Thursday, 6 March 2008

What happens when you stop believing in god?

Youngest Boy asked me, "What happens when you stop believing in God?"

"Absolutely nothing!" I said. "You're still the same person you were, and everything goes on like normal."

And that's one way to tell that God's not real. If you stop believing in cars and decide to walk out in the road, reality will soon disconfirm your belief. If you disbelieve in food and water and stop eating and drinking, you die. But if you stop believing in supernatural beings... it's amazing how irrelevant your past belief can seem, so quickly.

It's like Philip K. Dick said:
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
Youngest Boy thought about all this and said, "But you could not believe in atoms, and nothing would change." He's very smart. You have to watch yourself with this kid.

"That's true," I said, "With atoms, it would take a long time to notice you were wrong. You probably wouldn't know until you tried to do some research involving atoms. Then you'd realise that people who know about atoms could predict things you couldn't."

But what does belief in god help you predict? You can't work out who will be cured of illness when you pray. Most people get better with most diseases, some don't, and some die. Then you say, well, that was god's plan. It lends itself to loads of ex post facto rationalisation, but not prediction.

It's not all true that nothing changes though. You are finally able to embrace reason without having to fear it. Because, post-deconversion, reason has already knocked down your rickety system. There's no more harm it can do you. You are free.


  1. Things that Believing in God helped me predict:

    1. That I would hit my 30's with no degree and limited earning potential.(that was supposed to be spiritually bad-ass back then, but guess what?)

    2. That if I stopped believing in God, the proverbial would hit the proverbial and all my friends would bail. Splatter!

    I think this should actually read: 'Things that believing in Jehovah helped me to predict'

  2. Without God, the Sun will not rise.

    ...or was that the Hogfather?

  3. The biggest thing for me was the overwhelming fear that something would happen when I stopped believing.

    But, when nothing changed... no crazy angry supernatural being appeared and whacked me over the head with a glowing stick, no crazy demons stabbed me in the dark... nothing... the world went on... that was freeing and scary at the same time.

    And it is amazing how stupid you feel afterwards...

    Would it be wrong for me to say "Free at last, thank God I'm free at last!"?

  4. Without God, the Sun will not rise.

    Yes, that's correct, but you must also perform human sacrifices.

    And it is amazing how stupid you feel afterwards

    I hear that.

    Me: Great Scott! Mormon doctrine is a pile of confabulations!

    Everyone else in the world who is not a Mormon: Duh.

    I think perhaps post-deconversion support groups are a good idea, if only because you'll hear other people say, "No, you're not an idiot, it's just hard to throw these things off." I think people who grew up secular must have a hard time understanding how difficult it really is.

    Ted's right though: things can change socially, sometimes drastically so. I think I was ignoring that in this post, which isn't fair.

  5. Well - whatever makes you guys feel better and sleep at night I suppose. I fail to understand why it would seem so profound to you that belief in God or lack there of should have any effect what-so-ever. I would think it would seem simple, if you have evidence of God - believe in God, if not - don't. What were you expecting? God to show up and make you believe.

    1. Yes, we would think God would show up and give a sign. Isn't that what usually happens in the bible or stories you have heard growing up.

    2. Yes. If there was a God show up and prove it.

  6. I fail to understand why it would seem so profound to you that belief in God or lack there of should have any effect what-so-ever.

    Can we help Tobin out here? Think of scary things you've heard at church regarding the consequences of loss of faith.

    I'll start. "I just don't know where I'd be without the Gospel. I'd probably be dead, or a crack whore."

  7. Ugh, you are smarter than that, so again - what makes any of it profound? I've heard junk like that before and don't believe a word of it. Believing in God because you are afraid of what will happen if you don't is pointless and a futile act of self-deception. When I lived in Asia, the Buddhists would give money to the temple. If good things happened they gave enough, if bad things happened then they needed to give more. Do you really think what happened had anything to do with how much money they gave though?

  8. ok Tobin,

    Did Daniel say anything about it being "profound"? Also, I have to correct you again. Your right in saying that if you have evidence of God you should beleive in Her, however no one has ever given any valid evidence. Plenty of anecdotal evidence but as we all know that is not valid.

    Now the bible and the book of mormon do try to predict things based on a persons or a sociaties beleif in God. Basicly they say that if that beleif dwindles "bad things" will happen. These bad things will happen in the here and now according to those texts and not just in the afterlife.

    So there is a prediction we can check.

    These texts also say that a future outcome CAN be effected by prayer and faith

    This is a prediction that CAN be checked (and has been).

    So, one last time. If you have any actual evidence we would all love to know.

  9. Jeffrey,
    Ok, I'll bite. Actually, I originally said I didn't find any of this profound and Daniel was the one trying to help me out.

    As to your claim you have no evidence of God other than anecdotal evidence is why you don’t believe, is simply untrue. The fact of the matter is you don’t accept any of the evidence, so we have no common framework to start from. It is really a pointless game since anything I point to you’ll simply doubt the credibility of the source, or come up with your own alternate explanation that is more palatable to you. Been there. Done that. Have the sunglasses and T-shirt to prove it.

    Anyway, regarding “dwindling in unbelief” as best I understand it is societal break down in which our more basic instincts take over. It is what is being warned against. While these can serve us well in the wild, it is highly corrosive in a society and can result in unbelievable slaughter. Examples of this abound even today. All we have to do is watch the butchery going on in Iraq or remember what happened in Rwanda or Cambodia or even the American Civil War to fully grasp what this can mean. I believe the idea of prayer and faith is used solely to reinforce the notion that individuals need to center themselves and be aware of the needs of others and not allow ourselves (and our communities) to arrive in these situations. I personally prefer to meditate and take time to center myself each day – but whatever you feel helps you.

  10. That is another good one, Jeffrey: If you're not righteous, you will 'dwindle in unbelief'. You wouldn't want to dwindle, would you?

    I thought of another: "I have this non-member friend. Oh, but she's a good person though. Somehow.
    I have no idea how she managed to be a basically moral person without the gospel, but there ya go. Huh."

    The implication being that if you unplug, you'll lose your grip on 'goodness'.

    You hear these ideas over and over again, and they contribute to an overall picture.

    I agree with Tobin, though, that the smartest thing to do about these sayings is not to believe them. How does that work for you with other things you hear at church?

  11. As to your claim you have no evidence of God other than anecdotal evidence is why you don’t believe, is simply untrue. The fact of the matter is you don’t accept any of the evidence, so we have no common framework to start from.

    What was the evidence again? Did someone post it and I missed it?

    Or is Tobin refusing to tell us the evidence because he's certain we'll reject it out of hand? Come on, be fair, Tobin, give us a chance.

    Anyone else thought of any more scary memes? I'd like to compile them.

  12. Exactly how many wars have a religious basis? Just wondering ... how many people have been killed in God's name so far? You're spot on, Tobin, with it being 'basic instinct' - just like believing in God.

  13. Daniel,

    You have the Bible, and Koran to start with - all easily dismissed for a variety of reasons I’m sure. Since you were Mormon, you have the BoM and the history of JS and the people he interacted with - again, easily dismissed, even though, none of these records were created in a vacuum. For example, take those characters JS wrote down for Martin Harris – they turn out to be very interesting indeed. And even the story of Martin Harris turns out to be interesting, if you understand human nature. Anyway, there are some very interesting facts that fall out if someone is so disposed to look; however, I really have no patience with people that invent alternate explanations for what these records clearly indicate and I'm not interested in playing this game. Until you experience God, there really is no point at all.

  14. Well, Tobin, finding alternate explanations is what scientists do. Like in my language research, if I see that trying something new improves my classifier, I have to say "Wait -- does my theory work, or could there be anything else that's causing the improvement?" You have to do this because if you take this to a conference without doing this step, someone else is going to figure it out, and you Don't Want That.

    So, although the Book of Mormon sounds convincing (if you're so disposed, mind!), you have to ask, "Okay, is there any other explanation?" And there is! Someone sat down and wrote it. And that's when you start to notice the inconsistencies -- linguistic and archaeological things that don't add up. You've heard these before; I won't mention them here. (In future, I'll be going to town on the linguistics of the Book of Mormon.) There's nothing in the Book of Mormon that suggests that it's anything but a fictional human document and a product of the 1800s, and there are lots of strikes against its purported origins.

    Patience or no, you've got to check if it's possible you might be wrong. Anything sounds convincing if you're 'so disposed', whether it's The Secret, the Urantia Book, or the Bible. It's known as 'exercising faith', or in the vernacular, 'fooling yourself'.

  15. Daniel,

    Inventing alternate explanations that are improbable is not only annoying, but wastes everyones time. As far as the BoM being a book authored by JS, I disagree. But, again, I believe the difference lies not with that but because you don't believe in God which leads to everything else collapsing - including JS.

    As far as the BoM being in the linguistics of 1800's, what can I say? Yes. So what? It should be. What were you expecting?

    Personally, I hate that the church hasn't updated the damn thing and wish they would bring it into the modern era, so the current generation can get more in touch with it. However, I'm in the minority that think that the scriptures pushed on us are of poor quality (though you can get some really good interactive modern-era Bibles cross-referenced with arabic, greek, and other versions).

  16. The idea that alternate explanations for belief are 'invented' is a bit over the mark, don't you think? Most ideas against belief that get traction have come from those who intended on holding to their faith but discovered something unexpected underneath the dogma, its been there all along. It wasn't 'invented'.They've simply allowed evidence to guide them. Its ridiculous to think that any ideas against belief based on something like cognitive science is just some massive, well-funded game of "I'm Not Touching You" to annoy the crap out of believers.

  17. Ted,

    Maybe, maybe not. I've heard some pretty inventive stuff. I personally don't understand how people don't believe JS given what I know about his history. The guy did some dumb stuff and had a lot of flaws. However, what he accomplished was equally remarkable. I'd like to see any of you accomplish anything close.

    Anyway, I tend to admire prophets. They are dynamic individuals that God lets us borrow for a short time. People like JS, MLK, and Abraham Lincoln to name a few. At least we can agree that people like that make a difference and we should all aspire to be like them.

  18. Daniel,

    I got lost in what I was talking about and didn't get back to your question. I tend to wander.

    "I agree with Tobin, though, that the smartest thing to do about these sayings is not to believe them. How does that work for you with other things you hear at church?"

    It works pretty well. I have my crap filter set on high and catch most of it. Of course, the bishop and I spar every once in a while.

    My list right now contains:

    Tithing - no, I'll give my money to people who can properly account for what they are doing with it. Until you can be honest about it, you don't get a thing.

    WoW - no, I agree alcoholism is a horrible thing. Those people should never drink. However, zealot light is going off in my head. I've sat next to fat cows in the temple taking up two seats after they've just chowed down on a double cheeseburger. They shouldn't be in there because they flunked that one.

    Polygamy - Sin.

    Just to get started...

    Ah, the fun I'd have reforming the church if given half a chance. But, I don't care. I'm interested in the truth, nothing else.

  19. Sounds like you like to think for yourself. That's cool. I can only imagine the discussions with your bishop!

    If anything, I'd say your crap filter is too low. You still seem to believe that there exist a number of mysterious supernatural beings that have definite ideas about what our behaviour should be, but that can't be appealed to directly. Instead you have to guess their wishes by 'scrying' (if you will) through prayer, unusual happenstances, feelings, seer stones, etc, or by having their wishes filtered through a human interpreter ('prophet').

    And is not this the essence of crap?

  20. Oh, you have no idea. :)

    Anyway, the litany of other stuff you described isn't quite fair. The Mormon perspective of God is that God is both natural (uses the laws of nature) and tries to be conspicuous in what God is up to. That's why we have prophets in the first place. It is God's blog. :)

    And it follows if God is natural, God has tools and technology now doesn't it. BTW - all the things you listed didn't orignate with JS. They can be found in various other source material including the Bible.

  21. I'm not sure how JS factors into this discussion but I'll go with it...
    I'm sure you're right that there was some redeeming social value to JS's lifework, even factoring in his foibles, but how does this give credence to his argument for the existence of God? We still all dip into the same stream of logic, some just have leaky cups.

    Hey, I think Bono is a nifty cat but if he started telling me that The Great BibbleBob demands my worship, I still have to exercise the same analysis towards belief, and as great a song as it is, "Bullet the Blue Sky" would not be a legitimate argument to persuade me that Bono's God is the real deal. Ironically if that happened, you'd use those same tools to decide whether Bono was right or not, yet you seem reluctant to use them for what you already believe. Probably because you already believe.

    Belief in God is not some universal tongue-and-groove that can catch on anybody when the right doctrine comes along. There is always something that can trip the reset button after belief sets in, the question is whether you can get back to belief after applying an objective set of criteria to justify it.

    In regards to prophets, they're not limited to people who invoke deities in their pronouncements. Why doesn't J.F.K. make your list of laudable prophets? He prophesied that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade; they did it with a year and a half to spare. Could it be because the purpose wasn't to promote God's will? The abstract goals of many religions I think we can agree have positive effects sometimes, but there is a vast array of people and initiatives over history that aimed to achieve those goals without promotion of religious doctrine as the by-product. Are you convinced that altruism was DOA before religion got its act together? I'm not.

    I'd never aspire to be someone who tickled the ears of the masses with arguments that lacked credible evidence.

  22. My comment above is for Tobin.

  23. Ted,

    Actually, if you didn't know it, or perhaps you do. Daniel is formerly a Mormon. And we've discussed various things about it in other threads.

    My list of prophets (people inspired to advocate the truth) wasn't meant to be limited to only the people that I mentioned. It was only an example of the types of people I was talking about.

    And if The Great BibbleBob demonstrates its existence to you, go right ahead and believe if you wish. I don't really care either way.

  24. Going backwards a little because the discussion exploded whilst I was absent.

    "believing in God because you are afraid of what will happen if you don't is pointless and a futile act of self-deception."

    Ah Tobin, we stop believing because there is a lack of credible evidence but we continue to delude ourselves after we begin to doubt, due to fear.
    At least, that's a very skinny summary of my last days as a believer.

    Daniel- I can't picture you as a crack whore...

  25. That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me all day, not counting Ms Perfect.

    I don't think they said 'crack whore' in church.

  26. Rebecca,

    I don't think I said otherwise and wouldn't disagree with anyone that doesn't believe because they don't have evidence of God. That is only rational. I believe all people will have plenty of opportunities to obtain that evidence if they so choose though. Anyway, I was just pointing out that I didn't find it remarkable that belief or the lack of belief should have any effect. I was a bit surprised that people actually took the fear-fiction promoted in many churches seriously. I find it utter rubbish.


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