Something’s not right.
That was what I thought as I read about hypnosis on the Skeptic’s Dictionary (SD). Wasn’t hypnosis putting somebody under a spell, a trance? It might have appeared fun when I was quite young watching Paul McKenna, but since then it had been explained to me that hypnosis was wrong, an unholy use of power, and ultimately could open a window to demons.
But the SD explained what hypnosis was and what it wasn’t, and how it worked by purely natural explanations. It didn’t reference anything supernatural. It just explained in common sense terms what was going on. After reading a lot of convoluted far-fetched explanations of hypnosis and coming across offers of “Buy this book and you will be hypnotising someone to forget their own name in 5 minutes!”, this explanation was quite refreshing.
I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness (JW). The view of hypnosis as dangerous and wrong was just one of the things I was told. But, if the SD was correct, and it certainly presented a better explanation that literally putting someone into a trance, didn’t the organisation know this?! Couldn’t they have really done the research themselves?! Wasn’t it a bit close-minded to give their own explanation, when, surely they weren’t actually scientists themselves? It just smacked of propaganda to me.
But then, I was raised to see people outside the belief as wicked and destined for destruction. Having strong friends outside the group was actively discouraged. I couldn’t quite reconcile the 5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses (at the time, now over 6 million), with the 6 billion people on the planet. How on earth would everyone get the chance to be saved or not? The organisation had existed for over 100 years, and still less than 1/1000th of the population was to be saved? That’s a lot of death if Armageddon comes tomorrow, I thought. It was a puzzle, but I had faith so I let this discomfort pass me by.
I have never been comfortable with censorship. I could never understand why it was wrong to see what other people had to say, because if I had the truth (which I honestly believed I had), what did I have to fear? If anything, looking at the counter-arguments of others would only strength my conviction because, surely, there was nothing they could say that I couldn’t answer? That’s not arrogant really if you believe you have the truth. But the JW society frowns on that. You are not encouraged to read material that contradicts what the Governing Body says. And you are explicitly told not to read apostate material. (An apostate is someone who was part of the JW faith but now has left and expressly opposes it).
Still, I couldn’t understand this. It seemed like the Governing Body wanted to treat members like kids; not able or intelligent enough to make their own minds up and defend themselves from external attack. I’ve never shied away from a fight if I think I’m right. I will argue with anyone because my interest is the truth. So there is no fear of losing because if you lose, well you weren’t right to begin with. This seemed like common sense to me; why didn’t JWs view it the same way?
JW doctrine is that ghosts and clairvoyants and many supposedly supernatural things, are supernatural, but not caused by genuine ghosts or genuinely clairvoyant people, but through demons deceiving and being evil. But, SD explained ghosts, psychics, and clairvoyants all very well without needing to invoke a supernatural explanation. Now, this didn’t make the JW beliefs wrong of course, but it did seem to me that the Society could explain to its members the truth behind charlatanism and “supernatural” events. But it seemed like they wanted to fit demons into the explanation. Again, this is an organisation that is responsible for feeding information to millions of people, so shouldn’t they be extremely careful about what they produce as fact?
Finally, I came across a link at the bottom of this page:
Called the Watchtower Indoctrination process.
I also happened across a link (I spent 20 minutes trying to find the original but can’t anymore) linking to Bible contradictions. I was very hesitant at first to even click the link; afraid that Jehovah himself was watching me and I would be committing a grievous sin by looking at apostate material. But, I plucked up the courage to do it, and rationalised the action to myself by thinking that I would find the contradictions laughable, false, and easily refutable. Ultimately, I believed that my belief would win out.
For me, the bible is either the perfect inerrant word of God, or it isn’t. It’s as simple as that. I don’t accept that the bible is the word of god but also contains errors. I know liberal Christians might accept that, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Because, how can the bible be god’s message to man, whilst he allows it to be mistranslated, erroneous, or confusing. No, I’m sorry, that doesn’t work. Either the bible is god’s perfect word, or it is a lie; a myth; a collection of old primitive stories. This isn’t a false dichotomy, it is simply the only rational way to view the bible.
I always believed, and of course was brought up to believe, that the bible contained no errors and no contradictions. I knew unfortunately, that if I could find even one, that would destroy my beliefs of inerrancy. This was the very first contradiction I remember seeing:
The second book of Kings says that Ahaziah was 22 years old when he became king. The second book of Chronicles says he was 42 years old. Alarms bells went off in my head. ‘How can that be?!’, I thought. I immediately went downstairs to retrieve a copy of the New World Translation, which is the bible translation Jehovah’s Witnesses use. I looked up both passages: they both said 22! I felt a cold shiver – as one might feel when they discover themselves being watched, or part of a huge conspiracy. Had the Society re-edited their version of the bible to remove this contradiction?! (The bible isn’t talking about two different persons by the way – Ahaziah’s mother’s name is shown in the verses and it’s the same in both accounts).
I read more and more contradictions and I could not rationalise them away. I could understand faith in tough times, or believing in god even though I couldn’t see him; but I believed the evidence for god was good anyway. But I couldn’t use faith to ignore blatant contradictions. That was dishonest as far as I was concerned. I was afraid. Genuinely. The possibility of beliefs I’d held my entire life being false was dawning on me. It was a feeling of being thrown out in the cold; like the world is collapsing around you. The closest I can describe it for those who haven’t been through this, is by using a scene from the first Matrix film: Neo is strapped into a chair and Morpheus asks him: “have you ever had a dream that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”
Whilst this is happening, Neo is incredibly disorientated, as the mirror in front of him seems to dissolve; as the very world around him fades and become unreal; his sense of reality breaks down.
He awakens, in the real world. It is nothing like he thought! It is cold; harsh; alien; bleak. It is frightening, and there is real danger, real death, and there are no happy endings.
This is what it’s like to de-convert. It is like waking up from a comforting dream. It is like realising it’s Monday morning when you were convinced just for a moment that it was Saturday all over again. It is not pleasant. Ignorance at this point, seems like bliss.
At the time I was a fan of a popular collectible card game which led me to a fan site for it. The creator of the site was a devout Christian and had a forum for discussing Christianity and the bible. This was about two months after my first SD experience above. I had read a lot more since then about the lies of the Watchtower Society. Sheer time prevents me from listing everything I read and all my experiences in that time, so I hope you, the reader, will forgive me. Suffice it to say that reading many “apostate” sites that I was forbidden to, exposed the contradictions, turnarounds, and lies that the Governing Body had made in its past, and continued to make. Re-writing its own history, changing new editions of old books to cover errors and failed predictions, blatantly lying about what it said in the past, changing its mind on the issue of organ transplants and blood transfusions – because of which people died…are just some of the things the organisation was guilty of. It could not be the truth. I was sure of that now.
But, I was also sure that if the JW belief couldn’t be the truth, nothing else could. And the reasons for this are that the problems with the Jehovah’s Witness organisation are applicable to ALL religions. If I reject the bible as the word of god, then bangs goes all bible-based belief. Having come across the counter-arguments for the existence of god during this short time, I learned about logical fallacies; how to spot them in others’ arguments; what made a good argument; the difference between a valid and a sound argument; circular reasoning etc. I saw the argument from intelligent design destroyed. The ontological argument was also easily refuted. The popular cosmological argument or arguments from morality that I had been raised to believe as genuine hard proof of god, had in fact been debunked by sceptics and atheists decades, even centuries ago. I felt like I was catching up on an age of philosophy. So because of this, I rejected all religion. It would have been very easy to turn to another form of faith; another belief system, to keep my mind comforted and happy. But that’s not me – I am proud to say I am intellectually honest, or at least I like to think I am and try to be wherever possible. I am proud of myself now for that, because that’s something I have achieved. But I’m also proud that that’s the person I was before, because otherwise, I would never have had the guts and courage to challenge my beliefs and face the facts, however unpleasant.
On this website forum, I argued with theists and used my new powers of critical thinking to debunk their beliefs. Imagine going your entire life trying to convert people and preach to them what you believe, to in a few short months destroying these very same arguments in others! Because I used to be a theist I thought (and I still do) that this gives me a very good way of arguing with theists, because I know how they think and their arguments. It was a liberating experience, and I suppose inasmuch as I was arguing with theists and debunking their beliefs, I was destroying the remaining walls of belief in my own mind too. One day when the website was down, I searched out other forums for discussion and argument, and came across the Internet Infidels. I posted here for a long time and was even a moderator in two forums. I made many friends and enjoyed my stay there. I don’t post there anymore, but not because I don’t want to, but because I do! I don’t want to flit in and out; I would want to spend far more time there. But because I simply can’t, it’s something I’ve had to leave off altogether. I remember Rowland98 there, an Administrator. I made good friends with Alliey and Doug (I know they won’t mind me mentioning them – if you ever read this: hi!) I also remember Magus55: you will never meet a more fundamentalist fundie than him! I also made friends with Plognark on the MTG fanatic site, and he came across to IIDB later as well.
It was also on IIDB I came across the poster Ebonmuse and visited his website called Ebon Musings. I have said elsewhere that in my opinion this is the best atheist/evolutionist website on the internet (next to mine of course). I read all his essays. This was a massive help in learning more about atheism and why it made so much sense. His essays brilliantly destroyed religious belief and explained that not only was it wrong, it was unnecessary and caused more harm than good. Since then I have actively encouraged people to read his material, and at least one good friend of mine is in constant touch with Ebonmuse. He also created and maintains the blog Daylight Atheism.
I have skipped over the blackest part of my life though. I came home from a night out one evening. It was not a good night and I was upset over something, admittedly. (What it was isn’t important.) I remember just breaking down crying on my bedroom floor. Desolate. Destroyed. Inconsolable. I had lost the will to live. There was nothing. There was no god. No future. No happiness. I would die. Facing your own mortality when you’ve believed your entire life in a potential everlasting life is hard. I would see my own parents grow old and die. There was no point to life. To call my worldview nihilistic at this point would have been an understatement. I remember my dad trying to console me and being replaced with my mum, who unfortunately attributed my state to the fact that I had rejected my faith. She was right, but she didn’t understand why! In the end she spent hours regurgitating the same old tired religious bullshit that was exactly what I had rejected. How embracing Jehovah etc and committing to his way of life was the only way to find happiness. But it was exactly that which I didn’t believe anymore. I remember sitting there tuned out, quiet for ages, just wishing she would leave. I love her very much, and she was just trying to help. But she couldn’t see beyond her own worldview and as such, she was useless in helping with mine. She could not help with my doubts about belief, because to her there were no doubts!
I was off work for two weeks after this. I was very depressed but because of taking time off, my doctor’s note for work stated “stress”. I didn’t like the idea of being signed off with stress, because I felt like I was taking the piss; and I knew some people in work would think that. At the time I didn’t care, but the truth is of course I wasn’t stressed – I was severely depressed. I unashamedly admit I considered suicide. But my depression wasn’t chemical or hormonal, or the result of a mental disorder. It was simply the destruction of an entire worldview in a short space of time, resulting in total nihilism.
Some may say that this is why de-converting people is not good. And indeed, I would never wish what I went through on anyone, except perhaps bigots like Pat Robertson, or the deceased Jerry Falwell who is now very much not burning in hell. But remember, the belief system was to blame. Do I blame the facts for putting me through that living nightmare? No! I blame the belief system for a lifetime of lies and indoctrination. We should never be afraid to de-convert people! It should be done with care if possible, but never should a lie take precedence over the truth where lives are concerned.
I relapsed into depression several times after that, for reasons other than just my de-conversion.
But when I started to get over that spell, which lasted a few months, I was glad in the end to have the facts. When I asked myself: “would I go back in time and change anything, given the pain of what I went through?” the answer was ‘no’.
I wrote a few essays myself on old websites I had. The desire to write and debunk was always strong with me since then. I spent most time on IIDB during 2004. For those who are wondering, I don’t attribute any real depression during that time to England going out of Euro 2004 to Portugal. At that time I still cared about the England football team. I remember having my head on a stool as the last penalty was taken (I didn’t look) and leaving it there for about 20 minutes afterwards.
But I digress. Towards the autumn of 2004 something happened that was good for me personally. It is irrelevant to religion or anything I’ve mentioned here, and I guess you, the reader, will just have to wonder forever what it was! It doesn’t matter really. What matters is that it was a positive change in life for me. I could talk about seeing a lovely girl not long after this for a few months if you will forgive me for wandering once more. I fell in love with her (at least I think I did), and we had some beautiful times. It never really worked for other reasons. By the spring of 2005 there was not really anything of us in that way to speak of. By the summer we were good friends but didn’t keep in touch much. I still say to this day that one evening I spent just sitting outside with her rivals all my memories as one of the greatest nights of my life. Of course, there is one night in particular back in May 2005 that also ranks up there. And I’ve had two nights since just spending time with an amazing girl that I will also cherish forever.
I’ve digressed again haven’t I? Sorry.
The point is that since my de-conversion I’ve learned things about life. Everyone does, I guess. Maybe it’s called growing up. Or maybe it’s just experience, and if it’s experience then it doesn’t matter how old you are; wisdom isn’t necessarily about age. It’s about knowledge and what you’ve learned – so anyone can be wise!
I adopted a rational worldview. I don’t believe in god because I’m an atheist. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in god. My worldview doesn’t stem from my beliefs; my beliefs stem from my worldview. My worldview is rationalism; evidence-based; logic-based; nature-based. I believe everything in the world can be explained naturally. I believe that only through evidence and study can we come to know anything. Although I’ve always loved science, this rational worldview is best expressed by science. In a choice between the dogmatic traditionalistic absolutism of religious faith and the testable repeatable evidence-based logical theories of the sciences, there is only one winner.
Rationalism for me means a life of pure freedom. A life where your mind is free from superstitions as great as god(s) and karma, to idiosyncrasies such as believing you are unlucky or fated. Atheism means that there is no one watching over you. There is no Big Brother in the sky, no one to see your secret deeds whether good or bad. This means that there is no eternal reward or punishment for anything you do. It also means that everything you do, ultimately over time, will fade. But this means that this life that you’re living now is the most precious thing you’ll ever have. Every day, every week that goes by will never come again. The friendships and relationships you have are of the utmost importance. Because there is no Big Daddy to appease or suck up to, or be afraid of, you should be nice to people because it’s nice! You should treat people like you want to be treated! You should not steal or murder because it hurts people, and hurting people is wrong. Always. No one needs a god to tell them this, and if you do need a god to tell you this then you belong in a mental institution.
To quote one of Joss Whedon’s popular TV shows:
“If this life is all there is and in the end nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do; the smallest act of compassion, can be the greatest thing in the word.”
Being a rationalist, and being able to think critically is very empowering. It gives you confidence in yourself, your ability to think, your ability to talk, and your interactions with other people. It makes you sure of yourself, but humbles you to realise all the ways in which you can be wrong. It serves as a constant mental checkpoint at what leaves your mouth and what enters your mind. If you say something irrational or realise the error in your own thoughts, a red flag immediately raises. It also comes in handy as a nonsense detector when someone starts talking to you about crystal healing, reiki, chi, takionics, ghosts, psychic energy, pyramid schemes, chain-letters, George Bush, and the like.
In short, rationalism is a worldview with no drawbacks, and only positives. It encourages honesty and truth. It encourages knowledge and science. It promotes interest in the common good, and cultivates respect and tolerance for other people, especially those you might not personally agree with. It makes you appreciate the evanescence of life; which demonstrates how valuable it is, and why humans should work together and live together in peace. It demands that we respect the environment and other animals, and leave a legacy for our descendants. It means that we must each give our own lives meaning, and not get given a purpose from someone else.
Some say that life is short. Well it is. But this is rather paradoxical, as a funny chain e-mail I came across once said: “Life is short. What the hell?! Life is the longest thing anyone can ever do! What can you do that’s longer?!”
There’s probably no point making sweeping statements about your life when you’re in the middle of it or in my case, still young (and virile, with the torso of a swimmer and the legs of a footballer). But what I can say with certainty is that de-converting is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, and will be, no matter what else happens in my life. Because I’m convinced that whatever good happens in my future, will be founded on the worldview of rationalism I developed once I shed the dark superstitious mental baggage I was carrying for years.
The irony is that whilst de-converting, it was like leaving somewhere warm and bright for somewhere cold and dark. But really, religion and theism belong to the darkness and the night. And the night tends to get its coldest…right before dawn. Right before the sun finally comes up. As religion and faith are the stifling oppressive night, so rationalism, atheism, and also science, are the liberating piercing light. And without light, life would be impossible.
I’ve hope I’ve given you a glimpse of that light, or at least what it meant to me. Thanks for reading.