As I begin to explore more of these atheist/agnostic understandings, I have run across a number of “testimonials” where people explain their path to unbelief. Almost all agree that there wasn’t one particular thing that made them unbelievers, but there were tons of little things that eventually piled up until they could no longer ignore their conscience. This process often takes years, especially if you were as deeply involved and indoctrinated as I was. This made me think back to what some of those moment were for me.
Perhaps it was the time I went on a mission trip to New Zealand. We were supposed to work with teens because NZ has one of the highest suicide rates per capita in the world, but my team ended up being dropped off at malls and commanded to prosthelytize to strangers. I absolutely refused to do it, much to the frustration of our leaders. But that wasn’t “the thing”. Two nights before the end of the trip we were having a prayer meeting and some of the kids got the wonderful notion to pray for the healing of another young man who said that he was color blind. I immediately balked at the idea. First, I wasn’t sure I even believed him when he said he was color blind and second, I was actually angry at the idea of God healing a guy with color blindness while my ex-boyfriend (who I still cared about) was dying of cancer. I refused to join in the prayer group. Two hours later there was shouting and crying as the boy and all the other teens began saying that he was healed. I didn’t believe it. Not for a second. I thought something was broken with my faith though because why would he lie? I was the doubting Thomas.
Maybe it was the time that I went to a revival and this guy said that those who wanted to get closer to God should come up front. Wanting that experience, I went up. One by one this guy laid his hands on people and they would fall to the ground, ‘slain in the spirit’ as it is called in charismatic circles. But when he got to me, I felt nothing. Not a damn thing. And the look of anger on his face when I didn’t fall over freaked me out. Yet I refused to just fall down because of this dude’s look. No, I felt nothing and therefore I was not going to bow to peer pressure. It made me wonder though, did all these other people actually fall over or were they faking it? Was there something wrong with my faith because I didn’t?
There was the time that one of my friends explained their (Calvinist) belief that only the Elect got to go to heaven. That God chose them, like picking members of a club, and so those who went to hell and eternal torment were purposefully chosen by God to go to hell. How could a person believe that and why would they keep serving and worshiping a God that did? If I believed that, I told myself, I wouldn’t be able to be a Christian because I would never serve such a capricious god. Good thing, I assured myself, that I did not believe that.
When I went back to school at twenty-three, I took a contemporary ethics class. At the time, I believed that God told me not to tell anyone in the class that I was a Christian and to try to argue my points without using “because the Bible told me so” as my answer for anything. In truth, looking back, it was probably my inner voice reminding me that I went to a very liberal college and I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I said things like the above. I managed to make it through the entire class, arguing a variety of ethical and moral issues without using the Bible once. This was my realization that I didn’t need the Bible to be a moral person. Quite a surprise for a girl who was raised to believe that the Bible was the reason we even had morality.
As a teenager I was obsessed with Egyptian history. However, when I looked at when the early dynasty began plus the additional 2000 A.D. years, there just wasn’t enough time for young earth creationist theory to work. 3150 + 2000 = 5150. If the earth is only 6-7,000 years old that only leaves 850-1850 years for humanity to spread across the Earth. A quick search on population growth showed me that it was impossible for humanity to expand and grow at that rate. Even at the low end of the spectrum, the world population in 3000 BC was supposed to be around 14,000,000. There is no way that the population went from 2 people to 14 million in 850 years. When I questioned this I was told that it was more like 10,000 years. Okay, but is 4,150 years enough time for 14 million people in a society where half of your kids died of childhood diseases? Very unlikely. And so I had to accept that people were wrong.
There were lots of small things too. Documentaries where Biblical claims were called into question. Most of the time I disregarded them, but they were still there in the back of my mind, waiting to be answered. Conversations I had with atheists. Never seeing anyone being healed but always hearing about it. My mother always saying that God was talking to her, but somehow, miraculously, God usually wanted her to do the things that she wanted to do already. Coincidences that really were just coincidences, not God-ordained appointments. Letting go of the notion that there was one perfect man out there for me because I realized that love is a choice and that there are, in all probability, quite a few men that I would get along with very well and could make it work with. Once I let go of the notion of young earth creationism and embraced evolution (as the way God made the earth, of course) it led me to an understanding that not only explained away ridiculous notions like rainbows from God, but also helped me understand the way in which our world could form without a God.
I’m at the stage where I am thinking about the implications of not believing in a God. How does cursing work now? Is it okay to curse now that I don’t believe it is a sin or is it still wrong but based not on religion but for the greater good of mankind? Does it matter? What about lying? Stealing? Cheating? Besides certain things being against the law, why will I continue to treat them as unethical? Does a humanist approach to philosophy and ethics fit into my worldview?
I am not at the point where I am willing to tell anyone about this. Unless they tell me straight up that they too are atheist or agnostic and I think I can trust them, I am not willing to go there yet. The disappointment my dad will have will be immense. My mother will want to pray over me and argue...because she already does that now and that’s just because we don’t agree on Christian stuff. My husband, although very moderate and almost agnostic, clings hard to his Christian right-wing upbringing and still says things like, “When I was online dating, I would never have gone out with a girl who said she was agnostic or atheist.” Considering we have only been married 2 1/2 years and dated for 1, this wasn’t that long ago. I think that he too is on the same journey as me, but a little bit behind. I suspect that in another 5 years though, we may be in the same place. Can I wait that long? I don’t know.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.