Monday, November 19, 2012

reluctant apostasy

I'm irritated by the mistaken assumption that fury motivated me to drop the faith-beliefs of my childhood. Like some other modern-day apostates over age 25, I wasn't searching for intellectual reasons to justify angry rebellion or revenge. To the contrary, as my earnest learning/thinking on a range of topics continued to erode my confidence in the basic ideas, I still felt committed. Over time, my shrunken "faith" began to resemble the preposterous definition from the movie Miracle on 34th Street: "Faith is believing when common-sense tells you not to." While I teetered on the brink of total rejection of my faith-beliefs, my emotions were guilt, shame, and anxiety. I wasn't enraged by awful incidents inflicted by imperfect believers. I was disappointed by the ongoing failures of the faith-answers in pragmatic reality.

Furthermore, my atheism is highly inconvenient for me, so I'm perturbed by the accusation that I chose irrationally to upend my life. My religious family is excellent. My fellow religious believers were excellent. My religious leaders were excellent, with one sad exception (misuse of funds). I wasn't resentful beforehand; I was quite comfortable. Everyone including me considered religion to be a major ingredient of my stable self-identity and my position in society.

It started early. My parents were deeply devoted to their religion before my birth—my father converted in his teens. Throughout my developmental years, we were active members of religious communities. When I earned my bachelor's degree, I attended a proudly religious university. When I found my first professional job, I worked at a proudly religious organization. Therefore the majority of my friends and acquaintances professed faith-beliefs similar to mine.

Then why would I suddenly despise and attack one of the most predominant factors of my life up to that time? I wanted to be convinced again. I wanted to resume thinking like the rest. I asked my questions, but the good-intentioned replies were vacuous. I heard the same reassurances that I had heard before, but now I couldn't stop noticing counterarguments. I no longer heard mystical descriptions of the ultimate reality beyond the reach of systematic investigation—I heard tall tales, which the speakers and listeners treated seriously due to wishful thinking and social pressure.

Consequently, I don't know of any human action that could have halted my slide. It wasn't anyone's fault. Those around me weren't the "problem". My eventual atheism wasn't created by fixable glitches in my parents' religion, such as old-fashioned music, inadequate lessons, or strict rules. None of those trivialities were sufficient to drive me away. Instead, I renounced the entire enterprise because it was just...too...unreal. I understand that it's easier for believers to dismiss any example of apostasy as a desperate and/or childish emotional response. But that interpretation doesn't fit me at all.

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