Today marks the sixth anniversary of my blog. Six years! I can’t believe it’s been that long. Well, in some ways, it feels like I’ve had this thing forever. In Internet years, it’s on the verge of becoming a senior citizen. So before I go further in this post, let’s raise a celebratory glass of any liquid you’ve got handy and toast to a wonderful six years of randomness, irrelevancy, and just a hint of honest sincerity. Truly disjointed thinking if ever I saw it. Here’s to another six years!
With the recent updates to my blog, I’ve gotten back to my project of categorizing and tagging my old blog entries. It’s a tedious process, but it gives me a chance to strap myself into the time machine and reflect on how much I’ve changed over the years. When I started this blog, I had just begun Grade 12. Now I’m almost finished my university life as an undergraduate. So if I may, I’d like to reflect a little bit on some of the changes that have come to pass over the last six years.
Obviously, there are the superficial, immediately obvious changes that have happened. Like I mentioned, I’ve passed from high school into university. I’ve gone from my part-time jobs at Quizno’s and Cineplex into four-month, full-time co-op jobs at places like Health Canada, WatPD, and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). I’ve gone from being a Christian to being an atheist. These are all important changes, and yet they seem to me to be fairly insignificant compared to the internal changes that have occurred.
One thing I have noticed while reading old blog posts is just how ignorant I was. In fact, it wasn’t so much the ignorance, but I was amazed at how ignorant I was of my own ignorance. There are many times when I would write things that my high school teacher had said almost verbatim, and yet somehow I thought I was coming to these thoughts on my own. I mean, I was clearly aware of the influence, but I felt at the time like I was independently thinking it through and coming to the same conclusion, rather than the more obvious interpretation that this man, to whom I had to listen for several hours each day, was essentially telling me exactly what to think. It is frightening, looking back on it now, how much I absorbed of what he said, and how willing I was to spew it out while online and in the real world. Certainly everyone needs role models, but one does not need to become a robot. That fairly pervasive influence stayed with me for years after I left his classes.
It isn’t even so much the influences that are so bad, though. I am more amazed at my willingness to express bold and extreme opinions for issues that I had never even examined in any detail. I am amazed at how sexist and homophobic I was, and how scornful I was at anyone who did not share my views. I don’t even want to link to any examples, because I am honestly ashamed that I ever typed those words onto the page. I was willing to cast judgment on people whose situations I did not even understand, and topped it off with false pity for how lost they were. Such views are simply unacceptable for anyone who thinks themselves to be committed to reason. But moreso than reason, I was committed to religion, and I have no doubt that many of the things that I said were a direct result of my religious beliefs. I hesitate to make strong statements about a concept so diverse as religion, but I will say that in many cases, religion stands for the status quo. This is true for the evangelical Christian background in which I was brought up. The explicit sermon is one of radical Christian love, but the clear message is one of disdain for anyone who does not fall within the existing social norms. At various times, this has included minorities, homosexuals, atheists, Muslims, Jews, communists, transsexuals, and of course, numerous other denominations as well that are just a little too accepting of any of these people. On top of these marginalized groups, most of the history of Christianity has included sexist attitudes as a staple feature, relegating women to the roles of housewives and baby-makers. I’m not saying that all Christians support these attitudes, but it is abundantly clear that many do. And I was one of them without even knowing it.
My attitudes have certainly changed in the past six years. I credit some of that to simply growing up—obviously I can’t expect that my teenage self should be knowledgeable about all issues. (However, I could expect that I should have been knowledgeable about the issues that I so loved to preach about.) I also credit some of that to the new experiences that university brought. When one comes into a multi-cultural and diverse community, one either retreats into a protective shell, or adapts by embracing more inclusive attitudes. Thankfully, I have learned to do the latter, though perhaps my progress was slow in that regard. I also, as you can probably guess from what I said above, credit some of the change to my change in beliefs from Christian to atheist. Once I left religion behind, I no longer felt the need to judge people for things that they had no control over, or for things that I only felt was wrong because the Bible or church said it was. However, I actually credit most of the change to something that is difficult to explain. My interest in social psychology, as well as psychology in general, helped me to understand and appreciate that many of the reasons that people act the way they do is due to external factors that shape behaviour. I gained a greater knowledge of the societal structures that continually shape the way the world works. And when one is aware of such things, it is easier to be sympathetic to the struggles that individuals face. As one example, when I realized that women can face social norms telling them that they are not supposed to be good at science and math (which starts at a young age), it can have a huge effect on what educational path they take. Thus, the later fact that a particular woman does poorly on math tests may not be due to some inborn characteristic she has, but a lifetime of social shaping that led her away from math experience. Seeing the world in this way made me see how important it was not to judge a person unless I had educated myself on the pervasive social forces that shape the world.
Let’s move away from the more abstract changes in thought processes that I’ve undergone and look at one more recent issue. A little over two years ago, I de-converted from Christianity, as I mentioned above. After this happened, I found it difficult to decide what to call myself. For a while, I stuck to the term “non-religious”, since I figured it would be least likely to produce negative reactions. I still sometimes describe myself that way, but I’ve grown more comfortable with calling myself an atheist now. I think this is essentially because the reactions I received were, for the most part, fairly calm. Certainly people like my parents weren’t happy about it, and I am sure I’ve made some people feel a little uneasy, but for the most part, people have not made a big deal about it. Now that I’ve essentially let the cat out of the bag and told most of the people that I am in contact with, it’s easier for me to use the term “atheist” to describe myself. Although it may give some people the wrong idea (since many people have the notion that atheists are certain that there is no God, rather than simply not believing in any God), it’s something that I can clarify at the time, if they’re interested. So I count this as a positive change, because I no longer feel like I’m walking on eggshells if I mention the “A word”.
To sum up, I think that for the most part the changes over the past six years have been in a positive direction. I feel more intellectually satisfied, I find myself to be more reasonable and less likely to spout off opinions for issues in which I am ignorant, and I feel less judgmental of others who are different than I am. I certainly think I have much to improve upon still, but I am glad that there has been progress from the self-centered, ignorant jerk that I was (at least at times). I hope that the next six years continue the upward trend. My goal is to continue to clarify the beliefs that I hold by seeking solid evidence and rational argumentation. If I keep doing that, then I’m sure the next six years will be well spent.