The process of a religious believer losing his religion is known in atheist circles as “deconversion.” A few years ago, John Ash Bowie posted an interesting article on his livejournal announcing his deconversion from Thelema and offering critiques of his former “religion.”
You can read his blog entry here.
Bowie, for those who don’t know who he is, is a former OTO member and a “naturalist” Thelemite, whose website Eidolons of Ash has a number of interesting essays on Thelema from an atheist perspective. His more recent work concerns “religious naturalism,” and you can read his website on RN here.
Of course, readers of my blog will be aware that I don’t treat Thelema as a “religion” in the sense of being a collection of undemonstrable doctrines about the universe. But many Thelemites *do*, as apparently Bowie did. [See "Skeptical of the True Will?" for an instance of a Thelemite trying to reduce Thelema to a position of faith, along with my refutation]
What’s so striking about Bowie’s account of his deconversion is how similar it is to other stories of atheists, who ironically deconverted from their former faiths because of their very attempt to confirm the truth of their beliefs. Bowie writes:
So what happened? In about a two-year time span I went from being a zealot to an apostate. This essay is not going to retell that tale, however, since my primary interest is in offering a critique rather than a biography. I will say that it primarily involved a project that required examining many of Crowley's core documents with an analytical eye. Although I initially went into that project fully expecting the examination to support my Thelemic faith, it was eventually to dissolve it. I fought it tooth and nail until the very end, performing all kinds of theoretical contortions to justify holding on to Thelema, but it just wasn't enough. I came out of that tunnel a non-believer. (emphasis added)
This account strongly resembles many other deconversion stories floating around on the internet, and it brings to mind for me particularly the story told by Matt Dillahunty, host of the public access show (and internet show) The Atheist Experience. Dillahunty has frequently spoken on the show of his time as a fundamentalist Christian, which he was from the age of five until sometime after thirty. Like Bowie, he reports that he engaged in a process of examining his faith – in his case, as a preparation for attending seminary, as he felt he had a calling; his study was to enable him to justify Christianity to himself *and* to enable him to better win souls for Christ. And just like Bowie, Dillahunty found that his study had destroyed his faith and convinced him that Christianity, along with all other religions, was not justified and that no one had good reason to believe it.The point of both of these stories is one made by Bowie in the comments section of his post: "Free inquiry and curious investigation are generally not compatible with stable religious belief."
[Amusingly, the person he is conversing with responds by observing “I don't want to live in world where there's no magick,” demonstrasting (once again) a point I have frequently made on this blog: religious types think that preserving the feeling of magic is more important than figuring out what’s actually going on.]
In his post, Bowie offers a rational critique of the “religion” of Thelema, and in my post here, I intend to critique Bowie’s critique and demonstrate that he is in fact objecting not to Thelema, but to a religion, one loosely based on Crowley’s writings and on a murky interpretation of Thelema. The point that I intend to make by this is simple: that the supernaturalist religion that some people mistakenly insist on calling “Thelema” cannot withstand rational scrutiny and that – unless the Thelemic community gets serious about defining and talking about Thelema – the nonsense that some people call "Thelema" will drive intelligent seekers, who absolutely will think along the lines that Bowie does, away from Thelema.
Read on for more.