From the Mailbag: From Conservative Christian to Progressive Atheist
We may have heard about one notable religious conversion this week, but in the more than ten years I've been writing about atheism (yes, it's been that long!), I've found it's still far more common for things to go the other way. Here's one dramatic example that landed in my inbox this week. The author of this e-mail, whose name is John, gave me permission to share it with you:
I have been on a journey for three years that started with a simple "mid-life" commitment to read the bible and be able to articulate the reasons for the belief that I had. I live in Birmingham, Alabama and have spent most of my life as a quintessential ex-military conservative Christian that hunts, fishes, and supports our military wholeheartedly and fully! (The "nobody wants to fuck with the USA" type of guy!)
Over the past few years I have basically been hiding under my covers reading books and watching videos, debates, college lectures, and hundreds of vignettes covering philosophy, quantum physics, evolution, the human genome, cosmology, brain chemistry, psychology, skepticism, and running the gamut on all religions and beliefs in general. I am literally surrounded by fundamentalists and people of what I term "blue collar intelligence" that have no desire whatsoever to improve their understanding of reality or expand their minds in any way. I am in the medical field and in surgery weekly with neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons of which only two lean towards my way of thinking but only discuss things in private in between surgical cases, etc... it would be career suicide in Alabama for these guys to ever hint that they were non-believers in any way so we just have fun with the nurses during our cases and try to start conversations that challenge their way of thinking without them even realizing what's going on. Actually, it's fun as hell doing it!
What has been the most unbelievable part of my journey is what has happened to me fundamentally. I have completely deserted my conservative leanings for a secular humanist view, I have completely lost my desire to kill any animals for sport (it actually makes me SICK to think about all of the deer, etc. that I have killed for no reason), I have become exceedingly more compassionate and interested in helping my fellow human beings just for the sake of helping, my gratitude for life in general and my family has skyrocketed, and my appreciation for everything around me - from the stars in the sky to the dirt on the ground - has become more enhanced. I know that these are things that are obvious to you and I'm proud that they have now become obvious to me. I sincerely appreciate your response to me and I take the information on your site very seriously and am grateful that you can express yourself so well. I don't have time to read the filler fluff bullshit that we sometimes have to get through to be able to absorb something profound. Your site is very compact and full of inspiring and intellectually stimulating information that is very helpful to me. Thanks again!
Although there are conservative atheists, it's much more common for atheists to be progressive, and this letter is a classic example of the reasons why. It really is true that realizing the transience and fragility of their own life, in most cases, leads people to put a much greater value on all life. It really is true that accepting the world to be the product of vast and complex natural forces, in most cases, leads people to appreciate it more deeply than those who believe the planet is the diorama of God. It really is true that realizing we're on our own, in most cases, leads people to treat others with more compassion and generosity.
And, if you missed the lesson of the opening paragraph, it really is true that reading the Bible turns people into atheists! This is just one of many deconversion stories that begin this way. When a person starts with an honest desire to know what's true, when that desire leads them to impartially investigate the question from a multitude of viewpoints, they will more often than not become a nonbeliever. We're winning this battle because we're right - our reasons are better, our evidence is stronger, our arguments are superior. Our opponents have nothing to offer besides childhood indoctrination, emotional commitment overruling factual reasoning, and cultural momentum carried over from past eras when they could impose their ideas by force. This battle of ideas is one that we can win. Don't ever give up the fight!
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