Help Me In My Unbelief

An unbeliever's first steps into a faithless world

The genie’s not going back in the bottle

When I first deconverted, I essentially did so because I couldn’t even satisfy my own desire for a rationale to believe. I had reached escape velocity, and the lack of actual reasons to believe eventually made it impossible for me to hang onto the belief in God. That’s what I told people when I came out, including my mother and wife, both of whom made it clear that they weren’t giving up hope that I might believe again. And I suppose this was fine, not just in terms of their own peace of mind but also because lacking any solid belief doesn’t mean that I’d closed my mind to the idea – it just meant that no one had ever presented good reasons. (They still haven’t, incidentally.)

But as I consider what has happened in the time since I deconverted, I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that my intellectual journey after faith has put me in a very different place than when I first discarded theistic belief.

Let me back up a second and explain where I’m coming from with this. Over dinner, my wife and I started having a conversation about some aspects of the Bible, especially in terms of stories. (She wasn’t raised with Bible stories like I was, so she sometimes asks me questions about them to solidify her own understanding of them.) This led to a line of questioning in which she asked me whether I thought certain things from the Bible are true. She asked me, for instance, if I thought Jesus actually existed (I’m largely agnostic on the question, although I find the mythicist arguments compelling) and if the story of Noah’s ark and the flood was true, which I don’t believe happened because of, well, science and the obvious evidence of a pre-scientific, intellectually limited perspective (e.g. no knowledge of the vast number of animal species that exist). I also told her that the Adam and Eve story isn’t true, and I could have even told her (if she had asked) that I have serious doubts about whether the Exodus happened (there’s no coherent way to link the Biblical account with archaeological evidence on this matter).

The conversation had to come to a close to prevent too much tension, but I realized after that how much of what she was asking was contingent on the acceptance of the Bible as accurate, even to the point where, after she said that she doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in the Bible, I asked her how she determines what is right – that is, does she believe that things are true because they’re in the Bible or because of some independent criteria? She didn’t tell me outright what her answer would be, and I could tell it made her uncomfortable. I’m okay with that; it’s probably just a little bit of cognitive dissonance, which can be a good thing.

What this conversation made me realize is that I didn’t just decide that the evidence was insufficient for any deity – although clearly it was and still is. That initial step made me more curious about the religious ideas I had previously held and the purported basis for them – the Bible – and I have learned more information about it as a historical work that has solidified the conviction that it’s all bollocks. The god that my wife and mother want me to believe in is so thoroughly discredited that I don’t see how it can overcome not only the lack of evidence but all of the defeating elements that make it even more improbable. This isn’t a case where the defense needs to merely point out the prosecution’s lack of a credible case; the defense can also show how means, motive, or opportunity cannot obtain.

Let’s face it – I may still be open to the idea of being convinced on the matter, but this is a genie that’s not going to go back into the bottle easily. I can’t unlearn what I’ve found; I can’t simply deny the truth that I’ve been able to discover without the fear of uprooting my faith. To ask me to believe again would be to take on the herculean task of not only providing sufficient evidence but also dealing with all of the logical and evidential problems or to ask me to knowingly deceive myself – and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that for anyone.

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2 responses to “The genie’s not going back in the bottle

  1. Rebecca April 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Thank you for your comments. I feel very much the same way. My husband grew up in an extremely religious Finnish Apostolic Lutheran household. My parents were agnostics. I recently had a conversation with one of my sisters who does belief in the Christian dogma. I told her that our folks raised us to have an open mind and to question religion and I relayed how my husband was indoctrinated in his parent’s faith from the moment he was born. She told me that, in the same sense, we had been “indoctrinated” in much the same way, only to not believe in religion. She kind of had a point. I continue to engage in conversations with my husband on religion. He says, he really doesn’t believe in it anymore, although one would never know it when he is around his family. He is a scientist by training, by the way. It is a delicate subject in our household. Our families both live in another part of the country and we never attended a church with our children who are now grown. We did have our older daughter attend a week long confirmation program when she was around 14. She absolutely hated it and our younger daughter refused to follow suit. We basically had the older daughter do this to make my husband’s parents happy. Sometimes I wish that I could just have this blind faith like so many people do. I just can’t wrap my brain around it no matter how much I try. Like you said, it’s hard to put the genie back into the bottle.

  2. Pingback: Never Going Back | Finding Truth

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