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Deconversion and Death: a Mental Snapshot

Posted by Cousin Ricky , 21 October 2012 · 1,899 views

Christians are taught that physical death is not the end of conscious existence. Having been Christian most of my life, it was not a comfortable experience to find that I was no longer capable of believing this.

Around the end of my deconversion period, I posted approximately a dozen and a half faith-related articles to the newsgroup sci.astro.amateur. (Yes, they’re way off-topic. I didn’t start the threads. But I might add that off-topic discussions in SAA played no small part in my deconversion.) I do not remember the exact date that I fully accepted that I am an atheist, but it was no later than September 17, 2005, and possibly 2 or 3 weeks earlier.

These are the articles that dealt with death in some manner. They are archived in Google Groups, but The Google has recently made it difficult to create links to the individual articles, and my meat brain is too flustered to figure out the new system. You can see the threads by typing the Message-ID into the field at the bottom of the Google Groups Advanced Search page.

 

This thread was about Hurricane Katrina. N.B. Tom is the one who posted as “Sox-n-Eagles Fan.”

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: God Bless US??? Heh?
Date: 31 Aug 2005 11:21:29 -0700
Message-ID: <1125512489.792479.323210@o13g2000cwo.googlegroups.com>

> "Sox-n-Eagles Fan" <REDACTED> wrote in message
> news:df0a0s$mc9$1@nwrdmz03.dmz.ncs.ea.ibs-infra.bt.com...
> > I think God (or gods) was something thought up back when we were cavemen to
> > try to bring some understanding to the fear of death. this is a little
> > deep, but I think most sane people have some type of fear of death and would
> > like to have comfort in thinking that all's not over at death.

Fear of death is a manifestation of our survival instinct. It should
not be surprising.

Clide Bollinger wrote:
> The people who fear death the most are those who have lived lives NOT
> believing in God. I've seen this time and time again. Most Christians have
> very little fear of death.

Which (if your experience is representative) would actually support
Tom's hypothesis. Fear is unpleasant--that is its necessary role--and
it is natural and logical to want to get rid of it. One way get rid of
the fear of death is to deny death.

However, one's belief in an afterlife has absolutely no bearing on
whether or not there really is an afterlife. Your observation (if
accurate) can be an argument in favor of having faith or believing
in the afterlife, but is completely irrelevant for arguing the actual
existence of the afterlife.

Not sure of the difference? Then consider that suicide bombers are
strongly and honestly convinced that they are going to heaven! I think
you can agree that their conviction doesn't imply reality. It may also
give you pause to ponder whether losing your fear of death is
necessarily a good thing.

> Even a non-believer can still possibly be
> forgiven if he/she hands their life to God moments before death.

Now, how can one hand his life over to a God that he doesn't believe
exists...? (scratches head)

> > nobody today
> > knows what happens for sure at death and they certainly didn't know any more
> > centuries ago,
>
> Not so sure about that assessment... look at those experiencing NDE's for
> one.

Any experiences from someone who was dead dead, and not merely near
dead? One can have a NDE merely by pulling too many Gs in an F16.
NDEs can be induced with drugs or medical procedures. Scientists have
identified the parts of the brain responsible for OBEs and other
religious or spiritual experiences.

This is all to say that a NDE is actually a living biological
process. A person undergoing a NDE is not dead, so the experience
doesn't necessarily indicate what death is like. You may take it on
faith that it does, but faith doesn't indicate reality; by definition,
faith is about what is not known.

(Ah, yes, someone back there points out that faith can also be about
what is known--to be false. Point taken, but not applicable, as i do
not argue with Bible thumpers.)

> > so to explain the unknown (death, floods, earthquakes, etc)
> > let's make up....God. Yeah, that'll take care of it so we don't have to be
> > afraid of it anymore...somebody upstairs is doing this so no need to panic.
>
> Like I said before, these things happen because of the sin of the world.
> The Lord literally has nothing to do with it. To blame Him is like blaming
> your next door neighbor for smashing up your car when he never drove it in
> the first place.

(want to mince this argument... tempting... tempting... Resist! whew,
that was close)

Again, a matter of faith. All you've got are a millenia-old anthology
and an interpretation. Before you can effectively argue your point,
you have to get the person to buy into your faith to begin with.

Besides, Tom wasn't even arguing that God is responsible for natural
disasters. All he said is that some people make that argument (which
is true), with a hypothesis of why they believe so.

> > oh, yeah and the attraction of power brought about the invention of
> > religion. If you can convince people that they should act a certain way for
> > fear of burning in hell (another cool invention) you can get them to do many
> > things...
>
> This does not ring true with a true Christian philosophy.

Maybe not, but a lot of Christians sure use it that way.

> > and the best part is that you don't even have to explain why they
> > are doing it....just say God wants it that way. (ie - Christians all
> > through the dark ages, suicide bombers in Iraq, etc)
> >
> > Just a theory. :-)
>
> A theory full of holes.

Nope, Tom is correct. Less-than-savory religious leaders do use God
this way to control people, and have all through history. What else
can explain such wildly irrational acts by otherwise sane people? That
it doesn't fit in with your understanding of Christian or Godly
behavior is not relevant. Tyrants do not live by your ideals.

> Again, take a closer and more in-depth look at The
> Bible. If you pray for understanding, you'll be surprised how much more
> you'll comprehend later.

Which, again, has no bearing on the way many Christians behave in real
life.

One thing i find common among Bible thumpers is an apparent confusion
over what constitutes objective reality. Belief in something does not
imply that it is real; what should be isn't necessarily what is;
and, Disney marketing notwithstanding, wishing something doesn't make
it so.


Clear skies!


I regret failing to point out that, contrary to Mr. Bollinger’s view from his thought bubble, the Bible mandates intolerance and genocide, and endorses despotic rule. I may have still been inside a similar thought bubble when I posted this; there is nothing in this article that I couldn’t have written in the few years before my loss of faith.

 

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro,sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: Friendly Ghosts vs. Angry Ghosts `~
Date: 15 Sep 2005 14:20:21 -0700
Message-ID: <1126819221.319859.262470@g49g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>

Jor-El wrote:
> [REDACTED] (Anonymous) wrote in
> news:U5PKDB2138606.951875@anonymous.poster:
>
> > Upon ones bodily death, his/her immortal soul which had
> > inhabited that now-deceased person is instantaneously
> > discarnated into the spirit realm.
>
> Participants in this group are scientists, and as such studied the Second
> Law of Thermodynamics in college.

You sure? And which group? SAA has a lot of hobbyists, and SA has a
lot of cranks, neither of whom can be assumed to know the 2nd Law. Or
are you posting from one of the groups that you deleted for the
follow-up?

> The Second Law contradicts the belief in
> an eternal soul,

How so? I didn't realize that faith-based immortal souls were subject
to rational... er, natural law.

> and because of this, you won't find many Believers in this
> group.

I don't know about SA, but we get plenty in SAA.

P.S., why are you arguing with Min? We've only got a limited amount of
time in this realm, y'know.


Clear skies!


N.B. The original poster was Daniel Joseph Min, an incorrigible troll with a self-grandiosity complex, who compulsively crossposts to many newsgroups. Thus, I do not know which group Jor-El posted from.

 

N.B. The Tom in this next article is not the same Tom from the first article.

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: creation
Date: 3 Oct 2005 19:46:24 -0700
Message-ID: <1128393984.444591.192020@g44g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>

Tom wrote:
>
> I have to fall for the "what ifs" in this case. I'm Christian but don't
> understand the spamming either, just so you know where I'm coming from. What
> if there is no God? Then nothing happens. We all fade away into nothingness,
> and nothing matters. But...What if there is a God?

You're not the first person to think of this. It's called Pascal's
Wager.

Expanding on Florian's remark--or--how to avoid the wrong hell.

http://www.abarnett.demon.co.uk/atheism/wager.html [link currently unavailable]


In a nutshell, Pascal's Wager assumes:
  • That there are only two choices, materialist atheism and
    Christianity.
  • That Blaise Pascal's god is the real god.
  • That Pascal's sect is the one, true religion.
    Here's food for thought: http://www.yourgoingtohell.com/
    Pleasant dreams!
  • That the teachings of Pascal's sect are correct.
  • That you can choose your beliefs.
  • That God the Omniscient cannot tell that you're faking it.
  • That you would even want to spend eternity toadying up to a
    God who punishes people for their honest convictions.
Substitute "Tom" for "Pascal" to get your customized version.

> Those who weren't
> prepared will not have my sympathy. I don't condemn anyone because people do
> that themselves if God exists. Not my place to judge.

You might want to consider this argument from an urban legend that's
been kicking around the Internet forever:

"As for souls entering hell, let's look at the different
religions that exist in the world today. Some of these
religions state that if you are not a member of their
religion, you will go to hell.

"Since there are more than one of these religions and people
do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that
all people and all souls go to hell."


See you downstairs!


Clear skies!


 

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: Genesis and Creation
Date: 10 Oct 2005 10:47:51 -0700
Message-ID: <1128966471.383378.309180@g44g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>

[REDACTED] wrote:
> When you see, touch and experience matter you have done the same
> with God. You simply don't have the ability to recognize it yet.

That is purely a matter of faith. You have to believe before you can
recognize it.

> But
> good luck in your quest.

Perhaps i didn't read carefully enough, but i didn't catch where Eugene
was on a quest.

After i abandoned the God hypothesis, i was truly astonished to realize
the assumptions i took for granted as a believer. Now that i'm on the
receiving end of those assumptions, i can see just how many there were,
and how pervasive they are in the Christian mindset.

One of those assumptions is that non-believers are all on some futile
quest to find meaning, or whatever.

> It must be terrible to think that your life is so short, and then
> "poof" it's over.

I used to think so. But a few years ago, i found the doctrine of the
resurrection of the body to be implausible. I decided not to bust my
head about it, and just accept it on faith. But to my surprise, i
found that i was not disturbed by my inability to visualize the final
resurrection. I expressed my new outlook as "heaven can wait."

Perhaps that was preparation for the day that i accepted my mortality.
Or perhaps i didn't need preparation, and had merely held another
Christian assumption about non-believers' outlook on life and death.
Either way, i find that it's not terrible at all. (In some
ways--believe it or not--it's a relief!) It still feels strange to
believe that i am mortal, but that's only because i'm not quite used to
the idea.

However, this all misses the point. How one feels about death is
completely irrelevant to whether or not *poof* it's all over at
death.

> And all because you need PROOF so you can remain
> faithless and informed.

As a Christian, i wasn't looking for PROOF. Just one tiny sliver of
evidence would have been enough for me. Just the teensiest sliver.
I've experienced nothing that even suggests that God exists, and as
for others' little "miracles," over the years i've come to see how
none of them require any supernatural explanations.

If God exists, s/he is completely superfluous.


Clear skies!


I’ve become a bit more hard-core since I posted that. With what I’ve since learned about the nature of human beliefs, I’d now need more than one tiny sliver.

And what the hell is wrong with being informed?

 

Can you spot the allusion to my forum signature in this next article?

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: Genesis and Creation
Date: 10 Oct 2005 17:30:16 -0700
Message-ID: <1128990616.726214.24010@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>

[REDACTED] wrote:
>
> Sounds like you haven't had enough little "miracles" take place in
> your life.

I've had plenty of miracles in my life--starting out with the fact that
i'm alive. :-) I just no longer interpret those miracles in the same
way.

> Possibly due to a lack of faith to start with.

Hey, i started out with faith. I was raised Catholic, and firmly
believed everything i was taught until college. It really helped that
the Catholic schools i attended never tried to shoehorn Genesis into
science class; i therefore didn't have to fight cognitive dissonance in
order to believe. After college, i had periods of doubt, but i never
lost the faith.

> I don't
> know if there's an easy cure for a lack of faith problem.

There goes another Christian assumption--that my lack of faith is a
problem, and that i need, or am looking for, a cure. But it was only
while i had faith that i experienced crises of faith.

> Once you
> have your "proof" there is no more need for faith.

I can see having a little bit of evidence, and having faith to fill in
the rest. But to not even have a kernel? All Christianity provides is
anecdotes: Personal testimonials that hardly need a supernatural
explanation; Bible stories that turn out to be pious conflations and
confabulations ("lies" in any other context); and the Roman Catholic
magisterium, which has insulted my intelligence one time too many.

Once again, i did not seek "proof." "Proof" is a red herring. All i
wanted was the merest hintlet of an indication that all i was taught is
more than a fairy tale. Sorry, but i'm no longer willing to wait until
i'm dead to find out if i'm on the right track. That's asking a bit
too much faith.

> The main thing is that you're content with your beliefs, or lack
> thereof. What anyone else thinks is of no importance.

I wouldn't say that it's of no importance, but what is important is
tolerance. Peace be with you.


Clear skies!


 

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: Genesis and Creation
Date: 12 Oct 2005 13:08:55 -0700
Message-ID: <1129147735.235612.164510@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>

[REDACTED] wrote:
>
> It's good that you've been happy buy why would you not want to
> have a chance of continuing that way forever?

Wanting something doesn't make it so. Believers so often confuse
belief with reality.

> [snip]
> I can't help but be curious why so many people are convinced,
> often by science, that there isn't a God when nothing I see does
> anything but substantiate his existance to me. Just to mention a
> couple.........
> [snip]
> Bottom line is that in reality we know so little and yet many
> profess to already think they know what is possible and what isn't,
> simply because they don't yet have the knowledge to understand it.

I won't speak for others, but: The bottom line for me is not that God
is impossible. The bottom line is that God hasn't made a case for
Himself other than "someone said so."

Atheists have asserted that all phenomena can be explained without
requiring a god. As you correctly point out, what we cannot explain
today are simply what we don't yet have the knowledge of. However,
science has an enviable track record of filling in the gaps in our
knowledge. Many of us therefore conclude that it is not necessary to
postulate a god.

This does not, of course, prove that there is no god. However, having
made the case that the existence of God is unnecessary, we feel that
the theists are making an extraordinary claim. In the interest of
parsimony, we patiently await your extraordinary evidence.

> I think it shows much more wisdom to accept the possibility of
> things existing that we can't at this time be sure of than to deny the
> possibility of their existance because of our lack of complete
> understanding.

Three words: "Invisible Pink Unicorn." (Do a Web search.)

I am still open to the possibility, and in fact, i'm quite sure that
there are a lot of things out there that we don't know about. However,
i'm not ready to declare that some arbitrary unknown possibility is a
reality.

> I have to wonder what Carl Sagan knows for sure now?

Not a heck of a lot.

> He believed
> in so much and yet in so little at the same time. I sincerely hope
> things worked out well in the end.

I used to hope so as well. Look up "Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot" in SAA
on Google Groups. I'm now convinced that everything i wrote about Dr.
Sagan in that thread is dead wrong. Of course, what i was doing was
projecting my Christian world view onto Dr. Sagan. Seems so silly now.

> Religion?? Please don't equate religion, and the amazing things
> some religions have done throughout history, with the true desires of
> God. Religions are far too easily soiled by the filthy hands of
> humans.

With the amount of evil that's been that's been done in the name of God
and religion, one wonders if the "true desires" of God are even
relevant.

> In the end, we'll all know the truth...... or we won't know
> anything. You may as well give yourself a chance to know the truth.
> If your present mindset is correct it won't matter anyway.

Yet another incarnation of Pascal's Wager. If you wish, you may
research how this logic has been shattered in many ways.

> The
> majority of the world won't consider you to be less intelligent because
> you believe in a creator.

What does that matter to what i think is true?

> And who cares if they do, if the end
> justifies the means.

Huh?


Clear skies!


This is what I had posted about Sagan.

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot
Date: 9/14/01
Message-ID: ?

On Thu, 13 Sep 2001 10:08:41 -0500, James McSheehy <REDACTED>
wrote:

>Thousands of years ago, great intellects realized that our domain of
>consciousness IS the connection between the past and future, and our
>reality is a subset, a shadow, of a grander rhythm. Sagan was a lost
>soul drifting towards spirituality. He used science to intentionally
>blind himself to the simple truth of existence.

I sense this struggle in the movie Contact, although i have not read
the book. It seems to me that Sagan fell into the "un-religion
religion" trap. Scientists rightly criticize religious Fundamentalists
for trying passing off as science a system of beliefs that cannot be
falsified. What some don't realize is that the notion that "if science
can't show it, then i cannot accept it" is no more falsifiable than
Fundamentalism. [...]

I know that Sagan had little good to say about my faith, and what i've
read of him suggests that he dismissed out of hand the idea of faith
itself--for no reason other than that science could not explain it. But
then came the movie, which (if it is faithful to his book) made clear
that he was aware of these issues. I saw an autobiographical Sagan in
the character of Ellie Arraway (?), and i knew then that he had
struggled with the same questions of faith and spirituality that i do.
I struggle within the context (or should i say confines?) of the Roman
Catholic Church, among other sources. Sagan struggled within his
self-imposed confines of atheism. I only pray that he found something
of what he was looking for before he died.


Someone else promptly raked me over the coals for psychoanalyzing Sagan based on a book I had not read. Touché.

 

Comic relief:

From: "Cousin Ricky" <REDACTED>
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Re: Genesis and Creation
Date: 12 Oct 2005 19:59:35 -0700
Message-ID: <1129172375.555330.308570@z14g2000cwz.googlegroups.com>

> On Thu, 13 Oct 2005 02:39:22 GMT, "Florian" <REDACTED>
> wrote:
> >I believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn so i guess i'm covered. I know she
> >is invisible and i have faith she is pink. Glad we got that out of the way.

Chris L Peterson wrote:
> The Universe was created by an Invisible _Purple_ Unicorn, and it
> insists upon absolute belief. I'm covered, but you're going to Hell
> placing your faith in an obvious myth.

Nonsense. The universe was created by Invisible Puce Turtles... ALL
the way down. (Note that this neatly solves the problem of "Who
created the Creator?") I feel sorry for you, given where you'll both
spend eternity.


Clear skies!


There was one more response to mine, if you care to look it up.

  • Ungodly and Great Ape like this


> And all because you need PROOF so you can remain
> faithless and informed.

And what the hell is wrong with being informed?


I liked your response.

Tom wrote:
>
> I have to fall for the "what ifs" in this case. I'm Christian but don't
> understand the spamming either, just so you know where I'm coming from. What
> if there is no God? Then nothing happens. We all fade away into nothingness,
> and nothing matters. But...What if there is a God?


I had always thought that Christians were presenting Pascal's Wager as a tool for atheists; to give them a nudge in the "right" direction, but after reading Tom's post I realise that he is actually using that tool on himself. He is consciously using the fear of hell to goad him into believing that Jesus walked on water.
Wow! Fantastic post and one I expect will make many readers feel a kinship with you.

These were some of the highlights for me.



However, one's belief in an afterlife has absolutely no bearing on
whether or not there really is an afterlife.



One thing i find common among Bible thumpers is an apparent confusion
over what constitutes objective reality. Belief in something does not
imply that it is real;


I respect the choice of objective reality as a template for your lifestyle. It seems to be superior in both form and function to, say, choosing ridiculous ancient superstitions as an alternative.


The signature reference jumped off the page and started dancing to get my attention:

But it was only while i had faith that i experienced crises of faith.

How did I not see this in the two weeks since it was posted? If I had, I would of read it a lot earlier. I have a bad habit of not noticing the blogs. I shall have to remedy that.

I really enjoyed reading all your old posts Cousin Ricky. It must have been hard transitioning from bible carrying member of the HRCC to atheist. I commend you on your willingness and courage, to undertake such an arduous journey. Knowing full well you would be leaving so much of what you had originally believed and been taught behind.

The HRCC's loss was our gain. You make a wonderful atheist.

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