I’ve only recently begun to read and listen to Atheists at the forefront of the Freethought Movement. One might think that, as a new atheist, I’d devour the writings of the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins. With just a few exceptions, I haven’t been doing that until recently. For good reason…
Leaving Christianity meant I had to learn to think for myself and therefore, reclaim myself. The last thing I needed was to dive into Dawkins or Hitchens works using my old methods of learning and digesting information. Until I could break old patterns and replace them with healthier methods, I needed space. At least for a little while.
Reflections on my life of indoctrination led me to conclude that I needed time to wake up more fully before exploring the works of atheists.
For children, indoctrination is a relatively passive exercise. But for the adult, it requires some work. I did the work.
To give perspective: My ‘relationship with Jesus’ really took off at the age of 17 when I was baptized in the holy spirit. Because I was a ravenous reader/studier, I practically set up house in our local Christian bookstore.
All my books had highlighter markings on page after page with notes in the margins. My bible was fat with dog-ears and underlined with color coded pens. I saw it all through my God glasses.
When a controversial topic popped up, I’d turn to trusted Christian leaders to find out what they were teaching about it. I’d read their books, listen to their tapes and, ultimately adopt their belief as my own.
As I grew and matured in the faith, I began teaching bible studies and prayer groups. Preparing my material typically consisted of a Strong’s Concordance, 2 or 3 bibles of different translations, and 3 or 4 books by authors our church trusted that covered the topic at hand. From there, I’d piece together my own rendition.
Many Christians know that this is the process by which many believers gather and disseminate doctrine and dogma. Most bible studies or sermons are nothing more than re-writes of someone else’s beliefs and teachings, made personal.
It took massive amounts of mental gymnastics to make nonsense make sense throughout my Christian experience. But milling about in the sheep’s pen made it MUCH easier. I learned within those fences how to regurgitate the dogma and bleat with all the sheeple.
I’ve had to face the fact: I was a full participant in my own indoctrination as a member of the herd.
Now, at nearly ten years out of Christianity, I feel like I have enough distance from all of that to indulge in the writings of knowledgeable atheists without pulling the wool over my own eyes.
I’m not kidding myself… I’ll never achieve 100% objectivity, but I’m certainly more up to the task than I ever could have been as a Christian.
The beauty of where I am right now is that for the first time in my life, I’m wide open to possibilities. I’m reading new authors from all kinds of backgrounds with an aim to see something new. To put a fine point on it: I’m not reading Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, or Dan Barker to learn how to think like an atheist… that would completely miss the point of free thought at its core and further rob me of thinking like MY SELF. And the fact that I see that is amazing.
I’ve already found myself at odds with a few atheist authors on some points along the way. It could be that I don’t yet know the scientific data but when I do, I’ll change my position. Maybe I’ll see the data differently and stick to my guns. The difference is that now I don’t have 10 foot high walls around me. I actually welcome being proven wrong so I can further grow and understand. This is TOTALLY counter to any Christian training I’ve ever had on how to think and consume information. Whatta wild ride!
This may sound childish to a whole lot of people adept at critical thinking. You’ve been enjoying the wonders of your brain in ways I never did because I was discouraged from doing so. But there are ExChristians who will relate. We were trained to ‘die to self’ and just believe. Joyce Meyer said it perfectly in this terrifying tweet:
As I round the corner toward my 10th year out of Christianity, I’m acutely aware of how my thinking continues to evolve. I think differently today than I did just one year ago. As my oldest son put it recently, “The farther away I get from Christianity, the more ridiculous it all looks.” And I feel the same.
But I’ll add; the farther away I get, the freer I feel to think outside the God box I was stuck in for so long. And now… NO box will do. Believe me, this is Way Past Due!