sent in by Mikel
What happens when you try to believe two contradictory things at the same time? Such as the belief that the universe is ruled by the laws of science and that the universe is controlled by a supernatural being. Or that I am a good and worthwhile person and also that I am so horrible that I must lean on God’s mercy to avoid hell. Or “creation-science”? A few years ago while I was still a Christian I read _1984_ by George Orwell and was introduced to this notion of “double-think.” The book is not really about religion (at least not that I remember) but when I read about double-think I couldn’t stop my mind from making the connection to religion – even though at the time I refused to consider the implications.
I was an agnostic for a long time before I realized it or was willing to admit it. I prayed and nothing happened, I went to church and nothing changed. During revivals I kept going to the altar and genuinely expected God to work changes in my life and to guide me, but nothing ever happened. And nothing happened in the churches I went to that was not brought about by pure human effort – however much they “gave God the glory.” I longed for a “personal testimony” so I could tell people what God had done in my life – but I couldn’t think of anything that would convince me, much less anyone else. I was always afraid of witnessing although I was well versed in my faith and in the bible. But at the same time I felt I had to witness—if I didn’t tell them about Jesus and warn them of hell, I didn’t really care and I would be held responsible for not warning them of eternal consequences. I had read Christian apologetics like Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis and More Then A Carpenter by I don’t remember who. I could talk and debate with other Christians about what the bible said, because we all believed in the bible. But when it came to trying to convince an unbeliever that the bible is reliable, I was clueless. None of the arguments were convincing to me! Even though I accepted them because I already believed.
Eventually double-think can wear a person down, and it made me depressed for a long time. I went to a church school for my first two years of college and after the initial high (I thought it was because of God that I was able to attend there, and thus had something to say about what God had done in my life) I found myself in low spirits most of the time. What was being said in the chapel services was not what was taught in the academic courses on religion I was taking. In class I was learning about how the bible was put together by councils, and how Isaiah 53 was not even a messianic passage. I also learned about the multiple schisms and disagreements about basic tenants of Christianity in the early Christian church. Things like how much is Jesus god and how much is he man! I had thought there could not have been a question about this at all! I remember being close to tears in the library as I studied and pondered this on more than one occasion. If god could not have been more clear in his revelation of the truth back then—as to avoid all the schisms and disagreements on disputable passages—what kind of clarity can we expect today?
Then I discovered science. I transferred out of the Christian college (for various reasons) and enrolled in a secular university near my home. And one of the first courses I took was Introduction to Astronomy, since it covered a natural sciences requirement and because I’ve always been fascinated with the night sky. In the first secular science class I had since middle school I learned about the evolution of stars and cosmology and the cosmic background radiation—predicted (!) leftover of the Big Bang. (WOW! An actual acurately fufilled prediction! This is more then religion ever delivered!) Later, this lead me to read a bit about the theory of evolution and realize that all branches of science are connected—deny one of them (like creationism does to evolution) and you might as well throw all of them out. The evolution of the cosmos and that of life on earth are closely connected, after all. Also, I realized that in science, theories and hypothesis are made and tested and if they do not describe reality as we know it they are thrown out. This is the self-correction of science; ideas that are false are eventually displayed as false and discarded. Unlike religious dogma, which is not open to challenge and has perpetuated error for centuries at a time. I decided that natural explanations of the world were superior to supernatural ones, and by this time I was on my way to agnostic-atheism. This naturalistic view made sense to me, and didn’t require me to force absurd beliefs on my mind.
The Christians would say “This world is not my home” because they are expecting to go to a home in heaven in the end. But as for me, I am a natural part of the universe, and I belong here—not as an artifact placed here by some god, but as a natural phenomena in my own right. This world, this universe, free of angels and demons and heaven and hell, is my home.
Became a Christian: Not sure, raised into it from a very young age.
Ceased being a Christian: Gradual deconverson over about 4-5 years. . . started considering myself an atheist at age 23 (this year).
Labels before: Nazarene
Labels now: agnostic-atheist, bright, skeptic, humanist
Why I joined: raised that way
Why I left: Continually asked myself why I believe and decided eventually that there are more good reasons not to believe.
A letter to my mother:
Why I Don't Believe in Christianity
First I want to thank you for your patience and ask you to continue to be patient with me. I am sorry that my attitude has not been the best around you - but this, I suppose, is a consequence of trying to hide my thoughts and feelings about what I know you hold very dear to your heart. Lately I have seen where I have been wrong and I've been trying to behave better. I've been afraid for a long time that you would find out about my disbelief, and have thought long and hard about how to break it to you. Of course, now that you have figured it out, I no longer have to worry about that.
(By the way, I have never heard of an organization called "the church of the infidels." [She originally confronted me about my unbelief--after she found www.infidels.org in the family computer history and connected this with my recent disregard for church-- by asking why I choose the "church of the infidels."] When you first used the term I was shocked that you brought up the subject and took it to mean that you know that I am an infidel, unbeliever, apostate, or whatever words you with to use. I prefer to think of myself as a skeptic. But when I got over the initial shock, the term offended me very much. This is only to say that I would like for both of us to avoid emotionally-charged language when talking to one another on the subject of religious beliefs. Even if you think you are simply saying it "the way it is." It only leads to hurt feelings, and that can't do any good at all.)
Before going in the reasons for my disbelief, I want to point out what my reasons are not. First of all I did not do it to try to hurt anyone or to break away from the family. Once when I was looking into the Catholic Church you said something about me disregarding my family heritage. Personally, I think the reasons for the religious beliefs of a person must go beyond simply what they were brought up to believe. You know this. "God has no grandchildren," as they say. Another reason that is not why I left Christianity is because I want to indulge in some new sin without worrying about the consequences. Besides not going to church, my lifestyle has not changed--nor has my sense of morality (for the most part, my morals have not been based strictly on religious doctrine anyway). I have not indulged in any sin except perhaps the "sin" of disbelief, of which I have tried to repent of many, many times before I gave in. I wish I had a dime for every time I prayed "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" and "Keep me from falling." Something about my mind simply will not accept belief (without doubt) of things of which I am simply not convinced.
Actually, for a long time I was convinced of the truth of Christianity. I'm not sure where my doubts began, perhaps gradually with the continuous replacement of supernatural causes with natural ones the more I learn about the world and about science. I'll do my best not to embellish my memories - the human mind can work wonders at interpreting events when trying to make a point! Remember the W.O.W. [Wisdom of the Word, a Bible study program] meeting where we were going around the table and talking about experiences/situations where we have seen God (or, more appropriately, seen God at work)? When you came to me my mind drew a complete blank. I was not playing games, but was taking the exercise very seriously and did not want to make anything up. I could not think of a single thing that I could attribute to God, nothing at least that I could not much more simply attribute to human or natural causes. I figured that I was just inexperienced or not looking hard enough. But I still can't think of anything I could attribute to God that I could not more easily attribute to more natural causes.
For a while my faith was based totally upon the Bible. If you could have shown me that the Bible said something, I would believe it. After all, there were all those prophesies that Jesus fulfilled. But which of them were really intended as prophesies in the first place? I remember learning from my Introduction to Biblical Faith class that I took at [name of church-sponsored school] that my personal favorite prophesy, Isaiah 53, was not even considered to be a messianic prophesy by the Jews. (I wish I still had my book-I don't trust my own memory very well in this.) And it doesn't all fit Jesus either-"He shall see his seed" (Isaiah 53:10) -what does this mean? I take "seed" to mean descendants (it does say "offspring" in the NRSV)-but Jesus had no children. And where in the Old Testament does it say that the messiah must be killed and then be raised to life on the third day?
I know that you are a lot more studied in Biblical prophecy than I am, and if you want to pick out a few prophesies and write a paper to demonstrate how they are genuine messianic prophesies and not after the fact coincidences that parallel the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, then I promise I will read it. I am skeptical, but open to evidence. (In fact, if I wasn't open to evidence I wouldn't be skeptical but rather dogmatic.) Saying that the Gospel writer cited it as a prophecy is not sufficient. Nothing would point to the authenticity of the Bible like a few genuinely specific fulfilled prophesies. However, in the absence of such prophesies I can see no evidence of the Divine Revelation in scripture-and thus no reason why I should believe in the Bible as containing the one and only Truth.
You asked for two paragraphs? I didn't think I'd be able to squeeze all of this into two paragraphs. But here is what you asked for specifically-the benefits of non-belief. These are totally subjective, of course. And, of course, whether or not religion or disbelief makes me feel more comfortable or not is irrelevant to the truth of it all. You may have these things within the framework of faith. I didn't.
The ability to be honest with myself about my doubts-freedom from the guilt I felt about my honest thoughts.
Ability to stop worrying compulsively about the state of my salvation. Among other things (not including the behavior of other church members-they really are wonderful people!), this made me extremely depressed during and after church services, and that is the main reason why I stopped going to [name of church deleted] and didn't want to go back.
Now able to live more in the present moment--life before death is worthy of my full attention.
Not feeling like I have this huge responsibility to push Christianity on all my friends (I nearly drove [name deleted] completely away because of this one. He is still a believer, by the way. I haven't tried to "de-convert" him.)
Freedom from the feeling that I am really a horrible person (would go to hell if not for the mercy of God, deserved to be on the cross, etc) but that God just loves me for some completely unimaginable reason. (It was never said like this in so many words, but my mind couldn't help but draw this conclusion.)
Confirmation. A naturalistic worldview has the advantage of verifiability. Though some scientific theories cannot be tested directly, they at least spin implications (hypothesis) that can be tested. Scientists have been wrong before (used to think the Earth was central to the universe, for example), but ongoing discovery and testing tend to correct those mistakes. It's an ongoing, progressive learning process. For this reason, I accept a scientific worldview as being more reliable than a religious one.
I still retain humility at all the things I know that I don't know. I don't have the answers to the world's problems and I don't pretend that I do.
You might say that I have misunderstood what I have been told about Christianity and that my trouble is simply the result of the devil messing with my mind. If this is correct, then I should simply stop thinking for myself at all and follow blindly the teachings of the church. I would also have to blindly believe that there is a devil in order to accept this line of reasoning in the first place. Same with original sin, a concept that gave me difficulty from the first time I heard it. You have to believe the teaching of Christianity that we are born guilty in order to believe that Christianity can save us from that innate sin. It goes in one big circle.
Perhaps all I have to say comes down to this: I can't prove there is no God and you can't prove there is a God. But I am deeply suspicious of a claim that cannot, by its very supernatural nature, be proven nor disproved--especially a claim that demands that I devote my entire life to it.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)