/Update: Wow, not even a day later this has had quite the number of comments. Hopefully more will come in, but I'd like to thank those who have contributed so far. The suggestions that I think I'm really going to run with are:

 

  • Finishing my "statement" (in progress already) and deferring to that when specifics are requested (Yvain)
  • Have a suggestion of a convincing book or online article to which I can refer challengers (David Gerard)
  • Reminding myself that I haven't eaten any babies, to date, and that questioning is/was okay (jsalvatier, RobinZ)
  • Just try to avoid the topic (pretty much what I already do) (Risto Saarelma, thakil, MinibearRex)
  • Focus on the point of a "quest" -- enough confidence to practically advance, not pursuing a question so far that no progres is made anymore or because doubt/uncertainty seems virtuous (Desrtopa, Vladimir_Nesov)
  • Come to accept that since such a large amount of energy and time was invested in this particular belief system, the nagging I feel about my research into it might never go away/take some time to go away (beriukay)

I'd like to "honorable mention" a suggestion begun by James Miller that I could just pretend to believe for the sake of preserving relationships and social satisfaction. I see some merit to this but think it might have been based on thinking that my closer/est friends/wife didn't already know (they do). The comment made for some interesting comments, but I think I'd just feel like a phony and even more miserable if I were to really implement this suggestion for any extended period of time.

 

---

This issue has been negatively affecting me for quite some time and for lack of clear solutions on my own and knowing that some here have traversed the same stream, I thought I'd ask for help and suggestions. If you're interested, some background information about my story exists here, here, and here.

 

Background

For the sake of having at least some information here, the brief synopsis is like so: 

  • In my middle school/high school years, I was quite insecure, attention-hungry, and had poor methods of dealing with emotional burdens. This manifested itself in highly addictive tendencies, specifically my use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana as often as possible. This led my parents to send me from my hometown of Milwaukee, WI to a twelve-step boarding school in upstate NY.
  • After being there a year,  I ran away, broke into a house to get drunk, managed to find someone in a town seven miles away to get me high, and was found and captured after boarding school staff after two days. I underwent subsequent legal proceedings and was eventually sentenced to a mere three years of probation and a youthful offender status rather than a potential third degree burglary charge (and possible prison sentence).
  • This rapid rebellion, breaking a serious law for a substance (something previously foreign to me), and apparent "fortune" of a sentence brought about a strong conviction that god had provided me with another chance to live a "good life" in service of him as a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous whose purpose was to get to heaven and spend an eternity with him.

Yes, that last conclusion had some more contributing to it, but for the sake of brevity, just accept that this was my stance. Following the outburst and relatively minor consequence, it was almost like my "second chance" holy life was just waiting there to be lived. I had a renewed sense of purpose and ran with it.

I built the next seven or so years of my life completely around god and my Catholic faith. Much of this is covered in the link above to my blog, where I've written down a rough draft to my story. In short, I married who I did because of god/religion, went to the college I did because there was an extremely active Catholic outreach group connected to it, and a couple years ago even professed a lifelong commitment to a lay association of Catholic families who pledge themselves to live their lives with a common vision, attend bi-weekly events, complete [theological] education courses [taught by members of the same community], attend a couple of retreats together each year, and more.

Then I, literally out of the blue, a question popped into my head; I wondered whether other historians had written about Jesus. I googled the question various ways and was surprised/disappointed to find out that none had in the manner I expected. The rest is history. It's about 15mos later and I'm a non-believer.

 

What now?

I'm posting as trying to navigate the social implications of my deconversion has been quite difficult. My close friends were some of the first I informed, probably within a month. This community, however, is probably ~300 members strong. I know a lot of acquaintances via our [former] common religious beliefs.

I find myself quite fearful when I see these individuals. I'm afraid something will come up that will be awkward or that I'll be in a large-group setting and somehow a lot of individuals will find out about my non-belief at once in an "untactful" manner. Some of this is due to a sense of friendship -- if someone learns something more serious about my life, I'd prefer that it be from me.

A bit more irrationally, I fear how their opinions about me will be affected. I already think some think I'm "broken" somehow. In fact, I had a member of my former men's group tell me I was "crazy" (verbatim) when I told him it may very well be possible that some or all of the gospels were made up. I felt talked to like a small child by my men's group leader as a result of my non-belief. Heck, some might think I'm possessed by a demon. My wife and I turned our mattress a couple weeks ago and there was some sort of religious trinket (maybe a scapular?) under my side of the mattress on the box spring. She said someone suggested that it might be helpful...

I also find myself balancing between insecurity and anger. I'm insecure because I just plain wish I was more secure in my non-belief... yet I find myself looking back over my shoulder wondering if I've made a wrong turn in my reasoning, if I've simply pendulum-swung over to the opposite extreme as a result of my initial doubts, or if there's some remaining book that would answer my questions. I read mostly atheistic material, though I have read a couple books per the requests of those close to me. I've also been adding books suggested to my list. I admit, though, it's been far more rewarding to do woodworking than analyze the latest solution of the problem of evil. I guess I'd just say that it's been hard to "fully let go" and just walk away from my past belief, hence the insecurity.

On the other hand, I am easily angered in certain situations, perhaps resulting out of feeling insulted and addressed by hypocrites. Those around me want to know if I've read x, y, and z books by a, b, and c apologists. They want to remind me of how hard this is on my wife (who's still a believer). They would like to make the case for my wife raising our children as believers due to the incredible gravity of the future of their souls. And this all from, as far as I can tell, the comfort of ignorance of the theological/apologetical landscape. Some are fairly educated, but the average individual who would like to critique my path could not provide anything in the way of even a summary of the various topics and arguments involved when trying to answer the question of god's likelihood. That's frustrating.

 

What I'm looking for

 

  • Have any of you been in a situation like this? How did you "come out." I think I may be approaching a time when this may be advised. It just might help me be more at ease if at least everyone knew. I've thought of writing up some kind of "cumulative case summary" and then making it widely available somehow. What did you do, primarily for the "acquaintance" types who were the last to know?
  • I'd very much appreciate suggestions for dealing with my intellectual insecurity. How could I be more at ease? When can one rationally conclude that they've "done enough", at least for the present moment and apply their energies elsewhere? I've felt like this is such a large question with respect to one's "life framework" that I've pretty much been consumed with this one question because it seems like the answer would affect so much else going forward. Were it conclusively answered (or perhaps better phrased, could I be convinced that I'm aligned with the truth), it might be easier to pursue applying rationality to other areas of life (I also do this, but think much more biological CPU/RAM could be freed up).
    • The solution to this might honestly be that I just need to move on. While insecure about my justification, there is nothing insecure about stating my current state. I think god is quite unlikely, at least in the theistic sense. Perhaps the solution is to see that I'm irrationally favoring the prospect of certainty in this one area while ignoring the fact that there are tons of other areas I'm not certain about that don't even cross my mind in daily life. I'm not sure why this one bothers me so much -- perhaps the social aspect of it, recentness, and affect on daily living make it more acute?
  • For those associated with primarily religious communities (still or in the past), do you have any suggestions about how to engage on-the-fly discussions? For example, I've thought than an elevator-pitch about my non-belief would be helpful... but I have found that previous conversations almost always degrade into pointless debate. How might I clearly express my stance while avoiding the pitfall of purposeless ruffled feathers? It's so darn natural for the conversation to flow like so: 
    • Me: "I don't believe anymore." 
    • "Why?"
    • Me: "Well, many reasons. Since you asked, one would be X."
    • Followed by extremely long summary of why X is, in fact, incorrect, list of apologists who've covered this topic, suggestion of a few older Christians this person knows that I should schedule time with, etc.
    • Me: I respond in any number of ways... perhaps saying that I might check out such a book later, or simply that I'm not convinced by the response.
    • "But didh't you hear? So-and-so covered this. The answer is already in his book! Also, from talking to Mr. X, he clearly knows his stuff an also agrees."
    • So clearly the conversation isn't going anywhere. It's like being asked for money to support a cause you just don't currently support, having your pockets stuffed with pamphlets, again stating that you just don't support the cause at the moment... and the person continues to stand in your way, palm outstretched for money as if you might instantaneously change you mind because of the pamphlets.

 

For my own part, I'd say that I need to do more work brainstorming through possible conversation paths, and especially identifying why this all bothers me so much. Or perhaps the latter is simply obvious -- I don't have any close friends anymore who think I'm rationally justified in not believing in their deity. In writing that out, I suppose that is a pretty heavy social hit to take. Even after having these friends for seven years, I'm more "at ease" talking with those at Minnesota Atheists meetups that I've only been attending about 1-2x/month for less than a year.

This ended up far longer than I expected. I knew that was a potential issue when I started it and tried revising some bits and pieces, but I think I'll leave it. For one, this is the discussion area and I'm not necessary trying to present a well-thought out proposal; this is a request for input, ideas, support, and especially suggestions from those who may have been through something similar.

Also, I have to say that writing this out is slightly like talking to the close friend I don't really have. Much of my "real feelings" about this whole issue are kept inside because I simply don't want to hurt those around me by expressing them or bringing it up. My relationships go far better when god just doesn't come up at all, or at least stays to "meta-discussion" like, "How's this all going for your wife and you?" vs. "Here's this new book you should read which will definitely prove you are wrong." As a result, my outlets for bouncing these questions and difficulties around are a bit limited.

 

Comments (158)

Comment author: Yvain 04 April 2011 10:52:02AM *  23 points [-]

I've never been in this situation and I can't imagine what you're going through.

But when I have positions that get challenged by a lot of people, I have had some success in writing very long and complete essays detailing why I hold the position, along with all of the responses I expect to get and why they're wrong, and putting it on a blog or website. Then when someone asks why I believe X, I just tell them I'll send them a link to the essay. It weeds out the people who don't care enough to go to a link, and it lets the people who really want to know see the position defended as best I can without having to come up with it on the fly. If there's any pre-existing explanation of atheism you really identify with, you could use that too.

And I have had good experiences with religious people by confounding as many atheist stereotypes as possible: being exaggeratedly nice and understanding, mentioning how much I enjoy religious music / religious writing / the teachings of Jesus / whatever else I honestly respect about religion but saying that some other parts aren't for me, not bringing the issue up but having a few overwhelmingly strong points that they will agree with when it is brought up, and having a link to a more complete argument ready in case I feel a discussion is getting too confrontational and counterproductive.

I also find that if my goal is just to end an argument without losing too much social capital or coming across as confrontational, I get better results with emotional rather than intellectual points, as long as the emotional points are framed in a nonconfrontational and nonchallenging way. Going on about Biblical contradictions just gets a "You're obviously proud of your worldly learning, but worldly learning leads you astray" or something from the less intellectual, and an attempt to rationalize the contradiction from the more intellectual. But if I say that some of my Jewish relatives died in the Holocaust and I don't accept that a just God would allow that to happen, most people have the social graces not to go into a full-fledged explanation of proposed solutions to the problem of evil and to just let the matter rest, or to say that they think my heart is in the right place and they'll pray for me or something, which is really the best one can expect in these sorts of situations.

Comment author: atucker 05 April 2011 12:12:48AM 6 points [-]

I get better results with emotional rather than intellectual points, as long as the emotional points are framed in a nonconfrontational and nonchallenging way.

Huh, interesting. I'm going to have to try this more.

In a Philosophy class I'm taking, a popular counterargument to positions like materialism is just that it feels wrong. My best response so far "Its kind of like drinking milk -- if you think about it its really really weird, but you just get used to it".

If people don't understand why milk is weird, just explain the industrial process by which a fluid comes out of a domesticated cow's udders and into your mouth.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 03:28:29PM 3 points [-]

I have had some success in writing very long and complete essays...and putting it on a blog or website.

Good to know. I have been entertaining that idea as well and started trying to make it real at my blog.

Then when someone asks why I believe X, I just tell them I'll send them a link to the essay.

This is extremely appealing. While further debate might arise later, I think this would quite defuse the situation and avoid the pitfalls of on-the-spot debates (especially since person-to-person discussion almost always lacks the ability to provide sources).

I have had good experiences with religious people by confounding as many atheist stereotypes as possible...

Interesting tactic! I'll have to ponder this one. In my circles, the Lewis trilemma is still thought to hold and they don't think very fondly of the Jesus-as-great-teacher crew.

...not bringing the issue up but having a few overwhelmingly strong points that they will agree with when it is brought up...

Could you expand on this? I'm not sure I understand what overwhelmingly strong points you might bring up that your opponent might agree with. Would this be something like priest scandals? Or not having your prayers for understanding answered?

I also find that if my goal is just to end an argument without losing too much social capital or coming across as confrontational, I get better results with emotional rather than intellectual points...

Another interesting strategy I'll think further about. I'm tempted to think I've already adopted this sort of strategy, though more so through being overly "hazy." Earlier, I would go into far more details, whereas now I've found that if I just say that "I'm not convinced," and offer as few supporting details as possible, I do end up at your example destination: person shrugs, presents puppy-dog stare of pity/compassion (fine line...), and says they'll pray for me.

Thanks for the response; there are some great points to ponder here and perhaps this is the encouragement I need to finally write my "summary of non-belief."

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 04:12:20PM 5 points [-]

Interesting tactic! I'll have to ponder this one. In my circles, the Lewis trilemma is still thought to hold and they don't think very fondly of the Jesus-as-great-teacher crew.

Even as a nine year old reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, it was clear to me reading Professor Diggory's advice to the other children regarding Lucy that C. S. Lewis simply did not understand crazy people.

The obvious fourth choice is that Jesus was deified after his death, and that the parts where Jesus appears to claim unambiguously to be divine were tacked on as the tradition built up around him, but provided that Jesus lived at all, I think it's actually more likely than not that he was at least a bit crazy.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:09:05PM 0 points [-]

The obvious fourth choice is that Jesus was deified after his death, and that the parts where Jesus appears to claim unambiguously to be divine were tacked on as the tradition built up around him...

And off to the races on whether the scriptures are historically trustworthy, the "four facts" of WLC, etc. I do see your point, but the pill wouldn't go down very easily :)

Comment author: Emily 04 April 2011 06:24:44PM *  0 points [-]

Do you mean regarding Susan (when she stops believing in Narnia)? Otherwise I can't recall the section you're referring to and would be interested in a reminder!

Edit: oh, I've just realised you're probably talking about the very beginning, when Lucy has seen Narnia and none of the rest have. Never mind, sorry.

Comment author: Yvain 09 April 2011 03:46:38PM 2 points [-]

Could you expand on this? I'm not sure I understand what overwhelmingly strong points you might bring up that your opponent might agree with. Would this be something like priest scandals? Or not having your prayers for understanding answered?

The one I mentioned about the Holocaust would be my go-to example. But really what's important is that it's not something completely intellectual they're going to have a cached response for.

On a side note, I've never understood people who use priest scandals as evidence for atheism. It seems totally ad hominem - "some of the guys who talk about this God stuff are bad people, therefore it's wrong". I guess you could get there by saying that if God existed He wouldn't allow such evil among His followers, but the only possible response to that would be "And where have you been for the past five thousand years?"

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 April 2011 06:57:11PM 1 point [-]

If I'm accustomed to people arguing for theism from authority (e.g., "I know God wants me to perform these rituals in this way, because my priest said so"), impugning the credibility of the authority figure (e.g., "Oh yeah? Well, your priest molests children!") is an understandable response.

But you're right, of course, that it isn't itself evidence for or against much of anything.

Comment author: jwhendy 09 April 2011 04:06:01PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the response. The note re. not having a cached response is helpful.

I don't find priest scandals to say much of anything about the existence of god any more than I find the rote bringing up of Mao or Pol-Pot as evidence against atheism. Bad people exist. They tend to be tied to various ideologies. Get over it :)

Now, I will say, that when someone begins to tread on the ground that thinks the Pope has some incredible moral elevation on the rest of us, it's then I think it can employed as a bring-one-back-to-earth tactic.

I also do find it a bit odd for someone to say that one should just disregard everything bad that comes out of Rome while insisting that the encyclicals or whatever else are nearly revealed wisdom.

Comment author: whpearson 04 April 2011 11:43:45AM 2 points [-]

I was going to suggest trying to find ways of shutting down in person conversation and this seems like a good one.

I was going to go with excuses such as "I don't have time to discuss this at the moment, I busy doing activity that Christians would approve of"

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 01:17:13PM 1 point [-]

This seems like a particularly good idea if they're already trying to foist works of apologetics on him; it seems that it would encourage them to believe that the fair arrangement is to suspend the conversation and read each others' material.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 03:46:24PM *  3 points [-]

Agreed -- this will probably work best for the incredible mass of people ahead who may or may not know (through the grapevine), but who I've never addressed the topic with in person (and who may volunteer some apologetics or want to know exactly why I don't believe).

There are other types of situations where this wouldn't help as much.

Some of the nearly-as-awkward conversations are the close friends who are aware of the situation and always want to know "if there's been any progress" or "where I'm at since the last time." Or those who feel that it's necessary to tell me repeatedly that they miss the common ground we shared or even like a part of me is missing.

While I fully admit that we've lost the common ground, I don't think I've necessarily lost any "part" of me. I think I've simply applied a studious tendency that was already present toward a new area that happened to be something we were incredibly immersed in. I wrote about this in a series of posts about my attempt to debunk a multi-level marketing scheme HERE. The pertinent passage is from part 3 (the preface was discussing my "anal" researching nature about other decisions, then connecting it with the current topic of interest, god):

...somewhere deeply ingrained in my nature is a desire to learn, understand, fiddle, and to know. I can't tell you that I had anything to do with it being there, but it's there. It comes out all the time when it's not convenient (e.g. when I should be sleeping but am on Wikipedia or reading books until 3:00am instead).

When I questioned god, I simply did what I always do. I applied my reasoning skills in the best way I knew how. Suspend judgment and belief and try to prove Christianity to myself. It hasn't worked. I think it's a great idea, but I was met with immense dissent from fellow believers. But why?

My reflection on my nature has led me to think of how others perceive my decision making and analytical tendencies. Honestly it's with almost unanimous respect...No one suggested that my reasoning or decision making is flawed.

But what about now? Now I am criticized for stepping outside of the bubble and suspending belief. I'm told that I should have had faith seeking understanding in order to come to the truth. For some reason, one can only reach "the truth" if approached from one of two starting positions: assuming that god exists and that Christianity is true.

Anyway, perhaps that wasn't entirely pertinent, but I wanted to highlight that there are, indeed, other circumstances where someone might not be presenting new material for me to read... they just disagree a priori and are unhappy about it. And decide to reiterate that dissatisfaction frequently. This isn't in a way that blatantly says, "It's your fault that you don't believe" -- it's just a verbal lamentation that has the same effects as following it up with, "Yeah, so I feel like shit about our relationship and you cause that upon me."

I have not figured out what to do in these situations rather than simply say, "Yeah. I can absolutely see where you would feel that way." That's about it.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 04:57:47PM 3 points [-]

But what about now? Now I am criticized for stepping outside of the bubble and suspending belief. I'm told that I should have had faith seeking understanding in order to come to the truth. For some reason, one can only reach "the truth" if approached from one of two starting positions: assuming that god exists and that Christianity is true.

Perhaps you've already tried this, but I think I would point out that people who who have "faith seeking understanding" tend to end up with the same beliefs they started with in other religions as well, and indeed, with any sort of belief, it has a marked tendency not to change one's mind. You can tell them you don't think a benevolent god who wanted people to believe would provide so little evidence that people can't come to the right conclusion without using methods that aren't generally useful for finding out what's true.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:21:27PM 0 points [-]

Absolutely. I should have added that, ever since I heard it, I have come to see "faith seeking understanding" as roughly equivalent to "believe that you may believe more."

You can tell them you don't think a benevolent god who wanted people to believe would provide so little evidence that people can't come to the right conclusion without using methods that aren't generally useful for finding out what's true.

Indeed, and I think this is one of the easiest, simplest ways to offer a reason for non-belief. Theists also don't go down so easy and would suggest that it's possible, given the weight of the consequences, one should never give up and spend their whole lives seeking after a way to believe.

This is pretty much a prettied up version of Pascal's Wager.

My wife was on retreat this weekend and talked glowingly of a talk in which a guest speaker said that he struggled with non-belief but concluded that since heaven is possible, he is going to dedicate his entire life to study and religious living so that if it exists, he will go. She thought that this was about the most admirable thing ever.

And hence, even if you don't believe now, surely god has a plan and you need to keep your head in Swinburne and Kreeft until your death bed. There seems to be no way out that a theist will accept is honorable and justified, which is quite unfortunate. I dialogued with the author of Daylight Atheism, who made the great point that to join a religion, you just need to say a few words, but to leave you need to conclusively refute every theologian who's ever lived...

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 10:47:55PM 1 point [-]

Anyway, perhaps that wasn't entirely pertinent, but I wanted to highlight that there are, indeed, other circumstances where someone might not be presenting new material for me to read... they just disagree a priori and are unhappy about it. And decide to reiterate that dissatisfaction frequently. This isn't in a way that blatantly says, "It's your fault that you don't believe" -- it's just a verbal lamentation that has the same effects as following it up with, "Yeah, so I feel like shit about our relationship and you cause that upon me."

I have not figured out what to do in these situations rather than simply say, "Yeah. I can absolutely see where you would feel that way." That's about it.

You might try telling them that you're trying to follow up a case of genuine curiosity, the sort they never condemned when it didn't touch on matters of faith, and it hurts you to feel that you're being discouraged from being intellectually honest. If God wants you to believe, he can do it by placing the evidence you're looking for before you, rather than preventing you from carrying out an unbiased investigation.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:55:11PM 1 point [-]

I've done this with a few. The response has been varied. I think my wife understood that. I had another friend basically tell me I was obligate to "have faith seeking understanding" because I was the one who defected and that I owed it to my wife.

I still have an incredibly hard time seeing as how that's proper.

If God wants you to believe, he can do it by placing the evidence you're looking for before you...

Indeed. Many initially object to this idea because they think it fiddles with free will, but if god is the author of all events and permits everything to happen according to his will and has all knowledge... he already knew what would cause any given person to believe and necessarily allowed that evidence to come before them. I think of people as having a "threshold of belief" and think they are blind to where it lies. Some unpredicted thing comes along one day, breaks the threshold, and you change your mind.

If you can go along with that model as useful, then it could be said that god knows where my threshold is and isn't meeting it.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 11:04:58PM *  1 point [-]

I had another friend basically tell me I was obligate to "have faith seeking understanding" because I was the one who defected and that I owed it to my wife.

Have you tried asking if you were, say, a Muslim, if it would still be right for you to have faith seeking understanding? Does your friend think this is always the right thing to do, or just when you happen to start out believing the right thing?

Indeed. Many initially object to this idea because they think it fiddles with free will

If God can't alter events that will affect our decisions, can he actually do anything in the real world?

Free will has always been one of the most frustrating arguments for me to deal with, because it's subject to such an extent of doublethink. It appears that God is capable of everything, except when he's incapable of anything. It's extraordinarily difficult to get people to notice that they should be confused by this.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 11:17:48PM *  1 point [-]

Does your friend think this is always the right thing to do, or just when you happen to start out believing the right thing?

In theory, I think he'd actually say that this is always the right thing to do if you are pre-committed in various ways to a life based on X and which affects close relationships.

In practice, I think he'd welcome me with open arms if I was a Muslim/Jew/Scientologist/Mormon and told him I was having doubts and wanted to seriously consider Catholicism as the one true faith.

If God can't alter events that will affect our decisions, can he actually do anything in the real world?

Great point.

It appears that God is capable of everything, except when he's incapable of anything.

Another great point. I played praise and worship at a friend's wedding last summer as a non-believer (he asked and I wasn't going to say no), and one of the songs was this one(I linked to the chorus), which has this refrain:

Savior, he can move the mountains

My God is mighty to save, he is mighty to save...

Having that in my head for so long to practice it and what not, I came up with a re-write that illustrates your point:

Savior, he can move the mountains

But he can't do anything that's tangibly observable...

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 01:38:48PM 9 points [-]

I'd very much appreciate suggestions for dealing with my intellectual insecurity. How could I be more at ease? When can one rationally conclude that they've "done enough", at least for the present moment and apply their energies elsewhere?

For an ideal rationalist, this probably shouldn't take much time or effort. For a human being changing their mind on a momentous matter, to be emotionally satisfied, it probably takes a considerable excess of evidence.

Personally, I spent a period of years telling myself I was pursuing truth in the matter of religion, exposing myself to as many different arguments and viewpoints as I could find, and dedicating enough time to the question that it's now rather embarrassing to look back on. Eventually though, I came to realize that I had no reason to commit to further searching, that I had more than enough evidence to treat the question as settled, and that my probability estimate of being wrong wasn't remotely enough to justify expending further effort.

If you keep in mind the proper uses of doubt and humility, remembering that you're trying to find out an answer you can have confidence in, and you're not trying to doubt because it's virtuous to be unsure, then I think you'll come to a point where you can be emotionally satisfied with your conclusion, not with a speed you could compare to a Bayesian supercomputer, but hopefully with a faster turnaround time than I had when I thought it was more respectable to be trying to answer the question than to be decided.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 07:35:47PM 0 points [-]

This is quite helpful. If you the "current you" could go and tell the "past you" something in the midst of your "questing," what would it be?

Eventually though, I came to realize that I had no reason to commit to further searching, that I had more than enough evidence to treat the question as settled, and that my probability estimate of being wrong wasn't remotely enough to justify expending further effort.

I think I could roughly define my view of the matter like this, but it doesn't feel like that. Where Catholicism of theism in general to be true, I have so many objections and things that remain unexplained about how that works, that I, also, would say that my current estimate of all of them being wrong (and, thus, theism actually being true) is extremely low.

It's also possible that it's true but just not discernible as such. In that case, I'm not sure whether it matters -- one lives life as if it's not true until it does become discernible. Though the Pascal's wager advocates would say otherwise.

Re. the doubt/humility points, I'll definitely think on this further. And, yes, it's quite possible that there's some doubting-as-virtuous going on. There might be some genuine uncertainty, but like I said in the post, it's probably irrational that I give sooo much weight to this one uncertain area and so little to all the other topics I'm also uncertain about.

but hopefully with a faster turnaround time than I had when I thought it was more respectable to be trying to answer the question than to be decided.

Are you distinguishing between "answered" and "decided about"? That's how I'm reading this and it would be great if you could add a bit more about it.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 08:02:25PM 2 points [-]

This is quite helpful. If you the "current you" could go and tell the "past you" something in the midst of your "questing," what would it be?

There are a lot of things I think I could teach my past self, but for the purposes of religious investigation, I think I would simply have reminded myself that while it might be more socially acceptable to take an attitude of uncertainty, the ''goal'' is not an eternal quest for truth, but a conclusion that I can be confident enough in for practical purposes.

I certainly wouldn't take back the entirety of my "quest," I learned a lot about various cultures and how different people think, but I continued far beyond the point of diminishing returns. Keep track of your expectations of learning new things.

Are you distinguishing between "answered" and "decided about"? That's how I'm reading this and it would be great if you could add a bit more about it.

We can never be absolutely certain about anything, but that doesn't mean we should continue to make significant concessions to the possibility of our being wrong when it's overwhelmingly unlikely. When it comes to the existence of God, it might be seen as arrogant to be convinced that one does not exist, as opposed to attempting to find out whether one exists, but that doesn't mean you should hold yourself back from becoming satisfied in your conclusion. Don't let social norms control your perception of the question; nobody's likely to call you arrogant for being satisfied with the conclusion that unicorns don't exist.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:31:33PM 0 points [-]

...the ''goal'' is not an eternal quest for truth, but a conclusion that I can be confident enough in for practical purposes.

I agree, though it's a great reminder to hear again.

I certainly wouldn't take back the entirety of my "quest," I learned a lot about various cultures and how different people think, but I continued far beyond the point of diminishing returns. Keep track of your expectations of learning new things.

Good point as well. I've also learned quite a bit, particularly about cosmology and how we know what we know in that area. I'll have to think hard about what it would take to convince me even if I learn new things. Solutions to the problem of evil, for example, seems like it will always rest in speculation or what is possible; without god confirming a hypothesis or showing what, exactly, the greater good of little Johnny's suffering is... we'll never know what speculation is accurate.

Without a time machine, we'll never confirm what really happened at the hypothetical tomb, either. And what we have of the Bible will also pretty much remain the same and continue to be reinterpreted to attempt to explain various issues away.

So... even with reading someone else's take on these things... I'm always left puzzled and unconvinced because they seem to be based on vague speculation and there's never anyway to verify the answers.

Does that make sense?

Perhaps that's the "decidedness" I should focus on, anyway. Proceed with a practical stance until something comes along that can be shown to have merit from apologists?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 04 April 2011 06:59:58AM 9 points [-]

I get the feeling that many modern-day religious communities have had quite a bit of evaporative cooling going on, with being religious going from a mostly unquestioned, society-wide norm into being something that needs to actively justify itself against an increasingly secular intellectual culture. A lot of people who are in any way receptive to having an actual argument about the content of the religion may have already had it and come to a conclusion that doesn't favor religion, and the remaining religious community is being selected for people who don't listen to such arguments, no matter what. So I'm not sure if elevator pitches are going to work very well.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 04:48:23PM 1 point [-]

and the remaining religious community is being selected for people who don't listen to such arguments, no matter what. So I'm not sure if elevator pitches are going to work very well.

Good point. This is probably the state of my wife, actually. If we "get into it" about religion (which I pretty much try to avoid) and I bring up anything in opposition, or worse, cite an eminent scientist working a field that could one day conclusively eliminate the remaining areas where the god hypothesis is invoked, a fairly standard response is: "It doesn't matter. I don't need to understand or explain everything."

Her strongest [verbalized] reasons for believing rest on the love she sees in the people in the community, times when she's felt some sort of transformation or insight result from prayer, and the fact that she sees her current lifestyle as having a "purpose higher than herself" coupled with an improvement from what she would say were shallow aims of her high school/early college/"pre-conversion" times.

So... yes, there's probably a good subset of those who will remain unconvinced. I was more looking for "elevator pitch" with respect to length, not necessarily with respect to its ability to convince.

In other words, a short conversation that begins and ends smoothly, briefly, and allows both parties to go on their way rather than the typical open-ended discussion/debate that follows. Think of it as a way to make my "pitch" that expresses 1) my clear non-belief but 2) doesn't lead into a back-and-forth pointless banter that I know ahead of time will not sway either of us.

I think Yvain's comment above about writing up a summary and then sending a link later on might be the best suggestion thus far (though I haven't caught up to all the comments below yet).

Comment author: thakil 04 April 2011 09:06:52AM 6 points [-]

One on one conversation is a really bad way to make decisions on belief. If someone insists on arguing belief with you, make it clear that there are a number of reasons why you doubt and are comfortable with your position and do not really want to.spend too much time discussing it. If they persist you might point out that they would probably not persist against a jewish or islamic person

Comment author: beriukay 04 April 2011 02:13:03PM 2 points [-]

Or that they would probably not appreciate someone doing the same thing to them.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 07:37:29PM 1 point [-]

Great, simple, suggestion. Perhaps I've been running imaginary and overly-extravagant conversation paths in my head and it could be as simple as this. Perhaps this, combined with Yvain's comment (having an online/file "statement/summary" available) is the best way forward.

Comment author: mutterc 06 April 2011 02:31:16AM 2 points [-]

Just push back and refuse to engage. Tell them you're not amoral and you have examined some advanced theology, thank you very much. It may help to throw some prepared, impenetrable, philosophical jargon at them (e.g. try to explain rule-based utilitarianism or TDT). They may give up quickly if they were just prepared to argue at the Pascal's Wager level.

Religion has "armor" that some believers use to shut down those trying to question it; appropriate some of that in service of your atheism. To wit:

"You're worried about my soul? Don't - I accept the responsibility."

"It's a separate magesterium! Beliefs about the spiritual realm don't affect reality, so all are equally valid!"

"You're being intolerant of my religion by criticising my [non]beliefs!"

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 03:30:20PM 0 points [-]

Interesting tactic. Perhaps brainstorming some responses like this will help as well. I'm not terribly fond of sort of "aggressive" responses, but think the suggested route might have some definite benefits, especially to avoid unnecessary fear since I know I have a handful of "escape clauses."

Comment author: RobinZ 04 April 2011 04:18:48AM 6 points [-]

This is an incredibly tough situation. I've been listening to the podcast of the Austin public-access TV show The Atheist Experience, and this question - what do I do, now that I no longer believe? - is something that a lot of people have struggled, are struggling, and will struggle with.

I have very little to offer, being a lifelong atheist in a non-religious family in a non-religious region; the closest I have been to your experience is being a closet atheist in the Boy Scouts of America (the national organization of which is anti-atheistic). There, I was "not religious" but respectful and willing to bow my head from the start. Not all that applicable.

I'd very much appreciate suggestions for dealing with my intellectual insecurity. How could I be more at ease? When can one rationally conclude that they've "done enough", at least for the present moment and apply their energies elsewhere?

This reminds me of a remark SarahC alluded to recently - an idea she had back when she first deconverted:

It occurred to me that nothing I actually revere could object to me responding to the evidence of my eyes and mind. I can't help doing that. It can't possibly be blameworthy.

I don't know if anything I have said was helpful, but I'm glad to talk more if you want.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:35:36PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the response.

I'll have to check out the podcast -- I think I've watched some of their youtube videos.

I did read SarahC's comment when she posted her reflections and loved it. I think I doubt at a different level -- almost wondering whether I've looked well enough with my eyes and mind or am concluding prematurely.

I could certainly apply her comment with respect to any feelings of being "broken" or "defective" somehow, though.

Comment author: whpearson 04 April 2011 11:45:39AM 4 points [-]

Have you told your wife about how you are feeling in the community? I think you might want think about moving.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:05:16PM 1 point [-]

Absolutely. Her typical response has been that I shouldn't feel that way. Our counselor suggested that reassurance and empathy might help more than telling me why I shouldn't feel apprehensive about being in those situations; she now does that a lot more and I think it's helped.

Were I still single... I probably would move. Not sure that it's much of an option at this point unless she deconverts.

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 April 2011 07:33:16AM *  8 points [-]

The RationalWiki Atheism FAQ for the Newly Deconverted is for people approximately where you are. It probably won't tell you anything new, but does have it in one place. (Edit: The tl;dr version!)

Dawkins' The God Delusion is damn fine (and I see you've read it). Having actually read the thing, I conclude that its reputation amongst the religious is made entirely, 100%, of butthurt, including assumed butthurt from people who haven't read the book but parrot stuff people they think they agree with have said about it. I extended an offer to my theist friends who have complaints about Dawkins and haven't actually read it to give them a copy. No takers so far, though interest from the atheists ... you may try extending a similar offer.

As for the community: keep being an ethical person to deal with, behave like a good person. Honest, helpful, loving. People will in fact eventually realise they prefer, given the option, to deal with a decent atheist than a religious asshole.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 04 April 2011 09:24:07AM 4 points [-]

As for the community: keep being an ethical person to deal with, behave like a good person. Honest, helpful, loving. People will in fact eventually realise they prefer, given the option, to deal with a decent atheist than a religious asshole.

I'd imagine this will work better for outsiders interacting with the community than for formerly religious members of the community. The still-religious community members might see it as a threat to their identity to accept that one of their own could still be a good person after no longer observing their tenets. There's less cognitive dissonance involved in dealing equitably with outsiders with questionable beliefs.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 04:39:29PM 1 point [-]

The still-religious community members might see it as a threat to their identity to accept that one of their own could still be a good person after no longer observing their tenets.

That, or they just explain it by stating that god is the source of all goodness anyway. Any good "steam" I'm running on is from god, regardless of if I'm aware of that fact.

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 April 2011 12:49:45PM -1 points [-]

Oh, yeah. I'd think there'd be a mix of effects, depending on how much their opinions are shaped by the local Department of Enforced Stupidity.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 03:57:55PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the link; I'll check both of those out shortly.

I did like part of The God Delusion, though perhaps I should re-read it. I don't recall much of it being particularly forceful... though I did have a fantastically "spiritual" experience reading it late at night on the crapper. More HERE.

As for the community: keep being an ethical person to deal with...

Indeed. Though, I think I'd also like to build up a wholly separate group of friends. I have probably five that are still close. We enjoy spending time together and pretty much just don't talk about religion. I think it's better that way, frankly. I think it's going to be important to rebuild, in a way, my close confidants. I try to avoid going to large events with the community as much as possible... but being married to a very active member of it doesn't help :)

Comment author: [deleted] 06 April 2011 09:52:50AM *  0 points [-]

I disagree about Dawkins here. Andrew Rilstone, one of my favourite bloggers and a devout Christian, did read The God Delusion, and did disagree with it, for reasons which you may well disagree with but which definitely don't amount just to 'butthurt': http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/04/where-dawkins-went-wrong-most-leading.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/04/2-some-more-of-dawkins-greatest.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/04/3-final-and-clinching-proofs-little.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/05/4-who-is-this-dawkins-person-anyway.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/05/well-that-just-about-wraps-it-up-for.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/09/everything-you-never-wanted-to-know.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/09/everything-you-never-wanted-to-know_24.html

http://www.andrewrilstone.com/2007/09/everything-you-never-wanted-to-know_27.html

And so on... (Rilstone's whole book, Where Dawkins Went Wrong, is to my mind essential reading especially for atheists, because it's a set of actual good arguments against some bad arguments from the atheist side.)

Comment author: jschulter 12 April 2011 05:28:59AM 3 points [-]

Having looked through the comments, I noticed that one of your main concerns with this whole ordeal is how your children will be raised. I thought it might be worth mentioning something I noticed, upon reflection, about my own childhood:

I was "raised Catholic" by agreement between my parents- my father is still Catholic, my mother reform Jewish- and went through CCD (I forget what it even stands for, it's "sunday school"), first confession and first communion. But oddly enough when looking back it was obvious that nobody in my family actually believed in god. And in fact, this attitude that pervaded around me, the fact that nobody expected their prayers to be answered &c. was the main contributing factor to my early conversion to atheism. I actually knew that I didn't believe, and my parents likely did too, before they forced me to take communion-yes forced, as I am still sometimes forced into attending Easter or Christmas mass with them. The fact is, that even with people all around me vocally professing the existence of god, with people close at hand who obviously didn't actually believe, I was able to quickly conclude(subconsciously) that they were just expressing belief in belief.

So, the point in all this is that there may be an as of yet unconsidered solution the the problem of raising your children. Even if you raise them Catholic, as long as they have a dissenting opinion present in their lives, it will be if not easy, at least easier for them to deconvert later. As an added bonus, if you decide not to attend any church functions, they may simply see professing atheism as a way to sleep in on sundays, and from professing to believing is as we all know a regrettably short path.

Comment author: jwhendy 16 April 2011 08:24:56PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the reply. Glad I found it. I pretty much agree with two added counter-points:

1) My wife might very well prefer that I say approximately... nothing. I don't think that's necessarily the case, but it might come up more and more. For example, I objected to her singing my daughter praise and worship songs that claim that Jesus will come back "riding on the clouds at the trumpet call," since my daughter has no way to question whether someone can actually "ride on clouds," whether that's how the end days would happen, etc. My wife responded that it's just "an upbeat, celebratory song," and that she sung it at my daughter's request. I then made up a song on the spot with a catchy sing-song melody about god being a figment of the imagination that people just make up because it makes them feel good and asked if I could sing that to her. She didn't like the idea. In other words, she'd like to have the freedom to pray with my daughter and openly express beliefs but would prefer I kept my opinions out of it.

2) My wife really does actually believe, or thinks she does. Whether my daughter will one day see through this... I'm not sure. My wife does think that miraculous things happen as a result of prayer, but considers god's will as to who and when a mystery -- "he knows best." So... it's not like being raised by "cultural Catholics" -- my daughter is in a house with a flesh-and-blood full believer who raises hands to praise and worship, gets up at 6a to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, prays "in the spirit", etc.

Hope that offers some clarifications about the situation! My oldest has been staying home with me on Sundays while my wife takes our youngest (7mos) to Mass with her.

Comment author: jschulter 19 April 2011 04:44:32AM 1 point [-]

For full disclosure on my own part, I should also mention that my little sister has continued to attend church, and is in fact getting confirmed in a few months. I think based on the evidence I have that there may be a good amount of credence to the theory that women seem more prone to believe for social reasons, especially since most women who I would otherwise expect to be atheist give that as their only reason. So, unfortunately, your daughter may be as hard to lead away from the faith as your wife seems to be. Congratulations with regard to your son though.

Comment author: jwhendy 19 April 2011 03:02:12PM 0 points [-]

Huh. That's quite interesting.

Congratulations with regard to your son though.

I can't find a sentence above that led to this, but I actually have two daughters :) We'll have to see what happens!

Thanks for your comments.

Comment author: jschulter 20 April 2011 01:29:46AM 0 points [-]

for some reason I read "oldest" as "oldest son" the first time...no idea why. I do think it's very likely that your elder daughter will end up atheist, and that's what the congratulations was about.

Comment author: jwhendy 20 April 2011 03:44:03AM 1 point [-]

No worries. We'll see about the daughter. I think my wife understands more and more why I hesitate to heuristically decide in advance what's true for her. I see the point of doing this for certain things, but not ambiguously true ones. For example, a Catholic is advised to teach his son/daughter by age 7 that the Eucharist is really the body of a risen man/god. How could they possibly comprehend this?

I could possibly see a loose analogy in teaching them not to drop things made of glass. I'm heuristically teaching-them-as-truth that gravity exists, exerts a force on matter, and that if PE=mgh is high enough, when it converts to KE it will exceed the modulus of the glass and shatter it.

They can't comprehend either set of the necessary foundations for these heuristic "nuggets," but one is clearly more universally accepted than the other. Even a simple appeal to teaching-as-true only what the world has accepted as true seems reasonable.

I find it perplexing that if a divine being only inspired only one true religion, that the world would remain so confused about what is is many hundreds (if not thousands) of years later. I think it should at least give one pause to consider that perhaps things aren't as obvious or clear as one might think!

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 20 April 2011 03:58:20AM 2 points [-]

Also, importantly, it's much easier to gather direct evidence to support the heuristic "don't drop things made of glass" than "the Eucharist is really the body of Jesus."

Comment author: jwhendy 20 April 2011 07:50:50PM 0 points [-]

Dropping a glass vs. picking up the Bible are equivalently easy :) Whether you need to be sold on the Bible beforehand is a different story.

You're right, though, and thus I'm far more confident in teaching-as-true those things which are in the "universally discoverable" realm vs. the "incredibly sticky and unagreed upon" realm.

Comment author: jsalvatier 21 April 2011 08:49:20PM 0 points [-]

This recent book discusses the evidence about the influence of genes and parenting on children's life outcomes. Caplan claims that the evidence says for the most part parents have significant effects on who their children are in the short run but not in the long run. He does discuss the evidence for religiosity in particular and he finds mostly the same pattern. Parents have a large effect on what their children say about their religious labels (Christian, Muslim etc.) in the long run, but not much effect effect on how religious their children act (church attendance, that sort of thing).

Comment author: jwhendy 21 April 2011 10:28:19PM 0 points [-]

Interesting. I'll have to check that out, but it tracks well with Steven Pinker's discussion of similar things in Blank Slate (amazon link), which he summarizes briefly in this TED Talk.

The talk is fascinating, especially his discussion about "twin studies," where he seems to echo much of what you suggested above. IIRC, he rated genes and peer groups as having the top influences on children. Takes a load off :)

Comment author: Eneasz 05 April 2011 10:49:36PM 3 points [-]

Me: "I don't believe anymore." "Why?" Me: "Well, many reasons. Since you asked, one would be X." Followed by extremely long summary of why X is, in fact, incorrect, list of apologists who've covered this topic, suggestion of a few older Christians this person knows that I should schedule time with, etc.

I admit I haven't read all the comments yet, I apologize if this has been covered, but I'm curious about this. Do you give specific evidential reasons? Have you tried giving a very broad general answer that is obviously non-assailable? Something like "I have more evidence for my physical father than for a heavenly one, and I feel that this should be the other way around if he exists and loves me as much as my physical father does." The one absolute undeniable fact about God is that he does not show up in the real world to interact with people. If he did then none of this religion stuff would be necessary.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 06:27:42PM 2 points [-]

Wow -- missed this comment! I do tend to give various evidential reasons, but when discussing this topic at all (like Nornagest suggests), there's always an out. PoE, why religious diversity happens to be so geographical, etc. There's always an answer.

When I suggested to a theology professor (that a friend suggested I speak to) that I found it odd that if there was one true god, the world wouldn't have figured it out by now, he responded in a completely unsurprised way and simply said that Jesus never foretold that Christianity would be a world-wide religion.

In fact, he said, the picture of the world is exactly how he would have expected. Yeah right. Anyway, there does tend to be a response to everything.

Re. god not showing up... he won't override your free will, or he does but you need "eyes of faith" to see it, or it's because your heart is hardened.

Perhaps this reply has helped me understand why the best mode of response is just not to engage. As long as there's nothing that would change a believer's mind... there's nothing that would change a believer's mind.

And if there is something that will... it probably won't be from me, or at least not in direct conversation.

The ticket is probably to say something like you've said, but then simply "broken record" the rest of the conversation with, "My research has convinced me. I'm still open, but I believe my current stance to be rationally reached and based on a wide range of currently available evidence."

Comment author: Nornagest 05 April 2011 11:46:11PM *  3 points [-]

I'd be fairly surprised if that hasn't been covered by most reasonably clever apologists. The argument I get by pattern-matching it against my internal model of a Christian apologist goes something like "physical evidence is in itself evidence of a creator, and why yes I haven't bothered to think of a First Cause other than the Christian God", which of course leads immediately to further questions, but I'm sure there are more sophisticated ones out there.

Really, the problem here isn't lack of explanation; there's a two-thousand-year-old history of Christian theological explanations for just about everything. The problem is that those explanations are unconvincing to outside observers, but seem very convincing to insiders thanks to motivated cognition; I've long since lost track of the number of times I've been told to read Thomas Aquinas.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 06:32:53PM -1 points [-]

I'd be fairly surprised if that hasn't been covered by most reasonably clever apologists.

You bring up a fantastic point. Everything is covered by clever apologists. This is why I said HERE that believers don't seem to be bothered by anything.

I brought up the infamous prayer study to a believer and she said that one "couldn't put god in a test tube." I asked if the study had turned out quite positive for prayer's efficacy if she would have stood by it and, perhaps obviously, she said (emphatically), "No." I highly doubt this, especially since people push Lourdes Miracles as worthy of investigation for the purposes of building belief. I don't see much difference between the two except that in one, people were expectantly watching and in the other, they weren't.

...there's a two-thousand-year-old history of Christian theological explanations for just about everything.

Yeah, good point. Perhaps I should resolve to let the stream of rationality erode this rock over the next two-thousand years rather than worrying about the fact that I think people are wrong now.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 April 2011 10:25:26PM 1 point [-]

In general, believers will always rationalize whatever they observe as what their religion predicts they should observe. They function on the assumption that it all adds up to normality, so the "sensible" interpretation is always the one that explains what they actually see. In the event that they can be swayed by evidence at all, it's usually because they don't know what reality says, and so they're forced to draw upon the most reasonable interpretation of their religion without reference to the data. This way, when reality contradicts their interpretations, they know that the most obvious interpretation of their religion doesn't explain reality.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 04 April 2011 07:04:02PM *  3 points [-]

As a relevant skill in your situation, you should learn to distinguish refuting and rejecting an argument. Rejecting an argument refers to not changing your own state of belief, while refuting an argument refers to changing other person's state of belief. If your response doesn't change another person's mind, then you've merely rejected the argument, not refuted it. (Counting some activity that doesn't result in the other person's change of mind as refuting an argument defies the purpose of the terminological distinction.)

If we are talking about an old-time cult member, refuting their wrong cult-generated statements is nearly impossible, so usually there is little point in arguing at all. The goal should be to perhaps minimize conflict, but not to convince, unless you actually expect a nontrivial probability of success, which you should recognize as usually absent. Don't play the lottery.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 07:10:08PM 2 points [-]

For practical purposes, I would say that it makes sense to regard an argument as refuted if impartial observers of the debate feel that you have properly dispensed with it.

Since they tend to be less emotionally invested, there's often more point in carrying on a debate for the sake of observers than for the other participants.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 04 April 2011 07:14:22PM *  1 point [-]

For practical purposes, I would say that it makes sense to regard an argument as refuted if impartial observers of the debate feel that you have properly dispensed with it.

This would only be practical if you are trying to convince the observers, not if you are trying to convince the opponent, and certainty not if nobody is listening in. Psychological adaptations intended for optimizing your status in the tribe would pay attention to this sense of "refuting", but it doesn't at all apply to the situation I was addressing, where you should learn to ignore what these adaptations insist on.

(Also, the observers these adaptations care about are not necessarily impartial, so a high-status human can use nonsense "rebuttals" to "refute" any reasonable argument in this particular sense, since your allies would cheer you regardless.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 07:23:13PM 2 points [-]

It usually makes more sense to try to convince observers than to convince the people you're debating with. It has a much higher rate of success. Even if the observers aren't really impartial, they're under less pressure to uphold their position.

Although it can be emotionally taxing to walk away, one of the primary factors I take into consideration when deciding whether it's worth having a debate at all is who else is listening to it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 04 April 2011 07:24:17PM *  0 points [-]

I agree. It's just not the sense I was talking about.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:18:40PM 0 points [-]

Good point. I'm not sure I intended my article to emphasize that I necessarily want to "refute" anyone, but perhaps that's what you're getting at by introducing the idea of "rejecting" an argument.

I mainly want a way to "defuse" conversations about religion specifically so that they don't turn into pointless debates that just waste time and inflame emotions.

Comment author: MinibearRex 04 April 2011 05:45:59PM 3 points [-]

Part of this will depend on your wife. If she won't support you, your life is going to be more difficult.

One idea I haven't seen anyone mention yet is to learn to change the subject. "A fanatic is someone who won't change their minds and can't change the subject." If all anyone will talk to you about is why you should start believing again, it will wear you down after a while. Find other things to talk about. You can even talk about practical aspects of morality. Find charities, public issues, etc. That might demonstrate that you're still a moral person, which is an idea that it would be good to spread anyways.

Best of luck, and if you need help find someone you can trust to ask advice.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:23:55PM 0 points [-]

Part of this will depend on your wife. If she won't support you, your life is going to be more difficult.

Hell yes. This has been the most challenging part. I think my emotional satisfaction would dramatically increase if she were to deconvert. Perhaps that's not even necessary... maybe if she just saw more merit in my "quest" or would say that I've done a good job at researching. Instead I think she doesn't think she can say these things because it's "not okay" for me to be both "right" and a "non-believer."

Thus she echoes things she heard from who-knows-where about me not reading the right things, that "these atheist scientists are so obsessed with figuring everything out," etc.

Find other things to talk about.

Indeed, and this is where things have settled with my closer friends. The problem is that I've explicitly told perhaps 10-20 individuals... but there are about 2-300 who I know as acquaintances who don't know or may know via another party. Just telling the first group was taxing because I had to retell my story of doubt over and over. I can't imagine doing that with the remaining group individually in order to get to the point where everyone knows and we can move on to talking about "other things."

Thus, perhaps the widespread "coming out" via a publicized summary of my story/non-belief is the best route for those.

Comment author: nerzhin 05 April 2011 02:55:20PM 1 point [-]

I think my emotional satisfaction would dramatically increase if she were to deconvert.

This is hard for her, too.

Your roles and responsibilities to your wife are entirely different from the responsibility you've described to your own conscience to be true and follow the evidence and so on. The strategies we're discussing on this thread, though interesting and maybe useful, are probably not things you want to use with your wife, who already knows you well and knows the story.

My advice is pretty much the opposite of Desrtopa's. Don't talk about your quest any more than necessary. You're a new person, so start a new courtship, getting to know each other again. Don't try to change her, but change yourself. Be a good husband.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 03:42:47PM 1 point [-]

This is hard for her, too.

I'm well aware. It absolutely is.

The strategies we're discussing on this thread, though interesting and maybe useful, are probably not things you want to use with your wife...

I agree, and tend to abide by that advice. I think when I provide rantish outbursts trying to justify myself, it's usually because:

  • The discussion of our kids comes up and she thinks she has more of a right to raise them to believe Catholicism, citing as her primary reason that it's really important to her. That's quite challenging and usually leads me to want to stand up for myself regarding the amount of work and research I've put into this and how I think that counts as a valid reason that I have an equal say as well.
  • When I feel proselytized. She brings up leading topics, in my opinion. She came back from a retreat and told the valiant story of a man who doubted but said to himself, "Well, if there's a heaven, even though I doubt, I'm going to spend my entire life trying to believe anyway so that I can go." Given the pertinence to my own story and the fact that she shared nothing else about the retreat other than that, my bet was on her trying to defend my stance and why that logic isn't sound (which belief is the right one to get into heaven?). (She verified later that it was, in fact, a conversion-directed comment.)
  • When I feel challenged about my process, like if she poo-poo's what I've read, chalks it all up to bias, or something similar.

I guess I could go on a little bit, but just wanted to cite some of the items that have a tendency to draw out the "defensive me."

Other than that, I can say with near certainty that our best times have always correlated with our longer-ish periods of just not talking about religion/my quest at all.

You're a new person, so start a new courtship, getting to know each other again.

I had this thought several months ago, actually. I realized that I tend to talk pretty openly about anything and everything -- what I read, things I find interesting, work, etc., but that she doesn't always do this and that I missed "knowing her."

We also began marriage counseling and I stated as one of my goals at our first session that I think finding new "common ground" will be important. We need something to fill the void left by our shared bond via religion.

Don't try to change her, but change yourself.

I (perhaps obviously) agree with the second admonition... but could you comment on the first? I am aware of the adage that we can't change anyone but ourselves... but is does this really imply that we shouldn't try? Or do you think this is only the case for a sensitive relationship like husband/wife?

I understand that you can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink; to shove it's head in the water would be to drown it (or get kicked pretty good). But... if water = rationality-increasing ideas/concepts/arguments, is there anything to be said about making someone well aware of the existence of the water if they get thirsty?

Put another way, that is the point of evangelization or "rationality outreach"?

Comment author: nerzhin 05 April 2011 06:56:26PM 1 point [-]

I don't really know anything about your situation, your wife, your relationship. So please don't take anything I say very seriously. Desrtopa may be right, and I certainly didn't want to imply that you weren't already a good husband.

I'm really glad to hear you're in marriage counseling. That will be more helpful than anything I say.

As far as not trying to change her: you've got lots of time. If she gets thirsty, she'll let you know. What I'm advising against is trying to deconvert her so that you feel better, which is what I read (rightly or wrongly) in the line I quoted in the grandparent.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 07:53:18PM 0 points [-]

No problem, and I didn't take your statement as at all implying that I wasn't a good husband.

I did say:

I think my emotional satisfaction would dramatically increase if she were to deconvert.

That is how I see things, but would not say that this fact means I'm actively pursuing bringing this outcome to pass. I do generally leave all of this alone. It's come to the surface more lately due to discussions about children, but most of the time we just leave it be and that seems to help us do as you suggested -- rebuild around other common interests, activities, and the like.

Also, even though me feeling better would be a byproduct, I only want that to be a byproduct. That is, I'd very much like her to come to her own understanding of what I now see, not that she would deconvert specifically for my feelings.

As far as not trying to change her: you've got lots of time.

That's a good reminder.

Comment author: Desrtopa 05 April 2011 04:12:09PM 0 points [-]

Do you think he's not being a good husband now?

I'm not advising him (not trying to advise him anyway) to become more confrontational or put more pressure on his wife and friends. But I think he needs social support from people who accept him, and in order to feel accepted, he needs to have people who think, if not that he's right in not believing, at least that he's doing something respectable and intellectually honest.

jwhendy knows best what he wants out of a relationship, and if he decides that he's comfortable sweeping disagreements under the rug and simply not talking about what he believes anymore, then that may be the way for him to be happiest. But it sounds to me like he's not satisfied with that, and if he wants to be accepted while remaining open and honest, he needs to be able to influence how others think.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 04:46:12PM 2 points [-]

But I think he needs social support from people who accept him, and in order to feel accepted, he needs to have people who think, if not that he's right in not believing, at least that he's doing something respectable and intellectually honest.

Yup. This is very well said. Even if I'm disagreed with, it would at least be nice for the disagree-ers to look at something like my comments on reading through What's So Great About Christianity (even though I hate to listen to D'Souza, I gave into a friend's pleading to read his book, and guess what? I also found out that I hate reading D'Souza) or Dubay's Faith and Certitude (another acquiesced request) and at least respect the effort I put into those books/write-ups.

Or the fact that I probably spend 30-120min a day (at least) reading/thinking about theological arguments in some way shape or form. I don't know anyone in my circles who could say that, except maybe the leaders of the community who are always preparing talks and such to give... but those are them thinking about theological thoughts to offer from within -- my thoughts are of the evaluation type -- "Is it true?"

Again, it's difficult to have been respected for my intellect and general analytical (cough, anal) nature and then to have everyone complain that this subject is different and that what I'm doing is wrong. Heck, I even have someone (and my wife) say that I should have thought more about the implications of non-belief before even starting down this path. It's challenging dealing with those views when I can't see much virtue in literally avoiding research just because you'd rather remain ignorant. It would seem that if you seriously considered research in the first place, you already have questions about the validity of what you think to be true.

But it sounds to me like he's not satisfied with that, and if he wants to be accepted while remaining open and honest, he needs to be able to influence how others think.

I would agree with this. I find it extremely difficult to imagine just "shutting up" about all of this, especially since shutting up may have implications for my children. While I have no problems with religious education, I do have objections to indoctrination. My wife really, really, really wants to "share the faith" with them, but I have an unbelievably hard time not saying something about the fact that "share the faith" is equivalent to teaching-as-true all of the "fun, fluffy" things about religion while explicitly not covering any of the touchy areas.

I really do "get" these areas and why they would be attractive to be able to share with a child. You get to tell them about just how much Jesus-as-teddy-bear loves them ooooh so much. And that he knows every hair on their head. And that he died just for them and to keep that baaaad satan away. And rejoice in any positive outcome because Jesus has just blessed us soooo much in our lives, and how Jesus lives in your heart and gives you the power of the Holy Spirit to be like him.

To heavily saturate a child in this is, in my opinion, unfair. They can't even begin to contemplate most of the concepts, for one thing. My daughter, if I recall correctly, once said that Jesus was in mommy's heart in front of me. How can she possibly know what that means? She's not old enough to question it, though.

On the other hand, my wife isn't going to try to explain how two people spawned the world population through incest. Or how god was upset about all these wicked people and went on a one-time global killing spree with more water than is contained on earth... and then vowed that that was the last time he would do it even though surely technology and the number of people in the world mean there is more evil today than there was 6k years ago. This stuff isn't covered.

Hence it's tough to keep quiet. The tender morsels that a child would just eat up are what is provided; any tough stuff isn't. Given that the truth of the "morsels" rest on the accuracy of all those "tough subjects," I don't think it's fair to skip covering the dubious stuff for the sake of making them feel warm with the rest.

It's also interesting to me to contemplate just how much an effect what a child "learns as truth" during early years has on their ability to re-evaluate down the road. As is sometimes attributed to St. Francis Xavier and is a Jesuit motto, "Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you back the man."

So... in situations like these, it's not just about keeping docile between my wife and I; we're approaching an age (daughter 1 = 2.5yrs, daughter 2 = 7 mos) when we need to make calls on this stuff.

Comment author: Desrtopa 05 April 2011 06:45:12PM *  0 points [-]

I left a comment on your critique of D'Souza. It's far enough back that I thought I'd go out of my way to call some attention to it.

Edit: It was there a few minutes ago, but it's no longer showing up; do only approved comments appear on your blog?

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 06:54:42PM 0 points [-]

Weird -- I just went to look but don't see it, either. I was going to ask but then looked at comment moderation (which I don't even have enabled) and saw mention of spam... it was, indeed, in my spam box and is now there again. Thanks for the comment.

Comment author: Desrtopa 05 April 2011 02:00:06PM *  1 point [-]

Instead I think she doesn't think she can say these things because it's "not okay" for me to be both "right" and a "non-believer."

Thus she echoes things she heard from who-knows-where about me not reading the right things, that "these atheist scientists are so obsessed with figuring everything out," etc.

Do you think you would have any luck convincing her that a) figuring things out is generally praiseworthy, and b) if God wants you to believe, then you will eventually arrive at a renewed, stronger and more honest faith?

If a fair God wanted people to believe any particular religion, he would have to provide some evidence so that people could tell which religion they were supposed to believe. If he's not going to intervene, and therefore tamper with free will, as they would say, then if you start out by having faith, you can only pick the right religion to have faith in by luck. So supposing you had started in a different religion, but God wanted you to be a Catholic instead, there should be evidence for you to conclude that Catholicism is right if you look. Having considered this, you cannot simply have faith that Catholicism is right until you have first satisfied yourself that there were sound reasons for arriving at it rather than any other religion (since a person with a different upbringing who experienced a similar "salvation" by God would surely have arrived at a different religion.)

It follows then that the sort of information you ought to be looking for is the sort that anyone who's not already a Catholic would research, not works of apologetics that start out assuming a position of faith.

I think that's the approach I'd use to try and convince people that what you're doing is sound and intellectually honest. You might start out by asking if God wants other people to be Catholics, and if yes, how he expects them to choose.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 03:25:01PM 0 points [-]

This might be a suitable approach, though I think in the "schism," she's simply assumed from the start that I'm wrong. Moving forward, it never seems to matter what I say or do -- many people who she respects and who are quite a bit older and more knowledgeable of theology exist. It's easy for her to ride their coattails.

I would say that she's in a situation of not owning her reasons, and thus she likes to exert the implications of what these other, older people think and recommend (raising our kids Catholic, me trying until my death bed to believe, etc.) but when pressed on any specific point, she's unable to speak to the logic or implications because they are not really her arguments/thoughts.

This is also frustrating because, well, she's my wife! It's disappointing to have someone who respected your intellect and decision making retract their vote of confidence in favor of the views of others to the point where there's really no open discussion going on anymore. She seems so scared of something (more in a sec) in conversations that she's been quite prone to saying things I don't even think she means.

Last night we were talking and she brought up how the OT prophecies came true in Jesus. I asked for an example and she said something vague about Moses and Jesus. I said, "Do you mean that like Moses led the Israelites out of slavery from their bondage in Egypt, Jesus leads us out of slavery and bondage to the evil one and sin?" She agreed that this was what she meant.

I then asked what she would say if I told her that archaeologists have never found any evidence to support anything like the Exodus portrayed in the OT and that some doubt that a figure named "Moses" even existed.

Her response was, "I don't care what you think. You're finite." Then we got into a lengthy discussion of why she actually should care if she thinks that the OT/NT connection between Moses/Jesus is a basis for her belief. I think we may have resolved the discussion in her stating that it wasn't really a basis for belief.

The same occurred when she vaguely said that the Bible and "those other people who wrote about Jesus" were all she needed. I asked who "those other people" where and what they said. She didn't know. It turned out that her notion of these people actually came from me, and that she had internalized my statements as what the wrote being a support for Jesus' authenticity.

In fact, this was my first seed of doubt. If what the gospels claimed about Jesus were true... I found it absolutely preposterous that if someone alive at the same time had the inclination to write about him, they would write only a few lines and state nothing of his miracles, deeds, fame, or the like. So, she obviously could't have meant that, either.

I actually did bring up (before reading your comment) that I found it frustrating when talking to her that it seemed like we didn't even agree on common starting points for approaching the world, and gave as an example her responses that, "I don't need an explanation for everything to believe it." I suggested that in every other area of life, she probably doesn't actually believe that, stating that she would hope that an explanation exists for why her internal combustion engine provides power rather than explodes.

She ended up agreeing that evidence was, actually, important. So there was progress made.

I didn't handle the discussion so well. It's very difficult for me to be gentle but also defend myself. She got quite emotional. When I asked what bothered her the most, she said it was thinking down the road of our friends taking her kids through the sacraments and our kids not being able to participate (how to raise our two daughters is still quite a debated "hot topic") and how monumental a celebration these things are.

Back to what she's scared of. It was incredibly interesting to me that this was what bothered her so much. When I doubted, I was scared (and still am) about not being aligned with the best explanation of "what is." For whatever reason, it actually wasn't difficult to walk away from religion at all if it was false. It's more dealing with the emotional/social consequences and deciding when "enough is enough" on the research front. For her, I was just shocked that this is what had her so troubled.

And this led me to wonder if it really is mostly about community, experiences, relationships, wanting to provide imagined "snapshots" of parties and fun for our kids as they go through these various rituals, etc. I'm not sure what to make of this, but it might be my first experience with someone who literally has belief in belief.

I think she might be far more scared of not having the benefits she associates with belief rather than actually believing wrongly. For me, it was always (unless I'm fooling myself), the latter.

I feel that many of my comments have had pretty negative connotations regarding my wife. I'd like to at least add an addendum that I do care for her greatly and that she is one of the most other-aware, caring people I know. I'm a selfish a-hole compared to her and I can't believe the level of forgiveness and tolerance she has for me and others.

Comment author: David_Allen 05 April 2011 09:37:31PM 1 point [-]

And this led me to wonder if it really is mostly about community, experiences, relationships, wanting to provide imagined "snapshots" of parties and fun for our kids as they go through these various rituals, etc.

Yes, of course that is what it is about. Due to past survival advantages these social conventions and connections are tied to our sense of security. By trying to convince her that her faith is wrong, from her perspective you threaten her safety and the safety of her children.

Fortunately you are not constrained by WWJD and can engage in some instrumental rationality.

Explicitly identify your goals and rank them. Do you want to achieve your own peace on the topic? Do you want to convince your wife that her faith is wrong? Do you want to stay in this marriage? Do you want your children to grow up as atheists? Ranking your goals is important; you may have to make short term compromises to achieve greater long term successes.

Identify behavior that will help or hurt these goals. If you want your wife to feel secure in the marriage you may have to avoid telling her why her religious beliefs are misguided. If you want to maximize your influence over your children's beliefs you may have to negotiate with your wife; if they go to church with her then perhaps they also get matching rationality training from you.

Behave purposefully; have a goal in mind when you interact with your wife and with other people. When you have a goal in mind it is easier to avoid defensive reactions and much more likely that you will achieve the desired result.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 09:49:07PM 1 point [-]

By trying to convince her that her faith is wrong, from her perspective you threaten her safety and the safety of her children.

Indeed, though difficult to abstain from. I should keep this point in mind more, though.

Explicitly identify your goals and rank them.

This post and comments/discussion has quite renewed me in this area. Concretely, I am re-determined to read at least the core sequences and finish the initial books (and, consequently, goal) I set for myself HERE as well as finalize and "publish" (to blog or PDF) my statement of nonbelief started HERE.

The others are good questions -- I'm assuming they are rhetorical, but I do want to stay in the marriage and would like to raise my children to be aware of trusted and proven tools of learning, universal truths, etc., without much about the supernatural debate at all, frankly. While perhaps difficult to do, this has struck me as the most reasonable and decent thing to do. I don't want them to be "indoctrinated" atheists any more than I want them to be "indoctrinated" anything-elses.

When the time comes that they have the mental capacity and interest to pursue that question... let them pursue it. My hope for them is that they find their own answer that satisfies and is found with a reliable set of tools.

When you have a goal in mind it is easier to avoid defensive reactions and much more likely that you will achieve the desired result.

Thanks for that encouragement and for the comments in general.

Comment author: Desrtopa 05 April 2011 03:51:33PM 0 points [-]

I would say that she's in a situation of not owning her reasons, and thus she likes to exert the implications of what these other, older people think and recommend (raising our kids Catholic, me trying until my death bed to believe, etc.) but when pressed on any specific point, she's unable to speak to the logic or implications because they are not really her arguments/thoughts.

Reminds me of a family friend of mine, the wife of the most religious scientist I know, an astrophysicist who has more books on Christianity than astrophysics. I've discussed religion with her a few times, and it seems that her primary motivation for believing is a conviction that people like her husband know what they're talking about.

If you haven't already, you might want to bring up the fact that other religions and denominations also have their intelligent, experienced supporters, and taking it as given that the supporters of any one religion know what they're talking about means concluding that the supporters of every other religion don't. You have to be able to step outside the faith to give everyone their fair shakes. If she's motivated more by her stake in the community, it might move her somewhat to consider that other communities believe differently, and go through a similar song and dance with different doctrines at stake. It might help get her thinking "there are other communities I could be part of if I didn't believe what I believe now."

I then asked what she would say if I told her that archaeologists have never found any evidence to support anything like the Exodus portrayed in the OT and that some doubt that a figure named "Moses" even existed.

In cases like this, I think it's better to find out what she expects, ideally something you don't know about or something she doesn't suspect you already know about, so that rather than justifying the data post hoc, she can take notice of what she would anticipate given her beliefs being true, and then find out whether reality agrees with that.

Last night we were talking and she brought up how the OT prophecies came true in Jesus. I asked for an example and she said something vague about Moses and Jesus. I said, "Do you mean that like Moses led the Israelites out of slavery from their bondage in Egypt, Jesus leads us out of slavery and bondage to the evil one and sin?" She agreed that this was what she meant.

Since I was exposed to many believers' views on Christianity well before I started researching the religion myself, I was quite surprised to find out what the old testament messianic prophesies actually entail. Not only did Jesus never fulfill most of them even by generous interpretations, he never claimed in life that he was going to fulfill many of them. The doctrine of the Second Coming actually arose out of attempts to square the scriptural requirements for the messiah with all the things Jesus didn't accomplish; the messiah has to do them, and Jesus didn't, so it must be that he's going to do them when he comes back.

If you bring this up with your wife, you should wait for a time when she's more receptive to it. It won't make much difference for her to find out if she hasn't already made herself aware that she expects otherwise.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 04:20:56PM 0 points [-]

I've discussed religion with her a few times, and it seems that her primary motivation for believing is a conviction that people like her husband know what they're talking about.

True, and since widespread refutation of theism isn't happening (or accepted), there are always Swinburnes, Plantingas, Kreefts, and WLCs to point to.

It might help get her thinking "there are other communities I could be part of if I didn't believe what I believe now."

I actually brought this up last night. She could conceive of it being possible that had she been a different religion, she might be as passionate/convicted of that community compared to the current one, but she couldn't bring herself to do so when I gave an example of a non-religious community with strong rituals and relationships. She said that it would have to be a community with a "purpose outside herself."

...she can take notice of what she would anticipate given her beliefs being true, and then find out whether reality agrees with that.

Yes, probably a better approach than what I attempted.

I was quite surprised to find out what the old testament messianic prophesies actually entail. Not only did Jesus never fulfill most of them even by generous interpretations...

Well, as you stated below, this is neatly sidestepped by the second coming/afterlife. As far as I know, all or most of the things on that list are said to be occurring at the second coming, or more how I have heard it, are fulfilled in heaven.

If you bring this up with your wife, you should wait for a time when she's more receptive to it. It won't make much difference for her to find out if she hasn't already made herself aware that she expects otherwise.

Indeed, or perhaps as nerzhin suggested, I should just refrain from talking about it at all.

Maybe if I pursue the activities in my "Edit/Update" section of the article above, particularly finishing off some of my reading list and writing my "story" out, it will have a greater impact on her than any direct confrontation/dialog. She's stated that she doesn't like all the "atheist blogs" I read and that I'm "unbalanced." Perhaps were I to display willingness to read theological books, it would remove that objection... or it might reveal that the objection wasn't real and that she'll not be happy with my non-belief even if I fulfill such a requirement.

Comment author: beriukay 04 April 2011 02:39:11PM 3 points [-]

For my own part, I'd say that I need to do more work brainstorming through possible conversation paths, and especially identifying why this all bothers me so much.

You might find that the sense of bother never quite goes away. In my experience, there are some (bad) arguments which will always feel right, and some great arguments which will always feel wrong. There are many ex-theists, for example, who still fear hell, even though they know it doesn't exist.

I admit that I still don't find some of the counters to the Teleological Argument to be very satisfying. I suspect that this is a leftover from my theist days, and I'm really not sure how to get rid of that nibbling uncertainty. I'm not even sure if I want to, because I can use it to try to understand people like my old self. Yeah, the question "If god is so omnipotent, can he make a rock so big that even he can't lift it" points to an obvious absurdity, but I remember hearing it and thinking that the questioner was just trying to be cute and clever, and laughing at the question. It never bothered me after that, and it never contributed to my deconversion. So why should "If everything has a cause, then what caused god?" bother a theist?

One possible trick to help build your confidence is to notice when you do things that are known to be wrong. Make a game out of catching yourself when you engage in the most dualistic or irrational of behaviors (like seeing faces in wood, or thinking you have control over the upcoming dice roll, or even being scared of ridiculously improbable things because of watching a horror movie in the dark the other day). If you haven't taken the time, study the cognitive biases that make you susceptible to wrongness, and try to catch your biggest offenders.

This worked to help me gain an understanding for why I was uncomfortable with losing my religion, and got me out of the corner, so to speak.

Comment author: Kenoubi 04 April 2011 03:55:42PM 3 points [-]

You might find that the sense of bother never quite goes away. In my experience, there are some (bad) arguments which will always feel right, and some great arguments which will always feel wrong.

I get this with money. "Money is just funny looking paper. Why will people accept it in exchange for anything in this vast cornucopia of real goods and services?" I know the reasons, and one argument for it is even intuitive: "Don't I accept money as payment? Do I have any reason to think I'm unusual in this regard?" But every time I think about it anew, the "funny looking paper" argument seems convincing and I have to replay the counterarguments to get myself to disagree with it.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 04:46:48PM 4 points [-]

So why should "If everything has a cause, then what caused god?" bother a theist?

My preferred take is "why should we suppose that anything that's exceptional in its not-needing-a-causeness resembles an anthropocentric conception of God?" Provided that the universe began a finite time ago, there was some event that wasn't caused by earlier events, but that's in no way an argument for theism as we generally understand it.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:04:47PM 0 points [-]

I generally agree and have landed at "if there's something outside our known universe, then we can't know anything about it." There may be objections to this, but if all we have to go on is our observations of causality, physical laws, time, etc... it seems difficult to project assertions on what might very well lay outside of those observationally-derived rules.

In any case, the theist doesn't start with what we observe, the argument always starts with defining god as a necessary being that by definition (redundant) doesn't require a cause. Thus the answer to "what was the first cause?" handily has an answer waiting for it... by definition.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 08:58:12PM 1 point [-]

You might find that the sense of bother never quite goes away.

Hadn't considered that quite as much, but admit it could be a very real possibility.

So why should "If everything has a cause, then what caused god?" bother a theist?

Point taken, but it actually bothers me that theists don't seem to be bothered by anything. Now that I'm on "the other side," it is just astounding that the world is so religiously divided. I think it would bother me as a Christian that my god made the most important thing in all of existence so subtle with respect to discoverability, that billions of people all over the world are well aware of the bible and toss it aside with ease in favor of theology-as-revealed-by-golden-plates or humans-as-non-functioning-thetans.

One possible trick to help build your confidence is to notice when you do things that are known to be wrong.

This seems worthy, but could you connect that practice to how you "gained an understanding for why you were uncomfortable with losing your religion"?

Comment author: beriukay 06 April 2011 10:48:58AM 0 points [-]

Point taken, but it actually bothers me that theists don't seem to be bothered by anything.

Well put. I think that was one of the things that convinced me that I probably wasn't right about god or religion, though it took a long time to get to that level of awareness.

but could you connect that practice to how you "gained an understanding for why you were uncomfortable with losing your religion"?

Sure, looking back it seems sufficiently vague to need clarification, even to myself.

For me, I came from a background where it was pretty much assumed that people are rational agents, and that everything we do is for a justifiable reason. It just seemed to follow that if something feels a certain way, then it was almost certain to be that way. A whole slew of biases could or did manifest here that I couldn't even begin to fathom until I took a class on psychology, which revealed to me the "Just World hypothesis" which turns into blaming the victim.

Now that I am aware of some of the many ways in which human minds fail, I have knowledge of some of the horrible consequences that these happy illusions can lead to. Having a visceral understanding of these horrors gave me a strong urge not to do them. But having had the very same urges just before, I knew how they felt from the other side, and how comfortable they were.

At least, that's what I think I was referring to. Thanks for asking for clarification.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 03:13:40PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for clarifying; I think that makes sense. Basically you both learned more about the biases you had, saw that they were undesirable in terms of their consequences, but also due to the "freshness" of being under their spell, you also saw what it was that made them "happy illusions" and "comfortable."

That does make more sense -- you gained some distance, saw that you wanted to move away from those aspects of your former self, but also saw why leaving the old mindset behind might have left a lingering "botherdness" or "subtle longing" that was difficult to pin down?

Is that even close?

Comment author: beriukay 17 April 2011 02:23:40PM 0 points [-]

I think you said it better than I could have. Yeah, that is very close to what I was trying to get at.

Comment author: jsalvatier 04 April 2011 03:33:16PM *  6 points [-]

There is nothing irrational about caring what the people who feature prominently in your life think of you, all of us care about that. You are human and humans are social creatures who's brains are built to care about that kind of thing. It could be irrational to make that your biggest concern, but it's certainly not irrational to take those feelings into account.

You might consider emphasizing that you are still a good person; that you still love the people around you; that you don't reject the people around you just because your reject their belief.

15 months from devoutly religious to atheist and rationalist is rather impressive speed. I wish you good luck.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 06:26:11PM 0 points [-]

You might consider emphasizing that you are still a good person; that you still love the people around you; that you don't reject the people around you just because your reject their belief.

Thanks for that. I will.

15 months from devoutly religious to atheist and rationalist is rather impressive speed. I wish you good luck.

Well, aspiring rationalist at least. I was, after all, the one voter who said he'd not read the sequences...

As I mentioned above, I like to think I was already an analytical, rational-esque type, just perhaps not with eyes opened to religion. Some thoughts on that HERE.

When doubt arose about Christianity, one of my very first thoughts was that an objective test would be to suspect its falsehood and attempt to prove it back to myself. I even thought this with faith -- if god is real and true, there's no way I could end up at a conclusion of "not god."

For whatever reason, believers didn't think this was a good approach...

Comment author: CharlesR 05 April 2011 05:54:15PM *  4 points [-]

Isaac Newton wrote, "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

I'm not a giant, but you like, you can stand on my head. :p

I was an evangelical Christian for 33 years. You could say, I was born that way. I had John memorized by six. Was baptized by seven. Spoke in tongues by eight. In college, I began to question certain doctrines, but I wouldn't experience the crisis for another 15 years.

I say all that to say this: I've been there. I know where you are. It's lonely. I would not presume to tell you what you ought to do. However, I can share what I think worked for me.

Much of what I tried at first, you've already done. I talked to other Christians. I read some books. I discovered there are atheists on the internet.

Then I came across a blog entry that was a turning point. It was for a retreat called "Release and Reclaim" run by licensed clinical psychologist. I went.

The retreat did two things for me. It helped me let go of my irrational fear of Hell, and it gave me an opportunity to talk to a group of people completely uncensored. When I got home, I came out to my mom, grandmother, sister, and dad. I did this with each person individually on a single day and let them ask me whatever questions they wanted. Then I called my sister-in-law and her husband and told them. I didn't bother with anyone else. By that point, I already wasn't going to church.

Something I've noticed. Christians who knew you before don't quite know what to do with you. But Christians who meet you after don't have that problem. I don't know what it is.

But getting back . . .

I saw a therapist. I think it was helpful. I also attended a group conference call of former religionists from all over the country. We spent a lot of time talking about the relationship aspects.

I tried to make new friends, people who didn't know me in the context of church. I joined the Ventura Atheists and started my own Meetup where mom's and dad's could go to a park and talk uncensored. Most came once or twice, the group never thrived, except for one dad who came every week because he really wanted us to succeed. In a way, he was like a prayer partner (without the prayer).

We moved to a different city.

Then there came a time when I decided. Enough with the books. I was done.

I was comfortable with my atheism.

I found a new passion. I joined a writing group. I stopped tying myself into knots about what I should and shouldn't think. I still struggle with the issues surrounding my marriage. We are seeing a therapist. I think it's helping. I'm not sure.

I hope some of this has helped you. If you decide to try out the support group, message me. I am happy to go with you on a few conference calls. Or you can contact her directly.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 07:05:20PM 0 points [-]

Wow -- I missed this comment completely! Thanks for sharing.

Much of what I tried at first, you've already done. I talked to other Christians. I read some books. I discovered there are atheists on the internet.

Yup. Read those blogs daily except for two. I should check out Leaving the Fold; I've heard it mentioned quite a few times.

That retreat sounds awesome. Too bad I'm in the midwest. Seems like everything cool is happening in CA. My brother is out there; perhaps I could time a visit when that's going on...

Making new friends is another great suggestion. I've kind of done this via the local Minnesota Atheist meetup groups... but my participation probably isn't regular enough to really form friendships yet.

Then there came a time when I decided. Enough with the books. I was done.

Yes -- this is what I'm waiting/hoping/working toward. I think that finishing my book list and writing out my cumulative case will help greatly toward me finally "letting go."

Woodworking has already become a new passion for me. It's been far more rewarding already to work on that vs. read apologetics!

I think our counseling is helping, but am not sure, either. I wonder what will solve our issue about how to raise out children. This seems to be the biggest sore spot. I also have a huge issue with the fact that my wife constantly refers to my non-belief as some sort of choice or willed thing. That allows her to make indirect comments that imply that I've "hurt her by my actions." I'm find with the first part.. but it adds a lot of turmoil to think that she sees me as "having done something to her" rather than seeing as me having gone through something tumultuous and, as a result, she is hurting/grieving as well.

I guess I'd rather have her see this as analogous to me having been diagnosed with cancer vs. seeing as me binge drinking in front of her everynight while she sobs. Does that make any sense?

Even better would be for her to see it as me finding food x extremely tasty while she doesn't like it, but I'll take what I can get. i understand that, to be consistent, she perhaps needs to see this as an undesirable, but at least she could see it as me being "sick" rather than me "intentionally f-ing up our lives."

Thanks again for sharing. I'll keep the counseling resource in mind, though it seems a bit pricey for me at the moment and I wonder if there are other ways to bring about the desired effect for free. I also quite prefer person-to-person interaction and, thus, if I were closer I'd definitely be looking into the retreat, regardless of it's $500ish cost.

Thanks again for sharing.

Comment author: CharlesR 06 April 2011 07:52:36PM *  0 points [-]

The conference call is $30/month on a sliding scale (which means if you can't afford that, she will work with you). There is also private forum for in-between. The call is twice a month on Skype. If you're interested, let me know. I can hook you up.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 08:27:18PM 0 points [-]

Definitely, and $30/mo isn't bad. Perhaps I didn't see that correctly and thought it was much more. Or, re-thinking about it, perhaps I was thinking about the email dialog fee of $300/10 emails instead. I'll get back to you.

Is there any "commitment period" or could I pay, participate for a couple months, and then opt out? I can see the benefit of recurring participants... but not sure if that's what she's doing or it's just a "whoever-shows-up" kind of thing.

Comment author: CharlesR 06 April 2011 11:59:24PM 0 points [-]

I would just call. Introduce yourself. Tell her I sent you.

Comment author: CharlesR 06 April 2011 08:05:11PM -1 points [-]

I'm not crazy about that analogy. You aren't sick.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 08:23:19PM -1 points [-]

Agreed... but perhaps you'd agree it's an improvement over "willful, malicious, intentional sabotage of family, children, and relationships?" :)

Hence my "improved version" was to see it as a mere preference, like food.

The end goal, which I didn't mention, would be: "Wow, you've really put a lot of mental time and energy into this and seem to know what you're doing. I accept your conclusion as rational and have nothing more to say about the validity of your stance."

Comment author: CharlesR 07 April 2011 12:48:17AM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure how much progress there is to be made. When you married her, you made certain promises . . . promises you've broken. She feels betrayed.

For what it's worth, we're in the same boat.

Comment author: jwhendy 07 April 2011 12:56:29AM 0 points [-]

Interesting one -- I wrestle with this quite frequently. When is it valid to break a promise? I don't think it's that the promise wasn't broken, per se; I said X and then said that I was going to do ~X. That much I get.

It's when people insist that I'm still obligated to do X that makes me wonder.

I guess you're not necessarily saying that I'm obligate to continue to do X, either (e.g. raise my children as believers), just pointing out that I said X and now I'm not holding that up.

I'd be interested to hear more thoughts on the idea of "promise" given these circumstances (coming to believe that the entire foundations of the promise, that at the time was made with the best of intentions and understanding, are wrong based on newfound understanding and learning).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 April 2011 02:25:25AM 2 points [-]

I'd be interested to hear more thoughts on the idea of "promise" given these circumstances

Well, since you asked... a few things:

  • The conditions of your relationship are different than they were before. That's just the way it is. Previously negotiated agreements may have to be renegotiated to account for those changed conditions. The question becomes what new agreements you and your wife are able to negotiate, if any.

  • There's a difference between breaking a promise and repudiating it. To insist that you're still obligated to do X makes sense in the case of a broken promise, but not in the case of a repudiated one. It sounds like people think you've just broken certain promises you made going into the relationship, when the reality is you're repudiating them.

  • CharlesR talked about the way your wife feels; you replied by talking about whether your behavior was valid and what your current obligations are. These are both important questions, but they are different questions. Keeping the distinction clear in your head might be helpful. Understanding what her emotional reactions are, and what her emotional needs are, is helpful. Knowing what obligations you're willing to commit to and which ones you aren't, and making sure she knows that, is helpful. Trying to engage with the former by talking about the latter, or vice versa, is unlikely to be helpful.

Comment author: jwhendy 07 April 2011 03:16:35AM *  0 points [-]

The question becomes what new agreements you and your wife are able to negotiate, if any.

Agreed, and sounds reasonable.

To insist that you're still obligated to do X makes sense in the case of a broken promise, but not in the case of a repudiated one. It sounds like people think you've just broken certain promises you made going into the relationship, when the reality is you're repudiating them.

That's a helpful clarification. Seems slightly semantic to me and/or that it's not going to be possible to convince those who think I've broken it that I've really repudiated it... but it at least makes sense to me. I guess I didn't know there was a specific word for my explanation: "see as false the entire premise the promise was based on."

CharlesR talked about the way your wife feels; you replied by talking about whether your behavior was valid and what your current obligations are. These are both important questions, but they are different questions.

Another great point, and you're correct that targeting her feelings by responding about my obligations probably will be a mismatch of a conversation.

One thing I'd like to add, though, is that I think a significant amount of her emotional reaction very well might be based on how she sees my actions. Thus, even though you're correct to a degree that engaging her feelings by talking about my obligations might not be helpful... what do you think about the fact that she might literally be emotional distraught over the fact that she really does think I'm obligated to do X, whereas I'm saying that I'm not, any longer, obligated to do X.

In other words, the cause of some portion of her negative feelings is, perhaps, that she thinks I should still be obligated to raise my children as Catholics.

Now, imagine that some portion of negative emotions is due to pain, fear, etc. about the possible outcome of not doing that.

But at least some might be purely about our disagreement. Therefore, if I could address the factual discussion of whether or not I really am obligated, some of those negative emotions would seem to have lost their source.

One last way... imagine a loved one dying and also thinking they were involved in a large financial scandal. Some negativity is going to come from both the loss and the tainted view.

Now imagine that someone clears their name. You've still lost someone close, but at least it's not tainted by something that wasn't true. Hence, she still might mourn the future she once envisioned, but it might not be tainted by thinking I'm not of my word or whatever else is going on.

Comment author: CharlesR 07 April 2011 05:25:00PM *  1 point [-]

TheOtherDave hits on some great points. I don't have much to add except to say I don't see so much a distinction between 'breaking' a promise and 'repudiating' one. In both cases, you break the promise. When you 'repudiate' you have good reasons.

I cannot stress enough the importance of TheOtherDave's point 1. The conditions of your relationship are different. Whether the marriage succeeds or fails will depend on what sort of new agreements you are able to reach.

If you haven't already done so, it might be a good idea to sit down with your wife and write down all the areas of contention so you are clear what they are. If you're seeing a therapist, you can do this in your regular session. Hold off on proposing solutions. Just get them all down. (But not every area of contention, just those that can be traced back to your change of worldview.) Then take them one at a time.

While you're doing all this, keep in mind, you have an unfair advantage. You can remember what it was like to be a Christian. She can't remember what it's like to be an atheist.

Comment author: jwhendy 07 April 2011 05:42:14PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for sharing.

If you haven't already done so, it might be a good idea to sit down with your wife and write down all the areas of contention so you are clear what they are.

That's a great idea. We didn't so much write down contentions in our therapy session, but listed what we'd like to see improve if we could fast forward and be looking at ideal, future versions of ourselves. Not the same, but similar. I think listing the hurdles themselves might be more direct and tangible than working from the indirect method of just painting a mental image without such hurdles pictures.

You can remember what it was like to be a Christian. She can't remember what it's like to be an atheist.

Good point, though I think my ability to really "relive" my former mindset is quite diminished.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 April 2011 05:37:26PM 0 points [-]

I don't see so much a distinction between 'breaking' a promise and 'repudiating' one.

The distinction I had in mind is that between "I promised I wouldn't X, and I Xed, but I continue to consider myself bound by that promise and I would like us to consider that an isolated failure" on the one hand, and "I promised I wouldn't X, but I no longer consider myself bound by that promise and would like us to consider it no longer in force."

Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 04:46:51AM 6 points [-]

There would be nothing irrational about pretending to believe so you could have better social relations with your friends.

Comment author: magfrump 04 April 2011 05:38:03AM 22 points [-]

A priori, maybe not. But it could be stifling and unpleasant, it could contradict a sense of truth, and it certainly is not how I would want to live my life.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 April 2011 05:59:44AM 2 points [-]

Well said.

Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 02:44:20PM 1 point [-]

Being rational should help you win at life. Do you think the author of the top post would have a better/happier/more fulfilling life if he (a) told the truth about his religious views but alienated his wife and friends, or (b) maintained his social relationships, mostly kept quiet about his atheism, and on rare occasions pretended to go along with other peoples' religious views?

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 April 2011 04:49:09PM 9 points [-]

You are generalising from yourself. This can lead to obnoxious advice.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2011 03:16:17PM 4 points [-]

Sure:if the only choices are to stay in the closet or come out of the closet and lose all social relationships, and if staying closeted leads to being happier and more fulfilled than losing all social relationships, then the rational choice is to stay closeted.

Those are really big "if"s, though. I'd say in that situation it's worth devoting some resources to looking for third options.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 05:52:24PM 3 points [-]

...if he (a) told the truth about his religious views but alienated his wife and friends

I might not have been clear, but my wife and close friends already know. This might have been a reasonable path to entertain where this not the case (I guess TheOtherDave made that point below already). They are already alienated and I don't think there's much hope of "going back" or trying to preserve ignorance in the rest of the acquaintances who don't know.

(b) maintained his social relationships, mostly kept quiet about his atheism, and on rare occasions pretended to go along with other peoples' religious views?

Well, I already do the first part (keep quiet) most of the time. The "going along with" is quite difficult when it involved actions. I guess I would put it like this:

  • I already don't believe in god. That's that.
  • Given this, it has seemed most consistent to me to not kneel at Mass, make the sign of the cross, bow my head or lip-sync along with various prayers, and the like.
  • In addition (also unstated, so you wouldn't have known my personal conclusion on this), I resolved quite early on that I'd gladly (pun!) trade happiness for certainty/alignment with the best description of "what is."

Your (a) is not possible, but that's not necessarily your fault for suggesting it as I might have been unclear about where things are. The biggest problem with (b) that I have is that it actually combines three sub-actions: 1) maintain social relationships 2) mostly keep quiet about my atheism 3) on rare occasions, pretend to go along with others' religious views

Could you make the case for #1 and #2 being dependent on #3 or explain what #3 buys me? Is it just helping with having things not socially awkward? I can understand that, but I suppose it feels quite short term. I just turned 27 and can't imagine that were I to know these people for the next 20-60 years that it wouldn't come up somewhere, somehow either from me or from the various other common relationships who are probably bound to say something about it within those 20-60 years.

Thus, it seems like it might be worse to "fake it" for as long as possible since my confidence is low that I'd 1) be emotionally satisfied "faking it" in the first place and 2) that doing this would make for a permanent social-awkwardness-alleviator.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 April 2011 04:20:02PM 3 points [-]

He thinks so. And in a situation like that, if you think so, you're probably right in thinking so.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:37:30PM 3 points [-]
  • "He" = me?
  • "thinks so" = that (a) is preferable to (b) or vice versa?
Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 02:23:03PM 1 point [-]

There was an episode on the television show House where a brain injury forced a man to always tell the truth. The condition was destroying his life to such an extent that he underwent an extremely dangerous operation to attempt to change his condition.

I think the TV show had it right because telling the truth all the time would impose an enormous cost on you, one almost nobody would be willing to pay. You need to pick your battles with telling the the truth, weighing the cost and benefits in each situation.

The author of the top post needs friends a heck of a lot more than he needs to adopt a total truth telling lifestyle.

Comment author: Desrtopa 05 April 2011 04:53:37AM *  2 points [-]

Even if that path weren't already closed to him, how comfortable would you be with friends you know wouldn't accept you if they knew what you were really thinking? Friends who casually degrade the things you believe, not knowing you're offended, but who wouldn't stop even if they knew? Friends who you know through a shared activity which is a major part of their lives, which you can never discuss honestly with them? I'd have a hard time thinking of a relationship like that as friendship.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 06:02:43PM 1 point [-]

Posted above before seeing this. Perhaps this was the answer to my last question, then. That friends are more valuable than me expressing my internal thoughts.

I'll have to reflect on that. I'm still inclined to disagree, but moreso because we might not be agreeing on definitions. For example, I might look at "telling the truth" and see how were I to be compelled to tell every fat person they were fat or every person I found ugly that they were ugly, that this would be quite undesirable and increase my overall social dissatisfaction.

But I'm looking for suggestions about telling the truth about myself. More on that in a sec.

Similarly, how are you defining "friend"? People to spend time with and who share common interests? I think that's fair, but what if I added in the clause that a friend should "accept me for who I am"? I'm not saying that you need to accept this definition, but you can see how the advice might change were such a clause included.

In other words, to withhold the truth about myself from others in order to preserve friends seems to reduce to acting like someone else because were my true self to be revealed, I would have no friends.

But, quite possibly, the very definition of a friend is one who knows who you are and sticks around. So... it's kind of a catch 22. Keep "people-to-spend-time-with" by not "telling the truth"... or "tell the truth" and keep a lesser number of "people who accept who I am"?

In the end, I would absolutely agree that I need friends... but we might be disagreeing about what "type" of such "friend entities" will be most rewarding.

Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 07:13:04PM *  3 points [-]

I think for most people there is diminishing marginal benefit to having each additional friend. If this applies to you and you can find many people to spend time with who can accept you for who you are then you should indeed be truthful and open about your atheism rather than pretending to realize that your friends have a point about the "truth" of their faith.

I'm relatively confident that a huge percentage of well-educated Americans are basically atheists, don't attend church, but also don't do anything to overtly disagree with their associates' and families' religious views. Given that so many people successfully follow this strategy you probably could as well.

The more unusual your beliefs, the harder it is to find people who can accept you for what you are. At some point those of us with what are considered to be bizarre beliefs have to choose between honesty, and having people who wish to spend time with us. I'm in my forties and looking back at my life I think I have got the trade-off wrong by often being too honest about what I really think.

Eliezer's genius lets him get away with a degree of honesty that most of the rest of us who have strange beliefs can't afford.

Here is an article I wrote for Forbes magazine explaining how excessive honesty came close to costing me my career.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:51:42PM 0 points [-]

I think for most people there is diminishing marginal benefit to having each additional friend.

That's probably true; the quality of each relationship decreases if one tries to add more and spend equal amounts of time and energy on each.

If...you can find many people to spend time with who can accept you for who you are then you should indeed be truthful and open about your atheism...

Probably poorly explained by me, I do have a handful of friends in this category. We get together a few times per month, still have a great time together, and pretty much leave religion alone even though they know very well where I stand. Probably 2 of this handful are very close.

Even then, though, there is something missing, as I don't even like to talk about the "meta" issues brought about by non-belief (mental anguish, difficulties in marriage, etc.) -- it's easier to do this with non-believers.

I'd actually love to find a "new-best-friend" who is a non-believer, or at least "try it out" if that can be done...

I read the article. Tough situation as well. I can see where you're coming from. I think I'd think twice if my job or livelihood were at stake. And I do -- I stay fairly anonymous online and have never mentioned my employer as I would never want anything somehow tracked back to me by the work arena.

While the social arena is uncomfortable, this is a scenario where I just don't know if I could live in silence or acquiescence when it comes to actions. I can keep my mouth closed for sure... but to actually "play house" when it comes to things like participating in Mass, singing praise and worship, praying, saying "Amen," and the like... I don't think that's in the same category as being docile and hospitable to contrary opinions.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 April 2011 07:50:26PM 2 points [-]

For example, I might look at "telling the truth" and see how were I to be compelled to tell every fat person they were fat or every person I found ugly that they were ugly, that this would be quite undesirable and increase my overall social dissatisfaction.

Let's flip that one around. What do you think might happen if you were uninhibited about telling people what you liked about them?

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 09:41:07PM 1 point [-]

Intuitively, I think I'd make a lot of people happier, but it might depend. If others were around, it might make them jealous. Or if it were the "wrong" sorts of things (attractiveness, how great their breath smelled, or anything else that makes someone a little uncomfortable), it might have the reverse effect.

If you mean it simply and basically as in telling people I really appreciated their suggestion to a problem, their work ethic, skills I admire, their level of compassion, etc... then I think it would make many people happier and feel more valuable.

They might reciprocate, as well. Double win.

Comment author: Xachariah 08 April 2011 01:51:30AM 0 points [-]

Please remember that you're Generalizing from Fictional Evidence.

Human beings are not perfect liars. A primary problem is that we are rather well evolved to detect deception from other human beings, especially our mates; there is no reason to believe he could hide his deconversion from his friends or his wife. Another problem is that humans tend to slowly believe the lies we tell. Would you consider it a beneficial side effect if he accidentally reconverted to Christianity due to this deception?

There is a cost/benefit for every lie we tell. Generally it turns out that honesty really is the best policy. This case seems to be no different.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 05:37:51PM 0 points [-]

Absolutely -- I think I would feel like a liar. Heck, I already do sometimes when I feel group-pressured into saying meal blessings ("Bless us O Lord") or concluding with "Amen" at large events where I'd rather go along with it rather than having someone find out via my non-participation vs. personally informing them.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2011 02:19:27PM 6 points [-]

I would add to magfrump's points above (with which I entirely agree) that, in so doing, I would also be contributing to the difficulties of other people in my same position.

Basically, by remaining closeted, I'd be defecting in a Prisoner's Dilemma.

One can debate whether that's a rational choice or not, but leaving that aside: if it is a rational choice, then I have important values other than rationality.

Comment author: MinibearRex 04 April 2011 05:40:57PM 4 points [-]

Is he going to be comfortable lying to his wife? Will his wife agree to lie with him? Plus, long term lies are difficult. They're not impossible, I've done it occasionally, but they can cause problems, not the least of which is that you can start to slip into doublethink.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:07:00PM *  3 points [-]

Well, as stated above, my wife already knows. She has been "sort of" lying for/with me, though. This is mostly when she's at an event and I'm not there and everyone expects that I should be there. She doesn't want to be the one to tell them so she makes something up or simply says that I'm home with our older daughter.

She wants this to stop, though. She's actually my biggest advocate of "going public" with something as widespread as Facebook or something. That suggestion surprised me. I think she thinks I'm being "sneaky" by not wanting it to come up and thinks I should just get the "coming out" over with -- she may very well be right!

Comment author: alexflint 04 April 2011 08:45:18AM 5 points [-]

It's damn difficult to separate what you believe from what you're pretending to believe at the same time as updating a major chunk of your beliefs. This is really unrealistic for most humans.

Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 03:31:47PM 2 points [-]

Don't most of us at some point or another pretend to not be attracted to an "off limits" hotty, pretend to like people we really don't, pretend to find interesting something our children do, pretend to believe in our boss's vision for success, pretend not to believe in stereotypes, pretend to like a friend's cooking,...

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 06:13:17PM 0 points [-]

You have great points, but these are generally one-time events (maybe except the interest in our offspring's activities) or extremely low-investment. What about being asked to make a concerted, extroverted attempt to be the best friend of that person you don't like?

I find the concepts of look-once-then-avert (hotty), fake smile (unliked friend), smile and saying "Woow" (kid), enthusiastic-nodding-then-dissent-with-coworkers-later (boss), and the like much easier than actually spending the next x years actually living and acting like I agree with these. Again, perhaps the children's interest one is different, as could be the boss situation.

I'm inclined to agree that the sign of the cross and saying Amen is not a big deal and probably on par with a fake smile.

Then again, where does one draw the line? What if the unliked friend started inviting you to something weekly? Where would you draw the line and eventually find some way to say that you'd just prefer not to hang out with him that much/at all? It would seem that these forms of self-taxation are mostly to get through a situation where dissent would be untactful. One-time-use tools, not a fix for a lifetime.

Would you agree?

Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 06:55:31PM 1 point [-]

I agree with you that the costs of deception are much lower for one-time events.

I think that lots of people do pretend for long periods of time to like someone they really dislike if they're going to be spending lots of time with the person because he is a relative, friend of a friend, neighbor, coworker, or frequent customer.

I'm a professor and when a student comes to my office hours I always act as if I'm very happy to talk with her. Often this is true, but other times I would prefer to be doing my research rather than talking with a student. I currently intend to follow this deception strategy for the rest of my teaching career, and indeed I think I would be a bad professor to the extent that I didn't follow it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 April 2011 07:43:52PM 1 point [-]

That approach may need some fine-tuning-- I had a professor who seemed happier to see me than my actual friends.... but there wasn't that much of a real connection.

Figuring this out wasn't some huge trauma, but it was a little unnerving.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 06:06:56PM 0 points [-]

Agreed, and why I replied above that this is most difficult when actions are involved. Faking "beliefs" via non-action, non-participation, non-dissent, non-verbalization is pretty easy, from my experience over the last 15mos.

Not feeling conflicted when I either do or don't make the sign of the cross when we're having people over for dinner, whether to actually lead prayers when we host because that's the "man's role" in the Christian house in order not to make people suspicious by having my wife lead them (which is what we've been doing) is much harder.

Comment author: khafra 04 April 2011 09:29:30PM 1 point [-]

It probably won't help socially, but there are alternative prayers.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:33:44PM 0 points [-]

Fantastic. I actually bring that up in a non-prayer way quite often, as the idea that god provided the food that I earned via work and my wife made via effort is silly, indeed.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 04 April 2011 06:47:14AM 6 points [-]

Replace "believe" with "be straight." Would you now say this to a deeply conflicted, closeted gay person?

Comment author: James_Miller 04 April 2011 02:12:19PM *  4 points [-]

There's a significantly lower cost to pretending that you are religious than to pretending that you have a different sexual orientation than you actually do.

Comment author: jsalvatier 04 April 2011 03:38:27PM 3 points [-]

Being closeted gay would probably prevent you from finding a partner whereas being closet atheist doesn't stop you from thinking atheist thoughts.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2011 04:30:31PM 0 points [-]

Can you expand on your point, here?

I'd agree with this statement as far as it goes (at least, for sufficiently strong understandings of "closeted") but I'm not sure what follows from it.

Comment author: jsalvatier 04 April 2011 06:08:39PM 1 point [-]

I mean that it suggests it might be less of a burden to be closeted atheist than closeted gay.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2011 06:44:34PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for clarifying.

The problem, I think, is that neither religious belief nor the lack of it is entirely a matter of sitting around thinking thoughts... it also has a social component.

In fact, the social component is often quite significant.

Come to think of it, the same thing is true of being closeted and queer. It's not so much the sex that creates the problem... for many people, sex is generally done in private anyway, and it's not too hard to find sexual partners who will stay silent. It's the social life around the sex: the ability to flirt, and to preen, and to talk about who I'm attracted to, and to brag about what I did last night, and to introduce my partner to my friends, and to invite my friends to my wedding, and etc.

In both cases, the real problem with living in the closet is that you're forced to live without a supportive social structure.

So it's not clear to me that being closeted is really all that much less of a burden for atheists in religious communities (or religious believers in atheist communities, come to that).

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:02:22PM 2 points [-]

In both cases, the real problem with living in the closet is that you're forced to live without a supportive social structure.

Bingo. To expand, while this might go away in the future, most of my mental energy has been toward thinking about religion, theological arguments, objections to those arguments, and what the best course of action is for raising our two children.

So... when someone in my current social circle who doesn't know me says something like, "So what's new?"... I am left feeling like I must sound like I don't do anything with my life because I can't actually talk passionately about what I'm passionate about.

In addition, I consider what I'm attempting to be basically valiant. I had a question about a big topic and I tried to dive in hard to see what I could make of it. It's extremely disappointing to have your friends think you're doing it wrong, concluding the wrong things, reading the wrong things, thinking wrongly, etc. when you think you're doing something noteworthy and giving it your best shot.

Again, per the original post, this is even more frustrating when these critiques and views are coming from those who have never felt compelled to find justification for their religious beliefs.

So, yes, I think it's the supportive social structure that's the issue. My parents have never been believers and neither has my 15-year-older half brother. Our connection has actually increased tremendously and they area great source of morale for me.

It's tough to have been well respected by a circle and have earned a reputation of being studious, critical, analytical, nerdy, extremely persistent and determined when it comes to problem solving, intelligent and the like about a wide range of topics, and then to have that respect vanish. There was never a problem with how I went about tackling other problems... but when how I tackled this one led to non-belief, my thinking and methods were suddenly all suspect.

I have described it as not having anyone around that was simply "pro me" anymore (as in, supportive of me applying my previously admirable skills toward religion just like I did other areas).

Comment author: jsalvatier 04 April 2011 08:14:38PM 0 points [-]

I of course agree that both are burdens. My intuition is that being closet atheist would be less of a burden, but I am not sure I can say why verbally. Perhaps it's simply because my atheism seems less central to my life than my sexuality, and I could see feeling differently in different circumstances.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2011 10:07:01PM 1 point [-]

Sure. And I don't mean to claim that there's anything wrong with that, just that it may not be so for everyone.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 04 April 2011 06:40:57PM 1 point [-]

Anyone seen this Dennett talk on atheist clergy?. Here's the adjoining paper.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:04:27PM 1 point [-]

I have, though not the paper (thanks!). I stumbled on it as a related video to another AAI 2009 fantastic talk by Lawrence Krauss about cosmology.

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 April 2011 04:46:34PM 2 points [-]

There's a significantly lower cost to pretending that you are religious than to pretending that you have a different sexual orientation than you actually do.

That's a very confident-looking assertion. Surely that would depend who the person in question was and who was doing the measuring.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 April 2011 01:21:35PM 2 points [-]

If you're more comfortable putting on a facade all the time and never being able to be honest about matters touching on your position, then yes, but if the cost of any path is social discomfort, it's best to determine which would entail the least, and for most people that would cause no small measure.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 April 2011 05:40:14AM 1 point [-]

I concur. Religion is a social signalling mechanism. There is no reason you must cripple yourself with respect to sending (possibly) rational signals just because you lie outwardly rather than inwardly.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 06:21:16PM 1 point [-]

Quite an interesting response. Could you clarify what "variety" of "religion" you are using as your baseline? My former "breed" at least doesn't think it's mostly about relationships and mutual reassurance; they think it's intellectual defensible and that atheism is untenable. Though, they think that without individual investigation; they just have a vague notion that someone, somewhere that is a Catholic, said that atheism leads to nihilism, can't deal with the "infinite regress", hasn't solved abiogenesis, etc. and thus it's just flat out wrong.

Perhaps I should have clarified that social engagements where religion is not mentioned or brought up can be quite pleasant.

But does it change you answer if at least some of these regularly occurring engagements involve talks or statements from those who don't know my situation regarding how Jesus is the only way, how non-believer parents raising children are probably raising kids who will fail at life, that it's preposterous that some people actually believe god doesn't exist, and the like?

Maybe this doesn't matter and it's just something to "take in the chest." I have to admit, it is difficult when ignorant people [unknowingly] hurl their insults at you via a topic that you've strained your brains on for more than a year.

Comment author: Costanza 04 April 2011 07:02:58PM *  1 point [-]

...how non-believer parents raising children are probably raising kids who will fail at life,

I'm fixating on this one phrase. For some reason, I can be extremely tolerant and friendly towards people who believe that the world only goes back to 4004 B.C., or that the world is balanced on elephants on a turtle, but christians who claim that the value of christianity is that it leads to success in life -- earthly life -- drive me nuts. Probably the last vestige of my old religious upbringing.

Anyway, doing a quick google search shows that in the United States, the most successful religious denomination is...Hinduism . I wouldn't have guessed, but it makes sense in retrospect. I imagine the numbers would break down differently in India.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 10:13:00PM 2 points [-]

...but christians who claim that the value of christianity is that it leads to success in life -- earthly life -- drive me nuts.

Well, they probably wouldn't put it that way if you said it like that, but I agree that this is how it comes about. Probably if you cornered an "elder" in my community, they'd say that Christianity is primarily important for the soul.

But at a parenting talk I was just at, someone commented that "next to raising your kids to know the Lord, loving your spouse well in front of them is the best thing you can do."

I probably didn't define "fail" very well -- I think they mostly mean that the Christian child will grow up to have better values and morals, not necessarily more money, prestige, or the like.

Comment author: jwhendy 04 April 2011 05:36:34PM *  1 point [-]

Sorry, but my reaction to this was a big, "Ick." More below where you've asked a more specific question.

Comment author: MrMind 19 April 2011 01:07:53PM *  2 points [-]

It seems to me that you tried to renegotiate the entirety of your social contracts by brute forcing others into rationality: it's not surprising that you experienced a certain degree of frustration...

My suggestion is to invest effort only in the critical nodes: your wife, your closest friend, etc and leave the rest of your social network to react as it may, provided that you don't seek direct confrontation. With very low priority nodes, you can just pretend to be agnostic, a position which seems prone to elicit much less evangelization... You could just pretend that you lost your faith and nowadays you're just very confused.

OTOH it's crucial that high priority nodes get a precise picture of your beliefs, and that you ask them to be accepted as you are. Again, it's not necessary to be confrontational, but you must be firm in asserting your rationality and equally firm in demanding that others accept that from you (obviously, you have to offer the same degree of tolerance).

In intersecting beliefs domain, such as raising your children, it's not difficult to hack religious memeplex with rationality methods: expose your children to the 12 virtues in a context-safe environment, and manage for them to have as much space as they need to grow their own posteriors. Even if a mind has been buried under tons of religious conditioning, you can generally expect it to evolve into a rational point of view, given the right attitudes. It is also my very personal opinion that it's much more important for your children to grow in a loving family than for them to become mini-Yudkowski at the age of 10

Comment author: jwhendy 19 April 2011 03:00:19PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the comment -- I haven't really tried to "brute force" many others at all. I might have written my post in an unclear manner. My fears actually stem from the fact that so many don't know, yet I still participate in events now and then where I see a lot of the "uncritical nodes."

I think we're generally on the same page. Close friends know where I stand, but we keep our discussions to the "meta-level" (how it affects life, my wife, etc.) and things generally go pretty darn well.

Good point re. the children. I think my wife is considering my suggestion to educate them about religions rather than teaching her a specific one as literal truth, and teaching only as fact those things which are universally accepted. She's not a huge fan of it, but at least she's understanding my hesitancy to simply jump in and teach her Catholicism from the get go.

Side note: It just occurred to me this morning that first communion age is 7. It really struck how unlikely it is that a child that young can have much if any comprehension of the subjects, arguments, evidence, etc. that would be required to profess assent to a wafer being the literal body of god incarnate. But that's the age set for this.

Comment author: MrMind 19 April 2011 04:20:08PM 3 points [-]

I used the words "brute force" in the cryptographical sense, meaning to argue with someone until you deplete his stack of objections: though possible, a frustrating and time consuming effort it is...

I forgot to add a thing, which I get you already are doing: substituting uncritical nodes - with which you have to fight for acceptance - with nodes more aligned with your meta/beliefs... After all, the beauty of low utility nodes is that they are easily detached. I think this has also the benefit to increase the overall utility of your social network's immediate neighbourhood...

Comment author: jwhendy 20 April 2011 03:37:53AM 3 points [-]

meaning to argue with someone until you deplete his stack of objections: though possible, a frustrating and time consuming effort it is...

Indeed! In fact... the stack is never ending, I'm finding :)

I also agree about uncritical nodes. This seems to have happened quite naturally, and even in cases where I didn't think the nodes were even uncritical. I'd estimate that 50 out of 300 people in my religious community know. Most of those know, but don't ever say a word to me because they didn't find out except by gossip and probably just pretend they don't know (but they tell my wife they're praying for "our situation," so I know via her that they actually do know...).

What's interesting is that 2 who were in my weekly men's small group, contact pretty much stopped contacting me at all except when they need help with something (I got asked to help move furniture off a truck for one's in-laws) or when there's a larger party that my wife is invited to, and I get invited by extension.

Anyway, I found it quite interesting that contact even with them, who I thought I had a closer relationship with, dropped off so severely and suddenly.

I suspect that as the word gets out, most of these nodes will prune themselves anyway. I find that the friendships that "stuck" were those that had more going for them than pure religious agreement.

Comment author: MrMind 20 April 2011 08:21:07AM 2 points [-]

Too bad this kind of shock can't be produced systematically... it would be a wonderful way to detect 'false' friends.

Comment author: jwhendy 20 April 2011 07:56:23PM 1 point [-]

Indeed. There's probably just not enough intensely dividing subjects to repeatedly be able to pull something like that off. Just keep changing religions and political affiliations? :)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 April 2011 04:01:00AM *  1 point [-]

I realize I'm late to the party, but I recommend reading this essay by Nick Szabo, about the difference between Objective and Intersubjective Truth.

As applied to your case, Christianity may be objectively false. Nevertheless, there was something about it that made it possible for you to turn your life around.

Comment author: jwhendy 05 April 2011 03:56:36PM *  1 point [-]

Absolutely, and I've had to wrestle with that, as well. This was even more challenging for me than simply having "been wrong" -- I had to be willing to "rewrite" my story, something I've been claiming as true about myself and what happened to me for 9 years (a long time).

Edited 10/2011: Removed some details I decided to try and purge from passer-by readership.

I would heavily credit the strong relationships and intimate sharing fostered by my religious participation with the development of proper methods of dealing with life's ups and downs, though. This is not something unique to religion, but perhaps had I never been religious, I wouldn't have experienced the tremendous benefits that such practices bring about.

As such, I'd really, really, really like to find local "rationalists" interested in social support and remedying deficiency since I'm no longer receiving such support via a religious equivalent.

Comment author: mutterc 06 April 2011 02:36:12AM 0 points [-]

Engage in a parody of attempting to de-convert your interlocutor. A holy water squirtgun (a la "The Lost Boys") might be useful. Lay hands on them and cast out the demons of irrationality ("the power of Darwin compels you!")

[Save that for the really annoying folks]

Comment author: DanielLC 19 April 2011 07:06:40AM 0 points [-]

Why Darwin? I'd expect you'd use an atheist at least.

Comment author: jwhendy 06 April 2011 06:20:59PM 0 points [-]

I'll keep this in the back of my mind just in case the need arises.