It has been three years now since I began my journey into atheism.

Unlike some people, I can point to one particular time and place that was an official ‘beginning’ of my deconversion. Of course, this wasn’t the true start of my doubts. But I can point to November 5 and 6, 2010, as the days I began to take my doubts seriously for the first time.

To write exactly how I got to this point would take a book. But I’d like to share a few of the highlights, if anyone is interested to read.

It was surprising that I should embrace my doubts on that November night, because only three months earlier I was returning from a year-long mission trip to Africa.

My faith was never stronger than in July of 2010. Just a few months before my deconversion, I thought I had tested my faith and found it enough to sustain me forever.

But before the trip, there had been doubts.

You might say I always had questions, but the questions didn’t seem important. Sometimes there wasn’t even a question; only an anomaly to be filed away, to be pondered at a later date.

I remember around sixth grade, I began to ask when the cave men lived, if Adam and Eve were the first people? And when were the dinosaurs, since science said they came before people? It was then that my mom introduced me to young-earth creationism. At the time I didn’t question it. I believed it until I got to college.

My mom was a Sunday school teacher, and deeply devout. I was taught about the Bible for as long as I can remember. As I got older, I was always the one in the group you would go to if you had some obscure Bible trivia question. And my parents never tried to hide the bad verses in the Bible; as soon as I was old enough, I read those too.

It didn’t shake my faith too much. I was just taught that the Bible was the whole truth; it told us the good and the bad in the story of God’s people. I would have questions about this, but not yet.

I went to a highly spiritual Bible camp from third grade up through ninth. I was terribly homesick the first few times, but I kept going back anyway. We sang lots of songs, and stayed up late around a campfire listening to compelling preachers. I felt horribly wracked by guilt there more than once, and rededicated my life to Jesus several years in a row.

For a few years I thought there was something wrong with me. I would become so on fire, so passionate for Jesus while at camp. I would feel ready to go back and share Jesus with all my friends, to read my Bible more, to be a better person. Then I’d go home and nothing had changed. Why? As time went on I began to recognize how the emotionally-charged camp environment could create such a powerful feeling in me. A feeling which no one could sustain on their own.

Even though I could see those factors, I still thought the Holy Spirit was involved. It never occurred to me to seriously suspect this was brainwashing, or group thinking. I never really questioned if the things I was experiencing might actually be false.

Well, maybe I questioned, but only a little.

I read the Bible and prayed a lot during high school. I was sometimes obsessed, sometimes heartbroken at the fact that I couldn’t hear from God like I thought I should. I loved God so much, and I knew that he loved me. I believed he was my Father, and he had a plan for my life, and ignoring his plan to go my own way would only cause me heartache.

But it felt like when I prayed to God, I got only emptiness back. I’d ask a question but receive no answer. Or I’d hear an answer, but it sounded like something I had made up myself, and praying for more clarity never seemed to work.

I doubted sometimes, but mostly I just felt sad, and kept begging God to be more real.

My world was shaken to the core when I went to college.

Here were Christians science professors who believed the earth was billions of years old, and that evolution had happened. It didn’t even seem like a big deal to them to affirm that science and still believe in Jesus, though I had been taught evolution and the Bible were mutually exclusive. Here were Bible professors, intellectual people who spent their whole lives studying the word of God, who taught the Bible was based on earlier myths. That some of the books weren’t really written by their traditional authors. Here were Christians of all kinds who thought it was okay to be gay, even though I’d learned (and read for myself in scripture) that homosexuality was a sin and a perversion, and rebellion against God.

And here were Bible study classes that didn’t just teach me to rubber-stamp my approval on everything in the Bible.

I studied the Genesis creation story, and was surprised by how it looked when examined critically. Wait, it never says the snake is Satan; it just reads like there’s a talking animal for no reason, like a myth!

And later, in one of Paul’s epistles: I wonder why Paul keeps emphasizing that the way of salvation seems like foolishness to those who are “wise” in the world’s eyes. It’s almost like he’s trying to encourage his followers not to listen to what smart people have to say…

I questioned; I doubted; I worried; I prayed.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my journey.

Views: 319

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on December 21, 2013 at 7:41am

 As time went on I began to recognize how the emotionally-charged camp environment could create such a powerful feeling in me. A feeling which no one could sustain on their own.

I think Physeter that the quote above gets to the very core of what religion is. Imagine for some reason you were the only person that turned up to camp one summer. There would be no group thinking happening. Nobody would have been able to confirm the biases of others. The preachers would not have been able to impassion you because it only works on groups. It is never really the words the preachers use that is important. It is all about how they deliver their sound bites that masquerade as inspired wisdom once they have whipped up the emotional energy.

Faith is based on the emotional impact it has on people. Atheism is based on intellectual reasoning. This is why it is so difficult to reach an accommodation with theists. When I explain why I am an Atheist to religious people (when they have asked me) they will seldom debate my points without telling me how fulfilling or important their faith is. It may sustain them on an emotional level but that does mean it is true. It is still a delusion.

Once you* are back home and have time to yourself the enthusiasm starts to fade. It is then that doubts start to creep back in. Once you have had time to challenge these doubts in the cold unemotional light of day they start to crack. A little more critical thinking and it quickly falls away.

The first time you challenged one of your doubts you moved yourself closer to Atheism than to faith because you knew it made sense even if you had not quite articulated it to yourself. You knew you were on to something. Once you can disentangle the emotional impact of your faith from what your actual beliefs are and see that they are not the same thing you discard your faith very quickly.

Once you say that you no longer believe in god you are an Atheist. That is a realisation that cannot be removed. However the emotional vacuum left can take time to recover from and it can be a confusing time for many. In time you get to build a new philosophy of the world and it will always make more sense than the religious view. Atheism makes you stronger in the end because it is not built on sand.

*I use the term “you” in the general sense.

Comment by Ed on December 21, 2013 at 9:45am

@ Reg

"It may sustain them on an emotional level but that does mean it is true. It is still a delusion."

...but that does NOT mean it is true.  :^ )

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on December 21, 2013 at 10:49am

Thanks Ed for the correction. It certainly changes the meaning!!

Comment by Physeter on December 21, 2013 at 12:03pm

Camps are like that, retreats are like that, missionary training especially was like that.

They take you away from everything familiar, and put you in a completely different support system. You--especially at camp, when you are younger--immediately look to the people in charge for how you're supposed to feel, how you're supposed to act. I was a counselor for many years at that camp. Counselors come in hyped up on the good memories we have of that camp and of how great it can be spiritually, and we make sure we show enthusiasm and encourage the kids to help them feel it too.

You're pulled away from anyone who would question it. You're pulled away from any awkward questions. Your entire daily routine is structured for you--around prayer and Bible reading. At camp, there was also the lack of sleep that played with your emotions.

That doesn't mean any of that stuff is true. But that doesn't really mean it is false either, right?

When you get away from camp, and the 'fire' dies down...that doesn't necessarily mean the fire was fake, it could mean that you're now just doing the same thing in reverse. You're surrounding yourself with a different set of expectations and so you get a different set of results.

Maybe you come home from camp/training/retreat and start reading secular and atheist websites. Those sites aren't necessarily true, but you start believing them, just because that’s what you’re exposed to.

I’ve been worried quite often that I might just be replacing one set of group-think with another.

But on the other hand…isn’t it interesting how I found myself gravitating towards atheists? Nobody was forcing me to do so; in fact I had to take pains not to get caught reading these websites.

When you have only the Bible available, then I suppose you only read the Bible. But when you’re away from camp, nobody takes the Bible away. You could still read it, but you choose to read blogs and atheist stuff instead. Is that because the devil’s writings are more “tempting” (as if God couldn’t write a compelling book), or is that because they have more meaning to you than the Bible?

As you can see, I’ve worried a lot that I just exchanged one set of dogma for another, but I have many ways to counter that worry as well.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on December 21, 2013 at 5:37pm

I’ve been worried quite often that I might just be replacing one set of group-think with another.

That is a valid point. However Atheism encourages you to think freely. There are no commandments and no correct way of acting. As a philosophy or worldview Atheism encourages debate. We start our search for answers to the bigger questions in life with an open mind. We will adapt what we call knowledge and how it determines the way we think about the world when new knowledge is discovered (Bayesian Theory). It is a continuous life long process. There is no “one size fits all” answer, no one book, and no certainty of truth. Atheism frees you from the shackles of religious serfdom of the mind.

Once you hear your mind say “There is no God” you are an Atheist. You might even doubt that or even feel a touch of guilt for allowing your mind to think those words and then say “Ok, there probably is no God”. I suppose that is what atheism is for most people. They just don’t belief in a god because there is no evidence. I say “There is no God” because there is no evidence for one and because of what Science has shown me.

So if there (probably) is no God what do that mean? For me the most important thing is not the Big Bang or Evolution as most theists like to think. It is that I live my life being aware that I only have this one life and when it is over I will be no more. There is no point me getting poetic about my atoms returning to the cosmos. The brutal reality that must be confronted and accepted is that it is the Truth. We are born, live a while and then die. That is the essence of Atheism, the result of not believing in any god. However to me this adds to the wonder of life and compels me to make the most of it. I am completely happy with this. That is as far as “group think” can go for us Atheists?

However because I think like that I am also compelled to ask questions about how we got here, why are we sentient, what started it all and so forth. Science provides those answers. There is nothing else that can that we humans have at our disposal. So I accept the Big Bang because it is proven. I accept the Theory of Evolution because it is a Fact. They stand on objective evidence. They speak for themselves and don’t care if we accept them as being the truth or not. If we all look at the evidence and accept it as being the truth on an individual basis then we can hardly be accused of group think.

It is only really in the last twenty years or so that Modern Evolutionary Theory, especially DNA and Modern Cosmology, especially with Hubble, that God has been pushed out of so many gaps as to become redundant. We have discovered so much in this time that it requires time and effort to get to grips with its implications. We are an evolved species existing for a brief time in a Universe too vast for us to comprehend. We may be the consciousness of the Universe but it does not care if that is so. It does not matter to me if that is the case any more than it matters if another Atheist does not care what I think. I want other Atheists to kick my ideas apart so I can build on them. We will argue too much to allow group think to set in. We would not have it any other way. Feel free to think what you like about that :-)

Comment by dataguy on December 21, 2013 at 10:07pm
Thanks for sharing, your story sounds similar to mine, just about two years later.

Congratulations, and if your story ends like mine, you'll never regret your deconversion and your life will continue to get much better!


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