Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Helping a new atheist

Back in the early days of my twitter account I gained a follower that was new to/on the verge of atheism, though I didn't know this detail at the time. 

I have her permission to write this blog but she'd like to remain anonymous so I'll call her Amy. If by some chance you happen to recognise who it is, please respect her wishes and don't publicize it.

Over time I received a few questions about atheism from Amy which I answered as openly and honestly as I could. I will answer genuine questions as best I can whether they be from atheists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, or Hellenistics. Being a vocal atheist and then refusing to answer questions would pretty much defeat the purpose. 

After a little while Amy sent me a message asking me to follow her so she could DM me some more specific questions. I obliged. Amy hit me with a lot of questions, which made me quite happy. The questions were great because the showed a curiousness and a scepticism that is lacking is so many people. They were clearly from someone that was new to being an atheist. It was a pleasure to be able to assist. 

When she asked about an afterlife I said that for me, the year 3366 will be just like the year 1366. Amy replied: I'm borderline believer/non-believer and tbh you're making more sense than any religious person I've approached for answers :)

It was a great response. What could be better in this kind of exchange than being told you're making sense to someone that is clearly coming to terms with seeing the world in a new way?

The questions continued. Looking back now they seem more like thinking out loud than actual questions. It was like Amy already knew the answers but having someone to bounce her questions and ideas off gave her validation. I feel like I was confirming what she already knew, not telling her things she hadn't thought of. For example: 
Also, your views on God are just common sense, right? How can anyone have a solid belief in God? ... but why are there MILLIONS of religious people, they can't all lack common sense and all be brain washed, can they? So why do you think all these religious people deny the fact that there might actually be nothing out there? do you think it's because they're afraid about going to hell, afraid that God will hate them, their reputation, what family will think of them? Disobeying parents?

As you can see, a lot of good questions to be asking, especially when atheism is new to you. I would always try to explain what I thought, and more importantly, why I thought it. Trying to give valid reasoning and, of course, trying to make sense. It was important to me that I didn't tell Amy what to think. It wasn't my goal to turn her into an atheist. I wanted to help her find her own answers. 

The conversations and questions continued and we developed a very cool relationship. One that I think benefits both of us. Not only is Amy getting answers that she's looking for (for the record I have encouraged her, on more than one occasion, to speak with other atheists also), but I also am challenged to think and to assess why I think the way I do. Amy's questions keep me on my toes. I have helped Amy become and get more comfortable being an atheist, she has helped me be a better atheist. 

Our conversations revealed that Amy wasn't just religious in a church going sense, she was culturally religious, which includes being the child of very religious parents and everything that goes along with that. With that in mind, after several months of answering her questions, I thought it my turn to ask Amy a question. The question was 'What lead you down the path of atheism'? Her answer impressed me and is the reason I wanted to write this entry. I wanted to share her response with the people that follow me on twitter and that read this blog.

Her answer:

Growing up, I was forced to go to do certain rituals and go to the Temple, but I never really knew what I was doing or why and my parents didn't teach me. This time last year I believed in a god, I don't know which one, I don't know if I believed in all of them, or just god. There were doubts, but I didn't really give it any thought, I didn't care, my belief never affected my lifestyle. September last year I started a college where about 80% of the people were Muslim.  I met girls my age, 17 at the time, who were practising Muslims and I was just so shocked at their lifestyle. How what they wore completely covered their bodies, they never spoke to any boys, they didn't even talk to their male cousins??? They didn't listen to music or watch TV and I was just confused as to why a teenage girl would pick to have that kind of life. If you're going to sacrifice so much and dedicate your life wholly to a religion, you have to be 100% sure it's the correct one. But their religion was the one their parents brought them up in, and their confidence frustrated me because they lived in a bubble. The more I learnt from them, the more I began to doubt religion and god. Like, I asked why their god allowed me to be brought up in a Hindu family - because that's just a straight ticket to hell, right? I was told that I'm expected to revert to Islam, if not, then I'm going to hell. Ok so there are thousands of non-Muslims that die everyday, and they're all going to hell because god allowed them to be brought up in a non-Muslim family, and he's fully aware of this yet he's still allowing it to happen? I mean, how many happen? How many people actually convert to another religion?? If he wanted people to convert, why doesn't he make Islam more convincing, or give some evidence??? Why doesn't he eradicate all the false religions? Or does he just not care about non-Muslims? It's like they never questioned anything at all and it made me realise how much shit can be drilled into your head as a kid, and you'll end up following it because it just always seems like the right thing to do. So I just started thinking maybe I was a taught a whole load of shit too, just like everyone else, about Hinduism and just about god as well. By Christmas I sort of knew I was an atheist. But I wasn't comfortable at all, I had a hard time admitting it to myself. After a couple of months, and after talking to you too, I could accept it.

When I read this initially I tweeted about it immediately. I'm sure many of you reading it can relate to a lot of what Amy said. You can almost see her going from theist to atheist as she speaks. I've read it a few times now and it still makes me smile. I love "Why would god allow me to be brought up in a Hindu family". But this part is the stand out for me:  It's like they never questioned anything at all and it made me realise how much shit can be drilled into your head as a kid, and you'll end up following it because it just always seems like the right thing to do. So I just started thinking maybe I was a taught a whole load of shit too, just like everyone else, about Hinduism and just about god as well. By Christmas I sort of knew I was an atheist.

That's it in a nutshell. The lack of questioning of the truly devout is telling. It should be setting off alarm bells for everyone that values truth. Obviously for Amy it did. As you can see, Amy was well on the way to atheism before she ever spoke to me, but I still feel kind of proud that I've helped. Like I said, I didn't tell her to be an atheist, but I've helped her find the answers to her own questions, and I've helped her make sense of her own doubts. I've experienced some very cool moments with my twitter account. I've received wonderful feedback from many of my followers and I'm followed by people whose work I really admire, which is quite an honour. It all makes doing this worth it. To know people are listening and enjoying what I'm doing makes me happy to keep going. But if Amy was my only follower and helping her be more comfortable with being an atheist was the only thing I achieved as MrOzAtheist, then it would still be worth it. 

Amy and I still communicate via the direct messages and I'm glad I'm still here to help. Amy has many, many questions :) She's not officially 'out' to all her family and friends yet so I imagine that that will be another huge step for her. When that happens I hope I can help her deal with that too. 

Since I've called this blogpost 'Helping a new atheist' I'll let her have the word...

You're just a constant reminder to me that I've made the right decision :)

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