Anyone go through a similar process?
Growing up, I was never forced by my parents to attend church, so organized religion was never an issue I spent much time thinking about. What really sparked my curiosity about Christianity was a conversation I had with my best friend of 22 years when we first moved to Arlington; he basically told me that he had an 'awakening' while abroad in London and that he was ready to rededicate himself to the faith. I was interested to see what could inspire such a change in someone's life so I essentially plunged in: I read the Bible (Genesis through Revelation) in six months, then moved on to early church history, books by Christian apologists (Strobel, Geisler), the Apocrypha, and the origins of the Bible itself. As someone with no prior grievances regarding religion or the church, I kept an open mind and was truly searching for what Brent had apparently found.
Before I had made any judgments regarding Christianity or religion, I often took breaks from reading the Bible and would meditate or pray. I would ask for guidance about decisions in my life, but what I really desired was a form of a relationship, even a spark of recognition from a force outside of nature, outside of myself. As I sat in my room, I received nothing but deafening silence. Needless to say, the more I read, the more discouraged I became. I withheld judgment about various portions of the Old Testament until I had read the Bible in its entirety; though most troubling for me were the miraculous stories like Noah's Ark and the numerous atrocities committed and sanctioned by God. Despite the moral teachings of Jesus, the Gospels accounts were equally troubling in that I literally found myself counting the number of times the 'inspired authors' contradicted each other. For me, it became clear that the New Testament, like the Old, was not the inerrant word of God, but merely a product of ordinary men, written in a time where illiteracy, superstition, misogyny, and slavery were all acceptable and undeniable aspects of the culture.
Further study about the origins of Christianity and the church confirmed my apprehensions and doubts that had been accumulating (copyist errors and interpolations, the fact that the anonymous authors of the Gospels were not eye-witnesses and their accounts were written decades after Jesus' death, the seemingly arbitrary process of compiling the Canon, the problem in reading some verses literally while interpreting others symbolically, and the historical validity of many Biblical accounts). I took time last year to read the Qu'ran in its entirety and studied various religions that predated and coexisted with Christianity at the time it was taking root. From the account of the Flood, to the virgin birth of a savior, to the doctrine of eternal punishment, I realized that Christianity was not unique in the kind of stories it was telling.
What solidified the issue for me, when I first recognized myself as an atheist (merely meaning 'lack of belief in a god or gods'), was reading the work of Darwin and his modern counterpart, Richard Dawkins. Their explanation for the development of life through the gradual, yet constant process of natural selection over billions of years connected and made sense to me in a way that the Biblical account did not. Since then I've read various books by scientists and philosophers who have taken on subjects like the evolution of morality and our place in a vast universe. Regardless of the topic, I've personally felt as though a purely naturalistic approach provides better and more comprehensive answers to the understanding of our world than a supernatural one. Their words also resonated more clearly and honestly than anything I found in the Bible; as Darwin wrote: "There is grandeur in this view of life, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
My friend and I shared a lot of in-depth conversations about religion, but eventually my critical nature led to questions that he couldn't answer, as he was just learning his faith as well. When I realized that I could possibly be eroding his beliefs by sharing the doubts I was experiencing, we mutually decided not to discuss religion further; though we still argue politics every now and then. However, I'm always striving to keep myself open to different ideas and experiences; I find that people who have completely closed their minds to alternatives are missing a lot of what life has to offer.