I suppose I’m writing this blog as a jab at my reader Alison, but I think it has relevance for everyone, so I don’t feel too bad. For at least two years, Alison has attacked my position that religion causes dysfunction on several grounds, but one of the most common is accusing me of using anecdotes to prove a point. As you can hopefully see from my previous post, it is not necessary to point at a story and say, “See… this one story proves my whole point!” One anecdote is an interesting topic for coctail parties. A few hundred anecdotes are data. Furthermore, psychology already has principles in place that apply to religion, and the causal connection is well established. I believe I’ve covered this topic adequately, so I will not rehash it.
I certainly don’t intend to dig up thousands of testimonials just to prove to one skeptic that there is a common theme to thousands of testimonials. However, I’d like to point the readers to a wonderful website specifically for ex-Christians to tell their stories. ExChristian.net is filled with personal anecdotes from people who have left Christianity. Some stories are snarky, some are angry, and some are just plain sad. I’d encourage anybody — atheist, Christian, or otherwise — to spend some quality time getting to know some of these folks through their own experiences.
I suppose one of the reasons Alison has gotten hung up on anecdotes is that she may not understand how psychological studies gather data. To put it simply, the standard model for sociological questionnaires is literally a way to quantify anecdotes. For instance, if we ask a thousand high school students for their family background and other environmental factors, and then ask them to rate how important a variety of religious practices are in their lives, we are literally gathering a thousand personal anecdotes — just in the form of raw data.
Anecdotes don’t prove the existence of God. That’s because God is claimed to be an actual being that exists outside of the human mind. However, when we study the human experience, we have little choice but to rely on the testimony of humans. While it’s true that fMRI and other scientific advances have given us a great deal of knowledge about the mechanical functioning of the human brain, we are still utterly incapable of experiencing another person’s existence. We must rely on their testimony to know what’s going on.
In light of this, I’d like to offer you a few snippets of testimony from ex-Christians.
Our Sunday school teachers and youth pastors would always encourage us to bring our friends from school to church, but I never wanted to. First of all, I didn’t have any friends at school, because I was taking to heart the whole “You are in this world, but not of it” ideology. I also took on God’s view that anybody who was not a believer was “wicked.” So, anybody at school was to me a potential convert, but nobody for me to actually be friends with, other than to potentially witness to. But I didn’t want to bring these people to church, because church was my safe haven, free from the evil, evil world. I realize now, looking back, that I would even try to figure out if my teachers were Christians or not, and if I determined by what they said or did that they must not be, I don’t think I learned from them as well because I would subconsciously discredit what they — or anybody who wasn’t a Christian, for that matter — had to say. This indoctrination was very subtle and I didn’t even realize I had this mentality and how unhealthy and off-base it was at the time.
I can relate to this person’s experience because it’s strikingly similar to mine. For that matter, my ex-wife told me the same thing about her school years. In fact, over the years, I’ve heard this story from so many ex-Christians that when I hear the beginning of it from someone new, I can finish it for them. I’m a very outgoing person who makes friends easily, but in school, I had exactly one friend. I was afraid of everyone else because they weren’t as Christian as me. If that ain’t dysfunction, I don’t know what is.
Despite the fact that I have freed my own mind from the shackles of belief, the venom of Christianity still flows through my life. In the mind of my beloved wife, I am now the enemy – to be hated and feared. I am less than human because I cannot bring myself to accept that it is right to send most people in the world to a lake of eternal fire and torment.
If there is anything I’d like to say in closing, it would be that Christianity isn’t harmless. It really is that bad. It may be too late for me to live free of the damage it can cause. Perhaps by sharing this, I can impress upon those for whom it is not too late the importance of not allowing this hideous disease of the mind to gain any foothold in your life.
I feel pity for this man’s wife, as well as for him. This story, too, is repeated by thousands of ex-Christians. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a half a dozen people I’ve known who have experienced the exact same thing. At the last Atheist Conference I attended, I spent over an hour talking with someone who used to be a Christian Counsellor and after deconverting, got a real degree and now helps ex-Christians through the mental anguish of leaving the faith.
The first recollection I have of realizing something was wrong was when I first legitimately considered the question “where did God come from?” I was probably 13 years old and assumed somebody would have an answer to this fairly basic question. I posed it to my Mom and she had nothing to give me. I asked other people with a fair amount of shame, assuming that I was either not supposed to be asking these things, or at the least, I was stupid for not knowing the answer. It didn’t take long to realize that this was, in fact, a GOOD question to ask, and that began the unraveling of the tall tales I’d been fed. Unlike Santa Claus, for which I have no recollection of the time the news was broken to me, this one seemed a bit more important, even in my barely adolescent mind, since the stakes were quite a bit higher. I mean I would still get presents under the tree, so no big loss there, but on the other hand, there was the vague understanding that I was going to die and NOT come back to life.
Spend some time on ExChristian.net. It’s a good site. I don’t think you have to go there with the intention of proving that Christianity causes dysfunction. Frankly, I’m still at a loss as to how anyone could spend any amount of time socializing with ex-Christians and not see the connection. (At the risk of divulging too much personal information, I know that Alison has not, so I don’t entirely blame her for her position.)
Personally, I’ve used ExChristian.net as a catalyst several times. When I feel unmotivated, or get tired of hearing the same tired arguments over and over, I read the stories of those who are on the road to recovery, and it reminds me of just how traumatic my own deconversion was. When I remember the years it took for me to overcome my own mental dysfunction, I am reinvigorated, and recommit to what will surely be a lifelong battle to combat the poison that is religious indoctrination.