Escape from the Woo Zoo

Escape From the Woo Zoo: Or at least I’m trying to

While thinking about writing this post I started to come up with a very grand list of reasons why I actually make a pretty horrible skeptic. I consider myself Christian, I become convinced of whatever those Nostradamus episodes on the History Channel tell me, I constantly tell my boyfriend that we need to be prepared for the end of the world next year and take echinacea when I’m starting to get a cold. …Religion, uncritical belief, conspiracy theories and homeopathy… worst. skeptic. ever. But at least I’m a skeptic, right?

Let me tell you my story, there is no sudden epiphany or sudden denial of faith – just a teenager processing information and eventually questioning her foundational beliefs.

I was born and raised in a wee town called Bothwell in south-western Ontario, surrounded by corn, dirt bikes and cows. After my father died my mother married Paul, a minister. Then they took me out of that small town, when I was 13, and threw me into the Toronto school system; culture shock, no friends and questions of identity became my new life. I clung onto whatever piece of my past was willing to keep me around, and that happened to be my Baptist church friends and attending Acquire the Fire each year. (If you don’t know what Acquire the Fire is, I wrote about it in 2006 and the comments on that page have some additional stories.) Suffice to say when I entered University I was a bible totin’, rapture waitin’, constantly prayin’ Christian ready to share the good news with anyone who would listen.

Then I took a class called “Walmart Verses Wildflowers” where we looked at philosophical questions of the environment, environmental protection and the intrinsic value of nature. My focus and interest in life shifted completely from religion to the environment during that semester, and so began my transformation into a skeptic. For a while I just clung to environmentalism in the same way I had clung to Christianity  – blindly, without question and with full force. However the more I started to understand the deep intricacies of nature and the powerful biological processes behind it – the less I started to feel the need for religion. So in my typical radical fashion I completely denounced religion and starting screaming “ATHEISM” in anyone’s face, even if they weren’t willing to listen.

These were my radical atheist years filled with Dawkins, Hitchens, CFI conferences and debates with Christians, telling them why they were so incredibly wrong. During this time I founded 4 different student groups across Canada, started an atheist group blog (mostly for Canadians, but interesting to others), was the director for the Center of Inquiry Canada, was on the student advisory board of the Center for Inquiry Transnational and was the president of the Freethought Association of Canada (through which the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign was done). I put up with death threats from religious people, did cross-Canada radio interviews and was even quoted in the Washington Post – I was pretty proud of myself … and then my grandma called me.

I wouldn’t say she guilt-tripped me. She simple said “well, if that’s what you really believe, then it’s good you’re standing up so strongly for it”. D’oh. I decided it was time to stop taking such radically different views of everything and begin to critically think about my life and my belief system … and this was about when I started to realize that, more than anything I had called myself in the past, I am simply… skeptical! I am skeptical about Christianity, atheism, environmentalism, what I see on TV and what I read on the interwebz. I am skeptical about my Christianity, but still consider myself a Christians, mostly for the cultural values. I am skeptical about environmentalism, and this drives people in my program crazy because I don’t think there is anything wrong with GMOs and I don’t necessarily support organic foods. I am skeptical about 2012, it’s probably not going to happen – there is a chance that it could, but it won’t, so I won’t live my life as if it’s going to. I’m skeptical about homeopathy and fight against it when it matters or when it will actually hurt people.

To me this is what skepticism and escaping the woo in your life is all about. It’s about questioning your life and your foundation without going so radically to one side or the other that you begin to blind yourself to the complete opposite side of the equation. It’s about looking at the world with one eye brow raised and a question mark above everything you encounter. It’s about creating a worldview and outlook that questions the Christians and the atheists, the homeopathic docotors and the doctors who tell you that you should be taking anti-depressants when you’re 15 (my dad died! of course I was sad!), the conspiracy theorists and the people who over simplify things and personally challenging yourself to keep questioning.

So hey – I might not be Canada’s #1 Greatest Skepchick – but I’m questioning, instead of blinding following – and I think that’s what matters.

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Katie is a graduate student from Canada studying the environment and systems theory. She also loves dinosaurs and baking cupcakes. Follow her on twitter @katiekish

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