How Ricky Gervais lost his faith

Ricky Gervais has published his deconversion story — I feel a little inferior because he made up his mind about it very quickly, while it took me years to ease my way out of the nonsense.

I like his answer, though, especially the last paragraph below.

…within an hour, I was an atheist.

Wow. No God. If Mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? yes, but who cares? The gifts kep coming. And so did the gifts of my newfound atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. Not a world by design, but one by chance. I learned of evolution—a theory so simple and obvious that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals, and us—with imagination, free will, love and humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer, and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

But living an honest life—for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.


  1. #1 Karley
    February 24, 2008

    I actually believed in Santa for a longer time than God. True story. What can I say? I was a gullible/greedy kid.

  2. #2 MAJeff
    February 24, 2008

    Now that I’ve changed my mind re god, it’s incredible how much more purpose I feel my life has! Hey, now we’re doing it for ourselves, right, not some man in the sky whose intentions we need to stress over fulfilling correctly.

    It’s funny how some can’t accept that without a deity life isn’t hopeless. I’ve had conversations last until 5:30 in the morning that have changed my life, troubled me, and provided intense pleasure. I’ve watched comics who’ve had me laughing so hard my sides and my face were in pain. I’ve had meals, which I still remember, that had my entire body tingling or brought tears to my eyes. I’ve had amazingly intimate sexual encounters when I never knew more than the other person’s first name, and never saw them again. Listening to Mahler’s first symphony at the Concertgebouw nearly sent me into spasms of ecstasy. On top of that, I have a job that engages my own curiosity and that allows me to fucking play (and while i work my ass off in the classroom, it often feels like play time too).

    Shit, that’s some pretty good living. I can imagine a lot worse.

  3. #3 Cyde Weys
    February 24, 2008

    That is one hell of a deconversion story, and at such a young age to boot!

    I wonder how embellished it is?

  4. #4 LisaJ
    February 24, 2008

    Amen, MAJeff! ;)

  5. #5 Citizen
    February 24, 2008

    Lostmarbles: You could have done it. I did. I was raised without religion as well, I converted in college, and deconverted three years later. Mine happened even quicker than Mr. Gervais. It was like flipping a light switch. All I did was think “What if I viewed the world as if there was no all powerful being watching me,” I tried it, and the thoughts and feelings I had learned to associate with “God” disappeared just like that.

  6. #6 TX CHL Instructor
    February 24, 2008

    I was raised Baptist. At the age of 9, I tried REALLY HARD to believe all that nonsense, and utterly failed. I went along to get along. I did not “come out of the closet” until I moved away from home.

    My family still thinks I’m a good church-going Christian, and I don’t plan to disillusion them on that point. But the church I go to is an atheist ‘church’ — the North Texas Church of Freethought

  7. #7 Al
    February 24, 2008

    when I was younger my family went to church every week, but didn’t think about it much, I went to catholic school and was a pretty knowledegable kid about the handpicked church school stories.
    When I was in grade 6, I saw the movie Contact (Jodie Foster finds aliens and gets sent in to space, fundies try to blow her up), they mention ockham’s razor and how god is neither useful or likely and it got me thinking abotu how much I actually believed. I realized I was an athiest by the end of the night, and kinda horrified everyone else in my classs…

  8. #8 MAJeff
    February 24, 2008

    I hope y’all will forgive me if I get a bit sociological and shit. One of the things I’m noticing here, which is interesting given the thrust of Dawkins’ “Out Campaign,” is the similarity of the ritual telling of these “deconversion stories” with the ritual telling of “coming out” stories. (And for crying out loud, that’s still a topic on the first date–are you out to your family?”)

    Parts of my work are in narrative (I teach a summer class on it too) and the ways people tell stories, the roles stories play, these things fascinate me. There are such structural similarities in these stories (vague feeling something’s wrong; uncovering and accepting truth, about self or god; difficulties divulging this identity to others, fear of and actual loss of relationships, and harrasment; integration of new identity into sense of self and open with it to significant others and in public)…..and the ritual tellings…particular threads. I wonder, do atheist dates start with this like gay dates do? I wonder, when these meetups start happening, will we be chatting about this stuff? Or, will we be traditional Americans and talk about our jobs?


  9. #9 MAJeff
    February 24, 2008

    And, adding, the role of ritual story-telling in developing and strengthening a collective identity.

  10. #10 Holydust
    February 24, 2008

    Aww, Fiona.

    You guys make me feel all warm and fuzzy every day. And the extra bonus is the sparkly wonder I get about the world when I recognize that there IS a reason to be here that doesn’t involve some misogynist jackass pulling my puppet strings. I honestly feel like I enjoy life more right now than I have in any of my previous years, and I owe it all to the things I’ve learned here.

    Now I’m gonna shut my yaptrap before I give somebody cavities. :’D

  11. #11 Sastra
    February 24, 2008

    I was raised “freethinker” and really hated being asked what I was when I was a child, because nobody knew what the heck that was — including me. When I asked about God, my mom told me she didn’t know, but felt that perhaps God was a kind of energy that flowed through the universe like electricity, and we were like light bulbs, and when we died we joined back into the flow.

    That made sense to me — and so did Mark Twain, when I encountered him later. I read the entire Children’s Book of Bible Stories and liked them as much as Greek mythology, so I became sort of “spiritual but not religious” for much of my life. I dabbled intensely for a while with New Age philosophy, which is very deep and meaningful (when you’re about 13 years old).

    Later, when I married and had a baby, I found that most of the most interesting women whom I hung out with were quite religious — so I decided to take it seriously, read, study, go to church, and investigate. After all, finding God was presumably a critical step in one’s maturity. For a short time I was “Christian” — decided to read the entire Bible with a “searching heart” — but secretly found it disappointing. This was the perfect inspired word of God? I’d majored in English lit. I analyzed it like a literary text. It was a literary text. There were serious continuity problems. And the characters were pretty flat, considering. I wasn’t filled with that blinding light of inspiration.

    After thinking about it for a while, I decided to put religion and God to the test. Everyone agreed, nothing was more important than God. It filled a hole in your life and heart that nothing else could. It was not possible to live a meaningful life without God. This was how they all just knew God existed. Love and beauty and wisdom made knowledge of God’s presence inescapable.

    Okay then — I would try to continue to fill my life with love, beauty, and wisdom — WITHOUT God. According to the theory, it would not be possible. God is the MEANING of life, and no life without God could have meaning. If I was open and not hostile to the idea, then the knowledge would come to me.

    Believe it or not, my religious friends were all thrilled with this when I told them. They thought it a perfect test. To be fulfilled, one must be in touch with their spiritual side. God is inescapable if you’re looking for meaning. They knew me, and they knew I was sincere and sensitive, so they trusted God (or “Spirit”) would find me this way.

    You can guess the rest.

    Actually, that’s not a bad test. Because if God existed, and was the foundation of all meaning, then one would predict that all pleasure in life was hollow, without it. Trouble is, being raised without religion, I was raised without the “God-shaped hole.” I was like the person who was never addicted, going cold-turkey. So, what’s the fuss?

  12. #12 tintenfisch
    February 25, 2008

    I was raised without much of a religious background but weakly identified as Christian in elementary school out of a sense that I had to be something. By high school my eyes had opened to the wider world of atheism and agnosticism and firmly identified as the latter.

    When I joined the Army I actually tried to convert to Christianity, mostly out of pressure from my peers and superiors. I even went to one of those giant Texas mega-churches. The services were hokey and the live music was just sad. I could never shake the feeling that everyone around me was desperately faking a their faith in order to impress the people sitting next to them. I always ended up feeling embarrassed for everyone.

    In the end, the Christians in my unit ostracized me after catching me reading Matt Groening’s “The Big Book of Hell” It was kind of a relief, actually

  13. #13 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2008

    You do realize chance has no causal power don’t you?

    so statistics are useless, then, eh?

    who knew.

  14. #14 AKDave
    February 25, 2008

    Born & raised christian, choirboy and everything – Grandparents strong southern baptist. Growing up we went to a variety of churches: Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian. Even spent a year in Catholic Boy’s School (9th grade).
    Beginning of the end for me was in Bible school at presbyterian church – maybe 10 years old – Teacher said we had to believe in Jesus to go to heaven. It occured to me, what about all the good people who never heard about Jesus? So I asked what about all of them and was told that they would burn in hell. My BS meter pegged out and even though over the decades since I tried, It just wasn’t going to work. Like many here I identified as “nominal Christian” even tried C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Chrisitanity” route – then new age flim flam – spiritual seeker thing, then un-beliveing agnostic. Finally, a couple years ago I began to be concerned about the growth of the christian taliban and realized that there was nothing left to hold on to and have been “officially” atheist (and content about it) ever since. Interestingly my brother and sister have come to different conclusions – Sister is an Antiochian Orthodox Christian and my brother converted to LDS (Mormon) church. Mom still prays for me and suggests that I find a “church home” and I just smile and say thanks.
    Today I went for a long hike – beautiful blue-sky winter day. Sat with my dog on the mountainside with a mini-bottle of wine and thought about how lucky I am to exist in a universe that has such incredible wonders. Life is a miracle that doesn’t need god to be great – have to agree with MAJeff!
    All the best from Alaska!

  15. #15 bernarda
    February 25, 2008

    I was raised in a conservative xian family and was taken to church regularly, but I don’t think I ever believed in stories and dogma. In fact, I didn’t even think about them much. For me, Sunday was a day I could get together with other kids – aside from school – as we lived in a very rural farming area and houses were rather far apart. The show was also a bit entertaining.

    But finally around 14 or 15, I just stopped going to church. My parents didn’t like that much but they got tired of cajoling me. I suppose there was some moment following where I decided that there was no god, because I was a confirmed atheist by the time I started university.

    People in my dorm would try to convert me, but I was rather polite and just ignored them. I couldn’t believe that people who had reached that stage of life could still believe in fairy tales. It is still a mystery to me.

  16. #16 True Bob
    February 25, 2008

    Dinosaurs or god, that was the choice presented to me.

    In the words of Tim the Enchanter: “Look at the bones!”

  17. #17 daenku32
    February 25, 2008

    For a little bit I had the thing where I “prayed” that my parents would come home, because I was locked out of the house. Then I though about it, and realized that if they did come, they had been already on their way. It was the shortchanging of critical thought that slowly but surely got me out of it very early on.

  18. #18 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    February 25, 2008

    It took me until my 20s to lose religion.

    My parents weren’t religious, but as a child my mother wanted me to go to church and develop some kind of moral compass. I ended up staying there for decades.

    The doubts crept in during my late ’20s. I stopped going to church, but still Christianity kept its hooks in me and I even revived my faith at one point.

    The turning point for me was being recommended A.N.Wilson’s brilliant biography of Jesus. Having read that deconstruction of the evidence for Jesus and his life, there was no going back. It still took me a while to ease myself away from superstition, but the relief was palpable. I no longer had to hold myself up to an unattainable ideal. The guilt disappeared.

    Instead I was faced with the challenge of living a moral life without the using a bible as a compass. I’m still working on that but I think I’ve done pretty well, as most people to trend towards Humanism do. A consistent moral code is much easier to formulate without the arbitrary distortions of a holy book and the wacko interpretations of priests.

  19. #19 KC
    February 25, 2008

    Last year my 9 year old son went from no Santa to no god in a few hours. I had just completed my own deconversion but I was keeping it to myself. A few hours after he learned the truth about Santa, he asked about god. I simply asked him what he thought, and he said he didn’t think god was real.

    An earlier poster speculated that Gervais’ account might be embellished, but I saw how easy it was for my son, so I can believe it. I think perhaps it’s easier for kids because they haven’t had as many years of indoctrination as adults.

  20. #20 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 25, 2008

    My mother was what we call a submarine catholic ( come up for air twice a year ie go to mass on good friday and xmas eve)

    A Catholic? On Good Friday? Not on Easter Sunday?

    It’s more like a “Magic-of-Christmas-shaped hole.”

    Kurisumasu: the Japanese celebration of love and rampant consumerism just for the fun of it.

    At the time somehow the middle ground of agnosticism seemed “safer”.

    If taken seriously, it’s not really a middle ground. Behold: “I don’t know — and you don’t know either, you just believe.”

  21. #21 David Marjanovi?
    February 25, 2008

    Qur’?n. First the r, then the ‘al?f. :-)

  22. #22 tsig
    February 25, 2008

    I was lying in a wheelbarrow looking at the North Star when suddenly I saw how big the universe is and how small the church was.

    I spent two years in a seminary after that.

  23. #23 JimC
    February 25, 2008


    Thats an interesting story. In some ways I think the RCC is the worst in terms of ritual and indoctrination but it’s also the most ridiculous so your children will, I’m sure have many questions for you to answer.

    They will appreciate the honesty.

  24. #24 Gingerbaker
    February 25, 2008

    Born a Jew which means there is no escape. It’s kinda like being born a Native American. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it is a matter of blood.

    Speaking of blood, there was a whole lot of it being shed in the Old Testament. I could never understand how the Jewish God could be so gruesome, and the Temple services were so repetitively demonstrative that this God was our God, and he was THE God.

    I had an “aha” moment in Hebrew School when I was about twelve years old. The discussion was about Passover, and how the Angel of Death had visited the Egyptians and killed all their first born sons.

    I thought “Just who is this Angel of Death?” Was it disease? No… that didn’t make sense.

    Then I realized that it was the Jews who benefited from this slaughter, and that they probably did it themselves. We were the bad guys, and they covered it up with this “Angel of Death” routine.

    I confronted the Rabbi with this, and he got angry and made me wait outside the classroom until it was time to go home. When I finally arrived home, I learned that I had an “attitude problem” with Hebrew School.

    So true! :D

    Had my Bar Mitzvah, and have never been back except for weddings and funerals.

    Three afternoons a week wasted in classroom, when I could have been playing baseball. Sigh.

  25. #25 Kseniya
    February 25, 2008

    Tsk, Sinbad. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the abstract with the ethereal. Creativity is a process. It is no more illusory than the process that sends the cockroach scurrying away from the light. In your universe, is the cockroach being guided by angels?

    I realize you’re coming from a place which states that a strictly materialistic universe is necessarily deterministic. While that’s not unreasonable stance, there are compelling arguments against it, particularly with regard to human experience.

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2008

    I realize you’re coming from a place which states that a strictly materialistic universe is necessarily deterministic. While that’s not unreasonable stance

    uh, what?

    materialism /= determinism

    Stochastic and deterministic processes both have a place in a materialistic universe.

    shame on you for confusing Cap’t Stupid even further.

  27. #27 Kagehi
    February 25, 2008

    Hmm. Since everyone is sharing their stories, I guess I will give mine. Frankly, most of my early experience I don’t remember much. I apparently went down the street to the Christian day care, but asked too many questions, so they didn’t want me there any more. Parents didn’t talk about god much, though they where and are still religious (but of the, “churches are about controlling people” type). They don’t entirely get why I reject faith entirely, but otherwise agree that 99% of the priests are basically con artists. But, at the time, I didn’t really know this. Mostly, God was kind of like Santa Claus, but mildly more plausible, since one doesn’t usually catch one’s parents making supposed miracles happen, like you do them putting presents under the tree or hiding spare change under the pillow when you lose a tooth. I sort of had a vague sense that “something” was out there, maybe, but that the vast majority of people had no clue what the heck it was, and believed in fairly tales. One of the more absurd moments had to be when my mother didn’t want me to keep/read the illustrated Bible story book my uncle gave me, because it came from a church they didn’t trust, never mind that she and my dad couldn’t honestly tell me why, if it contained all the same stuff as the Bible they wouldn’t have minded me reading, (it sits on a shelf, unread by anyone), it was “contaminated” by its association with my uncle’s church. They didn’t have a good answer, but I have to agree with them that as hypocrites went, his church was the hippest… Mostly, I looked around a lot, saw a fair amount of sense in some eastern versions, having watched Kung Fu a lot, and some sane stuff in Wicca too, mixed with other nutso ideas. I had a good laugh at some book series I read that mixed Christian gibberish with Wicca style magic, without much conflict, then showed, in a follow up book on the rituals described, pretty clearly that Catholicism contained a lot borrowed from the later (or at least not very distinguishable from it), despite its attempts to insist otherwise. Just change a few names, some wording, use saints or angels instead of guardians of watchtowers, etc., and you got basically the same woo gibberish.

    Eventually, the more I learned about science, the more absurd the other stuff looked. Its still fun, having dealt with the stuff before, to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy movies and books that contain complete nonsense, and my method of dealing with them has always been, due to how I got where I am now, to think in terms of, “Ok, assuming that it *did* work, what would be necessary for it to work, and how?” Invariably, you don’t need gods to explain any of it, the gods that do exist in the stories are either insufferable authority figures who can’t leave one blade of grass alone (like the ones written by people who have a predestination bent), or whiny short sighted twits, that can’t see past their own preconceptions of how things should work, never mind grasp the fact that they long ago lost control of things and *nothing* works they way they wanted it to, but keep trying to make it do so anyway. For the most part, even the people that believe in them in the stories *get* this, on some level, and have to work around the fact that the world isn’t so clearly defined, in order to achieve what ever grand scheme the god they follow wants.

    In any case. Even if someone provided some evidence at this point for any sort of god, my reaction would be something along the lines of, “Ok, then lets invite all the other ones over too, or your other split personalities, if there aren’t any, and we can have a nice long chat about how you are not omniscient, omni-benevolent, or omni anything else, and maybe we would be all better off if you went some place else and found some other species for whom to screw everything with inconsistency, contradictory instructions, insane attempts at micromanagement and basic ignorance of what your mucking around with in the first place.” But, at this point, its only a fancy of my imagination to have such a conversation, since the odds of any one, or more, of such things existing at all, is about as close to 0 as you can get without starting to divide by zero.

  28. #28 Tony Popple
    February 25, 2008

    I have seen a lot of refrences to Dinosaurs influencing young minds.

    I think PZ should put together a blog post on dinosaur evolution so we can discuss this topic in more detail. A love of Dinosaurs started me down the path to where I am now.

  29. #29 Sastra
    February 25, 2008

    Sinbad is not so much arguing against the usual philosophical categories of determinism, as he’s arguing for what’s called “greedy determinism” — an attempt to reduce all things down to one level, ignore all the other levels, and claim that only this one “counts.” Both Dennett and Flanagan argue eloquently against this sort of “smallism,” so it’s ironic that this is apparently where he’s going.

    Bottom line, he reifies abstractions. “You can’t see ‘creativity’ under your microscope, Mr. Smarty Pants Scientist …” and so forth. Stephen Wells, #130, put it very succinctly:

    And in a materialistic universe, turbulence cannot exist, on logical and philosophical grounds. There is only the motion of water molecules.


    One of the ways I used to reason God as making sense is that I thought that without “Beauty” the flowers and oceans couldn’t look good to me, and I wondered where the “Beauty” was and how it got in if there was no Spiritual Realm in which it exists, to now and then “float though unseen among us, visiting this various world with inconstant wing.” Later on I read poetry, and finally understood the difference between words that are abstract metaphors and symbols for patterns, and words that symbolize concrete, simple things.

    A lot of “sophisticated” sounding arguments still haven’t gotten there. And these arguments are just so much gloss on the far less complex reasoning I did as a child.

  30. #30 Denis Loubet
    February 25, 2008

    I was raised without religion, and didn’t really give it any thought until I found my 13 year old self looking over a sea of bowed heads at a Boy Scouts jamboree. I looked at all these people praying, feeling way out of place, and thought “These people really believe that stuff!” I was dumbfounded because the idea that anyone gave the god character serious credence had never really occurred to me before. I had thought everyone considered it a cute non-event, just like me, but there were my friends, and even adult troopleaders bowing their heads to an imaginary friend. So I just wore an uncomfortable worried expression until it was over.

    The reason I was uncomfortable was that – even at 13 – I realized this large crowd of people was behaving irrationally. I realized I couldn’t predict what they might do next because what they were already doing was completely arbitrary. I realized I couldn’t trust them like I used to anymore, and that really raised the hairs on my neck.

    The same distrust of unpredictablility keeps me uncomfortable in bars, and large crowds, to this day.

    So I simply avoided religious gatherings, whenever possible, from that point on.

    I also thought I was an agnostic, and only later realized – through discussions on alt.atheism – that I had been an atheist all along due to my misunderstanding of what agnostic meant. Boy was my face red.

    So here I am now, hosting an atheist podcast, and reading atheist sites and literature, and standing behind the realization that belief in god is NOT a non-event, and instead often results in unfortunate real-world consequences.

  31. #31 Sinbad
    February 25, 2008

    Sinbad, there is something that happens in people’s heads, called creativity, in which new ideas turn up.

    Indeed there is. But if what we call creativity is actually inevitable (cause and effect being relentless), then it deserves a new name. We operate 24/7 as if our “mind’s eye” is essentially accurate (and doesn’t evolution suggest that we should?) — that we make choices, create ideas and strategies, improvise and that we are responsible and accountable for them. Those who believe that these essentially and utterly human sense-experiences are illusions (of grandeur), as materialism demands, ought to have the intellectual honesty to admit as much and give up the pablum of alleged freedom and responsibility.

  32. #32 CJO
    February 25, 2008

    I got confirmed as an Episcopalian. The priest of the church held the classes, and he was very open-minded and really seemed to enjoy answering my questions. Of course the “answers” weren’t, really, but at the age of, what, eleven, I remember being impressed at his willingness to engage with me as an equal. At one point before the actual confirmation ceremony, you were supposed to have a one-on-one with the priest. (This is Episcopal, people. He was married.) Anyway, he basically said, you don’t believe this, do you? And I said, no, I really don’t, but my mom wants me to get confirmed, yadda yadda. I was sure that nascent atheism was going to mean he wouldn’t confirm me, but he didn’t care at all. He told me that he had had many crises of faith when he was a young man, and that he was proud of me for not just swallowing the story whole. Then he went on, of course, with platitudes about how God would find me, and that unexamined faith is weak and such. It wasn’t really a deconversion, since I never believed, but I’ll always remember my atheism was endorsed by an ordained priest. God hasn’t called.

  33. #33 Craig
    February 25, 2008

    You know, these stories WOULD make a great book. Seriously.

    Anyone know a publisher? Gather up a hundred or so stories like this from volunteers, get it published with a catchy title, and get it placed prominently on the religion shelves in all the Barnes and Nobles.

    Not in the religion section as if atheism is a religion… just there as an antidote.

  34. #34 Gavin
    February 25, 2008

    Pierce @ 186

    Testimony? What’s that? Catholics don’t do those things. ;)

    Very Catholic, I was. And I do mean Very. Coming out of it, I feel damaged, psychologically, emotionally, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel okay again (in the midst of this; it is still all too close). In the beginning, there wasn’t a choice. In the middle, the world was falling down around my ears, so I held on. In the end, I don’t see how it could have been different. That doesn’t erase the regret of all those wasted years. That’s all I’m comfortable saying.

  35. #35 Gilmore
    February 26, 2008

    The priest class – sycophantic blood-suckers. Why would any sane person listen to anyone like a priest, pastor, rabbi or imam, or witch that has it in their own best interest to continue the charade? D’OH! They live off the blood sweat and contributions of others. If you don’t believe, they have to get real jobs.

    Please understand that I say this as an atheist:

    It’s much harder to have this argument work for you if your father was himself a fundamentalist minister — who also worked his ass off 7 days a week building a church, doing funerals and weddings, counselling married couples, visiting the sick and dying (believers or not), writing sermons, arbitrating squabbling church board members, directing the choir, etc. If that wasn’t a job I’d hate to see how busy a real job would have kept him. And if he was a bloodsucker he wasn’t very good at it; we lived on government cheese and powdered milk and wore hand-me-downs.

    On the other hand, he really did teach and preach that if you didn’t accept a real actual Jesus into your real actual soul, you were going to a real actual Hell. Eventually I realized he was just wrong about all that. But I’m pretty sure he was sincerely wrong.

  36. #36 Kyle W.
    February 26, 2008

    Gilmore said:

    Please understand that I say this as an atheist:
    It’s much harder to have this argument work for you if your father was himself a fundamentalist minister — who also worked his ass off 7 days a week building a church, doing funerals and weddings, counselling married couples, visiting the sick and dying (believers or not), writing sermons, arbitrating squabbling church board members, directing the choir, etc. If that wasn’t a job I’d hate to see how busy a real job would have kept him. And if he was a bloodsucker he wasn’t very good at it; we lived on government cheese and powdered milk and wore hand-me-downs.
    On the other hand, he really did teach and preach that if you didn’t accept a real actual Jesus into your real actual soul, you were going to a real actual Hell. Eventually I realized he was just wrong about all that. But I’m pretty sure he was sincerely wrong.

    Amen. I, also a non-believer, spent the ages of 8 to 13 in a church where the pastor was a (and perhaps the only) sincere believer. He was on call to members and non-members alike 24 hours a day, and spent most of his time out visiting the sick and dying — particularly those in nursing homes that had no family to visit, organizing benefits for individuals suffering from cancer or other diseases and couldn’t afford medical care, and basically spent all his waking hours away from his family, tirelessly helping others. He didn’t just go beat these people over the head with his bible, either — he displayed a genuine concern for those around him. His job was beyond a ‘full-time’ job, more like an ‘all-the-time’ job and his family suffered for it. The church brought in huge offerings at every service and although most of that was spent on building bigger and better church facilities, the board of deacons (of whom my father was a member) attempted to give him a raise from the $25,000 he was being paid to $40,000 but he refused it year after year. In fact, on the 5th anniversary of his ministry, they bought a new Ford truck and brought it to his house. He thanked them, then kindly asked them to return it — he was content with his mid-80′s Nissan. He wasn’t in it for the money, and he certainly wasn’t in it to propagate religion for the sake of control. When I stopped going to church at age 13, he would come by weekly just to see how I was doing. He never pressured religion on me during those visits, he was simply visiting like an old friend. He’s a good man, and I do still occasionally speak with him.

    That being said, all those positive things could’ve be done from a secular standpoint that didn’t require him to teach children that their friends would go to the “very real place” called hell and be “tortured for eternity.”

    My point in this post is simply to point out that not everything about the church is bad — mainly just the ‘god’ parts. Of course, if you subtract those, you don’t have much of a ‘church’ left.

  37. #37 Sinbad
    February 26, 2008

    Well it could just be that the universe is incoherent to us, but if that is the case then all arguments about reality are pointless. Certainly the concept of a soul would be as meaningless as the concept of brain states equating to mental states. The truth would be something that could never make sense (at some level of analysis) in an incoherent universe.

    That’s true, but a YEC could say much the same thing. Indeed, for those (like Flanagan) who essentially concede that our experience of volition is wrong 24/7, I ask how science (utterly dependent upon our sense experiences for observational data) can be deemed remotely coherent.

    Surely personal experience would be the same whether we had free will or just the illusion of free will?

    The experience would be the same (I assume), but evolution suggests (at a minimum) that our sense experiences and impressions, while not infallible, are generally reliable.

  38. #38 Randy
    February 26, 2008

    “I feel a little inferior because he made up his mind about it very quickly, while it took me years to ease my way out of the nonsense.”

    That’s inspiring to read, PZ. I’m a relative newcomer to Pharyngula, and just assumed you’ve always been a godless liberal. I make the liberal target easily, but have been weening myself off the theism teat for years. I just haven’t been able to completely shrug off the old beliefs, even when I think about them critically and clearly see how non-nonsensical they are. Seeing that it took you a while gives me hope that I can clear my mind eventually, even if it takes me longer.

  39. #39 Sinbad
    February 26, 2008

    Unless you can show how any immaterial account will give you these things, you’re in the same boat as well, pal.

    Not exactly.

    Materialism precludes freedom philosophically and logically — cause and effect are relentless in a closed system. You’re correct that an immaterial account (to this point) can’t show how we get freedom. However, (a) the evidence suggests we do indeed have it, and (b) as the Behe example shows, whining that one can’t see how something happens when the evidence suggests it has happened is a loser’s bet.

  40. #40 Tulse
    February 26, 2008

    Our sense data says “Free will!” Very loudly in fact. If our sense data is utterly wrong on this point (as I think materialism demands), then science itself is suspect (incoherent even) because it is completely dependent upon sense data for observational input.

    “You sometimes see a vase and at other times two faces, so physics must be wrong!” Our susceptibility to sensory illusions is hardly a limit on science, and I know of no theological school of thought that argues that absolutely all of our sense data are veridical, so this point is profoundly silly.

    Proponents of concepts like Open Theism try to meet this problem head on.

    Right, by essentially declaring that their god is not omniscient. In other words, by handwaving. And by getting rid of the Christian god.

    And, to be clear, even if god is not omniscient, all that does at best is remove one limitation to the mere possibility of free will in a supernatural system — it still does not provide any explanation. I can declare that free will exists because flying green monkeys help me pull on my neurons in a particular way, but that is no more of an explanation.

  41. #41 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2008

    Science is predicated on the idea that one’s views should be subject to the data. When Christians do the same thing you claim handwaving; I see adaptation. It’s why Christianity has survived for two centuries and continues to thrive.

    actually, what you see is xians making shit up, which hardly even qualifies as hand waving.

    Why xianity survives has nothing at all to do with empirical verification of non-existent data.

    It has everything to do with how cults like Scientology survive.

    Do you know how Scientology maintains itself, and in fact keeps growing?

    do you?

    if so, turn that introspection on yourself. if not, suggest you spend some time looking at it, and find the parallels.

    add on to that the influence that early peers have on forming behavior, and you will have all the elements that maintain religion.

    none of it having anything to do with empirical observation.

    you’re so confused about what you believe and why, it’s almost amusing.

  42. #42 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2008

    Self correcting fantasy?

    sounds like my adventures in dating.

  43. #43 SteveG
    February 26, 2008

    Hi PZ, it looks like I’m not the only surprised about your comment on you taking a few years to think your way out of the nonsense – perhaps that’s a topic for another blog post or six? I’m the same way. I was actually raised in a very fundamentalist Christian denomination. My father was a minister (retired now). I was a young earth creationist. As I began studying science in college, it was an astronomy course I took after which I finally realized how impossible it was for young earth creationism to be correct. It was during that course that it dawned on me how unequivocal it was that we’re literally witnessing this distant past that young earth creationists say doesn’t exist, whether a hundred thousand years ago or a hundred million years ago, we’re looking at it. That was in early 1980. That was just the beginning. It took about four years, but it was in early 1984 that I realized that my thinking had developed into atheism. That’s not something I intended or planned for, it just happened in the natural course of my rationally investigating my own religious beliefs.

  44. #44 Monado, FCD
    February 27, 2008


    Incidentally, we have a case up in British Columbia where a man says, “God told me to kill my daughter” (so he did). Comments to the article include, “Belief in God is a mwnral illnesss,”

  45. #45 Carlie
    February 28, 2008

    Kseniya, I didn’t know that song, so I just looked it up and sat here thinking how touching it was, and how I’d be mulling it over for quite awhile. Then next I checked my email, and had a note from a student saying that one of her friends committed suicide yesterday. I’m sure there’s a point in there somewhere, but right now all I can think of is yeah. Fuck.

  46. #46 tus
    March 7, 2008

    i dont remember how long it took me…i remember the events going up to it.
    i was a rather entheusiastic christian, i believed the bible totaly. and i loved science. so i sought to prove, scientifically, that god existed, by applying all that i knew of science (which at around 6th grade was nothing to impressive..though it was better than anyone my age, and some people the age i am now..(21)) so i applied all i knew of physics, astrophysics, biology, chemistry, and such to interpretation of the bible, and also to include the other religious books in the idea that they may be variants on the same source.
    being of course a fan of the scientific process i had to of course acknowlege the possibility that god simply DIDNT exist…so i began with that, the idea god didnt exist and sought to prove that he DID. well i failed quite misserably, whats more the more i searched the more reality and the bible seemed to NOT jive…at all…the events of how things happened in reality and in the bible discribe two totaly different sequences of events, so i fell back to the null hypothesis, that god didnt exist. naturally i still didnt take that totaly, i found that what i found was only proof the bible was wrong, and of course i took the null hypothesis tentatively, that is to say there most likely isnt a god, but im going to keep searching til i can find his ass…then he has some explaining to do. and so i searched and searched and searched..i wasnt just searching for myself, i was searching…perhaps for the same reason most people search for the truth…recognition…i wanted to be the kid who found some new scientific truth, so it wasnt just for me to enjoy alone, i wanted to share it if i found it.

    naturally i didnt identify myself as atheist, at the time it was something of a dirty word, plus many had me quite convinced that it was just the same as having a religion…so i took agnostic. i think i gave up trying to find a god at some point, religion after religion, just didnt fit reality, then was when i gave up on religions..but it seems giving up on a god was much harder, i gave up the search…forgot the premise of the search long ago, fell into agnosticism. and it was just recently i was reminded of the null hypothesis and reminded of how i sought out so long ago, then i remembered, i couldnt find a god, i couldnt prove he existed…and i didnt NEED to prove he didnt (some people had me quite convinced i did)
    so now i say it with no reservations, i am an atheist.

    well thats my story…it didnt take too long to give up on the bible, but it took much longer to give up on a god. (though i gave up on heaven and hell with the bible..i think actually before that…they were just too ridiculous of a concept)

  47. #47 Ichthyic
    September 28, 2008

    just resurrecting this thread for Architeuthis.