In the comments thread on my Freethought Blogs guest post on feminism, Samoanbiscuit pointed out his happiness over my deconversion not turning me into a “Zealous Deconverted Asshole,” which prompted me to try to wrestle with the idea.
He (or she) points out that in our progressions as individuals, we often gain an air of haughtiness after having won some great battle against our own nature. Samoan’s examples include those who have overcome their problems with weight, sexist, or even uneducated: We arrive and think everyone else should be in the same boat. A conversation yesterday with my girlfriend about ethnocentrism and our recent (10 year) dealings with the middle east suggest I am not immune to the tendency, either.
The problem with us humans is our propensity in whatever it is we are doing to think we are always right. Of course, some of the time we are right, and for good reasons, but the trap many fall into is that of believing oneself is somehow better for overcoming some obstacle than anyone who has ever faced that obstacle either.
Delusional, Not Stupid
There is a reason I never refer to believers as ‘stupid.’ Stupid implies having a lack of ability to process information, which myself and many other intelligent believers did not lack; If anything, many believers suffer from an overabundance of information. Information gives the illusion of truth, though it may not be so. Apologists are masters of selective information, and rely on giving only portions of verifiable reality to construct the illusion of proving God true. In the context of confirmation bias and the backfire effect, it out to be clear that we are prone to only looking at a small portion of fact that assuages our existing position, rather than instills doubt.
So when people think that praying to God for rain is dissimilar to dancing to god for rain, I will point out this is a delusion, not mere stupidity. Likewise when people don’t believe in evolution, it is not from their stupidity, but compartmentalization and willful ignorance. These processes subconsciously afflict theists and atheists alike, and I don’t presume to have beaten it myself. However, I do have a unique slant at least on the Christianity question, from which I write and operate.
Therefore, I use the words delusional, ignorant, and willfully ignorant to describe people still trapped in religious dogma. The dogmas themselves deserve ridicule and contempt, while believers deserve none. To borrow the pithy phraseology that Christians use,
Love the believer, hate the belief
I have no animosity for believers, only pity. At a certain point it becomes clear that (especially those who claim fundamentalism) believers are in a self-built dystopian cage, and while holding the key in their hand, screaming to those outside to come join them in humanity-destroying slavery to an imaginary friend. One does not hold a child who believes in Santa in contempt for their mistake, and believers deserve no worse than a smirk or smile at their delusion.
Too Big For Your Britches
I, too, was trapped in the cage, and had little to no desire to get out. When you are inside a delusion, or a cult (of which many religious institutions are), leaving the cult is constantly vilified as a bad choice. Humans are very good at convincing ourselves of things, and I was convinced that there was no way life on the outside of the bars could be any better than on the inside.
Atheists must understand this! There is a fear of social ostracism proscribed by Paul, which churches such as Mars Hill enforce to a cult-like level. Believers are constantly admonished that ‘turning to sin’ will lead to a veritible life of hell, complete with relationships in shambles and judgement being stored up by God (a la the Prodigal Son). This is part of the reason the masturbatory exercise of “Sharing your Testimony” is championed, particularly when people were fuck-ups from the start: it allows believers to congratulate themselves over conversion experience that give the illusion of changing people, when in all fairness such conversions are usually more about determination and community than disembodied spirits imbibing believers’ hearts.And of course there’s that Hell thing, where children and adults alike are forcibly indoctrinated with images of naked men and women’s flesh being burned off in agonizing torture for millennia with no hope of cessation.
All these indoctrinated aspects instilled with cultlike precision serve to keep believers inside their cages willingly, in a way that is somewhat fundamentally beyond their control. This means it is not as much their fault as many atheists would like to believe.
To that end, I must put on humility when I see those still trapped. I boast about my freedom and the joy it has brought me over the past year, but I do not pretend that this was because I was somehow better than my bretheren: I am prone to the same failings of faculty as every other human that has ever contributed to this world.
I am lucky that by whatever set of factors, the world allowed me to see it without blinders, and I owe that to my continual self-honesty rather than any particular capacity for thought. I am zealous in my deconversion, but certainly not because I am anything special; I simply took the plunge into truth.
And the truth has set me free.