Monday, July 15, 2013

Stuff I used to think and write.

I love a good deconversion story.  Honestly, I'm not too sure that I'd be interested in reading another atheism book along the lines of God is Not Great or The God Delusion.  Yeah, I get it, there's no good reason to believe in a god.  I'm good.  However, I'm still fascinated by deconversion stories.  It doesn't even have to be about Christian apostates like Jerry DeWitt, whom I wrote about a few times just recently.  One of my favorite parts of reading Going Clear, a book about Scientology, was when it went into the personal stories of people who broke away from L. Ron Hubbard's horrible cult.  It doesn't even need to be about religion necessarily, as reading Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea also gave me some stories about people who lost their faith in Kim Jong Il and the Juche ideology.  What can I say?  I love stories about people changing their minds, which probably explains why The Autobiography of Malcolm X remains one of my favorite books to teach.

What's really great is when I get to see these changes slowly take place, either in people I know or people with whom I'm familiar via the Internet.  I'm a subscriber to Don Exodus's channel on Youtube.  I used to refer to his videos when I'd debate with Christians about evolution, as he was a Christian who accepted (and studied, quite thoroughly) the theory and posted several videos that explained how it worked and what it was.  Eventually though, things changed, and there was a bit of a change in tone to his videos when it came to discussing religion.  Then he finally went and posted his "Why I am no longer a Christian" video.  If you want to see it, here it is, but you won't need to watch it to follow along with the rest of what I'm writing.

I also subscribe to Jaclyn Glenn's Youtube channel.  It's basically just her commenting on her views on various issues, and I usually find myself in agreement with her, but the reason why I subscribe is that her videos are well-made, and she's usually pretty funny.  When I started watching her videos, she would sometimes mention the fact that she considered herself a Christian.  This didn't really matter to me too much one way or another, as she wasn't making videos that were proselytizing or engaging in apologetics.  (Not that I never watch those kinds of videos, but I can only take so much.)  As with Don Exodus, she started to get more critical of Christianity to the point where she joined the agnostic camp, and not too long after that, she went full-blown atheist.  Her videos on that pretty much say stuff that I've heard before, but she's not just repeating the usual talking points either.

Her most recent video really spoke to me, and I found myself watching it a couple of times.  If you don't have the time to watch it, here's a brief summary:  She takes a poem that she found that was written by a Christian who was responding to unbelievers who criticized her faith.  Jaclyn then proceeds to eviscerate the content of the poem, brutally mocking it for its totally baseless assertions.  Honestly, it comes off as a little mean-spirited, especially considering that she starts off by saying that the video is for Christians.

And then she drops the bombshell.  Who wrote that poem?  She did, back when she was a believer.  And her whole point in the video is to express that she doesn't think that Christians are stupid, as she didn't think that she used to be stupid.  Just because you might take issue with a set of beliefs - and you might even find them to be genuinely absurd - that doesn't mean that you necessarily take issue with the believer.

This got me to thinking, as I had recently unearthed an old journal of mine, along with a bunch of other writings.  The journal was from when I was 20, and I kept it while spending a semester in London.  And back then, I was a believer.

There wasn't too much about my faith in that journal.  Like most guys that age, I was a little more interested in girls, so that takes up the bulk of what I wrote about.  (And honestly, that stuff is far more embarrassing than the Jesus stuff.)  I dealt with my faith more in my creative writing, which could be another blog post entirely.  Still, there were a few bits and pieces that I came across.

In one passage, I was recounting a conversation that I had with this one girl who was part of the same program as me.  She was very religious and very serious about her faith.  Her name was Alex, and I remember her telling me that she "looked forward" to death, because that was when she got to be with Jesus. While I liked the idea of being with Jesus, I couldn't get on board with the whole "looking forward to death" thing.  Anyway, in our conversation, she insisted that God did not have human characteristics, and it was a folly to attribute human emotions to him.  What I specifically wrote about in my journal was that I insisted that God had a sense of humor.  My "evidence" for this was the platypus and the fact that sometimes after my cat was done cleaning himself, his tongue would keep sticking out, and he'd go about like this for some time, causing everybody in the family to get the giggles at how silly he looked.

Oh, in case you're wondering what that loud slapping sound you heard earlier today was, that was me smacking my own forehead when I read that entry.  Sheesh.

Funny I mentioned the platypus.  I know that back then, even though I didn't write about it, I was pretty much a full-on evolution denier.  I remember even Robin Williams had a joke about the platypus, where he said that it was God's way of giving the finger to Darwin.  I thought that joke was brilliant.  Now though, well, I actually know something about evolution, and I know that the platypus is exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find if evolution were true.

Another incident I wrote about was a time when a Christian approached me on the bus and began proselytizing.  When I told her that I believed in Jesus, she told me that it wasn't enough.  I had to go to church, and I had to give my life FULLY to Christ.  I disagreed with her, but now I realize that yeah, that pretty much is exactly what Jesus asks of his followers.  She had also told me that I needed to read my Bible, and I granted her that point in my journal.  Heh.  It took me almost another ten years until I actually tried reading my way through it.  I wonder what would have happened if I tried earlier?  Would I have done the same thing I did at age 27 when that horrible book finally pushed me over to atheism?  (Only to have my atheism re-confirmed by listening to the awful, tortured reasoning of apologists who can excuse any barbarity through "context".)  Or would I have hemmed and hawed my way through it, putting on willful blinders so I could keep believing what I wanted to believe?

When I was in London, I spent about a week in the hospital.  I contracted Hepatitis A during spring break when I went to Egypt.  In my journal, I wrote a the following about my experience, nearly verbatim:
Funny thing, at the hospital, there was this chair beside my bed.  I thought about what my mom told me when I was in the hospital for heart surgery (when I was three).  She told me that Jesus had sat with me the whole time I was there.  I took great comfort in the thought that that chari beside the bed was his.  He's probably watching someone else in that room now, still checking up on me every now and then.
Yup.  That was me.  My words.  I may not have been a church-goer, but dammit all if I didn't believe that Jesus sat right next to me the same way I believe that my dog sleeps under the computer desk.  If you're a believer, I just don't know how to put this in a way that won't sound somewhat insulting or condescending, but this is reminiscent of reading a letter to Santa that you wrote when you were five.  You were damned certain that letter was going to St. Nick.  Why the hell else would you write it?  But of course, when you see that letter now, you write it off as being a child who didn't know the difference between fantasy and reality. Reading stuff like my journal entry, well, it's like reading that letter to Santa, but you wrote it when you were twenty.

Did it give me comfort?  Yes.  Does that have anything to do with whether it's true or not?  No.

As for the bit about how when I was three, I can't help but think of a recent incident with my son, who's going to be three next month.  He got out of bed crying and told me that there was a monster in his room.  When we got in there, it turned out that the shadow of his stuffed monkey, which sits on top of his rocking horse, makes kind of a creepy shadow on his wall.  I took it out, but Logan kept insisting that there were monsters outside his window. Being the kind of guy I am, I tried to tell him that there were no such thing as monsters. Guess what though?  The concept of "real" versus "fantasy" means nothing to a kid his age.  It was like explaining to a dog how to play checkers - it just wasn't going to sink in.  So, I switched tactics and told him that the monsters were friendly, like the ones from Monsters, Inc.  His reaction?  "I want to say hi to them!"  He then smiled, turned around, and I didn't hear a peep out of him for the rest of the night.

So, I had Jesus.  Logan has Mike and Sully.  They both provide comfort.  But what's he going to do when he's twenty?  When I continued reading through the journal, I found myself writing a lot about all of my friends who came by to visit me.  In fact, they got a lot more page space than the Nazarite got.  And ya know what?  Some of them actually did sit in that chair.  I'm thinking that while the comfort of a fantasy was nice, the comfort of my friends went a bit further.

P.S.  If you also like deconversion stories, I just came across this one, but I'm not done reading it, so I can't tell you if it sucks or not.


Ingrid Johnson said...

Are you checking whether I read your stuff? Actually the encounter with Jesus happened to you when you were eight and in the hospital for a ruptured appendix. You went through a lot of pain and discomfort, it was good that you believed Jesus was watching over you. At age three you didn't know or understand anything about Jesus, and it was the time when your father and I had little interest in religion, that came a year later. You believed in Spiderman than.

Lance Johnson said...

I have no way of checking exactly who's reading my stuff.

As for the Jesus at my bedside thing, yeah, okay, that makes a bit more sense. To tell the truth though, I have a more vivid memory of you guys being at the hospital with me, and the one thing that I really remember the best was how Poppy bought me the Millenium Falcon. Just saying.

And please, show some respect. It's Spider-Man, with a dash.

Ingrid Johnson said...

You got your first Spider-Man comic when you were three while in the hospital, right?

Lance Johnson said...

Not sure. I have a Batman comic with a publishing date of 1976, so I think it might be that one. That doesn't mean that I didn't get a Spider-Man one too, only I no longer have that one.

Douglas Richardson said...

Mr Lance , I loved your blog post , its nice to hear from other non believers on how they came to thier conclusions. It was well written and if it would make sense to attribute this adjective to it , it was warm , like a fireplace hearth in winter. It gives me comfort to know that you even though you are a stranger , broke out of the shackles of religion and came to your own understanding of reality. Keep strong my friend , I will be looking forward to future posts.

Tony from Pandora said...

May I ask what your heart surgery was for? Being a surgery nurse, I find that stuff very interesting. Was it a septal defect?

And if you prefer not to say, I respect that...

Lance Johnson said...

Douglas - Thanks! I've written on this topic many times before. I sometimes feel as though I've said all there is to say, but then I wind up finding new material! I appreciate your kind words.

Tony - I had a pulmonary stenosis. But, as my mom pointed out, the Jesus at the chair thing was actually when I was seven and was having my appendix taken out.

Tony from Pandora said...

Hmmm... that's strange... If I were Jesus, I'd have shown up for the heart surgery... but who am I to question...?

Lance Johnson said...

Maybe he figured that Mike and Sully had it covered.

Ingrid Johnson said...

Tony, Lance was too little to believe in Jesus when he had heart surgery. But there were other people who prayed for him, his grandmother, his father, close friends etc., so in my belief, Jesus was there too.

Tony from Pandora said...

Moms are simply the best!!!