Saturday, September 4, 2010

Skeptical Thoughts

Let’s talk about skepticism. I just read a very interesting and informative blog post by the lovely Greta Christina (I assume she’s lovely; I don’t know what she looks like) on the subject, and it has inspired me to pen some thoughts of my own on the matter. Off we go!

I’m a skeptic about a lot of things. I didn’t used to be, though. I’ve always been pretty gullible (up until my last few years of college, when I finally started examining things for myself instead of buying into whatever authority told me). I’m probably still too trusting; I tend to believe anything my friends tell me without question, and it’s only after I walk away from the situation that I can do a more thorough analysis of what was said. Perhaps that’s the kicker here… I’ll come back to that. Anyway, doubting what strangers tell me or what the media touts as irrefutable truth or whathaveyou is a very important to me as an atheist. Why? Because that’s kind of the basis of everything I don’t believe.

I came to atheism because I developed a skeptical eye. For years I was a devout Catholic, taking as truth anything a priest, youth minister, or slightly more knowledgeable student told me. There wasn’t any reason to question things. But all of that changed when I started my studies in the field of philosophy. And as I began to learn more about skepticism, and the important role it plays in every area of critical thought, I found it harder and harder to ignore the growing philosophical problems with my own belief system. As Greta Christina notes, “My skepticism is what helped me see my denial in the first place.” I faced a similar revelation; learning how to think critically and privilege evidence over feeling is what ultimately allowed me to realize how deluded I was and stop believing everything people told me. Just like Neo in my (for now) favorite film The Matrix, I suddenly awoke from the simulation. I grew skeptical of not only the beliefs I’d been fed for years, but also the very fabric of reality itself. I was, for a brief time, a real-world skeptic. Is this moment, this now, really real? Is it really happening? Or are we all just hooked into machines, being tortured by Cartesian demons in Platonic caves? An unanswerable question. Regardless of the solution, it doesn’t do much for us to fixate on that conundrum; we have lives to live, and whether the world is real or not doesn’t change the fact that we experience real pleasure and real pain.

Apologies, I seem to have digressed.

Skepticism is important because it’s healthy, mentally. Delusion isn’t good for our minds. It’s like junk food. Skeptical, critical thought is to the brain what a regimen of healthy, natural foods is to the body, in my opinion. Remaining skeptical about the claims of others allows us to constantly utilize that all-important function of our minds, the function that differentiates us from the other creatures of this world: advanced rational thought.

But it isn’t always easy. Emotion can play a big role in the proceedings. Remember earlier, when I mentioned believing what my friends tell me without hesitation? I think this important enough to warrant deeper examination. There are two reasons why we believe things without evidence: because it’s easy, or because we want to. Oftentimes these reasons overlap. I think that when a friend or trusted individual approaches us with an idea, we’re far more likely to believe it without question because we already hold one piece of evidence in favor of the proposition: the person’s credibility. And we count that as something that supports whatever they said, no matter what the idea was. Perhaps this is the essence of the matter… see, that would explain why people follow authority figures at all!

Let me try to put this succinctly: if I trust someone, and that person tells me something, I tend to believe the person because I count the person’s credibility as evidence in favor of whatever proposition they’ve laid out. But that’s faulty logic! The proposition should be held up on its own evidence, not on circumstantial evidence. For after all, if that same friend went to stranger and gave the same proposition, what evidence would the stranger have for believing it? None. And what counts as evidence for one person should count as evidence for everyone.

This is getting confusing. I don’t really know where I’m headed with all of this; I suppose I’ve just been rambling, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. I hope my musings haven’t been too uninteresting. I’ll leave you with this final rebuttal to my above point: skepticism is important, but overusing it can lead to trouble. During my (very) brief stint as a real-world skeptic, I suddenly found that things that normally brought me enjoyment no longer did so. It was difficult and uncomfortable. Ultimately I found that it wasn’t worth worrying about, and that I should move on to more immediate concerns. Similarly, being skeptical of everything anyone tells us, be they friend or foe, is no way to live life. It’s tantamount to being completely suspicious of everyone’s motives. And while reason is an important tool in our mental toolbox, so too is trust. Sometimes we have to make certain logical allowances in order to live happy, productive lives. I don’t see trusting friends and family is a particularly dangerous game… but a little skepticism once in a while doesn’t hurt either.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mission 2010

I’m back. I survived. And I did a bit of writing while I was gone, although I wasn’t nearly as productive this year as I was last year. I think this is largely due to how novel atheism was for me a year ago. Now it’s pretty much business as usual; I’m not constantly thinking and wondering about it. I’ve decided to just put all my entries here in one place for your reading pleasure. No sense stretching this out into a bunch of tiny posts, right? Enjoy.


I rode up here with the trip’s only other male chaperone. We talked about ourselves, our lives, that sort of thing. He really opened up to me; halfway through the trip he was telling me about a “problem” he was having with his daughter (also attending the trip). Apparently, she’d made friends with some non-denominational Evangelicals in her grade, and they were giving her anti-Catholic arguments and ideas. I advised him on how I’d proceed, telling him to give her the answers to her questions, but not to force her choice. It was really a deep conversation. I guess I’m easy to talk to, just as people often tell me. But I wonder… would he change his opinion of me if he knew I was an atheist?

I wrote a bit in my journal about today. I’ll write more here.

Can I do this? Three members of my family are here with me: my mom, my bro, and my youngest sis. They all know I’m an atheist. Does anyone else? I just wonder sometimes how people would react if they knew. Would they shun me? Stop trusting my opinions? Argue? I don’t know and I don’t care to find out.

I’m excited to see where this week takes me. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.


It’s funny how easy it is for me to pass as Catholic. I guess that comes from all those years of real Catholicism I went through. I can talk theology and prayer with the best of them. It’s almost amusing.

I'm in such a different place now. Last year I was confused about everything. I was trying to understand how I could even exist in a world without God. Now I've done just that for over a year (well, technically for my entire life, but I wasn't aware of it until last year). I feel confident in my decision to be an atheist. I feel reassured that I'm right, or at least justified. After all, I haven't been struck by lightning or stricken with plague. I'm still here. Still whole. And I'm just as happy as I was when I believed... maybe even moreso. Without all that unnecessary guilt and such, I'm able to keep my life focused on progress. I find that although my past still haunts me, it no longer holds such powerful sway over my actions and thoughts. Being here on this trip after a year of open atheism serves only to reaffirm my decision. I am an atheist. There is no God. And that's fine with me.






I went to Mass at the migrant camps tonight. Had a conversation with the youth minister in charge of our group afterward. She mentioned how the more develop our program here has gotten (in terms of the amount of food and clothing distributed), the smaller the attendance of Mass has been.

It seems obvious to me why this is the case, but of course I didn’t tell her: their needs are being met. They no longer need to rely on prayer out of desperation. Therefore, their religious conviction is dwindling. It follows the same trend as countries do; the higher the standard of living and education, the lower the religious attendance.


Ugh, we're at mass and it sucks. This stupid ceremony, all this pomp and circumstance, used to awe and amaze me. Now it fills me with disgust. Every minute of this tired dirge is brimming with pointless accolades and Catholic mind control.

The priest just made a crack about historians. Apparently BCE (before common era) is the current way to denote the time period before year zero. The priest said "so called historians and scientists" objected to the use of BC (before Christ) and AD (ad domine, of God). Well duh. Of course we do. Why do we base our entire historical catalog system off the birth of Jesus (which, by the way, didn't happen in the year zero)? Some people regard it as the most important moment in human history... but those people are severely misguided. Bleh.

This trip has been really easy. I spent a lot of time talking the Catholic talk and walking the Catholic walk, but I knew I'd have to do that when I signed up. I think my lack of faith is much stronger now, after a year away from the supernatural. I'm not assaulted by doubts or wonderings anymore. I don't have that subtle fear of being wrong that I did last year.

As I said to Jesus, safely stowed away in the tabernacle: "You hold no power over me. I'm not afraid. Does that make you sad? Angry? Scared?" I'm happy as an atheist. And this mission hasn't so much as loosened even one finger of my grip on reality.



Saturday, August 7, 2010

Once More Into The Breach

Well, here I go again. It was just about a year ago that I embarked upon a weeklong trip in the midst of diehard Catholics, and now I’m preparing to do it once more. I leave tomorrow. That trip last year was, for me, the final challenge as I deconverted: could I remain a steadfast atheist in the face of not only physical labor but also an overwhelming Catholic influence? Could I look into the eyes of the men and women who shaped me during my early religious formation, knowing that I no longer believed any of the things they’d worked so hard to teach me? Could I handle being the only person in a crowded room who didn’t buy into the mumbo-jumbo being touted at the altar?

Apparently the answer was yes.

So why go back? Didn’t I suffer enough the last time? Haven’t I had my fill of awkwardness and discomfort? Well, yes and no. I’m exaggerating how awful it was; no one really knew I was an atheist at that point, so most of the tension was in my head. But this year I’m out in the open. I’m not hiding anymore. And that means someone could (and perhaps will) call me on it.

I’m not scared. In fact, I kind of hope someone does call me on it. Preferably in private: I’ll be unable to make any headway whatsoever in a public setting with the deck stacked so heavily against me. But whether anyone does or not, I’m very aware that people know. I mean, I shouldn't care. I don’t care. But it’s still a bit difficult to go along with prayers and mass and such (or as I like to call it, “let’s play make-believe”) when other people know I’m faking it.

I fully expect to have a great time. I don’t think anything will go awry and I feel confident that I can outwit or stalemate anyone who tries to discuss their beliefs with me. I just wanted to leave this little primer here, and a teaser as well: I’ll be hand writing entries during the week, and I’ll backdate them into this blog when I return. So now you have something to look forward to!

See you in a week. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Been A While

Been a while, hasn’t it? There I was, all rip-roarin’ to go. Had a few posts under my belt, was eagerly reading every blog I could and posting comments where I dared. Then suddenly: nothing. Poof. Vanished, like smoke in the wind. I turned invisible, yes, but like the God I once believed in I promised that I was still hiding somewhere in the background, waiting for the proper moment to emerge.

And the moment is now! Ha ha! Well, now-ish I guess. I can’t guarantee that any more posts will be forthcoming, but at least I’m making an effort. Not that I’ve yet developed any readership, really. A scattered few at best. Still, I press on, for after all, this blog is as much my outlet as it is for others to read.

I recall that the last time I wrote was in mid-December. It’s now almost June, which means it’s getting on toward six months. What’ve I been up to? Working. Getting my life together. In the post-college slump that I find myself in, I’ve needed to devote a lot of time to pressing matters of economic and romantic importance (which is to say, getting a job and finding a girl). Alas, I am but one man, and something had to go to make room for these other issues.

But I haven’t forgotten about atheism and what it means to me. The liberation I’ve felt in the year since I became an atheist still astounds me. No more time wasted with prayers when I could be doing something more productive. No more fear of punishment for believing the wrong thing or failing to adhere to some obscure, unknown tenet. No more guilt over trivial “sins”. Along these lines, I’ve admittedly had someone throw the “you’re pretending there isn’t a God so you can do evil things and not be punished” argument in my face. Uh, no. I don’t need your God’s rules and laws to guide me—which, I might add, are really just projections of your own ideas about what’s right and wrong—and, in fact, I never really did. Even when I was a believer, I still generally did what I felt was right, which in a few cases conflicted with what I’d been told by the Church.

I’ve had some discussions with believer friends over matters of faith and I must say I’ve held my own pretty well. Those hours spent poring over articles and blog posts were not wasted. After coming out as an atheist, I thought I’d be under assault from all sides, but surprisingly that wasn’t the case. Most people either didn’t notice, didn’t care, or were too afraid to bring it up. Regardless, only one friend actually rang me up and gave me the third degree about it. That was an interesting evening. I think we’ve reached a bit of a standoff: she thinks I had a bad experience in college and I’ll come back to the faith in five or ten years, and I think she’s so desperate to believe in some kind of higher power that she’ll redefine “God” to slip and squeeze out of any logical sleeper hold I might wrassle him into. And that’s fine. Whatever she wants to do.

This entry has been a bit… rambling. Apologies. Guess I’ve just got a lot on my mind, and no focus whatsoever. I won’t swear that another entry is on the horizon… but I think my non-faith will become a matter of greater interest to me in the near future, and perhaps that will motivate me to write more. We’ll see.