For me, the single most surprising thing, about becoming an atheist, is how it feels. Simply put, I have never felt more at peace with myself. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, by this, but I really am. I think this peaceful feeling is pretty common among new unbelievers, actually. I hear a lot of (other) former Christians say things like "life makes more sense now", and I think this is basically what they mean.
Surely, part of it has to do with the simple reduction in cognitive dissonance. After the questions begin, and one begins to learn about the serious problems with Christianity's core truth claims (such as the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, or Jesus as God), it creates a very uncomfortable feeling in the pit of the stomach. This is mostly because your intellect goes to war with your emotions, and it does so with or without your permission. What I had wanted (and expected), when I first started out on this investigation, was to deepen my experience of God. What I got, instead, were more and more questions, followed by doubts and, ultimately, complete disbelief. During that middle period though, when you know you're doubting but are still unwilling to say that you don't believe, there is a tremendous amount of inner turmoil. (I'll be writing more about this turmoil in my next post.)
Having said that, I think there is an additional factor at play here. My feeling now is that Christians are, essentially, thinking from within the confines of a pre-determined bubble. "Deluded" seems to be the current word of choice, for atheists (when speaking about the religious), perhaps because "brainwashed" unfairly suggests nefarious intent. But the funny thing about a brainwashed person is that they do not know they are brainwashed. It's only after coming out of the "delusion", or the "brainwashing", that it becomes clear to them, in retrospect. So, do I think I was "brainwashed", as a Christian? Well, yeah, kind of. But the people who "brainwashed" me really believed it too! Probably a better, and more accurate, word is indoctrinated. I certainly don't have everything figured out today either (who does?) but all I know is I'm thinking much more clearly than I used to.
A few weeks ago I ran across the following photo, at the Unreasonable Faith blog, and it generated some interesting discussion. The caption read "This is what becoming an atheist feels like...".
There were a few who took objection to the photo; claiming, for example, that it was "elitist" and "arrogant". One commenter said that it implied atheists think of themselves as "part of an illuminated minority that knows better". I'm actually very sensitive to this critique and, more generally, to the view that many atheists give off an elitist vibe. I don't always agree (that this person or that person is arrogant or elitist) but, regardless, I can certainly understand where the criticism is coming from. On the other hand, I think the photo is partly trying to capture an emotion, and in that sense it represents perfectly how I felt upon leaving Christianity. If I were still a Christian I would probably say that the photo "ministered to me"; this is Christian-speak for "it touched my emotions, and I'm pretty sure the Holy Spirit had something to do with it".
Speaking personally, I would much rather someone just tell me what they truly think. Straight up. No punches pulled. If you believe I'm "brainwashed", "dead wrong", "deluded", "deceived by the devil", or whatever, I'm o.k. with hearing it that way. I won't take offense. And I will actually (gasp!) consider what you have said with a (double gasp!) open mind. I'll also expect you to stick around long enough for a conversation about it. "The problem" comes in, I think, when we express our legitimate disagreements in a disrespectful tone. But, of course, you would expect a guy who calls himself "Respectful Atheist" to say that, wouldn't you?
What do you think? When I say above (somewhat reluctantly) that I feel like I was "deluded/brainwashed/indoctrinated", as a Christian, are believers justified in saying that I'm "elitist" or "arrogant" for framing it in these terms? No one has actually ever accused me of this, I'm just thinking out loud here.
Sometimes I wonder if Christians only think this way because it plays perfectly into, what I believe are, their pre-conceived notions that atheists must be angry and rebellious (because, deep down, atheists actually know that God exists; and they're super pissed off about it)!
For those reading this blog who have themselves held to two diametrically opposed worldviews, at different stages of life (ie. Christian turned atheist, or atheist turned Christian etc.), did one feel better than the other? If so, why do you think this was the case?