I'd have blogged about this yesterday if I'd had a spare breath to draw--as it is, I'll have to do a quick and dirty on it. Someone sent PZ Myers a scan of an image from The Watchtower which warns about potential dangers to your faith which may seem innocent at first. Number two on the list is "A well-intentioned teacher urges you to pursue higher education at a university." PZ is flip about it, as you might expect, and he has every reason to be so, since a large part of his argument against religion is that it can't stand up to rational argument. And he's right. I'm living proof.
I've written before about growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, purveyors of the magazine mentioned above--in fact, I'll have a book of poems coming out next year (barring severe budget cuts--fingers crossed! (yes, a superstitious move in a blog about rationality--how many more digressions can I make?)) that chronicle some of those experiences. But when I left the church, it was in large part due to the fact that I started attending college when I was 26.
I had the purest of motives--I was married and stuck in a dead end job and I'd gotten a repetitive-motion injury in my shoulder and elbow. I needed another career, and the Witnesses had mollified their stance on college education ever so slightly, so I jumped at the chance. I was a Chemistry major, and one of my first classes was Zoology, taught by the pre-med advisor, a short, squat Cajun man who didn't use the book. Instead, you showed up at the beginning of class to face a chalkboard full of terms--this was the outline for his lecture, and he tested on his lectures. He also gave us outside research for our exams--and the first subject was Australopithecus afarensis, aka Lucy. Mind you, I was a good Witness who thought he believed the Witness version of creation--a modified young earth view--(they believe the earth is ancient, but that humans are only 6000 years old) so this research took some processing.
At first, I used the standard creationist dodge--I'll write what I have to for the exam, but I believe the Bible. But it didn't work, because so many other contradictions started popping up, and when I told Elders in my congregation I was having problems reconciling this stuff, they told me to pray for more faith. They didn't try to refute what I was learning--they asked me to bathe in more ignorance.
This wasn't the only thing that caused me to leave the church--I was physically tired all the time from being a full-time student, a full-time worker, a dad and a Witness, and my marriage fell apart at the same time. This was the final straw more than the catalyst. But it gave me yet another reason to start questioning what I'd believed my entire life, and opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time--all this new stuff to learn, but all tinged with uncertainty. It was a heady drug for someone who'd reveled in absolutes his whole life. I've never looked back.