Looking back, I realize one of the reasons I felt so energized, during this period, was because of, what teachers affectionately call, "the joy of learning". Here I was, in my 30's, thinking in new ways about some of the deeper questions of life; questions I had always been keenly interested in. Intellectually speaking, this was both satisfying and scary, and in nearly equal measures. Besides, as a Christian, weren't these things I had already figured out? Why did it no longer feel that way?
Growing up, my father had always taught me to be careful about what I read, lest the devil gain a "foothold", inside my mind, and lead me astray. It wasn't just something he said, it was something I saw him live out. I often remember my Dad (a Christian minister) with a book in hand, but never once can I recall him reading from someone who held a perspective much different from his own. I actually pointed this out to him, not long ago, and, rather than admitting to the bias, he mentioned some tiny difference he had (with the author he was currently reading) on an incredibly minor point of Christian theology. Suffice it to say, this only served to confirm my previous suspicions about him in this respect.
So, was my Dad right? Is it truly dangerous to expose yourself to new ideas? Might you be "led astray" by doing so? Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. But is this a bad thing? I no longer believe it is. In fact, to the contrary, I now think that we should (all of us) make an active effort to read from people on the "other side" of a given issue. We need to do this because of something called confirmation bias, a concept I was only starting to become familiar with at this stage of my de-conversion journey.
Wikipedia describes confirmation bias as, "a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall from memeory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way." (Bolding mine) In other words, we pay more attention to information we already agree with, even going so far as to seek it out, and we additionally find ways to ignore (or rationalize) the stuff that doesn't jive well with our current opinions. A double whammy. The important thing to understand here, is that we ALL do it, and we do it a lot. Every day, day in and day out, year after year after year. This is a great way to avoid information overload, which is a legitimate concern, especially in today's society, but it is a terrible method for getting at the truth.
So, what does all of this have to do with my personal journey to atheism? Well, it explains why I felt so guitly, especially at the beginning, about reading (even learning!) from "secular" sources. It also marked a significant shift in my thinking...away from fear (the devil might lead me astray) and toward a broader understanding of issues that were closely tied to Christianity's truth claims (for example, the findings of scholars who study the Bible using the historical-critical method).
Also, from a spiritual standpoint, I found myself (privately) asking questions like, "Well, if Chrisitianity really is true, than shouldn't it be able to withstand being challenged? Doesn't the truth win out, in the end, when you seek it with an honest heart? Could God possibly not want me to learn new things? What sort of God would this even be? An anti-intellectual God? Or was He just trying to protect me from things that us humans aren't capable of understanding? Was He in fact more powerful than Satan, or not? Than why was I so afraid of new information?" After all, I had, at this point, been a Christian for more than 25 years, so it's not like I was naiive or a "baby" in the faith.
These are the sorts of things I was thinking (and praying fervently) about and, although I was unaware of it, the stage was being set for an even greater challenge to my faith. I'll write about that in my next post...