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The Beginning of the End (The Story of My Deconversion)

It started when I was young, back when I had an obsession with ancient Egypt and its practices and theology. My mother said I was always one to question. I grew up wanting to be an archeologist, digging up artifacts and understanding how the people of days gone by lived and died. As my critical thinking skills began to develop I wondered “Would the people that lived in this era end up in hell as the theology I was raised in believed? Was time and geography all that distanced me from the ancient Egyptians who worshiped Ra?” While it was an interesting question, I knew that the theology that I grew up with was true…after all, my parents and everyone I knew said it was so. I was around 6 years old when I walked down the aisle to beg Jesus for forgiveness. I even remember once talking to a couple of close friends of mine in the school gym asking if they had ever asked Jesus into their hearts.

 

Later, around the age of 14, I was told that those who had accepted Jesus into their hearts would know an unending peace and would know that they were saved from eternal damnation…but that knowing and that feeling never came. I remember begging and pleading for my god to give me the reassurance that I was truly saved and would end up in heaven with everyone that I held dear, yet that prayer was never answered. I may have felt relief for days or weeks but the question was always nagging in the back of my mind: “Was I truly saved if I never felt this total peace others spoke of?”

 

I was 15 when I went on a “retreat” where I was starved of sleep and had constant contact with other steadfast believers. I remember playing games with friends and eventually ended up under the starry sky of rural Texas weeping after a heartfelt altar call, asking Jesus to save my soul once again. This time it lasted a little while longer, even if doubts crept into my mind now and again.

 

Then I was 17 and I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve seen friends struggle with self-harm and thoughts of suicide that god would not or could not defend against. I was one of them. I was a steadfast Christian, yet I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts often. I would pray to god to save my soul and deliver me from this affliction and it would subside for the night only to be back the next day. I was a devout Christian yet I believed that literal demons were tormenting me daily and my prayers were only sufficient for a night. When I felt that I was not being punished enough for my disgusting sins I began to inflict punishment upon myself by cutting my arms. Because of my stress, insomnia, and religious upbringing, I saw shadowy figures tormenting me night after night with no respite. Eventually, I felt these demons especially when I listened to secular music. At first I was afraid and considered throwing my secular music in the garbage. However, one night I realized that the feelings I had felt from secular music were no different from the Christian music I was raised with. It was so bizarre at first to think that secular music could have this effect; but once I began to research into the subject, I realized that music, Christian or secular, was devised to evoke emotions.

 

Then I was 18 or 19 in my first year of college. I’m no longer sure what to believe. I still believe there is a god that is good, just, and loving, but I have my doubts. This is when I meet Mike. I don’t remember his last name, but I owe him an immense debt for opening my eyes. I met Mike, if I remember correctly, in my introduction to philosophy course. Mike was probably close to 30 and was fairly close to the stereotypical angry atheist; he disliked Christianity to the point of being visibly annoyed by students nearby talking about their worship service from the previous Sunday. I don’t remember how we ended up in a private discussion about theology after class had ended, but I distinctly remember Mike asking me what I believed. I stuttered for a moment and eventually spat out “I think I’m a deist?” I knew I didn’t sound very convincing as I didn’t even convince myself. Mike and I discussed philosophical arguments for the existence of god for a while and he challenged me to watch a few episodes of The Atheist Experience on YouTube.

 

At the time, I was working a job that allowed me to work and listen to videos simultaneously and I took advantage of that opportunity. While I didn’t completely understand the arguments being made at first, I began to familiarize myself with the philosophical arguments for and against the existence of a deity. As I listened to the arguments against the existence of a deity, the more they began to make sense. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly was not looking for a reason to abandon my belief in god. In fact, I was hoping to do the exact opposite, I began my research in hopes that I would better understand how to argue for the existence of a deity. In fact, I even went on several “mission trips” during this time. Despite my doubts, I dug even deeper into my religion and the doubts only crept out when I was alone at night, left alone to think. 

 

However, eventually my fundamentalist beliefs about the Christian deity were eroded away. This erosion created an even deeper longing for an understanding of the truth about reality that has yet to be satisfied. I dove wholeheartedly into a quest for understanding all different kinds of beliefs about the world that previously I would have considered completely taboo. With my fundamentalist beliefs finally gone, I was finally free to ask what reality truly was without any preconceived notions.

 

Now, several years later in my mid-twenties, I am an agnostic atheist who longs to understand reality to the best of my ability and I do my best to challenge myself each and every day to discover the truth. I keep my eyes open and my beliefs open to revision. After all, according to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The Reality of Religious or Spiritual Experiences

When discussing religion or spirituality with various people, one phrase that I’ve found is likely to come up is a phrase something along the lines of “I know X exists because I’ve had a personal spiritual experience that proves it!” Now, should we accuse these people of lying because we cannot objectively verify these experiences? Of course not. In fact, I’ve had religious/spiritual experiences myself! I don’t doubt that others have spiritual experiences, I just doubt that they are truly supernatural in origin. Allow me to explain.

 

There were several instances when I was a Christian where there would be an altar call or a particularly moving worship session, and I would pray fervently for peace or confirmation of my path. During these events, I would go into an almost trance-like state and I would feel my body relax. My face (and sometimes my fingers or hands) would feel tingly or numb and it would feel as if a weight were lifted off of my chest so I felt almost like I was floating and I felt as if I was truly and utterly alive. I sometimes felt giddy and, in a sense, one with god and the universe. I would have this renewed energy where I felt as if I could see clearer, breathe deeper, and take on the world. I often felt as if these experiences were the “holy spirit” coming over me to answer my prayers for peace or to confirm a decision I had made while in prayer. Sometimes I would weep with joy, knowing that god was communicating with me in this way. It was often an exhilarating and invigorating experience.

 

Before I deconverted, I realized I could have some similar experiences while listening to intense secular music as well. While at first I didn’t think much of it, I began to notice the similarities more and more and this terrified me. Instead of the reasonable assumption that music or other emotionally stirring events could cause some of these symptoms, I began to wonder if there were demons or dark forces that enticed me and invigorated me while listening to this secular (usually rock or metal) music in order to draw me away from God. I wrestled with these thoughts for much longer than I should have. I eventually came to the realization that it was just really good music that could stir my emotions, silly me! It was then I realized that maybe there was no “holy spirit” that inspired and invigorated me while worshipping, maybe it was just music created by people who knew how to evoke emotion. This thought terrified me even more than the last. 
While this may not a huge step in my deconversion, it certainly drove me to think more analytically about the belief system I was holding onto.

 

Now we fast forward several years past my deconversion. At some point I discovered mindfulness meditation as a method to deal with stress. While I don’t practice meditation on a consistent basis, I did find that if I was feeling especially anxious or stressed, it helped to meditate to take a breath and clear my mind of anxious thoughts. One day while practicing mindfulness meditation, I felt my cheeks go numb and a small laugh rise out of my chest. I felt at peace and I felt a sense of wholeness. I felt as if I could see clearer, I could breathe deeper, and could go on with my day invigorated with renewed energy! But wait, I wasn’t praying to some deity, I was just breathing deeply and allowing my thoughts to come and go as they pleased! All of a sudden, all of my previous spiritual experiences seemed so foolish and I had to laugh a little at my past self. Even though I had realized long ago that my previous spiritual experiences were manufactured by my brain chemistry, self-fulfilling prophesy, and psychosomatic phenomenom…it was a bizarre experience to have these symptoms outside of a distinctly religious environment. From this point I realized I could replicate many of these experiences with a little bit of deep breathing…and maybe a little bit of emotion-evoking music.

 

 

That was a little about my spiritual experiences, I’d love to hear about yours! Feel free to share yours in the comments and thanks for reading!

Everything You Know About Satanism is (Probably) Wrong

While I’ve almost always has an interest in cultures, philosophies, and religions that I wasn’t familiar with, this curiosity was raised to a whole new level once I had left the Christian religion. I had a renewed vigor in learning about all kinds of philosophies and religions that were taboo when I was growing up. Having been raised in a devout, bible-belt, evangelical Christian household, one religion was demonized and deemed taboo above all others: Satanism.

 

When I finally found the courage to explore this ominous and supposedly malicious religion with an intent to destroy all things good in this world, I was blown away by exactly how wrong everything I thought I knew about Satanism was. I visited a lot of websites and had several conversations with Satanists online, it was all incredibly facinating. In this overview of Satanism, I hope to dispel common myths about Satanism while also giving my opinion about a few things as well. Now, instead of just listing common misconceptions as I did in my blog about atheism, I’m going to split this blog into three parts based on the three main sects of Satanism: The Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple, and theistic Satanists.

 

The Church of Satan

First up is the Church of Satan (CoS), also known as LaVeyan Satanism, which was created by Anton LaVey in 1966 when he published The Satanic Bible in 1969. This sect may be considered the “original” Satanist movement, as it was the first have an official codified philosophy of Satanism, and is considered by its members to be the only “true” version of Satanism. Member of the CoS often view other Satanist sects as a joke gone too far or as uneducated wannabes. Members of the CoS also often say that Satanists are born, not created or converted. This is because this form of Satanism is an individualistic philosophy that only people that already live by a similar philosophy will understand or follow.

 

While the CoS is atheistic and generally not superstitious, there are rituals prescribed in The Satanic Bible that are split between two categories: Greater Magic and Lesser Magic. The CoS website states that “Greater Magic, which is our name for our ritual practice, is basically meant as self-transformational psychodrama. That is it serves as a means to purge oneself of all unwanted emotional baggage that might be hindering a daily pursuit of joy in life. The three basic types of Satanic Ritual are…for Compassion (for oneself and others), Lust (to release unrequited sexual urges), and Destruction (to cleanse oneself of anger towards someone who has done you an injustice).” In other words, Greater Magic is any ritualistic act you perform in order to help shape yourself into who you want to be. Lesser Magic, on the other hand, involves manipulating your environment and others around you to obtain your goals. Examples of Lesser Magic would be using charm to woo someone you are attracted to or using wit to secure a better job.

 

The CoS has no brick-and-mortar churches but does have some form of hierarchy starting with registered members and moving onto active member, Witch/Warlock, Priestess/Priest, Magistra/Magister, and finally Maga/Magus. To keep this article from being too long, I’ll refrain from going into more detail about the hierarchy.

 

Like many other religions, there are tenets to follow. In the CoS, these tenants are called The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth and they are as follows:

  1. Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.
  2. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.
  3. When in another’s lair, show them respect or else do not go there.
  4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat them cruelly and without mercy.
  5. Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.
  6. Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and they cry out to be relieved.
  7. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
  8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.
  9. Do not harm little children.
  10. Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.
  11. When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask them to stop. If they do not stop, destroy them.

 

While some may sound odd, they are mostly straightforward and make it incredibly clear that this is an incredibly individualistic philosophy.

 

My opinion: I am not a LaVeyan Satanist. While I can certainly understand and appreciate some of the concepts within this form of Satanism, I cannot subscribe to its overall “might makes right” or Social Darwinist sort of mentality. In my time studying Satanism, I found some LaVeyan Satanists that I felt were a joy to speak with, while there were others who came across as more elitist or snobbish. While there is much more to this religion, I’ll move onto the next sect for the sake of brevity and will supply some additional sources for those who are interested.

 

Sources:

Official Website

Wikipedia

 

The Satanic Temple

The Satanic Temple (TST) was created by Lucien Greaves and Malcom Jarry in 2014 as a “a faith-based organization that met all the Bush administration’s criteria for receiving funds, but was repugnant to them” in response to President George W. Bush’s formation of White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Lucien Greaves was once a member of the CoS and eventually left in order to establish TST due to his conflicting opinions with the CoS. Lucien’s issues with the CoS were its inactivity in the social or political sphere, the CoS’ supernatural aspects, Social Darwinist foundations, and authoritarian leanings to name a few.

 

Instead of having a “holy” text, TST relies on scientific knowledge and refers to Anatole France’s Revolt of the Angels which is described on TST’s website as a meditation on the corruption of power and uses the imagery of Satan as a force against tyranny and for free inquiry. TST is an atheistic religion and does not believe in literal Satan or the supernatural. Instead, Satan in TST is a symbol of the pursuit of knowledge and personal sovereignty, as well as the rejection of tyranny. The website for TST states that “we believe in nothing that is not demonstrably true, and hold to even those beliefs with an understanding that they, too, must remain open to revision in the light of new scientific understanding.”

However, unlike the CoS, TST is a very politically active religion that fights for the separation of church and state, abortion rights, and equal rights for all. If you ever hear about Satanists in the news, there’s a good chance that TST is behind it. The protests that TST perform are often over-the-top works of theatrical art that shock the viewers while simultaneously making a point.

 

Of course, like most religions, there are tenets to follow which are as follows:

  1. “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”
  2. “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”
  3. “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”
  4. “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.”
  5. “Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.”
  6. “People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.”
  7. “Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.”

 

Again, these are very straightforward, even more so than the tenets of the CoS in my opinion. Speaking of which…

My opinion: I really appreciate and can get behind the tenets and ideology of TST. If I were pick a religion as an atheist, TST is certainly near the top of the list. While I certainly understand why some people may view TST simply as political activists using shock tactics to get their point across, I believe that the values and causes that TST promote are worth fighting for.

 

Sources:

Official Webiste

Wikipedia

VICE interview

 

Theistic Satanists

Lastly, there are theistic Satanists. Now I used the word “sect” for this group previously, but in reality theistic Satanists have as many versions of Satanism within the group as there are members (if you could even call practicing theistic Satanists ‘members’). Some may view Satan as a good and life-giving deity, others as a positive life-force of sorts, some follow occultic or “left hand path” practices, and others may worship the Satan of the Abrahamic religions. Theistic Satanists are a very small minority of an already incredibly tiny minority. It’s very difficult to define theistic Satanism because there are no uniform beliefs or practices.

 

My opinion: I don’t really have much of an opinion on theistic Satanism because it is so hard to pin down. While I find the beliefs of theistic Satanists interesting, it’s not a religion I could get behind.

 

Sources:

Wikipedia

Theistic Satanist website

 

Well there it is everybody, the spooky and ominous sects of Satanism! I hopefully represented the different sects properly and if you have any questions or corrections for me, please let me know. It took me a while to put all of this together and I didn’t even cover everything, so please let me know what you think. I really enjoyed learning about Satanism and speaking with all different kinds of people, it really was a lot of fun!
LAZY EDIT: So I’ve been wanting to clarify a few things and now I’m doing it months later. Technically, since the CoS is the original, only The Satanic Temple and some theistic forms (particularly Setianism AKA The Temple of Set) are actual sects. 

Healthy Skepticism in a World of Confusion

As anybody who knows me well can attest, I politically lean quite libertarian-left. However, I do my best to avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias and tribalism and keep my mind open to unfamiliar points of view. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, confirmation bias is “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” No one is immune to confirmation bias, not even the most intelligent among us, but that is no reason to succumb to its allure.

 

Let’s face it, in today’s world of “alternative facts”, pseudoscience, and fake news (and I don’t mean opposing views), yielding to the effects of confirmation bias is all too easy. Anti-intellectualism is rampant all around the world, and especially in the United States.  The need for skepticism is apparent now more than ever, while fewer and fewer people bother to perform a simple Google search to check if the meme they are sharing on Facebook is even remotely accurate.

 

While I am certainly not a journalist or some sort of expert, here is a basic how-to for fact checking.

  1. Be skeptical of everything, especially if the story/meme/factoid is appealing to your point of view.
  2. If an article has no sources, it’s probably bullshit or just trying to start shit.
  3. If an article does have sources, follow the rabbit hole. See what that source states as its sources and so on.
  4. Nearly every article has some sort of bias, take everything with a grain of salt.
  5. Government data and scientific (as in peer-reviewed) sources are usually reliable but don’t pull a single study and tout it as undeniable fact. Look for meta-analyses on the subject (studies that compile the conclusions of many or all studies in the field).
  6. Always look for other sources of information. If the story is true, it’s likely that more than one news source has reported on it. However, don’t just settle for several articles from the same point of view, look at the subject/situation from other points of view!

 

Now for the love of all things good and true in this world, use your brain before posting spreading nonsense on the internet! This has always been a pet peeve of mine but has been exacerbated as of late with utter nonsense accepted at face value more and more often it seems. (Hence the blog post)

EDIT/UPDATE: I recently discovered an article that described some useful tools for double checking assertions online. 

Article: http://theconversation.com/six-easy-ways-to-tell-if-that-viral-story-is-a-hoax-47673

YouTube DataViewer
https://citizenevidence.amnestyusa.org/

Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer (see photo data)
http://exif.regex.info/exif.cgi

Fotoforensics (spot ‘shops)

http://fotoforensics.com/

WolframAlpha (see weather conditions)

http://fotoforensics.com/

As an added bonus, here’s a video by a popular Youtuber (who I’m a fan of) adding his opinion:

 

 

 

Common Misconceptions about Atheism

When discussing religion, I’ve found there are a lot of misconceptions about atheism. In this entry I hope to correct some of the more popular misconceptions out there, but first, let’s define our terms. Theism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “belief in the existence of a god or gods, specifically a creator who intervenes in the universe.” Atheism, on the other hand, is defined as “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” That is all atheism is, and yet misunderstandings abound. Let’s jump into our first misconception now.

 

1. Atheists claim to know that there is no god.

 

This is probably the most common misconception about atheists out there, and understandably so! This one can be hard to wrap your head around at first. Atheists don’t claim that there is no god, they only lack a belief in a deity. Initially, these may sound like the same thing, but there is a subtle difference: lacking belief does not put the burden of proof on the atheist. Proving a negative is nigh impossible. Instead, the burden of proof is upon the theist to provide evidence that their chosen deity(s) exist. The best analogy I’ve found to help people understand this point is Matt Dillahunty’s gumball analogy.

 

Here is an excerpt:

>Matt: You ever see one of those things where there is a jar on the counter and it’s full of gum balls? And, they have a contest to see who can guess closest to the actual number of gumballs?
Brian: Sure.

Matt: Okay. So, as long as there’s gumballs in that jar, you and I would agree that the number of gumballs is either even or odd. Correct?
Brian: Evidently, it would have to be. Yes.

Matt: Okay. So, what’s the default position on the number of gumballs?
Brian: The number of gumballs as a numerical number? Or, as a rounded position?
Matt: The quantity of gumballs being either even or odd. What’s the default position?
Brian: The default position is neutral.

Matt: Yes. But, if somebody asserts “The number of gumballs in this jar, I believe, is even.” If I am in the default position, I disbelieve that assertion. I do not accept that assertion. I reject that assertion.
That doesn’t mean that I think that the number (of gumballs) is odd.
Brian: Right.

Matt: Cause, we only address a single prong of a dilemma at a time.
Brian: And, I completely agree with this. This is fundamentally logically deductive logic.

Matt: Sure. So, either a god exists or it doesn’t. And, a theist is offering the proposition that a god exists; the number of gumballs is even. And, I am rejecting their assertion. Theism is the acceptance of that position. And, atheism is the rejection of that position. It is not the assertion that “There are no gods.”

 

As you can see, theism makes the claim that a god exists, while an atheist simply rejects that claim, usually due to a lack of evidence.

 

2. Atheists hate or reject god

 

Another common misconception is that atheists hate or reject god, religion, or religious people.  Believing in the existence of a deity and hating that deity is misotheism (which by default requires one to be a theist), while being actively against religion is called anti-theism. All anti-theists are atheists, while most atheists are not anti-theists. It is impossible to hate something you do not believe exists. Atheists don’t hate god for the same reason theists don’t hate the deities of other religions. Also, on a related note, people don’t become atheists because of some bad experience. A large majority of the time, people become atheists because they weigh the available evidence and find no reason to believe. This one is pretty straightforward, yet is still a very common misconception.

 

3. Atheists worship Satan

 

This one may seem a tad silly (because it is), but some people honestly believe this. Just as atheists don’t believe in the existence of a god, atheists also don’t believe in the existence of Satan or the devil. Again, you can’t worship something that you don’t believe exists. However, I would like to clarify that being an atheist does not necessarily mean that you don’t believe in the supernatural. While many atheists lack a belief that anything supernatural exists/happens due to a lack of evidence, there are atheists who believe in ghosts, spirits, souls, an afterlife, etc. Also, on a side note, most Satanists don’t actually worship Satan either, but that’s a topic for another time.

 

  1. Atheists just want to sin

 

Another common misconception is that atheists became atheists because they didn’t want to follow god’s rules and want to sin. This is patently false, as atheists don’t believe that a deity exists and therefore cannot sin against it. A Christian claiming that an atheist “just wants to sin” is like an atheist claiming that Christians are Christians just because they don’t want to follow Krishna, Odin, or Zeus.

 

 

5. Atheists are immoral

 

Yet another misconception is that atheists are immoral due to their lack of belief in a deity. Atheists have morals, we just don’t get them from an ancient collection of books. Actually, it could be argued that even Christians don’t get their morals from the Bible. Most Christians would agree that slavery and rape are wrong, but the Bible fails to condemn those vile acts. Here are a couple videos that may help explain it better than I can:

 

 

6. Atheism is a religion/wants to ban all religions

Atheism is far from a homogenous group, and as I stated before, the only unifying factor between atheists is their nonbelief in any deity. Atheism is a religion like off is a television channel or like not collecting stamps is a hobby. Atheism has no dogma and no authority figures that demand worship. Also, while there may be some atheists who want to ban religion, many are strong advocates for the freedom of (and from) religion.

 

 

7. Atheists believe in nothing and are miserable, unhappy people

 

Atheists are like any other group of people, there will be some who are unhappy but generally atheists are happy people. Just because atheists don’t find their purpose through a religion, doesn’t mean that they live a purposeless life devoid of happiness. A cartoon by Pablo Stanley explains this quite well in a way anybody can understand. Just because life is short and may have no inherent meaning, we can still find joy in everyday life. The idea that we most likely don’t have a life after death does not devalue the life we are living now, in fact, it gives this life so much more value because our time is limited.

 

 

Hopefully this short blog entry helped clear up any misconceptions you may have had about us godless heathens! If you have any other questions about atheism or feel that I left out any other common misconceptions, feel free to comment and start a discussion. Thanks for reading!