Image by jamelah via FlickrUnlike many ex-Christians, I was not born into a religious household. My parents have always been atheists and remain so to this day. When I was a child I was introduced to Christianity through friends and families of friends. I remember when I first encountered a picture of Jesus crucified, with nails on his hands and feet and blood dripping down, it gave me the creeps. I also remember when I was first introduced to the concept of hell: a place of eternal torment and sadness and suffering, where whoever sent there would burn in agony forever and ever. That also gave me the creeps.
In elementary school, I remember one afternoon just praying for something very fervently and honestly. When looking back it was a minor and childish prayer; I wanted to play with a friend and I prayed to god that I would be able to play with that friend that day. The prayer was not answered. I was very disappointed.
While I was growing into my teenage years, many of my friends were or became Christians. They would witness to me and tell me how great god was and how I should read the bible. However, I had also started developing a cynical rationalism by high school. Didn’t the bible give a phony sounding creation story when science had proved the truth of evolution beyond a reasonable doubt? And why didn’t god answer audibly whenever someone prayed to him? Didn’t that prove that there was no one there to begin with?
In college, things began to change somewhat. I was lonely and insecure, and unsure of what to do with my life. For reasons I cannot remember now, towards the end of college I registered for a class on the new testament and really got to read the bible. I was amazed at the words of Jesus. As Matthew 7 says, he seemed to speak with authority, and his teachings were unlike anything I had ever heard or read before. I was stricken by parables like the good Samaritan and the prodigal son, and the way Jesus treated the poor and the sick.
Looking back, I believe I may have responded to the bible the way I did because I was, at the time, obsessed with the meaning of life. Questions such as: Why are we here? How should we live? What is the “good” life? I was looking for some kind of answers to these questions, or someone to follow, or some worthy cause to devote my life to. I also studied other religions such as Buddhism at the same time, and decided Christianity was the most appealing, both morally and intellectually.
So after graduating college, I decided to squelch my skepticism and distrust of religion and join a church. I attended a Pentecostal church near my home for about a year. I took bible study courses there and learned about the life of jesus, prayer, and the basics of evangelism. I began to read books by Christian authors like CS Lewis and Philip Yancey. I also spent many hours in prayer and did outreach to the homeless once in a while. Despite all this I wasn’t sure after 6 months whether I was “saved” or not, so one night I knelt and prayed to god, asking him to grant me salvation. I felt no rush of emotion or “indwelling of the spirit” or anything like that, but felt like what I had just done was enough, and that I had been saved.
After a year at the Pentecostal church, I decided to respond to an invite from a Christian friend and began attending a smaller, more fundamental church. I developed a close relationship with the pastor, and I was a devoted member of this church for over 3 years. I attended bible studies, led bible studies, attended prayer meetings, led prayer meetings, taught youth group, tithed faithfully, and went to many retreats and fellowship events. I truly believed that jesus was the son of god, that I was a sinful person who had been rescued by god, that my life should be focused on the things of god such as ministry and evangelism, and that life on earth serving god, however difficult sometimes, was worth enduring in order to spend eternity with him.
But, there were things about the church, and Christianity in general, that became more and more troubling to me. The pastor was a fundamentalist who preached 6 day creationism and did not allow women to collect offerings or give sermons. I noticed that Christians gossip and fight just like non-Christians do, and that churches regularly split into different factions. In fact, it often appeared to me that the church was more dysfunctional than my own (non-Christian) family. I prayed for the conversion of my family and relatives, for the spiritual revival of the church and its members, for the Iraq war to end, etc. etc., none of which were really answered. Although there were always excuses and justifications for unanswered prayer (i.e., God is testing you and building your faith and patience, etc.) I started wondering whether prayer really made a difference to anything. And although I “knew” I was prideful and lustful and greedy (i.e., a sinner), I also began to realize that no matter how many times I prayed or read scripture, I did not seem to be improving as a person, and did not notice any significant changes in other Christians around me either. To put it bluntly, being a Christian and doing Christian things didn’t seem to work or make a significant difference in my life or in others that I thought it should.
(One side note: the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of 6-day creationists continue to amaze me to this day. These people argue that all the scientists who claim the earth is billions of years old are wrong, that carbon dating is worthless and inaccurate, that evolution is a ridiculous belief system invented by atheists who want to eliminate god, etc. etc. But on the other hand, they have no qualms about using all the other conveniences made possible through modern day science and technology. The science that gives us computers, the Internet, cars, airplanes, vaccines, x-rays, DNA evidence, cell phones, etc. etc. also tells us that this world is over 4 billion old and that all known life forms evolved from a common ancestor. There must be something to this “science” we have developed in the past two centuries, wouldn’t you say? How these creationists can so easily dismiss the science that does not conform to their narrow creation beliefs, while readily accepting the fruits of the other breakthroughs and discoveries that those same body of scientists have worked so hard to develop, is beyond me. You can what you want about the Amish, but at least they practice what they preach and forsake modern technology altogether.)
So recently, when I was still a Christian, I decided to do a morning devotional bible study. I started as I usually did, with a short prayer asking god for guidance and wisdom through his word. That day I came across the story of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany in john 12. This is the story of how Mary (sister of Martha) poured oil into Jesus’ head during a meal, which was met by indignation by the disciples and a subsequent rebuke from Jesus. But that’s strange, I thought. I had remembered it was some unknown, unnamed woman who poured the oil and got rebuked. I decided to do some research on the Internet. This was the beginning of the end of my faith.
I found out that the anointing at Bethany is detailed three different times in the gospels: john 12, Matthew 26, and mark 14 (there is a similar account of anointing in Luke 7, but it is different enough to be considered a separate incident). In Mark and Matthew, the name of the woman is not given. However, the stories in all three accounts are almost identical: the woman, supposedly Mary, approaches Jesus and his disciples at a dinner table and pours an alabaster vial of expensive perfume of nard on him. The disciples, seeing this, say something to the effect of: “Why are you wasting this expensive perfume? It could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.” And Jesus rebukes the disciples, telling them to leave her alone, that she is preparing him for burial, that the poor would always be with them, but he wouldn’t, etc.
But this is the problem: the episode in John happens BEFORE Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, while in Matthew and Mark the anointing happens AFTER the triumphal entry. So there is no way it could have been the same event… yet the stories are so identical, that I found it IMPOSSIBLE to believe it happened twice, within the space of a few days!
My research led me to skeptical sites listing bible contradictions and absurdities, and I discovered the bible contained many other contradictions, some I had noticed before (and tried to ignore) and others that I had not. The death of Judas Iscariot is another example. Matthew 27 states that after Judas had betrayed Jesus, he became remorseful, flung the 30 pieces of silver into the temple and hanged himself. Acts 1 says he bought a field with the silver, then somehow fell headfirst into it, and died when his guts spilled out after his stomach burst open. So the “Field of Blood” was purchased by the chief priests according to Matthew, and by Judas according to Acts. The cherry on top of this whole confusing contradictory episode is Matthew’s reference in 27:9 that Jeremiah is the prophet foretelling the whole 30 pieces of silver incident; the problem is, there is nothing about 30 pieces of silver anywhere in the book of Jeremiah!
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other contradictions in the bible, such as the conflicting genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, the conflicting accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb, the conflicting accounts of how the disciples were first gathered, etc. (and I haven’t even gotten to the old testament). So basically, my deep investigation of the anointing story opened the floodgates to my skepticism and doubt of the bible, and my faith in the book began to crumble and did not stop. For quite a few days I was in distress, trying to find a way to reconcile all the errors. The entire worldview I had developed and lived for the last few years was breaking down! Eventually, I remember flinging the bible on my table, looking at it, and saying something like “You are full of errors. You are not reliable”. The next day I prayed my last real prayer, where I asked god, that if he was really there, to give me or show me an explanation of why his supposed book had so many contradictions and confusions, otherwise I could not keep on believing. I think the reader knows by now whether there was an answer to that prayer.
I understand now why fundamentalists always insist that the bible is inerrant. It is because once you concede that the bible has errors, it is a slippery slope. Who decides then what is an error, what is sound doctrine, and what is not? Biblical interpretation becomes very subjective, and Christianity becomes a salad bar for each individual, who chooses what to take literally and what to take as metaphor depending on their own reasoning and sensibilities. Salad bar Christianity is much of what I see today among Christians, and partly why there are so many different Christian denominations and schools of thought. John 16 says the holy spirit guides believers into all truth, and 1 Corinthians 14 says god is not the author of confusion, but these exhortations are false and ridiculous considering all the divisions and differing interpretations of scripture among Christians, both now and throughout church history. No book has created more confusion and conflict than the bible, because there is no holy spirit guiding anyone who reads it.
Now when I look back, I wonder how in the world I ever convinced myself that a serpent/devil deceived Eve and cursed the world, or that Noah took all the animals into his ark to save them from a flood that covered the entire earth, or that languages were uniform before the tower of Babel, etc. etc. I was so taken by Jesus and what I perceived to be his wise and other-worldly teachings, that I chose to ignore the other parts of the bible that probably deserve as much belief as Santa Claus. As a Christian, when I would encounter unbelievable stories in the old testament or statements that seemed to contradict each other, I would often push it out of my mind, reassuring myself there must be an explanation, or that things were different in those days, etc. But now my faith no longer exists and I see the bible for what it really is. I still think that the bible is a remarkable piece of literature that has had an enormous impact in western history and thought, both for good and ill. But it is also no longer a book I can base my life on.
There may have been a historical Jesus, but people and institutions have deified him over the ages and now he stands as the son of god in the eyes of many. In Jesus’ time there were quite a number of people that claimed to be messiahs and died for it. It appears that Jesus is the lucky one out of the group and now has his name called and displayed ubiquitously around the world. Many historians see Jesus as an apocalyptic figure who believed the end of the world was coming soon and preached that way. Based on many of Jesus’ sayings (i.e., “This generation will not pass away until all these things takes place.”), I find this view very convincing now.
As far as religion goes, I think it will always exist as long as humans are around. For some people, it gives their lives meaning and purpose. Other people’s lives are so difficult and hard, that they need something to hope for, some assurance that things will be OK in the end, and that is the hope religion gives and why they cling to it. Whatever the reason, as long as we have to face death and our own mortality, some form of religion that explains human origins and the afterlife will be around, I am sure of it. As of today, I consider myself an agnostic, maybe even an atheist. I believe this is the only life we have and that we should all make the most of what we have been given.
So there is my de-conversion story. I was converted through reading the bible and also eventually de-converted through reading the bible. It was my choice to join Christianity, and also my choice to leave. I spent over 5 years as a Christian. Although I can lament the fact that I spent so much time and effort believing something that turned out to be false, I believe it was also important for me to seek and investigate religion for myself, and come to my own conclusions. After reading other stories of ex-Christians on the Internet who spent decades of their lives as Christians before de-converting, I feel rather fortunate to have gotten out as early as I did. I am not bitter towards other Christians. Many of my friends are Christians and I have not told any of them yet about my loss of faith.
I wrote this account because I felt the need to get this difficult period of my life “on paper.” Thank you for listening to my story.