(Warning: Very long post. This is what happens when you give a writer an open forum.)
Well, here goes nothing. I’m an atheist. After nearly 30 years of doing the Christian song and dance, I just can’t do it anymore when none of it makes reasonable sense. Although the journey that took me from fundamentalist Christian to atheist was a little over a year long, it’s only in the last month or so that I’ve allowed myself to use the word “atheist” (even if I haven’t used it with other people yet).
So, how did this transformation occur? That takes a little context. If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs Personality Typology, then note that I am an INTP, and that may help explain a little.
I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and naturally (or so it seemed) went to church and youth group. Although I was an excellent student and involved in a number of clubs and organizations throughout high school, the church was the primary place I thought I got my identity. I believed that I was a Christian first, and everything else was secondary.
Despite this source of identity, I can remember clearly having questions from a very young age. When I was very young, my parents have told me my favorite thing to say always was “Why?” That tendency continued throughout much of my life, even if I now realize I shielded religion from this probing at times. The few times I would let my reason peak into religion, I almost always came away with questions such as “Where did God come from?” When I voiced those questions, I typically got the pat little answers you would expect ranging from appeals to mystery to being handed a book that supposedly addressed my question. Of course, because my very identity was in Christ, I realize now that I was willing to accept almost any plausible sounding answer and was willing to ignore what I now see as blatantly obvious fallacies.
Throughout my time in my church’s youth group, I felt more and more that I was being “called” into full-time youth ministry myself. So, a couple years after graduating high school, I enrolled at Trinity International University in Illinois in their Christian Ministries degree program with an emphasis in Youth Ministry.
I did very well throughout my courses in ministry and the bible, particularly excelling in anything that involved a strong writing emphasis. I even was asked to be a student preacher for our chapel services. It was very easy to get wrapped-up in the Christian culture and not really engage with anything else throughout this. Even when I was a student on campus, we joked that we lived in the “Trinity bubble,” and we thought we were blessed to have this opportunity to be isolated from the world.
Prior to my junior year, I decided to join the Army National Guard to help pay for the private schooling and, so I thought at the time, “to be a light” to the soldiers in my unit. I decided to join the infantry despite scoring a 98 on my ASVAB because I thought that was where I would be able to have the most impact for god.
Basic Training was somewhat of a wake-up call for me, but I still clung to my Christian identity. I learned a lot about myself, and recognized where my real strengths lay. Upon returning to school, I changed my major to English/Communications. Despite not having taken any classes in either school up to that point, I finished that entire degree in one year.
One other thing that happened when I was in school, I met the woman that I later would marry. At the time, we both thought the other exhibited everything that was desirable in a spouse, with the chief attribute being a strong faith in god. More on my marriage later.
Fast forward a couple of years, my wife and I (no kids) are regularly attending a fairly fundamentalist church in the Chicago area, we’re both involved heavily in ministry and we are a part of a small group (ours was actually led by the church pastor). About a year-and-a-half ago, I got a question that I could not find an answer to that still fit with my concept of god. That question was along the lines of “Can good exist if there is no evil, or does the very concept lose all meaning?” Tangentially to that, “When god declared creation to be ‘good’ in Genesis, wouldn’t that necessitate evil already existing?”
Well, despite reading books by Christian philosophers and talking to pastors, elders or really anyone who would listen, I still had no good answer that I found satisfactory. So I decided to do something that I hadn’t really allowed myself to do up to that point — read what ascribed atheists had to say on the topic of god.
I went into those books thinking that if my “faith” was strong enough, then the atheist arguments would not hold water. But the more I read, the more I found them convincing.
Soon, I was voraciously reading anything on the topic of god I could get my hands on — either for or against. In the span of a couple months, I read books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Barker, Harris, Prothero, Craig, Geisler, Turek and many more. I also spent nearly every free moment I had watching debates on YouTube and listening to podcasts such as “The Thinking Atheist” and “The Atheist Experience.”
I tried talking to the guys in my small group about what I was reading, but I usually was assaulted with questions as to why I was reading works by ascribed antitheists and asked if I was giving equal time to Christian authors. I wanted to retort that I had given Christian authors their fair shake for the last 28 years, but I instead assured them that I was at least reading some Christian authors, which I was.
Unfortunately, I increasingly found I couldn’t get through a book by an apologist (BTW, why does this job have to exist if god has made himself evident to everyone?) without wanting to hurl it across the room in disgust at the ways they would twist science and reasoning. Besides, I knew all of the Christian arguments already from studying them for years, including fully buying into the idea of creation science and flood geology.
The more I read, the more questions I had. The more I questioned things, the more I found the Christian answer lacking and the atheist answer much more consistent with reality. I tried talking about these things with my wife, telling her that I was having “doubts.” That was about eight months ago and only resulted in her breaking down in tears. I tried talking about these things with my small group more, but I knew that conversation was over when I was told I should be worried because “This train of thinking could result in my walking away from Christianity.” By that point, that “threat” didn’t really hold any water for more.
Finally, I had a day off from work a couple months ago and sat down one-on-one with our pastor to discuss some of this. I had told him going into the conversation that at that point I was trying to find a reason why I shouldn’t just walk away, and that I had been looking for that reason for the last six months or so. I knew that conversation was done after he told me that at one point he had gone down the same road I am, but didn’t like the implications of a life without god— and that was enough for him. I kindly told him the end result doesn’t matter to me, and I would rather go wherever the evidence leads even if I don’t “like” whatever the implications of it may be.
So, we come to the present. All of this has been building for a while, but just in the last week a lot of it has really just exploded. I have been asked to step away from ministry (something I was planning to do anyways), I’ve informed my small group that I no longer will be attending (something they had a good idea was coming) and I’ve had a very difficult discussion with my wife about my “having a very hard time believing in god” (I still haven’t used the word “atheist” with any of them).
She took it much better than I had expected, but we have a lot to figure out for our marriage going forward now that we’re members of the Unequally Yoked Club. I haven’t figured out what to do with church at this point with her. On the one hand, I think it would help her if I still went, but I’m afraid it may send the wrong message. The other topic we still need to broach is tithing.
So, at this point I’m basically one foot out of the closet. Neither my parents nor my in-laws know I’ve even been questioning, let alone that I’m now a (god forbid) unbeliever. I definitely want to tell them in person before I put it on Facebook as well.
Going forward, I do have concerns for my marriage. I love my wife and want to make things work, but I know that won’t be easy, particularly seeing as she is an ESFJ in MBTI. Additionally, I’m just beginning to realize the social suicide I’m basically committing at this point walking away from the church. I’m in the North Chicagoland area, so if anyone knows of an atheist or freethought group, please let me know.
If you’ve actually taken the time to read all of this, then you have my heartfelt gratitude. The last year has been a lonely one simply because I didn’t feel I was able to actually discuss any of this with anyone I knew. In fact, the very process of writing all this out has been very therapeutic in itself. I really admire what exchristian.net has done, and I look forward to at least finding some community here. Thank you for reading what probably is one of the longest deconversion stories here.