Sent in by Danny
I don't think I've ever really sat down and wrote out the story of my deconversion. You'll have to forgive me if it comes out a bit jumbled. Like many of the stories I've read, it wasn't something that happened suddenly for me. I was a slow and arduous process.
I was born into a Presbyterian family. My mother and father were very active in the church. In fact, my mother worked in the office as a secretary and taught sunday school classes. I went to church every Sunday, attended almost every church function. During the summer, I would go to Vacation Bible School, and would be at the church almost every day. My parents weren't literalists. They didn't believe, for example, that the human race had started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. They didn't tell me this when I was young, of course. I guess they didn't want to confuse me too early. My Sunday School teachers taught us all the nice Bible stories about Moses's heroic rescuing of the Israelites from Egypt, and Jesus's teachings. I didn't hear any of the nasty stories.
I always believed in God, but for some reason, I never really liked going to church. Partly because I didn't like getting up early and getting all dressed up, but mostly because, from an early age, I preferred to study on my own and come to my own conclusions. I was a very introverted and thoughtful child. The first time I read the bible front to back I was perhaps 9 years old. Of course, I didn't understand a lot of it. It was a King James version, so I had a hard time grasping some of the passages, and this was compounded by the fact that I simply was unaware of certain adult concepts like sex that I found in my reading. It did, however, start me questioning things. Even at that young age I could see contradictions in the text, and they confused me. I hadn't yet been instructed not to take everything literally, and I knew nothing of the origins of the bible. The first question that ever came to me was about hell. I was, understandably, terrified of ending up there. I knew that there were any number of sins that could land me there, and though I knew god would forgive me any of these sins if I'd ask him to, but I wondered what would happen if I sinned, and then died before I could ask for forgiveness. This bothered me quite a bit, and I began praying fervently every chance I had, just to make sure I didn't die without a sin being forgiven.
I was around ten when my faith took it's next hit. I spent a lot of time at the church in those days, running wild and exploring while my mother worked. I knew every nook and cranny of our church. One day, I wandered into the auditorium while a man was speaking to a crowd. I stood in the back of the room and listened to him for a while. He was talking about how some stories in the bible were metaphor rather than literal fact. By this time, I had had some serious questions about a few of the old testament stories. I knew that some animals only existed in certain parts of the world, and since Adam was supposed to have named all the animals, I didn't understand how he got to Australia to name the koalas and kangaroos, or for that matter, why nobody could tell me where the garden of eden was. I had thought that a beautiful garden surrounded by a giant wall and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword would be pretty easy to find. This new idea of metaphor helped answer some of these questions, but it raised another huge one. If some of the stories in the bible were real, and some were not, how could I tell which was which?
Fast forward a couple of years. I'm in the youth group program. I still don't like going to church on Sunday mornings, but now we get to do fun stuff too. We went on weekend trips, did volunteer work at Union Station feeding the homeless once a month, and of course there was summer and winter camp, where I got to go up to the mountains and sing and play games and hang out with other good Christian kids. I always came back from these weekend and week long trips feeling energized and spiritually high, ready to recommit my life to Jesus. It usually wore off in a few daysto a week, and the questions came back. These questions were never sufficiently answered, and they always led to more complicated questions.
In junior high, we were required to write a report on the historical person of our choice. I wanted to do my report on Jesus, but my teacher told me I couldn't do that unless I could find historical information on him that didn't come directly from the bible, or another source that got their information from the bible. I didn't think this would be a problem. I figured an important guy like Jesus was bound to have tons of third party historical records. After a week of scouring the library and what was at the time a very primitive Internet, I found nothing. This confused me. How could the most important person in history not have any mention of his existence outside of the bible?
When I was 16, I was going to weekly family therapy sessions, for unrelated reasons. It was at one of these, in the middle of an argument with my parents, that I told them I didn't believe in god anymore and didn't want to go to church. With therapist's encouragement, they agreed to let me stop going. The problem was, I didn't really mean it. I still believed in god, and I was scared that what I'd said might condemn me to hell, but the questions had piled too high at that point and I just couldn't go to church any more.
Up until the time I stopped attending church, I can't say I had any bad christian experiences. This changed soon, though. I had few friends at the time, and all of them were from my church. When I stopped attending some of them were reluctant to talk to me at school anymore. My parents also seemed a little more distant from their heretic son. By leaving the church, I had torn a huge hole in my life, and I felt compelled to fill it with something. I began to study other religions. My parents didn't mind this so much when I was studying Judaism, Islam, and Zen Buddhism, but then one day when I was 19 I came home from the library with 3 books about Wicca. My parents saw these, and were furious. They accused me of devil worship. My father told me if I didn't throw that shit away, he would kick me out of the house. I didn't throw the books away, and in fact began taking Wicca classes at an occult bookstore an hour away. I didn't tell my parents about the classes, and I didn't throw away the books, but my already strained relationship with my parents neared the breaking point as a result. Shortly after my 20th birthday, I left my home in southern California and moved to Las Vegas, a Wiccan true believer.
I got involved with a woman who was also Wiccan. She claimed to have telepathic and telekinetic powers, and be a 30th generation witch. I believed everything she told me, despite the fact that I never saw any evidence of these so called powers, except for a few cold readings and mention of parts of my past that I'd mentioned to her before, but forgot telling her about. She loved telling me about my past lives, and how she was involved with me in them.
The relationship lasted about a year and a half and ended badly. Later, I began to question the things she had told me, and after that I began questioning Wicca itself. Over the next few years, I studied more religions, rejecting one after another. I can't really pinpoint when I became an atheist, or what made me make the last leap, but I spent the first 16 years of my life firmly in the grip of Christianity, and the better part of a decade after that struggling with general theism.
Nowadays, I'm proud to call myself an atheist. Every once in a while, a stranger or coworker will try to witness to me and convince me to come back to the church. When this happens I become uncomfortable, and if they're persistent enough I'll get angry. I've spent the majority of my life in a bad relationship and a flurry of rebound relationships. Why would I ever want to go back?
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)