I grew up in the Christian Church, a pro-instruments branch of the Church of Christ, the same movement that John Loftus came from. Throughout my childhood, I attended church events every Sunday morning, Sunday lunch, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. I memorized verses, sang solos in musicals, attended summer camps, served in various capacities, and believed every bit of the core doctrines that I was taught.
Though I had asked Jesus into my heart a few times in my younger years, fearing that I would go to hell if I didn’t, not until the age of 15 did I go forward at an alter call and get baptized, participating in the “born again” experience. I recall a few times that a Sunday school teacher or my father would take me aside and talk to me about baptism. I just never felt ready for that step. I just didn’t feel that I was cut out to be a slave to righteousness, though my behavior was always as pious as anybody else that I knew. Finally, at 15, a fire and brimstone evangelist convinced me to accept the call, lest my heart become hardened and my soul end up suffering in hell for all eternity.
From that point on, I tried to be righteous. I felt tremendous guilt when I gave in to temptation. My senior year of High School I decided to attend Bible College in order to build a firm foundation for my life. During those years I actually found that the Bible was not as solid as I had believed that it was.
Academic Bible study planted seeds of doubt, as I began to see the problems with messianic prophecies and the differences in gospel accounts and interpretations. I no longer saw the canon of scripture as God’s word or as infallible. At the conclusion of my studies, after an internship in youth and children’s ministry, I decided to wait on graduate studies and vocational ministry and get a full-time secular job. I am thankful that I did not invest too many years in a church career.
Though I no longer believed the Bible to be perfect, I still believed that it was historical. I believed in Adam and Eve and original sin. I believed in heaven and hell. I was always extremely disturbed by the idea of eternal suffering, especially in light of God’s foreknowledge that so many would suffer there forever. But I believed that God would do the right thing. Perhaps we had hell all wrong.
I spent many more years seeking God’s truth. I believed that he gave me my career in computers. He opened doors of opportunity that I would not have had access to with my background if not for His providence. I followed, I searched, I prayed, I fasted, I established community groups, I taught, I led worship. I married a bible-believing wife and taught our three children to believe. I remained active in the church until I had studied my way out of belief entirely, continuing to tithe and attend church for at least a year after losing my faith, for the sake of my wife’s sanity.
What finally lead me away from belief was reading atheist testimonials on the internet. I spent many evenings reading articles from infidels.org before moving on to books by John Loftus, Richard Carrier, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. I felt guilty about it, and didn’t want to talk about it with my wife for fear of leading her astray. I began fearing that I was losing my faith. I kept my studies pretty much to myself for about a year. After about a year of intense study, I began bringing questions to my wife and those close to me. I would talk about what I had learned about evolution, problems that I had found with the Bible and popular beliefs about Satan and hell, and other things that were somewhat controversial in my circles but not outright blasphemous. At one point someone asked me if I loved God. This was unexpected. I couldn't think of a good way to respond, so I revealed that I no longer believed in the God of the Bible. This was a huge turning point for me.
Over the course of about a year, I spoke with a couple of people privately about my loss of faith. They were not as understanding as I had hoped that they would be. I worried about the problems that it might cause for my family if I became an atheist. I tried to talk to my wife about a few things, but it frightened her. Those types of thoughts were just off limits!
I continued to lead worship for a regular gathering, participate with and tithe to a church, and tried to not be too much of an asshole about the conclusions that I was beginning to reach.
One evening, as I was spending time in private study, it finally sunk in: “Oh my God! It’s all a lie! I’ve been living in a cult fantasy world! What am I going to do now?” It was freeing but also very troubling. It was a bit of a relief. It felt a lot like “growing up” and also a lot like being “born again.” But what do I tell my Christian wife? What do I tell my Bible-believing friends and family? What do I tell my partners in ministry and the people who have been looking to me for Christian leadership? I can't just keep pretending!
Occasionally I tried to bring up some of the things that I had been learning with my wife, but she didn’t want to consider the possibility that Christian teachings about God were fundamentally flawed. It took her calling me out on not being serious during prayers before dinner for me to finally break the bad news to her.
Initially she was devastated, but she eventually came to see things my way. It was difficult for a while, but my marriage survived and eventually thrived.
Watching a documentary on the Galapagos islands and Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle helped my wife to understand evolution. Listening to the Jesus, Interrupted audio book by Bart Erhman helped her to look at the teachings of scripture objectively. She now shares my unbelief. Everything that we have studied since--science, history, philosophy, Christian apologetics, atheistic apologetics, other religions--has reinforced our unbelief.
Being honest about my new beliefs with others has been a challenge, however. My life used to be an open book. I’ve had to learn to be more private and subtle. I wish that I was better at dodging questions and changing the subject. Every once in a while someone will confront me with direct questions about my beliefs, and it never goes well. I don’t want to lie, but sometimes I wonder if I should just pretend in order to avoid judgment, worry, and loss of friends, business and privileges.
It’s very difficult for my wife as well. We are hoping to find some friends who we can relate to without spoiling the friendships and contacts that we have now.
We travel a hard road.
Edited by TrueFreedom, 08 June 2012 - 05:17 PM.