Monday, January 31, 2011

My Atheist Testimony - Part 1: Getting Saved

Okay, this is my third re-write of this story. I've been waffling on writing this tale for a while now, but since George has offered his "atheist testimony", I suppose this is a great time to complete the tale of my deconversion. I'm also trying to curb my Lance Mannion-esque capability to require three hundred words to say "hello" (sadly, I have none of his wordsmithing skills - while Lance can make those three hundred words interesting, the experience of reading my prose is most similar to receiving repeated blunt force trauma to the kidneys with a frozen rainbow trout). Since every time I attempt to craft this story, I seem to hit two thousand words before I get even a quarter of the way through it, I'll be chopping out a lot of detail that might be interesting to narcissistic little me, but probably boring to most other people, and splitting this post into at least two parts.

The original impetus for this tale is from a comment made by my sister-in-law. A while ago, I was having a discussion with a handful of my wife's family that subscribe to the Jehovah's Witness faith (her father, sister, brother-in-law, aunt and uncle). During the discussion, when it inevitably came up that I'd been a huge Bible-thumper in my teens, my sister-in-law mentioned that she'd always wondered what happened to cause me to doubt the Bible and the existence of God. This conversation occurred over a year ago now (at least I think it was - there have been a few discussions over the years, and my fallible brain has done a good job of mashing them all together into only a couple of memories), and I've been planning to recount the story of my deconversion ever since. So let's get this exercise in navel-gazing started!

When I was growing up, I basically had two completely different families, at least as far as religion went. My father's family was decidedly non-religious. As far as I can remember, the closest I'd ever heard any of my Dad's side ever talk about religion was my Irish grandfather cursing out the Catholics ("Those fucking dogans!") for stealing his parking spot in front of his house while they attended the church a few buildings down the road.

My mother's family was quite religious. Her grandparents were very devoutly Catholic (my granddad is still a member of the Knights Of Columbus), although my Mom converted to Pentecostal/evangelical Christianity when I was quite young. I can't recall religion being discussed often (besides, what kid pays attention to that?), but it was very obviously important to my grandparents, and my Mom followed suit with slightly less ostentatious displays of religiosity.

Because my parents divorced when I was a mere two years old, and my Mom and I moved away from my hometown for about half of my youth, neither side of my family was a huge influence over me, although my mother did her best to make sure that I stayed connected with both sides of my family. It also helped that maintaining strong family ties was extremely important to both clans, and despite the distance, my family was always welcoming and loving. The one exception is my Dad - after he remarried, my relationship with him became almost nonexistant for a number of years (but to save space and stave off boredome in my readers, I'm not going delve into detail on that subject). To this day, I enjoy regular contact with most of my family, though I'm closest to my Mom and my grandfather on my Dad's side (where it helps that I'm his only grandchild with his last name).

When it comes to religion, I have vague recollections of going to a Catholic preschool and elementary school for a couple of years, then transferring to a public school when we moved. I remember going to Pentecostal-type churches when young, having Christian entertainment (I was particularly fond of my "Bullfrogs & Butterflies" and "Nathaniel The Grublet" tapes - thirty years later, I can still remember some of the lyrics!), and going to vacation Bible camp in the summers. From what I can remember, I said my prayers, read my children's Bible stories, and was a good little Christian child. As much as one can be through those years, anyways.

The biggest difficulty for Christianity to overcome in me (especially the Pentecostal, the literalist "Bible-says-it-therefore-I-believe-it" version) was the fact that I'm a nerd. A geek. It took me 30 years to come to terms with that fact, but looking back, it's undeniable. I've also learned to embrace my nerdiness.

In elementary school, I loved science class. I couldn't get enough of dinosaurs, astronomy, geology, and these new things called "computers" that my elementary school had just received a couple of. I was good at math, pretty good at English (THAT wouldn't last), and smart enough to be put into the Gifted Program, which gave opportunities for more challenging science classes!

As I moved up to middle school, "Nathaniel the Grublet" and "The Black Hole" tapes were replaced by Weird Al Yankovic and Metallica. Owl magazine and Encyclopedia Brown was
replaced by Discover magazine and Dungeons & Dragons. What little youthful interest in Jesus I had was pushed aside by computer games like Wizardry and Ultima. During this time, the Satanic Panic hit, and since my mother was a member of an evangelical church at the time, all of a sudden I wasn't allowed to play D&D anymore. I even remember receiving the infamous "Dark Dungeons" Chick tract from someone at church! Mom wasn't pleased with Slayer and Megadeth, but it was a small part of a very eclectic music collection of mine, so she left my music alone.

At that point, I was only vaguely Christian. I went to church, but it was because I was forced to. I secretly played D&D with my friends and told Mom I was playing Car Wars isntead (which was only a lie 3/4 of the time - but I think she knew that). When I was with Christian friends, I acted like a (movie approximation of a) Christian. When I was with non-religious friends, I wasn't a Christian. I was doing what nerds generally do best: rebel in a passive-aggressive manner.

That all began to change when, ten days before my fifteenth birthday, we moved a thousand kilometers away to a small, isolated community of 5,000 people. I was a socially awkward teen with no friends, but my Mom found an evangelical church to join, and she continued to make me join her in going to services. It turned out to be an easy way to make friends, since I was fairly shy and bad at meeting people, but I was familiar with Christianity, though I informed them that I wasn't "saved." Most of them didn't seem to mind, and set out trying to convince me to accept Jesus. I also managed to make a handful of friends outside the church, so I got to resume my nerdy enjoyment of science (especially astronomy and biology) and D&D. But, with a good amount of my time spent with Christians, it took six months for the inevitable to happen.

I still remember the night I got "saved" pretty clearly. I was your typical angsty fifteen year old with few friends, and an absent father. I had been pretty depressed around that time (as fifteen year olds tend to be, no matter what their environment is like), and had been spending a fair bit of time alone. A lot of that time I was angry at my Dad, since I felt abandoned by him. That night at youth group, after the worship service and sermon, there was an altar call. The youth pastor implored, "there's somebody here who needs to forgive someone in their life". (Seriously, in a room with about 20 teenagers in it, could you possibly come up with a more generic, cold-read of an altar call?) I was looking for a way to get out of the depressed funk I was in, so I went up and acknowledged to the youth pastor that I needed to forgive my father. I had a bit of a cry, along with the pastor and a couple of my Christian friends. At that point, the pastor asked if I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart, and I acquiesced. He asked me to repeat a prayer that I can't recall the exact words to (but if you've heard one salvation prayer, you've pretty much heard them all), which I did. The youth pastor looked up at the crowd and nodded with a smile, and the youth group went nuts.

I was now one of them: a born-again Christian. And I would jump in with both feet.

Next: Part 2 - Christianity Insanity

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why I Love Cartoons

A good cartoon can manage to do any number of things: pull on heartstrings, angry up the blood, expose the idiosyncrasies of everyday life, create a cheap laugh, or (my favorite) mock stupidity. And this can be accomplished in a handful of panels (or less). I'll leave it to readers to figure out why I love this Sinfest cartoon.
I know I've been neglecting the blog lately. I've been extremely busy with real life, and thanks to a blogfriend, I've got a big post in the works. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reliving My (Christian) Youth

For no particular reason, I've been going through some of the music I used to listen to during my Christian teenage years. Have a listen if you want to see what Metallica-forbidden Jesus freaks were listening to in the late 1980s to early 1990s...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dollar vs. Dollar

Republican congress gets seated, and the Canadian dollar jumps to overtake the American dollar in value. Coincidence? Probably, but the liberal in me wants to think the world market is hesitant to invest when the American party that caused the lion's share of the USA financial crash (which helped trigger a crash in the world's financial markets) has retaken some control of the govenment.

The Dunning-Kruger effect in action!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Anything I Can Say, You Can Say Better...

Remember my little rant from a couple of days ago about the state of politics in (North) America? I found a post over at Driftglass that puts my thoughts into a beautifully succinct single paragraph (emphasis mine):
"But this simply is not that country: not some feisty middle-brow Camelot with a couple of equally wacky, equally flawed and equally honorable political philosophies contending in an arena with rules and referees. Instead,...this is a country where one political party is ruled by loathesome men with grotesque motives on behalf of a tiny clique of plutocrats and bulwarked by an electoral army which is kept constantly tweaked to the point of near-riot by a carefully-cultivated media cocktail of rage, ignorance, bigotry and God."
That is almost my entire post in a nutshell. Go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Memory Hole Strikes Back!

I use Firefox, and I use a lot of tabs. I mean a LOT of tabs - Firefox usually eats up between 250-500Mb of memory and takes a minute or so to fully open when I restart. The reason for this is that I like to keep an eye on some sites that I occasionally post at, especially those places where you can't (or I'd rather not) subscribe to the comments.

One such site you might remember was Christian Governance (formerly "Christian Government"). Well, a few days ago I noticed one of the pages I never bothered to close started coming up with a 404 error - page not found. I kind of chuckled to myself because I figured that they must have closed down or changed domain names again. For some reason, I didn't close the tab. I then noticed a few minutes ago that the page started loading again, so I revisited it, and found the post back up again, but with the comments section completely wiped out. Unfortunately, the Google cache has been updated to the latest version without the comments. Even more unfortunate, I can't recall the comments happening at that post.

I posted again there, asking where the comments disappeared to. I'm curious what the excuse for the use of the memory hole will be (if one is forthcoming). Anybody else surprised that a Christian website that claims to hold personal responsibility as a virtue will drop an entire section of comments if they don't like the direction a conversation is going?

A little further digging confirms that, yup, the two main threads I posted on a while ago have been scrubbed clean of all comments. Yet again, my neglect to obtain a screenshot of comments at a fundy site has come back to bite me in the ass.

All that time wasted arguing with closed minded ignoramuses, with nary a record of my brilliant wordsmithing saved for future reference!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In The Year Two Thousand (and ten)

Jason has posted an interesting video from National Geographic, outlining the fact that we have reached seven billion people on the planet. This number will continue to rise exponentially, which raises real questions about how we are going to provide clean water, food, and power to all those people.

As usual, there are a number of interesting comments over there, (and I'm really interested in reading DuWayne's post on world security when he posts it) about how we are going to manage to provide food, clean water, and power to such a massive number of people. Sadly, I have to say I don't really hold out much hope for making progress in being able to sufficiently support such a massive and growing population, at least not in North America. Certainly not at this point in history.

The way our society works right now, we have an uninformed, disinterested electorate, who spends more time worrying about what celebrities are doing with their spare time than what their government is doing to effect their lives, and what corporations and banks are doing with the environment and the world economy.

Government is basically a rich political class that is increasingly using secrecy, propaganda, and fear in order to manipulate the 40% of the population that actually vote in order to keep the politicians in power. The politicos then use that government power to enrich their corporate friends, who in turn throw money back at the political sphere in order to keep their paid cronies in office. Sadly, this corporate ownership of the political sphere seems to be pretty much the same across most of the spectrum. Politicians that truly wish to fulfill a mandate to reflect the will of the people find their careers ending early.

Fixing problems with food and water distribution, and making power cheaper and easier to produce threatens the power & financial structures of the most powerful corporations and financial institutions. Since those same interests are what provide the vast majority of political funding, it makes sense that most politicians are not suicidal enough to actually attempt to bring any true reforms into the financial or corporate sectors.

On top of that, the media has become complicit in all of this. In order to keep all-important access to political figures, large news organizations have become little more than government mouthpieces. Reporters in the US have been tripping all over themselves for the last 18 months to cover what should be a ridiculous, fairly crazy and relatively small group of angry Republican white folks* (rebranded as the Tea Party) that protested against the Obama administration. However, those same news companies essentially ignored much larger, anti-Iraq (and Afghanistan) war protests back in the early 2000's. Remember the greatest, most catastrophic oil spill in history: the BP oil spill? It took months to close the hole dumping millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, and by the time it was finally capped the media had all but moved on. Six months later, and somebody brand new to the North American mass media probably wouldn't even be aware that such a massive disaster took place so recently.

In short, we're fucked. Politics, like investigative journalism, science and most other things worth doing, is hard. And the last thing that the majority of people these days are interested in is doing anything more draining than finishing a day at work, followed by flopping their fat asses down on the couch and vegging out until it is time to head back out to work.

That critique includes me: I'll fully admit that I rarely do more than complain on the internet or to coworkers about political and scientific ignorance. I'm also not nearly as dedicated to following politics as I was when I was younger. (I wonder if that's because I used to be very conservative, and I recognize how little chance there is of reaching out successfully to my former bretheren.)

I guess the old saying really is true: we get the government we lazy, ignorant idiots deserve.

Oh, and here's the video:

* - Republican white folks? But I repeat myself!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

It is now officially 12:03 PST, so happy 2011!

The last three days at work were hell, thanks to what looks like a problem with our antivirus solution and Windows terminal server 2003. What was supposed to be three work days that I could use to enjoy the World of Warcraft expansion cap level raise to level 85 turned into five days of work (fifteen hours on Thursday - yay!) compressed into three.

It was almost enough for me to start pushing for some version of Linux instead of Windows - But I'm not a complete idiot.

Anyways, welcome to the year 2011, almost two thousand and twenty-three years after Zombie Jesus claimed he'd come back to claim the Earth as his kingdom. Ironically, 2010 turned out to be the year that one of the "prophets" that came to my church back in the early 1990s passed away. This prophet had stated that Jesus would return before he died, that this generation was the "chosen generation". (Why that would turn out to be the lazy, increasingly nonreligious Generation X I grew up as a member of, I'll never know.) I guess he was a false prophet that we should have stoned to death, if he weren't already dead.

Umm, where was I? Oh, yes: Happy two thousand and eleven!