Victoria NeuroNotes

Into the Gray

What the Hell Was I Thinking?



I wasn’t.


It’s been about 10 years since my deconversion from Christianity, and I am still flabbergasted, even embarrassed, that I bought into this belief system.  However, because I understand (after 10 years of research) the power of indoctrination, I’m not as hard on myself as I was when I first deconverted.  Still — I can cringe (reminded of how I was too trusting, obedient, and seriously lacked critical thinking skills) when I’m following religious debates.  It’s like tedious familiarity.


Critical thinking


An excerpt from:  Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking. — Michael Scriven & Richard Paul


Another Brief Conceptualization of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.   People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.

They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest. They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society.  At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so.  They avoid thinking simplistically about complicated issues and strive to appropriately consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement.  — Linda Elder


A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively, comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.  — Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008




Author: NeuroNotes

Victoria predominately blogs about religion, and the brain's role in religious type experiences.

78 thoughts on “What the Hell Was I Thinking?

  1. If I could like it a million times I would. Where’s the damn love button?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What the hell was I thinking?” – I rarely know.

    BTW & FYI, under “Categories” (above), it’s Barker, not Baker —

    Oh, almost forgot, good post.

    Miller time!


  3. It’s been longer than that for me. But, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that to understand religion absolutely, to be able to see through its guise and deceit, it is prerequisite to have lived it. Intimacy reveals like no other. Don’t be embarrassed be proud. You past, where others fail. Too many succumb and never recover—this is why; after all, religion was constructed, to entrap, control, limit, and direct thought; to divide people, to create wars. It is a weapon of the elite.


    • Well said, Peter, and thank you. I’m not down on all religions, just those that, as you mentioned, aim to entrap, control, limit, direct thought, divide people, and create wars. Not to mention, fuck with your head and self-worth. Most do. Glad you made it out, too.


      • “[Some religions] fuck with your head and self-worth. Most do.”

        I am able to look myself in the eye (in the mirror) in a way that I never could when I was a believer.

        I still wrestle with self-image issues, though. There is a big part of me that is still so used to beating down positive self-thoughts, and self-love or sometimes even self-like, that it is hard to be objective when such thoughts come up now. I don’t want to be full of myself, but I do want to be able to make a fair, even-handed, rather objective assessment, and to embrace the positive, and improve the negative.

        The very concept of loving myself still seems so foreign, and not virtuous to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Very nice, V. I especially like the ending comment by Dan Barker!


  5. Fantastic post! I hadn’t seen that Dan Barker clip before. Perfect.


  6. I Was Traumatized by Christian Dogma: I Won’t Do the Same to My Child
    A new father reexamines the destructive Christian dogmas he experienced as a child.

    Excerpt from page 2:

    “Stockholm Syndrome frequently manifests when a captor strips the victim of all forms of independence, self-worth and dignity, alternately terrorizing and offering kindness to the victim. The victim embraces the kindness and views the captor as giving life simply by not taking it.

    Evangelical Christianity employs the Stockholm Syndrome to full effect. God gains obedience and worship by reminding humans of their utter unworthiness, dangling them over hell, and then ‘saving’ them, in exchange for submission, from the very torments he threatens.

    I pondered these dogmas with the newly acquired insight and sensitivity of a father. As a vulnerable child, these dogmas had repeatedly attacked, and ultimately destroyed, my self-image and sense of intrinsic value. As early as my pre-teen years, I struggled with low self-image, depression and suicidal ideation. Now it was unmistakably clear: my religious upbringing was the cause.

    For the first time in my life, I understood how abusive, degrading and destructive those dogmas had been. All of my indoctrination, prayers and Bible study had not made life any fuller or more enjoyable, or my character any more empathetic and soft-hearted. Rather, the shame with which I was indoctrinated robbed me of the ability to enjoy life at an early age. It had made me super-sensitive to perceiving ‘sin’ in myself and others, hardened me to much of humanity, and made me quick to misjudge outsiders. The fear of hell and the devaluation of earthly and present things made it impossible for me to live in the moment.

    Yet I, like so many victims of abuse, became an ardent defender of my abusers. I had sublimated my suppressed rage into Christian activism, intent on doing battle with the ‘world’ and fiercely defending the faith.

    Using the hammers and cudgels of fear and shame, the pedagogues of my youth had shaped me into a ‘believer,’ at war with myself and at war with the world.” More


  7. Some very good quotes here Victoria. That last Dan Barker quote is a popular one (I think Arch among others have pasted it in comments) and I’ve always appreciated the wisdom in that. I can also relate a lot to the video by Dan Barker – the whole idea of hell always created some deeply troubling cognitive dissonance for me while I was a Christian. My own way of dealing with it back then was “while it doesn’t make sense to me, perhaps there is some good reason God has for it”. Unfortunately I realize now that absolutely anything at all can be rationalized with that thinking, which can make for a very dangerous world to live in.

    I would say though that I don’t think you or I or others need to feel any embarrassment over what we believed. Not that I never have that feeling – but the funny thing I’ve noticed is that I feel more embarrassed by it when I read atheists online who put down others for being Christian. So at least for me that embarrassment is coming from others, and their judgments don’t enhance my life so I try to drop it out of my head. Actually, I think that the quote from Linda Elder that you put in this post (especially some of the stuff in the second paragraph) has some reasons for why I don’t think we need to feel embarrassed. Existential, or ultimate questions about life are very complex and in that I believe there’s some room for understanding of the differing viewpoints of others (and our old selves are in a sense “others” now).

    Surprisingly enough, I think a video of Sam Harris can also help us view others and ourselves in a more graceful way:

    While I can’t say I’ve worked through all of the confusing paradoxes that may exist in the whole discussion of free-will and determinism, I was surprised when I listened to that video a while back and saw some very interesting points that Sam had relating to how we view others and ourselves. In fact, this was one of the things that I thought was a big benefit of dropping the Christian worldview – I no longer felt like I had to view others as somehow lower than me. Everyone became equally human and I loved that. I know there’s always caveats to that as well as to everything I’ve written here, but in general it’s the kind of thing I hold on to above my other views. I’d recommend the entire video, but since it’s pretty long, I’d say the question/answer part could be dropped. I hope through thinking about all that you can enjoy learning to cut your former self even more slack than you’ve already given her. 🙂


  8. “I thought was a big benefit of dropping the Christian worldview – I no longer felt like I had to view others as somehow lower than me. Everyone became equally human and I loved that.”

    Howie, we are again on the same wavelength. Carmen shared an article with me this past week on free will, and I also watched a video which quoted a lot of what Harris says about free will. As someone very interested in neuroscience, I’ve come to realize that free will is as Harris states, an illusion, an incoherent idea. I’ve also watched clips from this very lecture, but I will watch this video in its entirety if I haven’t already.

    As a Christian, one of the embarrassing parts for me was not that I once viewed others as somehow lower than me, but I feared they would be “lost”, especially my loved ones. It was such a huge burden to carry. It was drummed into me, and the bible clearly stated that the path was narrow and there would be few who cut the mustard.

    During my Christian years, I wasn’t privy to the vast amount of information we have now from distinguished biblical scholars and archeologists. However, my deconversion came about because of ethical reasons. For one, as a parent, I would never, ever condemn my child in the way that the biblical god would, simply because I didn’t give this god enough attention and/or misbehaved. When parts of my frontal lobes came back online, just thinking about a blood sacrifice being required literally turned my stomach. Belief is complex and I can understand why aspects of it evolved. But indoctrination is powerful and many people succumb to it.

    I will also mention that in my offline world, I am not vocal about being an unbeliever unless I’m asked. After leaving Christianity, I gained a greater respect for life, and a closer connection to humanity. I wished these discussion weren’t necessary, but in the U.S. and other places around the world, authoritarian religion is intrusive, invasive and discourages questioning and critical thinking, especially with children.


    • You’re so right – it is sad, but these discussions are definitely necessary. Unfortunately some religions are a harm to humanity. Some outright violently harmful, and some just harmful to our pursuit of a proper understanding of reality.

      A bit off topic, but your mention of children reminded me of an NPR clip I heard a few weeks ago that reminded me of your blog. Here it is:


      • Howie, that was a fantastic link. I’ve done a lot of research in this area and I’m quite familiar with the website Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. I’ve posted several videos from there. This was yet another nail in the coffin of authoritarian religions, such as the Abrahamic faiths, when I did an in depth study about brain development.

        If people believe that the bible, for example, is the word of God, then this god caused the very social ills “he” blamed humanity on. Then you have stupid religious corporations and extremely stupid Supreme Court justices claiming that companies can now deny women insurance coverage to ALL contraceptives because it goes against their “sincere religious beliefs”. WTF? How about seeing the bigger picture here. Such idiots. Don’t even get me started.

        I’ve seen the brain scans of children with attachment disorders. Here’s what happened in recent decades when a dictator in Romania denied women their reproductive rights (just like what’s happening now in the US because of religious conservatives).

        What’s interesting about this is that Nicolae Ceausescu was one of the ten children of a poor family. His father abused him horribly. As a dictator, he not only refused women reproductive rights but also made attaining a divorce much more difficult. This dictatorial mindset is prevalent in conservative Christianity and the RCC.


  9. Stunning post Victoria. Just be glad you got out, came to your senses like we did. That’s how we learn (the ones that do want to). Others prefer to float around in the clouds with their god. No guilt necessary. We grow up with beliefs like that and believe the people we thought we could trust and believe. Luckily at some stage we realise we can think for ourselves. 😀
    ♥ Hugs ♥


  10. Do not be too hard on yourself. Feeling shame is stiffeling! Feel proud that you have left those beliefs behind and ….started thinking 🙂


  11. Great, thought provoking post!


  12. Hi Victoria,

    I am amazed and impressed by your forthrightness and honesty. If I were you, I wouldn’t be too hard on myself. I don’t know your whole back ground, but I could see you “falling into the religious trap” 1 of 2 ways. Either you were indoctrinated as a child or you were “born-again” as a young adult as a way of dealing with some kind of trauma or unpleasant situation or something like that. (In the same manner that so many convicted felons suddenly “find god” AFTER they get to prison.)
    The most important thing is that you recognized the fallacious nature of religion and discarded it. Rather than be embarrassed that you were taken in by this fraudulent, coercive phenomenon, you should be proud that you’ve seen through it and no longer accept it.


    • Very well said, Ashley!


    • Ashley, what an incredibly thoughtful and insightful comment. Yes, you really honed in on the major reasons people get so deeply indoctrinated. But I truly believed in love, goodwill and the possibility of peace on Earth. I thought that Christianity was representative of that — that is until I started studying the bible, its history and learned otherwise. It was a bitter pill to swallow. It’s an authoritarian religion. What good that comes from Christianity is due to good people, not Christianity.

      Thank you for your comment.


      • I found this extremely interesting: The Backfire Effect – think you will too.


        • Arch, great article. I’m so glad The Backfire Effect, as detailed in the article, didn’t have a hold on me for my entire life, although having curiosity, a thirst for knowledge and humanitarian values, did play a major role in leaving my religion/belief system. I took that scripture to heart “study to show thyself approved unto God…” 2 Tim 2:15, and that command literally backfired.

          Oh the irony. 😀


          • ““study to show thyself approved unto God…” 2 Tim 2:15” – that’s unusual for the Bible, most verses relating to knowledge imply that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing.


            • Ha — just goes to show you that Paul *cough* I mean another writer claiming to be Paul, did a great disservice to the belief system (well for some). I will say, however, that this shyster knew that repetition, repetition, repetition was key to indoctrination. Believers, who take that scripture seriously, play a major role in indoctrinating themselves.


      • “What good that comes from Christianity is due to good people, not Christianity.”
        That’s basically the crux of my argument that I’ve been having with friends and family – none of them religious in the slightest – for several years, to no avail unfortunately. I can’t seem to get them over the hump of “just because someone is religious, and is a good person or does good things, doesn’t mean that Christianity (or Islam or Brand X religion) is good or benign or helpful or contemplative or compatible with democratic social society.”

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I just sort of picked a previous month at random and a post at random. It seems like I’m not going to find too many uninteresting ones. lol

    Indoctrination is terrible and having a child has really reinforced my humanism and atheist views. I watch him and he is an atheist. He has no need to pray. He fears no eternal punishment, he does not need a greater purpose to why he is here. He knows he is loved by mommy and daddy, and he as this amazing world unveiling before his eyes. And he is a scientist and critical thinker. He makes mistakes, he comes to the wrong conclusion. But he keeps testing, he corrects mistakes, he finds inconsistencies and gets more proficient at whatever he wants to do each time. I can understand parents want to teach morals to their children, even if they think they are divinely given, but what I cannot fathom is why parents would suppress questions from the young. Almost universally every story I hear from those who have left their faith are stories about how when they had questions that Pastors, or Reverends, or friends and family could not answer by their faith, they were simply told that asking such questions were wrong, sinful even and that one must simply have faith. They try to kill the critical thinker in us. They try to kill the scientist in us. I truly believe at the heart of religion is simply an attempt to try and explain a complicated world that is as beautiful as it is terrifying. At the heart of religion is an attempt to help us deal with loss and grief, to comfort us in deep darkness, and to inspire us to greater glory. At the heart of religion is a desire to bring together a kinship of all those who are seekers. This is all science really is, endlessly seeking. But the heart get’s ripped out when seeking ends. When men try to rest on the laurels and think that all the answers have already been found. That is when religion becomes dangerous, when seeking is seen as bad, and those who ask questions are persecuted instead of supported. Most of the best people of faith that I know are ones who have discussions with people of different points of view, who ask questions, and even if they are somewhat biased when they try to answer them they don’t inherently find it to be a bad thing.

    There is little I can add to what others have said about how amazing it is that you persevered through your indoctrination to keep asking questions and not settling until those questions were answered to your own satisfaction rather than somebody else’s. Many people I think give up the fight, afraid to lose friends and family in the process. It’s a all to valid fear in many cases. Excommunicating themselves from friends and family is no easy decision to make. Here you are – smart. strong, compassionate, and trying to inspire and educate. What more should we ask for out of any good human. 🙂


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