I’ve enjoyed this site and the support I’ve gotten from reading about so many other ex-Christians around the globe for a while now. I’ve been meaning to write my own de-conversion story but never got around to it. What follows grew out of a recent email exchange in response to a monthly column I write for my local paper, usually about freethinking, atheism, etc. First some background:
I grew up in a Southern Baptist home with very loving and supportive parents. My childhood was pretty typical and happy. I was saved as a teenager at a revival, made my public profession of faith, and baptized. For the next 10 years or so I was a Biblical-literalist, born again evangelical. I was active in the church, went to youth camps like Centrifuge, prayed daily, had a quit time almost daily, read the Bible incessantly, and witnessed whenever I got the chance. In short, I was “on fire for God” and I was happy.
In my early 20’s (in college of course) I started to meet a lot of people who believed differently than me, and a lot of these people were a lot smarter than me. I started reading things that I couldn’t answer and began to have doubts about some aspects of my faith, but never questioned God’s love or wisdom. To work on my doubts, I did what every good Christian should. I prayed. A lot. I also read the Bible independently and with various study guides and apologetic literature.
My initial questions dealt with alcohol. I was raised believing drinking was sin, plain and simple. But reading the Bible I found out that it never says that. There are even Bible passages (such as Proverbs 31:6-7) that say moderate drinking is a good thing! Next came the overwhelming evidence for evolution. I was taught in Sunday school that the earth was less than 10,000 years old and there was no evidence for evolution. But when I looked at the mountains (literally in some cases) of evidence in support of evolution I saw that wasn’t so, and that evolution is in fact one of the most vigorously supported theories in science supported by many independent lines of evidence from many different fields of science. If “the church” was lying about these types of things, what else might they be lying about, I asked myself. In essence, these lies opened the door and made me question the other things. If I had been raised in a more moderate or liberal denomination I may never had had the onus to question my faith at all.
The problem was the way I approached it. There’s a reason preachers always say you should start with the Bible as your foundation and check the facts against it. I am by nature a left-brained person and logic appeals to me. I was studying science in school and learning how the scientific process worked, and as a result I was approaching faith the same way. I was examining facts, and trying to see what conclusion they best supported rather than simply relying on the Bible as pure truth regardless of the facts.
Over the next few years my questions and doubts grew. I was pretty scared during this time because my faith was the most precious thing in the world to me. In desperation I met with ministers, priests, preachers, and respected laypeople hoping they could help me resolve my questions or at least point me to satisfactory scripture. But none of their answers, or those I could find myself seemed reasonable. Please keep in mind that through all of this, I was still a Bible believing Christian and was praying constantly. But sometime in this process I slowly moved to what I would call an agnostic believer. I wasn’t sure anymore, but I was still desperate to cling to my faith. Maybe out of fear of death or hell, aversion to the familiar and social ostracism I knew would follow if I left the faith.
My problem, though, is that I kept asking questions, and that I expected answers based on facts rather than faith.
Another problem was that I had the same misconception about what atheism was that most theists have. I thought it was a positive declaration that God doesn’t exist. I thought it must be an empty and sad existence. But it isn’t either one. It’s simply a lack of a positive belief in a god, and most atheists seemed pretty happy and content.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that I was an atheist myself. The final straw was that my God, God whom I loved and wanted to please more than anything, God who promised to always be there with me, God who was supposed to be the almighty…simply let me go. Despite my agonized, weeping prayers begging for faith, my God remained silent. I know I was a real Christian. I know I wanted to remain that way. I wasn’t rebelling or simply wanting to live a consequence free sinful life. In short, this “almighty” God was crushed out of existence by reason.
De-converting was a painful and extremely scary process. But I believe that sometimes doing the right thing is hard, and that truth is more important that comfort. In the end, it was worth it. I was ostracized by former friends, had family members get angry and hurt, and lost the promise of eternal bliss. But even though I was a happy Christian, I’m a happier atheist.