I believe that religious deconversion is a process. Throughout this process, the person evolves. Some evolve more than others, and some endure the changes in more ways than one. For me, deconversion went like this: Christian → agnostic → atheist. My evolution underwent several transformational stages. In between Christian and agnostic, there was the initial period of doubt followed by a period of apathy. In between agnostic and atheist, there was curiosity and intrigue about general arguments regarding the existence of God. This intrigue made me very passionate about atheism itself. I have been engrossed in the interplay between religious and secular, reading about both to get the most precise answers I could.
For the past couple of years, I have felt as though, in this area of my life, atheism itself is all that I’m interested in. I wanted to read books that specifically laid out arguments for or against the existence of God, and I didn’t have much interest in books that were just about religion or just about science. Most people in the atheist community that I have encountered on WordPress and Twitter also have a fiery passion for science. I’ve always agreed that science and nature are spectacular, but I’ve been mostly coming from a place of “I like evolution because it supports my belief that God is superfluous to nature.” Being no scientist myself, I had never really thought that I would develop a love for science in its own right, but I am starting to understand why most atheists I meet have a passion of science whether or not they are using it to refute religion.
A few weeks ago, I began listening to The Here and How Podcast while I drive, and I have been loving it (seriously, go check it out!!). In retrospect, even my choice to listen to this podcast reflects that I’m beginning to move past strictly atheism to delve into science itself. Hosted by three atheist YouTubers, this podcast spends about an hour a week explaining different topics; so far some of my favorites have been on the missing link of human evolution, the legitimacy of psychics, and whether or not humans have free will.
Overlapping with my binging of The Here and How has been my absorption into Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True. Once I finish it, I’ll write a full review, so I don’t want to give too much away now, but so far, I’d say I’m enjoying it far more than any book I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve always been a big believer in evolution, and I’ve known there was evidence in fossils and in our DNA, but I haven’t known any specific examples (thanks, Christian college, for teaching me nothing about evolution but a whole lot about Adam and Eve!). What’s worse is any examples I do come across are coming from creationists trying to refute them. So learning about evolution from someone who understands it and speaks in layman’s terms is a dream come true. If you asked me to back up my belief in evolution, I might even be able to give a half-decent answer!
In a discussion with my “pastor-in-law” a few days ago, I described my personal evolution this way: first I had to get through what I don’t believe. In a sense, I had to strip down my beliefs to nothing so that I could start with a blank slate. Only then could I begin building up my knowledge on evolution, the big bang, free will, and anything else. I had a hard time learning about science when I had yet to completely leave religion behind me. I also couldn’t help but be hyperfocused on religion when I was at my Christian college, surrounded by thousands of Christians every day, learning their beliefs in class and running face-first into Jesus at every turn.
Now that I’m out of the closet, and out of college, I feel like I can take a deep breath, step away from the polar opposites like God is Not Great and The Case for a Creator, and revel in the fact that I get to just learn things that I never would have had the opportunity, or even the idea, of learning if I had never gone through a period of deconversion.
For example, if I wasn’t an atheist, and I wanted to know if humans had free will, I would be considering whether it was theologically tenable and how it coincided with the problem of evil. While I think this is an interesting topic (it was at least worth writing a post on), whether or not human free will and the Christian god are compatible is inconsequential to me. Being an atheist, in order to learn whether or not I have free will, I ask scientific rather than theological questions: does my brain operate like a machine? How much control do I really have over my choices? Are my actions predetermined by my needs or my personal dispositions?
They may not be synonymous, but I believe that atheism and inquiry go hand-in-hand. I think that I have always had a curious mind, but until now I’ve primarily used it to ask questions like: What does it mean to be moral without a god? Is prayer a paradox? Can atheists and Christians get along in peace? But at this turning point in my life, having recently graduated college, and being four months away from moving out and getting married, I am following a new urge to take each question much further than these surface-level “atheism” questions and get to the science behind it all.