Converts, Tue, Jan 29 2013 #(1470)

Jan 29, 2013

This probably won’t make the front-running list, but I wanted to extend my humblest thanks to Professor Dawkins and the whole rationalist/non-religious community on RD.net, for being among the coolest and noblest of online communities on the web. Your great ideas and contributions to discussion topics never leave me unsatisfied, especially on the more controversial subjects such as Pat Condell’s videos and the publication of NOMA-related articles and the ‘softly-softly’ arguments advocated by Daniel Dennett, Phil Plait, et al. The razor-sharp wit of the community cements my trust in it as something different from the average collection of online friends and followers of a particular set of ideas.

I had considered myself a Christian for many years without daring to doubt it, becoming quite fearful of not believing the texts in the Bible I instinctively sensed were a bit ‘off’ with regards to accuracy and bearing on the truth. After trying to force myself to believe in the Bible’s more repugnant moral teachings for the preservation of my ‘soul’, I abandoned belief and moved onto agnosticism, hoping that an honest view of “I don’t know” would resonate well with a fair god who would grant me reprieve for leaving one particular religion. I had seen snippets of Richard Dawkins on TV before, I remember distinctly watching the end of ‘Root of All Evil?’ in 2006 and thinking, “oh dear, that poor fool is in for a shock when he dies”. In all honesty, I still believe that documentaries like ROAE are quite badly edited, and the Professor does come off as ‘arrogant’ at times, perhaps beneficial for Channel 4’s airing of rival or response-based programmes trying to rebut his claims. If the channel benefits financially from causing controversy there’s little that can be done for now. However, after reading The God Delusion in 2008, I realised the humble, gentle brilliance of the scientific method. Not perfect and not claiming to be, it helped sieve the supernatural assumptions and attitudes out of my head and put reason at the forefront of my approach to belief, debate and discussion. I no longer believed in an afterlife, nor did I feel the need to. There is, after all, grandeur in this view of life.

Thanks to the ‘Four Horsemen’ books I’ve seen the need to appreciate the material world for what it is and enjoy life to the full, without gambling on what may happen after the brain has ceased to function. I hope, though I must remain uncertain, that I have become a better person in moral and behavioural terms, and I now see practical, progressive Humanist morality as far better for governing the treatment of humans and living organisms than a supernatural, relatively vague and unregulated system of practices, usually geared towards the service of a deity or oneself.

I was quite dismayed in recent months when a close friend I made after we both revealed we were atheists, and subsequently found to have a lot in common with, returned to the Catholic Church and became outspoken about their religious life once again. I offered no protest, but asked why they felt the need to return. Bizarrely and somewhat troublingly, they stated their initial conversion to non-belief was the result of anger at their childhood indoctrination into the church, and were now making their own decision. This left met at some unease, especially given the recent swathe of exposures of the Catholic Church’s criminal practices, not least the horrendous abuse of power over the children in its care. So, now, they are a voluntary practicing member of the organisation that indoctrinated and effectively mentally abused them as a young child. I decided not to mention the possible similarities to Stockholm Syndrome or abuse victims who subsequently marry their abusers voluntarily. They also have sadly taken on some of the church’s more judgemental stances, including one which almost invoked my own instinctive tribal loyalty to the Anglican church; “The Catholic Church came from Christ, the Protestant Church was founded for political and selfish reasons.” A previously rational, kind and very un-silly friend whom I cared very dearly for had turned into a credulous, dogma-dosed prisoner of the Matrix Catholic Premium Version 2.1. I have been determined not to shun or ostracise them, or treat them any differently for their beliefs; lest we become what we condemn.

I was initially scared this would be part of a larger desertion of reason at the start of the new decade, predicted by, among others, the genuinely arrogant, poorly-informed literary piggy-backer, Alistair McGrath. Compounded by the victory of the Conservative Party (Christian Right, ultranationalists and faith school lobby) and the Liberal Democrats (Casual superstitious Left appeasing Islamic Imperialism); Pat Condell’s unfortunate decision to associate with a publisher of conspiracy theories; the renewed zeal of the “you’re just as bad as the fundamentalists” proponents, and Christopher Hitchens’ tragic recent diagnosis with cancer of the oesophagus, I sincerely feared that 2010 might herald ‘The End’ for the modern atheist and sceptic community’s presence and strength in numbers, or at least a significant stunting of it. Thankfully, it appears from the site’s continued strong support and the magnificent endeavours undertaken by the grassroots community, the ‘Horsemen’ made up of average men and women on the ground, the future does look a bit brighter than I may have feared.

I hope many more people can feel the liberating sensation of abandoning belief in the supernatural, the mythological, and the extortive. In a fair world, but one that would have a Python-esque or even Mitchell and Webb-centric sense of justice, religion would be dismantled not by a violent revolution or the Red Army or Albania’s silly attempts at state atheism. Not even a wave of atrocities by the clerical authorities turning the public towards irreligiosity as it once did my friend, or just this week, the once-impressive horror author Anne Rice. It would be dismantled by the Advertising Standards Authority. Without brutishness or carrying arms, the calm, proper-mannered men with suits and clipboards, simply doing their job without bias towards belief or unbelief, would inspect every church, every mosque, every temple, and every purveyor of supernatural claims, and shut them down with court orders or massive fines for false advertising and breach of assumed contract. Sadly, that is unlikely to occur.

Good luck with everything you do to bring rationality into the public domain in future, and well done to everyone who has kept the site supported.

– a rationalist (hopefully).
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