Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs, as you can see from the various accounts. Brian “The Apostate” has what looks like a new blog – A Pasta Sea – check it out! Please check it out. Happy reading. The previous accounts can be found here:
It seems strange that people like my wife and I with our upbringing and levels of participation in the church would just up and leave the faith, doesn’t it? Usually when I’d heard about other people leaving their faith it’s around the time they leave home for the first time and go off to college or get out on their own. It’s not usually people in their mid-thirties who’ve gotten married, settled into a career and had kids. This, of course, has only served to increase the level of shock that people close to us have felt.
It wasn’t something we went looking for. There was no tragic event that made us angry with God. There was no immoral behavior we wanted to engage in and needed to find a way out so we could quiet our guilty consciences and happily pursue it. There were no religious leaders in our church engaged in hypocritical behavior that made us sour to Christianity. This has made it really hard for people to categorize our apostasy. Several still continue to offer their unsolicited guesses about our motives, fearing the obvious: that we simply found the claims of Christianity to be false.
This process did not happen overnight. I’ve had a fair amount of interest in Christian apologetics since college. Indeed it was the comforting reassurances of apologists like Norm Geisler and Josh McDowell that helped me push through periods of doubt while being presented with evidences against Christianity in those years as a student of History and Philosophy. When that didn’t always work it was sometimes Christian philosophers like Kierkegaard, Pascal or Aquinas. When those failed it was pure fideism and an unflinching willingness to hold on to the faith no matter what.
Later, as my wife and I began to become more serious about Christianity, we moved more toward Reformed theology. In that transition, I discovered the presuppositional apologetic approaches of people like CorneliusVan Til, Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Clark and found much comfort and reassurance in their writings. These people seemed willing to acknowledge what I already suspected. Namely that the evidentialist techniques of people like Norm Giesler or the classical Thomistic arguments of Christian philosophy and natural theology would ultimately fail in the face of serious scrutiny coupled with “naturalistic presuppositions.” It was only beginning with believing the proposition that the Bible is the word of God that one could provide a comprehensive worldview that was capable of accounting for things like logic, induction and morality. It was asserted that unbelievers could not adequately account for these things, therefore Christianity must be true. Stated simply, Christianity is true because the Bible says it’s true and the Bible is the word of God and God is always true. Yeah, I knew it was circular, but then I would’ve also argued that anyepistemology ultimately is.
That circular mind trick, appeal to consequences and argument from ignorance worked for quite some time. Eventually it failed when it became increasingly clear that Christianity and its foundational text are internally inconsistent and to no small degree either. For me this was, to borrow Alvin Plantinga’s terminology, a defeater for Christianity and suggested this belief may not have “warrant” after all. I could only hear someone interpret a Biblical text in a way that is so obviously contrary to what the text appears to be saying so many times before I began to get the sense that something’s not quite right. I could only hear the answer “mystery” so many times when asking rather obvious questions about why certain things don’t seem to make sense before I began to think that maybe this worldview doesn’t really provide as many solid answers or account for as many things about reality as was originally thought. If I did not constantly and willfully ignore, forget or distract from these things, eventually the dissonance piled up and the critical thinking portion of my brain would not let it go.
As I studied the Bible more and more and examined opposing viewpoints within Christianity itself about the Bible’s nature and interpretation, it seemed as though often many of the points of contention raised on all sides were very solid points. For example, when it came to the Bible, Catholics seemed to have some very solid criticisms about Protestant doctrines like Sola Scriptura, and likewise Protestants had some really good criticisms of Catholic doctrines surrounding things like papal and magisterial infallibility. It was similar with other groups within Christianity and their differing viewpoints about doctrine. Eventually the thought occurred to me that they might all be right in their criticisms of each others’ positions, but wrong in their conclusions. Since most of their positions were mutually exclusive they couldn’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. So what if all of them were wrong? That’s when the protective mental veneer came off and I began studying the Bible and Christian doctrine without ruling out the undesirable conclusions from the outset.
I began to be more and more open to examining the claims of those critical toward Christianity and seeing what outsiders and those with more skeptical viewpoints had to say on a broad range of things and not just whatever theological bee I had in my bonnet at the time. What they said made sense and when I went to check what apologists said on the points they raised I was sorely disappointed. Unlike in college, however, I refused to tear myself away and suppress the dissonance. If Christianity was false I owed it to my children to find out and not drag them down the road I had been on. More importantly, if it was true, I wanted to be able to give them the answers to the very tough questions that they would eventually have, knowing that at some point they would have access to a wealth of alternative viewpoints via things like the internet. It occurs to me that it had been thoughts about my children that were the driving force behind another major theological shift I had experienced. It was the birth of our first child that had ultimately prompted me to seriously re-evaluate my views on baptism and eventually pushed me toward a move to Presbyterianism with its doctrine of recognizing the children of professing believers as members.
I began looking at the Pentateuch with particular interest in the specific laws supposedly given at Sinai. I started in Exodus 21 just after the giving of the Ten Commandments, which I thought I was abundantly familiar with, and instead focused on the other stuff in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Mostly out of boredom and lack of interest, I had before just kind of glossed over those things in my reading and not really paid much attention to them. After all, I believed most of that stuff didn’t really apply to the church anymore in the same way it did for the people of physical Israel. Why give it much attention? What I found upon close examination shocked me. Furthermore when I compared some of those laws with other ancient law codes like Hammurabi’s code I noticed that Yahweh’s laws were, in many cases, more cruel and unjust sounding than his. The more I looked carefully the less I liked what I found. Beyond the laws themselves, a few narrative passages like Numbers 31 really shook me up.
I pictured the scenario given there playing out. These thousands of Midianite women and boys had just witnessed the slaughter of their fathers and husbands, some of whom may have even laid down their arms in surrender only to be executed. They watched while the victorious, rampaging Israelites burned their villages and gathered their stuff to haul it away. Everything that had ever been a part of their lives and civilization was wiped out before their eyes as foreign invaders rounded them up and dragged them away as captive slaves, like so much plunder.
I wondered if the Midianite women had heard romantic tales from the old women about a courageous and handsome Israelite exile from Egypt who had stood up to some shepherds that were bullying the helpless daughters of one their own Midianite priests (Ex. 2:16-19). Perhaps they knew this man was now leading their captors and perhaps they thought he would take pity on them. I imagined their horror when they got to the enemy’s camp and this furious old man ordered that all the mothers and little boys had to be executed as well. Only the virgin girls could be spared.
Postulating about how exactly they went about determining which ones were virgins and which ones weren’t brought to mind some rather weird scenarios. Surely they couldn’t simply take the women’s word for it, right? The smart ones would’ve immediately proclaimed their virginity. For many of them we’re left with either some kind of divination or an invasive manual inspection of each female’s genitals for signs that their virginity was intact. I don’t get the impression that any were given the benefit of the doubt. This would have been a massive undertaking as we find out that there were 32,000 who were found to be virgins. Once the determination was made, however, the slaughter could commence.
I found myself wondering if the mothers had to watch their little sons’ throats slit as the women awaited their vaginal inspections or if the confused and terrified little boys got to watch their mothers slaughtered first. Maybe it was all just a random mish mash of brutal butchery, terror, horror, wailing and bloodletting. If I was to treat this account as history, one thing was likely: the little girls probably did get to witness their little brothers and mothers being gutted before they themselves were dragged off to be enslaved, systematically divided up and maybe even in some cases, raped. Perhaps Yahweh was merciful and they didn’t have to watch at all and were far enough away so that they barely even heard the blood curdling screams of their mothers and baby brothers until, at last, the thousands of wailing voices were finally silenced.
It made me want to cry. However, regardless of how warped, twisted and disturbing all of that may have seemed, it was actually all morally right and good according to Divine Command Theory. Yahweh told the Israelites to do it. He’s the foundation of morality, so it must have been right and just and good. They deserved it. In fact, according to my theology at the time, those wicked idolaters had been burning in hell in torment for almost 3,500 years. This did not sit well, but my consolation came in reading the remainder of that chapter. A quick perusal of the numbers of animals that were said to have been among the plunder along with a search of some agriculture websites that gave figures for determining the land requirements for sustaining that much livestock quickly led me to believe that the whole thing may have just been a made up story after all.
I ran to the Gospels to try to salvage what was left of my Christianity, but the floodgates of my departure from the faith were open and intellectually I was not far removed from no longer being able to consider myself a Christian of any stripe. It was inevitable that with my background in History and Philosophy the collapse was imminent, especially now that the willful resistance to the uncomfortable truth was gone. Sometime later, I discussed these undesirable conclusions with my wife after letting it slip that I thought evolution was probably true. She was shaken, but we set the discussion of those matters aside for several months as she let me work through things. That all came to a head after she noticed that I avoided a question one of my children had asked about life after death. She confronted me that night and I laid it all out. I gave her space and later she asked me for a copy of my notes on the Pentateuch.
To my very pleasant surprise, she eventually came to agree that the Bible was not the word of any god and that the claims of Christianity were not true. We agreed that we could not fake our way through Christianity indefinitely if for no other reasons than for our own mental health and the impracticability of continuing to tell our children things we did not believe to be true. So we found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to withdraw from our church, tell our family members that we no longer believe as they do, risk losing valuable friendships, turn our lives upside down, and reevaluate a myriad of basic assumptions about the world around us. I don’t mind saying that at thirty-something that kind of sucks.
[This account was originally posted here – remember to check out his great blog]