Reaching Others – Through their Hearts

Logan’s Note: With permission, this post is derived from a letter Dennis Augustine wrote to Sean Faircloth thanking him for guiding him to The Clergy Project.  Dennis describes how he left the faith via emotion, not reason. My comments follow his letter.

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mYToK6G0_400x400An open letter to Sean Faircloth (and message to Dawkins, Dennett, Krauss and the Atheist community)

Hi Sean,
It’s been a few months since you put me in contact with a screener from The Clergy Project and my official coming out as an atheist. I want to thank you for the role that TCP and you and your colleagues play in helping to create a community of folks like me. It’s so very comforting to understand that there are people who go through the same deep personal, emotional, psychological, practical and social issues that I did and continue to face. I suspect that what follows in this letter this is more of a therapeutic exercise for me rather than anything revelatory for you and thank you for your time in advance.
I’ve spent the last few months in a concerted effort to rebuild my life and psyche from the ground up; teaching myself that I am not a degenerate, worthless sinner whose only salvation comes from believing the unbelievable. I have a sister who blamed the Church for the anguish that contributed to her bipolar disorder which, in turn, contributed to a postpartum psychotic episode she suffered a few years ago. During that episode she killed both of her children–one was five years old, the other just two months. I helped raise those children and the pain of their loss was a big factor in my decision to come out and be genuine about my disbelief. My journey hasn’t been easy; I was indoctrinated from childhood by parents who were also ministers; the shame of sin runs deep and learning to truly love oneself without prior experience is something that’s not easy for a 44 year old man.
I’ve been trying to figure out how I can not only make amends for promulgating the falsehoods that I did as a minister, but also how to best use my natural love for people, and the love for the truth that drove me away from the faith, to help prevent the kind of psychological abuse that I endured. To that end I’ve started making inquiries with regards to starting up a Recovering from Religion group here in Toronto (I was surprised not to find one listed on the organizations website) and I’ve started designing memes, which I hope to eventually run as ad, and I’ve begun writing anti-apologetic material targeted towards believers.
All this has been very much inspired by the types of conversations that I’ve had with religions folk (conservative evangelical Christians in particular), over the last few months. Those conversations have been very enlightening and very frustrating. I’m sure that I don’t have to remind you that it’s pretty pointless trying to reason with a believer. It is futile to try to reason a man out of a belief that he wasn’t reasoned into. It’s also very difficult to get a believer to listen to anything that threatens their faith and as a result most efforts end up being simply ‘preaching to the choir.’ I’m sure you’re painfully aware of that challenge already.
In an effort to understand how to help those I left behind I began asking myself “How did I manage to break free? What really was the catalyst?” The answers to that question came to me very lucidly recently and I’d like to share it with you and make a humble suggestion as to how skeptics may be more effective when reaching people like my former self.
After watching two poignant videos this past month—a documentary entitled Kumare (http://kumaremovie.com/) and a serious of deconversion videos posted on You Tube by a former minister —I’m convinced that reason, while having great prophylactic value for the unindoctrinated, is pretty ineffective against the armour-plated defenses that shield believers from reason: the shame of sin, the terror of isolation and a fear of death (the ultimate isolation). If you haven’t seen the videos I mentioned then you’d do the cause a favour by watching them. What’s really been driven home to me was that it was my inability to overcome the shame of sin despite my best efforts that drove me to a tipping point. Once I realized that I admitted the impotence of faith to cleanse me of these feelings and accepted defeat I began a slow painful journey towards rebelling against the idea that I was a worthless degenerate and started to embrace my own self-worth. What a revelation for me!
I’m writing this to you now in part because I recently became aware that Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss would be in town for a fundraising brunch for CFI Toronto and felt the urge to go there and hope for a moment to tell them that they’re doing it all wrong when it comes to believers. I think that it’s easy for people who are so steeped in a scientific environment dominated by the intellect to think that evidence and reason will make the difference; they can but only after one breaks through the walls around someone’s heart.
Yeah, it’s mostly my naiveté and zeal as a freshly out atheist that’s got me so riled up but I do hope that perhaps my voice will underscore what you already know and feel: that the way to reach believers is to make them value themselves, to let them know that they need not be ashamed of being human and to let them know that they’ll not be alone if they make one of the scariest decisions I can imagine any human being would have to make.
Since I’ll probably not have the opportunity to do it personally I’d very much appreciate it if you would please pass along my sentiments re the above, my warmest regards, and my sincerest gratitude for the fortification that their work provides me to Richard, Lawrence and Dan Dennett. I do hope that this message will, at least, inspire you all, in some small measure, to continue your valuable work and remind you that the way to a believer’s mind is through his heart. I’d say “God bless you for your work”, but that’d just be the leftover god-talk speaking.
With gratitude,
Dennis Augustine

experience-emotions-2I appreciate Dennis’ letter. It has caused me to reflect on my own experience as well as that of Renee’s. I’ve asked myself: did I reason myself out of faith? Or was there an emotional element involved?

I concluded that while reason was very much the primary instrument in my deconversion, emotion was a helpful catalyst. For those of us who had an emotional experience that led us into our religion, emotional events can be a helpful impetus that cause us to reflect and give careful thought to our beliefs and worldview.
I hesitate to share my personal life experiences, because believers who will read this will tend to discount… no, they will completely dismiss the critical thinking and logical reasoning that lay at the foundation of a person’s lost faith. Fundamentalists almost always disregard any cogent argument that contradicts the Biblical message, and instead they latch onto a person’s emotional story which they believe is the sole reason for lost faith, because doing so allows the believer to hold fast to their rationalizations about religion.
I also hesitate to share my personal experiences because they are so personal. But like Dennis, they are relevant.
I’ve written before about how my son’s deconversion served as a catalyst for my journey. In regard to my son, I originally made wrong conclusions and held misconceptions about my oldest son’s loss of faith. My son’s experience did serve as an emotional event in my life that played a role.
A second experience also involved my oldest son. Nearly a year ago, I learned that he had been raped as a young boy by a youth pastor at a well regarded Baptist church during a field trip. Long ago, we didn’t understand why he came home from that trip in tears. He was inconsolable and unable to explain what was wrong or why he couldn’t stop crying. We didn’t learn the truth for a very long time. He suppressed that horrific memory until his psyche was ready to deal with it some sixteen years later. My whole being hurt and cried out when I learned of what had happened. I wanted to take vengeance. It still pains me greatly to even share this. But I do acknowledge the role it played as a trigger or catalyst to give careful thought to my Biblical worldview. To put it bluntly, my young vulnerable son was placed into the “loving care” of a Christian church for a Bible drill quiz field trip, and his God-fearing / Bible believing parents prayed for his safety and care, but instead he was gagged, restrained with rope, and brutally sodomized by a youth minister.
awful1Christians might say, “but God works in mysterious ways” and “perhaps God allowed this because He knew your son could reach out to other victims later on”, to which I say, fuck that. That is grotesque nonsense. And yet under the delusion of Christianity, I did hold such a view for a while. When you’re a Christian, you become well-practiced at rationalizing away the insanity. You rationalize away the fact that over 7,000 children die of hunger every day, in-spite of the anguished prayers of their parents. Meanwhile, Americans believe that God answers their prayers for a better parking spot or for help while playing football. When we’re Christians, we rationalize and dismiss the fact that amputees are NEVER healed by God. We dismiss the fact that while the Bible promises answered prayers to believers who have faith the size of a mustard seed, we ignore the reality that any prayer given to something that is impossible (e.g., restored limbs) is never answered. And then we rationalize away the reason.
Readers might draw one of a few different conclusions in reading my post. Those who are open to rational, logical thought are likely to think, “yes, I understand and I can relate and/or sympathize”. However, Christians are likely to dismiss my faith journey and the disturbing things in the Bible and instead, decide that I just hate god because of what happened. I honestly don’t hate god. I can’t hate that which I don’t believe in. But let me be clear. If new sound, scientific evidence reveals there is a god who created the universe, I would be happy to pursue that evidence. But what I know for certain is that the god of the Bible (Yahweh) does not exist. That is truly a fictional character written long ago by uneducated desert people from the Bronze age who believed the earth was flat, and who would have viewed the wheelbarrow as amazing emerging technology.
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5 thoughts on “Reaching Others – Through their Hearts

  1. I have to reply to these blogs as I see a mix of truth and wrong thinking which is most dangerous.
    I would certainly agree that we do often make decisions about God from the heart and then justify them with our minds.
    The dreadful experience you recount about your son is shocking and heart breaking, but with respect, should not be a valid reason for losing your faith. Even Jesus had his Judas who betrayed him to torture and death. There will always be “wolves in sheep’s clothing” as Jesus himself put it. And if the Bible shows us anything, it is how God works with a mix of people who are often unsavoury and worse. That is what we are like, unfortunately, if we are honest.
    I would dispute that God “allowed” it and affirm that he hated what happened to your son and grieves with you. But he could use it. Jesus’ death came about through the sin of Judas and society in general but was used by God to bring salvation to the world.
    As for the picture of people thanking Jesus, it seems gross put like that but it is actually a good attitude to be thankful, whether rich or poor. Yes, we must help people who need it, but no, we shouldn’t go around feeling guilty all the time – it helps no-one.
    Finally your phrase “If new sound, scientific evidence reveals there is a god who created the universe..” shows how little you understand (with respect!). The best minds have disagreed about the existence of God. Some have believed, some disbelieved. You will never find God like that. You already have all you need to find God or otherwise. Jesus said that the “pure in heart” will see God. It is by faith we see God, not by superior reasoning and knowledge.
    Hope this helps and adds something. Best wishes.

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  2. Alex, please do understand that the horrible experience with my son was not the reason I walked away from faith. My faith was pretty much gone before the discovery of that horrible truth. And if your belief system is such that you dispute that “God allowed it” and instead “He grieves with me”, then God is impotent.As Epicurus said:
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    It’s quite clear that the Bible teaches that God is in total control (just google god’s sovereignty as a phrase to see the many Bible verses that make it clear what the Bible teaches regarding his sovereignty).

    I rejected Christianity because the Old Testament (OT) shows a violent, angry deity who kills his own creatures in more than 150 occasions. In the OT, God also ordered his people to kill women, children and livestock. The Bible also endorsed slavery of foreigners, and it endorsed it so well that pastors and ministers used the Bible in support of slavery during the civil war as their proof text of continuing a barbaric practice. The Bible is still used as proof text that homosexuals should be killed, and that women should be treated like submissive footstools who are not allowed to speak in church, or worse, treated as property.

    Men have tried to teach dispensation theology as a way to brush all of that crap under a rug, but that’s dishonest. Also at issue is the teaching regarding man’s free will and the Bible’s message that God created human beings knowing that He would have to torture a vast majority of them for all eternity because they behaved exactly the way He knew they would — that is grotesque. Add to it, that the New Testament teaches election (God choosing who is saved). Most denominations reject that or pretend it’s not there because it’s also a repugnant doctrine.

    And please do recognize that most people inherit the religious beliefs of their parents or family members. What does that tell us?

    As I posted in my blog, in the end I concluded that the Bible was a repulsive book that commands God’s people to kill: everyone who works on the Sabbath; everyone who does not believe in God; anyone who curses father or mother; everyone who commits adultery; and everyone who happens to be Homosexual. And as I said, the Bible is a book that: endorsed slavery (including the beating of slaves); endorsed genocide; endorsed sexism, and self-mutilation (Matt 18:7-9). And don’t forget, this same Bible says “the law of the Lord is perfect” (which means it is complete and doesn’t need revision).

    I have to ask, how is it any less delusional that over a billion believe that Allah had a prophet named Mohammed who flew to the seven layers of heaven on a flying horse that the angel Gabriel gave to him, after being told that the Lord created humans from a clinging [zygote]? Or how about the story that an entire civilization of Jewish people lived in North America 2000 years ago, and some angels brought the story to a young man named Joseph Smith who transcribed it all from the golden plates that no one else has ever seen? And that those faithful Mormons will one day each rule their own planet? (Millions believe that).

    Alex, I would encourage you to read and explore beyond the Biblical text. Take the challenge that if god is truly real and loving and forgiving as you probably believe he is – – he gave you a brain to use. Anytime a religion tells us to reject reason and blindly follow whatever is written, that is a scary thing indeed. And the major religions all do that.

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  3. Dear Logan GLT

    There are many valid questions I would like to respond to here, but for now I will just address the first two points you mention.

    You quote Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    On the face of it this seems reasonable but is not actually the whole picture at all. For example, if my son is facing bullies at school, I may not intervene and stop it in every situation, for various reasons, one of which being that I want my son to learn to deal with bullies on his own. Here, I am both able and willing but neither malevolent nor impotent. An even more essential reason God does not stop suffering is that he gave us genuine freedom – we are not just advanced robots programmed only to love him. Unfortunately that means freedom to hurt each other and freedom to choose other than God.

    This brings me on to your second point. No, God is not “in total control” in the sense of predestining everyone and everything. God is in a relationship with us. He responds to our choices, changes his mind in view of our actions (2 Samuel 12:8-10), challenge us to choose rightly (Genesis 4:7, Deuteronomy 30;19), is grieved and saddened when we choose what is wrong (Genesis 6:5-6) etc. Even Jesus “could not do many works in that place because of their lack of faith” and he always responded to people’s faith.

    Finally, in response to your “challenge,” I would say again you are wrong that the Bible tells us to reject reason. It does tell us that God is greater than our reasoning and we should have the humility to know that our limited minds get things wrong and we need to trust him that he has the solution. Our problem is not that we use our reason too much but that we are too arrogant in relying on it. That’s not difficult to see when we look around us (though more difficult to see in ourselves!) Therefore He sometimes tests us to see – and to help us to see – if we trust Him, as in the story of Abraham.

    With best wishes

    Alex

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    • Alex,
      In regard to the debate about “evil”, you said that we are not “robots programmed only to love him”. Have you thought through what heaven will be like? The Bible teaches that there will be no tears and no sin in heaven. But sin is clearly one of the results of free will — the ability to choose right or wrong. So will you have free will in heaven? And if you believe you will, how can you truly have it when the Bible says there will be no sin in heaven? You can’t have it both ways. And if man doesn’t have free will in heaven, how is that much different from being a robot?

      In regard to God’s sovereignty and being in control, you quoted 2 Samuel 12, regarding God’s judgment on David for his sinful actions. And you quoted Gen 4:7, but neither are verses regarding God’s sovereignty.

      The Bible is FILLED with verses about God being in absolute and total control. Here are but a few verses that teach God’s total control:

      Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”

      Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

      Isaiah 46:9-10, “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.

      Lamentations 3:37, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?”

      Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”

      Romans 9:15-18, “For he [God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

      Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”

      Lastly, in regard to rejecting reason and embracing whatever the Bible says instead, mankind has slowly being rejecting much of the Bible over time because so much of its teachings are silly and immoral. A century ago, our country was going through major social change. This included women’s suffrage, the treatment of immigrants, prison and asylum reform, temperance and prohibition, racial inequality, child labor and compulsory elementary school education, the right for women’s education and protection of women from workplace exploitation, equal pay for equal work, communism and utopian societies, unions and the labor movement, and pure food laws.

      The sad thing is that the Christian church rarely lead the way on those social issues. Instead, it usually battled and thwarted them. But once those social changes became the norm, then the Christian church acted like it was on the correct side of those issues all along. The same thing will happen with homosexuality. A majority of the church has been in strong opposition to the LGBT community for a long time. The day will come when finally, like racism and slavery, those individuals finally are treated as human beings, and the church will then act like “they helped to fight for their rights all along”.

      This will be “reason” winning out over the disturbing Bronze age teachings of uneducated men.

      Lastly, I would suggest not referencing Abraham as an example of “trusting God”. Why would a loving Heavenly Father ask his servant Abraham to demonstrate his faith by killing his son? (Genesis 22). That is nonsense. If anyone today said that God had commanded them to demonstrate their faith by doing the same, they would be evaluated for serious mental health issues. Consider the case of Deanna Laney who crushed the heads of her sons, because she in fact believed God had told her to.

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