What are some recommended books for leaving christianity?

I’ve been moving towards atheism for awhile. I was raised in a Christian household, married a Mormon, got a divorce, made a brief pit stop at agnosticism. Now I’m an atheist, and I’m not sure what to do with my broadening understanding of humanity. So my question is this; at some point all atheists came to the conclusion there is no God. People could tell us there was no God, but we had to ask questions and evaluate the evidence against religion ourselves. When you come to the place where you realize your culture’s religion is an unfortunate accident of geography and timing, how do you begin squaring this with your upbringing? Are there any good books, ones that take an atheistic stance, on deprogramming from fundamentalist backgrounds? What helped you through the process?

Posted: October 4th 2008

brian thomson www

At the risk of sounding facetious: the Bible is a good book (?) for detailing just what Christianity is – especially if you examine its origins. It was cobbled together by committees (the Councils of Nicaea), yet you are told to accept it blindly, though it contains much that is not “Christian” by any stretch of the imagination. Genocide, murder, abuse of spouses and children, bigotry of various kinds, and drugged-out apocalyptic visions. (The author(s) of Revelations had to be on something wacky, it seems to me.)

Posted: October 16th 2008

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vjack www

When I was in this place, the only book on atheism I was able to find at the local bookstore was “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell. It was exactly what I needed at the time. I think the key is simply to start learning as much as you can about atheism. Many of the books written in recent years were authored by ex-Christians and will be even more effective in this regard.

I wrote a blog post recently, Atheism 101: A Reading List in which I presented a list of recommended books for persons just beginning to explore atheism. I am asked this question so often, I thought it would be helpful to have something prepared for the next time.

Posted: October 10th 2008

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I would like to respond specifically to this part of your question: “...how do you begin squaring this with your upbringing?”

Christianity has some concepts which are grounded in reality—the Golden Rule, for example. In order to form some bridge with your past, do so by researching all you can find regarding such worthwhile concepts.

There is a wonderful treasure trove of scientific knowledge explaining the root causes of empathy, kindness, etc. (The selfish gene leads to the altruistic society). Embrace those parts of Christianity, but place them within a secular frame, a sturdy frame built from evidence-based knowledge.

As for the many other aspects of Christianity which can be of varying degrees of stupid, useless, and harmful, be gentle with yourself. You are no different from millions of brainwashed religious believers, force-fed such nonsense from an early age.

There is no rush to run away as fast as you can from your upbringing. You just need to filter the good from the bad, and then ground the positive, useful aspects in reality, based on evidence. It is a life-long quest and quite marvelous.

It is important though to protect your new found freedom from godbothering. You can do this by surrounding yourself with people both on the Net and in person, who will support you in this quest. Be particular with whom you spend your precious mental/emotional energy.

If you must be with vocal faith-heads, accept that this will be a stress. After such encounters, be good to yourself, do stuff you like, eat a cookie, go for a brisk walk, whatever. Religion often is toxic, and if you are a part of a religious family/community, you do need to focus on attenuating this toxicity (use your creativity!) as much as you can.

In addition, when you feel capable, you can be supportive of others that are just on the cusp of becoming atheists. Showing or teaching others some approaches to recovery from godbothering will only re-enforce your own continuing recovery from wonky thinking and credulity.

Posted: October 6th 2008

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flagellant www

It is always more difficult to be deprogrammed than to be brought up in a rational, secular household. I had to do my own work to make the journey. This is – I think – how I did it. Even though I was brought up in a very moderate, Christian home, it took me many, many years.

Firstly, recognize that all knowledge should be subject to verification; you should either be able to verify it for yourself or there should be clear processes by which the knowledge can be confirmed. The problem with religious 'knowledge’ is that its underpinning is suspect. To believe, you have to have faith; in other words, you have to believe without reason. Atheists do not, in general, accept that you should believe anything without having a good reason. However, if suspect 'knowledge’ is inculcated at an early age, negating it is difficult. This is because young people have not developed critical thinking.

Next, you have to try to see this suspect knowledge against the masses of accumulated scientific knowledge about the nature of the Universe and the way it works. How can you value one ancient book against established knowledge? Does the Bible tell us about the heliocentric solar system? (Does it even distinguish the Solar System from the Universe?) Is there the slightest hint about one of science’s greatest predictive achievements: The Periodic Table? Does it explain storms, earthquakes, or viral and bacterial diseases, other than as 'Acts of God’? Of course not; it’s a work of its time. If a work purporting to give us information is clearly at odds with real knowledge, why should one accept anything in it? Postulating 'God did it’ as an explanation for anything is lazy thinking, substituted for the proper rational attitude 'We don’t know but we’ll find out one day’.

I haven’t read any deprogramming texts but I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins a few years ago and I think it argues the case very well; I use it for reference.

You are clearly getting there: your recognition that the belief system to which you were subject was only a matter of geography and timing; you could, instead, have been a Muslim, a Jew, an Animist or a Buddhist. The very variety of these religions’ beliefs makes it impossible that they are all true. It is likely that they are all nonsense, parasitic upon the nature of children to accept adult 'wisdom’ uncritically.

I wish you the very best; you seem to be well on the way.

Posted: October 6th 2008

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