Seeking an answer to a question

Sent in by Jim

Before I ask my question, I want to provide a brief overview of my religious background--a mini-testimonial. My Mother was a very religious person (Southern Baptist) who dedicated me to God at birth, bred me for the ministry, read to me from the Bible every evening, required me to say my prayers with her every evening, and she took me to our church for every single event which occurred there: weekly prayer meetings; Sunday morning and evening Bible study and services; Bible Study classes during special weeks during the year; revival services; Vacation Bible School; etc.

I attended the Baptist college in my state as a ministerial student, majoring in philosophy with a minor in religious studies. After graduation from college, I attended seminary and earned my B.D. degree. During my first year in seminary, mymother died, and as a result of that, I was able for the first time in my life to begin to "decide" what I really wanted to do with my life.

During the second year of my three-year seminary program, I began to have lots of doubts and misgivings about many of the Christian beliefs and doctrines which I had grown up believing. Consequently, I came to believe that I should abandon the ministry to pursue a teaching career in philosophy.

I attended graduate school to pursue my Ph.D. in philosophy, completed that program, and sought and obtained a full-time teaching position at a college as a philosophy professor. At that point, I left organized religion, rejected Christianity, and I am now an agnostic.

My Question:

I very much need any good responses anyone can give me in order to reply to a close friend who charges that I abandoned Christianity and became an agnostic because of my very religious upbringing, during which the religious views I held had been pretty much predetermined by my Mother's influence over me. In short, my friend claims that I abandoned Christianity and became an agnostic because "religion had been forced upon me by my Mother."

I have tried to identify the fallacious reasoning used by my friend and have found some answers. But my friend's claim is primarily a psychoanalytical claim, a claim about personal reaction to my past.

Any help would be appreciated.


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YME said...

I don't understand, what's wrong with being agnostic? What kind of agnostic are you? Are you a theistic agnostic or an Atheist agnostic? Also, what exactly is the question?

Your friend is giving you the common reaction. There are so many people who don't believe in Atheists. A lot of believers claim Atheists hate god. Atheists are just rebeling. All Atheists should die, they aren't human but demons. And so on...

This friend of yours thinks you're rebelling. Well, I don't know that you are but most Atheists aren't. We could go with the fact that the theistic brain and the Atheistic brain are different. Meaning, some people are more prone to believing then others. It's just a sad fact of life.

We could also go with the fact that you've done your own research and came up with the answers all by yourself. Your friend can accept you the way you are or not. Personally, its the final clue as to who are your real friends.

I don't think there is much of anything you could say to a believer who believes you are not a believer like they are for whatever reason they have made up in their minds. For the longest time my husband's parents insisted that he was "just going though a phase." My husband calls it "disbelief in disbelief." It's your friend who has to come to his/her own answers.

Joe B said...

Hard to say what your friend is doing with his question, without knowing a lot more about his situation and yours. One hunch that comes to mind is that he is poisoning the well. That is a response I know well from dealings with my ex-wife and her religious family (several generations of missionaries). They have lots of categories, psychological and philosophical, that they dump non-believers into as a means of dismissing the challenge to their faith.

I'd guess that your friend is using the fallacious assumption if A (rejection of religion) then B (personal/psychological injury) to justify putting you into a safe category that lets him neutralize any challenge to his belief that you might otherwise offer.

SpaceMonk said...

Since we know christianity is wrong, the reason your friend gives can still be legitimate.
Even if true, it doesn't diminish the fact that christianity is wrong.

You didn't reject your mother. You rejected christianity. Right?

It doesn't sound like you 'rebelled' or did it out of spite, or had reason for any spite.

If you have arrived at your decision by logic then it doesn't matter what motive you had, as long as you can support where you are now.

Anonymous said...

The answer that I have come to, for this type of question, is that the emotional reasons for believing something is an entirely separate question from the truth or falisty of the claims involved.

We all have emotional reasons to think what we do. It is dishonest to claim we dont. Emotional valence saturates our psychic lives; that is the central psychoanalytic insight, and I think it applies to everyone, Christian, atheist, or otherwise. More biologically, the brain's limbic system is an old and deep part of the brain that connects to all of our higher cognitive functions. All that is saying is that we are never totally emotional neutral about anything and that emotionality can serve as a motivation.

But that motivation does not have to be determinative, and even if it was, it does not therefore follow that the belief so determined is wrong.

So maybe you were rebelling. So what? That does not preclude a concommitant reasoned, and reasonable, assessment of the truth claims of Christianity. It may mean you have to work a little harder to separate out what your motivations are, but it does not mean it cannot be done.

I am unabashed in admitting that part of the reason I deconverted is that I found Christianinty to be psychologically destructive for my emotional health. That does not mean I did not also have intellectual reasons also.

We are not robots or Vulcans. We are human beings an emotionality, I believe, *ought* to be included in our refelection about such basic, life-encompassing issues like religion.


Anonymous said...

There's nothing you can really say to your friend. You have to demonstrate through your actions and lifestyle that you aren't just bitter and rebellious, but that you
are genuinely maturing and have come to a fork in the road that is further along than Paul, Jesus or any of the others ever got.

I have a question for you, though. What does it matter what your friend thinks of your motivation? Isn't it more important what you think about yourself? As I'm sure you know, it isn't what others think about us, but what we think about ourselves that make us insecure, unhappy, bitter, etc.

Freethinking is about finding a firm foundation in reality where we are not disturbed by delusional nonsense. It's not just a philosophical position, but an actual life practice. We falter in that practice when we let ourselves become caught up in our own doubts and fears and don't put our feet squarely on the ground.

I suggest that you thoroughly investigate your point of view, and know it inside and out. Study your behavior, too. It will give you clues as to what you really believe. For example, if you act defensively when someone challenges an agnostic statement, you've demonstrated to yourself and to everyone that you are threatened by your own belief that your friend may be correct.

It does take time to change your mind. It is a long and twisty road to go from devout believer to freethinker, so be compassionate and patient with yourself and your friends.

Hellbound Alleee said...

The key is understanding your friend's key motivation for the question. Ask him: is he saying that religious upbringing leads to uncertainty? What does he think of rebellion? And what business is it of his?

Perhaps he is questioning, as is trying to "feel you out."

Are you having a hard time finding a belief in God in your mind? Or are you sensing that the belief in God that you currently have is vanishing? Do you still believe in God?

Or, maybe you believe and ARE mad at God and want to rebel. Look at that feeling. People DO feel that way sometimes. Looking at why, just LOOKING won't kill you. Just do it. Is the stuff you learn contradicting your values? Look at it. Cut it open and look. Maybe you ARE rebelling. So?

So? Find out if there is a good reason. Don't be afraid of those attack words, like "oh, you are JUST X or Y, therefore it's not legitimate." Those are phrases of fear. Perhaps you are losing that fear, and that's what scares people who haven't.

Jamie said...

In short, my friend claims that I abandoned Christianity and became an agnostic because "religion had been forced upon me by my Mother."

I think that has more to do with *when* you became an agnostic, not *why*. You say yourself it wasn't until your mother was gone that you felt you could decide for yourself what to do with your life. So in the sense that you were a Christian because you wouldn't question the validity of it while your mother was alive, and you are not a Christian because you will question it now, your friend is on to something. But he mistakenly believes that the religious upbringing CAUSED your current agnosticism, and that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, it seems that your very religious upbringing CAUSED your lack of questioning about Christianity, and once you no longer had the outside pressure, you moved naturally toward agnosticism.

Though only you know for sure.

Aspentroll said...

You could tell him that you are living proof that not believing is just as good as being under the yoke of religion. You are not going to become a murderer or any other kind of criminal just because you have abandoned your religious beliefs. So you then say "What's your problem with me"? If there still is a problem then he is too opposed to your new way of life.
You may have decide whether he is still able to be your friend. He may decide to accept you as you are and not rag on you for your new way of thinking.
If not, there are many freethinking people out there that will be just as good a friend to you.
No good friend tells you what to think.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that interested me in your post, Jim, is that you capitalized the word "Mother," a practice usually reserved for a proper name or a deity. What I hear in your "question" is that you don't want your new-found freedom of thought to be founded solely on a reaction against your mother. That is the kind of question that is best worked out in some good therapy where these kinds of issues are addressed not only on an intellectual level but an emotional one as well. After all, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair's son, who had been programmed in his mother's atheism from youth, turned his back on her belief system and became a born-again Christian. You are rightly sensing that a reaction against one's childhood conditioning is hardly a good foundation for an adult view of life for oneself.

I would also imagine that, since you are well trained in philosophy, you have thought through many of these things for yourself. Just learning to trust your own judgment can be a huge step forward out of the brainwashing of the religious cult you grew up in. (Having grown up in a similar background, I do consider it a cult.)

I wish you well on your continuing journey.

Anonymous said...

Greetings Jim: Most children enter a rebellion stage and it seems yours came a little late (if that's what it subconsciously was...) But I'd rather think it was that you are a fortunate member of the "freethinker" group that realizes that theistic beliefs are just man-made coping mechanisms for dealing with death and dieing and making sense for one's existence and of course for BRAINWASHING AND CONTROLLING the populace...including defenseless little kids.

Personally, I think that any child who is brainwashed with religious dogma before that child can develope any congitive and questioning capabilities is a form of child abuse.

So, I would suggest to your friend that you simply woke up after a long period of your mothers religious brainwashing and that YOU are fortunate to be freed of all that bondage. In essence perhaps you were liberated by your mother's death. Don't mean to sound insensitive however...

I fully embraced my atheism AS A RESULT OF READING THE BIBLE AND DOING RESEARCH ON MY OWN. The god portrayed is a BEAST, not an all-loving entity. But of course we know that he doesn't exist anyway. LOL

I'm happy for you that you are free and make sure to suggest to your caring friend that he should be happy for you as well.

Enjoy your new and exciting journey through life!!!

Cheers to you!

Max L.

Anonymous said...

I don't think one DECIDES to become an atheist or an agnostic. One realizes that's what one IS, after due reflection and introspection. The more you studied Christianity, the more you found it wanting, and you could no longer accept its tenets. When your Christian friend realized that you were serious, most likely he found that too scary and uncomfortable to accept. Christians MUST find explanations and rationalizations to put them back in their comfort zones. Be cheerful; be the same person you always were. Tell your friend you are the same person. If he cannot begin to accept that, it is possible you may lose a friend. It happens, and is a sad thing, but you can no longer subsume your new self for the sake of appearances (though many can). I wish you luck, you may be in for some difficult times.

J. C. Samuelson said...


There are a few articles at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website that may shed some light on why your friend is making his psychoanalytical claim, if you're interested. In particular, you may be interested in the articles concerning the psychology of belief. There's a search function you can use at that site. Type in "belief" and a large list of articles will be available to you. I haven't read them all, and in any case am not qualified to evaluate your situation. Even if I were, I would hestitate to try since we don't know each other. All the same, I'll tell you how I would respond in the same situation.

First, I would ask myself if his opinion concerning my state of mind is important to me. Is the fact that I understand the process enough for my own edification? Next, I would consider his analysis in light of the fact of my conditioning. How much of it remains? Is my response the result of emotional emancipation, an honest intellectual quest for truth, or perhaps a little of both? Since conditioning is something that isn't easily gotten rid of, these are fair questions to ask oneself, I think.

When I threw off the "shackles of faith," it was much easier for me than it has been for some. I had never experienced religious conditioning of any significance in my youth, and what conditioning I did experience later was received willingly when I chose to attend church with my then future (now ex) wife, join a praise team, become a worship leader, and so on. It was actually much harder to liberate myself from the conditioning of military life than it was to examine my beliefs concerning God. The fact that my father is a rational agnostic (though he has an affinity for Buddhism) helped, and how he taught me to think about things returned quite easily during the time I was exploring the validity of my beliefs.

Moving on, I might also consider why my friend feels the need to analyze my thought process. Is it really for my benefit, or his? It has been speculated that our beliefs have a survival function in that they augment our senses. The former help us draw inferences and interpret the world we experience through the latter. As a result, when our beliefs are challenged from without, it can seem like a threat to the brain's survival. It might be that your "de-conversion" has indirectly challenged your friend's core ideas about how the world works as informed by his own faith. If so, perhaps his analysis is an attempt to rationalize your deconversion so as to reduce the pressure on his own core ideals. In other words, it may be an attempt to ameliorate the threat his brain perceives to its own survival.

If I finally decided that his analysis deserved an answer, I would start with patiently giving a full account of the process I went through, and try to demonstrate that the answers I found were the result of careful, earnest study and not a knee-jerk emotional reaction. If he's the sort of person who's comfortable with self-examination and would consider questions from me about his own motives seriously, I might also ask him (as I asked myself) if he said what he did for my benefit or his?

Whatever my answers are, in the end it may not matter if I say anything at all to my friend. As Konho here observed, I may have to "demonstrate through [my] actions and lifestyle that [I'm not] just bitter and rebellious" in order for him to change his mind. In time, he may come to understand that I'm an honest seeker of truth, not someone reacting emotionally or irrationally to years of conditioning. It almost goes without saying that this "demonstration" isn't of the staged variety, and wouldn't be for his benefit or anyone else's. Rather, such a demonstration would simply flow from my personality and worldview, and any change in my friend's perception would naturally be the result of spending enough time around one another.

One thing I've discovered about being a freethinking individual is that it's a far more challenging proposition than simply accepting what we're taught. People have a tendency to like being told what to do, what to think, how to feel, and what to believe. It makes the job of coping with life a great deal easier to simply abrogate our responsibility to think for ourselves. My personal opinion, however, is that the latter is far more satisfying.

My best to you and your friend. I hope your relationship continues and grows, and that your differences don't become a source of persistent trouble.

Yukkione said...

Many Christians can't believe anyone would leave. Many times they they claim the person is being rebellious, is confused, or better yet... is trying to punish God. Because to accept the real reason would force them to analyze their own beliefs. This is not the problem of the person that has left mysticism, but that of the person still engaging in magical thinking. Just my opinion.

Mikayla Starstuff said...

I've gotten this same line, that I must have rejected Christianity because my mother pushed it on me. Actually, she did (and still tries to), though most of the time I was a eager and willing victim. Naw, I didn't reject Christianity because Mom pushed it on me, but because when I got out from under her wing and saw the real world, Christianity no longer made sense to me. And then when I saw discrepencies I got skeptical and dug in and found more problems...and the rest is history, so to speak.

eel_shepherd said...

Jim, somewhat in the same vein as mizlee's comment, but in different words, I'd say that walking away from Xtianity is less something that a person does than it is something that they _stop_ doing. The give up the effort to suspend disbelief; and they stop running around the stage, trying to keep all those plates spinning on the ends of all those sticks. The effort of trying to minister to their script just, one day, becomes insupportable.

Sometimes when you wake up during the night and your eyes are all dry and red and your eyelids feel scratchy, etc., and you squirt a couple of drops of Visine in, have you ever noticed how much _quieter_ the world seems? Why is that? It's not like you missed, and squirted it into your ear or anything. It's just the global, general relief from having reduced the burden on your faculty to perceive naturally.

Your friend can't see the world right any longer, and he can't see you right either. Whose problem is that?

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