I am not an atheist. Or at least, not yet. I’m not sure. I am growing, and trying to learn about what is true.

I am a recent college grad. I studied physics and minored in writing. I spent some time in 2010 on a mission trip to a remote village in Africa, in part because I wanted to strengthen my faith, and it seemed to work at first. I saw God working there in new ways, and I learned a lot about seeking God, seeing God, and trusting in God. While surrounded by other missionaries and cut off from much of the rest of the world, I was absolutely convinced that I had found the right way to live. Even though I didn’t agree with everything the mission organization believed, I did think I’d found a true faith in God.

But when I came back from missions, I came back to my old life. I started reading the news online again, and I ended up running across atheist blogs. I found that I could relate to those experiences—I seemed to have more in common with the former Christian who left the faith than with Christian apologists. I found that atheist arguments made more sense and were much less refutable than Christian apologetics. Worse, I began to see that some of the problems we’d had on the mission field could be better explained by assuming there was no god.

I had never seen hard evidence that there is no God. But in all my time in remote Africa, giving my all and wholly devoting myself to God, I had never seen anything that would have happened differently if there was no god. No unexplained miracles, no prophesies or revelations, nothing at all without a material explanation.

There are many reasons I would call myself an atheist. I will try to list the biggest ones on my other blog, and in the future write more regarding each topic. I still can't decide if I will do most of my blogging on this site or at Wordpress.

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Comment by kris feenstra on April 2, 2013 at 8:14pm

Keep in mind that 'atheist' is not a catch-all term. Even within the non-religious there are strong atheists, weak atheists, agnostics, ignostics, agnostic atheist, unspecified and more. In a world where most people are theists, the term 'atheist' simply signifies that you are not. While many things are connected to atheism --and to some extent there is social and political value to identifying as an atheist --, at heart it is just a term. It isn't really important if you adopt the term or not, imo; what is important is that you continue to question and explore ideas in earnest. Unless you are concerned for your 'immortal soul', there isn't really much of an imperative to come to a conclusion on deities. We will all die with unanswered questions -- big ones.

You will very likely never see hard evidence that there is no God. I am not even sure what such evidence would look like to be honest. What many of us do see is emerging naturalistic explanations for phenomena in the universe coupled with a dearth of reasons to believe in gods. For this reason many of us don't feel the necessity to disprove the notion of 'god' in absolute terms, but neither do we find it reasonable or worthwhile to seriously entertain that very same notion.

What I mean by all that is just that there is no need to worry how well the label fits. The considerations expressed in your blog seem like good points of inquiry, so just inquire away even if it takes an entire lifetime. 

Comment by Physeter on April 2, 2013 at 8:19pm

Thanks Kris. You are absolutely right that you can't prove a negative. The important thing you said is to keep at it for any length of time. So often we want everything to become clear, a quick and simple answer, an equation that holds everything, a showdown on the mountain between prophets. Lifelong seeking takes more work, but really, what else can you do?

Comment by Melvinotis on April 2, 2013 at 9:01pm

I think, to a great extent, atheists don't have better answers, because theist answers are designed to make you feel good about people that are in whatever church you happen to be a part of.

Atheists have better questions, and the answers to those questions, though sometimes uncomfortable, lead to a clearer, more comprehensive path to truth. Without a supernatural driver in place, everything makes a lot of sense.

Enjoy TA.

Comment by Dr. Bob on April 3, 2013 at 12:02am

@Physeter, where were you at in Africa?

I'm an occasional wandering theist that a few here graciously put up with, and a physicist by trade.  I can sympathize with your views on Christian apologists; I find them unsatisfying.  To be honest, I think most are just ninnies. 

I would humbly suggest that if you were looking for miracles, prophecies, or revelations you were looking in the wrong place for God.   There is one big thing that was different in the Africa you visited because of God.  A huge thing, actually.

You were there.

Someone who was not a part of their tribe, not a part of their nation, who had nothing whatsoever to gain from giving up their time and wealth was half way around the world helping strangers just because a belief in God inspired him enough to care.

In the history of human behavior, on a continent where tribal warfare is endemic and ethnic cleansing a regular occurrence, from a nation that in living memory felt people of different skin color were inferior and should be kept legally separate - that IS a miracle.

Comment by Dr.Grixis on April 3, 2013 at 6:48am

Hi Physeter, 

As long as you keep searching for what is true, you'll keep learning and you'll keep growing. It's not a matter of where you want to go, or where you want to be, if you search for the truth you'll be in for a memorable ride for sure.

Being a theist or an atheist doesn't change who you are, or your value as a human being, that is still decided by the good (and bad) that you bring to this world. So, no matter where your search will lead you, if you honestly seek the truth, I can only applaud your courage!

On a sidenote, I too went to Africa a long time ago, although I went there as an Economy student to help build a local CallCentre, I went there quite young and naive with optimistic ideals, I came back somewhat disillusioned, a whole lot less optimistic, but a lot wiser (I hope).

Losing something is not always a real "loss".

Comment by Jennsi Accordionzio on April 3, 2013 at 1:30pm

I am curious about your time in Africa--do you mind sharing how you saw God working? I have heard this phrase a lot, both during my time in church and afterwards, but I am never quite sure what it means. How did you see God? How did you know it was God that you were seeing? (I'm not trying to bust you out on anything, I am genuinely wondering about your experience.)

I spent some time transitioning from religion into atheism, as well. It was a rough road at times because I felt that I wanted to believe but couldn't. I will be following your blog with interest. 

Comment by Jorita on April 3, 2013 at 2:00pm

I live in a country South Africa that was devide on the colour of a person skin, I am still waiting to see the mirracle happen, 19 years later and we some of the highest rape, murder and violant crime statistics in the world more people are murderd in South Africa in a year than in the apartheid era. And then we are not even going to talk about HIV infections and people that die from TB every year, hospitals that was used as training hospitals such as the Baragwaneth Hospital and others that were amongst the worlds best hospitals, the African people now call the place of death, as they are filthy, no bedding all stolen, tap, pipes anything copper stolen. Apartheid was one of the most horrible things ever , but I am still waiting to see the mirracle.

And concerning mission work in other countrys, I thing that is bull ! Here we have school children going to Taiwan to do mission work and asking public for donations as these poor people that they are gpoing to don't even have chairs to sit on, while in there own back yard people are living is the most horrific conditions,high rates of fetal alchol sindrome, neglect and abuse. 

Comment by Roger Wright on April 3, 2013 at 11:48pm

Welcome to TA. Enjoy. This is a very personal journey that you're on. Take it at your own pace...

Comment by Physeter on April 6, 2013 at 3:11pm

@Jenni-- Part of my "faith journey" as I went into missionary training and then into the field was that I decided to put my doubts aside and see if faith would work. And, while in that "self-reinforcing" atmosphere, it seemed to. Part of what I learned was that you can see things through the eyes of faith. That is, you can see an occurrence, and think about how god is working in that even though there is also a rational, non-supernatural explanation as well.

It is hard to describe what exactly I mean by seeing God at work. When I got back, I began to think that I'd been fooling myself; I was just training myself to interpret things as though they were god. When I was there, it felt like I was opening my eyes, choosing to see god at work even if it wasn't obvious, and that felt like a good thing at the time.

Just hearing African people's stories of how they had been changed by God. How they weren't afraid of spirits and magic curses anymore because they found Jesus. (Pretty much everyone in that part of Africa believes in spirits and magic.) It was in little things I thought God was leading me to do -- like to visit a certain person, or to start teaching English classes. It was in how I was given an "African name" seemingly at random, but which contained a message that was very encouraging to my specific situation. 

And I know how ridiculous it sounds to post things like this on an atheist forum. Of course it looks completely made-up here. It looks obvious that it was all just wishful thinking. I'm inclined to agree, and that's why I'm here, but that doesn't change that at the time it felt meaningful, and important. It felt like, God isn't doing anything that proves he exists here, but if you know how to look you can see him anyway. It was like there was something more beautiful going on just beneath the surface.

Comment by Physeter on April 6, 2013 at 3:26pm

@Professor Bob -- Thanks for your input, I like to hear from everybody on here.

"I would humbly suggest that if you were looking for miracles, prophecies, or revelations you were looking in the wrong place for God."

I was looking, but I was also trying to give up my preconceived notions. Part of me was saying I want to see miracles, but the other part of me was moving in the direction of "I'll believe no matter what I see here." My prayer was usually not "God, prove you exist here," but "God, show me what it is you are doing, and what you want me to do, no matter how different it is from what I expect."

I was trying to meet God on his own terms, instead of mine.

But yes, I did hope to see God at work a little more clearly. When I saw how the African Christians fight amongst themselves, I knew they were only human like us American Christians, but I did wonder why the Holy Spirit didn't help out a bit more. When we prayed for healing for the woman who was recovering from a stoke, or the woman who was in intense pain from a scorpion sting, I really hoped to see healing, not because it would make me feel good to know there was a God, but because the people needed the help. We were taught that God could do healings, just like he did in the bible, and I really thought remote Africa with little proper medical care was where God would do big miracles.

And I would disagree with you that me going there was the real miracle. I understand that a miracle is something done by God, that shows the working of the deity in the world, not just something that people come up with. This kind of 'miracle' could be done by Christians, by Mormons, by Muslims, by Scientologists, by secular humanists -- even by Nazis, if they were looking for Nazism converts. If you are willing to throw your belief behind anybody who is eager to win followers, you're going to run into trouble quick.

Plus, I did not do them that much good there. I didn't bring medical expertise, or build them a new building that they needed. I couldn't help teach school, even though they're destitute for good teachers there. I spent much of my time with people asking me for things, or asking me why I wouldn't give them something. Too many white people want to just travel over there and give handouts instead of giving tools the Africans can use to build themselves up, so that's what they ask for. I don't think my time over there was completely wasted, and I'm sure some of the people saw the good in me you were talking about, but I wouldn't call it a miracle. It was a perfectly natural result of circumstances.

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