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. Dan Yowell was put on to me by contributor Cody Rudisill who has posted the occasional article. I thank MLC for his contribution. Please check out my book of deconversion accounts, edited with Tristan Vick, which can be bought from the sidebar over there >>>, or by clicking on the book cover. The previous accounts can be found here:
I don’t usually like to broadcast personal stories on the Internet. However, because it was stories like this that helped me so much, I feel the need to share my experience.
My favorite stories start at the end, so spoiler alert: here’s the ending.
I’m an atheist.
My closest friends could probably have figured it out by the time I posted that to my Facebook wall. The rest of the people who were reading it were hundreds of childhood influences, former church friends, and fundamentalist collegiate acquaintances. I knew many of them would see my words as rocking their philosophical boat, while others would simply remove me from their friends list and, just as easily, from their lives. Still, after living so many years in doubt and fear, broadcasting a truth that I had hidden for years had become a need, not an option.
I was raised fundamentalist Baptist Christian. (Each of those qualifying terms is important, because they each serve as a further deviation from millions of other people who call themselves Christian.) I was taught young earth creationism (otherwise known as the most productive week ever), that Calvinism was false teaching, that we know how the world will end, that animals can talk, humans populated the earth (mutation-free) through incest (twice), Noah’s ark was historical, a man can live inside a fish for 3 days, and God’s ways are both perfect and impossible to understand.
That last part is the bit I struggled most with most. As a kid, I never understood why, if he knew everything, God would make a tree that he knew would damn all of humanity forever. If he could do anything, why could I see suffering in the world? Why would he wait thousands of years to give a Bible to the planet then disappear? Why would some people get to talk to him (I mean actual talking, not the metaphysical, emotional “conversations” people claim today) and others be doomed to worse evidence? If God really cares about people, why not just peek through the clouds and make it impossible to miss? Why are thin, intangible, circumstantial anecdotes considered evidence enough for people to make life-altering decisions of belief?
I sat through thousands of sermons, scoured the pages of the Bible (all of them. More than once.), went to religious schools, read the apologetical heroes, and pestered my parents with questions. At every turn, when a question got too probing, or an inconsistency too large to ignore, the answer was always the same: “his ways are higher than our ways.” This was the stop sign at the end of my street. And it was an answer to questions far more fundamental than complicated theological minutiae: How can we know the canonical books of the Bible are the correct ones? How do we know our assumptions of inerrancy aren’t mistaken? Why is it that the more modern scholars study the history of the biblical texts, the less of them believe it to be divinely inspired? Why does modern science contradict most (nearly all) of the Bible’s historical claims?
Ultimately, why is faith considered a good quality? What is to be gained from accepting something to be true without reason? Why would this be a central tenet of a divine being’s plan? Why should anyone be eternally graded on the extent of their gullibility? As a born again believer, these questions pounded on my brain like a Mormon at my door. I prayed, read the Bible, cultivated mountains of faith, but still struggled. I had “a relationship” (if you want to call it that), but I couldn’t turn the switch in my brain entirely to ‘off.’
My college experiences did little to strengthen my faith: Bob Jones [a conservative Christian university in the United States] showed me how tangibly wrong the Bible can be. How little logic and reason have to do with reading the Good Book. Just how blind faith needs to be.
Liberty [a Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by Jerry Falwell] showed me how ignorant I needed to allow myself to be. How comforting it was to ignore the parts that don’t make sense. How much the system hinged on emotion and celebrity.
My first roommate in college had a Mormon sister. We spent hours laughing about the absurdities of their beliefs. I even ordered a Book of Mormon and read most of it (it was even harder to finish than the Bible). At the same time, I had a fascination with Scientology. It blew my mind that people would believe something so blatantly absurd so easily. I still remember the Liberty convocation service I was sitting in when it hit me that Christianity is just as absurd when you haven’t been raised (conditioned) to accept it.
I left college life knowing I didn’t buy into everything, but unsure of what I did believe. Reading Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus opened my eyes to the serious flaws in the translations of the biblical texts and toppled any remaining ideas of infallibility therein. Watching debates featuring great thinkers like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dillahunty helped provide contrast for the intellectual peekaboo Christian apologists preferred to play. In the end, it was watching the now-famous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham that cemented in my mind that one side had real, tangible answers to my questions, while the other side was plugging their ears and refusing to listen.
So, after years of reading and prayer I found that, while the Christian God (or any other) doesn’t exist (or is either [or both] impossible to prove or [and] entirely uninvolved in our world), that doesn’t mean the sky is empty. I found a universe of discovery and beauty I never fully appreciated (and still don’t, to my detriment). In school, learning about math or science was always sandwiched with statements like “God designed it this way” or “by miraculous design,” making any further learning seem pointless. I’m amazed and delighted to find these ideas firmly falsified. I’m excited that people who know more than I do still don’t know everything, and that we’re still searching for answers to intense natural and philosophical questions (although I’ve developed a harsh disdain for philosophy. Let’s get a beer and we can philosophize about it!).
I understand people better, have stronger empathy, care more about how I spend my time, and have a far sharper need to lead a moral life than ever before. Finally addressing my cognitive dissonance has led to a better, fuller, happier, more richly-led life than I could have ever imagined. The fear and worry and questions seem so trivial.
These changes have their downsides. I’m now more acutely aware of the fallacious and devastating teachings being pushed on children by religious authorities. I have the guilt of so much time lost to unfounded superstition. And I have the fear of alienating those closest to me (specifically, my family). I feel judgement where there isn’t, see judgment more plainly where there is, and fear seeming fickle to those who witnessed my final acceptance of what I’ve come to be: atheist.
I share this in the hopes of communicating one thing: the absolute joy that comes from a life honestly lived. Unless you run the risk of physical harm by being open in your disbelief, do yourself and the rest of the skeptic world the service of counting yourself as one of the reasonable. My life is better due to the people who inspired me, and you just might inspire someone too.