Positive Atheism Forum
(several longer stories from the first round.)
Original De-Conversion Stories
From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Positive Atheism List”
Subject: Tell Us Your De-Conversion Story
Date: Monday, June 19, 2000 9:35 PM
TO UNSUBSCRIBE, THROW A DEAD CAT
INTO A GRAVEYARD DURING THE FULL MOON
What we would like is the story of your deconversion from religious faith. Did you become an atheist or skeptic? or were you raised that way? If you deconverted, how has it affected your life — good and bad? If you were raised this way, how do you think you differ from others in your approach to your atheism
What we will do is fix the grammar and spelling for readability (unless the writer objects) and post them in a special section. If you want to include a portrait, see the specifications below.
Thanks in advance for helping Positive Atheism grow.
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
From: “Steve Locks”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Re: Tell Us Your De-Conversion Story
Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 12:57 PM
I think I have just what you are looking for!
My website “Leaving Christianity” links to all the deconversion stories and collections of such stories I can find on the Internet, as well as book details for such stories and further resources.
My own story is available and most of the deconversion stories you will find through my main links section and some of the reciprocal links.
You are very welcome to include my story and I would encourage a link to my site. I would also be very grateful for the URL of where the stories go that you collect in response to your post as I would like to link back to that too.
I also maintain the ex-Christians page at the Secular Web and a link back to your collection would probably be appropriate from there too if you manage to collect some good stories.
This includes some notes into my thoughts and reading for reference and further research. To make finding this information easy, most of the notes lead to quality websites whilst some of the books referenced link to free on-line versions.
My background was very liberal. I was first attracted to Christianity when I was only about six by hearing the story of the crucifixion at school. I remember feeling that what happened to Jesus was unfair as (so I thought) he just wanted people to be good and to love each other. So he had my support. This was basically my attitude until my late teens. Very simplistic, and not so far particularly damaging! What I believed in from the start and what attracted me to Christianity was a message of love. It was the desire for this that was primal and would become the driving force that took me out later.
Although I believed in it, for the first years religion was just one of my aspects. Until my late teens it was not particularly what my life was always centred around. At about 15 I thought that I needed to find some more seriousness to life, which I didn’t perceive (rightly or wrongly) in the people around me. I decided I should go to church. None of my family went, although my parents are nominally Christians, it was never a big deal for them. So I told them I wanted to go to church. My Dad used to go when he was younger, so he took me for a while so he could “explain the ropes.” We went to a moderately high Anglican church, and the layout of the service was very strange until I got used to it. I loved going. I found the gentle atmosphere and sense of mystery, and the focus on a message of love just what I wanted. I was also very attracted to church music (the “classical” type) and joined the church choir. This got me more involved, but mostly in the music and fellowship rather than any strong religion. I did take it seriously though, it just wasn’t at all evangelical or fundamentalist etc. I decided to get confirmed, and also took an active part in various discussion groups. There wasn’t at this stage in my religious experience anything unpleasant that I had noticed. I was always unhappy with anything at all fundamentalist in religion and thought that “charismatics” as we called them were a bit disturbing and probably crazy. It didn’t seem to have much to do with religion as I knew it.
Next I went to university to study for a physics degree. I joined the university Anglican society that was again very liberal. They were the sort who were mostly interested in spirituality and fellowship. The “kingdom of God” was an inner process and not a revolutionary state on earth! Their favourite theologian was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They were certainly not evangelical. I also had (and still have) many liberal and very good friends who were Methodists and Catholics, as well as those whose religious status I do not know. As I said, a desire for the message of love and not dogma was the driving force at the time. Up to that stage I would be hard pressed to say that my religion was particularly unhealthy. Instead it was thoughtful and became more so. It was of course a deeper thinking about Christianity and the search for deeper spirituality (however one may think of “spirituality”) that would later lead me out of religion.
I had always liked philosophy, but I wasn’t widely read. Up to then it had been chiefly Plato and Aristotle, and I was only just discovering Popper. I had no problem with evolution or the discoveries of cosmology or the rest of science, I felt that a literal interpretation of the bible was trivialising what God must be. What exactly God was or meant remained a mystery, but I liked the mysteries. Meanwhile, at university I had the first decent exposure to arguments from atheists. At first I think I made more of an impression on them than they on me, because they weren’t really attacking Christianity as I knew it and I was the thoughtful type. I’m glad to say I didn’t convert anyone. It was not my intention to anyway.
I got to know some more informed freethinkers. (Now I loath the term “non-Christian” with its negative connotations. It is like calling a woman a “non-man” as if it is a defect!). I was perturbed that I could not give an adequate coherent account of even the basics of Christianity. Why was the atonement necessary, and how does it work?  It seemed very weak when analysed by an outsider and was disturbing to find how easily I could be made to flounder. I was also perturbed to discover something of the history of Christianity, such that an interpretation as a human phenomena should sound so convincing and plausible when confronted with the evidence. However, since I was not well read enough at the time, I was cautious. I didn’t want to lose my faith because I read or heard something convincingly deconverting when a Christian source could have explained in a Christian way for me if I had only searched better. So I resolved to read Bertrand Russell et al, but not yet. I needed Christian ammo. (Note I didn’t give the opposite scenario a thought, that I might be hoodwinked into Christianity!)
I was also becoming more worried by the cruel things in the bible. Especially the unpleasant things said by Jesus . I could only assume that they didn’t mean what they sounded like, but it was disturbing that they were there at all. Also, I almost deconverted whilst at university due to what seemed a more coherent explanation of Christianity as a human phenomenon. I was kept back though by the feeling that as Thomas Merton said “by denying God we are denying ourselves.” If I wasn’t a Christian I would be missing something important in life, therefore there had to be something in it. I finished my degree and got a job.
I read veraciously. I got through Bonhoeffer, all of C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, “the cloud of unknowing,” Thomas à Kempis and other classics, as many of the archbishop of Canterbury’s lent books as I could find, as well as swallowing a concordance and assorted Christian books whose names now escape me. I also joined an evangelical church! Although not really my scene, I actually found it quite exciting when I tried it out. I was struck by how strongly the people there really believed in their religion. I had not encountered that strength of belief before. The people I got to know best (my “home group”) were very pleasant and relaxed, and seemed pretty liberal. As Christianity became more central, I noticed a feeling in me that I didn’t like. When I was a younger teenager and religion was just one of the things I was interested in, it did not particularly impinge on how I felt about other people. Most of the time I wasn’t thinking about religion at all. In contrast, by my late teens and early twenties Christianity became central and it made a difference to how I perceived someone if they weren’t a Christian. I felt I had a special relationship with God through accepting Christ. This was a barrier to people that I became more aware of, but didn’t appreciate the full significance of until I deconverted.
Although avoiding explicitly anti-Christian books, I noticed things in novels and everyday conversations that caused me to think. I remember putting some books down after every paragraph and trying to figure out how I could reconcile that to Christian belief. I read many books of apologetics in an attempt to understand.
Some of my freethinking friends were so pleasant, kind and moral and yet completely against Christianity that the condemnation of nonbelievers in the bible and at church really upset me. One night I even dreamt that I was told to “pray for a better God!” (How’s that for a paradox?!)
Eventually I bit the bullet. I felt that I had to be allowed (by God) to examine the other side of the argument. I trusted him to help me come to a deeper faith if he was there. If he wasn’t there then maybe I would find that out. I put myself in his hands to stop me being misled. I also kept a journal all through this period which makes a fascinating (for me) insight into my deconversion. I read books on the psychology of religion and the history of Christianity from as neutral as possible sources. Meanwhile I had an (almost) “deconversion experience.”
One of my main anchors in Christianity was the feeling that without it we are missing something important. I was at a rehearsal of the Brahms German Requiem. Though not an atheistic work, the genius and humanity at the great achievement of Brahms came through to me and coupled with this was the disaster of death and the cessation of being. It struck me suddenly that to be such a deeply conscious aware human being in life and then to “not exist” is a far more powerful thing than an afterlife or anything God could do. The heroism and tragedy of human life which is so marvellous and yet is capable of ending had a very big impact on me. It was partly the feeling that the universe had created something greater than itself - conscious, aware, striving man who is doomed after a short spell of the miracle of awareness to complete oblivion. The power and impact of such a thought (this is the important bit of the experience that really got me thinking) was completely lost if God existed, or was even thought to exist, which really struck me as remarkable. This was really very shocking and disturbed me very much. It seemed to me that death is one of the most natural things for living beings and it is something which is denied us by many religions. It places a special dignity on human conscious life - aware and striving - and so vulnerable!
I had thought that we only become fully human by believing in God, and now one of the deepest human experiences was only possible for me if I didn’t believe in God, or at least didn’t believe in the afterlife. How could this be?
I read Karen Armstrong’s “Tongues of fire” and was shocked. I found here people of all creeds and none having all the deep numinous, spiritual and loving experiences that I thought were the province of Christianity. I also saw in the commentary a psychologically convincing description of the early Christians (especially St. Paul). I had by this time read much psychology and history. It was starting to piece together. Next, I read Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian.” When I came to the passage where Russell says that Christ had a serious moral defect, he believed in hell - my stomach churned. I felt that too but had never dared even mentally expressing it. How was I to love a God who divides sheep from goats and condemns those I love and understand?
It seems to me now that the idea of hell  is so disgusting that it makes a mockery even of the most terrible horrors of WW2. For people to believe in it or even seriously entertain the idea makes me wonder if we have learnt anything about human compassion, cruelty and our real needs. It really seems to me that the idea is so vindictive and abhorrent that it is a very serious moral defect for anyone to believe in it with any kind of understanding of what it means. The fact that the church throughout the ages and that Jesus and St. Paul even entertained the idea, really makes it hard for me to believe them to be anything more than men caught up in the religious ideas of their time. I honestly cannot believe that anyone, not even God, has the right to send people to hell or even allow people to believe in it with such conviction. I do not think I will ever believe that the butchering guards at Dachau, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Auschwitz and the like were actually perfect and that what they did to Jews, gypsies and homosexuals is justice which I will someday have revealed to me as right. Neither do I think that I will ever believe that a God who lets this happen (and natural disasters) is perfect and I will realise when I meet him that “all will be well” and it is right that people go to hell. How more offensive and ignorant can a religion be?! Far too many people believe in hell. It is a dreadful and dark thing that makes people believe in holy damnation. The fact that Jesus, as depicted in the gospels, believed in hell is to me such a serious religious problem that it was one of the things that finally broke up my Christianity. What was going on in this book! As a liberally natured Christian I had never really believed in the existence of hell, or at least I shied away from hell thoughts, as it did not fit with my idea of a loving God. Rather I thought all this hell talk must mean something else. But the problem was that there was so much of it in the NT and the fact that God seemed to allow the doctrine to be so popular within the church did bother me very much, as did the fact that if Jesus & St. Paul etc. really didn’t believe in literal hell then the fact that they didn’t make it abundantly transparent that they meant something else was just utterly culpable irresponsibility to me, so abhorrent is the merest sniff of that doctrine and so dreadful the consequences of Christians believing it down the ages. 
This was the last straw. I had already found so much in philosophy,  psychology , history , biblical criticism and comparative religion that raised such serious questions for religious beliefs that eventually the bubble had to burst. Like suddenly seeing the solution to a mathematical problem that has so far been intractable and is now totally clear, I realised that Christianity and my feelings were all the results of messy human history, sociology and our psychological tangle with all its desire, hopes and fears. I didn’t choose to suddenly believe this. It was just inescapable. I had allowed myself to ask if Christianity made more sense, and was at least equally rich if it was not of God, and overwhelmingly this was what I found. Neither did Christianity seem truly good. I summed it up at the time by saying that religion is “human and natural, not divine and supernatural.”
At first I was upset, but then I became amazed at the fact that this gigantic edifice of Christianity, with all the enormous cathedrals, music, books, missionaries, martyrs, people giving lives to prayer, (crusades, inquisitions), etc. were based on a misunderstanding of the world!! The enormity of this was incredible to me. I felt that I must let everybody know, especially as I was in a position to talk about it since I had known what it was like from the inside. I decided to do some research and read in every spare moment due to this incredible interest in what was going on!  I read more Bertrand Russell, William James “Varieties of religious experience” (fascinating!), Tolstoy’s “Confessions”, more history and Psychology, existentialism , Hume, Nietzsche, Jung, Don Cupitt, even theology, working my way through the city library, and buying heaps of books. Later I discovered Thomas Paine, T.H. Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane and Robert Ingersol.
Due to my total change of world view I also had some very weird experiences that were not like anything I had expected. I was struck enormously by what I called “existential shock.” I was completely amazed at the mere fact of existence. Not in a “wow that’s impressive” manner but in a feeling that I only had religious words for. It was being struck by the amazing “sacrament” of life - or the utter shock and opportunity of existence over its alternative. It was totally numinous and an almost disturbing feeling that existence is the case. I felt transformed, awed, excited - the whole world seemed more special than can ever be said. Life was far more poignant without Christianity than it had ever been with it. I was not expecting this to happen to me. I thought these experiences were what converted people to religion, not what you got when you left! I soon found two books by Marghanita Laski describing such experiences felt by others, again from all creeds and none. I have since found friends who have similar perceptions. They are not unlike some of the poems by Thomas Traherne (e.g. “Wonder”)  or the experiences described by Huxley in the “Doors of perception”. These experiences happen to the religious, the nonreligious and the drugged! All these experiences were human, and all the more amazing for it.
All the problems and clutter associated with religion disappeared of course, though I won’t pretend it was easy explaining my new position to my Christian friends. (Some still don’t know). Just as others have reported in ex-tian stories, when I told my Christian friends they were only interested in finding out where I had gone wrong. The chance that I had honestly discovered something was not admitted as a possibility. Apparently I caused a stir and comments like “Jesus predicted that some would fall by the wayside”. How’s that for love and understanding from people you thought you where sharing deep things with before? I even had one of them trying to justify hell to me about six years after my deconversion. What can you say to that?  I have found now a far wider understanding of the world as I no longer rationalise all my thoughts in notebooks into a “Christian” interpretation of the world around me without having the grace or charity to find out what the facts were and to think unhindered about what is going on. That is also why I prefer to call myself a “freethinker”, as that is how I feel I am. An “atheist” has negative connotations and it seems absurd to define oneself by relation to something that doesn’t exist.
The greatest benefit I discovered was the disappearance of a spiritual barrier for me between people. When I had strong religion, my feeling was that if someone did not know God, then they where “not yet fully human” (though I did the best to not think this, it was there). A “non-Christian” was “spiritually misguided” and it was impossible to properly relate to or feel for such a person. I was in a “spiritually superior state”. Now I see Christians just as people but with a mistaken belief, just like I may disagree with someone’s politics, in that it doesn’t mean I am in a different relationship to God (or Jesus) than them! There is a big difference between disagreeing with someone and thinking your relationship with a deity is different. I now see us all as vulnerable human beings full of hopes and fears and psychological tangle. The relief from religious problems and the fresh perception of a world I had hardly seen before, and the real ability to accept people deep down has made me very happy. For me there came a feeling of all people and nature being in the same boat together, a feeling deep down of “brotherliness” and most of all a sense of complete understanding and acceptance of life. From all this came great compassion for our messy human situation and remarkable connection with a world that I finally felt I understood. None of this is what I had expected to find and I was completely shocked to find so much spiritual love outside of religion. (Karen Armstrong points out that nontheistic Buddhists describe belief in God as “unskilful,” as it can actually harm the spiritual life of a person).
Does someone want to convert me back? What can I say! Who should respond to anything as deep as “God” through fear of what God might do to them, or not give them if they don’t believe it? Christianity, taken completely seriously, is a travesty of what we can be. What is most primordial for a Christian? Is it love and truth, or is it Christianity? If a Christian researched enough to find a conflict between love and truth versus the beliefs of Christianity which way should that person go?
I had been taught that you can only love God if you love your neighbour. It is ironic that I found I could only love my neighbour if I didn’t love God.
From: “Ann Murray”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Re: Tell Us Your De-Conversion Story OK
Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 7:22 AM
I was started out in a neutral background regarding religion, but suffered early exposure while in a foster home. My first impression was that Church was very hot, and very boring. I was probably four at the time. My second impression was that the foster mother stopped bashing me around when the Preacher came to dinner, when became a simpering toady. She also did this when my father visited, which leads me to believe she had my father somehow confused with god in some way.
Let us leap into the future: My mother was able to reclaim me after one year, and I moved to Newark, N.J. which was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything since it taught me early on, just how complicated life can get.
Because she was a single parent, and things were difficult in terms of money, raising me was a problem in a lot of ways. She arranged for me to board out during the week with various families in order to protect me. I was a little freak, and I wasn’t generally liked, so I shifted around a lot. In this period, I was once again exposed to religion. Theirs. Sometimes Catholic, sometimes Protestant. I had to pray with them as they did, by rote. Night time prayers were expected. “Did you wash your ears? Did you say your prayers? Goodnight now, be quiet and go to sleep.”
The neighborhood got worse, I got older, became a latchkey kid, began playing hookey all the time. My mother was terrified of this. A child had been molested in the cellar of the housing project we lived in, and she searched frantically for a place for me to stay where I would be safe again. I was seven years old when, at her wits end, she found a Catholic convent that would accept me even though I was not Catholic.
I was frantic about this decision, but she was adamant. The one thing she said very clearly though, was that there was an arrangement made that prevented the nuns from trying to convert me. There was to be no pressure applied in any way, under any circumstances. I accepted that, but could not understand why it was so. I learned later of her own childhood as a Catholic, and how she hated the school system that allowed routine beating, smacking, rapping across the knuckles with a ruler, and other out of line forms of discipline. My mother was a very bright student, and a hellion. She got it a lot, as she told me.
So off to the convent I went. It was a horror of regimentation, and forced prayer even though I’d never prayed much before . I had to go to chapel with the rest of the girls, and sit through the droning of the rosary every night. As near to hell as possible. As an aside, I remember very vividly, always being cold there. Freezing in my bed, freezing at prayer, freezing in the morning. Hell had begun to sound good to me. Warm. You know?
There was a nun who was solely in charge of us. She was a martinet. She beat the hell out of the girls, punished a poor thing who habitually wet her bed, by making her stand at the end of the refractory table with a urine soaked sheet over head while the rest us of ate breakfast. I think every child there pitied her. It was horrible. The representative of the good lord, meting out justice for bad behavior in the fashion of one who said “suffer the little children to come unto me”, misinterpreting it, obviously. Poor Lucy. Poor child.
This nun was from Italy. Very much old school. The Mother Superior, also from Italy, was probably much like Sister Adelaide (the zookeeper) so the administrator was chosen from among the teaching nuns. It was necessary to have someone educated, and a bit classy I suppose, to deal with the parents, some of whom paid a lot of money for their daughters to be there. Lucy was an orphan. There were a number of them there. They got the worst of it.
Sister Angelica was the one my mother dealt with when registering me there, and Sister Adelaide was on her very best behavior when she and my mama met. Crafty old girl... Sister Angelica was beautiful. She really glowed from within. She was young, probably mid thirties, and very kind. We never saw her much. Probably because we mobbed her when she came through our living quarters, desperately seeking some bit of tenderness. Adelaide was not a very warm keeper of our tender flesh, and fragile hearts and minds.
Adelaide was determined to convert me. Every evening, as she came past me as we ate dinner, she would reach out and pinch my cheek, and say “whena you gon becoma Catolica chobby”.(I was chubby, she had something to get hold of). She made me conspicuous, and she hurt me. Every day. I withstood it for as long as I could, from September until April, then I couldn’t stand it any more, and one night I jerked my head away, saying “alright”, and faster than you could spit, I was hung over the baptismal font. Without my mother’s permission.
My mother almost fainted (literally) when she came to get me for that weekend, and I told her I had converted. She was a woman who believed in religious freedom. She wanted me to pick for myself when I was old enough to do so. Her desperation to have me somewhere molestation proof, was so great, she just let it go. She didn’t stop me from going to mass, or from pretending I was a nun, (or a priest) as I played “church”.
The schism however, was not long in coming. I saw hypocrisy through such young eyes. I saw things that were very wrong. The neighborhood I lived in was a mix of white factory workers who came from PA, and other rural type places in the search for work, a lot of really poor black people, and a lot of Jews. Of all the people there, the Jewish people were the ones I loved the best. They were almost without exception, very good to me. They fed me bagels, and chicken soup, and loved to hear me rattle on about whatever I did. The people I knew there were so patient, such decent people.
One day, it was announced by our teacher, there would never be peace on earth until all Jews converted to Catholicism. The Jews were the reason for war, the reason we would all be killed by Communists some day. This woman, this nun, was our educator. There was such a lack of “reason” Cliff, such a lack of logic, even to my then nine year old mind... The beginning of the end of my Catholic days...
I went through many varied beliefs during my life. But I never felt the comfort supposedly brought by religion. Long before I became an atheist, I turned violently against the Catholic church. As I grew older, as I found out how much money the church has, as I realized the collusion with Hitler’s Germany, as I saw women die in childbirth who were allowed to die by church dictate (save the child) all these things. A roiling horror, gilded and sanctified. Ah...why go on?
About eight years ago, the whisper of atheism began in my head. I shook it off, like a dog bothered by a flea, and like a flea, it refused to stop biting. It terrified me. I lost sleep. I’m not joking. It was that intense. I would lie on my bed thinking about an afterlife. The only purpose of that to me was the possibility of somehow being reunited with my beloved mother. Such naive hope. There was a terrible longing in me to see her, to speak with her again. This was some of the worst of it. If I gave up belief, I would have to give up that hope, that dream.
But my mother was a logical woman, and I inherited it from her. She maintained some personally tailored faith, one of her own peculiar devising. A faith that would allow her beloved cats to go to heaven. My mother was a brilliant woman. She was awarded a scholarship to attend Columbia University to study physics when she was young. I think she needed this kind of faith as a buffer against a very difficult life. But you see, I had her to raise me, she was my buffer, and I was not so needy. I had the luxury of being allowed to have logic to replace some kind of savior, some kind of god. In this I was fortunate.
The peeling off of the old skin, the shedding process, was like being born, and at times I felt as though I were drowning, lost at sea and freezing as in the days at St. Lucy’s Convent. And I cannot even say when it was complete. It took me years to stop soliciting heaven. One day I started to pray, but stopped myself. I said aloud “How can I pray to a god I don’t believe in? I’m not a hypocrite. It is almost an insult to the god I don’t believe in.” I weathered whatever storm it was that drove me to the urge to pray, and I have never looked back.
I am not a peaceful person in much of my life. There is one place however, where I am at peace, and that is in my atheism. It just feels right to me. I do not fear death, just the means by which I might die. I think that’s reasonable. I believe in the end being the end, and it sounds very much like the ideal sleep. Ann Murray
I love this. You’re so funny Cliff.
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: Tell Us Your Story
Date: Thursday, June 22, 2000 3:53 PM
Kenneth Ray Whitley lives in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m got, starting from the top, parts Cherokee, English, Irish and French blood flowing within me veins. I most usually think of myself as a writer but have nothing to prove so. I mostly feel isolated from other atheist. I seek out those like us mostly on the net but not around my home.
Fighting off Christians is a full time job from my angle. Once they know your an atheist — well — it tends to give them license to constantly try and save your poor lost soul. I try and delicately explain to them, that, I’m simply not available for their brain washing ideals. This of course brings on their most heavy Christian brothers. Eventually I’m forced to tell them how the Vietnam War done branded my ass a shade different color of human. They leave, while, all the time, explaining how my soul will surely burn inside some future hell, they thought up, to scare the weaker folk. But — I’m not the weak type. No sir. My spirit isn’t weak at all. I’ll die believing in Atheism, absolutely, and no death bed will ever change this mind.
I have two wonderful Welsh Corgey dogs and two Himalayan cats. We all live here in perfect harmony. We are one big happy herd. They love each other because I simply ask them too.
My poem follows;
The dawn came during the sunset,
The young life that should have been,
Those lover’s turned to hatred,
But no one knew the reason,
Regards — to my fellow atheist,
Kenneth Ray Whitley
One Sunday, 1969
by Kenneth Ray Whitley
June 16, 2000
Those needles of steeples,
Poke up as they prod,
Trying to get the attention,
Of the one they called God.
I had Sunday off, a day of rest I sorely needed. I would not be flying for twenty-four hours out into the war-torn countryside of South Vietnam. On my days off I usually tried to sleep late, cleaned my room, washed my clothes, shined my boots, oiled those all-important weapons, while trying to relax — if one could consider that possible. Generally we helicopter pilots with time to spare swapped war stories, listened to music, drank beer, and read letters from far away loved ones. We read and reread those letters almost too often because of their constant handling which caused them to come apart along their seams from their frequent folding and unfolding. Those letters reminded us that the people we loved most were still out there, somewhere, but so far away it seemed they were on another planet.
Days off were few and even then they could be interrupted by those dastardly incoming rockets and mortars of various kinds sent by our enemy. Those lazy days were a time to unwind, as one could, inside our “people killing” zone.
I remember a particular Sunday after I’d finished my usual chores when I went over to watch the dragonflies. They hovered round the mouth of our maintenance hangar for unknown reasons. Hundreds of dragonflies floated softly near and above that large open door. Birds, small black ones, with scissor tails, that seldom seemed to land, dove through those bugs trying to catch them for a meal. It was quite a dogfight. Forty or more birds diving in and around the hundred dragonflies. Those bugs were quick and seldom met their doom. I didn’t care who won this small conflict but it sure was a good show. I figured, if there was a God, He probably watched the Vietnam war much the same way.
So it was Sunday. So what? I never went to any religious ceremonies any more except for one past memorial service for lost comrades. That was too grievous for me. After that I didn’t even go to those anymore. I preferred to remember my peers the way I last saw them alive. I knew in my heart that they could understand.
I had a new stereo for my room. It was powerful and could really turn out the decibels. Our Chaplain held his services in a nearby hooch. After his services were over, he came over to my room and advised me, “Ken, I don’t mind whether or not you play your music while my Sunday Mass is going on, but in the future, would you please not play, ‘Why don’t we do it in the road?’”
Religion and war seemed as different as butterflies and polar bears. Together they seemed such a strange partnership. How could any faith, whatever its type, get their minds set to believing God was on their side? How and why did killing become necessary? It appeared killing was a God-given right. I found it strange that both sides in most wars believed God was with them with equal veracity and dedication. I pondered what had happened to the Ten Commandments that I had been raised with — most notably the one that read, “Thou shalt not kill.” I assumed that rule meant people should not kill one another, period, and I agreed with that. I never asked our Chaplain how he knew God was watching over and blessing the American soldier and not the North Vietnamese. I figured he’d explain to me in a round-about way, “You just have to have faith, my son.”
War wasn’t about faith. It was about survival. Random survival. Life in war couldn’t be spared by fervent or incessant prayers. Some of our very best men had perished while some sinners seemed to flourish. Was the Devil stronger than God in armed conflict? That seemed to hold true, because all I had to do was look around to confirm it.
My last prayer had been said months prior, before the God I had been raised with, “Died.” He’d left me with little fanfare. The only way I knew He was gone, absolutely, was that empty feeling one gets when some portion of one’s life left, without saying the proper goodbyes. I missed and mourned His loss — terribly — at first. I had for months relied on Him to bend all those bullets fired, in my direction, so they’d pass right by my helicopter harmlessly. I was just a pilot.
But suddenly I knew war survival, which boiled down to some skill, but mostly just pure luck. I wasn’t sure the exact way my God died, but I was absolutely positive, then and there, that He’d gone forever from my life. I supposed He was just another causality of war.
Years later, after being lucky enough to survive that insane conflict, I went to “The Wall” in Washington, D.C. I searched it from stem to stern but couldn’t find His name anywhere.
“Your God is not our God. Your
God loves your people and hates
mine.... he has forsaken his red
children — if they are really his.”
— Chief Seattle, Dwamish
From: “Roger Scott” (Australia)
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: RE: FORUM My De-Conversion Story 9371
Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000 7:46 PM
Hello fellow atheists,
My de-conversion story is toward the back of an e-letter I sent to the absurd website Answers in Genesis. It was my second letter to them. They published the first, headed ‘Skeptic labels AiG as “Intellectual cave dwellers called young-earth creationists”’
I was not to impressed with their reply, hence the second letter with its personal stuff at the end. It is reproduced below. They chose not to publish this one, and indeed, after the No Answers in Genesis website put more heat on them, they tightened the procedures for sending e-mails to AiG shortly after.
keep up the good work Cliff,
In the letter below, RS1- refers to my first letter (and RS2- refers to my second letter). JS refers to one Dr Jonathan Sarfati, an AiG ‘heavyweight’ who was given the job of replying to my first letter. AiG heavyweights are still too light to withstand a slight breeze of rationalism.
Here is the letter.
Greetings to all the YECs at AiG.
Fancy seeing the whole of my letter published, even if it was in pieces! The next step is to clear up some of the fudging and occasional misinformation in JS’s replies.
RS1- I am of course referring to yourselves, the largely self-uneducated group of intellectual cave dwellers called young-earth creationists.
JS- Actually, many of us have far superior scientific qualifications to R.S.’s — see Creationist scientists or DR John Ashton’s book In Six Days — Why 50 [Ph.D.] Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation.
RS2- Scientific qualifications are one thing. How you use them also counts. What if your actions after obtaining them show that you really do not have much regard for them? What if you actively campaign against some of the major scientific concepts which have near universal acceptance among the most distinguished workers in the discipline and just about everyone else? It could be justifiably stated that you have gone thru a process of uneducation. Young-earth creationists (YECs) have done this themselves. Hence the well-merited comment of YECs being a “largely self-uneducated group”. As for “cave dwellers”, caves were lodgings sometimes used by people of yesteryear and they generally have no windows to admit any light or fresh air. So the metaphor qualifies thrice. YECism is a cave of the mind in which you have chosen to dwell.
Clearly you are aware that I am but a humble high school science teacher, with a mere two Bachelor degrees, from two reputable universities incidentally. Let us put these 50 Ph.Ds into some perspective. So far the score is 0:50 in favour of YECs.
The YECs at AiG should be aware that hundreds of reputable universities teach evolution and not young-earth creationism, nor any other strand of creationism. They would/should also know that almost one hundred percent of Nobel Prize winners in science have been evolutionists. Moreover, they would/should be aware that literally dozens, nay scores of academic and professional bodies have condemned creationism. The Geological Society of Australia, the professional body of geologists in Australia, is one such organisation. It has formally opposed creationism as unscientific. Some YECs at AiG may also be aware that a recent Nobel laureate in Medicine, Dr Peter Doherty, went further and on Australian national television described himself as a strong supporter of Darwin and described creationism as an “absolute scam”. The score is now 1000s:50. (Actually, tens of thousands to fifty plus something or other; there are some hydrologists, engineers, metallurgists and the like who have accepted one or other of the various versions of creationist dogma.)
RS1- Your site is liberally sprinkled with absurdities, scientific and moral.
JS- My my, all these to choose from and R.S. couldn’t even document one … Focusing on alleged moral absurdities, I wonder why R.S. should worry, if we are really just rearranged pond scum, as he believes.
RS2- The notion that a change in the diet of the alleged original humans initiated a world-wide wave of sustained carnivorous activity on the part of many animals, terrestrial, aquatic and marine, is a scientific absurdity of the highest degree. There are others of course in AiG’s site. YECism is itself an absurdity. (I suppose JS will now say that I attempted to point to only one and of course was wrong in doing so on that occasion. Who said it was difficult to predict the future?)
As for morals, if you think they derive from somewhere other than the human mind and human experience, I think you are misinterpreting Christian history, human history and displaying ignorance of the Bible. All thru history, people have fashioned their own moral codes and laws, adopting some, adapting some and rejecting others.
Here is one moral message which I trust no one at AiG endorses: in war, soldiers should kill all the enemy men and all the women who have had sex, but keep the virgins for themselves.
What is the of this absolutely abominable idea? You will find it in the “good book” - Numprovenancebers 31, verses 1 to 18 to be precise. [In verse 40, Moses sacrifices 32 of the virgins not given to the soldiers as sex slaves. — The Editors] This sort of thing might have been acceptable to Moses, one of the more fanatical ayatollahs of his day, but we no longer accept this as representing anything approaching civilised behaviour. Our civilisation has evaluated it and has scrapped it. A similar process has been followed ever since human populations developed a sense of right and wrong whether they had access to the Bible or not.
Recently there have been soldiers sentenced to long prison terms by a judicial tribunal in The Hague for war crimes. Many Australians are aware that during the Boer War, such behaviour would have resulted in court martial and on conviction, execution by firing squad. The records show that men were tried and put to death for far less in that particular conflict.
Today, it would thankfully be against the law to follow the criminally immoral message in Numbers 31. Was there ever a time when any society wholly adopted biblical principles? Of course not. So just why do the folk at AiG yearn for it? They should stop making up fairy stories that the Bible presents a consistent moral message. Those who have critically read the Bible realise that it is sometimes its own worst enemy.
RS1- I have noted that your feedback is heavily censored.
JS- Very interesting assertion (again without support).
RS2- A few weeks ago there were a number of contributors to the NAG website who stated that they had sent multiple letters to AiG which had not been posted. One stated that five e-mails attacking
creationism were sent and not posted. I see no reason why they would misrepresent on this point. This gives the appearance that AiG is very careful and selective with the posting of pro-evolution, anti-creation responses. This looks like a form of censorship
to me. See
JS- But R.S. presumably has no problem with the entrenched discrimination and censorship against creationists in establishment educational and scientific journals.
RS2- If creationists could come up with scientifically plausible arguments on matters astronomical, geological, biological and so on, few would have a problem with these arguments being printed in the scientific press. The problem creationists have is that their core stance is not scientific. They want to bend some observations to preconceived ideas and ignore a colossal number of contrary observations. These preconceived ideas have just not stood the test of time. While not good at proving concepts, science is very good at disproving them. The creationist idea was disproved in the 19th century.
The activities of modern creationists are not scientific. They fall far short of the standards of the creationist scientists of the early 19th century. It was of course these scientists whose observations laid the groundwork for the eventual overthrow of creationism as a serious proposition.
Recently AiG posted a “technical paper” by the YEC Dr Andrew Snelling on the age of the Hawkesbury Sandstone, a body of rock underlying and around Sydney, Australia. (The URL is
Snelling paid some attention to the Hawkesbury Sandstone’s cross or current bedded sandy sediments and its muddy sediments. The cross bedding to which he referred in the article is linked by mainstream geology (no pun intended) with shallow water environments such as river estuaries, off-shore sand bars and so on. All of the rock sequence characteristics to which he referred can be attributed to depositional environments such as provided by Moreton Bay, a bay near where I live (and of course many similar bodies of water). “(R)aging water” as invoked by Snelling is not necessary and would in fact produce rather characteristic deposits that are lacking in the Hawkesbury Sandstone. Raging waters produce a jumble of different grain sizes. There are no laterally extensive, thick very coarse poorly sorted beds of breccia as required by Snelling’s scenario. Fine grained interbeds and lenses of shale would be rather unexpected in Snelling’s concept. Well sorted sandstones would also not be expected yet are present in the Hawkesbury Sandstone.
Snelling uses carbon-14 dating to suggest that this rock formation is much younger than geologists think it is. This is simply extraordinary. Here we have a creationist sanctioning the results of a method which has no application in samples older than about fifty thousand years and which creationists have for years attacked as invalid. The article is appallingly light on details — no maps, no geological sections, no location of the single sample - it is worth repeating, single sample - on which the entire article is based. In the paper there is one photograph of a rock that has something resembling an artificial sun behind it and the name of one of the two laboratories with which he claims to have dealt. Only one laboratory produced a radiocarbon date. There was no peer review. The chances of a reputable scientific journal publishing this are nil.
As I mentioned to Dr Batten some years ago, creationists have a huge credibility problem. It shows no signs of going away.
RS1- PS: Ken Ham may remember me from circa 1979. I was the teacher at the back left of the room who pointed out that his use of the second law of thermodynamics was scientifically invalid. The cheers from the students who had been forced to listen to him have never left me.
JS- Of course, this is hearsay, and I must wonder about the accuracy of R.S.’s recollections after so many years. Mr Ham says that the second law of thermodynamics is not part of his talks, and I’ve certainly never heard him mention it in any of his videos or talks.
RS2- I note JS said “is not”. No reference to Ham’s past activities was made. My memory of some parts of this talk remains clear. It was the first time I had heard any person of mature years support creationism. (This was over 20 years ago.) As a basically shy person, it was with some trepidation that I responded to Ham’s scientific misuse of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. In the tension of the moment, as a new teacher in a double room filled with the entire Year 12 cohort, my throat tightened and my vocalisations were even less clear than normal. Apparently the message was received however. The students’ cheers were genuine enough. Ham could only reply that my statement was my interpretation only. (Mine and numerous others far more expert in thermodynamics than I am of course.) Also genuine was my chat about 15 minutes earlier with a student who wanted to walkout, so irritated was he by Ham’s talk. I was not irritated so much as intrigued and amazed.
By the way, Ham must have developed the witty style praised in recent creationist advertising some time after I heard him speak.
JS- Also, it’s not just Mr Ham who might remember R.S., but other creationist scientists too, like Drs Andrew Snelling and Don Batten. DR Batten informs me that R.S.’s tactic has been to invite a creationist to speak to his class, then behind his back criticize his talk when the creationist is no longer around to defend his position.
RS2- Behind his back, eh? Although I no longer remember clearly how the first invitation came to be made, I have had a number of creationist speakers over the years. I was told in clear terms on the very first occasion that the talk was to be theirs. The reason for this was that I had the students for the whole year and they had a mere hour or so. This talk set a pattern from which I have tried not to stray and have been largely successful. I said nothing when the speed of light decay was introduced, in spite of nearly falling off my chair. (Later on I confess to pointing out to the students that some of the supporting data was from the 17th century when clock technology was just a little limited.) I said nothing when a photo of sediments in a Tasmanian sea cliff was given as evidence for Noah’s Flood. I said nothing when a film featuring one Dr Wilder-Smith, who was touted as a scientific expert on why creationism made more sense than evolution, proceeded to give no evidence at all for creationism other than that the Bible mandated it. Perhaps I am guilty of being overly self-assured here, maybe even arrogant, but I think I could well have mauled the film’s core message.
I only very vaguely recall Dr Batten’s single talk. I think he had a video showing graded beds in the American west which were supposed to support the Flood. I do remember briefly commenting in class while Batten held the floor. I cannot remember any longer what it was but remember being amazed at some interpretation of data. I also felt that I had temporarily failed as a host.
The accusation that I work behind the backs of creationists is rather unfortunate. I would be quite willing to debate creationists in class but as already stated it was made clear from the outset that this was not wanted. This is the bed made by creationists themselves. They should sleep in it or announce that they want to proceed differently. What did they think a science teacher would do after YECs parade a stream of non-scientific and anti-scientific statements, all the while masquerading as scientists? Thank them? Well, they did receive the thanks of the class every time. Congratulate them? Hardly. Ignore the statements? Wrong. Some of the claims made by YECs depart so dramatically from scientific principles that I would be pleased to discuss scientific concepts with them in class. Can it be assumed that they will not object if I come prepared with some stuff to support the other side of this debate? Or do they still want the whole time for themselves? They can have it either way but not both. It is not impressive when they ask for one particular way, receive it and subsequently complain.
JS- Dr Batten’s presentation apparently left the class stunned with such overwhelming evidence for recent geological catastrophism, consistent with the biblical Flood.
RS2- I beg to differ. My memory of the class was that they just sat there listening. I detected no wave of fresh insight nor of intellectual excitement. Now that is something I WOULD remember!
JS- So much that R.S. couldn’t restrain himself from abandoning his usual strategy, and injecting his views on the spot (before he apparently remembered his strategy and regained his composure). For some reason, he has not had a creationist presentation since. Perhaps he had difficulty in countering the creationist arguments.
RS2- I have answered the accusation in the first sentence already. It reflects an unfortunate situation of creationists own making. As for “difficulty in countering the creationist arguments”, JS must be joking. But then again, maybe he isn’t. After all, it is mainly people who have received a thorough indoctrination in fundamentalist dogma who cannot see the overwhelming arguments in favour of evolution and against creationism.
There are two reasons why I have not had a creationist speaker for a few years. There has been a syllabus revision and therefore a workbook reorganisation. Chiefly, however, it is because, even though I usually booked creationist speakers well in advance, they were unreliable. Once I could not get a speaker at the time required to fit the program. On another occasion — after a completely wasted 20 minutes or so - the scheduled speaker (whom I can name if required) was discovered to be still in the head office “having coffee”. As this was on the other side of town, it was not possible to give the talk. Head office was embarrassed enough to mail two rather expensive books in lieu. (I am grateful for one of these works in particular.)
Next year historical geology comes around again. I will ask the class if they would like to hear from a creationist speaker. If they would, and they probably will, I will take my courage in hand, try to make a booking and hope for the best. Will there be approval for a guest lecturer vs host teacher session, with an audience of adolescents fascinated and transfixed by the spectacle of adults advancing totally opposing views? Time will tell.
Invitations are well received in creationist circles. They become news of a sort. Once there was a phone call from a very concerned geologist asking why creationists were talking to my science
class. He was in possession of a creationist newsletter mentioning that talks had been given at my school. Did I not know that these people - actually he named just one YEC - said one thing when pushing (my word) creationism and quite another in their
purely scientific publications? What was going on? No, I replied, I was unaware of this inconsistency. (Since then, Dr Alex Ritchie has written informatively on just this issue, which is of course one of a host of embarrassments for creationism. (See
NAG at http://
And it is quaint. It is also weird, bizarre, astonishing and in this day and age, almost unbelievable. YECs support a story in a book they hold to be infallible without any sound evidence that it actually is infallible. They support a story in the first chapter of a book which is contradicted in the second chapter.
Even more astounding is that we have a group of people who flaunt their scientific credentials but at the same time reject one of science’s greatest discoveries. If they have a degree in geology or biology from a reputable university, they will have studied under professors, lecturers and tutors who do not support creationism. In other words, YECs hold their views not because of their tertiary studies but in spite of them. YECs are prisoners of their religious indoctrination. In reality they regard their degrees as no more than tinsel on a Christmas tree, useful in impressing their scientifically uneducated faithful.
Would AiG be interested in some personal information about an atheist and alleged “vociferous opponent of Christianity” (ie me)? I was fortunate enough not to be indoctrinated with religious propaganda in my early years. However for some reason I read most of the Bible before leaving primary school. While accepting few of its main historical claims as fact, I would have unhesitatingly answered Church of England to anyone who asked my religion. This situation persisted into my early 20s.
Those years in the field as a geologist did not help. Is it possible that geologists tend to come from those walks of life where religious dogma is not only not proselytised but is regarded with some skepticism? Or does the job do that to the majority of them? When I began teaching, I was no more than a Christian fellow-traveller, not a believer in god but someone who basically supported the notion of a Christian-oriented society. Even today I subscribe to some of the more human-oriented aspects of Christian belief, but experienced a series of attitude-changing events while a still slightly-young teacher. Without doubt the first was Ken Ham’s talk. What an eye opener! Later came two holidays in a Christian camp and further visits by YEC lecturers. What a barrage of baloney! What I heard was clearly at variance with reality. Another look at Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian” more or less completed the makeover. Shortly after my father died it dawned on me that I had not prayed even once for his recovery during his illness. I realised I had become an atheist, in both the emotional and intellectual senses.
My secular humanist stance has remained stable for many years now. Has this resulted in my pulling the wings off birds and butterflies? No. My life is fairly staid and conformist actually. The local Blood Bank thinks I am sufficiently kosher to have accepted over 40 donations. There have been a few American televangelists they would not touch with a 10-foot pole. Compared with those lads, my life is positively colorless. I have been married to the same fantastic girl for nearly 29 years and have three great kids, all of whom are a credit to themselves and the community. I do not smoke, have never even seen marijuana let alone used it, drink very little alcohol, like a cup of tea and spurn the gambling associated with horse racing and casinos. I jogged for many years until my knees gave out. I like classical music to the point of needing to hear it. (Even church music is stirring, but not if written after about 1916; anything post-dating that is likely to have been written by someone whose thinking I do not respect much.) While a non-committed voter, I am something of a political conservative, but only by the rather liberal standards of Australia; I would hesitate in supporting a politician who tried to drum up support at places such as Bob Jones University. I support the legalisation of prostitution, regard many opponents of non-violent erotica as either misinformed, hypocrites or fools, support euthanasia and the decriminalisation of some drugs, although I have no intention of using them. Church organisations should pay local taxes like the rest of us.
So, there it is. And congratulations, YECs, you helped make me what I am today. One can but wonder how many others share my views and have seen thru your simplistic, utterly superficial, pseudoscientific dross. It isn’t difficult.
One more comment. Dare I hope for a second miracle of the publishing kind?
This letter can be found at
(alas, a second miracle was not to come to pass. Surprise, surprise.)
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.