Monday, August 1, 2011

The Bolted Door

Don't let your mind be a prison.
My first few whispers of doubt about Christianity began during my later years of high school, but what I haven't yet mentioned was my peculiar reaction to these feelings. I could have been curious about my doubts, or even frustrated with them, but instead I was afraid of them.

Why would doubts inspire fear? Because if they led me astray I would suffer an agonizing eternity in hell. So, I figured, why risk such a horrible fate at all? The easy solution was to suppress these doubts for the sake of securing salvation. This is why hell is surely the most powerful tool that Christianity has at its disposal: not only does it cause people to convert in desperation, it makes questioning dogma the most dangerous thing one can do. It produces vast quantities of intellectual dishonesty by causing people to value the adoption and preservation of certain beliefs over truth itself. (If it's not obvious why truth is a valuable goal, this post from Eliezer Yudkowsky may be of help.)

Perhaps I implicitly sensed the direction in which I was heading, because at times I imagined some future version of myself who no longer believed: a hazy figure, grinning, wreathed in shadow. Not evil, necessarily, but somehow turned over to the dark side, hopelessly misguided, a heathen and proud of it. I was determined not to become this person. At that time, of course, my perception of nonbelief was seriously warped. As far as I can tell, my life isn't enveloped in some kind of spiritual darkness, and if I'm misguided, I can at least take solace in the fact that I've honestly and carefully sought the truth.

For over a decade, it never even occurred to me to take a skeptical approach to my faith. But for a few years after that, I stuffed the skeptical outlook away behind a bolted door in my mind, guarded fiercely by images of fire and brimstone. It's both surreal and sad to think that I once consciously feared becoming the person I am today. And in response, I have resolved not to fear the possibility of being religious again in the future. I'll use logic and critical thinking to examine the information that comes my way, and I will accept whatever conclusion follows. It's a mentally demanding way of approaching the world, but when you follow this principle, truth prevails.

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