ExChristianDotNet (exchristian_net) wrote in extian,

[Testimonies of Ex-Christians] I tried to believe, but...

Sent in by JoshI cannot say I ever was a true Christian. I grew up
fascinated by religions, and fascinated by the natural world. My family
showed me Carl Sagan's Cosmos at age 5 and later The Demon Haunted
World. I loved Sagan's expansive view of life, his respect and
tolerance for the wisdom gained through religion, and his staunch
support of empirical evidence and the scientific method. I consider
myself thus a Sagan-style agnostic. Show me the evidence!Thomas
Jefferson once wrote, optimistically:And the day will come when the
mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the
womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of
Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of
reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with
this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and
genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.
--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823 What can we do
to ensure his optimism continues to shine? I believe it is up to us. We
must speak a unified voice of reason louder than the voices of
fundamentalism speak various voices of dogma in disarray. We cannot
afford not to speak out. And, we must do it with greater patience,
poise, reason, and compassion than fundamentalists, and we must reach
out to moderates, the kind of people who fully accept the germ theory
of disease rather than the demon spirit conjecture. They do have ears
to listen. They mostly use religion as a community-building tool, and
it does great things for them in that regard. Yet, none of them would
trust a doctor or mechanic that advised them to simply and only pray
for a severed limb or a flat tire. No fundamentalist would think this
either, yet they compartmentalize their beliefs in so many other
areas.As for my background, I tried so very hard to believe in some
kind of literal interpretation of the Bible. I took a 13-week Bible
study course a few years ago, but I always told the class leader
something like "The historicity question is what prevents me
from 'accepting' Jesus as a divine being that created the universe."I
really enjoyed the "fellowship" aspect of people just coming together
regularly and supporting each other as friends, and I think that this
is the best thing about religion and religious communities. But, I did
not like the lack of open discussion and the lack of skepticism. I just
could never see any reason to believe that those events depicted were
literal, physical events that took place. There is no way to
distinguish those claims from the claims of Muslims or Hindus or anyone
else that lived in the days before widespread acceptance of science and
empirical methods. When you ask them why prayers don't heal accidental
amputees, (more at http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com) you get
indignant looks or snide comments, yet if prayer can affect cancer,
then I find it a fully reasonable question to ask whether it can affect
accidental amputees too. Call my reasonable, call me inquisitive, but
don't call the question crazy, because the question is perfectly within
reason and everyone knows it.I worked at the US Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention for four years and learned up close how
peer-review and empirical evidence is used to guard against
self-deception. What could be more certain than the fact that people
make mistakes? Even religions accept this fact. Thus, true science must
be peer-reviewed and undergo blind and double-blind experiments. I knew
people who traveled to Africa for public health projects, but still
there were people there who believed that demons and curses caused
illness, rather than bacteria. Reason is not easy, science is demanding
on minds and hands, but as Albert Einstein wrote:"One thing I have
learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality,
is primitive and childlike -- and yet it is the most precious thing we
have."While my immediate family is not religious, I have a large
extended family that is moderately religious, and even had one very
loving person try to convince me about Jesus and the accuracy of the
Bible recently. She means well and I love hear dearly, but I do feel it
is my right to speak my mind and not let the rising tide of
fundamentalism sweep away the first amendment and other freedoms.I
don't like the growing walls between religious and non-religious
people. I appreciate Hemant Mehta's approach, from
http://www.FriendlyAtheist.com, in which he actually goes and speaks
with churches and religious people. I want to do something similar. I
love people and I love open discussion. I don't mind if strangers try
to convince or convert me, so long as we have some ground rules of
civility and respect. I don't hope to change anyone's belief, only to
educate them about the other side of the story.Yet, at this time I do
feel a bit discouraged and down because of the trends and world events.
I love life and love my family and friends, and I don't want to see our
freedom swept away by fear and dogma. I can hardly believe that Thomas
Jefferson's hopes of reason sweeping away superstition are not actually
coming true. I've written much more about Jefferson and others on my
blog .Those who enjoy Sagan may also enjoy this essay I wrote about
him.Anyway, just another human grounded in the real world, a world full
of superstition and unreason.I'd appreciate any kind words of
encouragement and support!Thank youTo monitor comments posted to this
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