January 1, 2014 by Devin
Normally this blog is focused on movies and media related things, but today I am going to get a bit more personal. This is mainly a post anticipating all the questions I might get about this announcement and to clear up some misconceptions.
I wanted to talk about a recent dramatic change in my life. In some ways it is a lifestyle change, but it is mostly a change in self-identity and how I view the world. I think it is important for me to be out about this facet of my life for many reasons, which I will get to shortly. But first, I want to come out with the secret I have been keeping from many people for far too long.
I am an atheist.
That was a really dramatic way to say that. I imagine that some people who have known me for quite a while, especially while I was in high school, are shocked, and many of you could not care less (there are also probably some people who are just happy that I’m not gay).
I wanted to write a blog post about this for a couple reasons. First, I feel like a lot of people who knew me in high school, when I was incredibly religious, might want an explanation for this change. I also feel like there a lot of misconceptions to what atheist means and why people choose to identify as such.
This post is me clearing that up. I’ll start with the misconceptions.
I am not an atheist because I am going through a phase
I hear a lot about people, especially older people in church, going through phases of atheism. They become an atheist in college, have some fun, and then realize the errors of their ways. Deconverting is often an act of independence or rebellion, and is also often childish and immature.
This is not like that.
I do not know where I will be, philosophy-wise, in ten years. Many people smarter than me became an atheist for legitimate reasons and went back to Christianity for legitimate reasons. I cannot confidently say that I have no chance of doing the same.
But my deconversion is an act of faith, or lack thereof, and nothing else. I have no desire to rebel against my family, the church, or my society, and honestly hate that this has put up a boundary between those. This is not something I just decided to do one morning. It came about from a long series of theological inquiries and self-reflections. I would not make this decision if I did not believe it was for the long haul.)
I am not an atheist because I wanted to be one
Look, I could go into specific details about why becoming an atheist was a tough choice, but that would sound really dramatic. Suffice to say, I have never been in an environment where being an atheist has benefited in any way. I have frequently been in environments where I benefited significantly from being a Christian.
It was not a matter of peer pressure or wanting to be cool or anything like that. In fact, as awesome as my friends are, this change has taken a toll on those relationships. I still feel like my friends are my friends, but a lot of times I am abundantly aware that that is despite my lack of belief.
This is getting really melodramatic. My point is that my deconversion was not because of outside pressures but rather because of internal struggles. Make sense? Okay, moving on.
I am not an atheist because of my lifestyle
In conversations with people at church, I have often heard things like, “Man, I went through college and started drinking, having sex, and doing weed, and I became an atheist.” Now, not to discredit those people who claimed atheism while they did these things, but as far as philosophies go, these are not related.
I have never been a big party-goer (the high school movie parties all seem foreign to me), and I have not started doing weed or having anonymous sex because I do not believe I have a deity looking over my shoulder. In short, I did not become an atheist to allow myself to justify a destructive lifestyle. In fact, I still hold to a pretty boring lifestyle lacking nearly all those exciting things Christians aren’t allowed to do.
I am not an atheist because I am an evolutionist
I understand why people get scared of evolution. It is often correlated with atheism because people who do not believe that God created the world often turn to looking at other ways of how species originated. People also are often taught Creationism as a foundation of their faith, and so when they find the problems in Creationism, their foundation is ruptured.
But I was an evolutionist long before I ever considered becoming an atheist. Honestly, the two were only related in the sense that my desire to understand the world around me led me to discover the intricacies of evolution and the troubles with Christianity. However, there have been plenty of Christian evolutionists, and I never thought those two terms were in any way contradictory.
I am not an atheist because Christians are awful people
I want to first clarify that I do not even think that Christians are, in general, awful people, but the worst Christians do tend to get the most notice. What I rather mean is that I am not an atheist because of Christians, but rather because of Christianity.
I simply mean that even if every Christian that I have ever met was a wonderful person and not anti-intellectual or homophobic or sexist or judgmental at all, my stances on Christianity would not change. I think that there is a notion among evangelical circles, especially the liberal ones, that people are leaving the church because the Church does not represent the “real Jesus” or his real love, but I know plenty of awesome Christians who act in awesome ways. My problem is not with their actions, or even their character, but rather the theology itself.
I am not an atheist because I am “angry with God”
When C. S. Lewis talked about his stint as an atheist, he remarked that:
I was at that time living like many atheists; in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with him for creating a world. Why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent?
Now, I do not want to discredit Lewis’s journey and philosophies, but I do want to point out how this experience feels foreign to me. The latter half of that quote sounds like a existential crisis, and I can understand that (though I often take existential crises with more of a philosophical whimsy than fury).
But I have no idea why Lewis would be mad at a god he did not believe existed. I do not get mad at gryphons for not flying me to work every morning, partially because I do not think they exist (and partially because it would be incredibly presumptuous of me to make them). So why would I be mad at God?
I am not an atheist because I was never a Christian
This one actually infuriates me, and I have seen it all the time. There is this idea that real Christians never leave the faith, that once someone is a Christian, by definition, they will never leave the faith and will always be a Christian. If a Christian leaves the faith, it is because they were never actually a Christian. They may have appeared to be a Christian, but their heart was not truly in it.
I have seen the idea most connected with Calvin’s theology, which stated that salvation is left up to God and God alone. He chooses who gets saved and who does not, and because he never changes his mind, whenever it seems like someone loses their salvation, they actually just never had it. They just appeared to have it. They were never truly Christian.
But if there was one thing I was when I was a Christian, it was genuine.
I was the only one jumping up and down at worship simply because I believed that I should honor God in that way.
I spoke prophetic words to people during worship sessions, on subways, and in malls.
I prayed for actual healing, one time leading a youth service around a person with knee problems. We prayed for about 10 minutes asking God for healing before the youth pastor cut us off. I would have stayed for as long as it took.
Looking back, my theology was often weak, my ideas often unrealistic, and my expectations through the roof, but I was most definitely passionate, genuine, and Christian. And anyone who says different never really knew me.
If I never truly did become Christian, that seems awfully mean of God to deny me such given that I was so adamant about being one. That just seems like a poor view of God more than anything else.
Why I did become an atheist
I have spoken to some other deconverted Christians, and when I asked them why they left Christianity, I have gotten several responses along the lines of, “I just woke up and realized that it was all BS.”
And in my own life, there definitely was an element of that. One day I did come to the realization that everything made more sense without a god, especially the Christian one. But looking back, there was definitely more to it than that. Becoming an atheist is like being on a boat that is slowly losing its planks and not noticing that it is not seaworthy until the last one is pulled from under you.
I think my journey toward atheism (I apologize for the turn toward the melodramatic) began in high school when I became really passionate about being a Christian. I had a number of wonderful experiences in the church and related to Christianity that I still treasure to this day. I spent many conversations going into the nuances and intricacies of theology and philosophy, and these conversations shaped who I am today. From them, I learned that going into the intellectual side of Christianity was a worthy pursuit. A lot of my relationship with God was based around looking through verses and considering them in all contexts and finding new meaning in them, and even when I could not find an answer to a theological query, I rested on the fact that pursuing it was just as satisfying as finding an answer.
Going into college, this spiritual quest continued, albeit in a bit more subdued fashion. I was no longer jumping up and down at every worship service, but I still attempted to worship God with all my heart, soul, and mind. More than ever before, I was surrounded by a group of people that really wanted to delve deep into Christianity and explore the details within it. I spent a lot of time debating and considering the views on different verses. As my friend Katie will often point out, car rides after church were often filled with long discussions (some might call debates) on what was said that morning.
I believe that this spiritual journey eventually culminated in my leaving Christianity. I have always believed that only fools hold onto a viewpoint regardless of the evidence, and I thought my faith was only worth something if I would admit it if I was ever proven wrong. After all, what value is there in faith if you refuse to see whether or not your stance is wrong? And since I believed that I would not be proven wrong, I felt comfortable in my pursuits of knowledge about Christianity.
But eventually I did find that I was not comfortable believing in Christianity as the way, the truth, and the life. Like I said before, it happened in parts. Praying became incredibly difficult once I realized what I heard from God was largely dependent on what was going on in my head. Worshipping became odd once I tried finding a point to it and could not. The reliability of the Bible as a divine doctrine eventually faded away until I believed that there was no way that it was not corrupted by humanity in at least a small way.
Eventually I realized that I was holding onto the possibility of God over the probability of God. What I mean by that is that eventually I tried to settle into a place of, “Well, God is real because there is nothing that disproves Him, and we also have these hints that He might be real.”
But eventually I could not hold onto a belief based on lack of evidence, and the clues started pointing the other direction. If God was real, and people went to Heaven or Hell based on their decisions, how would that account for a person’s personality and decision-making skills being based on chemical reactions in the brain? If the Egyptians really did enslave the Jews, why is there no archaeological evidence of a racial enslavement, especially considering how historians now think that the amount of slaves Egypt did use is greatly exaggerated? Is the Trinity really three eternal, essential, equal differentiations in God that all act according to some divine will without separation or division, or is the trinitarian doctrine really complicated because it is trying to figure out how a lot of different things said about God and Jesus by different people all work together and do not conflict?
Eventually I got to a point where even though both alternatives were possible, if I had to bet money, I would have put it on the non-Christian alternative. And this mindset lasted for a long time before I actually became an atheist.
What I do not think most people who I have told about my deconversion know is how freeing of an experience it was. Converting to Christianity in the first place was a natural progression for me, something that I fell into. Deconverting felt more like an actual baptism, one where I had to make an actual commitment with costs yet ultimately made my life better.
I no longer have to deal with the theological dissonance of trying to figure out how Paul’s words make sense with an egalitarian viewpoint regarding women and homosexuals (though I can make a pretty good argument for that). I do not have to try and figure out which parts of the Bible are historical and which are more metaphor or story. I am okay with how some people live perfectly happy and wonderful lives without the Christian god (or even a god at all), as this viewpoint no longer clashes with my ideas of the eternal.
And speaking of the eternal, I no longer have to wonder about how Heaven and Hell will work, as the former often sounded incredibly boring at worst and incredibly mind numbing at best, and the latter was always a problem considering the requirements for it often seemed arbitrary to me.
And ultimately, I feel more comfortable with people disagreeing with me. Someone once told me that they were scared of my need to always be right, but concerning my deconversion, nothing could be further from the truth. When I was a Christian, I needed to be right because the fate of my friends and my own salvation hung in the balance, but now I am more comfortable living and letting live. Most of my friends are Christian, and I have no problem with that. Unlike other atheists, I do not think being religious is necessarily bad, and my favorite people are those that simply act like good people, regardless if they blame this behavior on a deity or not.
I hope that this was a beneficial look into my deconversion, as I believe many people, without this context, would have the wrong idea about it. I want to emphasize that in many ways, I am still the same old person I was in high school. I still love people, and I still think that treating people better than how they treat me will make the world a much better place to live in. I still love many of the lessons presented in the Bible (especially the Sermon on the Mount, which was one of the first passages I remember getting really into).
If anything, this deconversion has made me a happier person who loves life even more, and I hope that the people reading this will understand that.
1. I joke by comparing my coming out as an atheist to coming out as homosexual, and I do that partially because the terminology and experience is similar, at least on some levels, but I do not for one second believe that the trials I have faced as an atheist are anywhere near the trials
2. At least, I really hope this is for the long haul. Otherwise this blog post is going to look really stupid.
3. What is amusing to me now is that the serious inquiries into proving that the Bible does not contradict itself usually amount for some amount of copyist errors.
4.That definition of the trinity comes from my theology class Sophomore year. Pretty sure I missed some words in there, too.