9/29/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Bruise ~
I've called myself an atheist for about six or seven months now. I haven't told anyone except my husband (who is all for it, thankfully! ha!), and one cousin and one friend, both of whom are atheists. The rest of my family (on my side and my husband's) are Christians and I've been debating telling them about my deconversion and am considering sending the below letter...any feedback would be appreciated! Thanks!
I would like to share some information with you that will likely come as a surprise. I have deliberated for some time now regarding the sharing of this information (should I keep it to myself??). As you read I have no doubt you will understand why I’ve struggled with this decision! I so badly want to be “real” with you, my family. I do fear that sharing this information will alter our relationship in some way (for the worse!); that would be the worst outcome in my eyes. I also fear that sharing this information will make you fear for my life (you will see what I mean) and bring you great sorrow--those were the main reasons I was not more forthcoming sooner--the last thing I want to do is worry my family or sadden them. However, the internal dissonance has gotten too great so (perhaps selfishly, perhaps stupidly, I so hope not!) I have decided to just spill the beans.
I am no longer a Christian. We’ll get to what I “am” later.
I would like to share a little of my “de-conversion” story if you’ll hear it. It was slow, somewhat long and a complete shock to myself. This certainly was not the outcome I expected or ever envisioned for my spiritual “journey!”
I became a Christian in college during a time in my life when I had very little confidence in who I was or what my purpose was in this life, and Christianity helped answer all those issues and I loved it.
I have always been an “emotional” person and becoming a Christian appealed greatly to that emotional side of me; in fact, my becoming a Christian was completely an emotionally based decision (as it probably is for most people). Becoming a Christian typically involves a prayer of accepting Jesus after hearing an emotional sermon about how great God’s love is for you and how you NEED Him to be saved. No one (or not many anyway!) becomes a Christian because they’ve studied the Bible, made a list of pros and cons, compared it with other religions, and decided it makes the most sense. Not to mention that most people chose the religion they are born into, so religious choice is directly related to where you were born...
I loved being a Christian. I loved Jesus. I loved God. I loved the idea of a Creator who loves us unconditionally, who put us here for a “purpose” or “reason”, who could bring “hope” and “peace” to our lives. I loved going to church (once I found the “right fit” which took awhile :) ). I loved worshipping God. I even loved praying (though I never enjoyed reading the Bible! In hindsight I suspect that was because it is impossible for me to make sense of it...). And despite my beliefs now (or lack thereof), I am grateful for my experiences and time as a Christian and how that shaped me to be who I am today. Having said that, there many things I regret having said or done in the name of Christianity (i.e breaking up with Justin twice and a conversation about obesity and overweight being a sin which I’ll never forget...) and am grateful I didn’t do anything even worse or more embarrassing because I thought “God wanted me to.”
This “de-conversion” journey started a few years ago with doubts...not necessarily doubts as to wether Jesus was God or our Savior, but doubts as to how to live out my faith. In college and medical school I was in such a Christian bubble...my Christian friends and I all held pretty identical beliefs, it was “easy” to be a Christian surrounded by like-minded people. In residency I stayed in that bubble mostly because I didn’t have time to think about it, I just continued on with the Christian practices and beliefs that had started in college.
Once I entered the “real world” as I like to call it (no longer a student, now an adult with a real job and more time on my hands to “live life”!) I realized what vastly different beliefs Christians have and how many different ways there are to “live out” the Christian faith. There is no general consensus as to how to be a Christian other then believing that Jesus is God and came to earth in human form to save us from our sins and allow us to have eternal life with Him after we die if we just believe in Him. May I interject, isn’t it odd, or some might say evil, that in the belief structure of Christianity we need God to be saved from the very situation He supposedly created (He “created” us with sin, yet there is no way out of sin without Him? Why inject sin in us in the first place then? But that’s beside the point...)
Anyway, this lack of a general consensus on how to “be” a Christian bothered me. There must be a “right way” to do things or believe as a Christian, right? I mean, God wouldn’t leave it so up in the air as to how to follow Him and be with Him eternally, would He? (i.e. some denominations believe in faith alone for salvation, some works and faith, some believe certain rituals or sacraments also have to be performed during our time on earth to achieve heavenly status, etc..). How can there be so many “ways” to be a Christian? Which is the right way? Which way do I want to adopt? And how do I know I have it right?
Beyond what to believe regarding salvation, it really bothered me that there are such differing opinions as to how God wants us to live out our faith in regards to relating with other people (i.e. the Christians’ problem with homosexuality always bothered me...being in the medical field we know that homosexuality is not a choice...I could not accept that God wanted Christians to vilify homosexuals the way they are vilified...and yes, I think even the “nice” Christian version of this in which Christians claim to “love the person but not the sin” is a vilification...it leads to “separate but equal” thinking--which you know where that got us in the fight for racial equality--and keeps gays from ever achieving the same human rights that non-gays enjoy).
Here is a list of a few other things that I really wanted to get to the bottom of (these are taken from a journal entry of mine, sorry if the tense I write in is different or nonsensical):
- Why did God just reveal himself just over 2000 years ago?
- What about all the people that came before Jesus' time? What happens to them?
- What about all the people born into other religions or parts of the world where they'll never hear about Jesus? What happens to them?
What do I think about the "Rules" that so many Christians adopt:
- going to church every Sunday (do I have to??)
- tithing 10%--BTW does that have to be to church or does that including donating outside of church?
- getting baptized (when? how?)
- having to evangelize--I hate when people try to evangelize to me and I AM a christian, how annoying must it be to others?!? But if Jesus really is the way to God/heaven I kind of HAVE to evangelize, right??
- prayer--what is the role of it and how does God really answer prayers, if at all? or is prayer just for our benefit to feel closer to God? It’s pretty clear to me there is no way of knowing if God really answered a prayer (if you prayed for something and it happened--prayer answered! If you prayed for something and it didn’t happen--prayer answered! really?!?!?!)
- similar to evangelization: if Jesus really rose from the dead and his claim to be the son of God is true, shouldn't I be more "on fire" for my faith?? But being "on fire" is off putting to other "less on fire" Christians and to non-Christians...in my experience, it pushes more people away from the faith then draws to the faith...so how would I balance "being on fire" and not being an annoying and judgmental human being??
- Bible study...how do I incorporate this more into my life?!? I should be more knowledgeable about the book upon which my faith is based...but apart from the “nice things” that Jesus had to say about love and whatnot, it’s impossible to make sense of
- what is up with the other world religions? Is there any chance at all they are all also inspired by God or are they really man-made and/or "from the devil"?
- does/can the devil really be at work in our lives? if so, how would we know that (apart from obviously REALLY dipping into sin like lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, etc)?? And why would God create a devil to contend with in the first place? Seems like a great way to make life more difficult than it needs to be (a mantra of mine--don’t make life harder than it needs to be or already is!!)
- is faith in Jesus all it takes to be saved or do works play a role? Either way, how do we know if we have enough faith or if we have enough works? How can we really be confident in our salvation if the Bible isn't clear on this?
- do we really have free will? (this wasn't too important to my "faith" per say, more of a philosophical question I guess)
- I seem to naturally not have the Old Testament weigh too heavily into my beliefs of who the Christian God is (how could I? he sounds vengeful, hateful, spiteful, unpredictable, erratic), but is that okay? How should the old testament effect my belief in or thoughts about the Christian God?
- how do I decide (like all other Christians seem to do) which parts of the Bible to follow "to a T" and which parts are okay to be more "loosey goosey" about...which parts of the Bible can I write off to just being "how things were in the time it was written" vs being a guidebook for how things should be today?
I know some of you may be thinking Justin influenced me down this path or had something to do with this. I assure you neither he nor anyone else had anything to do with this (or any knowledge of my questions and doubts!!) There is not a person on the planet who knew of this research project I was embarking on.
So, I started reading and researching. I started by reading summaries of the world’s religions and reading excerpts from their Holy Books to see what set Christianity apart from them, i.e. what makes Christianity true over the other religions that claim to be true. The tough and surprising answer was, I couldn’t find a reason...they all claim to be the one true revealed word of God.
That didn’t break me of my belief at all, though. I figured after all these years of the Christian faith being perpetuated someone before me must have figured this out and found good reasons for Christianity being the one true way (besides the Bible saying so), and found good answers to my concerns I delineated above.
So, I embarked on a Google search (very scientific, yes) and not only came across Christian apologists (i.e. C.S. Lewis, Josh Mcdowell, Lee Strobel, all of whom I had also read in college), but for the first time in my life came across de-converted Christians’ stories. An ex-Christian! I didn’t know such a thing really existed (well, that’s not entirely true; I thought they existed but only in the sense that they got “lazy” in their faith so “fell away”, OR they were intellectually arrogant and would not admit they needed a Savior. I didn’t know there were people who really thought through and wrestled with their faith and ended up leaving it...).
Reading forums and blogs of ex-Christians was eye-opening, but a lot of what I read was poking fun at religious beliefs which wasn’t what I needed to hear at that time. I needed to hear someone’s honest journey of searching for the same answers I was looking for...are the answers out there??
That’s when I stumbled across the two most life changing books I’ve ever read:
- Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists
- Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary
Both authors are ex-Christian missionaries. Both struggled with some of the same issues I had above (and other issues, of course...every deconversion is different and very personal!).
Mind you, along this whole journey I was praying hardcore, asking for guidance and peace, asking for wisdom, praying “I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief!!”, honestly wanting to be a good child of God, doing my due diligence to making sure I had my faith right and was living it out right.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t put these books down, they resonated so strongly with me and made more sense then any Christian apologist I had read. I was hungry for this knowledge and excited about opening my mind to a world of thought I didn’t even know was an option!
I was also feeling very anxious, (even physical ramifications like heart palpitations and eye twitching!) as I was reading because I knew that I was getting past a point of no return.
All of a sudden my reasons for believing seemed shamefully easy to refute. Those 2 authors in their books word the problems with Christianity much more eloquently then I ever could but beyond the historical "evidence" that the Bible is a man-written, man inspired book (very similar, in fact, to various pagan religions and mythology times past), the contradictions within the Bible itself (which their are TONS of) became a large problem I couldn't justify away. In fact, the only "reason" I could muster to keep my Christian faith is because it had "felt" so real before. I had LOVED God and LOVED Jesus...I had felt "peace", I had felt the "holy spirit." What about that? It turns out I can muster up those same "Feelings" without calling on God or the holy spirit. Those feelings are NOT unique to Christianity and can NOT be a tick in the column of Christianity being true.
I honestly cannot find a reason to believe the Bible is the Word of God (other then it claims to be within it’s binding, which many works of literature have claimed to be, so that’s really not a reason).
Looking at the Bible without the lens of being a Christian is also eye-opening. Just try it: try reading the book from the perspective of someone who has not been indoctrinated from a young age to believe the Bible stories...it’s one of the most nonsensical collection of stories I can imagine being written (I cringe writing that because I do not want to belittle those who still believe, especially my family, I love you...).
It took me awhile to say the word to describe my “belief system” (or again, really lack thereof) I ascribe to now because I was raised in a world in which the word has very negative, even “evil” connotations...but I am an atheist.
It was a fairly easy conclusion to come to, really...once you realize all the world religions are man-made constructions to help make sense of the world and our existence, you realize the notion of God has ONLY come from those man-made constructions. There is not a “god” that has revealed itself to us. This is not to say there CANNOT be a god, in fact, I would like to think I am open to where the evidence leads; but thus far, there is no evidence (other then the so called “holy books”) to suggest there is a god and/or creator.
In case there is any question or doubt about this, I did not leave Christianity out of “anger” or “hatred” toward “God” or “religion” (though if you ask me now how I feel about religion now, heads up, we could have a long emotion-filled talk there...). I merely went where the evidence took me on my honest search for answers.
I’m not sure how to end this letter. I want you to know, my family, that I could not be happier or more at peace with where I am now. I am more then willing to talk about this with anyone who wants to, or if you’d rather sweep it under the rug and go on with life that is fine too :) If anyone wants to read the books I mentioned above I have them on my kindle, you can borrow it. I am still me, I love you.
Filed Under: Letters