What would cause someone to abandon the very thing that saved their life? How could someone who would've given everything up for what they believed... give up what they believed in order to gain nothing? My name is Aaron and this is my conversion and de-conversion story.
Being raised as a Lutheran in suburban America was a great way to grow up. My mom and dad loved me and poured a ton of love and great things into my life. I'm thankful for the chapel services, memory verses, and message of grace that was taught to me growing up. My Christian upbringing would lend a helping hand to the drama to follow in my teen years.
I was always an intense drama and threw myself into everything wholeheartedly... well... that I really felt like doing anyway.
By age 15, I began the momentum of my flirtation with the drug world. 'Pot never killed anyone. OK. Inhale it through this Mountain Dew bottle, huh? Whatever.' I didn't get high the first or second time. Somehow this only made me more curious as to what they were all laughing at and it built up a little determination to really figure it out.
So it started small, as most things seem to, but the once a month or so turned into once a week, then day, then at lunch at school and at work too. Then...I got bored so it was time for the next frontier.
I would go on to do a couple hundred hits of LSD over the next several years. Unless you walked in those shoes, you can't come close to imagine the insanity that never ceased. Standing numb there laughing in the campfire amidst the smell of your leg hairs burning, being terrifyingly convinced that you were dead and no one could see you, seeing crazy hallucinations, driving like an animal only to spin out into the other lane around the 15mph curve 'cause you were doing 90, and on and on and on.
All of this excess was bound to lead to emptiness, desperation, and defeat.
Out of the World
There were no angels singing hallelujah, no one else with me, and really no peace that first night that I prayed since I was a child. 'God, I know I haven't talked to you for years, but I need you to get me out of this.' Nothing changed the next morning or even the next month for that matter, but my desire to get out had surfaced.
Over the next year or so would prove to be some of the hardest, but sweetest months of cyclical failures mixed with glorious restorations. No program, church, book, mentor, or friend was there to lead me out of the mess I'd made. It was me and God working it out on our own. That voice of truth within me would eventually come to be known as the only thing of reality in my experience.
I began reading the book of Proverbs in the summertime for 10 minutes a day before work and not because I was told to, but because I just wanted to. The little 'nuggets of truth and wisdom' were encapsulating. Needless to say as things progressed I eventually would become (in my mind) a Christian force to be reckoned with. I delved into the study of the validity of the bible and other logical reasons to believe. RC Sproul, Josh McDowell, and others would hold some of the most glorious arguments for Christ that I'd ever heard. The summer mission projects were an avenue to hundreds of conversations with all kinds about the gospel message of Jesus Christ. I felt unstoppable on my mission for Christ as I led Bible studies, preached door to door, and discipled other men in their walks with God. I used to scoff at the street preachers shouting from park benches... now I was one. Preaching the good news of faith in Jesus being the only way to God to thousands of people can really solidify the faith of a Christian. I prayed the sinner's prayer with more people than I can remember and it was never a religious conviction. I knew what God had done in my life and my absolute love for Him and my desire to share this awesome truth compelled me at the most sincere heart level. I loved Jesus with everything I was. He saved my life from all the death and despair that bounded me.
I desired full time ministry and felt a call to eventually go. Music had become one of my greatest loves. Writing songs, playing guitar, singing and leading worship provided refreshment every time I played. Things just opened up for me naturally in this area and I was blessed to have recorded three CDs and sold about 1500 or so of them. It wasn't Christian music as I saw it, but an intimate portrait of my relationship with God. Quitting my full time job three weeks after returning from our honeymoon probably didn't excite my father-in-law, but I had to do what was in my heart. I guess I would advise anyone that was going to go into full time music ministry to have at least one or two gigs lined up before you up and quit your job (unless of course, you have a huge stash). Needless to say, my wife had this terrible habit of sleeping indoors and eating at least three times each day. I went back to work.
Hitting a Wall
The next several years spent pursuing material success were driven by a 'vision from God' and fueled by positive thinking books and tapes. The 'positive thinking' scene and church aided this 'future millionaire for God' that was motivated by a passion to advance the kingdom of God. However, I only lasted several years running the 16-18 hour work days that were power packed with everything I could do to 'make it work.' But, I only ended up at another dead end that would lead to another year in professional counseling to be added to the three years or so that I went through in years past where I worked through the emotional issues connected with all the drugs, violence, and self-abuse.
Freedom was not in pleasure pursuits. I tried that.
Freedom was not in pursuing success (even if 'under the anointing'). I tried that.
By now I knew that truth makes a person free, so I continued on in my quest. Destroyed inside, yes, but my desperation would lead to that which I never permanently found in the world or my faith. Both are temporary and both fail, even if someone never experiences it until death. Even most Christians would agree that they both end in death. (Faith isn't necessary or possible on planet heaven.) If you see, there's no need for faith. My death came before the death of the physical body.
So this desperation brought on by the collapse of all my dreams and desires had one pursuit... one question...
Who Am I?
Where to find the answer to this all consuming question of mine was obvious... the Bible.
Over the next several years I pressed into my faith with an all consuming focus and laser eye that I didn't know was capable within a man. I had a key to the apostolic church that we attended and I used it every morning to unlock the door so I could have a sacred place to pray and work it out with God. The prayers were accompanied by short and long fasts that seemed to really tune in the transmissions from God. My studying the Bible 30-40 hours a week would be the road to the pure and ultimate freedom I sought, but...
It didn't come in the form any of my Christian peers would expect.
The season of discovering my identity in Christ was by far the most revolutionizing study that I believe can be done if a Christian seeks growth in their walk. In my brokenness, I decided to stand and believe the words that pointed me to who I am. Most Christians spend more time explaining the Bible than they do believe it (by my experiential observation anyway).
Most every verse dealing with this new creation (not upgraded model) person that I was... was written in the present tense. There was no waiting for planet heaven someday. I realized that the promises were for now. I actually started to see Jesus for who the New Testament writers saw him to be and I actually swallowed the verses that said that...
- I'm a new creature
- I am a Son of God
- I am a brother of Christ
- I have a divine nature
- Jesus had a God... even after the resurrection
- Jesus was begotten (i.e. had a beginning)
- There is only one throne that the Father, Jesus, and me all sit on
- I am a god
- I am a king
- I am a lord
- If 'I' died and his life is lived through me, then I'm Christ
This is where the great divide happened in my journey out of Christianity. I discovered that I was not only 'not separated' from God, but I was 'not separate' from God. Unification, 'Thee in me and I in Thee.' But... most of the Christian community can't seem to lose the idea that they are 'only' a 'sinner saved by grace.' It was pretty clear to this Bible-believing born again man.
Out of Christianity
I asked every question all over again and the confidence I had gained from the love of the Spirit fearlessly propelled me to look into everything I felt led to. The same voice that led me out of the ashes of death and despair was faithful and I trusted and knew that voice to be more sure than every thing, thought, or even idea. The most basic assumptions were called into question. My motto was 'The truth will stand through every challenge presented to it.' Though my Christian companions would agree with this motto intellectually, few (if any) put this claim to the rigorous tests I had presented. Maybe the full time and trained ordained ministers that I was associated with had asked and could answer the 180+ questions that I had listed in my questionnaire about the most simple and basic tenets of Christian interpretation of scripture, but their astounded reaction to my submission didn't give me that impression.
Sure, I got some intellectual explanations as to why this and why that, but no matter what the answer, I seemed to have at least three scriptures that would contradict the explanation. The reason for so many denominations was beginning to become clear.
It's really pretty easy. Whenever someone gets trapped by the contradicting verses in the bible, all they have to do take the verse that fits their world view literally and then explain the other's 'deeper meaning' or 'what it really means.' This can become quite a magnificently creative process. They use the 'original language' or 'other versions' of the bible or any other 'logical' reasoning that is first filtered through their faith. Rarely is the response, 'Hey, good question, maybe my doctrinal stance is incorrect.'
See, religious (and other) world views are like a foundational floor that is held up by many stations that carry the load of the intellectual structure or doctrine. If someone sees and investigates a crack in one of the stations, the first column may collapse. It isn't unheard of for doctrinal positions to change by the taking down and rebuilding of columns. It seems that if you continue to drill down and down and even further down in seeking to discover the core that every column crumbles in the round-robin game that the seeker finds themselves playing.
Key Question in the Search for Truth: Can All of What I Believe to be True Fit Together and Never Contradict Itself?
For example: Regarding Identity... 'I am a sinner' and 'I am a new creature that is united and one with Christ' and 'Christ is holy and has no sin.' Let's do some simple algebra...
'I'A, 'Christ'B, and 'Sinner'C.
Due to the fact that "...he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:17) and the countless other verses showing union as in 'one,' then AB. Therefore, if B does not equal C, then A cannot equal C either. It is therefore impossible for an authentic Christian to be a... C-Sinner.
So, if you're 'united with Christ', it is impossible for you to be a sinner saved by grace, unless of course you're very confused about who you are as a Christian. The only other option is that if AC and AB, then BC... and I don't think you'll find too many Christians who will proclaim Christ to be a sinner. (As an aside for you Christians... can you look into your heart where Christ is seated and into the heavenly places where you are seated with him and please tell me where you end and God begins?)
Anyway... this is only a nano-hint as to the simple and reasonable applications of what would seem to be a reasonable mindset in any other respectable field of discovery. As this kind of recognition continued, all of the columns began to crumble... one doctrine after another. This process can take quite a toll emotionally, but just on the other side of the destruction was the freedom that I was after.
It wasn't long until I stopped even calling myself a Christian. As I saw it, the Father that I knew would never eternally torment someone for unbelief as is prophesied to occur by most Christians. This confidence of knowing 'my Father' and my absolute union with his divine nature that I had received (put the rocks down, Christian, and read your bible... 2 Peter 1:4) gave me the confidence to challenge every single interpretation and assumption made by everyone around me.
When exactly the gospel message turned from 'you are forgiven' to 'you have the opportunity to be forgiven,' I'm not really sure. A little nugget that helped me get closer to what I was looking for was the revelation that we need to ask, 'From whose perspective, God's or man's?' How could Jesus take away the sin of the world, but yet put it back on someone that doesn't believe? Was it eradicated or not?
Parked in front of Krispy Kreme Donuts, tears of repentance flowed down my cheeks. Listening to Acts 10 on mp3, it hit me....
And the vision told him, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." This man Cornelius who worshiped Peter upon his arrival was seen by God as cleansed... BEFORE he ever even heard the gospel message and believed one stinkin' part of it. The scales fell from my eyes and I saw that God considered everyone cleansed. Period. If that was God's perspective, I was going to see the same thing. That was when I started to realize that I wasn't given an 'extra' grace of some election that has no choice but to produce the fruit of separation that contaminates the majority of Christian minds today. I realized that we all were one family. (Back 'er down Christian, I hear the arguments. 'But what is salvation then if not forgiveness?')
The only way it could be reconciled with me at the time was that God has the true perspective and we as man have our experience. In order to experience this forgiveness, repentance was necessary. Then the question comes up about the judgment of eternal damnation. Well, I would've said, 'You show me a judge that forces someone into solitary confinement in a maximum prison for life after someone paid his fine in full because he didn't believe it was or needed to be paid and I'll show you the picture of the modern Christian's God.'
'Though they are evil', they'd free the prisoner and throw that judge in jail for pulling a rotten stunt like that.
I entered a realm where I began to see with 'the single eye' that Christ said would fill everything with light. My eye was beginning to see the oneness of all things. I was beginning to see that if it all came out of God, then it was all the substance of God Itself. (by the way... if God is omnipresent which means 'everywhere,' how can anyone be separated from God by being put in hell?)
After reading enough scripture, I began to suspect that the claims of inerrancy couldn't be true. This was all confirmed for me when I did everything I could to reconcile the different resurrection accounts in the 4 gospels. So, if I may digress... here's a challenge to all the Christians pounding the drum of inerrancy. ..
First, take each gospel and label every event with a letter (i.e. 'Mary goes to tomb'A, etc.) Then put all four of them together and watch as the 'miraculous and divine harmony' appears before you. Finally, once you've got them all together, make a list of everything that would have to be true for your sequence to work. If this all seems a bit daunting or if the response to the inability to do this is 'hey, it's just different people's perspectives of the same event and if we had all the missing details it would make sense. God just values our simple faith even without all the facts,' then all I have to say is... 'No, it's not JUST different people's perspectives; it is supposed to be the INERRANT WORD OF GOD. And if the resurrection is so paramount within God's world view and he loved us and wanted us to know the truth and God would know that this simple analysis would be done by simple and logical people, than why did He use words (it's not MAN'S WORD remember) that would make no sense. If He did, but we have to take 10 years of Greek and study Jewish and Roman history for 20 years to understand all the nuances, then I ask.... Who then can ever know the truth? I guess we could just trust the 'educated man.' This advice really sounds like it would come from Jesus, huh? No. The message of Christianity is supposed to be simple... so maybe I was just too complex to figure it out. I guess all the Christians can send a FWD email out to all their Christian brothers and sisters to pray for me every day until this and the other couple of hundred major contradictions can come into clear view or can just stop making any difference. Or... just advise me to close my eyes and hit the 'just have faith, God is a mystery' button.
OK... back to the story.
I'll never forget the morning of the day it came crashing down. I woke up around 3:30 in the morning and continued my struggle to reconcile the accounts for an additional 4 hours. By 7:30, I jumped into my car on the peak of mad insanity as I watched it crumble and I wailed with anguished tears... 'WHAT HAPPENED!?!?!' I drove off and I wept and asked Him... 'Did you rise from the dead or not?' The response in my heart was shocking... 'I NEVER DIED.'
The voice that was leading me for all those years was certainly not a resurrected god/man who was begotten 2000+ years ago. It was some other mystery that I thought was a god somewhere out in the cosmos that had the ability to talk to everyone simultaneously and with everyone individually. He was on another mystery planet picking out curtains for my new house that we built leading people to Jesus.
I took my discoveries and train of thought regarding the resurrection accounts to an ordained minister who basically responded with a, 'Man, I don't really know. I wish I had more time to look into it, but I'm pretty busy.' Honestly, I totally appreciate his honest and frank comment. 'I don't really know' is more often than not the best answer.
The circular reasoning and myriad of contradictions were overwhelming to me when I tried to really put it all together. Every man had a perspective and interpretation and I could understand all of the frames that they were looking through, but I couldn't get ever get a solid hold on anything. It was slipping away into the nothing that it really is.
As questions persisted with those around me, it was never too far into it that their inability to give a sound and congruent explanation that didn't contradict with something that they'd said five minutes beforehand; they stepped back, and punted with 'it's about faith.' I had no choice but to interpret this as 'the mystery of truths presented in the Bible just need to be believed and not understood.' I will never be able to accept such an answer from any person or any book that claims to have 'the truth' and 'the answer.' If I can't even understand the simplest claims of Christianity through arduous and diligent study, how can I believe that it's real?
There are a couple of books more, but I must wrap this thing up. How did I come to be an atheist? There are many reasons, but the crux of how it crystallized with me was simple.
Back Into the World, but Free
Once the union of all things settled in... this God personality disappeared. If this so called omnipresent and all powerful God was infinite, then a personality separate and apart from anything is impossible. If infinity is everywhere, then it ceases to exist and therefore everything can be contained within this environment of infinity of no thing. To give you a visual... if everything was white then white would cease to exist for white can only be known because it is not something else. If it was always day, there wouldn't be any daytime. It is only night that gives us the ability to have day. If this God is infinite, then there is no distinction and without distinction there can be no definition and without definition the Christian God is dead for the Christian can never say one thing about God's distinct character and what 'He' is or is not like. Infinity excludes nothing... even the 'unbeliever.'
With infinity we have the environment for everything, an infinite individual separated and apart from the infinity is impossible.
The concept of the Christian God, let alone a God at all, is simply impossible to me. And if the answer that 'He' is beyond our understanding and logic, then even if 'He' does exist, it is clear that I can never know 'Him' and I am forever lost.
What About Christianity?
Christians await anxiously the day when their god named Jesus returns to take their luckily elected souls to eternal bliss and simultaneously judge and banish 99% of all mankind that has ever lived (many of whom will be their family and people they work with) to a realm of eternal torment and suffering. If you have any memories in heaven of your life on earth, then heaven is impossible. Could you live in eternal bliss with the memory of your spouse, children, or grandma frying in hell? Who knows? Maybe you'll just forget everything and this life was predetermined from the foundation of the world only for the purpose of creating billions of souls... for most to fry and the vast minority to be in eternal bliss. This just doesn't seem like the God that I was serving throughout my Christian journey.
I can't believe that most, if many, Christians really realize the whole impact of what they say that they believe because I think most, if not all, have the best intentions and a good heart. If they realized what they were saying, their heart would reject it altogether.
As a child, it's harmless and perhaps beneficial to believe that Santa Claus is real, but there comes a time to grow up and see reality. The Christian belief system gave me something to hang on to and if I didn't believe it, it wouldn't have worked. My true heart devoured the imaginations of Christianity. Truly... death was swallowed up by life.
I don't claim to know anything anymore. The path to what I would call truth today was more about losing than it was gaining. It was more about letting go than holding on. It was more about being OK with not knowing than knowing. I worked so hard to hang onto everything, but I lost the will to need to know and in this not knowing, I found freedom. In the emptiness, I was fulfilled.
I can't explain all the mysteries of life. I simply know that convincing me to believe in a 'god' again would be like trying to convince Stephen Hawking that our galaxy is the only one that exists. Impossible... he may not understand all of what the Universe is, but he does know what it is not limited to.