It’s been more than two years since I came out as an atheist. In that time, my lost Christian faith has come up often with family and friends. It’s difficult to distill a decade-long journey into a 5 minute elevator speech. When believers ask, that’s typically all they want. They don’t want to hear a lengthy, articulate response. Instead, they hope to hear something that they can easily dismiss as invalid or untrue.
I remember being in those shoes. As a former evangelical fundamentalist, it’s incredibly hard to admit to yourself that you’re wrong. It’s especially hard when you’ve spent the better part of your life in total commitment to what amounts to a fairy tale.
With that said, here’s my 5 minute elevator speech on why I stopped believing.
The Bible’s collection of books were penned over a long span of time, some 2000+ years ago, by a diverse group of men who lived in a relatively confined area of desert in the Middle East. Unfortunately, significant portions were written by anonymous authors, and the collective whole is riddled with contradictions, errors and logical fallacies. The canonization of the New Testament (choosing which books were inspired and worthy) was a long, drawn out process that lasted many years and was subject to much debate.1 Political powers also played an influence. It’s especially troubling that the four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are from unknown authors, dated several decades after Christ’s death, and even penned in a language not spoken by the apostles. There are discrepancies about the resurrection details, the death of Judas, and what Jesus might have said while on the cross. We also find that the oldest gospel account (Mark) is rather light on miracles, but later accounts are more generous with miraculous events (which is indicative of our human tendency to enhance or exaggerate with each telling). You can also toss in odd things like walking zombies (Matthew 27) and apocalyptic 7-headed monsters in the last book, written by someone stranded on a Greek island, known to harbor mushrooms that can induce wild and vivid hallucinations. Are these facts in dispute among evangelical pastors? No.
The Old Testament doesn’t fare better. The first five books are from unknown authors which includes Genesis — a book that begins with a grossly mistaken account of creation that is not only scientifically incorrect, it’s logically flawed and likely borrowed (stolen?) from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Compounding it all are bizarre tales of a talking snake, a talking donkey, a man living inside the belly of a large fish — combined with an embarrassing lack of archaeological evidence to support the significant stories of the Old Testament. For example, there’s zero evidence for the mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt and there’s little to no evidence for most of the major patriarchs.
When you read the Bible with truly open eyes (and with the above facts in mind), it’s clear that we’re dealing with man-made tales involving a god named Yahweh who is petty, jealous, vindictive, and cruel — a deity who is very unsympathetic to his own creation. Even worse, the Old Testament gives abundant and clear endorsement for human slavery, genocide, misogyny, and sexual slavery, with a generous sprinkling of blood-lust sacrifice of both animals and humans.
God is Silent
The God of the Bible is silent. He does not actually talk to or respond to people. Conversations are entirely one-sided, and any purported two-way conversations are merely imaginary in the mind, and those who claim to have literally heard God speak to them are routinely shown to be mentally ill folk. These same individuals often commit acts of violence, which can (and has) included killing their own children. And some even choose to run for president, convinced that God told them to!
God is Inactive
The God of the Bible is inactive. Human misery and suffering is rampant, especially in less developed parts of the planet. Disease, famine, pestilence, violence, injustice, and natural disasters demonstrate that the God of the Bible isn’t there to act or intervene. The Bible makes bold and specific promises to believers about the power of prayer, but truly miraculous events are not substantiated. No mountain has ever literally moved, nor has an amputee ever had their missing arms or legs restored via prayer. Positive action and intervention only happen when humans take action. As someone once said, “I’ve never seen faith move mountains, but I’ve seen what it can do to skyscrapers.”
The Gospel is Ineffective and its Promise Lacks Evidence
The gospel of Christ makes several audacious promises, which includes: forgiveness, transformation, peace, love, and the ultimate prize: eternal life. Unfortunately, people are routinely targeted with this promise when they are the most vulnerable — during a crisis in their life. Evangelical churches make it a point to go after young children with the intent to indoctrinate before those young ones can think for themselves. What’s especially cruel is how some evangelicals abuse youngsters by painting vivid pictures of fiery eternal torment if they don’t follow along with the adults.
But the real question is, are the promises true? Many competing religions promise peace and contentment, and their followers claim to enjoy just that. Christianity can’t claim uniqueness in that regard. But is the gospel message of Jesus truly transformational? Given that divorce rates among Christians and unbelievers are the same, I think we have our answer. Neigh, I forgot to mention that the rates are even higher among protestants. Or consider the viewing habits for pornography. Evangelicals consider porn a grave sin, and yet we see no difference between the secular population vs. the Christian population. In fact, we find that Protestants are even more likely to view porn. And alas, we find that some of the most judgmental, hateful and intolerant people are those of the Christian faith.
Now to be fair, I know people have been truly helped and motivated by the Christian message of love and forgiveness. And there are some truly wonderful people in the church. But I find similar mixes of people outside the church. Christianity isn’t really much more helpful than any other self-help programs. So it’s not the transformational panacea it claims to be.
There’s No Soul, Spirit or Eternal Abode
But what about that promise of eternal life? It’s the ultimate carrot. Some have claimed to have died, gone to heaven, and returned to tell the tale. But we frequently find these stories are attention-seeking grabs and/or publicity for a profitable book deal. Unfortunately, there’s zero evidence to support the notion of an eternal abode. What we know for certain is that who we are — our unique personalities — is solely contained in our brains. It’s not in some ethereal spirit or soul. We now have 100’s of years of research in human psychology combined with medical science about the brain’s structure and inner-workings. A person’s personality and conduct can be easily and grossly manipulated by chemicals that interact in the brain tissue. We also see the devastating effect of diseases like Alzheimer and dementia on a person. Severe head trauma can also result in significant changes to a person’s psyche — what folks originally attributed as the soul. A good question to ask yourself is, “if you’ve ever been knocked out by anesthesia for a medical procedure, did you have any knowledge of things happening during that time?”. All of us who have been knocked out can answer — we have no recollection of ANYTHING. There’s no immortal spirit hanging out to watch as wisdom teeth are extracted or to watch as Dr. Gregory House cut into our chest.
So when the brain is dead, that’s it folks. And as much as I might like a good zombie movie, it’s fictional — just like a majority of the Bible.
1 When the early church was debating about the gospel accounts for canonization, there were many other gospel accounts considered for inclusion which included The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Peter. So how did they decide to go with the four we currently see? Irenaeus summed it up in the following quote: “It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four-quarters of the earth in which we live, and four universal winds, … it is fitting that she should have four pillars breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.” Yeah, that’s a good reason. Since the earth is flat and has four corners, there should be four gospels! It all makes sense! [Face Palm]