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.