Guest post: A reader’s deconversion story

January 2, 2014 • 2:46 am

One of our readers, Mark Joseph, mentioned in an earlier comment that he used to be a missionary. A simple query by me led to his producing a small essay about how and why he abandoned Christianity.  I thought that putting this up was a good way to begin the new year.

Two notes: this gives the lie to the claim that atheists are unsophisticated about religion, which ignores the fact that many of us used to be believers. And it also shows that some of us who gave up our belief in God easily—like me—have no idea how wrenching it is to abandon deep-seated and lifelong religious convictions.

Mark also sent an introduction, and then divides his narrative into “before,” “during,” and “after” his deconversion. Without further ado.


In her horrifying memoir of anorexia, Wasted, Marya Hornbacher stated: “I wrote this book because I believe some people will recognize themselves in it…I would do anything to keep people from going where I went. This book was the only thing I could think of.”

Change the word “book” to “essay” or “post” and you have my own reason for writing this, and agreeing to have it published on the internet, despite the fact that I realize there might be some considerable negative reaction, especially given the potential for wide circulation of the essay and the fact that up to now I have told this story to only one other person. I would like to thank Jerry Coyne for his interest in having this brief memoir published on his website, and look forward eagerly to his forthcoming book on the emptiness of theology.


by Mark Joseph


I became a Christian at age 18. My best friend, a recent convert, told me about Christianity, and a short time later I accepted Christ as my personal savior. My main motive was to live forever, and the decision was eased by two still-childish aspects of my personality at that time: a desire to please, and an inability to think critically or to ask questions.

As I was always an excellent student, I went on to seminary (I hold an M. Div. from an evangelical seminary) and became a Bible teacher. I was married young, and my wife and I were missionaries from 1985-1999 in Haiti and the Czech Republic. In both countries I taught in the Bible school and seminary, and wrote textbooks (Bible commentaries and books of systematic theology). I read great gobs of young-earth-creationist and intelligent-design literature, and ignorantly spouted it: in one of my textbooks, I started the section on the “doctrine of man” with a four-page dismissal of evolution so misinformed that it would make even Ken Ham cringe.

On our furloughs I taught at our home church. Strange as it might sound, my role in the church was pretty much that of oracle, as I knew the Bible and theology better than anyone else (not excepting the pastor), and was greatly loved as a teacher. Even now, after 15 years of apostasy, it would be a trivial exercise for me to find a hundred people who would declare unhesitatingly that I was the best teacher they ever heard.

My entire life was wrapped up in Christianity. We were always at church, most of my reading was the Bible, Christian books, and mission magazines, I preached when and where I could, I prayed regularly, I loved and tried to please God, raised my children to be Christians, and was never unhappy or doubtful about any of this.

I know this all sounds a bit too self-aggrandizing, but it’s crucial to understanding the force of my moment of deconversion that at the time I was following Christianity not merely as a sort of lifestyle, or because it was associated with a particular political position, or because I was using it to get ahead in the world, or as a social group to which I could belong, and certainly not because I was born into it (I was raised in a Jewish home), or for any of the other reasons some people are religious in general and Christians in particular. I was following Christianity because I believed it was true, and trying to find out and know what is true has always been important to me.


We were missionaries in Haiti from 1985-1992, and then in Prague from 1993-1999. In Prague, we lived in a panelak, one of the immense blocks of apartments built by the Communists. In the summer in Europe, many people leave their homes to go on vacation, which makes the panelak both warm and very quiet. I don’t remember the exact day, but I was sitting on the couch in our apartment (I was the only one home) and praying, and in a completely unexpected manner the thought crossed my mind, “there’s nothing happening here.” That was the exact moment; it was like a light had been turned off. I’m guessing that I’m the only Christian ever who lost his faith while praying on the mission field! And this is the important part: this happened solely because of God’s non-responsiveness to my seeking and serving him, which I was doing because I believed he was real, and because I believed that the Bible was true, before all the psychological catastrophes and educational experiences described in the next section.


Of course, that moment was only the beginning of the process. The following year we returned permanently to the States (in the second of the three times in rapid succession that I was vocationally abused by a Christian organization, our home church cut off our support). During the next three or four years I made every effort to retain my faith (always by myself; the church is not a safe place to voice doubts or ask questions), continuing to read, teach, pray and seek God. To say that God never responded in any way would be a pathetic understatement. Of course, I now understand that the reason is that religion is not true, God does not exist, and religious experience is merely a  psychological phenomenon. Finally, around 2002 I realized that not only did I no longer believe in God, but that I was not going to make any further effort to do so.

I could probably stop there, but the most interesting part is what has happened since.

The catalogue of my efforts to know God after the moment of deconversion, and his non response, would be tedious. However, the nature of the situation was becoming steadily clearer to me as I sought him futilely. Since God never once expressed any sort of love, or any other response to me, despite my most honest and intense longing and searching, I therefore ended up thinking that God had really acted toward me like a will-o’-the-wisp, leading me onward through a swamp and finally disappearing with a derisive laugh and leaving me to sink into the mire.

And if you think that is a hard situation, the next one is absolutely brutal. In 2003, our younger daughter developed anorexia and nearly died (yes, of course my apostasy was blamed for it). After she had been in therapy for a while and was starting to get better, I was driving her home from the clinic, and she expressed a longing for a fruit and yogurt parfait  from McDonalds. At that time, if she had expressed a desire for the most expensive dish at the most expensive restaurant in Los Angeles, I would have bought it for her without a second’s hesitation. So I pulled into the McDonalds—and they were out of fruit and yogurt parfaits. Needless to say, she didn’t want anything else.

That was quite literally the last straw—if God didn’t care enough about me to arrange for one of the world’s largest corporations to have a regularly-stocked item available when my daughter needed it (surely one of the easiest things for omnipotence to ensure; I wasn’t exactly asking for a miracle), then it was as obvious as the sun in the sky that He either didn’t exist, or didn’t care about me. At that point I had been leaving God for about five years, slowly and painfully, and he had never indicated in any way whatsoever that he cared whether or not I came back. Since that moment, there has been no question in my mind of returning to him. Or, as the wag once put it, “if this is the way God treats his friends, it’s no wonder he has so few.”

In 2004, while working the dead-end full-time office job that I still have, I went back to school and earned a masters degree in mathematics, and since 2008 I’ve been teaching part-time at a university. Besides the math, I started to give myself a good (and ongoing) scientific education, starting with science in general (Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World) and then working through physics, astronomy and  cosmology, brushing up on my chemistry (my bachelors degree from UCLA  was in chemistry), and finally on to biology and evolution. Meanwhile, I’ve also read a many books concerned with reason, logic, philosophy and religion, and I no longer opine on subjects about which I  know nothing. I am resolutely and irrevocably non-religious, and will remain an atheist until someone provides convincing evidence for the existence of some God.

Since I’ve already babbled on this long, I’ll go ahead and answer the first two questions that will be asked.

From non-believers: “Doesn’t this cause tension with your wife?”

Yes, it does. But for a number of reasons, we have lapsed into a not-uncomfortable situation of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” She pretends not to notice all the e-mails I get in which the “from” line is “Why Evolution is True” as well as all the books about atheism and evolution on my bookshelves; I never mention the Christian books on her shelves, or the music for the songs she’s teaching to the children at church. On Sunday mornings she goes to church; I stay home and read—mostly science and books criticizing religion. Imagine that—allowing other people to make their own choices in life! Otherwise, though, we still love and care about each other a lot, and work hard together to make something of life. When we returned to the States we owned nearly nothing, and economic survival was our top priority for the next decade or so. And, she truly is a wonderful human being.

From believers: “Are you angry/sad/afraid?”

Yes, I am angry. Angry at having wasted potentially the most productive period of life. Angry at having missed much of what life offers. Angry at having done what was unnecessary at best; destructive at worst, while much that is good went undone. Angry at having one’s every idea, thought and even statement repressed. Angry at being looked at as roadkill, as ignorant, or as despicable by people whom I thought to be friends. Angry at having been lied to and misled for so long. Angry at having “made a pilgrimage to save this human race, never comprehending a race that’s long gone by.”

However, anger is counterproductive, and kind of silly when one considers that no one forced me to become religious. As a result, I don’t express that anger toward others, but it ends up getting internalized as depression. Fortunately, I’m getting better and better at dealing with depression, and my sense of humor has never deserted me.

Afraid? Not a chance. What would I be afraid of? God? Doesn’t exist. Demons? Don’t exist. Hell? Doesn’t exist. As Robert Charles Wilson put it, “I understand so very little. But I am not afraid to look: I am a good observer at last. My eyes are open, and I am not afraid.”

201 thoughts on “Guest post: A reader’s deconversion story

  1. Mark, thank you for that. I hope that you and your family have a good future together.

    If I may, what is your response to those that accuse you of never having been a “true christian” or a “real believer”?

    1. I bet most “real believers” are really going with the flow & wanting to believe – like Mulder’s poster in the X Files – which does not make it true, it only makes it seem true.

    2. Interesting question, and one that was just in fact posed by a Christian in the post above. I bet I can guess what Mark would respond, but he said (and that is his real name) that he was working today and would answer questions when he could.

      1. Jerry is right on both counts; I am heading off to work, and will have to respond to questions this afternoon, and this is my real name.

    3. Hello Graham:

      I’m going to address your question over on the next post, the “No True Christian” thread, as there has already been some discussion about it there.

  2. Very interesting.

    Having had a Church of England upbringing, which was not in the slightest evangelical but was probably closer to the sort of religious experience Darwin among others would have had in the 19th century, we never had any of this forced on us. It was similar I suppose to the cultural aspects of Judaism & Islam – or maybe any group where the religion is long established & cultural. I became a cathedral chorister & imbibed the CoE musical culture every day – I still appreciate that – but never ‘believed’ in god. It was purely cultural – what you did, part of the fabric of the calendar. I was never in doubt about evolution – most people in the traditional church adapted to Darwin generations ago, so it is accepted apart from with newer churches, evangelical churches & those dim enough to be ‘born again’.

    I recall specifically thinking, if we all evolved, & supposedly have souls, either there was suddenly a soul in a ‘primitive’ person whose parents had none, or all living things would have a soul. As no one knows what the heck a soul is or where it is, & no one who wrote the bible considered what ‘afterlife’ if any they were selling, no one wrote what this bizarre ‘heaven’ of eternal life is like. The bits there are are an accumulation of a lot of ancient religions, Babylonian, Persian etc. So for me there was clearly no soul. Now I suppose that we can conceive of a god without an afterlife – but then all that god is is a motive force like the wind or lightning. Then so what?

    What I cannot understand – I do not wish to sound rude – is the idea of god as a supplier of yoghourt in a similar way to the magical fishes of the various versions of the bible… are you supposed NOT to put god to the test? That is always a get out of gaol free card for religious people…

    Anyway, well done for being rational about it & finding a way out AND keeping your marriage together like Charles & Emma Darwin.

    I could never live with a believer.

    1. Dominic:

      You bring up many good points; I hope you don’t mind if my answers are somewhat brief.

      Since I was an adult convert, there was never any of the “cultural christian” aspect to my life; indeed we considered cultural christians as non-christians, to be evangelized (I apologize for all they guff you and yours took from our spiritual arrogance).

      I think the idea of god choosing an ape at a certain point of development, and infusing it with a soul, is catholic doctrine, though I’m not sure. In conservative protestantism the soul is passed from the parents to the child (“traducianism”). I no longer believe in the existence of the soul, for reasons which have been catalogued on the website a number of times. I’m a materialist, as I have no good evidence for accepting the existence of non-material things, such as god(s), angels, souls, etc.

      Your question “are you supposed NOT to put god to the test” is not rude at all. Let me start by stating that as mentioned in my original post, I had previously mentioned this deconversion to only one other person. That person was a pastor, whose job, of course, is to listen to and interact with people like me. He asked the very same question; when I wrote to him at length, I answered it like this (remember, I’m addressing him about a conversation we had previously had):

      At one point you said that you weren’t the sovereign, God is, with the implication that God can do whatever he wants; I’m pretty sure that you would say that anything God does is good by definition, and that his will is unconstrained. Nevertheless, I would quibble—and am reasonably certain that you would agree—that God is, in fact constrained by his own nature. So, no, he didn’t necessarily owe me any answers, insights, visions, or whatever during my 23 years as a Christian, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to claim that, if God exists, and if he is as described in the bible, that he owes (not based on our merit, but on his character) love and friendship to those who are his people. He never once expressed those to me, despite my most honest and intense longing and searching.

      It was at this point in my letter to him that I put down the two illustrations of the will-o’-the-wisp and the yoghurt parfait.

      He never responded.

    1. Ant (and everyone else who has expressed thanks):

      You’re most welcome; hopefully something in it will someday help someone you know to see the light, that is, the light of reality.

      And I thank you and many others on this website; I have learned a lot, and greatly enjoy the camaraderie.

  3. Very powerful stuff, Mark Joseph.

    I’m guessing that I’m the only Christian ever who lost his faith while praying on the mission field!

    You may have seen this quote, from her personal letters:

    I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony. — Mother Teresa

    I’d like to say you are in good company, but you probably know that saying such a thing is quite objectionable.

    You are much better company than that. “Teresa” had a similar realization, but chose to go through the motions for the next 50 years, spreading pain, suffering, theft and ignorance in her wake… denying even pain medication to those under her “care”. With a vow that she would like nothing better than to die in one of her hospices, she nevertheless ended her days wired to the best cardiac care that the 20th century had to offer.

    No, you not only left the fantasy behind, but decided on a much more difficult and rewarding path. You are actually doing real good in this world, which takes great strength of character. Some folks got it, and some folks don’t. My hat’s off to you.

    1. or Salon. BOY, is this lady a twit. The same tired crap… atheists are more fundamentalist than fundamentalists… the religious have given us great music and stained glass, and the atheists nothing of any worth whatsoever. Truly abysmal.

    2. Stephen:

      Whoa, too much cognitive dissonance! For a very long time those of us fundamentalist protestants trying at least a little bit to be fair always pointed to Mother Theresa as the “one catholic who was really a christian” (my, weren’t we openminded! ;-))

      Only recently have I learned that she was, apparently, more the Wicked Witch of the West than she was, say, Mother Theresa.

      Fortunately, I know enough not to fall into a “No True Christian” fallacy!

  4. Thanks Mark, this reminds me somewhat of Kenneth Daniels’s journey to non-belief:

    The psychology of this interests me, though: how much difference would it have made if MacDonalds had had the yogurt parfait in stock? Some believers don’t let any number of setbacks deter them from a teleological view of the world. When things go wrong, they think they are just being tested. What stopped you from continuing this line of thought? Your reason for not believing in God still comes over as conceding his existence (“if this is the way God treats his friends, it’s no wonder he has so few”), whereas I would see the non-availability of a dairy product as just dumb bad luck. Perhaps this just reflected your place at the time in the journey to non-belief?

    Good luck with that journey and, really, as you say, there is nothing to be afraid of (imho!).

    1. Marks, thanks for sharing your story. I am ex-believer myself and although I’ve never been to the missionary field, I was still considered one of the best bible teachers in my former church. Ken Daniel’s book is in my opinion the best description of the journey to non-belief and I recommend it to all Xians questioning their faith.

      1. What makes the case of Daniels particularly interesting is the fact that his parents were missionaries. One unfortunate, striking similarity about the Daniels and Joseph cases is that their wives haven’t been convinced of the correctness of their husbands’ unbelief. Note that the Kindle version of the Daniels book is currently priced at 99 cents, and the book has gotten 99 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.5 stars.

    2. I think there is a period of time in the journey to non-belief where your mind has to play both angles: “I don’t believe there is a god”, and “god is an asshole” at the same time, because your mind itself is so divided. God seems very real for believers and even when part of your mind stops believing it, some part still feels it as something kind of real (think how you can feel like Hermione Granger or some other literary character, is someone you actually know). But once you let yourself even think things like that clearly, which you don’t when you’re being religious because it would be ‘blasphemous’ (religion survives largely by erecting a large pallet of thought crimes to protect itself), they tend to pile up since it’s pretty obvious that either god doesn’t exist, is not very powerful, or is an asshole. At any moment you may not feel one of these angles as strongly as the others, but any one of these is sufficient reason to continue on a path of reducing the hold the idea of god has over your mind and life.

      1. “…religion survives largely by erecting a large pallet of thought crimes to protect itself…”

        That’s very good.

        1. And so very, very true. Most people in church would never even think to ask any questions, any more than a fish would wonder about the water surrounding it. Please see my response to Timothy Hughbanks at #15 below.

    3. Hi Mark:

      Downloaded! I’m almost done with the book I’m reading on my Kindle app, and limit myself to buying a Kindle book only when I’ve finished the one I’m on. Thanks for the lead! And to Bob for pointing out that it is only 99 cents!

      It’s kind of odd–I’ve read a lot of the standard atheist works, old and gnu, and I certainly want to read the well-known books by Barker and Loftus–but so far the only deconversion story I’ve actually read is Ayaan Hirsi-Ali’s horrifying and spectacular Infidel, which I’ve recommended on this website several times in the past.

      Of course, if I even thought that what I went through compared in any way to what she endured, she would have the right (and my explicit permission) to kick my pasty white ass across the room. The most amazing thing about her book is that she survived at all.

      Your question “how much difference would it have made if MacDonalds had had the yogurt parfait in stock?” was answered by your last statement, “Perhaps this just reflected your place at the time in the journey to non-belief.” I think that’s correct. After all, it was just the last straw; if it hadn’t happened, sooner or later something else would have, presuming that I kept looking for god, and he kept on being a no-show. In other words, it wasn’t just the parfait; it was the parfait and the five years of searching that led up to that moment.

      1. Have you read Seth Andrews’s book Deconverted? It’s a quick read and some of how he came to doubt god parallels your story. His whole career centred on church and religion as well.

        1. Haven’t read it; only saw it yesterday for the first time when I went to get the Daniels book at Amazon; it was listed as “people who bought this, also bought this.” On your recommendation I’ve added it to the list!

  5. A quest for loving someone is the same whether if that someone is divine or not. At least that is what Mark’s story says to me. Eventually when the loving is not there, we see that simple reality and we let go. Once we are seeing reality clearer, we can come to important conclusions: the beloved was authentically not interested in me, the beloved was a poser/player, or in Mark’s case, the beloved is a figment of imagination.

    And when we see that the beloved is real and returning our love, we stay together like Mark and his wife is doing despite difficulties. I suspect Mark’s ability to love and recognize when it is returned is the powerful, underlying basis of his ability to let go of a fictive god.

    Peace and love to you and your family, Mark. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

  6. I think this gives those of us who escaped having to go through this potentially painful process an invaluable insight into what it’s like. I hope Mark has the support of others who have been through the process.

    1. It would have been nice. But it was not to be. Response to me by my former co-religionists has been a roughly equal split of benign neglect, pity, and anger (which to me says a lot more about good and bad people than it does about the supposed truth of a religion; cue Weinberg’s dictum). And, I couldn’t get too involved with others without really upsetting my wife. So, I went it alone; the books helped more than any person I actually knew. I owe Messers Sagan, Gould, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others more than any of them ever suspected.

      1. I wish I could send a wall-sized poster with that last sentence to every accomodationist who runs on about how “new atheists” drive people away.

        1. I think the accommodationist position is prima facie ridiculous. What is someone being “hounded” by a new atheist going to do? Suddenly declaim “I was looking for the truth, but this obnoxious acolyte of Christopher Hitchens has just presented me with too much reason and too many facts; besides, he’s strident. I’m going to go believe in god.” I don’t think so.

  7. It’s funny Mark Joseph, and it may be more about : faith, belief, susceptibility, love for the human race, altruism gone awry and other things for you; but I had the same epiphany you describe, as a 14 year old boy, kneeling in church, willing something to happen.. then I moved on hesitatingly and somewhat quickly after that. I didn’t know where I was going for 3 years, until undergraduate zoology, I even took a sicky on the day I was meant to do the reading at the school service at St John’s in Grade 12, and I was the school captain, just couldn’t go through with it, and then soon after it all became clear that I had made a good decision. Due to education. Despite all the nice people it seemed who were around the Sunday school and the anglican church, it was good to be free of that environment. There was a glaze in the eyes I could never understand amongst the most emphatic of them, and as I have come later to understand, these people were never going to predict the future very well despite how strident they were about it. Anyway you seem to be a man of enormous faith, which is not to understate that in all of us, atheists have faith credentials to burn. Good luck in your endeavours and good luck working this out with your wife. That may be a the thing that changes your life in the biggest way. M

    1. Michael:

      We can hope that it’s not rare. I do know a number of non-religious people who have told me, in so many words, that “religion is bullshit,” but they are people who were not deeply into it, and figured out the game much more quickly than I did.

      And, the polls and demographic changes show that we are steadily gaining…

  8. Thank you, Mark, for sharing your most fascinating story.

    Thank you, Jerry, for giving space for the post. L

    1. Well, if it isn’t gbjames, one of my favorite people whom I’ve never met (nearly everyone in that category posts or comments at this website!).

      As I mentioned in my response to Duncan at #8 above, I really can’t get too involved without hurting my wife (at least, more than I already have). While I would love to check out what they do–as well as to support FFRF–it simply would not be realistic in my situation.

  9. Thank you for posting this. It is beautifully written and your teaching skills are obvious (a talent that is independent of religion, regardless of whether a person steps into the role of instructor or not).
    You wrote that you were “angry at having wasted potentially the most productive period of life.” I understand this, but any time of life can be productive. Youth and energy don’t guarantee it, nor do age and experience. It sounds like you are hard at work now (going back to school, teaching, reading, reaching out to others) which are all strong investments in a productive future! Good luck and Happy New Year!

  10. It is interesting, isn’t it? Among all the superb, even if obvious, reasons to finally and completely let go of God, I never thought of the argument from parfait.😃

    Seriously though, it is remarkable how solipsistic the religious argument is: I have a personal relationship with God, so as long as I’m careful to not ever start questioning whether anyone is actually answering back, I can keep from looking at how silly the whole edifice is. I never want to look at the whole incoherent mess as if I were outside of it.

    1. I never thought of the argument from parfait.

      Yes! It’s a *perfect* argument! (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

      so as long as I’m careful to not ever start questioning whether anyone is actually answering back, I can keep from looking at how silly the whole edifice is.

      You touch on a key issue here. We all know that modernity, education, and using reason erode faith. The fundamentalist churches do all they can to keep such influences away from their children. They call it “separation from the world,” but it is obvious to us on the outside that faith (especially in something as palpably untrue as the christian religion) is a hothouse flower, and can only be protected by intensive protective measures. Sure, they quote the bible (James 1.8), but when you get right down to it, most people in the church know “deep down somewhere” that what they believe it not objectively true (I mean, really, believing in Noah’s ark in an age of antibiotics, robotic vacuum cleaners, and handheld phones that are nearly indistinguishable from magic?), and hence make every effort *not* to put it to the test, raise questions (I think it was Freud who said that the church socializes its young to ask only those questions that the church can answer), or do anything else that might rock the boat.

      That is why, of course, we see the steady increase in the number of irreligious and “nones”. Young people are in a societal situation in which it is easier than ever before to encounter facts and ideas which show the old-time religion to be a relic of the pre-modern era.

  11. Thank you, Mark, for your sincere and eloquent account. Courageous, too. In the telling, your ordeal seems so well reasoned and sensible, if wrenching, that I do wonder why more fervent, insightful believers cannot in time achieve such an enlightening release.

    I wonder, too, about your wife, with whom you have experienced so much on your journey through deep faith to the rejection of faith. I can understand why you do not discuss this great divide in your shared life with her. One of my closest friends is an Episcopal priest, while I am a life-long atheist. We haven’t discussed religion in more than 30 years. But a marriage is quite different, of course. To share responsibility for children and for your lives’ joined direction is a greatly complicating aspect that could lead to profound and open discord between you and yet has not, by your account here. I wonder about how much frustration you may feel over this central divide and how much you may yearn for your wife’s own enlightenment. Anyway, I congratulate you. Your equanimity in the face of such inner tension and sadness and anger is a noble thing.

    1. The light and heart of my life, my daughter, is a devout Christian.

      If there is any meaning at all to loving someone, the act of it must include understanding and acceptance of the other’s way. To achieve this without losing your own integrity or becoming a hypocrite–that is a mission in its own right.

      1. If there is any meaning at all to loving someone, the act of it must include understanding and acceptance of the other’s way.

        Chisel this in stone, and put it up above the entranceways to all the churches in the land.

        1. Not to take away from Marta’s sentiment, which is truly beautiful and inspiring, but I just had to chuckle that you capitalized “Shit” because it’s holy and from “Him”. 😀

          1. Thanks. I must say, though, that I don’t recommend the use of Bang energy drink for a sinus rinse! 🙂

    2. It shouldn’t lead to discord if both Mark and his wife are understanding and tolerant about it.

      My wife gives Jesus his marching orders personally every morning, and by now (after 30 years) she knows perfectly well I’m an atheist. But neither of us makes a point of it and it’s never led to a problem. Possibly fortunately for me my wife is CICC (Cook Islands Christian Church) which is a fairly mild flavour of Protestantism, so I don’t have to go along with anything I find too disturbing.

      It’s just a matter of priorities, I guess.

    3. I wonder about how much frustration you may feel over this central divide and how much you may yearn for your wife’s own enlightenment.

      Hi Don. Less than you might think. Sure, if she were a non-believer I could share a lot more of my interests (especially science) with her, but that is not going to happen (she grew up in the church, and has never been without it).

      There’s a magical quote from Arthur C. Clarke that nails it: “Perhaps it is better to be un-sane and happy, than sane and un-happy. But it is best of all to be sane and happy.” Though it may not be optimal, I can’t risk her happiness.

      Every bit as good is Marta’s comment, just below yours and just above mine (if I understand this threading thing-a-ma-jiggy) “If there is any meaning at all to loving someone, the act of it must include understanding and acceptance of the other’s way.”

      And, of course, this is decidedly *not* the best of all possible worlds!

      1. I disagree with the sentiment of understanding and ACCEPTING. Understanding, yes. Abiding, yes, for they must come to their own conclusions, but accepting, no, for in the end they believe a lie. My wife is no different. It eats at her that I don’t believe. It eats at me that she does. I would LOVE for her to one day question god as she questions so many other things in her life, but I don’t know that she ever will. She believes god is the truth and she cannot see the lie. She’s not even someone that has ever been entrenched within a religious lifestyle. It is a byproduct of fear. I guess I accept she believes the lie, but I don’t accept it as being okay. I abide it until either one day she begins to question, one day we are separated (not likely), or one day I die.

        1. Thank you Ken. I agree with you, but from the opposite end.

          Understand, yes. Love, yes. Keep communication lines open, yes. Be there, be family, give love and be loved. Keep abiding, yes.

          But ACCEPT a Christian loved one’s fall into unbelief or atheism or other catastrophic spiritual disaster? No. Hell no. No acceptance at all. That’s World War III right there. Period. As a Christian, you don’t stop praying and fasting and petitioning God for your loved one, night or day.

          And as Ken’s concluding phrase suggests, you don’t give up, you stay on it, till you draw your last breath, if need be. Your Christian family member is just THAT important.

  12. Thank you Mark for sharing your story. I am in a similar boat as Jerry, only even more so. Even during the most religion “friendly” period of my life, growing up, I was indifferent to religion at best. If I had been asked back then if I believed in god I would have said “I don’t know.”

    As I became more aware through my adult years I came to a more actively opposed position regarding religion. Over the past 15 years or so I have come to despise religion. (Please note that I do not despise people because they are religious.) I have reached this position primarily due to the behavior that religion inspires and is used to justify. That it is untrue is important to me as well, but secondary. Even if it were true I would still despise and oppose it, likely even more so. But then, I have always had issues with authority.

    1. I have said more than once that even if they were right (which they’re not), if I had to choose, I’d rather be in hell with Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson (and Dr. Seuss).

      1. And don’t forget about all the unbaptized, unsaved babies. If they’re in hell, I’d feel guilty being in heaven knowing so…

      2. Yes, limbo was invented by the church for unbaptized babies; god would have to be exceptionally cruel to burn innocents! And the church essentially said, well, we sort of made that up. It reminds me of an incident during my training as a neonatologist. A catholic family had a baby that was very sick on life support, teetering on the edge of life for several days. One evening while the parents stopped out of the hospital for a bit, the baby decompensated, arrested and died. We called the parents during this episode who asked for a priest to baptize the baby. The priest and the parents both arrived after the baby had died. The priest stated that he only bless the baby, but he could not baptize the baby, because the church does not baptize dead people. The parent’s desperate grief was severely exacerbated by this;their pleas fell on deaf ears. I was raised a catholic and held onto tatters of vague Christianity at the time…but I wanted to effin strangle that priest with my bare hands. What scenario could call more for comfort from their religion? I was so angry and told him so in a private conversation later. It
        Certainly moved me far, far from Catholicism and illustrated how the church doctrine, not the people, not a kind and loving god, was what was important to the priests.
        And it’s true, losing one’s religion, when one truly believed, is an excruciating, lonely and prolonged process that I waded and mucked through myself. I too heard no answer when in desperation I just prayed for faith. I used to think there was something wrong with me! But the good news is, I finally realized that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, in fact there was something right with me,that I wasn’t willing to make stuff up just because I wanted it to be true. Ad the only thing that helped me along the way besides my natural skepticism was incidents like this priest and reading posts like yours Mark, wherein I CAN recognize myself and say “YES, YES, EXACTLY!”– and in reading new atheist literature and blogs like yours Dr. Coyne. Thank you both for your efforts.

    2. I have come to despise religion.

      Me too. For all the usual reasons, of course, but I also want to repeat something that one of this list’s main contributors posted just a few days ago:

      “As for why atheists speak up against religion – it’s because it’s harmful. It’s harmful when children are left to die because of religious misconceptions and fear of things like blood transfusions and vaccines. It’s harmful when people are encouraged to rely on revelation instead of knowledge. It’s harmful when members of a technologically advanced society denounce science and hope for the end times. It’s harmful when people are psychologically abused into thinking they are sinners when they are normal human beings and it’s especially wrong when atheists who have the courage to say they do not believe and you are harassed and threatened by believers.

      Those are just some of the reasons.”

      (Diana MacPherson at

  13. Many thanks to Mr. Joseph for his spiritual autobiography, his apologia. For that is what it is: his narrative of deconversion has more caritas in it–as well as far more rationality and self-discovery–than the canonical conversion narrative of Augustine. I hope that his seven years as a missionary in Haiti did more good than harm to that misfortunate people: that food, clothing, shelter and education were not overbalanced by institutionalized evangelism.

    So, Mr. Joseph, perhaps you were acting while in Haiti in the best ethical way, even as your church was acting most despicably. Institutions cannot love; people can and do. The former are doubtless necessary evils. But they are evil, not least in that they stifle human love.

    1. I hope that his seven years as a missionary in Haiti did more good than harm

      Robert: I hope so too, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know. My own work was mostly bible teaching and writing books. There were good people there (I still remember one colleague saying about another one, “All he wants to do is help poor people”), and bad people too (I have stories that would curl your eyeballs, if I might be permitted to mix a metaphor). For the second time already in this thread, I’m going to refer to Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”

  14. You’re intelligent and brave, Mark.
    I felt a kindred spirit, we both took the god question too seriously when we’re young.

    Yes, I was turned intially by Sagan’s books, then Gould, later Dawkins, Dennett, Hawkings, and now Coyne, Pinker, and so many others.

    Some people have to know the “real” hard truth, a lot others don’t, they just want to go through life … (and maybe just want the easy way out).

    Again, thanks for sharing.

  15. Thank you Mark for such an eloquent personal account. I can relate to much of what you say & look back on my own life with some of the same emotions.

    I’m glad to read that you still have your sense of humour…sometimes, I think that we have to look back on our lives lived under the spell of delusion & realize that the joke was on us. I get it now & have to laugh at some of the absurdities. Lost opportunities? Yes, but far better to recognize the truth now than play out the charades. The truth, however little we may understand it, does set us free.

    I feel freer & happier now than I ever did as a saved, delusional Christian zealot. I hope you do too.

    Here’s to you my friend.



    1. Evan:

      The truth, however little we may understand it, does set us free.

      The ultimate judo move against (at least one) religion! Kind of like criticizing the bible based on the injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5.21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

      I feel freer & happier now than I ever did as a saved, delusional Christian zealot. I hope you do too.

      I do, my friend, I do.

  16. That’s a great story and I thank Mark Joseph for sharing it. One thing I note, however, is the same thing I’ve noted in every atheist deconversion story I’ve read: there really isn’t a lot of detail on how the deconversion event came about. His perception that prayer wasn’t having any apparent effect really shouldn’t have worked; there are a number of apologist explanations for that and I’m sure that Mark knew every one of them. Why didn’t he invoke them at this point or why were they ineffective? It may be that he doesn’t know himself, or it may be that having lost his faith, he can’t quite get back into the mindset he had at the time.

    1. I think there is a time or event that is the ‘last straw’ when one realizes, consciously, that it’s all a bunch of BS.

      In other words, it can be a long process as things transition from black to gray to white, and at some point, one notices the color has changed.

      At least that’s my experience…

      1. I think there is a time or event that is the ‘last straw’ when one realizes, consciously, that it’s all a bunch of BS

        Could be, but to carry the metaphor forward, the camel’s back will start to bend before it breaks, so there is a bit of warning before the break occurs. The author doesn’t describe his bending.

    2. I am curious as well as it is important to understand this transition on thought process more clearly.

    3. Former preacher Dan Barker describe the turning point as “a loss of faith in faith.” All the apologetic explanations and excuses for why it sometimes looks like God doesn’t exist require a pre-existing belief in the value and virtue of believing in God. Without that, they’re weak, unconvincing, and even laughable.

      Once you lose faith in faith and start really caring whether your belief is true (and not just that your belief is true), it’s the end. It’s not so much that you lose your faith in God. Your perspective shifts and you now simply change your mind about a hypothesis.

      1. “Former preacher Dan Barker describe the turning point as “a loss of faith in faith.”

        I read his book, although I don’t remember his making that point. Still, it’s a good one and is in line with Boghossian’s new book in the best way to undermine religious belief. The fact that faith is a good thing has become so ingrained in our culture that you will even hear secularists espousing it.

        1. I was referring to Barker’s book Losing Faith in Faith: from preacher to atheist. It’s been a while since I read it, but it’s a pretty safe bet that he makes that point somewhere or other.

      2. +1

        The most liberating thing about losing religion, for me, was not feeling compelled to try to believe things that, at some level, I didn’t actually believe.

    4. Greg:

      That’s a hell of a question. I do, of course, know all the apologetic explanations; perhaps it was just a sudden breaking in of reality?

      I don’t know about other cases but thinking about what you say makes me wonder myself. There really wasn’t a bending (as you describe it in your next comment). I was not entertaining any doubts; I wasn’t concerned about any spiritual issues; I wasn’t reading Futuyma’s textbook on evolution by flashlight under my covers at night. That’s the (to me) most surprising aspect of what happened.

      I do know (and hope I made clear) that I spent the next five years trying to figure out what happened, and trying to undo it. The big guy had his chance to make an appearance. He didn’t and, eventually, neither did the parfait.

      1. “perhaps it was just a sudden breaking in of reality?”

        I wonder if it’s a bit like Denzel Washington in the movie “Flight” when he finally admits to being a drunk. He said “I was just suddenly tired of all the lies.”

        Trying to rationalize the futility of prayer has got to be one of the more exhausting self-delusions we can engage in.

        1. But, reading Mark’s account, he wasn’t (prior to that point) consciously trying to rationalise anything.

          1. “But, reading Mark’s account, he wasn’t (prior to that point) consciously trying to rationalise anything.”

            According to his account, his entire life was dedicated towards trying to rationalize his Christian belief.

          2. That’s the surprising thing. If I’d been trying to rationalize, or had already encountered significant amounts of real science, or been having moral or ethical issues, it would have been a lot less surprising.

  17. Another thanks-for-sharing, Mark. Everything was well said.

    I especially enjoyed the Modern English quote. I don’t think the whole song is about religion, but that verse sure seems appropriate:

    “(You should know better) Dream of better lives the kind which never hates
    (You should see why) Trapped in the state of imaginary grace
    (You should know better) I made a pilgrimage to save this humans race
    (You should see why) Never comprehending the race has long gone by”

    1. Thank you! Yes, the “state of imaginary grace” also fits nicely.

      As does “I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose.” (Bob Dylan – Shelter From The Storm)

      If I ever write an autobiography, it will be titled “A lethal dose of salvation”.

  18. I’m guessing that I’m the only Christian ever who lost his faith while praying on the mission field!

    Far from it.

    The fact that all Mormons are supposed to go on missions — and Mormonism’s more recent origin — makes apostasy while on missions practically a rite of passage for the ex-Mormon.

    1. The Mormons have this danger figured out, somewhat, which is why they send out missionaries in pairs designed to prevent the other guy from being tempted away from the faith.

      I wonder how often both members of a mission squad go off-reservation and escape.

      1. A pair of young Mormon missionaries came to my door and I argued about superstition, inconsistencies in the Bible and so forth. A few days later they came back with an older missionary, obviously a “senior” missionary, who obviously had come to counter-argue with me so as to teach them how to react. After a full half-hour of arguing with me, he gave up and left with quite the scowl on his face!

        1. Who knows? You may have planted some seeds of doubt in the two younger ones who were probably listening to your argument with the senior missionary. They may never have heard anyone argue with such an authority figure before.

      2. When I was on the boat to Pukapuka, Cook Islands in the 1980’s (the voyage took about 7 days, about three boats a year) two young Mormons got on board. Since Pukapuka was solidly religious – 2/3 Cook Islands Christian Church (ex-LMS) and 1/3 Catholic – this was probably a bit optimistic. Also extremely foolhardy with young single males.

        They seemed very arrogant but this could well have been nervousness.

        I don’t know how their missionary work progressed but apparently the rabbits** got ’em both in short order. It would have been extraordinary if they hadn’t.

        (** Pukapukan for unattached teenage girls).

    2. Hi Sastra:

      Well, as you surely know, as fundamentalist protestants, we never considered mormons to be christians. On the other hand, I didn’t know that they lost numbers from their ranks of missionaries. Thank you for pointing it out.

      One other question: how do you do the link like you did? I always have to paste in the URL, but I notice that you and others know how to have make a clickable link with text (like your “Far from it”) which does not break up the flow of the post.

      1. Sastra likely knows how to show this but, put this into your comment where you want the link to appear:

        <a href=”put url here”>some word(s) to show link</a>

        The quote marks are require, put them around the http link that you paste in. Sometimes it takes a couple of times to get the hang of using the correct format and symbols. There is a “Try it” editor here. If you want to check if you have your coding correct. Just paste in the left box, click the “Submit Code” button and see what appears in the right box.

        Sastra’s would have looked like this as she entered it in the comment box:

        <a href=””>Far from it.</a>

        When she clicked the “Post Comment” button the rendering engine produced the link:

        Far from it.

        1. I’m assuming that’s pseudo-HTML in that it doesn’t get directly incorporated into the page, rather WordPress’s comment-posting function reinterprets it. I assume WP has a limited subset of HTML that it recognises.

          I assume this based, for example, on the way WP treats links to Youtube videos differently from other links.

          I don’t use HTML much because I don’t have confidence in WP to understand my HTML (and because there isn’t a sandbox OR an edit mode to correct my inevitable typos….)

          1. I’m not an expert on the internal workings or anything else for that matter but, I think your assumptions are at least very close to correct. 🙂

        2. Thanks!


          If it worked, there’s a “Test” which when clicked goes to Wikipedia’s page on the No True Scotsman fallacy.

          1. Sorry for the double post (my computer did something weird the first time); apparently I have an extra quotation mark. I’ll figure it out!

  19. A very interesting and brave post, Mark.

    One point: do not feel angry that part of your life was wasted. Anger has absolutely no value, and cannot be anything else but destructive.
    Remember that during that time you were growing and learning new things other than religion and it was that experience that brought you to where you are now.

    1. “Anger has absolutely no value”

      I disagree. Anger can be a profoundly valuable motivating force. And anger is exactly the correct response when confronted with evils (for want of a better word) committed by some humans towards others. It is not wrong for slaves to be angry over being enslaved.

        1. But you have to be careful because it often makes people quite stupid. Reason seems to require at least some calmness.

          1. Righteous (not in the religious sense) anger is as calm as calm can be. One is in total calm control as are one’s actions – and these actions usually have the intended effect.

          2. I don’t object to people being careful. It is generally a wise stance. I do object to the idea that anger has no value because it is sometimes entirely appropriate.

            1. But Yoda says that “….anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” 😀

              I kid, I kid. Anger is completely appropriate but I just couldn’t resist the Yoda quote.

    2. Hi John:

      I see your comment on anger has drawn its share of responses! I have two things to add:

      1) During 23 years, I managed to internalize a number of biblical/christian concepts. One of the most pernicious is Ephesians 4.26: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” In church circles this manages to expand into a suppression of any strong emotion. So, whether or not I agree with the sentiment, whether or not I think it makes psychological sense, whether or not I think it is good advice, I’m kind of stuck with it.

      2) But, being the subversive that I’ve become, let me point you to a truly marvelous essay about atheists and anger, written by Greta Christina, at:

      Even if you don’t agree with her, it’s great fun to read!

    3. There are a lot of good comments here about the emotion of anger. I’ll undoubtedly mangle to some extent a valuable viewpoint I came across years ago regarding emotion. Joy, delight, and other positive emotions are worth enjoying to their fullest and savoring for the entire fleeting moments they visit.

      Envy, anger, fear, grief, shame perhaps most of all: these and all negative emotions when they arrive immediately garner one’s total attention. Once you determine why they suddenly arose with such urgency, instantly let go of them; their only value (if indeed they are of value) is to alert you, you will eventually release the anger, etc. anyway, so why needlessly prolong a seldom welcome presence when it no longer provides value and may even become harmful?

      Releasing negative emotion permits you to focus all your attention on the message the negative emotion delivered, free from unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, distraction from a messenger- turned-lingering-intruder which increases in toxicity by the second.

      1. Well, swami, I’m not sure that helps. These emotions all have their value as motivators. While it is true that suffering excessively from any of them is a bad thing, so equally would be living a life of incessant joy. They should be used appropriately and let them go when they are no longer of value. Assuming we have much control over the process.

        1. That should be Mr. Unhelpful Swami, sir. Are you trying to harsh my mellow? By the way, I suspect your decipherin’ thingamabob has a bit of a glitch. I specifically state one should pay attention to and utilize emotion. I say nada about any ode to eternal joy or states of bliss.

          1. Yeah, I know. I was reacting to ideas that weren’t actually said in your comment and apologize to the extent that I missed the mark.

            1. Hold Fast gbjames!, you’re certainly not the only who smelt ‘swami’!… not-to-mention more than a whiff of woo…

              One problem are the terms “positive” & “negative” emotions, automatically shading/implying, even permanently staining, characteristics which are, clearly, not always correctly attributable.

              For the sake of argument let’s momentarily call ’em, respectively, ‘blue’-&-‘red’, &or ‘sweet’-&-‘sour’. Speaking metaphorically emotive: ‘blue’ is associated with calm, & thence to placidity… even, *ick*, passivity, or even sadness & yet awesome music; ‘red’ is associated with anger, yet also passion; ‘sweet’ is great!, but all the time?; ‘sour’ can be a warning of food gone off, or a delightful pickle… or both sweet-&-sour simultaneously in a gumball.

              Point being, sweeping generalizations, stereotypes, of ALL emotions being irrevocably EITHER one-or-another type ONLY, these ‘swami-ish’ prognostications, really are woo! Let us not regress!; in this thread there are expressions of there being very ‘good’ & valid reasons to not only use, but even to hold on to, so-called, ‘negative’ emotion.

              Sure, there’s science to support better health, psychological & biological, being generally associated with more ‘positive’ emotion… however, the general should never, never be automatically assumed to apply to all, or even necessarily to a majority!

              I apologize as I’m not in a way/place to publicly share, as Mark Joseph has done so eloquently here; however, I can certify that holding on to certain specific anger & hate is the ONLY thing that’s kept me going, yet I’m not, in the vast majority of ‘me’, a bitter person.

              YRMV (Your Results May Vary) has never been more apropos. If casting out ALL ‘negativity’ works for someone–even if per swamicity–all the more power to ’em! If, however, one IS able to benefit from a ‘walk on the dark side’, then bravo to you as well!

  20. I’ll echo many of the other commentators here in saying thank you for posting this & well done! Your story was well written and I admire anyone that takes an honest look at their world and leaves it behind when it doesn’t fit, especially the religious that have built their entire life around their belief. The isolation from friends must’ve been devastating!

    You say that you were raised Jewish – how did your parents accept your conversion to then deconversion from Christianity. I’m curious as I’ve read heart wrenching accounts where parents turn away from their children when they leave their religion.

    1. Hello Diana:

      Well, I thought I’d answered all the hard questions, but I was wrong (I know the answer to your question, but it’s a bit difficult to express openly). Fortunately(?) I’m out of time this evening; I’ll mull over how much I can say, and how I can say it, and at least give an indication of How Everything Crashed and Burned™ tomorrow.

      1. It occurred to me that that was a rather personal question and I tend to lack social graces sometimes when I’m curious so if you don’t want to answer, I understand but as I wrote in a reply earlier, if you haven’t read Seth’s book, I recommend it as you have similar stories and Seth has had some heart wrenching interactions with his parents that made me so sad for him.

        1. Hello Diana:

          No problem; it’s a common question/thought.

          Thinking about it today, I decided to give the outline; I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

          The easy part first: yes, losing nearly all of my friends was the worst part of the whole situation. The less said about that, the better.

          The less easy part: I’ve now blown the family apart twice. First, when I became a christian, and all three other siblings followed. The situation was, shall we say, a bit tense for the next few years. (If I can inject a bit of gallows humor here, I didn’t tell my parents of my conversion, because I knew they’d react exactly as they did. They found out about it when someone called from the church, and without asking to whom he was speaking (it was my dad) said “I’m calling to confirm Mark’s baptism this Sunday.” Talk about hitting the fan…).

          Things eventually got some better; now I’ve gone and done it again (my three siblings are all fundamentalists). So we have two moderately Jewish parents, three fundy children, and one virulent atheist. Let’s just say that I’m not always welcome.

  21. It is tough to be honest with oneself, but that is the price of intellectual integrity.

    I sincerely hope that you and your wife can “agree to disagree” and continue to have a happy marriage.

  22. Hi Mark – I am a former Pentecostal minister. I really enjoyed your essay and it touched on a number of my own issues in leaving the Church. I don’t have enough time to read through all the responses but if you don’t know about this it might be of some value. There is a confidential internet gathering place for clergy who are attempting to or have left the ministry as a result of loss of faith. It’s called the Clergy Project. Check it out.

    1. Hello Kenny:

      Yes, the Clergy Project has already been mentioned.

      I’d love to hear your story (and apologize for attributing second-class status to Pentecostals while I was a believer). Maybe if you get together a presentation of appropriate length, Dr. Coyne will find room for another guest post. Of course, Jerry DeWitt gets mentioned from time to time here; there’s a man I’d really like to meet.

  23. Thanks so much for telling your story–and in such a beautiful way.

    That’s the best thing that this website provides: a safe place to think and ask questions. And to find support during the struggle. I wish we could have been there for you during and after.

    1. Hi Marta:

      You’ll recall that this list functioned in a similar after the shootings in Newtown. I think Dr. Coyne deserves a great deal of credit in keeping this site from veering off to the extremes into which certain other well-known internet atheist venues have fallen.

  24. *firm embrace*… yeah, Mel Brooks was doing a comedy bit, but it doesn’t mean we don’t sincerely mean it!

    Thank you for sharing, both Mark Joseph & those responding.

  25. I come from a large Catholic family who never let me forget that they are praying for me. I use this image in reply:

    I am standing outside a two-story house with a transparent wall. On the bottom floor there are people on their knees, praying to “The Man Upstairs.”

    From my vantage point, I can see that there is no one up there.

  26. What a great story ! Your candor and honest intelligence are wonderful

    Thanks and all the best to you and your family

  27. It’s always humorous to me that the writer of the text, post, blog, email, letter, etc. feels as if they’ve been rambling on for too long, but the reader never feels that way, perhaps most likely feeling an opposite desire to have more to read. That’s how I felt about Mark’s description of his deconversion when he mentions something along the lines of ‘since I’ve rambled on this long I may as well . . . ‘, but deconversion experiences are always fascinating to me and Mark’s is no exception. Thank you for sharing, sir. More would not have been too much, I don’t think, but what you shared is exceptional, and very much appreciated. I only wish you had come out of it getting millions in royalties from something or other as has Dan Barker. Hah!

  28. Thank you very much, Mark. I always enjoy your comments.

    If it’s not too personal, may I ask what you think about your children being taken to church?

    It wasn’t clear what my wife and I were going to do with out daughter as I only “officially” joined the dark side after our marriage, and she a few years after our daughter’s birth. I remember having such a strong, visceral antipathy toward the idea of our daughter attending church. I really don’t know what we would’ve done.

    1. Not to worry; I probably should have phrased that a bit more clearly. My wife leads a children’s choir at church. Our kids most certainly aren’t in it; they are both in their late 20s (an empty nest eventually solved the economic problems we had).

      We, of course, raised the children to be christians. They both still are, but neither one is a fundamentalist, and both, if I may intrude a completely biased and non-objective comment, are wonderful people.

      1. So, hopefully, they are okay with both your and your wife’s current religious (or non-) status.

        (Man, was that a ghastly piece of clumsy syntax! Forgive me, Fowler, for I have sinned).

        I hope that’s not being too nosy, please ignore if it is.

        1. The four of us get along great; I think there is a lot of concern for others involved, even (gasp!) placing concern for others at a higher level of importance that purity of religious doctrine.

          It goes back again to the good person – bad person divide. While the religious pretend that they are on the good side (except when they are committing the No True Christian fallacy) and that others are on the bad side, we know, according to Weinberg’s dictum, scientific studies, and personal experience, that religion does not contribute to being a good person in all cases–and in the cases where it does contribute, its contributions are not always in the positive direction.

          1. Thanks for your answer, Mark. I guess I didn’t consider the possibility that your children are grown.

            I was curious because for a year or so I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with our daughter, and what effect the resultant tension might’ve had on our relationship.

            It sounds like you have a lovely family. I wish my extended family were more like what you describe: prioritizing character and relationships above credal allegiances. My wife and I are liberal, atheist islands among a sea of right-wing, judgmental, religious family. Boo.

  29. What an absorbing read, Mark. Thank you for taking the time to put it down, uh, in electrons so well.

    Why do you think people like you who are so obviously intelligent and capable do not arrive at critical thinking (or at least cognitive dissonance) sooner?

    I’m also curious about what there was to write about in all those books you produced as a missionary.

    1. Hello Diane:

      Your first too question would require an answer much too long to post here; in any case, I would not be the one qualified to provide it. Off the top of my head the problem to me seems to lie (1) in society–many parents unfortunately are not all that interested in raising their children (it interferes with their leisure), and so park them in front of the TV, the iPhone, or the video game set; (2) society as a whole does not like people who rock the boat (think preachers, police, and the well-to-do); the best way to keep someone docile is to keep them ignorant; and (3) the schools don’t exactly major in critical thinking.

      As for what to write about, if you’re *really* interested, any library will have bible commentaries (explanations of what bible verses supposedly mean) and “systematic theology” in which are collected arguments (with no empirical basis, of course) for the author’s chosen position on the nature of god and other theological topics. I suggest if you go to check them out, that you don’t eat a big lunch.

  30. I love these stories, they are fascinating. Thanks for sharing yours Mark. Can I also recommend a book I haven’t seen mentioned here so far. “Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle” by Daniel L Everett.

    It is an extraordinary account of a missionary’s loss of faith in the face of a tribe of people who clearly have no use for Jesus.

    1. I have heard of this book….the friend I posted about recommended it to me at one point and because you pointed it out I just ordered it…thanks!! My friend said it was a fascinating book.

  31. An honest and interesting synopsis of your deconversion journey. I certainly hope you get a good handle on your depression and I would love to know how your daughter is doing now.
    A good friend of my, grad of bible college, 40 year evangelical xtian made the same comment as you regarding his biggest regret. It was the loss of 40 years of his life. The possibility he spent much of it doing damage rather than good. The social things he was never allowed to explore (being raised xtian from about 9 years old by freshly converted evangelical parents).
    It was very hard for him deconverting as well. His church had helped him pay for a major surgery just a few years earlier. These were good people. But, even after bible college he did one thing that, as Asimov once pointed out, he read the bible cover to cover (which he had not done in seminary apparently). That opened his eyes and he is now very active in atheistic organizations. Just as former smokers often are the most vocal advocates against smoking, I as one who has never smoked but have hated it all my life am still not as adamant as my former smoking friends. The same is true with religion. Those who have deconverted, as my friend, become pitbulls for atheism. I never had theism so I am just an atheist Rottweiler.

    1. Hi Jim:

      Fortunately, she is all better. It was a long process, but we managed to intervene early enough and intensively enough to eventually get positive results, which is far from a given with anorexia.

      Hoping this comment won’t get me into trouble, but there are two things that really make me happy. One is seeing a woman eating, which lets me know she’s not anorexic. And one is hearing a woman cussing, which lets me know she’s not a fundamentalist.

      The main metaphor I use in my own private musings about religion is that religion is spiritual anorexia (of course, I use “spiritual” in the broadest possible sense; I’m looking for a better word). You know, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9.23) and all those other verses that most American christians don’t follow. But no more; I’ve already posted too much!

        1. Yes, I think we need a new word. “Spiritual” sounds too religious, “psychic” has unfortunate connotations, “biological” is already taken, whereas “the anorexia of life” is not only unclear, but a bit overstuffed. “Psychological” just doesn’t work in the context. So, faute de mieux, I use “spiritual” with scare quotes.

            1. I’m sitting on the fence. I agree with Vierotchka that ‘spiritual’ has perfectly good non-religious meanings, but it would be nice to find a word that doesn’t carry a risk of ambiguity. But I can’t think of one.

              ‘Aesthetic’ is wrong. ‘World-view’ is wrong.

              1. My two favourites are “awe” & “wonder” but in this context, why not psyche?

      1. Don’t feel shy about taking back or even outright stealing the language of the religious — after all, they do it to us all the time.

        Just make clear that you’re not using it in any sort of supernatural sense and you’re golden.



        1. Esp. since most all of the terms that are now giving some secularists semantic angst have long had colloquial meanings quite apart from their religious ones. Which are right in the dictionaries, should one care to look.

          1. Yup — “in the spirit of,” “spiritual brethren,” “makes spirits soar” — all perfectly useful turns of phrase that clearly have nothing to do with woo of any kind. Of course, “spiritual but not religious” and “saved by the power of the Spirit” do not fit into that same category.



      2. I like that you like seeing women eat and cuss. 🙂

        When I was younger I had an eating disorder that I was able to hide well enough to avoid intervention. Teachers tried but I found away around it. I remember being sick all the time and having bruises that wouldn’t heal and the horrible headaches. My intake of food would be diet coke and celery. I remember one year I had soup for Xmas dinner. I don’t know how I stopped. I think I went to university and things got better and I stayed thin by being freaked out that I’d fail.

        1. On behalf of all those with an Y chromosome, and a surprising number of those without, please accept my sincerest apologies. What society does especially to young women in the name of conformity is inexcusable.

          And to all women out there, especially the younger ones: skinny isn’t sexy. Healthy is sexy — especially athletic healthy. (And smarts and humor and sanity the rest — but this topic is just about physique.)

          If you think your body needs improving, don’t you dare try to starve yourself into change. You’ll need to eat — and eat a surprising amount — to build and maintain the lean body mass that will give you head-turning curves. Instead of spending your energies on avoiding food, spend your energies building muscle.

          And, no. You’re not going to bulk up. The only way you’ll look like Ahnohld is if you do the same thing he did to bulk up: inject a metric fuckton of steroids into your ass. It’s hormones (especially steroids, but also testosterone) that do that to you — to men and women both. And healthy women don’t have those kinds of hormonal imbalances that cause that sort of thing. Women naturally build muscle that looks as feminine as men naturally build muscle that looks masculine.

          Women who build lots of lean body mass through strength exercises look like that beach volleyball duo whom the guys can’t stop drooling over — Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. They look like Picabo Street, whom most guys my age had at least a passing crush on. They look like the Williams sisters and all those other top tennis players, practically every one of whom is (not at all coincidentally) also a bikini model. They look like every ballerina who’s ever danced Swan Lake.

          That’s what real sexy looks like. Not some beat-up refugee in a famine-struck third world, but vibrantly healthy and strong. Powerful. And demonstrating with her very body the dedication it takes to work hard to do the right thing by herself.

          And I can guarantee you that not a single one of those women starves herself. In fact, they all eat a hell of a lot more than the 2,000 – 2,500 calories “recommended” daily.

          So, if it’s real sexy (of the physical variety) you’re after, the answer is the same one you keep hearing from everywhere: diet and exercise. But most emphatically not “diet” in the sense of starving yourself; rather, “diet” in the sense of plenty of good healthy foods, and exercise that builds lean body mass. The Mediterranean diet is as good as any, but anything with plenty of protein (and proportional amounts of fat), fresh veggies, complex carbohydrates, and minimal or no refined sweeteners (including sugars, honey, “diet” shit, etc.) will do the trick. And I know I’ve flogged his site before, but Mark Lauren is a retired US Special Forces fitness trainer whose book is all you need to know about how to build your body without any equipment other than your body itself — and only a few short sessions of (very intensive) exercise every week that you can do in your own living room.

          Oh — and one last thing. Get rid of your bathroom scale. Unless you’re morbidly obese or already fit, your ideal weight is probably even more than whatever you weigh right now. Muscle weighs a lot more than fat. Your goal isn’t to keep the weight off; quite the opposite. Your goal is to put the lean body mass on, and, in so doing, lose the excess fat. And forget the tape measure, too; those super-sexy athletes have a lot of muscle in their cores, and that takes up a lot of space. Go for body composition, and do it by building upper, lower, and core body strength in a balanced approach, and ignore the number on your dress tags.



            1. Did not know. I’ve known of some who smoke to keep their weight down — which is a whole different set of insanity. But the few I’ve known showed no sign of eating disorders. In fact, the one I got to know one summer at Chautauqua a couple decades ago had an healthy appetite, as I remember. Not voracious, but certainly not the pick-at-the-small-salad type, either.

              Ballet is perhaps more physically demanding than any professional sport. I can’t imagine successful athletes at that level who don’t eat well. Not disputing you as I don’t have evidence either way…but could it be possible that it’s the also-ran non-contenders with the eating disorders, and not the successful stars?


              1. Ben, I don’t know anything about if you last sentence is the case or not, but it is pretty widely known that gymnasts and figure skaters suffer inordinately from eating disorders; there’s even a book about it (which I haven’t read), Little Girls in Pretty Boxes. One line from the book’s Wikipedia entry: “She argues that the image of these athletes’ beauty, glamour, class and sophistication conceals a troubled reality, with physical problems of eating disorders, weakened bones, stunted growth, debilitating and fatal injuries, psychological issues such as depression and low self-esteem, and life sacrifices of dropping out of school, losing the chance to “be a child”, and becoming isolated from their peers and families.” I suspect that it is not that much different with ballerinas.

                Yes, being a top-flight gymnast or ballerina is physically demanding, but at the ages when girls are pushed into these destructive patterns of living, they are not yet old enough to be those who reach the top. So, you may have the causality reversed; it may be that those who succumb to eating disorders do not make it to the top (which, as you point out, would seem to require good eating habits).

                The world of eating disorders makes Alice’s rabbit-hole look like a Dutch master’s painting. Everything is crazy; nothing makes sense. I did not respond to your long post just above, because though it was completely logical and rational, there are a fair number of sections of it that would have effects different than, or completely opposite to, the effects that you might rationally expect them to have on an anorexic girl reading them.

                With any luck, you’ll never have to deal with the situation.

              2. I think the top ones have disorders as well. Ballet is a young girl’s game. It’s the exceptions that stay past their 30s and young girls can push themselves if they get into a routine of how to do so.

                Often stimulants are used and lots of girls in those worlds will take medication and other narcotics to help themselves succeed. They often are not healthy at all.

                Gymnastics I think is worse only because there is the issue with stunted growth. At least in my day everyone looked about right; now it’s clear those girls are stunted. My mom wouldn’t let me do gymnastics because she thought the coaches pushed the girls too hard. What my mom didn’t know what how brutal my ballet teacher was! But hey, I’m short but not stunted so that’s a positive!

              3. Oh believe me, many ballerinas are often anorexic. You can often tell them with their boney backs. They are no stranger to pain so it’s not as big a deal for them. Every time you see a ballerina go en pointe, she is in tonnes of pain. Ballet shoes hurt! You get them fitted tight to your feet and they cut into you. Sometimes your toes bleed. The injuries are often as bad as football players as well. These girls are hard core!

                How they handle all this – their youth lets them push their bodies to those extremes and successful anorexics will hide their disorder fairly successfully. If they have body dysmorphia, they’ll hide their bodies in baggy clothes (I did that).

            2. When Mila Kunis & Natalie Portman played ballerinas for Black Swan they talked about how skinny they were and how they had no butts! And boy did those girls look skinny in that movie!That no butt thing would never happen to me.

              What’s worse is ballerinas are chosen especially for their body type. I have disproportionately short legs so I always wore high cut leotards to create the illusion of leg length. It’s what they taught us to do as young kids. I had a friend who was chosen to do ballet as a 6 year old out of a crowd of other children who wanted to go to the same ballet school and she was chosen purely because of her body type.

              My body started out ballet ready – I had long limbs as a kid and I was strong, but as I matured, I wasn’t going to fit in. Luckily, I didn’t want to do ballet anymore (I wanted to concentrate on school) & strangely the whole leg length thing never bothered me but it did stress early on to me the importance of a certain body type – one, as a teen wit an athletic body – I didn’t have.

              I’m sure that can’t be good for girls. However, I’m glad I took ballet while I was growing – it left me extremely flexible in the hips and it gave me incredible leg strength (which has withered from being a geeky IT worker). I don’t tell people not to put their girls in ballet, but I tell them to watch their teachers. Mine was terrible. She yelled at us all the time and made us dance on injuries (I have permanent injuries in my legs that limit range of motion because of this).

              I do see from going to ballets that they don’t seem to be so picky about that particular body type, so I’m hoping things are changing.

              1. Well, it would appear that my obviously-limited experience with ballerinas isn’t representative. That one girl I remember was strong and not skinny, and those I’ve seen on stage from the middle of the hall haven’t looked starved…but that’s clearly not representative of the reality of the field.

                The bigger point I wanted to make still stands. The Williams Sisters aren’t starving themselves. Mia Hamm didn’t starve herself. Flo-Jo didn’t starve herself.

                Most women (and most men), especially those who think they could stand to lose a few pounds, actually need to gain several to be their healthiest and look their best. Even if they don’t lose the body fat (which they will, but just for the sake of argument), they’ll look much better (and be much healthier) with plenty of muscle and a bit of fat than with no muscle and a bit of fat.

                It’s the presence of lean body mass that makes people look good, much more than the absence of body fat. Women especially need a bit of body fat; that’s what the proverbial T&A are made of.

                Are there guys who’re only interested in weak, sickly women? Yes, but you don’t want to have anything to do with them. Unless, of course, “barefoot and pregnant” or otherwise being dominated into submission is your life’s ambition. Real men want partners who can hold their own to help build a better world, not dependent pets that’re useful only as abstract art.



              2. I’m hoping there is a change in how ballet treats its ballerinas (BTW male ballet dancers face body pressures as well because they need the strength to lift the females – the females therefore also need to be light) and from what I’ve seen the standard body type looks like its getting some variety in it.

                Also, there are some girls that are just lucky to have the body type required of ballet. Not everyone is long and lean, some are short & stocky, etc.

              3. That’s another dirty little secret about men: fundamental body type has nothing (or, at least, damned little) to do with attractiveness. Physical health is where the real action is at. This shouldn’t come as a surprise ’round here; men are primed to seek reproductive fitness, and, as with any other species, physical fitness is the easiest and most reliable indicator of that. A stick-figure woman is much more likely to die in childbirth than one who only dropped out of the hunt because her water broke.

                Short and stocky is sexy, if she’s strong, short, and stocky.

                And, again: strong doesn’t mean endless hours at the gym with expensive equipment. It means a few days a week for an half an hour or so at a time in your own living room with no equipment other than your own body. That, and an healthy, well-balanced, plentiful meal plan is all it takes.

                (Yes, there’re those with metabolic disorders, damaged hormonal regulatory systems that throw everything off-kilter no matter what they do. But even they still need to exercise and eat well; not eating well and not exercising will only make things worse.)



              4. I agree with Ben wholeheartedly and thought his post was very well put. I wish that attitude was more predominant, where everyone, women and men alike, strove for physical effectiveness, which can only happen through diet, exercise, and rest. There is a learning curve, of course, but just as with evolution and atheism, what you learn will serve you well.

                I want to re-stress the Crossfit lifestyle and the accompanying Mobility WODs of Dr. Starrett. All the ways we go through life placing undue stress on our physical frames can be largely undone by what Dr. Starrett teaches in conjunction with the Crossfit program. In addition, the Crossfit community is a prime example of how human beings can make their way through the world in an exemplary fashion devoid of religion. I’ve not seen anything like it in my 6 decades. And for those that want to point out negative aspects due to injuries and the like, it’s up to you on what your focus will be, I suppose. Being active means there is risk of injury regardless the activity, but the injuries we incur sitting at our desks, on our computers, far outweigh any that might be incurred during proper exercise. The absolute beauty of Crossfit and Mobility WOD over and above any other program available to the general public is that you are given the tools and the knowledge to properly execute movement, which, when done correctly, drastically reduces the risk of injury, and drastically maximizes your strengths.

              5. You raise some excellent points, including (obliquely) one that I haven’t really considered.

                First, bodyweight exercises (pushups, squats, pullups, lunges, crunches, etc., and the infinite number of variations thereon) are (if from a standard repertoire) natural movements that build strength that reduces the risk of injury, both during exercise and in the real world when using your body. Almost all such exercises require the use of multiple muscle groups in natural proportion and coordination, and many require and build balance and stability as well. Yoga and Pilates are bodyweight exercise methods, highly encouraged for those who’re into that sort of thing…but there’re more intensive workouts that will build more muscle in less time. Go with whatever you’re most drawn to and will stick with.

                In contrast, many exercise machines are designed to target a single muscle in an unnatural motion. Much better than nothing, but you can get much better bang for literally zero buck with just your own body. Plus, you can do bodyweight exercises anywhere anytime, so you don’t have the excuse of “I don’t want to drive all the way to the gym and change into gym clothes and have all those strangers stare at me.”

                But…the bit I hadn’t thought of is that, while people like me (and, I suspect, not a few other regulars here) would be completely turned off by the CrossFit group experience…there are also those that thrive on that sort of thing.

                So, if you’re the type who wants (or needs) to have a family of other people guide you, cheer you on, and give you an hand or kick your butt when needed, by all means, seek out something like CrossFit. Just because I’d run screaming from the room doesn’t mean anybody else should stay away.

                But, whatever you do, wherever you do it, get moving!



              6. No worries, I still feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for not messing up the hyperlink. That’ll do for today’s exercise…

              7. Interesting. My daughter had been into gymnastics before the eating disorder. She is now very much into the healthy lifestyle (more or less what you described in the way of exercise and diet), and she does Crossfit!

                The only thing I knew about it was that when she is out here to visit, she and a friend get up at 5:00 to go to their Crossfit session. My wife and I wish them well.

              8. While I’ll admit that I get a small hint of a cultish vibe from the Crossfit hype…well, even if they’re using similar psychological techniques, they’re undoubtedly using them for good. If peer pressure builds lifetime good habits of exercise and proper nutrition and self-esteem through self-strength, as it clearly does in this case, and if it isn’t dragged down by all sorts of supernatural and authoritarian bullshit, as it doesn’t appear to be, then press those peers!

                …I’d just be the one instead getting up at 6:00 to do pushups, etc., by myself in the living room, is all.

                But to each his and / or her own!


        2. I thought you’d like that, Diana. And, I figured you would probably be the one to bail me out for making such a comment in the first place!

          I can barely talk about anorexia at all. Even thinking about it induces a paralyzing combination of anger, depression, and frustration; hell, I’m trembling now just typing this. Seeing a woman who is quite obviously unhealthily skinny, especially one of my students (who are all in the 18-21 age bracket) just about prevents me from functioning at all.

          You must have been very young; I’m guessing 13 to 15 or so? Some women of that age can outgrow an eating disorder without therapy. For those who are already 17 or older, it’s not as easy. We just got dumb lucky that we managed to intervene early, and that the insurance from my idiotic office job paid 100% of the cost.

          I’m glad you’re well.

          1. I believe it started when I was 14 or so in the form of excessive exercise. I exercised all the time. I wanted to join a gym but wasn’t allowed to as I was too young. I was a ballet dancer from 5-14 (which permanently changes your body) but I don’t think that set me down that path. Early on I was a perfectionist and very anxious. If I could control how I looked and make it as perfect as I could, then I felt better. I also worked hard at everything I did and academic achievement was important to me.

            As I went into high school my self esteem plummeted more for various reasons so things got worse. It was also the 80s when that no hips, boy look was in and I have the exact opposite body type that put on muscle easy and because of being a ballet dancer all those years, was fairly athletic. I hated my obleeks because it meant my waste wasn’t skinny enough to me. It’s funny to think how I always saw myself as fat and I was so thin, you could see it in my face. Being the 80s, I met other girls that kept a similar starvation diet though few knew that I was taking laxatives and caffeine pills in addition to eating as little as possible. That continued until I was about 17. My doctor never noticed anything was wrong. My eye doctor I remember complimented me on my weight loss (but he committed suicide right after so he probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind) & my school nurse called my parents to inform them that something was up but I was able to wiggle out of that.

            I’d say it was a symptom of perfectionism brought on by low self esteem. When I went to university, that just changed to pushing for high academic performance (which also made me skinny & due to actually not having money for food I stayed thin anyway) so I just channeled my issues elsewhere.

            I’d say I will probably never be away from that way of thinking because for me it’s a symptom. I feel best if I’m thin but I have no desire to starve myself and I eat as well as possible. No longer a youth, I’d never survive what I put my body through back then and with my adrenals shot from chronic work stress and perfectionism, it’s harder to lose a lot of weight. Basically I want what all women want – to eat a lot and not get fat! 🙂

            1. Diana:

              Thank you for sharing this. That all fits perfectly into what I learned during my daughter’s eating disorder.

              Early on I was a perfectionist

              When we were in therapy, one of the doctors said something that I’ll (obviously) never forget. He said the strongest correlative of eating disorders is perfectionism. The second strongest is religion. My daughter had both in spades (yes, dad’s fault). Though a very small sample size, of the five people in her therapy group, four were religious, three of whom were evangelical/fundamentalist. Just another data point in favor of the thesis that “religion poisons everything.”

              1. Wow, I never thought there would be a religious connection. Another example of why it’s bad!

                I have a friend now that is very thin and she and I are both perfectionists but I swear she is worse than me. We yell at each other if we are only 2 minutes late. We know it’s irrational but we don’t treat other people that way because they’d think we were nuts so we just take it out on each other and laugh about it!

              2. That was a professional, highly-trained doctor, specializing in eating disorders, too, not some grumpy old apostate whining about religion.

                Believe me, I know how hard it is to overcome perfectionism (and I’m not really doing a very good job of it). I’m still peeved at myself for putting “you” instead of “your” in one of my responses to Ben, above.

  32. Hello, I’m happy to have come across this post. My story is much like yours. I graduated from a fundamentalist Bible college and was heading to seminary for still more indoctrination before a career as a missionary, Christian school teacher, and/or writer, when I unexpectedly began questioning and thinking for myself. Time, various circumstances, and growing up happened; and now here I am, an atheist and humanist committed to rational, evidence-based, and open-minded thinking. It’s good to hear from others who have had similar experiences and have felt similar feelings of grief, regret, isolation, and anger. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll get bolder and start sharing my story with others, too. Thank you for the inspiration!

    For all the commenters on here who like interesting theological tidbits: during my de-conversion process, my first independent, rational “bone to pick” with the Bible happened while I was still at Bible college. I had a closed loved one (back at home) who was making very poor choices, and I prayed for her all the time, but it seemed that God never answered. I began to wonder—if we all have free will which God respects (according to the Bible interpretation held by my college), and God expects us to pray for others (as a few New Testament verses indicate), AND He promises to answer our prayers according to the Bible—then how could He answer my prayer for Him to change someone else without violating her free will?

    I never figured out the answer to the question. But it led me to figure out a lot of other answers, which made the original question irrelevant.

    1. Hi Sarah:

      Good to hear from a “fellow traveler”. Am I’m very glad you lost less time to the delusion than I did.

      I and others have mentioned the danger (to the church) of questioning, and hence the church’s repression of it. I found a great quote, in a slightly different context (of education, not of questioning religion):

      “But questions, I’ve learned since, can be like ocean currents. Wade in a little too far and they can carry you away. Follow one line of inquiry and it will lead you to another, and another. Spot a yellow duck dropped atop the seaweed at the tide line, ask yourself where it came from, and the next thing you know you’re way out at sea, no land in sight, dog-paddling around in mysteries four miles deep. You’re wondering when and why yellow ducks became icons of childhood. You want to know what it’s like inside the toy factories of Guangdong. You’re marveling at the scale of humanity’s impact on the terreraqueous globe and at the oceanic magnitude of your own ignorance. You’re giving the plight of the Laysan albatross many moments of thought.” (Donovan Hohn, Moby-Duck, p. 4).

      1. Thanks, Mark, that is a great quote. I’m going to look up the book.

        Here’s a quote back at you, and one that gave me much comfort during my deconversion process:

        “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

        (Andre Gide, The Counterfeiters, trans. by Dorthy Bussy, p. 353)

  33. I think that Mark is cursed by honesty and integrity, because those two things never allow the possibility of using the many emotional props that history has left for us. Great post and many fine letters, but what comes out of it maybe a little disconcerting…

    There is evident from this post that there is no beginning of an understanding of ‘Religious Brain Disorder’ (RBD), despite my many attempts to bring my ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’ to the table, which, incidentally, explains everything! Go figure! Nobody understands that religion is rarely a matter of indoctrination, but is a kind of ‘copying-error’ in the formation of the adolescent brain whereby several false precepts concerning the nature of external reality are embedded. I have always been curious why some youngsters are susceptible to false assumptions about the nature of reality. They are not learned, nor imposed, but are simply adopted by default. For example, many children thrive in a well-ordered home of parental intention in everything, from furnishing to meals, to activities, and so, naturally internalise the idea of an ‘intentional universe’ which is the first step to religion. From my poverty-stricken and dysfunctional home in bomb-haunted London, I drew no such inference. I was very much the atheist in a fox-hole; my first three years being inside an iron air-raid shelter.

    Since I have been an atheist since a foetus, it is curious to me that I was never entrapped by RBD. I am beginning to understand that I developed a powerful love of the external and natural world from an early age, and so understood quite early how religious explanations clashed with common observation. Perhaps the greatest of these clashes concerns the religious assumption of a benign and ordered universe, whereas my observations upon the natural world revealed it is be one huge, fucking abattoir of mass death and slaughter on an industrial scale. Now, I have a remote French farm with animals and birdlife, and see the slaughter almost daily. Even well-versed atheists sometimes find that latter point too distressing to acknowledge. On the WEIT ‘Fox-Week’ I mailed a photo of a fox drowned while trying to cross a frozen canal nearby on a winter’s night. Horrible, but compelling. I wanted it for balance. But Professor Ceiling-Cat found it too sad to include among other photos of happy foxes.
    Further to natural history dispelling theology, that same air-raid shelter formed the shed in which I set-up a lab at the age of 12 and began experiments with coal, magnets and acids, and caused several explosions.

    I was a snappy and aggressive student, especially when Canon, The Very reverend W.D.H. began to teach me (religious) ethics at Exeter University; and even more so when the Dean of Divinity at Magdalen College, Oxford, questioned me upon by supposed religious beliefs… As if I needed to believe in the Jeebus-Cult to become an international film-maker and adventurer! The first thing I did in Prague after the revolution was to interview the president, most of the political candidates and the many overlooked dissidents who suffered under communism.

    So, if you please, Mark, do you think a far greater involvement with the rough and tumble of the natural horrors of of this world as a young man may have better equipped you to understand Haiti and Prague as a politically-astute and anti-corruption observer rather that a religious proselytiser?

    1. Hi George:

      While I love your line, “I have been an atheist since a foetus,” I’m afraid I can’t agree with the statement: “Nobody understands that religion is rarely a matter of indoctrination.” If I’m not mistaken, *most* religious belief is exactly that–that is the whole force of John Loftus’ “Outsider Test for Faith” argument. The same fundamentalist christian raised in Mississippi would, had he been brought up in Saudi Arabia, been a fundamentalist muslim. I don’t know the exact number, but something north of 90% of all religious people belong to the religion of their parents, and have not had any sort of dramatic conversion experience. What is that, if not indoctrination?

      As for adult converts, there may or may not be some “Religious Brain Disorder” (what a great phrase!) involved; I’m not qualified to say, and don’t even know what kind of research has been done.

      As for your last paragraph, I’m just not sure what to say. I’m hardly politically astute, I hope I was anti-corruption, but the religious aspect swamped everything else.

  34. Finally read! And well worth it, moving and eloquent.

    Good luck with your continued life that always goes on despite our hardships, and thank you for sharing!

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