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Thread: Two atheist-themed book projects

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  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Apr 2013

    Two atheist-themed book projects

    Greetings all. I'm new here -- Canadian, but been living in China for 20+ years. Rather than repeat info that's available elsewhere, you can check here to see my intro, and here to see background on my literary projects related to China.

    But on a topic more relevant to this forum, I have two different book projects related to atheism. The first is a manuscript that has already been accepted by the Humanist Press (I am currently editing and revising it), discussing the religion vs. atheism debate in Western culture; and the second is a more biographical work, discussing my own journey from Christianity to atheism.

    The first book seeks to bring a more moderate voice to a debate that seems to be dominated by more extreme voices on both sides. Either "atheists are the spawn of Satan, they will destroy us", or "theists are the cause of all evil." (Some exaggeration there, but not much)

    I seek to promote a middle road; that rather than focusing on what people believe, we instead focus on why. And that education should not focus on teaching kids what to believe, but rather teach them how to evaluate different claims, and reach their own conclusions.

    The core of my argument focuses on promoting critical thinking skills. And one of the most important aspects of critical thinking is that your conclusions are only as good as the evidence you have before you. Thus, for example, it would be valid for a person 3,000 years ago to conclude that disease was caused by supernatural forces; but would not be valid for a person with modern medical knowledge to believe the same thing.

    More of my core argument becomes plain in the quoted work below.

    My second book is much more personal; and since I've already written a fairly detailed account on another forum, I'll just copy it here:
    I grew up in a Christian family that was both fundamentalist (ie. believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and that the Bible was inerrant) and Charismatic (a wide range of beliefs, but essentially meaning a strong belief in the demonic realm, speaking in tongues, etc.). My father was an Anglican minister (and very unusual in this regard, in that most Anglicans tend to be fairly secular and liberal), in a small village of 900 people.

    A life that to me seemed entirely normal at the time now, in retrospect, seems incredibly bizarre (and tends to evoke grunts of either amazement or disbelief when I describe it to others). In our home, the spiritual realm was as real (or even more real) than the physical realm. Every single sin that you committed had an attendant evil spirit, which would invade your body when you sinned. So if you lied, you became inhabited by the spirit of deceit; if you stole, you became inhabited by the spirit of theft; etc.

    This particular theology differentiated between evil spirits and demons, which were two different things. Evil spirits were less powerful, more like an embodiment of the sin committed, while demons were the much more powerful angels who'd been cast out of Heaven with Lucifer. You could consider the evil spirits as their servants or emissaries.

    Also, as a Christian, you couldn't actually become possessed (meaning that a demon had invaded your body and taken physical control). Your body belonged to Christ, and was immune from possession. However, these spirits that inhabited your body could influence you to commit more sin, thus opening the door to more evil spirits. If you got enough of those spirits, then your sins would become habitual (thus, for example, habitual masturbation wouldn't be because of any physical or psychological factors, but rather because you'd let in a whole bunch of spirits of lust, who were thus causing you these irresistible habitual urges).

    In order to avoid having such a thing happen, we had to go through a monthly ritual called "prayer counseling". This was essentially a modified version of exorcisms, where I would first have to confess to each and every sin that I had committed, and then the counselors would cast out the relevant evil spirit.

    Now, to understand all of this, you have to understand the militant nature of it. Every morning, when we got dressed, we also had to put on the "whole armor of God". This involved a ritual where, with my parents, I'd say, "I put on the Helmet of Salvation [make motion as if putting on a helmet], the Breastplate of Righteousness [make appropriate motion], the Belt of Truth, and the Gospel Shoes. In my left hand I hold the Shield of Faith, and in my right hand the Sword of the Spirit. I wrap myself in the Cloak of the Holy Spirit, and sign myself with the Sign of the Cross".

    When being "counseled", the counselors would likewise wield a "Sword of Truth" (which really consisted of waving around your hand as if you were holding an invisible sword), and use it to "cut the ties" between you and the various evil spirits.

    A typical exorcism would go something like this (after I've confessed to having looked at a girl's boobs and getting a hard-on):

    "In the name of JESUS Christ, we claim this boy's body for the GLORY of God! We name you, Spirit of Lust! We name you, and cast out from this boy's body! In the name of JESUS we command you to leave! You have no place here, this body belongs to JESUS! And we reclaim his body, and through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT, we cast you back into the pit of Hell. With the Sword of Truth [make waving motions over my head], we cut all ties between you and this body. *insert random noises as they speak in tongues*"

    Now I will say this for the effectiveness of this 'prayer counseling'...I became pretty damn afraid of getting a hard-on, or looking at any attractive girl, knowing that I'd just have to confess it at the end of the month!

    Spirits didn't just inhabit our bodies, they inhabited everything. My parents used to get the infamous Chick tracts, which led my parents to believe, among other things, that A) all rock-and-roll records/tapes were prayed over in Satanic rituals, and B) that all drum beats summoned demons. So not only was rock music not allowed in our house, but any kind of music that had a rhythmic drum beat. I remember getting a copy of a U2 cassette tape (Unforgettable Fire) and keeping it hidden for several weeks, before my parents found it. They forced me to burn it, and the squeaking sound it made as the plastic burned was interpreted by them as the sounds of the demons escaping.

    We also did "prayer walks", where groups of like-minded Christians would walk around a certain area, claiming it for Jesus, and casting out any evil influences. For example, a school that had recently had two students get pregnant might be targeted, to get rid of the demons of lust that were obviously causing this. Such walks were always accompanied by the requisite (imaginary) sword waving, and praying in tongues. It was only much later that I realized how bizarre it would have looked to others -- a group of people walking around shouting incomprehensibly while waving invisible swords.

    An even more bizarre time, on a long road trip, my father had been driving for 8+ hours, it was getting late, and he was almost falling asleep at the wheel. Instead of doing the rational thing, and finding a place to stay for the night, my parents instead held an exorcism to cast out the demon of slumber that was obviously afflicting my father.

    Another example of the extremes to which these beliefs went: we had an instance where, within one week, two holes were made in the same wall. One during a fight with my brother (I used his head to make the hole); the other when my mother was moving a lamp, and the heavy base swung around and made a hole in the wall.

    My parents decided that it was too much of a coincidence that two holes were made in the same wall within the same week, so held a short prayer ceremony to get rid of whatever spirit/demon was causing it.

    Now, you have to understand, I grew up immersed in this stuff -- to me, it was normal. Not only that, but I thrived in it. By 14 years old, I was preaching from my father's pulpit, and starting up Bible Study groups for people two or three times my age. As was an active 'prayer warrior', and participated in public prayer walks regularly.

    By 18, I was attending Bible College, and doing street evangelism on the streets of Toronto in my spare time (for those who know Toronto, I worked with an organization called Evergreen on Yonge Street).

    Here's the greatest irony of it all. I went to Bible college to confirm and strengthen my faith -- but the opposite actually happened. Prior to Bible college, I knew exactly what I believed...but I didn't really know the why, other than that was what my parents had taught me.

    The first thing that happened in Bible college was the discovery that even in the Christian community, my beliefs were considered extreme. In fact, the whole thing of having both demons and evil spirits has no Biblical justification at is entirely made up. So the first step on my road to atheism was rejecting the more extreme beliefs of my parents, and becoming a more moderate, main-stream evangelical Christian.

    But further study just revealed greater and greater contradictions. And the answers I got to my questions were incredibly inadequate, frequently ending with either, "You can't understand it on your own, you need to pray for guidance/wisdom from the Holy Spirit", or the even more useless "God works in mysterious ways" (or variants thereof).

    And doing street ministry put me in touch with people that I'd never encountered before, people who challenged my beliefs in ways that Christians never had. Initially, I believed that of course there must be reasonable answers to those challenges, that all I needed was to learn and understand more. But as learning and understanding increased, the questions likewise increased.

    It was a long process -- more than a decade -- before I finally abandoned my beliefs altogether, and became an atheist. And there were numerous different reasons and factors in that decision. Along the way, I graduated from Bible college, and eventually became a missionary to China, helping convert Chinese to Christianity and start up illegal house churches.

    Thus, the greatest irony of my life: that I'm an atheist in China (who loves the country and the people, but not the government), yet came here originally as an evangelical missionary. Had I not been a Christian, it is very unlikely that I would have ever even come to China in the first place; yet this has become my home.

    As I've commented in the past (and as those who know my history have likewise noted), I'm rather amazed that given just how bizarre and extreme my childhood was, I've grown up to be so (relatively) normal and rational.

    And in closing, I'd like to focus on that note, particularly in regards to those atheists who end up talking with people similar to what I used to be like. From our perspective, such beliefs are incredibly irrational, so much so that it is hard to consider such a person to be a critical or rational thinker at all. Yet I am, and always have been, a critical thinker.

    The reason I believed such irrational things was because that was pretty much the only thing that I was taught. I was given little or nothing to compare it to; and I had numerous authority figures confirming it's truth to me. In addition, I had "supernatural experiences" that, at the time, seemed to entirely verify my beliefs; it is only in retrospect, with better understanding of how the human mind works (and in particular, how it can fool us) that I can recognize that they were not proof of anything supernatural.

    For example, I can still vividly remember a particular experience where I was being prayed over, and suddenly felt this incredible power surge through my body, making me feel simultaneously at peace, and full of energy. That experience was an entirely real experience, and one that I interpreted at the time as the Holy Spirit's power surging through me. It wasn't until much later that I understood how such experiences can be invoked/initiated through entirely natural processes, and that there is no need for a supernatural explanation.

    Now, as my knowledge/experience increased, and information came to hand that contradicted my previous beliefs, I examined such evidence...and where it proved to be stronger than the evidence for my previous beliefs, I'd change my own beliefs accordingly. But that process took time.

    Those non-Christians who mocked me, who proclaimed me brainwashed or closed-minded, had no impact on my 'un-conversion' whatsoever. I dismissed them as readily as they dismissed me. But there were others I met who recognized that I was willing to listen, and even if I insisted that my beliefs were correct, was willing to examine contrary evidence.

    Coming from such a background, it is relatively easy for me to talk with other Christians, as I understand their vocabulary and world view. And I've found that while there certainly are quite a few who will refuse to listen to anything that contradicts their beliefs, there are others who, like me, will examine the evidence given to them, if it is presented with respect.

    I've personally helped de-convert more than 50 Christians over the years (and a great many more have likely been at least somewhat influenced by me), something that I see as a kind of atonement for those that I converted to Christianity when I was younger. Not that I'm actively seeking to "evangelize" for atheism, or anything like that...but when people ask, and are willing to listen, I'm more than willing to talk.

    So I'd encourage others that, regardless of how bizarre or extreme a person's beliefs may be, don't dismiss them out of hand as being irrational, or not being critical thinkers. If they flat-out refuse to listen to any other ideas, or reject any contrary evidence out of hand, then yes...go ahead and dismiss them. But not all of them are like that.

    A final story from my childhood, to wrap things up. It was one of the first occasions that I can remember beginning to question and break from my parents' beliefs. I was 17 years old, and my parents had been doing prayer counseling for a woman who, among other things, was angry with God over the deaths of two of her children. I'd been invited to join them as an apprentice counselor, so was privy to everything that had gone on (such sessions were kept entirely private, nothing was ever discussed outside of what was said...kinda' like the Catholic confessional).

    My parents, in confronting this, had encouraged the woman that she must forgive God.

    I said nothing during the session, but when it was finished, I challenged my parents. "God is perfect, God did nothing wrong! How can you tell her to forgive God, when He hasn't done anything to be forgiven for?"

    My parents responded that I was more mature in my faith, and understood that God could not do anything wrong, and did not need forgiveness; but that this woman did not yet understand that, and needed to get over her anger first before she could move forward. Asking her to forgive God was the best way to accomplish that goal.

    We ended up having quite a heated debate about it, because I felt that giving spiritual counseling to someone that essentially came down to a lie about the very nature of God -- that God needed to be forgiven for anything -- was fundamentally wrong. And that my parents were using an end-justifies-the-means argument to justify their actions.

    Two years later, my parents came around to agreeing with my position...but by that point, I'd already moved much, much farther away from their beliefs.
    A quick note -- this latter book is currently just a concept in my head, I have not even begun to try to actually write it. I have too many other things on my plate right now.
    Last edited by John_Lombard; 04-21-2013 at 07:07 AM.

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