Dave - You had asked about my conversion/deconversion experience. I replied with a very long email and for some reason it had no text once it made it to the group. Perhaps it was over the limit or something. I'll split this one into two parts. FYI - Feel free to copy and post this anywhere, under the condition that you don't use my name - since many people close to me only know the first part of this story.
My parents divorced when I was 4. I was the oldest of 3 kids. My mother had custody and basically took us to church whenever she dated a guy who went. My dad's dad died when I was 10. It shook him up and so he and my stepmother started taking us to a boring old Presbyterian church in Kentucky. I got pretty involved, but it never "clicked" like it would later. We went regularly, but we missed several times a year, if we had something else to do on a Sunday morning. Once I got to be 15, they said it was up to me whether or not I went. I did go every once in awhile - to touch base with friends,etc. I don't really know what I thought about god during this time. I did believe, it just didn't really mean anything. I thought it was true, but didn't affect my day to day activities.
I went to college for an Electrical Engineering degree and partied a little too much. Then, at the end of my sophomore year, a strange thing happened. I went to check my email on the last day of the semester, but the lab I normally used was closed, so I went to a different computer lab. There I saw a girl I knew from high school, but hadn't seen in my two years at the University of KY. It turns out she was dating a guy from one of my classes. She was staying in town for the summer, as was I, so we exchanged phone numbers. I went over there once a week or so to play cards and hang out.
Then one night she called and asked what was I doing. Figuring she wanted to play cards I said "nothing." She said she was going to this church thing at 7P.M.. I said oh sounds like fun (although I wasn't thinking this) but my car isn't running well. She said no problem, it is only one block from where you live. So I got sucked in to going.
It was amazing. They sang these fast upbeat praise songs like I had never heard in a church. The people were so nice and friendly, and of course, being the "new guy" all the girls wanted to meet me and talk to me. Now, at the risk of sounding elitist... I was a cut above at this place. I was more intelligent, more athletic, and better looking than most of the people there, and I often got treated that way and I liked it. I kept going regularly through the fall semester, but I wasn't really saved. I believed what they were saying, but I still partied on the weekends, cussed, drank, etc.
About the time this started, I had been reading Blaise Pascal's "Thoughts", not knowing it was an apologetic work. He said something to the effect of the evidence of god's existence being hidden so that only those who truly looked could find him. I thought, hey, I had never really sought out god, and all these coincidences were too weird. He must be calling to me.
The real turning point came when I went on a mission trip to Mexico. It was a blast and I really thought about all this a lot. When I got back, I was baptized. I joined a bible study, and began playing guitar in the worship band. People said I was "on fire". The next year was awesome, and I led a bible study. I made it a goal to witness to at least one person each day. I did tons of work for the church and with the people there. Then I found a book - "More than a Carpenter" by Josh McDowell. I read it and for the first time, I really contemplated the intellectual side of christianity. I decide I was smarter than most people, and being a christian was wonderful, so I was going to become an apologist and convert intellectuals to christ.
I got on the Web and started debating, particularly at www.infidels.org - years ago when the boards had a different format. I read apologetics books, and wrote an article for the school paper slamming evolution. I decided to read atheist books and refute them. The first two I read were "Myths and Deceptions of the Bible" by Lloyd Graham and "The Passover Plot" by H. Schonfeld. These books suck, so tearing them apart was easy. After about 6 months, people on the evolution board at the infidels site refused to argue with me. They said I knew nothing about evolution and gave me a list of books to read. I took some time off of the boards and did just that. This was the start of the fall.
I went from a YEC to an Old Earther, to a theistic evolutionist in a matter of months. The evidence for evolution was overwhelming. I had been a christian almost 2 years now, and had finally read the whole bible - something I later found out almost no christians had done. I couldn't understand why religion was so important to me, yet many people who were raised in the faith simply took it for granted, and had never thoroughly questioned it.
About this same time, I started noticing biblical contradictions, and having them thrown at me by atheists. I did what Aaron was doing previously and simply copied responses out of books to explain them. Then, the first real seed of doubt came. I read about all the amazing prophecies Jesus fulfilled, and the amazing odds against him fulfilling them all. But one thing didn't make sense... Many chapters contained multiple references to christ, but other verses in the chapter weren't applied to him. So, I asked both my ministers how, if I knew nothing about Jesus, could I know that one verse in Psalm 22 (for example) applied to him, and another verse didn't. What would tip me off in advance as to what to look for? Wow, good question they said, no one had ever asked it or thought about that. I never found a satisfactory answer to it.
I also began reading up on "pagan christs" and other dying-reviving gods. I realized there was only one christian book that responded to this, (by Leon McKenzie) and it sucked. Although I still found some answers to atheist questions (many atheists are as bad as fundies with their logic) my list of "un-answerables" was growing rapidly. I also started to realize that when I used to slam evolution, everyone at church agreed with me and thought I was "soooo" smart. Now that I believed in it, but was still a strong christian, they thought I was wrong and was an idiot. I began to realize they were only listening to people telling them what they wanted to hear.
I finally found some good atheist books. I particularly like "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification" by Martin and "Losing Faith in Faith" by Barker. I couldn't refute most of the arguments in these books. I was falling fast. Also, as a leader in the church, I began to learn about the scandal going on there. Leaders having sex, people out drinking, fighting that led to some people leaving for a different church. It didn't make sense to me how two people could be on opposite sides of the fence when the Holy Spirit was supposedly guiding both of them. I still loved going to church, although I became less involved my last year of grad school (4 years after beginning this journey). So, I settled into fideism (look it up if you don't know).
That went fine for a year or so. My fiancee was raised fundy but had supported me throughout my doubts. She had become more open minded to them after I challenged her to take one hour, a piece of paper, all 4 gospels, and write down what happened after the resurrection. Plus, I talked her into reading Jon Weiner's "Beak of the Finch" which helped her to open up to evolution.
The back breaker, the thing that turned me from a fideist to a don't-care, or whatever I am now, was AI. I got interested in artificial intelligence 3 years ago, right before I finished my MBA. That got me interested in the brain, and that was the death knell for god. By reading about the brain, the different diseases people have, and the effects of them, I realized that the world is not what we think it is. I realized our minds lie to us. I realized our memories are inaccurate and our emotions can't be trusted to tell us what is real. I realized our perception is skewed. I learned that by closing the eyes and chanting or singing, stimulus to the part of the brain that defines the boundary between "self" and "everything else" became less active, thus leading to a feeling of oneness, or wholeness of the group. It was devastating. I finally shrugged off my faith last year.
I still read apologetics books. My wife and I took turns reading "Case for Christ" out loud. It gave me a chance to raise many objections, and for us to discuss them. People say I have no moral compass, am evil,etc. But I still pretty much live the lifestyle I did as a christian. We are financially successful and give more than 10% of our income to charities. I only drink in moderation. I don't cuss much, because I believe words mean things, including swear words, and using f*** every other word strips it of meaning and power, so you can't use it correctly when you really need to. I love and honor my wife. I can actually say my life is better now, because I can define my own future and goals without waiting for some being that I can't understand to show me the way by speaking to my heart.
Lots more happened along the way. The objections to religion racked up and up and up until finally I could hang on no longer. If god is real, and wants me, he can come talk to me for 30 seconds. I would never question again and I would walk in his shoes like few people every have. But I can't pledge allegiance to something I don't believe. I can't fake being a christian. The funny thing is, when I used to believe, I always wondered if I was wrong. Now that I don't, I am 99.999% sure than I am right. I hope this wasn't too boring for all of you. I'd be interested in hearing more of your stories too.