Experiences of an Apostate

Apostasy and deconversion refer to related but distinct concepts in changing one's religion. They differ not only in denotation, but also in connotation and in regular usage. Apostasy is the willful, external and often public act of leaving a religion, especially a religious organization such as a church. It often suggests betrayl and even treachery by those who reject their former religion, and it is less commonly used by those who do it themselves. Deconversion, in contrast, is the unwillful, internal and usually private process of losing one's belief in the claims of religion, often over the course of many months or even years. It carries no negative connotation, and it is almost exclusively used by former believers who are now non-theists. (People who leave one religion in order to adopt another simply refer to their conversion to their new religion, and their experiences are very different from those who label themselves deconverts.)

Through discussions with other deconverts, I have discovered that my experiences in the aftermath of my deconversion and apostasy are rather dissimilar to those of many others. In particular, it seems that many believers enjoyed a considerable amount of comfort and consolation from their belief in gods and from their religious communities, and that leaving their religion resulted in a feeling of true loss. For my own part, I never felt close to God in any of his personas, nor to the saints to whom I often prayed, nor to the people with whom I worshiped every week. Deconversion was a difficult process, though certainly no more difficult than my nightmarish experiences as a scrupulant, and resulted ultimately in a feeling of freedom and peace. Apostasy was mostly uneventful, consisting only in the decision not to attend Mass, go to confession, or pray anymore, and was pleasant in that I no longer felt that I had any religious obligations which would consume my free time and interfere with my plans. At no point did I ever feel like I had lost something.

I have never been a spiritual person, even when I was a devout Catholic. My approach to religion was rationalistic and legalistic. I believed that logical argumentation proved that God exists and that miracles proved that the Catholic faith was the true religion. I never really felt faith like many do and almost never felt the spirit of God. I certainly never developed a relationship with God and never truly loved him. Then and now it appears that one is only interacting with one's own imagination and intellect. My primary emotions toward God were fear and resentment. I was deathly afraid of eternal torture and I resented him for threatening me and for simultaneously demanding that I love him. In this regard, my deconversion can be likened to finding out that a bully who has tormented you during your entire life has suddenly moved to the other side of the world, never to bother you again. God was never my friend and I didn't mourn his passing.

I have also never been a particularly social person. Although I attended Mass every week for twenty-five years, I cannot recall making a single friend from this activity by meeting people before, during, or after the service. I did make some friends from a couple other activities at church, but I was never very involved in my parish outside of my volunteering teaching a language class during my college years. (I continued to teach at the parish and help people despite my apostasy until it conflicted with my work schedule.) Church was never a real social network for me and when I stopped attending Mass, my life did not suffer in that manner either.

I consider myself fortunate not to have suffered any sense of loss upon my deconversion and apostasy. For me, they were positive experiences and the best of my life.



The Count of Monte Cristo: An Anti-Atheistic Film?

The 2002 film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all-time favorite movies. While the book itself is one of my favorite pieces of literature, I enjoy the shortened and simplified plot of the film even more than the original storyline. It presents a tale about betrayal, revenge and redemption, with plenty of action, adventure, romance and comedy. Although it hardly affects my enjoyment of the film, I find its generally theistic overtures and its negative portrayal of atheists worthy of comment. Two characters are portrayed as atheists at some point in the film:

Edmond Dantes
At the beginning of the story Dantes is a theist, presumably a Catholic, who is happy with his life. Upon his imprisonment at the Chateau d’If, he prays to God and even continues work on an inscription in the wall begun by a previous inmate which reads, “God will give me justice.” At a moment of despair, Dantes attempts to commit suicide by hanging himself with a piece of cloth, but he relents when he reads the inscription. Eventually, however, he loses his faith in God. After seven years alone, Dantes meets AbbĂ© Faria, who tunneled his way into Dantes’ cell mistakenly thinking he was moving toward the outer wall. When Faria explains that he himself has had only God as company until that moment, Dantes responds, “There is no talk of God in here, priest.” Faria asks about the inscription on the wall, and Dantes explains, “It's faded, just as God has faded from my heart.” Faria then asks what has replaced it and Dantes answers, “Revenge.” Revenge is indeed Dantes’ motive throughout the rest of the film. He strangles Armand Dorleac to death during his escape, he spends three months as a smuggler with Luigi Vampa, he tricks an innocent Albert Mondego into thinking he saved him in order to advance his motives, he entraps Philippe Danglars into committing a crime and being imprisoned, he manages to have J.F. Villefort unknowingly confess his involvement in the murder of his own father and be imprisoned, and he forces a showdown with Fernand Mondego whom he eventually kills in self-defense. Toward the end of the film, Mercedes displays her interest in a new relationship with Dantes, but he asks her not to take away his anger because that is all he has. She tells him, “God has offered us a new beginning. Don't slap His hand away.” He responds, “Can I never escape Him?” They do re-establish their relationship and he feels he has found happiness once more. Finally, at the very end of the film Dantes stands on the edge of a cliff at the Chateau d’If and acknowledges his renewed belief in God and promises to use his enormous fortune only for good from that point forward.

Armand Dorleac
Dorleac is the prison warden of the Chateau d’If, the island prison where Dantes is wrongfully held in solitary confinement for fourteen years. Although we know nothing of his history, Dorleac is portrayed as a cruel and pitiless man who mocks the idea of God. He readily admits to Dantes that he knows that all of the prisoners are innocent because only inmates of which the government is ashamed are sent to his facility. Nevertheless, he treats them viciously, giving them a severe beating on the day of their arrival and on the anniversary of their arrival each year. Before Dantes’ first beating, Dorleac says to him, “If you're thinking to yourself just now, ‘Why me, O God?’ the answer is God has nothing to do with it. In fact, God is never in France this time of year.” When Dantes counters, “God has everything to do with it. He's everywhere. He sees everything,” Dorleac responds, “All right. Let's make a bargain, shall we? You ask God for help and the moment he shows up, I'll stop.” Additionally, Dorleac scoffs at the inscription in Dantes’ cell while acquainting him with it. As mentioned above, he is murdered by Dantes during his escape.

Misconceptions and Stereotypes Reinforced

  • Atheists really do believe in God. Atheists are just angry at God. Dantes believes in God when he is happy, doesn't believe in God when he is miserable and angry, and believes in God once more when he is happy again. He references his desire to “escape” God to Mercedes.
  • Atheists are evil people. Dantes commits many violent, deceitful and vengeful acts only during the time he claims not to believe in God. Dorleac is a cruel man who beats the inmates in his prison.
  • People usually get what they deserve in the end. Dantes and Mercedes, who were both innocent of any misdeeds prior to Dantes’ imprisonment, end up happy together with their son and an enormous unearned fortune. Dorleac, Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand Mondego end up either imprisoned or dead. Faria dies in prison, but he was very old and Dantes’ return to God vindicates his opinion in the end.
Additional Comments
  • Both implied sexual encounters between Dantes and Mercedes within the film would be considered mortal sins. The first sexual encounter on the beach near the beginning of the film was fornication. According to Catholic dogma, it's sinful even though they were soon to be married. The second sexual encounter is adultery because Mercedes is still married to Fernand at the time. Again, according to Catholic dogma, it's very sinful. I also find it very odd that lying in bed after the adulterous act, Dantes stares at a painting on the ceiling of the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven without feeling awkward.
  • Dantes’ repentance is false. The audience is expected to be sympathetic to Dantes’ vengeance, especially given that Dantes would have be killed if he didn't join the band of smugglers, that Danglars and Villefort were very rightfully imprisoned, that the murder of Dorleac may have been necessary to escape, and that Fernand Mondego was eventually killed in self-defense after being allowed to flee. The audience is expected at the end of the film, however, to consider them wrong when Dantes repents of them. This presents us with a dilemma which the film does not resolve in its attempt to portray theism in a positive light: If the acts were justified, then repentance is unnecessary and thus a moral charade. If the acts were not justified, then Dantes is wrong to enjoy their fruits. He is happy with his situation, having regained his beloved, the son he didn't know he had, and an unimaginable fortune. It's simply too convenient to get what you want by sinning, repent after have gotten it, yet keep it without a twinge of conscience. One cannot expect him to reject Mercedes and Albert now, but it does not seem unreasonable that he should donate the remaining Spada treasure to charity which, while not unjustly obtained, was completely unearned, and undertake some serious repentance.
As I mentioned at the beginning, these concerns adversely don't affect my enjoyment of the film, which tells a very captivating story.



Reflections on Two Years Without God

Today is the second anniversary of my apostasy from the Catholic Church. As detailed below, I had experienced almost four months of an emotionally tumultuous deconversion by 3 October 2004. It was on that day that I attended Mass for the last time, that I found and extensively read an excellent website by a Catholic apostate which addressed my concerns quite directly, and that I decided to completely reject the Catholic faith. I have only been inside any church twice since that day: once in November 2004 to attend the baptism of one of my nieces and once in June 2005 to accompany my girlfriend who wanted to see the inside of the admittedly beautiful church where I used to be a parishioner. I have not prayed, I have not read scripture, I have not meditated, I have not repented and I have not returned to the Church at all. I have shown that I don't need any belief in the supernatural to lead a happy life.

The anniversary of another very important day occurs on either 5 June or 12 June. That was the day when I shared an enlightening conversation with a good friend, who had apostatized in the preceding years, which encouraged me to begin my investigation into the claims of Catholicism and actively pursue the doubt which had lain dormant in my mind for several years. The date is uncertain because I didn't make any written note of the conversation at the time. The earliest record documenting my religious difficulties during this time period is found on 18 June and I clearly remember the conversation taking place on a Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of a restaurant in another city during that month.

The past two years have been, without the slightest doubt, the best of my adult life. Sincere belief in the Catholic faith colored my entire existence for six years and made me miserable, full of fear, anxiety, and even loneliness. I have recounted the details in my first entry in this blog and I will not repeat them here, and I will only say that the removal of that dark, threatening cloud of doom hanging over my head alone rendered my life almost infinitely happier. Indeed, atheism itself does little to advance human happiness except by its service of demolishing the false hopes and fears of religion. Nevertheless, I celebrate my atheism for liberating me from the chains of religion and granting me the freedom to truly live in the light of reason.



I am pleased to announce that this blog may now be found using the domain SecularPlanet.org! Both .com and .info of the same name have been registered since I established this website five and a half months ago, though I doubt that my choice of names influenced the interest in those domains, and I wanted to secure this domain before it became unavailable. The domain is currently a redirect to the current host, though I am considering finding alternate hosting in the near future.



The Muslim Immunity to Irony

As though the well-publicized, disturbingly violent reactions of Muslims around the world to mere verbal and iconic criticism of Islam as a violent religion were not proof enough, I have another example of Muslim immunity to irony.

In a previous entry I mentioned that I had posted a film adaptation of my story The Judgement of God at Secular Planet Cinema. While it received some positive feedback, presumably from the nonreligious, it also soon became a favorite of some Muslim viewers who mistook my anti-religious film as a pro-Islam film simply because I used an extremely superficial assumption that Islam is true within the story in order to criticize Christianity more directly. In the film, I portrayed Allah in the most negative light imaginable: he was irrational, angry, cruel, vengeful, hypocritical, and dishonest. An educated western viewer was expected to realize that everything he said and did could also be attributed to Yahweh and Jesus, thus attacking Christianity as equally demented. Despite my having never picked up the Qur’an at the time of the story's authorship, my film met with unanimous approval from the Muslims who watched the film. I have since learned that Islamic scriptures are no less violent, intolerant, and hypocritical, simply more tedious and disorganized. The Muslims completely failed to realize that their religion was being mocked when I placed the violent words in Allah's own mouth and the violent deed in Allah's own hands, depicting him as an absolute monster! As remarkable as this was, it was not the end of the irony.

The film was originally posted at the company website of the software package I used to create the film. While it received some positive feedback, it was eventually removed by the administrators, depsite the fact that violated absolutely no terms of the service agreement, at the prompting of another nonreligious user who objected to it on grounds that it was intolerant. This person specifically cited my portrayl of Allah as an evil, idiotic tyrant in his complaint. That Muslims themselves complimented me and even praised Allah for my work is purely delicious irony. Nevertheless, this is an excellent example of moderates attempting to impede the progress of secularism by demanding, despite their own disbelief, that ancient myth and superstition be totally beyond question and criticism.

I eventually removed the film because, despite the irony, the acclaim of Muslims was not the desired reaction in writing the story.


Rental Capsule vs. Neutral Places

Although I lack the patience to create anagrams by hand, I enjoy using online anagram generators to discover alternate arrangements of letters of names of people and organizations. Due to its moderate length and the absence of uncommon letters, the name of this blog is rich with possibilities and may be rearranged into several interesting anagrams. I recently found two which deserve special comment because they represent the two opposing worldviews which are its focus of discussion and which may be found in this post's title.

Rental Capsule
This anagram represents religion. In religions with a heaven, such as Christianity and Islam, life on this planet is seen as nothing more than a temporary testing-ground for eternity. In religions with reincarnation, such as Hinduism, life is seen as nothing more as a temporary testing-ground for a future life. As such, in either case, our lives are disposable and of limited worth. Such a devaluation of human life creates an apathy toward suffering in this world and a willingness to sacrifice this life for the false promise of another life. Rental capsule thus represents theists' attitude toward their bodies and their planet.

Neutral Places
This anagram represents secularism. Religion has been a major source of violence throughout history to this very day. Religion is primary point of antagonism in Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), Iraq (Sunnis vs. Shiites), Northern Ireland (Catholics vs. Protestants), Kashmir (Hindus vs. Muslims), Sri Lanka (Buddhists vs. Hindus), Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Indonesia and the Philippines (Christians vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Catholics vs. Orthodox vs. Muslims), and the Caucasus (Catholics vs. Orthodox vs. Muslims). Let us not forget that religion is also the primary motivation behind Islamic terrorism which has struck too many nations to list. Communism in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba, promoted as irrationally and as dogmatically as any authentic religion, is the other significant source of tension and potential violence in our world. Imagine, however, a world in which these memes have all vanished: a peaceful and harmonious existence emerges as people begin to see each other as human persons and not as infidels whose very existence offends their gods. Religion is the disease and secularism is the cure. Neutral places thus represents a truly secular planet, free from religion and superstition.