Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Deconversion Pt.1

Hi all,

In the spirit of Evid3nc3 on youtube I thought that I might share my own deconversion story. Like Evid3nc3's my deconversion story has many roads which all led me to the same place. The story takes place over many years because I wasn't actively looking for answers the entire time, and I think that this is the case for a lot of people. I only recently came to atheism, but thinking about it, I have been one for a while, so here is the story of how that happened.

I was raised in a fairly loosely defined Christian household, we didn't often actively go to church, but there were periods during my childhood where we did. I remember occasionally having nightmares and my dad telling me that no matter what God and Jesus would look after me. I don't know exactly when I started to doubt the things that my father told me, but he wasn't around much, and we moved a lot. So we didn't stay in one church for long, and when my dad wasn't around my mom preferred to sleep in on Sundays. My mom is a spiritual person and was also raised Christian, but much more strict than she raised myself and my sister. My mom was under the impression that we should make up our own minds about which religion, if any we would belong to, but there is no denying that my father, while he was around, was a strong emphasis.

I know I was not as devout as some others who deconverted so this might not be a very compelling story, but I think that it is important for me to tell it. When I was a young preteen/teen I did spend a lot of voluntary time with the local Baptist Church Youth Group, which included church services and Sunday meetings. I was never baptized though, I never felt that I truly belonged and thought that if I were to be baptized I would be lying to myself and to God.... but more about that story later.


When I was about eight, I discovered my first book about Ancient Egypt, and it was in the form of a short book about Tutankhamen, his life and the discovery of his tomb, and from that moment on I was hooked on all things Ancient Egypt, I read all the books I could get my hands on and watched all the documentaries on TV. Part of learning about Ancient Egypt was learning about it's mythology, which I found fascinating, and later went on to learn about other western mythologies, Greek, Norse, Celtic and Roman. The thing that never occurred to me, or things that I never questioned, were the claims in the Bible about the Jews in Egypt or even where this "one true God" was.

Maybe because I was also a fan of Star Trek and was well acquainted with the Prime Directive, as well as the rules of time travel that at a young age I was something of a cultural relativist. Meaning that I didn't judge the ancient cultures that I was learning about and accepted them as they were within their own context. It wasn't until I was about twelve or so that I learned about Ancient Egypt's Amarna Period. For those of you not familiar with the Amrana period this occurred during Egypt's New Kingdom in the 18th Dynasty. The pharaoh Amenhotep IV changed the religious landscape, he took a relatively unimportant deity and raised it to the only god in Egypt, which was the sun disk the Aten. Amenhotep IV also renamed himself Akhenaten  in support of this new deity. He outlawed the worship of all the other gods in Egypt, particularly Amun, and had Amun's name removed from wherever it was found. There is still evidence of this campaign in Egypt where figures of Amun have been carved out of the stone. Akhenaten also moved the capital from Thebes in upper Egypt to Amarna (then known as Akhetaten) in middle Egypt.

Undoubtedly this caused some problems within Egypt, as many of the gods were central to the daily lives of the Ancient Egyptians, as well as their deaths. The Aten was also a very cold god, it was more of a Deistic God, meaning that it created the world and then moved on. It was actually the Sun, and was not expected to intervene in the daily lives of the ancient Egyptians at all. There were also far fewer religious festivals and holidays with only one good, and these festivals were very important to the people.This period did not last long after the death of Akhenaten and all the other deities of Egypt were reinstated once his son, Tutankhamen took the throne.

Needless to say I felt that this period would have caused significant termoil for the people of Ancient Egypt, and it clearly did, as it was clear that the Ancient Egyptians had no love for Akhenaten after he died, they removed his name from the king lists, and defaced his sarcophagus significantly. It wasn't until last year that the mummy they believed to be Akhenaten was actually confirmed as Akhenaten through DNA.

What was interesting to me was that when I was first learning all of these events in a documentary,  back when TLC was still The Learning Channel, a friend of the family was over, and she was a very religious woman and she made a comment along the lines of it making a lot more sense for the Egyptians to have only one God rather than the number that they had previously (I honestly don't know the full amount of Egyptian Gods because there were many who came in and out of popularity, as well as the idea that the pharaoh's became gods after they died as well). I remember telling her how unfair it was to judge a culture based on the number of gods they had and reminded her that having only one god was not normal for them and this period was likely very traumatic for them. I don't remember how the entire conversation went, but I don't think that it went further than that.

Then it hit me, why did the Egyptians have so many gods, if it was the truth that there was only one god? The Egyptians seemed smart, they built the pyramids and many other monuments, they had a good grasp of math, and their mummies still intrigue us today. I am of course over simplifying the tremendous achievements of the Egyptians, but hey I was 12. Anyway, the more I thought about it the more it didn't sit right, so I eventually asked my dad about this. His answer shouldn't surprise anyone with Christian parents, he told me that the Egyptians were deceived by the devil. That didn't sit well with me either. It seemed to me that Egyptians were largely a good civilization, (again I didn't know the full extent of Egyptian history at this point) but my father told me the story of how Moses left Egypt.

I'm sure I don't need to retell the story, but the part which stood out to me was the plagues of Egypt. It is also important to note that I was interested in archaeology at this point, but was not actively pursuing it at that point, or reading any of the peer reviewed papers, again I was 12. At the time I accepted my father's story, but tucked it away in my mind, but still didn't waver from my interest in Ancient Egypt.

As I grew older my interest in archaeology became more defined, of course like all kids I went through phases, but eventually came back to my first passion. Anyway, during the time since my dad told me the story of Moses until I was around 17 or so, I had been reading more about ancient Egypt, but never in any of the literature, and the documentaries, with the exception of one, mentioned the plagues of Egypt or even that there were ever Jews in Egypt. I didn't think about it actively, but looking back it was inescapable, eventually I merely accepted the fact that there were never Jews in Egypt, and since coming to this conclusion the archaeology has backed it up in more ways than one. First we have found the workers villages at both the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings which were very well maintained and the remains also demonstrated that these workers were literate in hieratic script (a form of Egyptian writing, hieroglyphics were generally only used by priests and in formal settings) which foreign slaves would not have been. There were also no records of a mass exodus of people, now I know that the Egyptians generally wouldn't have recorded this on stones because only favorable things and things they wanted to be true forever were written on stone tablets, however there would have been some record somewhere and there are none. There is also no evidence of  large group of people wandering the desert for 40 years, and there would have been traces of that.

Overall there was no evidence for this story, and later I learned that the Ancient Egyptian religion existed well before the Bible was written, which was yet another thing I felt that I was lied to about. So when it came down to it I felt that there was no good reason for me to take anything in the bible literally because when it came to looking at the actual evidence it is usually wrong.

That's all for now. Next I will look at inconsistencies with what the church told me and what my parents told me.

Until next time,

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