sent in by Jamie McDonald
I became a Christian at the age of 17. At the time I was living in a University College - anyone who knows those sort of places know its like living in a goldfish bowl, everyone knows everything that you're doing all the time. Anyway my conversion was nothing short of spectacular, in the space of about two weeks I went from boozy party animal to hyper spiritual mr. Born Again. People were fascinated by my conversion, and in the following weeks I was able to lead several to Christ. I became something of a talking point amongst my fellow students.
From there things only became more intense. Over the following years I led still more people to Christianity. Upon graduation from Uni I felt a 'call' to ministry, and several years later ended up on the full time staff of my church. My role was as an evangelist amongst university students, as well as leading our churches youth group of about 100 young adults. These were certainly spectacular times, and I lost count of the number of people I prayed the 'sinners prayer' with. I was very much involved with what we called 'cold turkey' evangelism, which meant going up to people cold and asking if I could talk to them about Jesus. I can remember on one occasion leading a young Singaporian man to Christ with tears in his eyes. Heady stuff, I was convinced that God was working through me in a powerful way.
I worked for the church for seven years, but at the end of that time decided full time Christian Ministry was not for me. To be honest, I felt totally burned out by the church. I had gone through some really rough times with my wife's health during that time, and had received little support from my fellow pastors. I decided to pursue a secular career instead, with the intention of rubbing shoulders with 'unsaved' people. I really thought that I would have more success leading people to salvation this way, than by being employed by a church.
My faith crisis began in early 2004. It was strange how it happened, because it came absolutely out of the blue. I had been reading the gospel of Matthew at the start of the year, hoping to work through the entire Bible by Christmas. One of the things that I was working out as I read was the whole concept of hell. To be perfectly honest, hell has been an idea that I have struggled with ever since I became a Christian. Mostly I would rationalise it (like most evangelicals do) by saying it wasn't so much a place of eternal torture, as a kind of nothingness. That seemed to make it acceptable to me. However as I was reading Matthew, I was trying to come to terms with Jesus talking about a place of 'weeping and gnashing of teeth' and a 'fiery furnace'. Those passages always bothered me, and I couldn't really rationalise them. Anyway for some reason one day I was thinking about the whole subject, and decided to do some research on the internet.
I found an article concering John Stott's view of hell. For those of you who don't know, John Stott is one of the absolute darlings of mainstream evangelicalism. He caused quite a storm some years ago when he declared that he didn't believe in a literal hell. He said that belief in a literal fiery hell must either cause people to completely de-sensitise themselves to reality or drive them insane. As an alternative he put forward the idea that the unsaved cease to exist after death.
I was ecstatic to read that. Here was a Christian I respected saying that it was OK to struggle with the idea of hell, and who gave a much more human alternative.
I continued to research the internet, and was shocked by what I found. Article after article by mainstream evangelical churches slammed John Stott as a heretic for what he had said. I can remember as clear as day reading one particular article by some Baptist church in the US. They said that they believe hell is nothing less than 'eternal conscious torment'. Those words leaped out and completely seared my soul. I felt sick to the stomach, could hardly talk, and could hardly even walk, such was their effect on me. How could people even sleep at night with the belief that even one person is suffering eternal conscious torment, let alone billions of people?
The following days were very hard for me. I felt certian that I would have a breakdown, I honestly couldn't see any way out of the terrible state I found myself in. Thankfully I continued my internet research. It was then that I stumbled across an online article that changed my life. It was called 'beyond born again' - by Robert Price. This might sound strange, but in all the years I was a Christian I held the notion that no real Born Again Christian could ever fall away! All the people I had known who had ceased to be Christian I just assumed were never really Christian to begin with. But Robert Price was someone who had been heavily involved in Christian Apologetics, just like I had - and who had obviously been a genuine born again. I could hardly believe what I was reading.
Brain washing is a true evil, but it is not always detectable. For me, I had been brainwashed for years into thinking that the arguments for the Christian faith were watertight. I honestly used to find it difficult that anyone could not believe, given the 'weight' of 'solid evidence' put forward by the likes of Josh McDowell and Paul Little. Robert Price cut through their arguments like a hot knife through butter, and he also exposed the whole Christian mindset.
It was like having a stitch picked on a tightly sewn garment. Once that little stitch is gone, its only a matter of time before the whole thing falls apart. After Robert Price I discovered Ed Babinski and Dan Barker, and then exchristians.org, then Internet Infidels. Whoah! I had always been led to believe that the atheist viewpoint was weak and easily dispensed with. Instead what I found was intelligent, sensitive and well researched articles that completely turned what I had believed on its head. Just one of the arguments raised was enough to make me doubt what I had believed, but I found many. Then I read Wells 'The Jesus Myth', and Burton Mack's 'Who Wrote the New testament', 'It Aint Necessary So" by Matthew Sturgis, and 'Leaving the Fold" by Ed Babinski. It got to the point where it was information overload, and I just had to sit back and try to soak it all in.
In an effort to get the other viewpoint on what I was reading, I turned to the Tektonics website, which I had heard was very good. I felt completely sick when I started reading that guys articles. I had expected to find an intelligent counter-argument to the many excellent articles I had encountered. Instead I found nothing by bitter sarcasm combined with personal attacks on the authors of the articles. In my searching of that web page I found nothing at all that even remotely addressed the relevent issues. Instead it reinforced my growing impression that many Christians are bitter, twisted and arrogant, and would do well to actually get out into the real world for once.
So where does that leave me now? Well, I can honestly say I have enjoyed life in the last few months more than I have in a long time. And its not that my morals have changed, in fact if anything I'm more moral. Its so much easier to be a good human being because you want to be, not because you're scared of being roasted for all eternity. But for once I have been able to live my life without a constant sense of guilt and inadequacy, and its been wonderful.
I can't say that all my problems are over, however. My wife is a Christian, and just about all my friends are too. At the moment none of them know about my newfound atheism. I am sure my wife will understand, but my friends I'm not so sure about. I can foresee an endless series of concerned looks and offers to pray for me, as I end up on everyone's project list of lost souls to try and restore. Its not going to be fun. But I'm sure I'll get through it, and just maybe I'll be able to lead some of my friends to know the freedom I have found as well.
Anyway, thats my story as it is to this moment. To close, let me use a biblical quote that has taken on a new meaning for me. John 8:32 - "and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free".
Labels before: Evangelical Anglican, Assemblies of God
Labels now: Atheist
Why I joined: I needed to find meaning in life
Why I left: I realised it was a load of crap
Email Address: McDonald_912 at hotmail dot com
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)