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Exploring Philosophy: Free Will

I’ve always enjoyed philosophy and now that I’ve had more time to read and watch philosophy related content, you may see some more “Exploring Philosophy” blog posts from time to time. I don’t know how many entries there will be on philosophy, but I hope to eventually discuss topics such as Nihilism, Existentialism, Absurdism, Stoicism, morality, and the nature of time.

Now that I’ve taken on the question of whether or not there is a god (or gods) and tentatively concluded that there are no deities, I now have the pleasure of re-evaluating my entire philosophy. While some of this was done by default in the process of deconversion, there is still plenty to explore.  I now get to explore whether morals are objective or subjective, the nature of time, and whether free will exists or if it’s simply an illusion. All of this is truly fascinating to me. However, today I will simply focus on free will. This is a topic that I’ve been interested in for quite some time now and I’ve finally read through Sam Harris’ book Free Will, read articles, and watched countless videos. Now, I get to share my current opinion on the matter.

So the big question is: Do we have free will? Now, intuitively, the answer is “of course I do!” because it feels like we make the choices that we make…but do we really? Sam Harris and many other neuroscientists will tell you that, no, we don’t really have free will and I unfortunately must agree. I say “unfortunately” because it would be so much easier if the evidence suggested that our subjective experience of free will is accurate, but instead, it points to an often uncomfortable reality that what we intuitively feel to be true is in fact completely false.

Some of the most compelling evidence for this lies in several scientific studies of neuroscience. In these studies, researchers would have the subjects perform an action at whatever time they chose while hooked up to EEG or fMRI technology. What these researchers found was that the decision to perform the action at a particular time was made inside the brain anywhere between 300 milliseconds to 10 full seconds before the participant was conscious of their decision. What does this mean? This implies that while you may feel that you are calling the shots in everything that you do, your brain makes all of the decisions for you and you are simply a passenger along for the ride.

“You have not built your mind. And in moments in which you seem to build it—when you make an effort to change yourself, to acquire knowledge, or to perfect a skill—the only tools at your disposal are those that you have inherited from moments past…You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime—by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?” – Sam Harris, Free Will

If you are familiar with biology, and neuroscience in particular, this may not seem too far-fetched after a little rumination. Hormones and neurotransmitters can significantly alter our moods and behaviors in a moment’s notice, and we don’t truly have control of these do we? To use one of the examples Sam Harris provided, if an organ failed in our body we would not say that we “decided” to have that organ fail; instead, we would be considered a victim of that organ failure. Another example would be that we have not control over our wants and desires either. We have no more control over our wants and desires than we do over our body producing hormones or neurotransmitters. One might argue that we can refuse to give into our wants and desires, which certainly is usually true. However, if you think a little further back, you had no control of that desire coming over you, or even control of the strength of your will. As Sam Harris put it, “Thoughts simply arise unauthored and yet author our actions.” Another great example of biology influencing free will would be brain damage or brain tumors.  In the famous case study of Phineas Gage, an iron rod was driven through the front of Phineas’ brain by an explosion which led to drastic changes to his personality. The once respected and well mannered railroad foreman now behaved erratically and would curse, yell, and make crude remarks that were previously uncharacteristic of him. Another example would be the effects a brain tumor had on a 40-year-old school teacher in the year 2000. (Sources: http://bit.ly/2rLmb3Z and http://bit.ly/2Ef8tcv ) The man, who otherwise lived a normal life, suddenly began to visit prostitutes and collect child pornography. This deviant sexual behavior was discovered, he was kicked out of his home, and eventually found guilty of child molestation. The night before his sentencing, he was rushed to the emergency room where it was discovered that he had an egg-sized tumor in his brain. Days after having the tumor removed, his deviant sexual behavior and other symptoms disappeared. The symptoms even began to come back a year later, which lead to the discovery of another tumor developing in the same area of the brain.

Now, when you first read of the man found guilty of child molestation, you likely had no pity on him. Did your opinion change when it was revealed that the behavior was simply caused by a brain tumor? What is the difference between someone behaving in a way we find reprehensible because of a brain tumor and someone who behaves the same way without a tumor? Both instances are the result of neurophysiological activity in the brain; however, we understand why the person affected by a tumor is behaving that way. If we had a complete understanding of how the brain works, would we treat the two any differently?

Many people argue that we have free will, usually involving something about having a soul or the randomness of quantum mechanics.  As far as the argument for a soul, even if you take the argument at face value, the science seems to show that our decisions are made before we are conscious of the choice we’ve made. If we have a soul, we still don’t have control over it; we are just the conscious observers of the decisions it makes. In regards to chance fluctuations in quantum mechanics, Sam Harris states “Chance occurrences are by definition ones for which I can claim no responsibility. And if certain of my behaviors are truly the result of chance, they should be surprising even to me. How would neurological ambushes of this kind make me free?…Quantum indeterminacy does nothing to make the concept of free will scientifically intelligible. In the face of any real independence from prior events, every thought and action would seem to merit the statement ‘I don’t know what came over me.’”  Daniel Dennett, on the other hand, argues for free will in a very interesting way. Dennett argues that while we do not have control over our neurophysiological processes, they are still a part of us as a person and therefore “you” are still making the decisions. Sam Harris argues against this by pointing out that people “feel identical to a certain channel of information in their conscious minds” and don’t typically consider their continuous biological processes as part of their identities. You probably don’t view your body producing blood cells, hormones, and enzymes as part of your identity, so why would this change simply to make an argument for free will?

I had no choice to write this blog than you did eating dinner a week ago. However, accepting this fact is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out what this means for, well, practically everything. The assumption of free will governs how we live our lives in significant ways, especially when it comes to our morality. In regards to the way we treat criminals, Sam Harris states “It may be true that strict punishment—rather than mere containment or rehabilitation—is necessary to prevent certain crimes. But punishing people purely for pragmatic reasons would be very different from the approach that we currently take.” If we truly don’t have free will, would it not be better to find ways to rehabilitate than to simply punish criminals? What about morality? Can we truly say that someone can be immoral if they have no control of their actions? (I would argue that we certainly can, but I won’t get into as it warrants an entire lengthy post of its own.) While I haven’t completely figured out how the lack of free will will change how I live my life and how I view the world, I look forward to finding out!

What do you think about the debate on free will? Do we have free will or is it just an illusion? Does the idea of not having true free will bother you or create any problems? Let me know what you think in the comments and once again, thanks for reading!

Related Content if you’re interested:

Libet B, 1983. “The onset of cerebral activity clearly preceded by at least several hundred milliseconds the reported time of conscious intention to act.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6…

Soon CS, 2008. “We found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1…

Bode S, 2011. “We demonstrated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that the outcome of free decisions can be decoded from brain activity several seconds before reaching conscious awareness.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti…

Fried I, 2011. “We report progressive neuronal recruitment over ∼1500 ms before subjects report making the decision to move.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2…

Free Will Debunked – Rationality Rules

Everday Life without Free Will – Rationality Rules and Cosmic Skeptic

Sam Harris on the Illusion of Free Will

Crash Course Philosophy: Determinism V.S. Free Will

Crash Course Philopsophy: Compatibilism

Do We Have Free Will? – Philosophy Tube

Why We Don’t Have Free Will & Why That’s Ok – What I’ve Learned

Funny Cracked skit for your viewing pleasure

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The Lord is Not My Shepherd, For I am Not a Sheep

I was recently looking through Facebook when a “Facebook memory” popped up on my feed. It just so happened that this memory was a poem that I had written years ago while still in high school or early college, and man was it dark. The dark content of the poetry didn’t really surprise me though, I’ve always enjoyed dark themes in art and literature. What did surprise me, however, was that as I looked deeper into my past poetry and thus into my past, I remembered the depression and mental anguish I was in at the time. I remembered, in detail, what caused me to write every piece of poetry that I read and I remembered just how severe the depression and self-loathing was that I was experiencing at the time. Despite the dark themes, my cries for help and evidence of my self-loathing were still clearly evident. In one I even plainly stated the ways I had considered committing suicide! I had plans! In the fields of social work or psychiatry, that is an instant hospitalization. I guess most people I knew at the time were unaware or just had no idea what to do with what I had said. I was surprised that I had lived through this – that I had even managed to keep myself from committing suicide. Several of the poems were written on nights when I truly thought that I, and everyone else, would be better off if I were dead. One night in particular, I even remember writing the poem shortly after standing next to a busy highway, debating whether I should step out in front of a truck in order to end it. Thankfully, that night I had a friend who I could call that was able to talk me down. Until now, no one but that person and myself knew what really happened that night.

 

While a couple of them were decent, most of my poems were pretty terrible as far as the writing quality goes. Yet, they still brought back every memory of late nights walking outside until midnight, scrawling poetry until two in the morning, cutting my arms, wishing I was dead, praying to god that I would be forgiven for my sins, and screaming into the chill autumn air- all with no reassurance and no comfort.

 

 

The further I read, the more the cause (or exacerbation) of my depression, anxiety, and psychosis became apparent: Christian dogma. If I were reading these poems from an outsider’s point of view, I would have first told them to go to a hospital, psychiatrist, or therapist to get help (which eventually did happen), and I would secondly be disgusted that they had been brainwashed into an ancient, abusive dogma that told them that they were inherently worthless! As I read these poems, I felt pity for my past self and disgusted with the delusions that I was led to believe and the religious leaders that I had followed for so long.

 

 

As I reminisced, I remembered attending an oppressive church and Christian school while drawing pentagrams in my notebooks. Not because I identified as a Satanist (I didn’t even truly know what that meant at the time), but because I so vehemently opposed the arbitrary rules and authoritarianism that was imbedded within that community. Looking back, it actually seems quite fitting that I would have drawn pentagrams. I rebelled the only way I knew how: with my ideas, my dress, my art, and my writing. I loathed the hypocritical leaders within that church and yet still hated myself because I was told that I was a worthless, useless, and a sinner in the hands of an angry god. I believed to my core that I was worthless and often beyond salvation.

 

Even after leaving this church for a more modern and forgiving church, I was still told that I was worthless, useless, and in the hands of a slightly less angry god. What really blows my mind, but that I am somewhat grateful for, is that even after all of this indoctrination of thought crimes and inherent evil of human nature, I still remained devoted to Christianity. I know this may sound odd, but despite all of the anxiety, depression, self-harm, and truly psychotic symptoms produced by the teachings of Christianity, I remained a steadfast Christian; a dutiful and loyal lamb to the slaughter. I’m only grateful for this for the simple fact that no one can say that any of this turned me away from the religion. I only deconverted several years after I had learned to deal with my anxiety and depression in a healthy way and eventually learned to look at my beliefs skeptically. In fact, after all of this, I dug even deeper into the Christian faith for several years. In the environment I grew up in, Christianity was reality; I couldn’t even consider the possibility that Christianity was wrong.

 

 

I suppose I say all of this because the more I read the poetry of my past self, the more the dogma of Christianity disgusts me once again. The more I read, the more I see someone who wished wholeheartedly to be a good and loving person who was brought to severe depression, anxiety, and psychosis because of a dogma they were brainwashed to believe in. It is a sad and vile story – and it is my story.

 

 

Feel free to share your own stories or thoughts in the comments. Once again, thanks for reading.

Interview with a Pagan

Today’s blog is a little bit different. As you may have already guessed, this blog post is not about my beliefs but instead is an interview with a pagan friend of mine. Since my friend is not completely out of the broom closet yet, she has asked that we call her Nicki for this post. Let’s jump into it!

 

  1. So Nicki, do you follow a particular pagan belief system or pantheon? Or are your beliefs more of an eclectic paganism?

 

I am an eclectic pagan. I started off Wiccan and realized that it was a lot like the Christianity that I left. My pantheon is mostly Hellenistic. I lend toward Hades, god of the underworld, Hestia, goddess of the Hearth, and Persephone, goddess of the underworld.  Their stories were the ones I was excited to hear about in history class and then I went to the library and read everything that I could about them. I also like to honor my ancestors.

 

 

  1. Do you have any favorite stories about them?

 

My favorite story is about how Persephone was taken into the Underworld.

 

 

 

  1. What are your beliefs about the supernatural?

 

I believe in spirits and things. However, that is not a requirement to be pagan.

 

 

 

  1. What are your thoughts on the existence of deities/gods? Are they real beings or more of a construct?

 

You know what? I’m more of a “soft” deist. I think it’s more about your belief in the gods that gives them power over your life.  My worship includes rituals, divination, and eventually an altar. I’m still looking for a spot to put it.

 

 

  1. What led you to practice pagan spirituality?

 

Paganism is something that has appealed to me ever since I was little. I was always mystified with the moon and talked to it. I’ve always talked to my ancestors and would ask for their guidance before big events. I come from a Judeo-Christian background. I just never felt fulfilled by that lifestyle. Honestly, it gave me a lot of anxiety and depression. I never felt perfect and I needed to change to fit the mold. I had to give up so much to fit in with my Christian friends and family. I didn’t like feeling ashamed for who I fell in love with or the art I chose to create.

 

 

  1. You mentioned rituals, what are your rituals like and what are they for?

 

I do perform rituals. They’re mostly rituals to let go of things. I plan to do more this year. In October, I plan to practice Samhain. It’s day when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. Traditionally, it marked the end of the harvest in the past.

 

 

  1. What do think happens when we die?

 

I’m not sure. Honestly, I feel like life is a lesson. I really like the idea of reincarnation.

 

 

  1. What are some misconceptions about pagans that you would like to correct?

 

Paganism is not a religion, but a path. Also, you can be an atheist and be pagan.

 

 

  1. What has been the most difficult aspect of being a pagan?

 

Not knowing how people will react when they find out you’re not a Christian.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions for Nicki. If we have enough responses, maybe we can do a part two! Also, feel free to let me know if there is anything you would like to hear my thoughts on. Stay skeptical, everyone!

Atheist, Know Thyself

A while ago, Alex J. O’Connor, otherwise known as Cosmic Skeptic on Youtube, posted a video titled Atheist, Know Thyself, inspired by a chapter in David Silverman’s book Fighting God. In the video, he briefly describes part of a conversation he had with David Silverman (the president of the organization American Atheists) and goes on to describe David’s views on the labels nonbelievers use. I’ll embed the video below for your viewing pleasure but be warned that the video is a little long. Feel free to check out his other videos as well, he is one of my favorite creators on Youtube!

 

 

I particularly enjoyed this video because this is a topic I’ve struggled with somewhat myself and I ended up coming to a similar conclusion: nonbelievers, if they are able to do so safely, should outwardly identify as atheists. Alex argues that if every nonbeliever identified as an atheist, those around the world would see how prevalent we actually are in society and that we, while still a minority, are a minority worth paying attention to. If atheists around the world would be out and active, our governments would have to recognize that we are a valid voting block that makes up a much larger chunk of our society than many people realize. In fact, according to recent studies, close to 25% of the United States population are nonbelievers. [Source 1] [Source 2] Not only that, but hopefully at some point in the future it would not be automatically assumed that you follow a religion. As someone who lives in the southern United States, if I had a dollar for every time I heard the question “What church do you go to?” with little to no lead up to that question, I would be a fairly wealthy man.

 

Another reason why I found this video interesting is that, as I mentioned in my post titled “What Kind of Atheist am I?”, I have considered the label of Satanist (of The Satanic Temple). The primary reason that I am drawn to this label is the political activism and the encouragement of free inquiry embedded in the religion. Also, when I initially came out as an atheist, I labeled myself as “an atheist and a secular humanist.” As you might can tell, I’ve often wondered exactly what I should label myself but I always came back to the single unifying label: atheist. The main reason for this being that most people don’t know what secular humanist, agnostic, freethinker, or Satanist means. Many believers who think they know what these mean are incredibly misinformed. If I told someone in my area that I’m a Satanist, they would think that I worship the Satan of the bible. If I told someone that I’m a secular humanist, they might not have ever heard the term or they may think that I worship myself as a god (No, I’m not joking. I actually remember being taught that humanists worship themselves as if they are god in one of the churches I grew up in). If I tell someone that I’m an atheist, the worst misunderstanding that I usually get is that I hate god. While the label of atheist is not without its misunderstandings, it is much easier to correct misunderstandings that arise and unifies unbelievers as a more cohesive whole.

 

Now that you know my thoughts on the matter, what do you think about the different labels for nonbelievers? Should we all identify as atheists? Or are the many different labels okay or even necessary? Let me know what you think!

 

What Kind of Atheist am I?

A while back I saw a post by The Closet Atheist that was a response to a post she had seen. It seemed like fun, so now, I’m going to answer the same questions as well!

 

  1. Difference in Knowledge

gnostic atheist not only believes there are no gods, he also claims to know there are no gods.

An agnostic atheist doesn’t believe in gods, but doesn’t claim to know there are no gods.

I am definitely an agnostic atheist. I try to always be open to the possibility that I am wrong (even if I think it is unlikely on this topic), and gnostic atheists essentially refuse to accept that possibility. It just seems silly to me for people to oppose dogmatic unwavering belief in a deity while holding unwavering disbelief.

 

  1. Difference in Affirmation

negative atheist merely lacks a belief in gods. He is also called a weak atheist or an implicit atheist.

positive atheist not only lacks a belief in gods, but also affirms that no gods exist. He is also called a strong atheist or an explicit atheist.

As The Closet Atheist states, “Difference in Affirmation is very similar to Difference in Knowledge, except rather than dealing with what we claim to know or not know, it addresses what we believe.” As a whole, I generally lean towards being a negative atheist, but there are instances where I am a positive atheist. I lean towards positive atheism in regards to the Abrahamic gods because of the logical contradictions found in the supposed attributes of these deities (see the problem of evil), among other issues.

  1. Difference in Scope

broad atheist denies the existence of all gods: Zeus, Thor, Yahweh, Shiva, and so on.

narrow atheist denies the existence of the traditional Western omni-God who is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

 

 

As I’ve already mentioned in the previous answer, I am a broad atheist generally. The tri-omni god is contradictory and any other god, if they exist, seem to not interfere with our day to day lives at all and are therefore irrelevant. As others have stated, a non-existent god seems awfully similar to a god who is not active in the everyday lives of their believers.

 

 

  1. Difference in the Assessed Rationality of Theism

An unfriendly atheist believes no one is justified in believing that gods exist.

An indifferent atheist doesn’t have a belief on whether or not others are justified in believing that gods exist.

friendly atheist believes that some theists are justified in believing that gods exist.

 

 

On this aspect, I think I am somewhere between an indifferent atheist and a friendly atheist. I don’t know that I believe people are “justified” in believing in a deity, but I do understand the usual reasons as to why people believe in a deity.  Belief in a deity assuages the fear of death and encourages a belief that those who do evil will be punished for their wrongdoing. While it would be great if everyone who did evil was punished accordingly and if we could continue to live in some way after our bodies die, but according to current scientific insights, it’s simply not true. While I understand the typical reasons behind the belief in a deity, I don’t believe that whatever belief you have changes the facts. Despite this, if someone wants to believe in a deity, that is their prerogative.

 

 

  1. Difference in Openness

closet atheist has not yet revealed his disbelief to most people.

An open atheist has revealed his disbelief to most people.

 

On this aspect, I am an open atheist. While I was a closet atheist for around two years, eventually I had to come out and express my disbelief. There is nothing wrong with being a closet atheist (everyone’s personal situation is different), but I could no longer hide who I truly was and I felt safe doing so. It was one of the most terrifying and freeing experiences I have ever had. Early on in my adventures as an open atheist, I had the opportunity of telling my new co-workers that I am an atheist and seeing their reactions. I live in a very conservative state of the U.S. (Texas), but I work in the social work field, which I think was generally more accepting of my disbelief than the general population.

 

 

  1. Difference in Action

passive atheist doesn’t believe in god but doesn’t try to influence the world in favor of atheism.

An evangelical atheist tries to persuade others to give up theistic belief.

An active atheist labors on behalf of causes that specifically benefit atheists (but not necessarily just atheists). For example, he strives against discrimination toward atheists, or he strives in favor of separation of church and state.

militant atheist uses violence to promote atheism or destroy religion. (Often, the term “militant atheist” is misapplied to non-violent evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins. But to preserve the parallel with the “militant Christian” who bombs abortion clinics or the “militant Muslim” suicide bomber, I prefer the definition of “militant atheist” that assumes acts of violence.)

On this one, I am mostly an active atheist who is sometimes on the edge of being an evangelical atheist. I attribute this largely to my evangelical Christian background. I was taught to share “the good news” to others and now that I am an atheist, that instinct rears its ugly head at times. However, as I said, I am usually an active atheist. I support the separation of church and state in any way I can and I am an actively “out” atheist in hopes that the stigma of being an atheist will one day no longer exist.

 

  1. Difference in Religiosity

religious atheist practices religion but does not believe in gods.

non-religious atheist does not practice religion.
This one is an interesting one for me. While I don’t really practice any religion, I could be considered a Satanist of The Satanic Temple (not LaVeyan Satanism). If you don’t know what that is or if you’re interested in Satanism, you can see a blog post I wrote about Satanism here.

 

I guess that wraps this post up for me! Feel free to answer the questions yourself or comment on my post and let me know what you think. Take it easy, everyone.

RIP Chester Bennington

Today I had already planned to write a post, but the content of my post immediately changed once I found out about the suicide of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. The music this man, and his band Linkin Park, created was a central part of my life when I was younger. I’ve mentioned in some of my older posts that I have struggled with depression, anxiety, anger, and self-harm in my past. However, I was not alone. I had friends that were struggling with the same issues and I always had music as a way to vent my frustrations and as a way to deal everything I was struggling with. The music of Linkin Park got me through some really dark times in my life when I was tired beyond belief and wanted to end everything. I can’t count the number of times I felt so exhausted and so done with living yet listening to the music of Chester Bennington kept me going for another day. I know a few of my close friends feel the same. Linkin Park was my teen years. They helped me get through some of the worst times in my life and I owe such a huge debt to him and Linkin Park. I was never one to care about celebrities, but hearing about Chester losing his fight with depression hits me hard when he was someone who was always there fighting with me through my own struggles. The loss of Chester who, through his music became such a huge part of my life, hurts me.

 

It hurts me to see yet another person lose their fight against depression. Of all of the things I’ve done, fighting depression and suicidal thoughts has absolutely been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I’m lucky enough to have gotten help through friends, family, and professionals to work past my depression but that doesn’t mean that my past doesn’t haunt me from time to time. What’s even worse than that is the millions of people who deal with depression and suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, please, please, please get help. Life is worth living. Someone will miss you. Getting help is not a waste of your time. Life can get better, I promise.

 

National Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

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.”