Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Deconversion Part 3


I was in high school and quickly learned the art of taking myself [i]very[/i] seriously. This is also where I made friends with Mike, who was the first up-front atheist I'd met. Until that, I don't think I'd ever considered that some people might not believe in God.

It didn't bother me that he didn't, but the first arguments he threw at me were dumb. The "can he make a rock so big" variety. I didn't have trouble dismissing those.

At this age I had also become a fanatical devotee of The Smashing Pumpkins. I enjoyed reading the lyrics, trying to piece together the song meanings. Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness became my Bible.

It was through Billy Corgan's friendship with Marilyn Manson that I eventually came to listen to him, which spurred me on to more alternative reading. Sometime in this period, I started calling myself an agnostic. I read The Satanic Bible (too credulous, at that age, to question how honest LaVey was being about his own life), had many (many) "deep" conversations with friends on the subject, and eventually started calling myself an atheist.

High School is also when a complete stranger and several of his friends cornered me in the hallway and demanded to know what I had against Jesus. Until that point, I didn't realize that I had anything against Jesus, and I didn't know how they knew I did.

This was also my first attempt to really read the Bible. I didn't make it through the Old Testament. I couldn't understand why foreskin was so important.

Though high school was the longest four years of my life, in the context of this story it just came and went and there aren't many details to share. College was where I started being honest.

It had to be Philosophy 101, of course, that challenged me. I was calling myself an atheist, and had talked about why with friends, but they weren't knowledgeable enough to really challenge me, nor was I familiar enough with the workings of logic to understand the flaws in my arguments. Go public education.

I did really well in Philosophy. While my understanding was rudimentary, I was interested in the subject and had explored it at least a little. That put me miles ahead of everyone else in the class. I was going to be a philosophy major (until a counselor convinced me that there are no jobs for philosophers - thanks a lot for that one, asshole. How about if I'd gone into Law after that? But I digress.)

I liked the class. It exposed people's hidden assumptions and bigotries. I also met Samantha there, who I somehow got the courage to ask out, and who I'd spend the next five years of my life with. (Side advice: Don't spend all of college dating one person. There's a very good chance it won't work out, and you learn a lot of important lessons about socializing with the opposite sex in college that you don't get in high school. Thus, I remain single, having dated one girl since Samantha and I split. She married a guy about twelve to fourteen years older than her and moved to England with him. Didn't see that one coming.)

Regarding bigotries, my favorite moment was when a guy, who I'd spoken with and knew was a decent guy, made the following statement: "I just think it matters that they're good people, not that they're Christian *gestures to himself*, Jewish *gestures to the girl who had discussed her Judaism*, or even in a cult *gestures to Samantha and I*."

My teacher, Leonard O'Brian, convinced me to start calling myself agnostic again with two arguments combined. First, the transcendental argument, which essentially proves that an omnipotent god would not have to be bound by logical possibilities. Logical contradictions and disproofs are not an obstacle for omnipotence.

Second, and I haven't heard this one since, he questioned whether God might best be expressed in metaphor, rather than logically. I wrote an essay in response to this, essentially arguing that this may be the case, but it effectively makes the concept of God unintelligible in any real sense. It's impossible to discern any attributes or motivations of a metaphorical god, even if it does exist. That's when it clicked. Oh. That sounds an awful lot like agnosticism.

So I was an agnostic for the rest of college. When Samantha left me for the older guy, after college, I went through a pretty severe depression. I'd built all my expectations for the future around her - again, stupid move. I made an effort to get out of it, looked at myself objectively and decided I wouldn't want to be with me either, and resolved to do something about it. Thus began my effort to improve myself physically, mentally, and professionally. Physical came first, and I went from 140lbs to 165lbs over the span of about a year - the gain all being muscle. I'm not bragging; it's all gone now.

The mental improvement ended up being placed on hold because Nikki essentially dropped out of thin air and into my lap. She went to college with me, wanted to go out with me but couldn't because of Samantha, found out we broke up, and found me with Google. I had more superficially in common with her than any other girl I've ever dated, and I never really felt passionate about her. She was fun, I liked her, but that was about as far as it went on my side. We eventually did break up, because she recognized I just wasn't getting there, and she was. Smart girl.

Her mom owned a metaphysical book store, so I got to see all kinds of ridiculous New Age crap with her. It was with her that I first heard of and watched The Secret. This film, I think, reminded me that I needed to get smarter. Shortly before Nikki and I broke up, I started reading again.

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