An Open Letter to my Christian Mom
Hi, Mom! Thanks for writing me.
Since you truly believe in the existence and permanence of souls even after death, and I have on numerous occasions expressed disbelief in God and his judgment on my soul, I can fully understand and appreciate your impassioned letter to me about the gospel.
That said, I think we are not on the same page, metaphorically, of what I believe versus what you believe.
In walking through the evangelistic steps in your letter, you mention a law, that everyone has broken, and everyone has knowledge of. While I understand what you mean by this, I don't believe in said law, or the giver of the law. If I did believe in this law, I could see how I broke the rules, but that doesn't mean I feel guilty or sorry about it.
A comparison might be a completely new game I knew of, that someone invented -- let's call it Shrubapple -- and I explained the rules to you about the game. You, hearing the rules and the name of the game, find the game silly, not worth playing, and don't care that you've already "cheated" or "broken the rules" of the game. Although you have heard of the inventor, you believe he is a fictional character. Can you see how such an invented set of rules would be, not the least bit concerning to someone who "doesn't play the game," if you will?
For further reference, I've recreated this pie chart I've seen circulated elsewhere on the web, of all the arguments Christians use for why a former Christian became an atheist, but the actual break down of what made that person an atheist. Meant to be humorous and tongue-in-cheek, it captures well the stance I take:
I will walk through each of these arguments for the sake of clarity -- not necessarily because I've heard you use them, but to better understand my perspective.
This argument says that demons have taken control and dissuaded me from believing in God.
This one is very hard to rebuff as an atheist as:
- It is insulting; arguer has essentially said that I can no longer think on my own volition, or so gullible as to be duped by a demon
- An unfalsifiable position; any argument against demonic possession only further convinces the proponent that we are possessed. It is analogous to the psych patient saying they're sane, further increasing the nurse's belief that the patient is insane.
By making this argument, the Christian shuts down any further discussion with the atheist, as it is a premise the atheist cannot hold, and one which is core to Christian belief. It's a standoff, and will change no one's mind.
A much better approach is to address the actual arguments the atheist has against God and discuss those.
Angry at God
Popularized by movies such as, God's Not Dead and other works of fiction, it would seem many Christians think atheists are just mad at God.
This deflects the atheist's arguments and instead paints their position as "feeling" based, rather than intellectual. I've also seen the same done with historic figures, Freud, Nietzsche, to say their rejection of God was based in an unmet father figure in their youth.
Both versions are attempts to ignore the actual intellectual reasons the atheist does not believe in God and fallaciously assume the atheist wrong. Basing the atheist's position on feeling and not listening to the reasons, is similar to an Intentional Fallacy (insisting that the intention behind something trumps the actual manifestation of the idea).
Another argument that assumes the atheist doesn't know what to think, but his or her friends told him or her what to think.
Similar to being angry at God, this argument says the atheist's views are merely a reaction to God's judgment and the atheist is just trying to spite God.
One, an atheist doesn't believe in God. They can't be personally mad at God. They can be mad or incensed at the idea of god or gods, or infuriated by the followers of a god, but that's not the same thing.
Let's say a person doesn't believe in unicorns. It would be silly for me to say they don't believe in unicorns because they have a grudge against the Great Unicorn. I'm disregarding their actual position and assuming their viewpoint is entirely feelings based. If the person actually did have a grudge against the Great Unicorn, obviously they must believe in at least one unicorn. If the person was just angry that girls had notebooks with unicorns on them, or didn't like unicorns in a fantasy book, that wouldn't be the same as believing in a Great Unicorn.
Just Want to Sin
Here, a Christian assumes an atheist's rejection of God is so that the atheist is no longer held accountable and can therefore pursue sin.
This also ignores the atheist's position and paints them as a hedonist without moral fiber. It is insulting and missing why the atheist does not believe. An atheist's behavior may change, but this is not because they wanted to rape and kill and steal. It is because they are working out their own moral code and determining what is the right way to act towards others, rather than be told it. Morality is not singular to religion.
Some Christians like to point to a specific time in the atheist's life and say the such and such experience was the reason they lost faith in God and turned his or her back on God.
This is also a disregard of the atheist's actual beliefs and suggesting their viewpoint is rooted in feelings.
Humans are complicated beings can shouldn't be relegated to the entire self being based on a single event.
Was Never a True Christian
From Christian theology – particularly Baptist (once saved, always saved) – someone who became an atheist must never have really been a Christian, because if they had had the Holy Spirit, then they couldn't have fallen away.
While I understand this from a theological perspective, this is another argument that merely ignores the atheist's reasons for not believing. It suffers from at least two fallacies:
- No True Scotsman – changing the definition of a group so the counterexample no longer fits in the group, absolving the original group of blame or criticism
- Poisoning the Well – a subset of Ad Hominem attack, it attempts to discredit the author of the argument rather than the argument itself by bringing up a past detail in negative light
Seriously Examined the Evidence for God in Philosophy, History, Science
For an atheist actually interested in truth (that which comports with reality), this will be the entire reason they are an atheist: they have investigated and found that the jury is still out – there isn't a reason to believe in a god.
I could re-hash many of the arguments and observations I've made in other posts, but I'd recommend reading those in entirety rather than a watered down summary here. I touch on definition of atheism ("I do not believe in a god"), Russell's Teapot (burden of proof), Pascal's Wager, everyone is an atheist, faith, Jesus, and ignorance is ok.
This has been a gradual process for me. There was probably one day where I had trouble believing in a god, the next believing there wasn't, but it was still gradual. Also, I found this other person's view on the topic of deconversion helpful. They make an excellent point: rational belief is not something we choose – you're just convinced. I can't rationally choose to believe the sky is green, or the sun is not the center of the universe; I'm either convinced or not. As such, I make it my goal to assess whether my beliefs are feeling based, or intellectual; those beliefs that are feeling based are irrational and I discard.
So, with all those ideas laid out, maybe we understand each other a bit better? Hopefully this explains why I didn't "give up on God" (I'm quoting from your letter), and why I'm not going to "give God another chance." I literally do not believe in God. I can't make myself believe it and remain truthful to myself, retain my rationality. I must find a reason to believe to in a god. It can't be faith for me. I've heard faith defined many ways, but all of them seem like cop-outs to actually thinking and deductively reasoning.
While I sympathize with your sadness regarding my position, I'm under no emotional duress when it comes to judgment or guilt. Maybe you'd prefer it that way, but I am happier. I enjoy not having a constant weight of guilt that comes from my sin, the burden that comes from knowing people I know and didn't know were destined for Hell, the constant push and needed motivation to sanctify, the necessity of trusting in God for the future, the taboo of sex, and my own arrogance as a Christian.
Thanks for your letter. Maybe we can continue our conversation even further now.