Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs. John’s account is fascinating. Happy reading. The previous account can be found here.
After the death of my father and shortly after my mom re-married, we were introduced into the world of Mormonism. My step father who formally served as a Mormon missionary and was a regular church goer made attempts to bring our family into the fold. We went through the typical Mormon indoctrinations, we had Mormon missionaries come to our house and give us presentations to show us how traditional Christianity had been corrupted and how Joseph Smith restored the true gospel and message that had been lost within Christendom. We began attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and also some of its activities and functions. I actually did attend the Mormon temple in Los Angeles as a child and was involved in baptisms of the dead.
Now mind you, I was a bit unruly as a child so I never took any of the church’s teachings seriously. Perhaps even more than a few times I actually mocked them. I don’t think that this had to do with anything intellectual at the time, mostly it had to do with the fact I hated church. It was boring. My friends were all doing something fun but I wasn’t. But I do recall always asking questions that somehow seemed to make people irritated or upset. Some children just seem to have a spark of curiosity that tends to get them into trouble.
After constant rebellion from us kids (my 5 brothers and me), we were finally allowed to stay home and not attend the services if we didn’t want to. This took as you can imagine some time and a lot of griping. Interestingly enough, my eldest brother actually did manage to get suckered in to doing a Mormon mission after high school. Whether he did this to win a Mormon girl over or not I do not fully know but I suspect it had a large factor to play. Many a day we debated on Mormonism and its veracity.
Most of my younger days were actually pretty wild days. Partying, drinking, smoking pot, surfing, chasing girls, you know the typical kid stuff. I didn’t care too much about school and I hung around some questionable kids and I had quite an attitude. By the age of 17 or so I had a Christian friend who had some pretty cute twin sisters. One day I went to his house and his mother began telling me about Christ, the Bible and it was this time I “accepted Jesus as my Savior”. I felt a bit strange at the time because up until then all I wanted to do was have one or both of the sisters. But something changed in me that day. Shortly after that experience I began attending church, went on church activities, some of which were funded by my friend’s family. They no doubt saw the change in me and wanted to encourage me. I was on “fire for the Lord”, as they say.
Before my conversion I had high hopes of being a soldier. I was one of those kids who loved Rambo movies, loved hiking, and was influenced with the Hollywood magic of being a badass. I have been in martial arts most of my life. My recruiter invested some time in me; I can recall he even took me repelling. However, after high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. On one hand I still wanted to go in the army, on the other I wanted to go to Bible College. After some deliberation and persuasion from my recruiter (He wasn’t going to give up on me after doing so much for me!), I decided to go in the army. In retrospect, it was probably the best thing for me at the time.
During my army days, I was somewhat backslidden from the fiery Christian I had become in my youth towards more of what you would call a “regular” person. I was not doing anything that you would call wrong or anything; I just wasn’t doing anything with regard to church. I soon met who would be my wife for the next 19 years of my life. We had a son and I started life, well, pretty early. I think I was 20 when I got married.
Shortly after the army stint, I began reading and studying the bible once again and attending church. For the next 10-15 years I took Christianity very seriously and had thoughts creeping back in of even being a theologian or an apologist. My book shelves of Christian books at that time grew to probably 1,000 books, everything from manuscript evidence, apologetics, hermeneutics, commentaries, Dispensationalism, Calvinism, Hebrew and Greek helps, Concordances, Bible dictionaries, Biblical geography, etc..
I began doing online courses at a fundamental Baptist Bible College and I was soon licensed to “preach” when my pastor saw how enthusiastic I was, and my commitment to studying the Bible. I began preaching at various churches, mostly salvation sermons but sometimes more in-depth, depending on the audience.
The more I studied the more my theology started to change a bit over the years. And each change took a bit of courage for me because it meant I was slowly drifting from others and sometimes traditional orthodoxy. I also saw many people within my church who read the bible very superficially. I went from a very strict independent Baptist theology to more of a moderate dispensationalism, followed by my final stop to Mid-Acts dispensationalism. For those who don’t the difference between dispensationalists, there are three schools of thoughts. Mainstream dispensationalists believe the church started in Acts 2. Those who hold the church started at Act 9 or Acts 13 are often snubbed as moderate hyper dispensationalists, while those who hold the church started after Israel was cast aside in Acts 28 (known as Bullingerism, or just plain hyper-dispensationalists). I was a Mid Acts guy. I loved the books by Cornelius Stam, J.C O’Hair, Charles Baker. I even loved reading Bullinger’s books.
The following years were of intense study for me and thus my theology seemed to change a little more. I became an advocate of conditional immortality, thus abandoning the traditional hell fire that the Baptist taught. This was due not to just moral considerations but due to what I thought the Bible actually taught and being influenced by reading books from Edward Fudge and others. This, as you can imagine, made me largely unpopular with my fellow Baptists and even some of my new made Dispensational friends. Unlike a lot of Christians, I was always amenable to changing my views if my position could be challenged and I felt a convincing case could be made. I recall years of asking god for wisdom and studying the bible till sometimes 4 in the morning just trying to serve god better by knowing the Bible. I studied the bible so much that it would affect my relationships with others and it consumed a lot of my time.
In 2002/2003 I was struck with a rare Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that nearly took my life as I had months of heavy chemotherapy. I think it may have been around this time that I began (for the first time) questioning my faith and willing to look at other faiths. I did not immediately become an atheist and the process was rather lengthy for me. It literally took a lot of time.
While going through my treatments, I became interested in becoming educated in some of the world’s religions, thinking that this knowledge will somehow help me in my Christian faith and in my evangelism. So I began started studying Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and even Islam. I remember reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. (Tao Te Ching, Confucius, Dhammapada, Bhagavad Gita, Koran, Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra, etc) I think my eyes were beginning to open to the possibility that Christianity may be wrong or at the very least get me to think about another religion’s plausibility.
However, the more I read on the various religions the more I slowly and unwittingly began losing my faith in mine. I then came across “Atheism: The Case against God” and when I got to the chapter on “Faith vs Reason” I began to really feel the heat of the arguments and I began to struggle. I was also going through inner turmoil from the cancer tearing me apart and my health deteriorating to my marriage falling by the way side. The medicine I took didn’t help matters, I am sure it made me quite irritable and unpleasant.
When I began recovering from my cancer treatment and when it was deemed I had recovered I began shifting my reading from world religions to books on evolution and science. I think the book on atheism struck me so hard that I wanted to “refute” it as best as I could. Now when I say “refute” it I don’t mean it like the modern Christian does. I mean I wanted to prove to myself that it was fallacious. Not prove to others. I needed confirmation and by challenging myself and my faith I thought it can only make me stronger in my faith or destroy it. I was willing to go where the evidence led me, which might differentiate me and those who merely have a blind, superstitious, unfalsifiable faith. I don’t think I was ever closed minded and even in my deepest moments in being a Christian I always wanted to be a person of honesty and truth. I always wanted to be a good man.
But the more I began to read and understand about evolution, the more I could not accept what I had believed for so long. My literalist interpretation simply couldn’t survive. Now, I am not one of these people who continually justify beliefs by shape shifting to “other” interpretations over and over again to the point that the bible simply does not mean what it says anymore and somehow requires a vast IQ to understand it. So the interpretations in my opinion that seemed to do this I thought were not acceptable. For instance, interpretations that seemed to me to do this were the gap theory, young earth creationism, old earth creationism (with its flavors of progressive creationism), theistic evolution, intelligent design. It seemed to me that people just wanted to make the facts fit no matter what. And if you are intelligent enough, you can make the facts fit no matter how the evidence is (Think William Lane Craig). I was not interested in maintaining my faith if it was not maintainable. If the evidence led me down another path, than that is where I would go. It was as simple as that.
As you can surmise, I stopped going to the Bible University and began going to a regular university. I began taking courses in computer science, first getting my BS in computer information systems and my Masters in Computer Science and then working in the field of aerospace. I am now a senior software engineer in my field. Many of my programs are used in the military and I have given demonstrations of my software all over the world. I have crisscrossed the United States several times and have been to the U.K twice, Germany once and even gave a demo in the White House to a high ranking Army General and some of his staff.
It was during these years, that whatever faith I had left was forever gone The time had simply come. I had grown past it. I had amassed an impressive amount of reading of nearly all of Dawkins books, to books by Carl Sagan, to Stephen Hawking to books on geology, astronomy, biology and neuroscience. And to this day, you will always finding me reading these types of books. Science, reason and rationality have won me over. My position is simply that there is no good evidence or argument for the existence of any god(s) that I find compelling or interesting. It has been a long journey and much of my life has been under a delusion that I once accepted without question. But when I began to question it and evaluate it with an open mind I simply found there to be no real evidence for any of the god propositions. Sometimes you would find seemingly clever arguments that pose as plausible, but once you break them down, you find that they are not as sophisticated as you once thought at first glance. They merely preach to the choir. They don’t pass philosophical muster. They all seem to fall with a “god of the gap” type argument which is not convincing.
Nowadays, I like cutting my teeth on some philosophy still, from Hume all the way to Jonathan Pearce. I like thinking about the big questions, always have. (Do we have free will, is there a god, how did the first replicator begin, is there a multiverse), but some questions I think it is best to admit ignorance. And some questions to me seem to suggest that we are a long way from knowing an answer. But I can live with ignorance. I can live with uncertainty. I can live with unanswered questions. It is better for me to be honest than to project something that simply has no evidence simply because it makes someone happy to believe it.
Does the fact that the evidence is strong against free will bother me? Not in the slightest. If anything, I feel humbled by this. I am honored to have known a little about our humanity. Does the fact that our universe seems without purpose bother me? Not really. I sometimes feel it is a lonely prospect, but deep down, I believe that is the reality we find ourselves in. Is there a god(s)? I don’t know. I tend to doubt it and I think our science is growing stronger in showing that we can have a universe from “nothing”. Our biology shows the stamp of our lowly origins, our evolutionary heritage. How did life arise? I don’t know, probably a combination of some chemicals that somehow the environment was right enough to create the conditions of some kind of replicator. We have created synthetic cells. We have come a long way. Maybe one day we will have a definitive answer. Maybe we won’t. I don’t have to know those answers. It would be nice if I did, but I don’t.
You can understand why when I read books by John Loftus that I feel a very close kinship with him having (kind of) similar stories. We both had divorces, we both preached. John’s honesty in admitting his mistakes and taking responsibility I felt was very honest and encouraging. And his breathtaking knowledge of the bible impresses me to no end. It is no wonder William Lane Craig does not want to debate him. I wouldn’t either and I have studied the bible very intensively for many years.