Sunday, February 3, 2013

Have You Been Harmed by the Church?

Note: this post is inspired by a recent post by Cephus about a challenge from a Christian.

It's not terribly uncommon to come across a religious person who thinks that I am an atheist because I have been harmed by the church in some way. They will often think I am an atheist because I am angry at God, because I have seen Christians do terrible things, because I think my entire childhood was somehow damaged because of the inclusion of the religion. They will then challenge me to put aside the painful emotions associated with these things and consider returning to God.

The thing is, there is some truth to the things they are saying here. I absolutely was harmed by the church in my childhood (luckily I didn't have to deal with molestation or physical abuse like so many people have to deal with, but let's just say telling a child they are evil to the core will give them some psychological problems). I have seen plenty of horrible things done in the name of God, I would even say that I am an atheist today because at some point in the past I had a very strong hatred for God. But it's not as simple as being angry and then suddenly being an atheist, it is the start of a long journey.

I was angry, very angry with God and religion in general. This anger led me to question everything and look for the truth of the matter to the best of my ability. I investigated the real source of my belief in God and thought about what would have happened if I had been born in a different part of the world, or at a different time. I looked for any proof of God I could get my hands on and tried to analyze if I thought they were worthwhile. I talked about these matters with as many people as I could. Ultimately I have concluded that there are no good reasons for believing in God. My own reasons for believing were all based on the fact that I had been told these things by everyone around me since birth, and the same was clearly true for all of them.

So back to the initial question, have I been harmed by the church? Absolutely! Am I an atheist because of that harm? Well yes, but probably not in the way you mean, it's not a simple connection. I was harmed and therefore motivated to seek the truth about religion, further, due to the anger I felt for the church, I was motivated to keep looking into things for about 10 years until I was satisfied that I had seen and rejected pretty much every argument out there.

In the Christian challenge linked at the top, he asked atheists to put aside their emotional baggage and look at the evidence. But for me, and many other atheists I've talked to, the emotional baggage is what motivated us to look at the evidence in the first place. Emotion played a big part in getting us started, but we have already answered this challenge on our own.


  1. This was an insightful post about something that die-hard Christians often fail to understand: why people really leave the faith. Leaving Christianity BECAUSE of harms and leaving it because harms drove us to look hard at the evidence are two different things.

  2. Great post!

    As you know, when a person offers you a reasoned argument for why there is no god, it is a logical fallacy to dismiss their argument on the grounds that mere emotion has motivated them to come up with their reasons.

    Beyond that, Ahab is right. There is a vital distinction between denying the existence of god because one was harmed by Christianity, and denying the existence of god for various reasons that one was driven to discover after being harmed by Christianity.

  3. Thanks guys. Yeah, there is definitely a distinction between leaving for an emotional reason, and leaving because an emotion caused you to search for a good reason. And I think it is a hard distinction to make in the midst of a heated debate. The things sound similar enough that the subtlety can easily be lost.

    That's a good point about the fallacy, it's basically an ad hominem right? They are attacking the person for having a bad reason (emotion) for leaving the faith and then dismissing their arguments without looking at them.

    1. I'm sure you're right: It looks like an ad hominem.

      I tend to recognize run of the mill fallacies when I see them, but I can't always recall their names anymore. So, I've bookmarked a list of common fallacies. It helps me a lot.


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