Rieux (dr_rieux) wrote,

One Night in Schwaben

(The title is a--weak--allusion to "One Night in Bangkok," one of many numbers I've had to arrange for a rock band, but never mind.)

As I think I've written on this LJ before, I'm a longtime fan of Greta Christina, the beautifully outrageous atheist/queer/feminist blogger who has earned an honored place in the atheist blogosphere. (Very likely the queer and feminist blogospheres, too, but I'm not in a very good position to know.) My favorite GC blog post (and I know I'm not alone) is "Atheists and Anger," which is a must-read for anyone who is mystified at online atheists' fervency and wants to understand where we're coming from. If you start that one, make sure to read all the way through!

Greta has put up another thought-provoking post, this one titled "What Convinced You?" A tiny snippet:
So I'll ask again: If you're a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer -- what changed your mind?

I posted a response in comments, and it was long enough that I thought I could get an LJ post out of it. Here 'tis:
"There can't be any such thing as 'right' or 'wrong' without God."

I heard that line (for the first time? I'm not sure) as a 17-year-old exchange student in Germany, during a discussion session that the local CVJM (read: YMCA) club had set up for high school kids, including the members of my host family, in the basement of the local evangelische (Lutheran) church. Those zany Germans!

The liberal Protestantism of my upbringing had been melting for a few years by the time I showed up at that CVJM meeting; in hindsight, my theism was on its last legs already. Actually, I think the thorough liberalism of the clergy who taught my Sunday School and confirmation classes back here in the U.S. (they absolutely bent over backwards to avoid nasty fundamentalist messages and interpretations and to endorse ones that were more in keeping with modern science and ethics) delayed my deconversion by many months.

The two clergymen (one Protestant, one Catholic) who attended the CVJM meeting that evening were much like my ministers back home: genial, liberal, quick to concede respect for other viewpoints (including skeptical ones) rather than stand and fight. And that last was tested, because the meeting included three or four staunch, open skeptics among the students in attendance.

Besides the minister and the priest, the only person at the gathering who was over 20 years old was Jochen, a big 30-something guy who was a CVJM administrator/youth group leader/etc. He had no time for the clergymen's passivity; frustrated by the nonbelieving kids who were spouting off, he declared adamantly that "There can't be any such thing as 'right' or 'wrong' without God."

I remember an internal feeling of utter revolt--that's just obviously not true. I barely said a word during the entire discussion (it was being conducted in fast, colloquial German, and I felt lucky to be able to keep up with it just listening), but I walked out of that building and realized that I didn't believe in God.

Unlike the squishy liberal Christianity I grew up in, that statement in that discussion presented me with a picture of reality that I flatly knew to be false. The shock of that moment forced me to face squarely the doubts that had been eating away my (largely unexamined) faith for a long time.

It was a few years later that I went to college--and, not incidentally, onto alt.atheism--and started finding plenty of words to put to my beliefs and doubts. That night in Germany, though, was the crucial moment for me.

It occurs to me now that, had I been born ten or so years later, the Internet would have changed this story drastically. Rather than waiting until I was 17-19 to stumble onto both hard-core fundamentalist Christianity and serious, well-thought-out atheism, I would have run into this stuff online much earlier in my life. Possibly this is hindsight bias talking, but I suspect I would have dumped Christianity at a much earlier age in that case. Hell, my guess is that that CVJM meeting is now reenacted over and over again, thousands of times a week, in chatrooms and blogs all over the 'Net. Goodness knows that there are plenty of Jochens around, only too happy to present questioning kids with a stark (read: crazy fundy) picture of what they're considering.

Am I off base in hypothesizing that the Internet has caused atheism to grow at much faster rate over the past decade or so than it ever had before?
What do you think?
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