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Dear Christian, You May Think You Understand Me, But You Don’t

By Tim Wolf ~

After a long period of growing doubts about my Christian faith, I realized a few years ago that I had become a non-believer. Yes, I’m an atheist. Since that realization, I’ve begun the process of coming out, first mostly online, but more recently to most of my friends and family. I often point out that my deconversion process began back in the late 1990’s when I decided to read the entire Bible and study all of those chapters in the Old Testament that I knew very little about. And so during that time I began taking some graduate level Bible and Theology courses and I read the entire Bible twice. When I discuss this with Christians today, the same erroneous statements and accusations are tossed at me in knee-jerk fashion. I would like to address some of these here. The following are a few of the common Christian responses to my deconversion:

You had already decided you didn’t believe and just read the entire Bible looking for passages to back up your atheism.

This could not be further from the truth. At the time I began this period of intense Bible study, I had already decided to leave my engineering career and become a missionary in Eastern Europe. I was engaged in a lengthy process of being accepted as a missionary through Greater Europe Mission. At the same time I was working toward obtaining a Master of Arts in Theology through a conservative seminary that offered coursework both online and through a series of seminars. They weren’t handing out paper degrees, the work was very challenging. I was also teaching Sunday School at a Baptist Church in Illinois and was encourage when I was offered a class that had dwindled to a few regulars and began to build back up in numbers when I took the class.

So when I began my this period of intense Bible study, I was at the peak of my faith in Christianity. I was so sure about my faith, that I was fully prepared to give up a comfortable lifestyle and move to an impoverished area of eastern Europe to spread the good news. In order to make such a huge, life-changing decision, I was in a place where I both believed in and trusted God whole-heartedly.

Your heart was closed to God and you read the Bible. If your heart had been open to His love, He would have revealed Himself to you.

I was at the peak of my faith in Christianity. I was so sure about my faith, that I was fully prepared to give up a comfortable lifestyle and move to an impoverished area of eastern Europe to spread the good news.This is the kind of thing I would have said twenty years ago when facing a non-believer. I would have said this based on a lot of time I had spent studying the New Testament. But as I began to thoroughly study the Old Testament, try as I might, a loving God was not jumping off the pages and begging to enter my heart. As I studied page after page of arcane rituals, suffering and genocide, rape and incest, and stories that frankly just came across as complete fiction; more and more doubts began to creep into my heart and mind. I truly believed that my faith in Christ would grow with each day I studied God’s Word in the Old Testament. But what I found was simply bizarre and irreconcilable with the New Testament Christianity I was practicing. And I did not read the Old Testament once during this time, I read it twice. My faith in the Bible being the inerrant Word of God was shaken. And yet it was still ten more years after this before I realized I was a non-believer. I began my Old Testament study with a fully open heart and mind expecting to grow in my knowledge of God. Instead I found nagging doubts in the pages of the Old Testament.

You just became an atheist because you love your sin too much.

I even heard Sye Ten Bruggencate say something like this in his recent debate with Matt Dillahunty. This is such a ridiculous assertion. First of all is presupposes that morality comes from an invisible god and not from the individual. This fallacy is addressed by many counter-apologists who are better at these arguments than me. But from my own experience, it’s just a laughable premise. First of all, I didn’t choose to longer believe in God. Belief is not a choice. If as Sye suggests, I really do believe in God deep down; would I pretend not to believe so I could freely gossip about my neighbors even though deep down I knew that sin could lead me to eternal hellfire? And if belief is a choice, can I choose not to believe in the police department and rob banks with impunity? Am I willing to fool myself in this manner? The entire argument is just childish.

Having been an atheist for years, I cannot think of a single thing I do now that would be considered “sinful” that I didn’t do as a believer. Sure there are things that I no longer do like tithe and go to church and pray and study the Bible. But none of these things contributed in even the slightest way to my deconversion process. For me the journey from belief to non-belief was an intellectual exercise. This “you love sin” argument is like kids calling each other names on the playground.

As annoying as these Christian accusations can be, I do think it is worthwhile to address them. I used to believe these things of atheists back when I was a believer. And today I have come to realize the fallacy of these accusations. So I believe we should be open to other believers coming to the same realizations. Especially on a website like this one where many people who are just exploring their own doubts are quietly reading these pages and have not yet felt comfortable expressing their doubts aloud.