Danny Ferguson’s Deconversion Story

Author: Danny Ferguson / Age: 30 / Sex: Male / Occupation: Web Developer

1980-1998 – Growing up in a fundamentalist church

My mother was raised on a dairy farm and her family went to a Baptist church in the country. My dad’s parents were divorced. His mom is an atheist now (I’m not sure about back then), but he lived with his dad and stepmother. His stepmother is a Methodist and the couple also ran the local liquor store. Shortly after getting married, Dad went on a quest to find the right religion. He did a lot of reading and talking with people he knew. He was visited by the preacher from the Church of Christ in Butler, MO (about 10 miles from Adrian, where he lived). Soon Mom and Dad were members of that church and as far back as I can remember we drove to Butler every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening for services.

The Church of Christ is one of those non-denominational denominations. There is no church hierarchy outside of local congregations. Most of the churches do not use instrumental music in worship services. There are several splinter groups divided by various important theological issues such as

Can a church building have a kitchen?
Is Sunday school allowed?
Should churches send money to missionary and benevolent organizations?
Can communion be taken from multiple cups or only from one shared cup like in the Bible?
Is it ok to have a paid preacher?

My church answered those questions like this: no, yes, no, multiple, yes. Various congregations answer those questions in different ways, and they all refuse to recognize the soundness of any church that doesn’t agree with their set of answers.

So, as I grew up I heard 2 sermons a week and had 2 Bible classes per week. Mixed in with the normal Christian teaching about sin and salvation (and maybe even overshadowing them) were sermons about the evils of pianos and refrigerators in church and how congregations who form organizations to help them cooperate for missionary work were headed down the path toward Catholicism.

And if they were that hard on fellow churches of Christ, just imagine how damned other denominations were. I was frequently told how most of the churches fell into apostasy not long after the New Testament was completed. The Reformation just substituted Protestant heresy for Catholic heresy (although they never seemed to mind quoting Luther, Calvin and Wesley when decrying instrumental music).

But then, as I was told, some humble preachers in America saw through all the religious confusion, left their Protestant churches and started the Restoration Movement. The true form of New Testament religion was restored at last. But all was not well in God’s kingdom. Soon liberals infiltrated the one true church and they had to be ousted. The Disciples of Christ and the churches of Christ officially split in 1906. Some of the apostates had a partial change of heart and in 1926 a group of conservative Disciples of Christ split to form the Independent Christian Church. They still used instruments, but in other ways, they resembled the doctrines of the churches of Christ.

From 1906 to the present, the churches of Christ continued to divide over the issues I listed above and others. Lucky for me, the church I was raised in happened to belong to the one splinter group who was following the Bible correctly.

One of the few interchurch fellowships I had was at the Florida College Summer Camp at the Lake of the Ozarks. Kids from our type of churches of Christ from all over Missouri and Arkansas met for a week. Now I realize that most churches that do summer camps couldn’t fit all of the interested youth from two states, ages 9-18 into a single week of camp. But that never occurred to me at the time. I loved it. I made some good friends there, including Tim, who plays a big role in the rest of my story.

One of the purposes of the camp is to recruit kids to go to Florida College, a junior college in the Tampa Bay area. As far as I know, it’s the only Bible college that my type of churches of Christ considered sound. Several of my friends were planning on going there and Tim and I flew down for a college visit during my junior year (his senior year). I think we were both genuinely undecided at that time, but the trip was kind of disappointing. The library was pathetic, we had some strange experiences in the dorm we stayed (including one resident walking around naked with rubber mask on his face), the academics seemed weak and we knew how much it would cost. Neither of our families had a lot of money for college. My brother went to FC and was able to transfer his credits to a university, graduate and start a good career, so I don’t want to sell the school short too much. But Tim and I weren’t sure it was worth the cost.

Tim went to Truman State University in Kirksville, MO on a good scholarship. Several of our friends were disappointed, including me. I was still leaning toward FC even though I had doubts. I decided to apply to some in-state schools, including Truman, just to see what kind of scholarships I could get. And so that when I was ready to transfer after getting my associate’s degree at FC, I would already have been approved by some schools. Truman accepted me and offered me a $4000 a year scholarship. FC accepted me and offered a $200 scholarship. Truman, with in-state public school tuition was shaping up to be a near-free education. FC would have put my parents in debt. I visited Truman and was impressed, especially by their gigantic library. After much agonizing, I reluctantly decided to part ways with the rest of my friends and join Tim at Truman.

Once again, many people I knew were disappointed in this decision. I almost talked myself out of it at my last year at camp just weeks before leaving for college. No one really pressured me, but I really questioned my decision. Some of my friendships would never be the same. Could my faith handle going to a secular school? I even called home in tears asking my mom if it was still possible to change my mind and go to FC. She told me it was my decision and they would make it work if I wanted to do it. On the last few days of camp I asked advice from a lot of people and I spent the bus ride home mulling the decision. I finally decided to stick with Truman State. It’s strange to think about how different my life would have been if I had made the opposite decision.

That was a turning point in my religious life and in my life as a whole. I don’t really remember if I was having doubts about my church’s claim to be the the one true faith. I know that Tim told me about getting involved with a campus ministry that (gasp!) used instruments in worship. I remember being concerned but intrigued. I intended to look into this campus ministry and possibly get involved myself. So, I must have had some doubts about the CoC even before going to a state school.

1998-2002 – Switching to a slightly less legalistic fundamentalist church

Before I left for college, I was warned by a couple of members in my home church that the church of Christ in Kirksville was not sound. You see, they had a kitchen in their basement. I was encouraged to drive to Macon, MO where there was a sound church. I didn’t like the idea of driving 30 miles on a dangerous 2 lane road every time I wanted to go to church. I did visit the church in Macon once and I didn’t find it to be worth the extra trouble.

So, I began attending the church Tim had gone to during his freshman year: Kirksville Church of Christ. They had a kitchen and no paid preacher. The fact that I was able to handle this level of heresy was probably an early sign to people in my home church that I was about to fall away.

Although Tim had faithfully attended the church of Christ on Sundays and Wednesdays during his freshman year, he had also been in a small group Bible study put on by Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF). CCF is associated with the Independent Christian Church. They do Sunday morning and Wednesday night worship services on campus as well as operating over 20 small group Bible studies that meet on and off campus. During my first week at Truman Tim and I went to several of CCF’s activities and I signed up for a small group that met in my dormitory (where I met Sara, but that’s a whole other story). We continued to go to the church of Christ through the fall semester of 1998.

After a lifetime of being taught that every other denomination is wrong, I was now experiencing friendship and fellowship with people from different religious backgrounds. These people were my age and they were passionate about what they believed. And I was able to compare that side-by-side with what I saw at the Church of Christ. One example should suffice to show the stark differences I began to perceive.

For this story I’ll need to introduce Nate Curl. Nate lived next door to me in the dorm. He was also involved in CCF and we became fast friends. Nate is funny, honest, faithful and very intelligent. He graduated with a 4.0 and went on to medical school. He would become my roommate and a groomsman at my wedding. He was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, which is related to the Presbyterian Church.

I invited Nate to come to church with me one Sunday during the first semester. That happened to be the day when our Sunday school teacher was handing out copies of a book called Traditions of Men Versus the Word of God. This is a typical Church of Christ book that lists all the denominations and explains why they are wrong and the Church of Christ is the one true faith. Nate was handed a book, flipped through it and found the chapter on Presbyterians. He didn’t make a big deal about it, but nobody likes to be told that they are wrong and going to hell. I was so embarrassed. I had been hearing and repeating this type of thing for years, but I’d never personally known the faith of the people I was condemning. I knew that my friend was not a heretic. I had seen his faith in action. And I began to come to terms with the fact that the faith taught by my church focused too much on bringing other people down.

I was learning things in my small group that were more useful and positive than anything I’d seen in the Church of Christ. I also skipped a few Church of Christ services and heard the preaching at CCF. I’m sure the fact that it was mostly young people played a role in my feelings about it, but I was also becoming convinced that the faith I saw there was more practical and more in line with the spirit of the ministry of Jesus than what I was seeing at the Church of Christ. Tim was having some of the same realizations, but the biggest obstacle preventing us from switching to CCF was the fact that they used instruments in worship.

So Tim and I began an in-depth study of this issue. For the first time, we consulted material from both sides of the debate. We came to the conclusion that nothing in the Bible, Church history or common sense would suggest that singing worship songs with instrumental accompaniment was a sin. (My best attempt at defending this decision is probably found in a discussion board thread where I argued for weeks with members of a random Church of Christ on the internet. The church ended up deleting the thread, but I saved it here.) When the spring semester of 1999 began, we stopped going to the Church of Christ and started going to CCF.

Over the next few years I had many discussions with family and friends about my shift in beliefs. For some of them, my decision to go to a church that worshiped with instruments was almost as bad as abandoning God altogether. (This fact would prepare me and them for the bigger shift that I would go through a few years later.) One of the books that helped me cope with this situation was Free In Christ by Cecil Hook. The book is available for free online or you can order a print copy. Hook never left the coC, but he spoke persuasively against the legalism and division that is so prevalent in many churches of Christ. I recommend the book to anyone in the church who wants to see things from another prospective and anyone outside the church who wants to see what makes this little non-denominational denomination tick.

During my junior year I took a class on music in religion. Here’s my final paper for that class: The Bad Son: My Journey Away from the Definitive Church of Christ Doctrine. The title is a little melodramatic, but the paper sums up my take on the coC doctrine at that point in my life.

Even though I no longer believe in God, and suspect that my time in college might have been better spent doing other things, I still have some very positive feelings about CCF. I don’t regret being a part of it. I made some very good friends there, and I’m still close with several of them. My faith grew and I developed leadership and people skills in my work there. I became a small group leader and later an intern. Interns devoted 20 hours per week to the ministry. During my time as an intern I led a prison ministry, a ministry for international students and I did some preaching.

During my junior and senior years I came to terms with and attempted to address some serious doubts I had. I always been attracted to the explanatory power of science, and I knew that religion and science give conflicting answers to important questions. I’d forgotten the importance of hearing from both sides of an issue, or perhaps I was just unwilling to consider the possibility that God did not exist. I combated my doubts by immersing myself in the field of apologetics. Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Philip Johnson and William Lane Craig became my guides. I managed to keep my faith, but I didn’t totally escape disappointment and disillusionment.

At the end of my junior year I saw my favorite campus minister forced out of CCF partially because he didn’t buy into the Independent Christian Church doctrine as much as expected. Then I saw how the senior campus minister responded to criticism by labeling any negative comment as an attack from the devil.

I think it was during my junior year that my religious fervor peaked and began to diminish. I had been planning to become a missionary. But not just any missionary; I wanted to live in the jungle and translate the Bible for indigenous people with no written language or knowledge of Christianity. I don’t think Sara was ever excited about this plan, but we got as far as beginning to drum up financial support to enter this field. During a trip back to Adrian I met with Paul Burhart, the minister of the Independent Christian Church in town, to see if his church might help to send us overseas. He said they might, but he also asked me to consider an opening they had for a youth minister. I told him that I didn’t think I was cut out for youth ministry, but that I would consider it.

In hindsight I see this as part of a pattern of backing away from religious fervor. Sara and I decided to leave the jungles and Bible translation to someone else and to spend the summer of 2001 in a youth ministry internship at the Adrian Christian Church.

I enjoyed the work, but it was still difficult and frustrating enough that I did not feel guilty about spurning missions. Paul asked us to come back and help on weekends when we could during my senior year at Truman. On September 9, 2001, ACC launched a contemporary worship service targeted at younger, unchurched families. In the months following 9/11, the church grew rapidly. We came back one or two weekends a month. Paul had also enlisted the help of some students from a Bible college in Moberly, Missouri. One of those students was Brendan Creecy.

At the end of my first senior semester I told the campus minister that I was resigning my internship. Emma was about to be born, we were frustrated with CCF and we were shifting our involvement toward the church in Adrian. Sara and I both attended CCF worship services and small groups for the remainder of the year, but for us that was a huge cutback in our involvement.

2002-2004 – My time as a youth minister

As expected, the church in Adrian offered me a job after I graduated. We moved to Adrian, bought a house and I became the associate minister at Adrian Christian Church. My duties included running the youth program (grades 7-12), helping with worship services and music and about 1/4 of the Sunday morning preaching.

I recognize now that when I quit that job two years later, that was an important step in my transition toward atheism. I told myself and everyone else that I would be taking a step away from heavy involvement in the church, and I planned to approach faith again on my own terms. But even then, I knew that nonbelief was a possible outcome of this process. Now that I’m looking back, I’m trying to understand how and when that transition to atheism began.

Maybe this is guesswork, and maybe revising history, but I have to look back at that period during my junior year in college when I was disillusioned with CCF. I knew deep down I had not really addressed my doubts and I was standing on the brink of a life in missions. Becoming a Bible translator would have been a huge act of faith. It would’ve been difficult and dangerous. To have chosen that vocation I would’ve had to have been totally convinced of the truth of Christianity. The fact is, when I was faced with a decision, I blinked. I chose the path that, while still ministry, was easier and more comfortable. Concerns about the safety of my family, and the fact that Sara wasn’t excited about moving to the other side of the world must’ve played into this decision. But I wonder if I was doubting even then. By taking the church job in my hometown I may have been hedging my bets just a bit.

But if I had any serious doubts during that period it must have been subconscious. I was dedicated to the work I was doing, and for the most part I enjoyed it. Though I tried my best, and probably did some good, my time working with the youth of the church ultimately confirmed my suspicion but I was not cut out for that type of work. I loved the kids, but I knew that the job did not fit my personality. I also knew that youth ministry required a level of faith that I wasn’t sure I had. There were moments when I just wasn’t sure if I really bought into the ideas that I was teaching.

I did a sermon series on reasons for believing in God. I was convincing myself for the most part, but I was still not exposed to other opinions either in my research or in the feedback on my sermons. The three arguments I used were the teleological argument, the cosmological argument and especially the moral argument. Now I see these as very weak arguments, but by carefully avoiding counter-arguments I was able to preserve my faith.

By the summer of 2004, I was ready to quit. I don’t think there is any one factor that brought me to this point. It was a combination of things. I was simply getting burnt out on youth ministry. The fact that I didn’t love it made the hard work more difficult to bear. I couldn’t stand summer camps.

My views were beginning to diverge from the church in several ways. I guess I was becoming more liberal, religiously and politically. I felt that the unity of all Christians, peace, caring for the poor and the environment were more important than the particular doctrines and traditions of the Independent Christian Church. Paul had hired another associate minister who was more traditional and conservative than either of us. This new preacher and his wife had been ousted from several congregations in the preceding years. We always assumed that their churches had treated them unfairly. But I soon came to understand why a church would want to be rid of them. The fact that their divisive and partisan stances were recognized as an important part of the church played into my view that I didn’t fit in with the staff, including Paul, or with the church.

My political views were changing, too. Driven mostly by the failures in Iraq and the politics of fear, I decided to support John Kerry for President around the time that he was wrapping up the Democratic nomination. The church members may not have been primarily Republicans, but in church staff meetings my views were in the minority.

There was trouble in my devotional life as well. I was finding less satisfaction and value in the time I spent reading the Bible and praying. I tried praying from the lectionary for a while. It was a new thing for me and I appreciated the fact that I was participating in a ritual that involved millions of Christians reading the same scriptures and saying the same prayers. I liked the community connection, but it didn’t help my suspicion that there was no one on the other end of the prayer. I wasn’t feeling God’s presence.

As I discovered that ministry wasn’t for me, I did have ideas about what I would like to do. Brendan Creecy gave me web space to play with and showed me how to use an FTP client and set up a content management system. I created a web site for the church and was maintaining a personal blog on Brendan’s site. I knew I wanted to do tech stuff for a career, so it was excitement about this new direction and not just frustration with the church job that made me want to quit.

All of this, and especially the differences of opinion and personality in the staff, made it hard for me to keep working there. I wanted to get away from the job, from the church and from religion. And I wanted to go toward web development.

In August of 2004 I took the high school kids on a trip to Nationwide Youth Roundup in Colorado. It was a week of camping and religious indoctrination. I had some conflict with the other associate pastor’s wife. She was one of the adults who volunteered to go on the trip. In the weeks leading up to the trip she did a lot of complaining and telling me how to do my job. Sara and I both had words with her. On the day before we left for the trip this woman decided to stay home. That was a relief. I decided before the trip that this would be one last chance to fall in love with youth ministry. If I went through the week and didn’t have doubts about quitting, then I thought I could consider myself released from my calling (not that I fully bought into the idea of being called by God into ministry.) It was a decent trip. The kids had fun and there were no major problems. I tried pretty hard to get this one kid to open up and talk about something spiritual, but that failed. The guy who had led that first small group I was in at CCF just happened to be at NYR with his youth group. I talked to him about wanting to get out and he was very understanding. He had gone through a similar transition. On the way home from the trip I decided that if I left the job I would be happier. I wouldn’t regret it. I wasn’t rejecting the work I had done, but I was ready to move on.

About a month later, after talking with Sara, Paul and the church board, I announced my resignation to the church. I couldn’t really start looking for a job in Adrian until after I resigned unless I wanted the parishioners to find out that I was quitting through the grapevine. So, I gave two weeks notice and didn’t even have any prospects for new jobs. I interviewed at a bank here in town. On the day after my last day at the church the bank offered me a job. It was scary, but I was only unemployed for about 24 hours.

2004-2007 – Leaving the faith

After quitting my job at the church, I kept my promise to become less involved. I went to Sunday morning services, but that was it. No Sunday school, no Bible studies and no volunteering. This was the least involved in church I had ever been in my life. And for the first time I can remember, I stopped reading my Bible and stopped praying. I thought that if I just did the bare minimum for a while I might get interested again. I knew that it was possible that I wouldn’t, but I didn’t really care.

During this period I made a few posts to my blog about religion, but none of them were particularly positive. Then, between July 8, 2005 and January 24 is 2007, I didn’t make a single post to this site in the religion category. I wasn’t practicing religion, I wasn’t blogging about religion and I wasn’t even thinking about religion.

I had never been a nominal Christian in my life, but I guess that’s what I became. Church services, an activity that I spent so much time participating in and even crafting, became strange to me. I didn’t want to sing the songs anymore. This was partially because I wasn’t sure if I believed in the message of the lyrics, but also because I felt odd chanting religious statements in unison with a group. What had once been a cherished activity now felt like subtle tool for brainwashing.

As for sermons, the best way to describe my feelings toward them is to say that they became less and less useful to me. The preaching hadn’t changed, but I guess my approach had. I began to dissect them and to think about how they might actually benefit me. I guess I was less interested in the esoteric religious doctrines and more interested in practical knowledge. I was finding a disappointing lack of the latter. It didn’t help that during that period the church had a long sermon series instructing the members to donate more money to the church.

Finally, two years after my resignation, Sara had had enough. She wasn’t upset that I had become indifferent toward religion, but she didn’t think it was right for me to sit on the fence. She thought that it was unlike me to not think something through and arrive at an opinion. I admitted that I had been avoiding the subject and I pledged to her that I would make an investigation and come to some sort of conclusion.

I decided that I would do what I did when considering leaving the Church of Christ and what I should’ve done when first dealing with my doubts about religion in general. I would research the issue from both sides. Here is a list of books in chronological order that I read between my talk with Sara in mid-2006 and my public announcement of atheism in August of 2007. I’m giving the full list even though they weren’t all about religion. Even some of the fiction books played a role.

The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog by James W. Sire
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Raising Holy Hell: A Novel of John Brown by Bruce Olds
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays by Wendell Berry
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina by Frank Rich
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
Darwin (Norton Critical Edition) by Charles Darwin, Philip Appleman
Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward
The God Who Is There by Francis A. Schaeffer
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Neuromancer by William Gibson
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings by Bart D. Ehrman

I also had discussions with friends, both Christian and non-Christian. Through all these inputs, several factors were coming into focus. I was put off by the massive failure of the most theocratic president in my lifetime, and by the hateful, anti-scientific fundamentalists that have a powerful voice in our country. I knew several liberal Christians, including my wife, so I knew that that was an option. But I didn’t know if I could consider it a reasonable option for me.

So, I returned to those three arguments that had salvaged my faith in college. Would they still convince me?

I had used the teleological argument in my teaching at the Church. I even recounted Paley’s watchmaker illustration. The problem with that argument is that it was written in 1802, 50 years before Charles Darwin described an alternate explanation for the apparent design that Paley referred to.

In The Language of God, Francis Collins defends evolution and warns his fellow Christians that the teleological is a losing argument. That left me with two arguments, the cosmological and the moral. And those were the same two that Collins used.

The cosmological argument comes in many forms, but most of them run something like this:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe had a cause (God).

I always found this explanation to be very convincing, and I used it once when I preached at the church. That was a Sunday when an ex-convict I had been working with finally accepted my invitation and came to church. Later on, he told me that this argument didn’t sit well with him. The question that kept coming to his mind was, “Then who made God?” I gave him the standard answer, which was that God did not have a beginning, so he didn’t need a cause. That explanation didn’t satisfy him then and now that I was revisiting the argument, it wasn’t satisfying me, either. I recognized now that the first premise was stacked in the Christian’s favor. The first premise must be worded very carefully in order to include the universe but exclude God. And I don’t see any reason why we should take that distinction as a given. If time itself came into being along with the universe, and the idea of causation is necessarily bound up with the existence of time, how can something be caused before time even exists? The beginning of the universe is still a great mystery, but I don’t think that God makes a satisfying explanation.

Collins attributes his version of the moral argument to the opening chapters of mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (which I’ve since reread). The argument from morality comes in several forms, but I think Lewis’ is the most representative and accessible. It runs something like this:

1. Morality is an absolute law.
2. All laws have a lawgiver.
3. Morality has a lawgiver (God).

This begs several questions. First, if morality is an absolute law, then why don’t we have a clear idea of what that law says? It’s not found in our conscience, for nations, periods of history and individuals do not all agree on which actions are good and which are bad. This absolute morality is not recorded in any book that I know of. It’s certainly not in the Bible. We have to use our own human judgment to determine which parts of the Bible are good (love your neighbor), and which parts are evil (enslave your neighbor).

Even if someone could establish that morality is very like a law, that would not mean that morality shares every attribute of human law. If you flip through the first few chapters of Mere Christianity, you’ll see that Lewis uses the word “Law” over and over. He even capitalizes it. I think his hope was to bludgeon the reader with this metaphor and then slip in the second premise. Once you’ve bought the idea that morality is a law, the rest of the argument is easy to accept. But the problem with metaphors is that they break down.

As I revisited this argument I recognized that it had something in common with the other two. They’re all promoting a God of the gaps. They are all creation myths, like the story that thunder was caused by Thor’s hammer. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean that God did it. Not only is it bad logic, but it’s not a satisfying answer. Just as we can ask who designed God and who caused God, this argument leaves us wondering who gave God his sense of morality. I explored this question in an article about the Eurythro dilemma.

Is there a good way to explain morality without invoking God? I think there is. Much of what we consider to be morality is probably evolved instinct. The loyalty and affection between lovers, the tender care for children and our desire to protect the innocent can all be explained by the benefits that they give to our species. After all, we are not the only species that cares for its young and cooperates. I think that these instincts, combined with culture and refined by reason, provide a much more satisfying explanation of our shared moral values than a creation myth ever could.

So now, the three reasons that did the most to convince me of God’s existence were no longer getting the job done. By the time I read The God Delusion I was already having serious doubts. I had always been told (and repeated in my own teaching) that the loss of belief in God necessarily leads to nihilism. But in this book I learned that a person can be an atheist and be happy. I learned that if this life is all we have, then every day is precious. Love, knowledge, progress and contentment are their own rewards. If I don’t have eternity to look forward to, then I better get busy living this life.

Finally, I returned to the Bible. Since before I could read I had taken it as a given that the Bible was true. But now I came to the Bible with a skeptical approach. I read Bart Ehrman’s book on the New Testament as a historical document and I read through the Gospels and compared them to each other, keeping in mind the order in which they were written. It seemed clear to me that I was reading legendary material that grew over time. Some people say that the Gospels were written too soon after the events for legends to have arisen, but those people have obviously never heard of Mormonism, Scientology and e-mail chain letters. And somehow, I doubt that a largely illiterate and prescientific people of the first century were more skeptical and reasonable than people are today.

Some people say that there were plenty of chances for first century people to have debunked the Gospels if they were legend, but I’m not so sure. There were plenty of people trying to debunk Mormonism and Scientology as they got started, but it didn’t stop those new religions from taking hold. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, any dissenting opinion about the origins of Christianity was suppressed. So there may have been attempts to disprove Christianity that were lost to history when the Christians came into power. Imagine if America had a Scientologist emperor. They would destroy all the evidence against Scientology and in a few hundred years, there would be nothing left on the subject but pro-Scientology propaganda.

The legs that held up my belief in God had been removed one by one: the teleological, cosmological and moral arguments, the Bible, fear of meaninglessness, peer pressure, political leanings and most of all, habit. By June of 2007 I had stopped going to church and started telling friends and family. Astute readers of my blog had already detected a change in the tone of the posts I made during the first half of 2007, especially my review of Language of God.

On August 4, 2007 (my birthday), I publicly announced on this site that I was an atheist. That’s the story of how I went from odd-ball fundamentalist to campus ministry intern to youth pastor to nominal Christian to atheist.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Thanks for sharing! It sounds as though you had a really long and thoughtful journey, and I hope it continues with much happiness.

  • Adam

    I'll accept my answers over yours. We DO have evidence for everything since the big bang 14.2 billion years ago. Your answer… GOD DID IT. At least mine has more proof. Read "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking or listen to this speech from Lawrence Krauss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo Science has pretty much wrapped it up. And just because it's 99% answered instead of 100%, doesn't mean we are wrong. Name one thing that science used to give the answer for that now religion does… go on, try. There isn't one. Yet, there are millions of things religion used to give a stupid answer for that science now gives the correct answer to (disease, light, motion, gravity, the universe, DNA, atoms, sun, moon, stars, fire, water, etc.). Religion is dying sir, and I don't see anyone coming back to resurrect it. But, if clinging on to it until it is finally gone makes you feel better… you are welcome to it.

  • JT

    Grady,

    1. "We don't know how life began."

    When scientists say they don't know how life began, they're not saying they have no idea. There are roughly a dozen models in existence, all of which are compliant with known science, that could explain it. We just don't know which one was responsible and may never know (though the RNA world model is accruing more and more support). I touch on this here.

    So I'd say this one is safely enough in the hands of science to call it ours.

    2. "…can't explain consciousness…"

    We can certainly prove that it's tied to a physical brain. 'Consciousness' is the sum of all our means to experience the world, whether it's our ability to see, to understand language, to recognize tools, etc. If I were to numb to portions of your brain that process those things, you would lose your ability to experience the world in those ways. So while it's true there are parts of consciousness we've not located yet, and that at times we don't understand the mechanisms at work (yet), every instance we have been able to examine has produced evidence that our ability to experience is physical, with no examples to the contrary.

    I think this also places consciousness safely within the realm of the materialistic, natural world…unless you think god of the gaps arguments are sound.

    3. "…morality…"

    Questions of morality boil down to questions of what we want. Try to think of any action you've ever performed that you didn't think would make you happy. You may try to point out a selfless action, but even those satisfy us (how would your conscience have treated you if you weren't selfless?).

    This is true even for Christians. Try asking a Christian if their behavior would change if they discovered that abiding by the ten commandments would result in them being sent to hell, while disobeying them would land them in heaven and see how they answer.

    So morality is about what we want, and everybody wants to be happy. That happiness then must be about what we want as a team, since we are reliant on each other (and have to live in proximity to each other). In this capacity, science is undeniably king. You want to spend more time with friends and family rather than toiling in the fields for that night's supper? Science. You want to live longer? Science. You want plentiful food? Science. Clean water? Science.

    Only in a temporary and empty sense does Christianity, or any religion, contribute to happiness. I argue for this here. So it's not about merely 'not liking' the moral answers of religion, it's about those answers being deeply inadequate (and wholly wrong).

    And the final remaining point of yours is about Hawking and the origin of the universe. While it's true that science hasn't put it together (yet), it's also true that it has made headway. It is science that has ascertained Plank's wall and that has significantly narrowed down the possibilities of what could have happened. It has also recently taken another step forward by simulating the plasma-like state of the early universe, telling us how matter would have behaved then. The discoveries built upon that knowledge will soon come pouring in, and science will continue its march towards an answer.

    What answers has religion given us? That an intelligence was involved? How? In this universe, complexity is the product of time and chaos (something science has established very firmly) so where did this complex intelligence come from when there was no time for it to assemble?

    Religion has no answers. It has assertions that are either entirely unsupported or outright false. To call those 'answers' would take a godly amount of cynicism.

    JT

  • Adam

    @ Grady: As we’ve told you before… if science has answered “god claims” up to this point, what’s to make us think it won’t for the future unknown parts of our existence. Remember, believers used to use god to explain disease, volcanoes, earthquakes, rain, floods, the sun, moon, stars, etc. We know have natural explanation for all of this… thanks to science.

    All that HE has left if the actual moment of the Big Bang (which we are getting closer to understanding) and consciousness (which I barely call an unknown – evolution and abiogenesis does explain this).

    Like JT has said, if a horse (science) wins a million races in a row against other horses (religions), then why should we assume that the next few races won’t be won by the same horse. Science keeps replacing god and Christians just keep pushing god into the few aspects of life that remain a mystery… because mystery is the only place he can inhabit anymore.

  • Anna

    Thank you for sharing your story.