Five years ago today, I wrote a welcome post for this blog. The anniversary has crept up on me, but it still feels important to mark it somehow. It was something new that I wanted to try, but I didn’t (and couldn’t) know what running this blog would come to mean to me. It’s been an interesting ride, and sometimes a frustrating one, but I wouldn’t be without it.
A personal blog
When I looked at advice about starting a blog, one common piece of advice was to find a topic to focus on, and a niche to fill. And that makes some amount of sense - it means potential readers can know what to expect. But it’s also something I consciously chose not to follow.
In the process of leaving religion, there were a few blogs from former believers that I’d found really helpful. I could’ve run a blog like that, focusing on the things I’d learned that led me to quit the family religion. I think it would have been helpful for others, particularly for those in a similar situation to the one I’d been in. And religion was in fact something I wrote a lot about, particularly in the first couple of years.
However, I didn’t want to limit myself to that. There was so much more that I wanted to write about: Personal experiences. Opinions. Things that are important to me. Things that I wanted to share.
It’s a self-indulgence, really: I write what I want to write, at whatever length I want to write it, and leave it entirely up to others whether they want to read what I’ve written. But there was also something more serious at play.
When I first started the blog, it was little more than six months since I’d officially quit religion, and three months since I’d come back from the UK and started trying to build a new life in earnest. Before that time, I’d spent years with increasing doubts, but had been largely unable to share those doubts with those around me. Even when commenting online I’d felt the need to comment under a pseudonym for fear of reprisals.
I’d spent enough time hiding. I wanted a place where I could be authentic, where I could be me. That was why I wanted a personal blog using my real name: I didn’t want to be limited in what I wrote about, and I didn’t want anyone else to be able to censor me (though I may just censor myself).
If Christadelphians did happen to read my blog, I wanted them to recognise that I was a real person, not just the stereotypical “angry atheist”. I wanted to be seen as someone who did a lot of hiking, and who enjoyed reading and learning about the world. Someone who had a full life outside of religion.
A post-religion blog
However, reflecting on how the blog has gone in the past five years, I think I do have a category for it. Yes, it’s my personal blog - but I’d also call it a specifically “post-religion” blog. It’s not just that I set it up shortly after leaving religion, or that many of the posts are about religion. My religious upbringing continues to affect me, and the way I left religion also changed the way I interacted with the world. I’ve used the blog to work through some of those things, and will continue to use it for them.
But there’s more to it than that. Leaving religion forced me to look at the world with new eyes and to try and find my place in the world (an ongoing process). It also gave me the mental space and the time to try new things, and one of those things was running a blog.
When I started the blog, I guess part of wanting to show myself a real person was to give my critiques of religion more credibility. Now I see it as something else: As a rejection of the lie they told us, the lie that there’s no way to live a meaningful life without religion.
I’ve found life much more meaningful once I was able to remove the cognitive dissonance caused by the family religion, and once I had more time to explore the things that matter to me. As I found when reflecting on the 2010s last year, 2020 me was a clear continuation of many of the things 2010 me valued, even if 2010 me wouldn’t have recognised it. The meaning was already there - I just had to recognise and refine it.
And in that sense every post here, even the ones that seem to have nothing to do with religion, make the blog a post-religion blog. It’s a place where I move past the insistence the religion should be the most important thing in my life. A place where I’m able to find meaning, discover more about the world around me, follow my interests, and live my life in my own way.
And for me that’s far more important than trying to produce the perfect critique of the religion I was brought up with. It’s not just that the religion is wrong - though I think it fatally flawed in many ways - but that it’s irrelevant to me. Sometimes I enjoy critiquing it, and I can certainly learn things in the process, but it doesn’t deserve my time.
When I left religion, people who had been through the process told me that things would get better. I wasn’t sure whether to believe them. But now I want to say clearly that yes, things can get better, and did get better for me. And this blog is one place where I can not just say that, but demonstrate it.
Nowadays, many people talk about how the Covid pandemic and the many changes it has wrought made them reconsider their life and decide what they really wanted from life. That’s exactly what I’ve felt leaving religion did for me. There are still things I could change, and things that I know I probably will change one day, but I’m comfortable that the things I’ve changed have made life better.
How the blog has changed over time
I’m sure the blog changes from post to post, but over the last five years I can see a few rough eras:
- 2017: The blog was new, and I guess I was trying to find my voice and determine which interests to focus on. I wrote a lot that year, ending up with one post a week and over 100,000 words. And I don’t know how I did it.
- 2018: The blog output slowed - it wasn’t hard getting ideas, but for some reason it was harder than it had been to find time to write about them. Then, in the second half of the year, I really dug myself into a hole with a seemingly interminable series on replacement theology. Blogging was no longer fun, and I could easily have thrown it in. But I didn’t.
- 2019 - early 2020: This was the time when I slowly made blogging fun again, with a mixture of religious and secular posts.
- March 2020 - Now: Unsurprisingly, this has been the Covid era, and I’ve written a lot about Covid (and have much more I’d like to write). I’ve tried to make sure I wrote about other things as well, so as not to drive the blog into the ground again, and I think I’ve been successful. And it’s varied over time: Sometimes I really wanted to write about it, other times I wanted to write about anything but Covid and lockdowns.
Five years ago, I don’t know what I really expected to achieve with this blog. Some of the things I mentioned in the original welcome post haven’t really turned up. They’re things that are important to me, but haven’t quite made it into published posts. I would probably have expected there to be more about history, more about music, and more about language. And maybe one day there will be.
The technology section is particularly interesting, since I am, after all, a software developer. I never wanted this blog to be a coding blog, but back then I probably would have expected to write more about technology than I actually have done. What really happened is that the process of leaving religion and building a new life accelerated what was already happening: Software development becoming less of a passion, and more of a job. As I wrote earlier this year, I’m not defined by my work (and neither are my colleagues). It still interests me, but there are just so many other important things in life.
I used to say that I had ten times as many things I wanted to write about as I actually got to write about. Well, now I think it might be more like 20 or 30 times. That can be frustrating. Sometimes it feels like I’ve no sooner started to get to grips with an interesting idea than another one pops up and demands I deal with it right now, and nothing ever gets published.
In addition, there are sometimes several weeks at a time when I do absolutely nothing for the blog. There are days when I think “This is too hard. What’s it all for? Should I just walk away from it all?” (there was one such day last week, actually, when I was looking at readership stats while preparing for this post).
I don’t know I’m ever going to write multiple posts every week on a set schedule, like some bloggers I know (it’s over two years since I last wrote five posts in a month - and that was specifically for a challenge I set myself). But I still think it’s important to celebrate the successes.
This post is my 145th post. This week is the sixth Christmas break I’ve spent trying to get final posts finished before the end of the year. It also marks the 61st month in a row that I’ve published at least one post. Sometimes that’s meant struggling desperately to finish a post on the final day of a month, but without that continued target to aim for I think the blog might have died after gaps between posts became first two months, then three months, then eventually there was no point coming back.
As it turns out, I’ve published posts on every day of the month except for the 4th (if I should happen to publish a post on 4th January, you’ll know why…). Though I wasn’t surprised to find that I’d written nearly twice the posts (and more than twice the word count) in the second half of the month than in the first half of the month.
I expect 2021 will be the fifth calendar year where I’ve topped 60,000 words in published posts (and many more in drafts 😉). And with this post I also cross 360,000 words over the five years. Yes, if I prioritised the blog higher the word count would have been higher, but it’s still a meaningful accomplishment.
It’s not just words, either: I’ve posted almost 450 pictures, most of which will be my photos, though some are going to be memes and pictures from other sources. And even that’s only a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of photos I’ve taken every year.
I’ve written posts that have been fun, and posts that have been serious (and maybe some that were both). I’ve written posts that moved me to tears, or forced me to confront some of my demons. I’ve written posts that tried to explain how I got where I am now, and posts that have shaped where I’m going next.
The top ten most popular posts have all been related to religion, and that’s not particularly surprising: Not only have I written a lot about religion, but the religion posts are the ones I’m most likely to cross-post elsewhere.
But beyond that, I’ve celebrated February 29 with click-bait and Gilbert & Sullivan. I’ve celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing with some of my favourite posts. I’ve written about new found freedom from religious taboos, while sharing continued frustrations with religion. I’ve written serious counter-apologetics, but I’ve also satirised apologetics, drawing in both Harry Potter and Dracula. I’ve written about hiking, both short distance and long, day and night. I’ve shared some of my favourite photos, and used them to demonstrate how those travels have given me meaning and something to aim for. I’ve written a carol to 2020, and even published a little poetry.
And of course, this being the time it is, I’ve written a lot about Covid, from the tongue in cheek to the cute to the religious implications of the pandemic. I’ve tried to maintain hope and set reasonable expectations in the face of uncertainty, and to keep track of how I’ve felt over the months and years.
Few of those things were on the cards when I first started the blog. But when they presented themselves to me, they made sense and I ran with them.
Welcoming commenters to the site
I started off with a very simple commenting policy - “Be nice”. It’s probably not enough, but the reality is that I haven’t had enough comments to run into serious issues, and the vast majority of commenters are people I know from other online or offline spaces anyway.
I’d mostly prefer just to publish all comments and respond personally to things that seem incorrect or completely out of line. But I also know from other sites I’ve seen that it’s easy for such things to turn into long and pointless conversations, and I don’t want to go there. In those five years, the only comments I’ve blocked have been a couple of threats of future judgement that did nothing to contribute to the conversation.
The importance of sharing
I’ve come to realise that one of my key values, at least as far as this blog goes, is sharing. I write the things I do because I want to share with others the things I’ve learned or experienced or discovered. I’d like to think it will make a difference.
And often there’s little I can do to make sure that specific posts can get to people who might find them useful. But I still like the concept of sharing those things.
This isn’t meant to be a burden - it’s meant to be trying to find ways to share with others.
Take for example my annual review posts. I haven’t managed to publish any since 2018. I really want to write posts for all of 2019, 2020, and 2021, because they all have things I want to share, and there are interesting contrasts between the years. Some of the interesting parts have come out in different posts over the last three years, but there’s still more I want to say.
It’s like with the book review posts that have been delayed six months: There are books I read each year that I enjoyed and wanted to share, and there are things I did each year that I want to talk about and share. A review post is just a convenient vehicle for it. I’d like to think they show progressively greater control of my life post religion. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. And maybe I’ll actually get to them, or maybe I won’t. Who knows?
Writing changes me
This has been one of the reasons I’ve continued with blogging. Not only does writing about things help me work through them or better understand them, but it often twists in a totally unexpected direction.
This is also part of what reconciles me to having lots of unpublished drafts - the mere act of thinking about particular topics and writing rough drafts helps me to better understand those topics, or work through those issues.
What happens is that I go to write about something that I feel I know all the answers for. And I walk away with some new and fascinating insight (and several thousand words more than I expected).
And I found that with this very post: If you’d asked me 48 hours before publishing it what this post would be about, I’d have said it was a collection of statistics. Some favourite posts. Some favourite memories about blogging.
And there has been some of that. But I didn’t really expect to be re-articulating the blog purpose, nor did I expect to be learning afresh what it might actually mean to me.
I’m not perfect
This blog isn’t going to give a complete picture of the new life I’ve built and am building post-religion, mostly because life is too short and I don’t write enough. However, that risks only sharing the best parts and making things look far smoother than they actually are. My life does include travel and hiking and photography - but it also includes mundane life tasks and mistakes and uncertainty and things that didn’t work out as I hoped. And I don’t know that I go out of my way to share those things that didn’t work out so well - but it’s important to know they’re there.
For example, one of the things I changed post-religion was to try new things. Some of those things work out really well, and I’m much more likely to want to write a post about them. But that doesn’t mean it always works out well.
I didn’t have a perfect life before I quit religion, and I don’t have a perfect life now. But I do have a good life. Part of that is due to life circumstances and quite probably due to luck, but part of it is due to the conscious choices I’ve made. And leaving religion was part of what gave me more control over my life. I want people to know that.
A new tag-line
For the past five years, I’ve had the tag-line “Understanding the world, one idea at a time”. It’s a cute tag-line, and I still agree with the concept. But after working through this post I’m not sure it represents my blog as much as I expected it to.
So, as of now I’m changing it to “Yes, there’s life after religion”. Maybe that tag-line will last another five years. Maybe I’ll get sick of it very quickly. But I do think it’s a message that I’ve found important to discover and share what it means to me.
And considering this also makes me reconsider who the audience for this blog really is. Perhaps when I started I thought that committed Christadelphians would read my carefully reasoned posts on religion and at the least see where I’m coming from. I’m not so sure now.
I hope that someone facing the kind of doubts I was would find those posts helpful to them. And if I can help to make the process easier, I will - but I think people need to deconvert themselves in their own time and in their own way.
In practice, though, I think a large part of my potential audience are people who, like me, have long since left religion. Back when I started the blog I hadn’t been out of religion for long. I didn’t understand how long it can take to shake off religious ideas and influences. How many feel the need for a community, and how helpful it can be hearing the experiences of others.
I very much doubt that anyone will follow exactly the same path I did. But I know others have found things to identify with in my story, as I have found in their stories. And I freely acknowledge that many of my ideas about finding new purpose and building a new life have been drawn from those around me, then applied in my own way to my own context.
This blog remains a personal blog - and yet it is specifically a post-religion blog. For better or for worse, the religion I was brought up with has shaped the way I viewed the world, and rejecting it has driven me in certain other directions - directions that happen to disprove some of what the religion said. I didn’t know all these things when I decided to make the blog broader than just a religion blog, and I’m sure I still have much to learn.
I don’t know where this blog will go in the next five years, but I look forward to finding out.