I’ve been mulling over a topic that I’m not really ready to write yet, so I haven’t been making any posts for the last several days. I think I’ll shelve that one for a while so I can gather some data and continue on with other topics in the meanwhile.
Since I’ve been reading other deconversion stories, I’ve been thinking of my own deconversions. There have basically been two of them – first from the Catholic Church and later from Baha’ism and all god-belief.
I have few strong memories of my youth, but it seems to me that there was always a nagging ‘this-can’t-be-true’ feeling that I suppressed. I envy those who saw through religion by the age of nine or six or something like that. I really don’t know how I would have gone about coming out as a non-believer because my father was a quite staunch character, sure of things in a black and white way. He wasn’t so sure at the end, but it seems to me that for most of his life he believed there was one right way to do things and he knew what it was. The sixties were a painful time for him.
When you’re part of the group, it’s difficult to make waves, and I was immersed in Catholicism as much as anyone could be. I was even an altar boy, wearing the funny suit and allowed in the places the non-elect were barred from.
But at 17 I could no longer see anything in it that made much sense, so I – literally – walked away. At least, that’s how I remember it.
At the beginning, Baha’i sounded like the perfect religion. For some reason, the Catholic training really didn’t seem to teach me anything about religion, so the things I heard from the Baha’is sounded very true. One God, many manifestations, all true. Well, that certainly explained a lot. God was just working in his mysterious ways after all and every time he sent a messenger things went well for a while but then began to degenerate, or as the Baha’is put it, even Islam was splitting into sects while Mohammed was still on his deathbed. But Baha’u’llah wrote books in his own hand – something that no other manifestation had ever done.
And the books, they said, were so beautiful in their original language that men who read them would weep.
It took me until I was 35 to wake up from the opium dream of Baha’i. So, you like flowery, beautiful language? There are many authors who can make you weep, if that’s what you want to do. And all those other manifestations, all supposedly real? When you find out that they weren’t, it sort of puts a monkey wrench in the works of a religion based on their existence. The story of Baha’u’llah reads little different from the story of any other self-styled prophet. His persecutions and journeys and the struggles both with and against his family members sound like a pretty standard human drama when viewed from a point outside the believing circle.
I found that many of the people reading his words would see things in the writings that really weren’t there, and I think that’s an important element of myth-making. You write in a vague enough manner that others can interpret the writings and let them do the rest.
And Baha’u’llah didn’t actually glow in the dark or anything. He impressed many people around him. So did the psychotic maniac they kept locked up where I worked at the State Hospital. He was constantly suborning the techs and doctors to his will regarding privileges and activities. It’s frightening how some people have those capabilities. I imagine Joseph Smith must have had some of that.
I’m afraid that I never was a very devout religionist. I still read Playboy and Penthouse and science books and the like. Baha’i had no great penalties for missing meetings; no strong control over the faithful; no direct punishment for sins or heresies.
It was Julian Jaynes who gently but abruptly woke me from my long trek into fantasy. Although his bicameral mind theories are somewhat questionable, there was still much to be found in his writing of value. Observe:
. . . The changes in the Catholic Church since Vatican II can certainly be scanned in the terms of this long retreat from the sacred which has followed the inception of consciousness into the human species. The decay of religious collective cognitive imperatives under the pressures of rationalist science, provoking, as it does, revision after revision of traditional theological concepts, cannot sustain the metaphoric meaning behind ritual. Rituals are behavioral metaphors, belief acted, divination foretold, exopsychic thinking. Rituals are mnemonic devices for the great narratizations at the heart of church life. And when they are emptied out into cults of spontaneity and drained of their high seriousness, when they are acted unfelt and reasoned at with irresponsible objectivity, the center is gone and the widening gyres begin. **
Jaynes’ works have inspired many modern psychologists and researchers. But for me, it was the simple claim that there was no God that pulled me up above the waters for my first breath of free air. As it was so obvious to him, it became obvious to me, and I started on my journey to learn what non-belief and free thinking were about. And of the two roads that diverged in the yellow wood, the one I took has made all the difference.
The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
** Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind p. 439