I have been desiring a comfortable place to communicate honestly my reasons for coming out of the faith. Thanks to the “Not Alone Project” for being that comfortable place! Though I have been meaning to write a post about my long journey to becoming an atheist months ago, I admit I have been dragging my feet. It has been a long difficult process, and I have found it hard to put my journey into words. So, even though it’s hard… I will saddle up and share the story of how I lost my faith.
A BRIEF RELIGIOUS HISTORY
Religion, Christianity in particular, has almost always been a very important part of my life. I was involved in Christian groups through church and school since I was in middle school. When I went to college I got very involved in an interdenominational Christian ministry through my university. Completely separate from my church involvement, I attended weekly worship nights, regular prayer meetings and if I wasn’t leading a weekly bible study, I was certainly attending one. I discipled multiple young women, studied and memorized scripture, and met with accountability partners to attempt to remain pure and “on the right path”. I could continue to share about the different aspects of my religious background but to sum it up a bit more quickly, God and Jesus were the center of my activities, my thoughts, my conversations, my life. If I wasn’t a true and devoted believer, nobody is.
I would say that my deconversion from Christianity began about 8 years ago, in early 2006, when I was newly married. We moved into a small basement apartment of a house in “Old Town”. Several people lived upstairs and across the hall in the basement there was one other apartment next to ours. That’s where Nick lived. Nick was purposefully and awkwardly funny, he introduced us to the world of Ultimate Frisbee, and frankly he turned out to be a great neighbor. We swapped keys at some point and if we were out of town Nick would sometimes call and say, “Can I borrow some milk? O, and can I hang out and watch the game at your place?” And he offered the same hospitality to us. That’s really the best kind of neighbor.
The first time we had Nick over for dinner we initiated our common ritual, praying before the meal. Right after the prayer Nick said, “So, you guys are Christians, huh? You ever seen Broke Back Mountain?” I laughed at his intentional prodding but even though I hadn’t seen the movie, at the time the idea of a film “promoting homosexuality” made me feel uncomfortable. I certainly would struggle to admit it back then, but I was homophobic and I thought homosexuality was a sin. I believed you should love the sinner and hate the sin of gay sex. In a later conversation Nick, my husband and I got into a more in-depth discussion about being gay and there were a few things Nick said that struck a chord with me, big time. He said:
– Most of the stuff that is in the bible makes sense to me because it usually forbids hurting someone in some way, but I’ve never understood what it says about being gay… if you’re gay, you’re not hurting anyone.
– Imagine if we lived in a world where the “normal” or common thing was to be gay and everybody discriminated against or looked down on straight people.
– Why would someone choose to be discriminated against by choosing to be gay?
– Why would god let someone be born with homosexual tendencies and then punish them for those tendencies?
Huh, I had never thought of it from that point of view before. It’s amazing how these questions planted a seed in me that I mulled over for years. I really struggled with the thought that I was discriminating against people who had done nothing wrong, even if my discrimination was frowning at them in silent judgment of their lifestyle. But on the other hand, the bible was the infallible word of God, it was God breathed! My insides were telling me “I don’t like this dogma that I have been brought to believe about gay people” but the bible was telling me “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? … Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men … will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
My response to all of this was: well, I will just set those types of verses aside and try not to worry about them. At this time I didn’t fully throw them out because that begs the question, what other verses can be thrown out? This was the start of my cognitive dissonance and for the time being I was able to keep my doubts at bay.
Gradually, over the next 5 years I transformed from a conservative Christian (biblical inerrancy belief and devout religious practice) to a liberal Christian (personal biblical interpretation and relaxed religious practice).
But then, at the end of 2011, the floodgates opened and the questions just started flowing. Below are some of the things I could not reconcile with my god belief. Keep in mind that I may have asked some of these questions earlier in my life but this was the first time I asked them without assuming I already had the right answer from god.
– Why are there so many religions? There are many good people of various religions but they can’t all be right. If I put my belief in the wrong god, yet I live a good, well-intentioned life, why is it justified for me to go to hell for eternity?
– How is it that god is all knowing, all powerful, and all good and still he allows evil?
– Eternal torture for not believing in the right god is an exceptionally vengeful punishment, is it not? Eternity is a REALLY long time.
– It’s self-centered to look at my situation and say, “I am so lucky to have been born in this day and age in America, thank you god”, when so many terrible things have happened and continue to happen all over the world. Why does god allow all the terrible stuff to happen to people yet he gets credit for a successful surgery completed by a trained medical doctor?
– Why does god get credit for things that have another explanation?
– If I don’t know why something good happened, why should I just assume “well, it must have been god that did it”? If I attribute good things to god, why don’t I attribute the bad things to him as well?
– Why is it necessary to “catch ’em young” (teach religion to our youth)? If something is true it shouldn’t matter when or how someone encounters it, it’s still the truth.
– When I look around and see beautiful and magnificent things in nature, just because I don’t understand the mechanisms that happened over time to make it happen, why should I attribute it to a god?
– Why does the holy spirit say contradictory things to people?
– Why does the bible contradict itself?
– How is a bible verse good evidence for god? Why should I believe the bible just because the bible says so or Christians say so?
– Why does god need our financial help to do his work?
– Why is god so sneaky? Why doesn’t he just reveal himself to everyone on earth and save us all?
LETTING GO OF FEARS AND FAITH
I spent months wrestling with many of these questions and working through my fears. While some may be able to come away from all of these questions with some justification for god, ultimately, I can no longer suspend my disbelief. If I am to put my trust and belief in a god, I need sufficient evidence that such a god truly exists. So far I have found no such evidence.
A big thanks to Nick for helping me start to question the bible. An even bigger thanks to my husband for helping me question throughout the entire process. Lastly, I am grateful to myself for resolving to say to god, “If you are real and you created me, I trust that you want me to freely use my god-given brain to question and process information in an honest way, without fear”. It was that statement that allowed me to let go of my fears and ultimately be set free from the chains of religion.
Carl Sagan’s words resonate deeply with me as I share my story. He says, “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.”
Thanks for hearing my story!