This will be the short version of my journey from faith to unbelief. The full version with graphics is also here at my site.
As a former believer and fundamentalist for over 30 years, I believed that people were blind to the truth of the Bible. I was someone who routinely prayed while studying the Bible to ensure that God would help me understand. I studied theology and preferred reading theology books over car magazines or other hobbies. I was unwilling, for a very long time, to give serious consideration to the contradictions or disturbing things in the Bible until something happened that I never imagined would. My oldest son, a former believer, declared he was an atheist in 2007.
I grew up in a secular home in Maryland, raised by my grandparents. Even though my grandfather was agnostic, I still heard the Christian gospel message as a child at Sunday school and I remember thinking that I should follow through with that at some point in my life. So as a teen, I prayed a sinner’s pray and soon after I got heavily involved at church. We had a vibrant youth group and after graduation from high school, I attended Liberty University in the 1980’s with the original intent of becoming a pastor. My computer career started during my college days and I also married fairly young (at 19). My wife and I had 5 kids who were home-schooled by their mother. I became involved in church which included teaching, church committee involvement, and taking turns at preaching and leading the worship service. I was a fundamentalist and young earth creationist, and I even teetered on being a quiver-full proponent.
In my wildest imaginations, I never would have dreamed that my oldest son at the age of 21, would declare he was an atheist. What?! He was our forerunner! We invested more time and energy with him than with the other children in the hope that he would be the first shining star and an example to his siblings!
I was devastated. But I didn’t get angry with my son as I knew that would be detrimental to further discussion. Instead, I continued to tell him that “reason” and rational thought was good, and I encouraged him to continue to read and to be open. Meanwhile, I started a journey to understand what had brought him to that place. I wanted to find the gaping holes and flaws in the arguments that had betrayed all that we taught him.
What I didn’t expect was to run into so many intelligent and cogent arguments against Christianity. I was in a protected bubble during my high school and college years. But over 20 years had passed and admittedly, cracks had formed in my mind regarding the Bible and Christianity, which I routinely dismissed because they didn’t fit. I was regularly rationalizing and compartmentalizing issues in my faith. For example, I had trouble reconciling the many natural disasters disasters that killed 1,000’s with the idea of a loving God who truly cared for us. I had trouble rationalizing the concept of eternal damnation vs. the idea of a gracious and merciful God who had the ability to save everyone. Or at the least, why didn’t God prevent a majority of the world’s population from being born if they were just going to end up in eternal torment and a lake of fire?
I think that one of the most significant cracks in my faith began to form when I studied the teachings of other religions. In 1994, I remember reading a book called The Kingdom of the Cults. This thick book covered groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, New Age Cults and the Unification Church, just to name a few. It was easy to see the deep flaws and horrible ideology of these other religious groups. But over the years, I also got to know many people who held these various beliefs, and I was surprised at how sincere and/or passionate they were. How could people who were obviously deluded into a religion that is false – – how could they be so sincere, devout and passionate!? It didn’t make sense to me at that time.
With my son’s declaration, I was now asking myself more hard questions, which included: why should Christianity be immune to review and scrutiny after I did so with the “cults”? If something is true, it is true, and it should stand up to critical review and scrutiny. J. Reuben Clark said, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed”.
Over the course of many years, I saw one domino after another fall in my mind. This included:
- The efficacy of Prayer. Things were going to happen, or not happen, whether I prayed about it or not. Double-blind tests of the effectiveness of prayer for those in medical need also proved to be the same as a placebo, except that those who knew they were being prayed for often fared worse. No one has ever moved a mountain (even though billions of people have prayed for supernatural things), and no one has ever had a severed limb restored, thanks to prayer.
- The Gospel’s ability to really change someone. I did see temporary improvement in people who either became “saved” or who re-committed themselves, but in the end it was just as effective as any other self-help process. People never really change who they are. It was also revealing to see a study of thousands of people about human sexuality (masturbation, heavy petting, oral sex, intercourse) which found that there is no difference between the secular population vs. Christians or other religious people. In other words, even though religion forbids lust, fornication, adultery, etc., all humans engage in those activities to the same degree. In fact, protestants are even more likely to view porn.
- Creation. as I dug into the science of the Big Bang theory and our cosmos, it was clear that our universe is over 13.5 billion years old. Thanks to multiple lines of evidence which includes redshift, stellar evolution, cosmic background radiation, I finally accepted that it’s really beyond debate that the age of our universe is around 13.77 billion years. Another recent finding in 2014 named cosmic inflation even added to the validation, much like underlining a sentence. Related to this, my study of evolution and natural selection showed the stupidity of the Genesis account of creation.
- Logical arguments or philosophical arguments. These were many but a few included: the horrible inequality of eternal damnation for petty crimes; and the illogical idea of man’s free will vs. God’s sovereignty. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is in absolute control and he even chooses who will or won’t be saved, which contradicts free will. And of course, there’s the absurdity of God sacrificing himself, to himself, to save us from himself.
- Morality. I realized people didn’t need a religious book to be moral. Nice people were nice. Assholes were assholes, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. Studies also showed moral behavior in the animal kingdom, which we could conclude was for the benefit of the group and constituted similar reasons for human morality.
- The Bible. As a 30+ year student of the Bible, this was perhaps the hardest to admit to, but all of the elements that I listed above were certainly a factor in my conclusion that the Bible was NOT the inerrant word of God. When I added the arguments from notable sites like the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, I realized I had repeatedly chosen to ignore the cognitive dissonance in my head in regard to the enormous number of deeply disturbing things in the “good book”. During my studies, I collected my own list of some of the particularly troublesome and/or contradictory items in the Bible.
Before I finally left the faith, it was always in my mind that if I was wrong, the consequences could be eternal damnation. For a long time, guilt and fear kept me from taking that last step. The fear of damnation and the potential loss of a fictional heaven kept me in chains, which I suspect has always been the intended design of those religious doctrines — to keep people in bondage by offering the most tantalizing thing imaginable — eternal life with a perfect body — while also offering the most extreme punishment that a human mind could conceive — anguishing torment that is eternal.
So in the end, I saw the Bible for what it was: a repulsive book written by tribal people that gave them license to kill everyone who worked on the Sabbath; to kill everyone who did not believe in their god; to kill anyone who cursed father or mother; to stone everyone who committed adultery; and to kill anyone who happened to be Homosexual. I saw how the Bible endorsed slavery (including the beating of slaves); endorsed genocide; endorsed sexism, and even self-mutilation (Matt 18:7-9).
It was truly wonderful to let go of the chains of bondage of that ancient book. I can honestly say that I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.