My given name, Jaban, is derived from the name of the king of Hazor, who commanded the iron chariots. This website struck a chord with me immediately, as it highlighted the irony of what my parents had named me. It was a sort of coup de grâce for religion.
Life and religion
I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. From the age of 20, I worked toward the goal of becoming a full-time preacher, studying the New World Translation (The Bible, as edited by Jehovah's Witnesses) and other pseudo-scientific sources to more effectively argue my point to non-believers.
I was fairly ineffective as a preacher, as I honestly attempted to understand why my opponent thought what he did (at least sometimes) and correct it, instead of simply dismissing those who made valid points. Invariably, I eventually started to recognize various inconsistencies in the teachings of my church.
Why I Believed
I was raised with the belief from when I was born. But I also have the best reason I think anyone could have for believing...
When I was sixteen, I got very sick. I eventually ended up in the hospital, and was diagnosed (by real doctors) with stage IV Ewing sarcoma. It was a very aggressive cancer in a late stage, and a tumor was wrapped around my spine such that they couldn't operate on it. An oncologist from a hospital nearby was asked to come in to give a second opinion - he came in, talked to the doctors, redid the CT scans and blood tests, and confirmed the diagnosis.
Without immediate chemotherapy I wouldn't survive more than a few days. Even with it, they expected I'd only extend my life to a few weeks (5% survival was 8 weeks; it's far higher nowadays). I could go home and spend some time with family, or stay in the hospital and perhaps be one of the lucky ones. My parents and I decided to try treatment.
I prayed that night, of course. I promised that if I lived through treatment, I'd spend the rest of my life doing whatever I could to spread the word.
The next morning, after several friends had a chance to come say goodbye, I was sent to a hospital better equipped to deal with aggressive treatment of children. At that hospital, the doctors monitored my temperature, did a few blood tests, hooked up an IV, but didn't do anything major. The next day they did a short CT scan and hooked up another IV (it was blood thinners), but still no cancer treatment. On my third day there, my mom finally got in touch with the doctor in charge of my case and asked when I was starting chemotherapy.
The answer was, "why would Jaban need chemotherapy? He doesn't have cancer."
The nurse at the first hospital didn't send my chart along with me. They did some tests because I had been sent there in an ambulance as if it were urgent, but they didn't have a clue what they were looking for. They had determined the first day that I had a blood clot in my leg (thus the CT scan) and that the flu had caused an infection in my blood and spine. Both were caused by serious, chronic conditions, one of which had only been published a month before, but neither was life-threatening. Some blood thinners and antibiotics and I'd be home in a few days.
So there we are. An aggressive cancerous tumor in my spine, and a confirming second diagnosis made by a more qualified doctor. It wasn't a self-diagnosis, it wasn't a quasi-qualified doctor making a common misdiagnosis, and it wasn't cured by medicine but attributed to God. I wasn't likely to live whether I got treatment or not. I asked God to let me live, and the next morning I didn't have cancer anymore.
So I believed.
To those who would try to convince me with their own story:
My experience is more convincing than any other faith healing story I've heard, and I no longer consider it evidence enough to believe. You can imagine how I feel about the story of God healing your back pain.
The Path to Disbelief
My doubt about their divine inspiration started with the church's regulation of Internet use, which in my view was driven by a fear of technology and of the unknown (I had been using the Internet long before they learned about it; I knew their claims against it were baseless). As I looked into inconsistencies further, the pseudo-scientific information I had been fed was slowly corrected, from the history of my own church, to the history of the Bible's authorship and compilation, to how scientific investigation is done, to the profound explanatory power of the Theory of Evolution.
So their baseless fear and misunderstanding of technology (and subsequent regulation of it) led me to question them, which led me to other sources of information, and resulted in my eventual dismissal of religion as a whole. So, in the end, them acting on their fear of technology led to exactly what they feared the technology itself would lead to. Sweet irony.
The breaking point
At about the age of 25, when I no longer believed in the divine inspiration of of the church's leaders and teachings, but still thought religious belief useful, I started to realize that the method of teaching was very manipulative.
Potential recruits seemed very susceptible to having their questions "changed", in that the answer was delayed until the teacher had manipulated them into thinking their question was something else. A straw man, of sorts. Convince the person that they asked a different question than they did, and answer that one instead. This wouldn't work on everyone, but it worked on the type of people they wanted to recruit.
I also saw that the teachers themselves did not (usually) realize they were doing it. Instead, the books produced by Jehovah's Witnesses for studying with non-members are written as such. They are designed to present information in a particular order, often over the course of several months, to accomplish it. Preachers are taught to avoid answering certain things until they come to the chapter that answers it.
With some consideration, I concluded that this could only have been intentional. And, in short order, I came to realize how intellectually dishonest the religious organization was, and how destructive their method of teaching was to otherwise honest inquiry.
This realization is what eventually led me to finally end my involvement with the church.
My beliefs today
Seeing that is an important part of who I am now.
I am an atheist, and have become somewhat of a pessimistic skeptic (I try to avoid denialism, but it's sometimes a fine line). I outright disbelieve any claims of supernatural intervention, and am highly skeptical of seemingly unfounded claims and positions (refer to the "Baloney Detection Kit") regarding nutrition and health, alternative medicine, some environmentalist movements, even skepticism itself.
Beliefs on the supernatural
I am an agnostic atheist, in much the same way Richard Dawkins describes. I cannot remain intellectually honest and say that I know with certainty that there is no god. But I also can't say that I know with certainty that I do not live in the Matrix or that the sky is blue or that there are no flying reindeer. But to the degree that I do not believe the infinite number of other possible things I have absolutely no reason to believe, I do not believe there exists anything supernatural.
I base my acceptance of supernatural claims on the famous words of Tim Minchin: "Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic."
In fact, I might even say that I believe in the supernatural slightly less so than many other possibilities, because the supernatural ideas come with a historical baggage. We know approximately where the idea of Yahweh came from and how it has changed throughout history. Gods 'exist' only due to the history of belief in different gods. I think that makes their actual existence less plausible.
Basis in practicality
I see many arguments fail to move forward due to a lack of distinction between absolute and practical certainty. So I'd like to make that distinction here.
Practical certainty is when an idea fits into a logical model which does not also allow the acceptance of ideas which, if accepted, would necessarily falsify the body of more rigidly tested ideas. In other words, one can say he is certain of an idea, for practical purposes, if it does not require he accept any other ideas known to be untrue.
The failure, then, is when one creates an imprecise logical model to allow the acceptance of an idea, and does not test the model thoroughly enough to see if it requires the acceptance of contrary ideas.
Here is an example:
If someone argues that I cannot possibly know that Jesus didn't walk on water, I concede. They mean for knowledge to entail absolute certainty. All I have is practical certainty: if I accept that he did walk on water, my logical model would allow the acceptance of all claims, including conflicting ones. It is much more practical to reject the claim that he did.
I remind my opponent that his definition renders the word "know" meaningless. We might just as well stop using it and come up with a new word. Also, he should recognize that conceding that an idea is not an absolute does not put it on level ground with the contrary idea. Accepting that my "knowledge" of the non-existence of flying reindeer is a practical certainty only, not an absolute one, does not mean that is just as valid to believe that they do exist.
That may be why it's difficult for fundamentalists to change their view on any aspect of their religious belief:
- They see practical certainty as equivalent to uncertainty. If the contrary opinion cannot be proven to an absolute certainty (which is impossible), then it is viewed as equally valid to any opinion.
- Their definition of certainty requires that, if they reject the idea that Jesus walked on water, they must reassess everything they believe.
So there you are. My two cents.
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