In Free Inquiry’s February/March 2020 issue, I challenged readers to recount their “pivot-point” experiences—the exact moment when the scales fell from each reader’s eyes and he or she realized that his or her childhood religion was bankrupt. In asking that, I recognized that the average FI reader born prior to 1985 (trust me, most were born well before 1985) grew up in a family religious tradition that he or she later renounced.
We’d explored this territory before in the 2014 feature “The Faith I Left Behind.” (It later became a book of the same name published by Inquiry Press.) The essays making up that feature ran roughly 1,000 to 2,000 words. It took four issues to get them all into print.
This prompted the longtime reader and retired direct-mail executive who uses the pseudonym “Fellow Feather”* to wonder whether a more tightly focused approach might deliver deeper insights. “What were the pivot points?” Fellow Feather asked me in an email. “The sudden insights that set [doubters] on a new path? … Epiphanies seem to come at strange and unexpected times and places—a reason for an ongoing simplified effort to a huge audience.” He concluded, “Would it not be interesting and useful to ask your readers to present in the most abbreviated form how they came to see the light?”
And so, I challenged readers to zoom in on that moment when faith’s center ceased to hold.
Boy, did they ever zoom.
Reader response exceeded expectations. Even though the submissions are shorter—I set a maximum of 500 words, which only one writer exceeded—once again it’s going to take four issues of Free Inquiry to publish them all. The series will conclude in the April/May 2021 issue.
Fellow Feather hoped the shorter format would encourage the responses to form more quantifiable patterns, and it seems that’s just what happened. Sifting through the submissions, I quickly found them falling into ten broad categories, each spotlighting a different “pivot point” that launched certain correspondents onto lives of disbelief and secular humanism. Here they are:
Church Did It
Faith Never Stuck
Awe Did It
One Thing Did It
The Problem of Evil Did It
The Nuns Did It
Praying Did It
Life Did It
Learning Did It
One Book Did It
Brace your feet and draw your raincoat tight. I’m about to open the fire hose. Herewith, the first of four batches of the Pivot Points.
* If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it is “Fellow Feather” who since 2013 has run more than two dozen no-frills philosophical advertisements in Free Inquiry, and in the August/September 2019 issue sponsored an eight-page insert setting forth an optimized refutation of Christianity.