Perhaps you have had the experience of discussing with a Christian how you became an atheist and were told that you weren't a true believer in the first place. If you are like me, you had a period in your life when your faith was very genuine. You share this with the Christian. But, most Christians cannot comprehend a person making a rational determination that god does not exist. In their mind, a true believer cannot know a better way because they have been raised to believe that their's is the true way. They accuse you of being a false convert.
It has happened to me on more than one occasion. I was reminded of it recently while reading Ray Comfort's blog. Comfort, of Banana Man fame
, demonstrates a lack of understanding on an array of topics ranging from science, and especially evolution, to atheism, rationalist philosophies, and human nature. In this particular piece
, he is discussing a fellow minister who became an atheist. Comfort accuses the man of being a hypocrite, a false convert, and a Judas. The man's sin was to grow intellectually.
I was raised a Catholic. I took my faith very seriously growing up. I went to Catholic school. I had an aunt who was a nun. I received confirmation. My faith inspired me in many ways. I began to question Catholicism in my teenage years. I am a logical thinker. I was attempting to connect my individual beliefs into something solid and substantial. I was looking for an intellectual grounding for my faith.
I began to ask, from where does the Pope derive his authority? Why is his interpretation in matters of faith considered to be infallible? How could his infallibility be derived through his position? No one could answer these questions to my satisfaction. The priest at my church encouraged me to read the New Testament. I began to do so. I was inspired, but my questions remained unanswered.
In college I met some serious Protestant types who encouraged me to read the whole Bible. They mentioned all of the ways the Catholics were not biblical
. They made a good case. I was drifting away from Catholicism. However, in reading the Old Testament I noticed the many ways that God was himself evil. I noticed the genocide
done in his name, and His endorsement of slavery
. I noticed two creation stories that contradicted each other within the first pages of the Bible.
At the same time I was studying mathematics and science. I took courses in formal logic. I was learning how to think critically. My faith was eroding because I could not resolve the contradictions. This bothered me deeply. I continued to try to make it work. I was, at this point, holding on to faith for purely emotional reasons. Eventually I gave it up. It was not for a lack of trying.
It was around this time that my maternal Grandmother, my only surviving grandparent, began to change in some dramatic ways. She had been living with us my entire life. She began to have trouble determining imagery from reality. One of her pleasures in life was watching Lawrence Welk on Saturdays. Although I had often spent time with her during the show because it was important to her, I did not particularly like it. Neither did my siblings. So, at times she was left to watch it for herself.
One day she began to cry out hysterically. I ran to her room and found her pointing at the television. She was telling me to make them
go away. They
kept looking at her and talking to her, she said. I told her this was Lawrence Welk. She did not understand. She calmed down when I turned the television off.
On another occasion she was using the toilet. I was alone in the house with her. She suddenly began to scream. I was hesitant to invade her privacy, but there was a sense of urgency and trauma in her voice. I entered the bathroom to find her sitting on the toilet. She was pointing to the National Geographic on the stand near the toilet. It was that famous cover with the Afghani woman with green eyes
wearing a veil. My grandmother was telling me to make her
go away. I removed the magazine.
Everyone in the family was sharing similar experiences with her. We did not know about dementia. She was never formally diagnosed. But, there is no doubt in my mind today that that is what she was suffering from.
Another curious symptom my grandmother exhibited was a regression in her thoughts and speech. Her first languages were Polish and German. English was learned later in life. As this illness progressed, she began to speak increasingly in her native tongues. Oddly, she often was reciting nursery rhymes in German and Polish. To some extent she enjoyed remembering them. But, she was regressing mentally and emotionally. My mother became her caregiver.
We learned more about dementia and alzheimers when two of my aunts were stricken. One, my father's sister, began to exhibit severe memory lapses. She forgot how to write checks, for instance. My other aunt was my mother's sister-in-law. She became combative. She began to wander from the home and get lost. They were both committed to nursing homes at about the same time. My cousin could no longer care for her mother without help. My Uncle was unable to keep his wife safe.
I visited them about four years ago. My wife and I met my mom and dad at the airport. We had all flown in to Cleveland. We all were figuring it would be our last chance to see my two aunts, regardless of whether they would recognize us or not. Even though I had heard all the stories about their conditions I was still surprised and shocked when I saw them. My father's sister did not recognize her brother. Nor did she recognize me, her godson. Neither did she recognize my cousin, her own daughter. My aunt had advanced alzheimers. She recognized the woman she sat across from each day. She did not remember being married. Although, she sometimes would point to another patient and say that that was her husband.
My other aunt had a different form of dementia. She was unable to speak. She had a nervous energy that drove her to wander incenssantly. This resulted in her being strapped within a wheelchair for her own safety. She constantly fought against the restraints. She still used her legs to push the chair and we had a difficult time keeping her from getting away. She did not recognize my uncle, her own husband.
By this time my father was exhibiting some of the same symptoms that his sister did a few years prior. My mom was comparing notes with my cousin and uncle. She took my dad to see some specialists who diagnosed him, too, with alzheimers. My dad was not speaking much anymore. We would ask him why. He would respond that he had nothing to say. He was losing fine motor control. He shuffled instead of walked. He no longer showed any interest in the many things that had fascinated him. He would look at books, but could not read.
My father passed two years ago. He was followed in the subsequent year by my two aunts. I have another aunt, another sister-in-law of my mom's, who now has alzheimers. I am more than a little concerned about succumbing to some form of dementia myself. I think the hereditary factors are there. This brings me back to my original topic, faith and Christianity.
As I mentioned, I have been told that my intellectual reasons for leaving the church are not valid. I have been told that I never had enough faith. I did not try enough. Somehow, my atheistic belief is not valid, they say. And, somehow, it is my fault.
I have a question for such Christians. It is very possible that I could become a Christian once again. If I succumb to some form of dementia -- if I can no longer reason at the level I do now, and if I can no longer remember why I do not believe -- it is entirely possible that I could mentally regress to the point where Christianity is believable once again. It is, after all, a simpler explanation for the world and the phenomena that make it up. God is a simpler explanation for so many things, and it does not require as much understanding.
Much like my grandmother I could regress to some earlier childhood state of mind where God was entirely believable. In such a case, would my faith save me? Would my re-conversion to Christianity be valid? Or, would I be condemned for thinking what I could no longer remember? And if my rediscovered faith does save me, could I be recondemned if I regressed further to the point where I had, like my two aunts, minds that had been wiped clean of any thoughts, even of God?