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Intellectual liberation

By Bjorn ~

I've visited this site a number of times and have enjoyed reading many of the testimonials. While I don't think I will become an active member, I have long felt that I should share my story, for what it's worth.

I am an atheist ex-christian. Deconverting was a relatively long process with a number of steps along the way. Before I was an atheist and after I had stopped being christian I could most accurately have been described as a pantheist, although I had never heard of the term at the time. When exactly the final transition to atheism occurred I'm not really sure, because I slid naturally and gently into it from pantheism, but I was definitely atheist by 2007. I stopped thinking of myself as christian around 2004, and the path that I took to get there is what I want to tell here.

I was brought up in a fairly liberal lutheran household, being from a German family living in Australia. Before I was about 8 we rarely went to church and did little that was particularly religious. But then my father died of lung cancer. It was a hard time for everybody, especially my mum, being left to raise two boys on her own and knowing few people here. We started going to church more regularly, mainly for her. It was a way for her to be comforted and have a place to belong and not feel alone. I went to sunday school and was pretty well underway to be a good little christian boy. The problem was I was inquisitive and liked to know answers.

We had a pastor of the old school. All fire and brimstone, and the word progressive did not exist in his dictionary. And he had a subscription to “Creation” magazine. That should be all you need to know about him. And I had questions about the faith. Now, the faith (and to a lesser extent the church) was quickly becoming important to me on a personal level, as I was bullied at school and had few friends. Like my Mum, it was a place where I was accepted. So I asked my questions, not because I wanted to find faults (that came later), but because I genuinely wanted to be satisfied and have my faith reaffirmed. And it worked for a while. If I was away from church for a while I felt my faith lessen, and all I had to do is go back and feel comforted. As I grew older I even joined the church band. That was probably the highest point of my faith. And as embarrassed of it as I am now, I was even an old-earth creationist. One Sunday we had a presentation from a passing “creation scientist” – it may have even been Ken Ham – and the attractive christian rhetoric and sophism managed to undo all the well meaning but incomplete and half-assedly taught biology I had learned in school. Ironically evolution is now a passion of mine!

You'll notice I said I was an old-earth creationist. The creation scientist and my pastor, however, strictly espoused a young Earth worldview. Even then, at my most naïve and gullible, I could not take Genesis literally. In fact, I could not take it even seriously. I had been hearing for so many years from my deeply fundamentalist pastor how the bible was supposed to be all literally true, and then one day I actually decided to sit down and read it. And I can tell you, reading the bible was one of the biggest things to shake my faith until then. I couldn't read past exodus, and nearly didn't even make it through genesis. I just kept going in the hopes that it would start to make more sense. I just remember thinking “I'm supposed to believe this!?”. It's ironic really, that if my pastor had been a little more moderate and a little less literalist my faith may not have been as shaken. If I was a literalist before then, I certainly wasn't after!

So the seed for my deconversion had been well and truly planted. But it lay dormant. The church was still too important to me – too much of a security blanket. I was genuinely afraid of losing my faith, so I did the only thing I could do, and that was put the bible down and try to ignore it.

And so things continued in an uneasy state of wilful ignorance. I was even confirmed in my mid teenage years. But after I left high school things started to change. I had a number of good, close friends by that stage, and my need for the church was getting less and less. I was taking a philosophy class at uni as well, and all I got was more uncomfortable questions. I was attending church less and less and my religious views were becoming more and more liberal, and more decentralised. I came to believe that no religion held the monopoly on the truth, because they all claimed to be “right”, yet were all just created by human beings. So I decided on my own theology to follow, based on what I believed to be true. God in my worldview didn't care what you believed, or even if you believed. A truly benevolent god would never punish someone for simply being born in the wrong place and taught the wrong thing. And after watching a fairly secular documentary on Jesus, I came to the conclusion that he was not the son of god, but just a jewish revolutionary.

Still, I probably thought of myself as Lutheran, if only culturally as many Jews do. But my mind turned back to God himself. What was he? Where was he? How did he create the universe? Previously I had come up with what I thought at the time to be a fairly satisfactory solution to the Paradox of the Stone. The way I figured it, God could be compared to a writer and the universe his book. In this way the question simply becomes meaningless. It would be like asking whether a writer can write about a stone so heavy he can't lift it. I began thinking about this hypothesis further and what it said about the nature of God, and around the same time found myself in a discussion in an online forum with an atheist about the existence of god. All of this basically forced me to reformulate my conception of god. (I should really track this person down that I was discussing with. He may very well have been the first atheist on the internet to seriously make a christian reconsider his worldview! Although I was well on track for it anyway. I think he just greased the wheels.) That is when I became a pantheist. God to me, if he created the universe, could not be subject to its laws. He could not even be described in any terms that are used to describe the universe, however abstract. Even concepts like loving or intelligent could not be used to describe him, because they are terms dependant on the reality of the universe which he created. God became a vague, indescribable force that by definition can never be understood in human terms. That is when I stopped being a Christian.

That was about six, nearly seven years ago now. As a postscript I'd like to explain the transition to atheism. A large part of the reason I remained vaguely religious is, naturally, that I poured a lot of my life into it, and it was a large emotional investment. And my pastor had done his work well – in the back of my mind I still saw atheists as people who eat babies. But after some time not being christian I eventually felt distanced enough from the church that I could finally embrace atheism. The realization came that the tiny shred of a god I still clung to was not only unprovable, but also unnecissary. I finally felt intellectually liberated.

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