While I haven’t personally been asked this question, I’ve seen it hinted at online in various forms. I think there are quite a few different motivations for asking the question, each leading to a different answer, but I’ll try to do them all justice here.
The question as I posed it seems to come from the common assumption that atheism is just another religion. Inferior to Christianity, yes, but otherwise very similar. As a result, it is expected to have religious characteristics, things like blind faith and a need to evangelise. This question becomes: “Are you fulfilling your duty to your religion by seeking more converts?”
Another key concern is for those young, impressionable Christians searching the web, coming across the “wrong” answers, and then being led astray. When combined with the common assumption that atheists have lost all morality, that explains why we would do a thing so obviously wrong as luring someone away from The Truth. This question becomes: “Are you trying to corrupt our vulnerable young people?”
One other idea is that since we who have left the true faith are wrong, we must be feeling insecure about our position. What better way to shore up our tottering faith in our hopeless religion than convincing others to agree with us? Call that question “Do you need converts to convince yourself you are on the right track?”
But finally, there’s the undeniable fact that I am writing about religious topics on this blog when I don’t believe in them. There must be some reason for that. If the goal isn’t deconverting the vulnerable, what is it?
The short answer
No. I’m not looking for converts.
The real goal
In short, the real goal is information, not conversion.
There are many things I learned in the process of investigating and ultimately leaving religion, and I would like to share those learnings. Since religion can affect all areas of a person’s life, I want people to be able to make an informed decision about their religion and whether they believe it is correct. Of course, some of what I believe to be facts may well be considered just opinions by others, and some of what I present as opinions may be completely disagreed with.
But this is not about conversion: If people arrive at a different conclusion from what I did, that’s OK. What I don’t want is for people to come to a different conclusion because of an absence of information. Because who wants to make important life decisions only to say later “I wish you’d told me that earlier”?
Maybe some will think that the mere existence of this blog shows a rabid proselytiser out to corrupt those holding the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Or that this blog is the work of the devil, luring the children of light astray. If so, I can’t help these people. But really, if the only way to keep believers from falling away is to stop them being exposed to facts, perhaps that suggests a deeper problem?
An interesting comparison
I used to be involved with a major mission organisation, and some of the places we worked had anti-conversion laws. In truth, I don’t think we viewed those places as the heartland for our next great conversion push. However, we did sometimes interact with people from those places (maybe making initial contact through correspondence courses?), and there were some baptisms there.
So, how can you justify baptising people in a place with anti-conversion laws? I heard the policy discussed, and it boiled down to: “We don’t convert people, we merely present them the facts and leave them to convert themselves”.
As described above, my policy is similar: I just want to present facts and opinions and leave people to make their own decision. And obviously I hope others will see the same facts and come to the same conclusions as me. I would like people to agree that I’m right, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.
But before classifying me as an internet missionary, consider some of the things I’m not doing:
- I don’t go out to try and find potential converts. If people are interested in what I have to say, they must come to my site.
- I don’t believe it necessary for others to agree with me in order to be saved.
- I don’t offer correspondence courses.
- I don’t offer any social welfare programs which might encourage those in difficulty to join my club.
- I don’t keep a database of promising contacts. And I certainly don’t complain if those promising contacts get drawn back to their former beliefs by their spouse, family, or religious leaders.
- I don’t try to get converts to persuade their friends to join.
- I don’t have a Bible Missionary magazine that needs filling up with baptism counts, true conversion stories, and other indications that I’m doing everything possible to fulfil the Great Commission (in fact, I don’t have a Great Commission).
Are you looking for validation?
The simple answer is no. I don’t need other Christadelphians to agree with me and deconvert to give me confidence I’m on the right track. In fact, I think this question only makes sense to someone who thinks the Christadelphian religion is in a stronger place than I think it is.
It may sound harsh, but I suspect there are many more atheists in Melbourne than there are Christadelphians in the world. It’s not a ready made community, and there would be things I disagree with many atheists on, but my move is towards the mainstream and being an accepted part of the real world, not away from it. Yes, it probably still counts as a minority group, but not a tiny minority aiming for separation from the world like Christadelphians are.
But that’s still missing the point. I didn’t deconvert to join a different club or to be more mainstream. I deconverted based on my understanding of what was true and false, right and wrong, probable and improbable. And since that time I have found even more reasons not to believe the Bible or Christianity.
In the wider online community I have encountered many different points of view and learned from them. I can and do discuss with the hundreds of atheists who are heavy contributors on various forums I frequent. If my decisions need validation from others, that validation comes from those who can distill the wisdom of hundreds and thousands of discussions on beliefs over many years. That is much more useful than convincing a few Christadelphians that I’m right.
Ultimately, though, my choices are validated by the facts as I see them, not by how successful I am in arguing or whether other people agree with me.
I know that leaving a religion which defines your core identity and relationships can be a very painful process. If I were truly on the conversion trail, I would be forcing people to go through this who aren’t ready for it. Why would I want to do this?
I do care about facts, and I do like presenting my opinions. And I don’t want to suppress what I write for fear it might upset people. But there is no trickery and no deep master plan to save souls or take over the world.
It is not my choice what other people believe, and nor should it be my choice. If anyone reading this blog seriously thinks they should quit, do it because of the facts and because it feels right, not because I’ve got a great religion to sell you or a quota to meet. I will happily give advice and opinions (for what they’re worth), but I’m not wanting to force anyone to make that choice.