This thread's primary purpose is for discussion of what made some of us so skeptical, demanding proof or personal experience rather than simply
accepting what others tell us is true. Its secondary purpose is to show just how easily humanity is fooled into believing anything one wishes tell
them. Though this is the Religion thread (because of the nature of my own story), feel free to post your story about why you are skeptical of anything
from Government Conspiracies to Alien Contact, etc...
Roughly a decade ago, when I was in college, there was an organization known as the Pagan Student Alliance, or PSA. At the time, I already had a
rather skeptical view of mainstream religion, due to various questions that mainstream religion could not succesfully answer. I also had a problem
with Wicca, which I'd been studying for about six years, because it too had limitations for my questions. And so I joined the PSA, hoping to find
exposure to other religions and beliefs, as well as philosophical and metaphysical arguement and discussion to temper them with.
Instead I found a bunch of angst-filled teens and delusional middle-aged adults so desperate to believe in anything that I decided, in the cold
callousness of youth, to conduct an experiment. As a disclaimer, this is not something I am proud of, but it is something I have learned from.
As with any group, the PSA had its power struggles. The official elected President of the PSA, we'll call her Lisa, was at heart a good person, with
a good head on her shoulders. She was more of a salad-bar variety pagan, and even some wisdom to match her years, but very few leadership skills. On
the flip side there was one whom we will call Diane, who held no office in the PSA, had excellent charisma and leadership, but set off my bull---
detectors like a house on fire. Both were well past 40 and were the only two members past 25.
I'll be frank, I didn't like Diane. She was a disruptive diva who detracted from the few decent discussions we had, with wild claims of psychic
attacks, spirit visitations, crystal entities, and spellslinging. Lisa would be calmly trying to teach some hitherto unknown belief from another
culture, and suddenly Diane would cry out "The spirits speak!" and then drop her voice real low and spout some mystical sounding nonsense that
sounded very rehearsed. However, a good three-quarters of the rest of the PSA thought she walked on water, and was the best guru, most connected with
every aspect of the metaphysical, and so forth, and the whole 'class' would end in people swarming Diane to find out more.
There were a few of us who began to get really irritated with it. The real bugger came when I was to present to the PSA how to throw bones, using
Scita, Cohado, Imbay, and Thola, on a field of three elements. I was halfway through, when Diane suddenly stood up and announced there was psychic
vampire nearby, and she had to go combat it. At which point, the vast majority of the class got up and went with her to watch her in action, leaving
five people besides myself to wonder what the hell just happened. Even Lisa had left, though dejectedly.
Like any good student with a disrupted class, we went to the local coffee house for hot cuppas and health sticks, and introduced ourselves. The other
five people, we'll call them Jeff, Tara, Gabe, Jean, and Amy, were disgusted with Diane's antics, and wanted to actually learn something,
instead of watching everyone act like a bunch of Charismatic Church-goers. We got to talking and I realized that, while I was certainly no expert in
the field, apparently I'd done a lot more reading on various religions and practices than they had. So I offered to teach them what I knew, outside
of the PSA, with the understanding that I was not by any means I master of anything, I just had stuff to share. They could take it or leave it.
So we met, every other night, and I'd tell them what history I knew, or could find, of various religions, or religious rituals. It was enjoyable, and
for everything I taught, I got back from them five different ideas in response, which I was then able to digest and think about. We were effectively,
our own private world religion club, what I'd envisioned the PSA to be, before I actually joined. The PSA itself, however, fared much much worse.
Having become good friends by now, we all sat together during PSA meetings, watching it degrade to a worse and worse state. Though we never referred
to ourselves as such at first, people started calling us a coven. (shrug) Okay, fine, we were a coven. It was more an indulgence to everyone else to
get them to stop pestering us about it. The last straw came when Diane stood up, mid-meeting, and announced that the spirits needed her to lead us,
that we were weak, and a war between the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis) and the PSA would soon begin. It was a very passionate speech, filling the room
with wide eyes from her majority, whom all agreed.
Lisa smiled before shaking her head and saying to the rest "Who am I to argue with The Spirits?" and as she left the podium, and Diane took it, my
so-called-coven and I watching in abject revulsion. This was the end of any redeeming quality to the PSA. Even though Diane's followers were all a
bunch of desperate sheep, most of them were still good people at heart, and someone needed to wake them up before Diane caused them more harm than
could be fixed without some serious therapy.
I'm sad to say those motives were only in retrospect, and while I believe it to be the truth now, at the time it was all about bringing Diane down,
in the hardest way possible--by her own hands, in public, and utterly humiliated. Only then would her followers think of her as anything other than a
And thus began the experiment that is probably my greatest shame, and widest eye-opener about the human mind.
After observing Diane in the PSA occasionally outside of meetings, she was the typical power-hungry manipulator. If anything drew interest away from
her, she would find a way to involve her self in it and make herself the center of it. She was extremely good at it, certainly better than myself or
anyone else I've ever known. I decided to use this trait of hers to bring her down in front of her followers.
First, to establish some credibility. However, I also couldn't risk someone from my own group ruining the experiment. Their reactions had to be
utterly genuine. So they became a part of it, unwittingly. In sight of what had happened to the PSA, it was easy to convince our so-called-coven of
six to decide upon a catchy name, "Fire and Ice" (imagine my amusement some years later and finding there was a liquor by this name as well). From
there it was only a hop, skip, and a jump towards being an "exclusive" coven that didn't share our knowledge or secrets with anyone outside the
So it was that people in the PSA became interested in what the big deal was, and wanted to find out what it was that we knew. Of course, we needed
something "to know" and additionally, a patron diety would be helpful. So I picked a name from a book, and then managed to convince the coven that I
was being contacted by a good diety who had been long forgotten. They bought it hook, line, and sinker, and soon we had a Coven, a Catchy Name, and a
Cause... and his name was Chynthliss (bonus points if you recognize the name yet).
So anyway, it wasn't long before we had new people wanting to join, and our informal little group of theologians became something of an actual coven,
complete with our own little rituals, prayers, spells, etc, all centered around Chynthliss. This was quite a gamble. If anyone had recognized the
name, it would have brought the whole thing to a screeching halt, and I'd have ended up the pariah of my own experiment.
The coven grew
when we were close to 15 strong, Diane finally took a keen interest in the goings on. Apparently some of the new members were still informing her
about what went on in our group (as I'd hoped), and one day, in the middle of another one of the mockeries that made up a PSA meeting, she announced
that she was being spoken to by someone named Chynthliss. He was calling to her and she needed to find him. Of course this just astounded everyone,
and since Fire and Ice now had her own followers as the majority, she was granted immediate membership to the coven.
My control would very soon disappear, and I knew this. Thus I left one last legacy: Dae'enneth, who was a female spirit that Chynthliss wished to
know more about. As predicted, within two more meetings, Diane became the official High Priestess of Chynthliss, and was so convincing in her role
that even my original five friends had gone over to her side. I let it continue a bit more, sat back and watched; at this point it was better than
anything on cable.
Within a few weeks, Chynthliss had become a campus-wide cult. PSA membership had shot up to well over a hundred, and was no longer welcoming anyone
but members of Fire and Ice, the followers of Chynthliss, and his chosen mate, Dae'enneth. There was no longer room for everyone to attend the now
daily rituals, so most of them started being held outside, on the campus mall.
Then the insane happened.
Diane announced that she was visited by Chynthliss in a vision, and that she was to give birth to the Goddess Dae'enneth. Oh yes. She would be the
mother of a Goddess. I almost stopped it at this point, but figured I'd let her dig her own grave a few miles deeper. I didn't even bother to attend
the elaborate ritual where people would watch her "give birth" to Dae'enneth, but instead visited a 7-11 where I photocopied a few pages of a book,
and then the computer lab to get some printouts from a newsgroup I was on, and then back to the copier to make many, many copies.
The next day's PSA (aka The Fire and Ice club) meeting looked like something out of the movie "The Wave". Those who didn't salute her viewed her
with utter adoration. I began to have second thoughts; these people were hungry to believe, and there seemed to be just enough madness in the room
that I may have let it go way past the point of no return.
Nevertheless, I stood up, mid-meeting, and announce that I had received a vision from Chynthliss, and had to share it with the group.
Diane didn't like being upstaged, but as I was still the founding member of the coven, and the original prophet of their god, she grudgingly allowed
me to speak. Whereupon I began handing out stacks of stapled pages together, asked everyone to take one and pass it on.
Within the pages were several passages from a Mercedes Lacky novell called "Chrome Circle". Highlighted on those pages was the name "Chinthliss"
(I'd changed the spelling slightly, because back then, pagans only took you seriously if you replaced "i's" with "y's"). Also included was page
after page of posts by a Dae'enneth from the newsgroup alt.fan.dragons, someone with whom I often traded quips with on that funny little net-niche.
And last was an apology to everyone, for having to do this to them.
As Diane read the passages, the blood drained from her face, and was then quickly replaced as she became too furious to get a coherent sentance out. I
explained to a shocked assemblage why I did the whole thing, and how they should really learn to think for themselves from now on, and stop letting
hucksters with lots of charisma tell them what to believe.
I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe I expected a slowly building applause, like then end of an old 80's movie. Maybe I expected them to cry. Maybe I
expected them to kill me, hide the fact that this ever happened, and become a movement so big that no one could stop it. At that point, I really
don't know what I thought would happen other than Diane being utterly, permanently, discredited.
And the sad thing is, I'll never really know what actually happened afterward.
I was asked to leave, very quietly, from a familiar face in the back. Lisa. She stood, walked me to the door, gently, but firmly, and quickly, and
closed it behind me. The last look she gave me was a wink, followed by my not being welcome back to the PSA again.
It took awhile to get the details, and even then, they are sketchy. It was at least a month before any of my five friends would speak to me again, and
at least another month still of explaining and re-explaining why it had been neccesary to leave them out of the loop, and why I had let it go on for
so long. I think that they never actually forgave me, but rather between the parties, coffee shops, classes, and various intoxicants that college life
offered, the incident was forgotten.
Some said Diane tried a lame attempt at saying that a God created from scratch was just as valid, and that a few of her most die-hards followed her in
secret until they graduated and got a life. Some said that Diane moved away, to another city. Some say she committed suicide. I'll honestly never
know. The only thing I know for sure is that the PSA split up for good that night, the worship of Chynthliss and Dae'enneth dropped to nil, and none
of us ever saw Diane again.
Reading this story it may have come across that I was proud of my accomplishment. In truth, it probably hurt me most of all. I'd betrayed my closest
college friends, and scarred them for life whenever it came to believing in anything at that point. They had believed, and their faith in
Chynthliss and Dae'enneth and myself had been no less than that of a hard core Christian in the midst of a Pentacostal Church. And I'd not only
crushed that faith, made a complete mockery of it, but had used them, like tools, for petty revenge.
Yet I learned something from this. I learned that not only is evidence and proof not neccesary for someone to believe with all their faith, but that
it is just as easy as pie, so long as you know how to manipulate and sound like you know what you're talking about. This is why I will never be
swayed in an arguement by words such as "I know it to be true" or "I saw them with my own eyes" or any other such eye witness testimony. I know
now, firsthand, that most people are sheep, so desperate to believe in anything, or to be a part of something special, that they will feast upon
whatever tripe you set before them.
And that is why I am a skeptic.