At night, when we first crawl into bed, I often get a spurt of energy and start blathering on about interesting things I read about that day. Obviously, with yesterday's post, I had been reminded of quite a few interesting things about ancient cities. So I casually asked my husband if he knew that Damascus has had people living in it since 9000 BCE? I told him I had watched a lecture (I did) about ancient cities and that was one of the things I hadn't know. I knew it was old, but was unaware how old. Then I talked about Eridu and Uruk and Ur, all information I had known. He asked a number of questions concerning what kinds of societies they were (where they really cities?) and whether the cities existed at the same time. Finally, after laying there silently he says, "I really need to read some more stuff about ancient history. Scholarly stuff that isn't religious." Really? Why's that? I asked. Then he talked a bit about how all the information he knows about antiquity has always been viewed through the lens of the Bible. He doesn't remember going into a lot of detail about ancient cities when he was in public school, but all the suplemental information he has read since then has been completely rooted in religion. These books talked about places like Ur and Damascas, but told a Biblical narrative that obviously didn't always fight actualy archaeological findings.
Now, my husband is not a young earth creationist and never has been. He accepted fairly early on in his life that science had already answered the question of how old the earth was. The Bible was answering the why. His parents, although certainly more literalist in their Biblical interpretations, never refuted this. So he grew up feeling like God, evolution, and the Bible were completely compatible. Yet he was also taught that all the stories in the Bible were true. That there was a real Adam and Eve who had only two sons, one of which was murdered, and the story goes from there. A flood that covered the entire earth seems a bit silly, but perhaps one that covered the entire region. But if what I am saying is true about these early civilizations then even that cannot be accurate.
See, what I have learned in the past two years of being non-religious is that when you talk about these things, you just leave religion and the Bible out of it. Nowhere in our night time conversation did I say, "Well, Damascus is super old so obviously young earth creationism is out. As are some of the Bible myths." That would have immediately put him on the defensive, as it should. When my mother now says that God completely changed her, I ask, "How so? I mean I know you quit doing drugs but you still had some pretty bad anger management issues." Well, she sputters, no one is perfect. Sure, but that's not what you said. You said that you completely changed and became a different person, yet you still struggled with many of the issues you struggled with before you converted to Christianity. I am not denying her conversion story only asking a very simple question to which she doesn't have a good answer for. Her response was an immediate, "I'm telling you, I was completely changed." I am not sure if she actually believes this or if she is just trying to convince herself that it is true.
Also, one of the plus sides of being in the closet with most of the people in my life is that I can ask questions about religion and people aren't on the defensive because they assume I am coming from the same place as them. So I can question things like slavery in the Bible without coming across as an atheist trying to poke holes in religion. I can talk about prayer and healing, which makes me seem like a religious person who is just seeking answers. But within that, it makes the other person think as well. But one has to be patient with these things, just like the Christians who evangelize, one cannot expect these nuggets of doubt to work right away. And the deeper the person is entrenched the harder it will be for them to climb out. If they never fully climb out, like my husband, this is okay with me because at the very least he does not deny science and doesn't take the whole Bible literally. That will have to be enough.
I have mentioned before that one of the driving forces behind my slow deconversion was the lack of archaeological and historical evidence to back up many of the Bible's more fantastical stories. This is not to say that I think every story is a falsehood or that the myths are not rooted in some historical fact, only that there is much more evidence that suggests they are nothing more than a compilation of myths for a small group of very real people to sound important.
When I was seventeen, I started writing a book. It was my first attempt at novel writing so it turned out to be a learning experience, but the research I did for the book proved to be instrumental in my personal growth. My book was supposed to be about a girl who had been genetically engineered by "Atlantians" (of a sort) who stumbled upon the fountain of youth. This longevity was soon seen as an abomination though and the girl was abandoned, forced to wander throughout the eons. A vampire without the blood sucking. Now, I was in full fundamentalist Christian mode at this point. I looked up when the Great Flood was supposed to have happened, figuring I would begin the story sometime after that. As you might suspect, I immediately ran into problems. The Great Flood, according to Creationists occured anywhere between 4500-3500 BC. depending on old they think the earth is. But that couldn't be right. I was running into all kinds of information about civilizations that were either thriving or just beginning in that time period. I asked my dad about this and suddenly the earth went from 6,000-7,000 years old to 10,000 years old. But this still didn't work as there hasn't been a civilization in history where the entire region/city was completely destroyed leaving no survivors, despite what the Bible claims. It wouldn't be possible for the flood to happen in 4500 BC and for Damascus to still be inhabited at the same time. Suddenly, at seventeen, I was learning about an entire world history that had been completely closed off to me by my Christian textbooks because they didn't fit the literal interpretations of the Bible. I had never been taught about "cavemen" because, according to the Bible, there were no cavemen. I stumbled upon Chinchorro mummies who would predate the flood by a few hundred years. Mummies that clearly had never been underwater. Of course, I know that creationists will just say that the dating is off. I was taught all my life that carbon dating was hideously flawed and couldn't accurately date anything. What I wasn't taught was how carbon dating actually works and that it is demonstratable. We know how quickly carbon breaks down in different elements and therefore we can accurately date something by looking at the carbon degredation in the soil surrounding the object. At least, that is the very simplified version. Stumbling upon this information was life changing. It was also when I realized how irrational my parents were about our religion. The evidence was clear. I could no longer believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly Genesis, because it simply did not line up with facts. I didn't let go of my beliefs at that point, but I solidly moved into the evolution by intelligent design camp. Baby steps.
Some interesting civilizations of note that I stumbled upon are listed below. Some of these civilizations are older than others, but on thing was very clear to me as I studied ancient history, there was no way 8 people would have been able to populate the earth so quickly and not so widely either:
Tell Hassuna - Bet you haven't heard of this one. A settlement found in the former Ninevah Province in now Iraq, pottery has been found at Tell Hassuna that dates anywhere between 5600-5350 BCE. It was believed to be an advanced village culture with houses with agriculture, primitive irrigation, and wood-fired pottery.
Samarra - The still standing city of Samarra in Iraq is believed to date back to about 5500 BCE, eventually collapsing in 3900 BCE before being reresurrected. It is now known for the large spiral tower at its center, but at one point it was an agricultural city with trading opportunities on the Tigris. It existed during what is considered the Ubaid period. (4000–3100 BCE)
Eridu - Considered to be one of if not the oldest city in the world, Eridu was part of conglomeration of Sumerian cities with temples, houses, and agriculture that eventually become one large city. Built around 5400 BC, this is one of the few cities existing at the time that actually mentions a great flood. Of course, we all know floods can happen anywhere and nowhere does it mention it covered mountains, but this is the city that young earth creationists like to point to. What they don't say is that Eridu was founded in 5400 BCE, but wasn't abandoned until 600 BCE. Although there was some sort of deluge in their records, it appears there were a great many survivors since life and the city continued on. Additionally by 2900 BCE (anywhere from 600-1600 years after the supposed Biblical events) there were at least 4000 people living in Eridu and an estimated 14 million people living on earth.
Uruk - A contemporary of Eridu, Uruk was an ancient Sumerian city near the Euphrates river. It was part of what is considered the Uruk period, a roughly 800 year period between 4000-3200 BCE that saw a huge shift from small agricultural villages to large urban settings. At its height in 2900 BCE, it had nearly 50,000-80,000 residents making it the world's largest city of the time period. Unlike Eridu, it does not have a flood story.
Ur - Biblical scholars will actually know the name of this city since it is mentioned in the Bible. The city itsels as old as Uruk or Eridu, but strategic as it was once near the mouth of the Euphrates. There is evidence of early settlements by 6500 BCE though. They did experience regular flooding, but they did live on the coast at the mouth of a river. Interesting point to note, the Torah referes to Ur as 'Ur of the Chaldees', but the Chaldeans didn't settle the area until 850 BCE and didn't rule there until 550 BCE. It is quite possible that the mentions of Ur and Abraham weren't created until this time, which would mean that this part of Genesis wasn't anywhere near a contemporary account. Either that or the people translating the stories added their own time period flare. Either way, the version we read now would probably date around this time period, which is problematic either way.
Damascus - The site of Damascus has been occupied for a very long time, possibly back to around 9000 BCE. Yeah, you read that right. It wasn't a city yet, but people were definitely living there. This one really threw seventeen-year-old me for a loop, because up until this point I had been told that the earth was no older than 7,000 years old yet here was a city with evidence of inhabitants that was 2,000 years older than that. This was also when my dad moved the bar on me, telling me the earth was 10,000 years old.
Byblos - This city earns the honor of being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with inhabitants slowly moving in between 8800 and 7000 BCE and an actual city by 5000 BCE. For the young young earth creationists this city presents a number of problems and the only way to avoid them is to deny how carbon dating works.
Argos, Balkh, the Pulli settlement, Gobelkli Tepi, Yumuktepe, Gozlukule, Merimde. These villages and cities show us that there were continuous large groups of people that lived during a time period that some young earth creationists don't even believe exist. I could not ignore these dates and history of these places. I couldn't ignore the fact that people lived and thrived in the middle of what was supposed to be a global flood that was supposed to have killed all but eight people. I read the story again and saw it for the myth it was and although my parents didn't realize it, this was the beginning of my questioning. Today I was reminded of all this when I ran across an acquaintances post who made the claim that all civilizations had a flood story therefore the Biblical flood must have happened. But I learned long ago that not all cities and civilzations have flood stories and the ones that do usually make sense since they were near large bodies of water as was the way you commonly decided where a city was built back then. (and the drying up of said bodies of water the reason for abandonment) I want to say these people are all fools for believing this, but the truth is, this information wasn't out there for me to see. It wasn't in my history books. I didn't learn it from my parents. No one mentioned it at church. And if I was a different kind of person, one who wasn't such a reader, or someone who isn't endlessly curious, I don't know if I would have learned it either.
So give your young earth creationist friends and family a bit of a break. Be understanding of where they are coming from. Know that much of what they think they know is created by the bubbles they live in and ignorance of science. Be patient with them. Don't badger them with a million facts, but ask them nicely what they think of Eridu and when they don't know what that is, tell them some interesting facts about it. Pique their interest. If they are the kind of person who likes to learn, perhaps it will lead them to a treasure trove of information. Plant the seed of doubt. It may take eighteen years to bloom, but for those that seek the truth, it will come eventually.
I was recently listening to one of the newer The Bible Reloaded's Q&A videos and one of the questions was in regards to why there aren't more female atheists. Now, statistically the ratio of men to women atheists grows smaller by the year, but it seems that women atheists are certainly less vocal than their male counterparts. Why is this? And why are there still more men than women in the atheist community?
A couple of theories out there are that being indoctrinated into a patriarchal religion makes women less likely to reject a male god, women have been predominately less educated than men until recently, women are more group oriented than men and therefore seek out settings like a church community, women are more risk averse than men, women are forced into very specific gender roles within religious communities, a non-religious status for a woman is seen as a detriment to her being a good mother, churches cater to women, or men are more vocal and confrontational in their disbelief.
In all likelihood it is probably a little bit of all of this. But I would like to add another factor to the mix. Emotions and how religions manipulate those emotions to the detriment of women who have been socially conditioned to respond emotionally before using analytical thought. Women in the church and society are taught from a young age to embrace their emotions. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Don't be afraid to cry. Church becomes more than just a religious ceremony. It's where she cried, laughs, and is allowed to have "righteous anger" at the things of the world that hurt her. Her womanhood becomes intertwined with her religion, her virginity, marriage and children. She isn't encouraged to question or analyze her faith. The church service is geared towards creating emotional experiences so that, even if you do question, your emotional personal experiences tell you that the questions are foolish. Add to that a dash of patriarchy, a holy book that says women are subservient, and some hefty guilt centered around your feminine whiles, and it is no wonder that it is so difficult for many women to break away from the church.
I was in my late teens when I started to catch onto the emotional manipulation in the church. In psychology this is referred to as Mystical Manipulation, a concept that has it's beginning in sociology not religion. Church service usually started with an upbeat song. If the worship pastor was particularly good at his job, he would carefully craft the worship service for maximum emotional manipulation. Unlike hymns, modern worship songs are often a lot like chanting, repeating the same phrase or chorus over and over. Perhaps the worship pastor or even pastor will get up in the middle of the song and using the words of the song, tell the congregation how much they are loved. For best results, it is good if all three or four of the songs have the same theme. For a slightly ridiculous example, let's go with the theme of 'Shout to the Lord': When I Think of His Goodness, Shout, Shout it Loud, Shout to the Lord.
The songs start out fast, exciting. Get people on their feet. By the end of such a worship service, I promise even the most reluctant shouters may feel the need to let out a whoop or two. How could you not? You just spend the best part of a half hour singing about shouting to the Lord. Then the pastor steps forward and says something like, "If you love Jesus let me hear you shout! I can't hear you. Let me hear you shout! Praise God. Praise Jesus. Let's pray."
Obviously, this is an extreme example for a more charistmatic setting, but do you see all those people in the second video? These people are into it and there are a lot of them. When you are already an emotional person, being placed in a setting once or twice a week where your emotions are being cleverly manipulated in order for ultimate feelings is going to leave you on a constant emotional roller coaster. I want to state here too that I think this kind of emotional manipulation happens in almost every religion. In America, where women are expected to be irrational and emotional, it makes sense that they would also be the ones who carry religion for their families. Men are the "head of the household", but statistically speaking, it is the women who go to church and volunteer.
One of the things I used to really struggle with and still occasionally have to deal with is otherness within the female community. I don't enjoy getting my nails done or going shopping. You would have to pay me money in order to convince me to go to another god damned candle party. In church, I often felt like an outsider because I didn't fit in with the types of women who were activelly involved in church. These women seemed to live for bake sales and women's retreats. They were prayer warriors and gossips, all at the same time. They moved from one emotional high to another. Girl's movie nights centered around whatever was the newest Christian propoganda drama about marriage or heaven or praying. But I also understand that for these women, the ones who do feel a part, the church became a second home to them. A place to pour out their frustrations, to pray to a God who promises to listen and fix things, to commune with other people who feel the same way, to cry and laugh. In some respects, this can be a good thing, but I see an entire institution that uses manipulation tactics to keep people entrenched in archaic beliefs by creating carefully fabricating "experiences" and community. I used to believed I was a part of that community too, even though none of my long-standing friendships are with anyone I met in church.
Breaking away from such a community is difficult. By the time I left the church, all it had become was another volunteering obligation. I had made no lasting friendships and was annoyed by many of the women in the church. This is not the case for many women though. For my friend Loretta, the church was where she worked, volunteered, had friends, was comforted, found salvation, was prayed over, and in the end...condemned. She reached a breaking point in her thirteen year marriage where she tired of being treated like shit and instead of finding support all she found was condemnation. She knew that by leaving her husband, she would essentially have to leave behind a decade and a half of her life in the church. That takes some balls people.
Like I said in the beginning, I'm sure there are a number of factors that play a part in this and I think it is important that non-believers understand the level of emotional manipulation here. If you never believed or were never fully indoctrinated into a religion, it may seem so logical to think that all a person needs to do is open their mind, look at the facts, and they will see what you have seen. But the levels that some religions go to in order to create and keep their followers is quite powerful and it often takes a lot to break free from it.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.