I was a believing evangelical Christian until I was around 29 years old. I was a trustee in my church and an active volunteer (sound guy) for 8 years before I deconverted and became an atheist.
Even though I’m straight and have been happily married for over a decade, homosexuality was the initial cause for my deconversion. I have two gay friends, a couple which were recently married now that it’s legal. Back when I was a believer, the fact that I could see that my friends were very clearly in love stood out to me as something that contradicted the bible. I had to either accept that their love was wrong or that the bible was wrong, and I could not call their love wrong. Worse than that, I accepted my friends accounts that this is simply how they were and that their relationship made them happy. They didn’t choose to have their attractions any more than I chose mine. This caused a problem because I also had to accept that they were going to hell according to my faith.
That lead to questioning how a loving god who created everything could morally create a place of eternal conscious torture, knowing that a majority of creation would be condemned to it. In that situation, the only moral option is to simply not create anything. Theodicies where the reprobate is seen as being necessary for the elect to get into heaven made god into more of a monster.
This lead to questioning why I believed in a god in the first place. I realized I’d never seriously asked myself that question before. I was born into a Catholic family that converted Baptist when I was 9. I was taught Jesus was the son of god the same time I was taught water was wet and that 2+2=4. God was axiomatic, not the conclusion of an investigation. I realized I had no reason to believe.
That was when I started to devour apologetics, trying to cobble my faith back together for the sake of my marriage and family. I found nothing convincing. Worse, as an engineer by training I found science being misrepresented in many cosmological arguments. I was disgusted by the aura of certainty that was used to present arguments I found to be based on flimsy metaphysical assumptions that often defy our best scientific understanding of reality. When I read attempts to reconcile apparent contradictions in the bible or things in the bible that were scientifically proven false, I found the interpretations to be tortured and/or ad hoc. If anything apologetics cemented my apostasy and my atheism.
Fortunately for me eventually my wife also deconverted. Almost exactly nine months after that our daughter was born. I’m currently happier than I’ve ever been in my life and I consider myself lucky to have escaped religion.
I can’t say I was an aggressive atheist. Whilst I didn’t believe in God, I wasn’t particularly interested in examining the evidence of God’s existence. If He existed, well, He knew where to find me. But, I wasn’t going to hold my breath either. What got me wondering about God and the purpose of existence was the death of my friend Lizzie. Lizzie and I were inseparable from childhood. Then she got sick and died suddenly from meningitis. I sat at her funeral and somehow couldn’t get my head around the fact that someone so alive could just not be there anymore. And then I examined my atheism and saw that if it was true then all exists for no reason and comes to nothing. Life just seemed more significant than that. And so for the first time I wondered was there maybe a God. I came across many different arguments, but none finally convinced me. I guess what moved me to theism was opening my eyes to the world in a new way. I began to “see” or “perceive” a creator in the natural world around me. The atheist view just seemed so incredible. That everything just came from nothing by nothing and for nothing. I couldn’t accept that, and to be honest I didn’t want to either.
I am no longer Christian in any straightforward sense of the word. How could I be? I had trouble connecting to people, let alone a personal God who wasn’t even in front of me. I am an “Aspie;” I am on the Autism Spectrum. Of course now, I know that there are other theologies that put less stress on a personal God, i.e. Paul Tillich’s ‘ground of being’ or the impersonal ordering of the cosmos that the Chinese call T’ien (Heaven). And I am drawn to these more than I am to a personal God.
However, at this point there are so many different conceptions of God that I don’t think I can have any epistemological certainty about God, be it God’s existence or qualities. This does not fully explain it though, as I believe that belief in God is not primarily what religion is about. To me religion is about a community that shares beliefs and rituals– that is community is primary and belief is secondary. However, I am generally leery of tight knit groups who think and do the same things, perhaps also partly due to Asperger’s.
Conversion is a tricky thing. As most people who have attempted to write their conversion story know, to try and put it into words and explain why one converted (or in my case, reverted) inevitably falls short. With that being said, as one ought to do before any essay, I beg forgiveness.
I shall admit that this isn’t my first time writing my “reversion story.” I’ve written multiple before this, and – the funny thing is – they never end up being the same. That I know. What I also know from past experience is this: that writing of this article won’t be me simply reciting reasons that I am already aware of as to why I am a Catholic, but rather, it will be a way – as a sort of self-examination – for me to actually figure out said prompt for myself.
A couple of days ago, I was reading Augustine’s sermon on Psalm 41, and this passage stuck out for me:
“It was thus that while admiring the members of the tabernacle, he was lead unto the house of God – by following a certain delight, an inward mysterious and hidden pleasure, as if some instrument sounded sweetly from the house of God. While he was walking in the tabernacle, he heard this inward sound; he was led on by its sweetness, and following the guidance of the sound and withdrawing himself from all noises of flesh and blood, he made his way even to the house of God.”
For in many ways, this short little passage encapsulates the whole of my reversion. To say anymore would be to risk over-complication; but – so as to not short change the reader – I shall continue.
Balthasar, in the first volume of his magisterial Glory of the Lord trilogy, says that:
“It is not dry manuals (full as these may be of unquestionable truths) that plausibly express to the world the truth of Christ’s Gospel, but the existence of the saints, who have been grasped by Christ’s Holy Spirit. And Christ himself foresaw no other kind of apologetics.”
What lead me back into the confessional and “unto the house of God” wasn’t the discovery of any new, novel arguments put forward by an “apologist”, but rather it was the “sweetness” of the saints. Anything else, in Balthasar terminology, would be to collapse revelation into “a set of ‘propositions’” to be “established as ‘reasonable’ by an extrinsic principle.” The universalizing tendency latent with the Enlightenment ‘reason’ must simply, pace Romans 14:11, bow its knee to the self-revealing glory of the Lord: the truest of universalisms. Much like a work of art, the glory of revelation needs no further justification outside of itself. Revelation’s gestalt is it’s own raison d’être, subsuming everything into itself. And, as for us, living as we do over two thousand after Christ, the glory of the Lord is precisely revealed through the Holy Spirit working through and within the lives of the saints.
As Balthasar said: “Christ himself foresaw no other kind of apologetics.”
And with that being said, I shall spare you of the particulars, with the exception of three words: Thérèse of Lisieux.
My atheism was dogmatic, but utterly unexamined. I remember arguing once with a Christian friend and I was furious at completely losing the argument, and my temper. My problem, as I came to see, maybe wasn’t that I disbelieved in God, but rather than I resented Him for bad life experiences! But who knows! But as I came to critical assess the case for God I found the evidence overwhelming. The main considerations for me were: that something like our universe should exist as a “brute fact” was simply unbelievable; that it should just pop into existence from nothing and for no reason was surely impossible; that life should then just develop by chance from non-living matter calls for extreme credulity. Moreover, when I considered the complexity of life and the fine-tuned conditions of the cosmos that allowed it to develop, atheism struck me as untenable. And that was before I discovered the problems atheism has accounting for morality, consciousness, free will, and personhood. In short: theism makes sense of the world in which I live – atheism just doesn’t, and so I couldn’t remain an atheist.
From the time I was a young child until I was out of high school, I went to church nearly every week. I was never made to go to church once I was old enough to reasonably make that decision, but I enjoyed almost everything about it. I liked the sermons, I liked the singing, and I really liked the people. My church was a small Brethren church in a tiny farm town, so everybody knew each other and it was a pretty tight knit community. It was a fairly moderate church, no speaking in tongues or fire and brimstone. I was heavily involved with our youth group as a teen, and even attended ‘Acquire The Fire’ a few times.
Once I started college, I didn’t attend church as often, but I never really had my faith challenged too seriously during my undergrad studies. While working on my MBA, I had a job with a lot of downtime and decided that I wanted to read more often. At the time, my view on evolution was best described as an old earth creationist who believed in some “microevolution”. A few conversations I had with a friend made me realize that I was pretty ignorant about evolution, which sparked my curiosity. I read books specifically on human evolution at first because that’s what conflicted with my faith, but then began to read material that dealt more with the details and the process of evolution. This is when doubts about my faith started to creep in. I never had a problem accepting that Noah’s Ark or some of the other Bible stories were probably a myth or fable to teach a lesson, but if the whole creation story is a myth, why should I believe in any of it?
I hung on by a thread for a while as I read books in other areas of science which continued to chisel away at my belief in the God of the Bible. Up until this point, I was primarily reading material dealing with science and not really getting into the arguments for or against God. Eventually though, I started listening to debates and reading arguments for atheism. I found myself agreeing with the arguments for atheism and against theism most of the time, and I eventually realized that I was only holding on to any belief in God for emotional reasons even though I really no longer believed. Atheism was always a dirty word to me, and it took another year after I stopped believing to actually identify as an atheist.
I hate the stereotype that as an atheist, I must have had a bad experience in church, or that I am being rebellious. I have nothing but good memories from my time in church. I still admire the community aspect of it, how when someone is sick or in trouble, people are there to help without question. There are no bad experiences at church that I have to share, and anyone who knows me would laugh at the suggestion that I’m rebellious. I just simply no longer believe that God is needed as an explanation for our existence.
I was raised in a Christian household. I was taught to believe by blind faith and thought that’s what everyone did. We just picked which beliefs to hold to, I thought, and lived by them. So that’s how I lived up until just a few years ago. I had never much questioned my beliefs, except maybe here and there when instances of evil popped up, until a friend that I met online challenged me by asking some tough questions. He was going through his own personal deconversion and was seeking answers – answers that I didn’t have. I did what every anti-intellectual would do. I ran to the Christian apologetic sites on Google and responded to him with the first things I saw. The confirmation bias in me held onto anything that would conform to my predispositions. And this, rather ironically now that I reflect on it, is how my intellectual journey began.
I started buying all of the popular apologetics books by William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Alister McGrath, Ed Feser, John Lennox, etc. I especially became familiar with some of the work of Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Larry Hurtado, Craig Evans, and Craig Blomberg. I even attended a semester of Bible college, and this is where I started losing confidence in the Christian worldview.
I spent about two years in Christian apologetics. I attended the Bible college not even a year ago today. My journey to doubt began around this time. As a side interest, I would study biology (which I am now majoring in at Winthrop University). I couldn’t help but be troubled by the horrendous evils founded throughout the history of life on Earth. Life began looking a lot more like the products of the tinkering of nature rather than the carefully crafted works of the Divine hands of a Maximally Intelligible and all-loving being. To give one example that I’ve been troubled with lately, and an issue I’ll be researching later in my academic career: In our DNA, we have regions that code for proteins that are responsible for suppressing tumors. It just so happens that the chemical structure of these regions of DNA make them highly susceptible to being silenced by a process called DNA methylation (you don’t have to know what this is to get my point here). Of course, if the genes are silenced, they can’t do their job of suppressing tumors. What sort of intelligible creator, out of the very depths of his all-loving heart and omniscient mind, makes His children in such a way as to be perfectly vulnerable to cancer? Not only are we perfectly made for cancer, we are also perfectly made for about 6,000+ other SINGLE-gene diseases that are founded in about 24% of our ~25,000 genes. Now, this is just a few instances of evil that seemed very much gratuitous. The evolutionary picture of life painted by the vast amounts of data from the life sciences portrays nothing but a picture of these horrendous evils and indifference. Now, I didn’t expect that God would create some hedonic Utopia, but I did figure he would reduce suffering as much as possible and only allow evils that were necessary to either prevent worse evils or bring about greater goods. I find it awfully hard to believe that every instance of horrendous, seemingly gratuitous evil is necessary for the obtaining of such conditions. The issue is that an all-loving Creator would not allow such gratuitous evil and since I’ve concluded that many of these seemingly gratuitous evils are very most likely actually gratuitous, the conclusion that follows is that an all-loving Creator very probably doesn’t exist.
That being said, the evidential problem of evil was not the biggest stumbling block for me. I was still trying to hold on to my Christian worldview. I was definitely emotionally attached. “What about all of the good arguments for God’s existence?” I kept asking myself. The more I studied them, the less compelling they became. The meta-ethical argument presented by William Lane Craig, for example, began to look like an awful argument as I become familiar with reasons why many reject the argument. I actually became unconvinced of every argument I once thought was virtually indisputable – the cosmological arguments, the design arguments, etc. . . I even became convinced that verifying a miracle via historical methodology is out of our epistemic capacities.
I was in a position where I was beginning to see good reason to affirm the nonexistence of God and I was left in the dark for compelling arguments for the existence of God. I was left with nothing but the hopes of hearing the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, this is what one ought to expect when they are in tears crying out to God for spiritual confirmation. I’ve checked myself over. I’ve admitted that I may be wicked in His eyes -essentially undeserving if that so be the case. I’ve admitted that maybe I’m entirely wrong in my assessment of the fundamental nature of reality and maybe there will be a day I stand before the Divine, despite my current unbelief. If He is there and created me to know Him, there I was then, and here I am still. I’m still waiting for that inner confirmation or some intellectual spark that I’ve missed. I’ve cried out. I’ve repented. I’ve prayed. I’ve acknowledged that I may be unrighteous when compared to a perfect being, and I’ve asked to be accepted and transformed. I’ve sought God in every venue of life. God was nowhere to be found. So, as of now, I am intellectually inclined to disbelieve.