6/09/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Thin-ice ~
Some of you older inhabitants of this website may recall my de-conversion story, as one who accepted Jesus at 14, went to Bible College, was a missionary (Operation Mobilization) for several years, and finally after 46 born-again years (it's never too late) de-converted and became a true-blue apostate and unbeliever at the age of 60. (In case you are curious, here are previous posts, following my journey from hesitant, unsure new unbeliever, to today being a confident activist member of the Portland secular humanist community:
Anyway, the title may lead some to believe that I had second thoughts and needed to refresh my Bible knowledge at seminary. No, quite the opposite: I was invited last Tuesday as a guest speaker to a class of post-grad seminary students studying apologetics, to give my de-conversion "testimony", at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I felt like that admonition in I Peter 3:15: "Always be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you." (From a book which was forged in Peter's name!) I never thought in my early days that I would quote this verse after having rejected the faith of a lifetime! A couple of years ago I had offered my services at my alma mater, Multnomah Bible College, after hearing that a professor there wanted input in his class from atheists about the nature of unbelief. Maybe he thought it was too threatening to invite an alumnus who had de-converted. In any case, I never had a reply to my email, and just shrugged it off.
Then I received this invitation after being involved in anon-going email dialogue for a couple of years between a fellow humanist with a medical practice, a professor of theology and a Christian therapist who owns a counselling practice. We talked about evolution, the meaning of life, and numerous relevant topics. The professor may have sensed in me someone who could not only articulate his journey out of faith, but at the same time maintain respect for those still in that evangelical culture . . . though at times it is extremely difficult to maintain that respect, especially when they speak so ignorantly of evolution!
The first half hour was a survey of my life, from conversion to Jesus in my early teens, right through to the present day. My life (till de-conversion) was something that most of them could relate to, following their "calling from God" to serve in full-time ministry. And then I opened it up to a Q&A time after the talk. What I found interesting were the questions that these seminarians had. Just so you know, the professor had not sheltered them from atheist writings, in fact, on the required reading list was Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. I certainly did NOT have atheists' books on the reading list in my apologetics class back in 1971! (In fact, one of the students came up afterwards and introduced himself as the person who wrote the forward to the essential "Awkward Moments (Not Found In Your Average) Children's Bible - Vol. 2")
Back to the Q&A: their questions were perceptive, if not slightly predictable, from those who have devoted their lives to serving a non-tangible deity.
"Since you gave up your Christian faith, do you have any purpose in life?"
Answer: I don't need an over-arching "purpose" any more. Since this life is all we have, my purpose - if you want to call it that - is to make the very most of every day I have left. I want my life to benefit my fellow humans, and I want to keep learning and growing in knowledge for as long as I have in this life.
"What are the good things about your de-conversion, and what are the bad things?"
"Since you no longer believe in the afterlife, how can you have hope?"
I think one thing that helps is that I have a "glass-half-full" type of personality, irrelevant to one's religious beliefs. I am positive in my outlook, and now that it's un-hinged from a deity, my positive attitude is related to what I can accomplish and experience in the short time I have left before I return to stardust. (I didn't tell them this, but it includes starting to drink alcohol, and trying marijuana. Didn't enjoy the weed, but a couple of glasses of wine helps me to sleep like a baby, and a happy hour cocktail loosens me up around friends. Tell me, is that so bad?) I get involved in local humanist groups, such as the local Freedom From Religion chapter, where I am VP. I am helping out in the local Pride parade next week, assisting in a booth for another secular group. And conversely, I don't have this perverse "the environment doesn't matter, and politics don't matter, because Jesus is returning very soon" attitude which is so prevalent among evangelical Christians. That's not hope, that's fucking apathy, directly attributable to one's religious belief.
"How do you explain "transformation" and mystical experiences, if it isn't God at work in a human life?"
The question was prompted by my own family's conversion experience, in which my dad quit his heavy drinking, and my parent stopped arguing and talking about divorce; and my own "baptism with the Holy Spirit" when I fell in love with Jesus so much that I stopped eating for days and just prayed and worshipped. Of course, since then I have found identical conversion and transformational experiences in ALL other religions, and even new-age woo-woo beliefs. Somehow evangelicals have come to believe that a conversion experience is entirely within their domain, and it's not. I explained that mystical and near-death-experiences (light at the end of the tunnel, etc.) have been replicated in NASA and jet pilot training centrifuges, and pretty much explained by brain neurology. So it's not a spiritual experience imparted by God.
I concluded my talk by requesting that they not condescend to unbelievers by asking stupid questions like "if you don't believe the Bible, where do you get your morals from?" (When I did say that, it began a 10-minute segue into the altruism found in the animal kingdom and how it enhances survival, through evolution.) And "you're just angry at God and/or the church." Most ex-Christians I know here in town have no anger towards a non-existent God, or towards a church, just an increased demand for reality-based evidence.
And I exited the class with this challenge: NEVER stop asking questions. There is NO question that you can't ask. Even if the answer threatens the very foundations of your worldview, you should ask it. And expect a valid, rational answer, no matter how frightening that answer might be at the time.