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My Journey To Unbelief


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My Journey

 

I am 44 years old, and just last February I came out to my wife that I no longer was a Christian, and no longer believe in anything supernatural. Before I get into how that went I’ll start from the beginning.

 

Background

 

I was “raised in a Christian home.” My grandfather on my Mom’s side was a Pentecostal preacher. Although he died of a heart attack before I was born, he had a big influence on my mom and her sisters. When she grew up she was told movies, dancing, playing cards were all sinful.

 

My parents met while going to a more Pentecostal church, but we went to a more evangelical leaning Presbyterian Church while growing up. My Dad’s side of the family was also very religious. I have a few cousins that were missionaries.

 

I also have a sister who is a year older (more on her later). We attended church every Sunday, and usually other activities during the week as well. Most of my experience being involved in that community were great. Most of my close friends were from church instead of at public school. We did a lot of fun things in youth group. Our church was big into camp outs, hiking trips, and even week long bicycle tours during the summer for the youth group. So I have mostly great memories of the closeness and great experiences I had with friends.

 

I “accepted Jesus into my heart” when I was about 6 years old at a vacation bible school, and was later baptized in junior high. In high school I was involved in Young Life, and other small group bible studies with my church youth group. I remember times when I just couldn’t get enough of studying the Bible, and trying to figure out who Jesus really was.

 

I felt very close to Jesus/God. I ended up going to a Christian College that had been the college my pastor and youth pastor had both gone to. There were times in college where I would go to the chapel in the mornings and pray and read my bible. I felt close to God.

 

The winter of my sophomore year of college I got a phone call from my parents. My dad had been diagnosed with bone cancer. I was very close to my dad. He died the next summer. It was really hard watching him go through that process. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if that hurt my faith or not. I had an attitude of “everything happens for a reason”, and “it’s was just God’s plan.”

 

Only a couple of weeks after my Dad died I went back to college. I was sociology major. I always have been a thinker, who wants to understand people and why they do what they do. We also had to take a couple of bible classes as part of the school requirement. I got more of a historical look at the bible. I understood things like the gospels were actually not written until long after Jesus death. But again, that didn’t bother me much. I was more of the view that the bible was inspired, but not literal in all parts.

 

After I graduated from College, I moved back home with my mom for a bit while I got a job. About the time I graduated high school the church I had grown up in had split off from the Presbyterian Church to an Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. More liberal Christians had stayed in the old church, but my Mom and other families moved to the new more conservative church, so the sermons now were touching on things like abortion, and more hot button social political topics, which I didn’t really like.

 

I went to church with my mom, and ended up meeting my future wife at the college age group in the church. My wife was raised Catholic, but had a born again experience in high school though Young Life, and due to the influence of friends.

 

Fast forward a little. Married, with two young kids and we moved across the country for a job. The first thing we did was join a church to get connected into the community. We ended up going to a large Baptist Church. My wife taught Sunday School for the kids and often I would sit in an adult Sunday School.

 

Where the doubting started:

 

About the time when Intelligent Design was in the news with the whole Dover trial, someone presented a class on the subject. Now I remember going over evolution in high school, but never really had a problem with it or thought about it much. I was never really a strict Bible literalist. Among my friends from my youth, the talk was along the lines of “God could have used evolution, and a day to God in the bible could have been many days in our time.”

But, the class got me to start thinking about evolution, and kind of put off by the strong opposition to it in the church.

 

On a trip to Washington DC we visited the Natural History museum. There was an exhibit showing the skeletons of many species. Just looking at that was kind of my “Ah Ha” moment. The skeletons of all these different species were so similar. It just makes sense that they are related.

 

That made me hungry to learn more about evolution and what it really said. I read lots of books and watched videos online.

 

I even checked a Richard Dawkins book out from the library. My wife saw it said “What is this?” I said “it’s about evolution.” She said “The Christian version?” I said “I didn’t realize there were two versions of science.” She didn’t say much more and left it there.

 

Now, being that my wife was teaching Sunday School, and I was going to a Sunday school class, we were not really getting really connected to the Church as a couple. I was having more internal questions about the theology of the Church, so being that my wife didn’t feel that connected there either, I thought maybe it was just the church, and we could find a more liberal Christian church that better fit my views. We visited a few, but I was having problems with what was being preached and finding myself agreeing with less and less. We kind of just stopped going to church.

 

I also started reading and listening to videos by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc.

 

A major Ah Ha moment for me was reading Thomas Paine, The Age Of Reason, where he says:

 

“Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication-- after that it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it can not be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to ME, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.”

 

I got to thinking about Paul’s “Road to Damascus” encounter with Jesus. How do I know what he saw? Maybe he was having some kind of dream. Maybe he ate some bad humas, and was tripping out with a fever. Maybe it was a nightmare based on the guilt he had for persecuting Christians. Why should I believe him?

 

The more I learned about the scientific explanations for the origin of the planets and the diversity of life, I was more sure that there was no need for a supernatural explanation. The more I read about Christianity from Bart Erhman, Bertrand Russell and others, I was convinced Christianity was false.

 

But, I kept this to myself. There was no need to push the issue. We weren’t going to church, and it really wasn’t coming up. If we prayed before meals, I’d say something like “May we be thankful for this food and our family,” but never say Jesus or God.

 

I still felt pressure to not come out about not believing mostly due to not knowing what the reaction would be from my mom and sister, and also my wife. She is laid back, but I was worried she could all the sudden get very serious again about her faith as a reaction to the news, and start bringing the kids back to church. You never know.

 

My sister and her husband are really fundamentalists, and work as missionaries. They home school their kids. When I visited last, they had a world history chart on the wall that went back 6000 years to dinosaurs and creation.

 

My mom has even set up a “Faith Fund” where she will give money to the kids for church camps, or religious books, etc. They fact that I never was taking her up on the money, I think started to raise some red flags.

 

I don’t see them much, since I live on opposite coasts so I could kind of let it ride. But then my mom came to visit ...

 

She remarried a few years ago to a guy I’ve know for a while. Nice guy, but fundamentalist. They brought videos to show the kids that pushed Intelligent Design.

 

This is when I started bringing the issue up with my wife, and I said I was against the more fundamentalist views. We were out to dinner on Valentines day last year, when the topic came up some more, and I was going off more on my sister teaching her kids that the universe is 6000 years old, etc...

 

She then said to me point blank “Do you still consider yourself to be a Christian?” I said, “well not in the way I used to be. Not in any orthodox way. I’m sure there are people who call themselves Christian who think Jesus was a good guy, and did some good things, but don’t believe in and supernatural stuff. In that sense I could be, but in reality I don’t believe.”

 

She looked like her heart stopped. I said “I’m still the same person.” She asked me what I think happens to me when I die. I said “I don’t see any evidence that my consciousness will survive the death of my brain, but I hope I’ll live on in the memory for a while of the people I love, and who I’ve made some difference in their life.”

 

In a way, that moment made us closer. I had been going on this journey alone because I was afraid to say I was having doubts. I think she was sad that I hadn’t involved her in my questioning, but she also had empathy for the struggle I had been through.

 

She wanted to know how I came to this view. I gave her links to some videos and reading that were the biggest things that convinced me. She basically spent three days straight reading and learning all she could, And she no longer believes. She said she felt like the curtain had been lifted, or she was seeing thinks through a new pair of glassed.

 

You just never know how a spouse is going to react, but I couldn’t have been more lucky.

 

What now:

 

My mom came to visit again, and started asking more about if we were going to use the “Faith Fund” money, and kind of asking questions. I said “I no longer believe the same things you do.” and said something like “I don’t see any reason to accept a supernatural explanation for things that have a reasonable natural explanation.” She asked if I still believed in the resurrection. I think I just kind of mumbled, and by then we were on our way out of a restaurant, so didn’t talk much more. My mom can be kinda passive aggressive, but she is a good person. I think she will respect my position, and I think since I don’t see her much, just being together as family is important and not arguing about religion.

 

I haven’t said anything to my sister, but again, I’ll cross that road if it comes up since I don’t see her much. As time goes on I’m getting more confident in my views.

 

With my kids I really haven’t brought up religion much. I try to expose them to science, talk about how we know what we know, etc. I mostly want to teach them how to think critically, and have them decide for themselves. I want to teach them that thinking about your values is important, and emphasize empathy and personal responsibility, and hope they turn out o.k.

 

Sorry for the long rambling post. There is a lot more, but trying to condense 40+ years is hard.

 

Brent

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Thanks for sharing. Your path is similar to may that I have read. Like you, my wife was surprisingly receptive to my loss of faith. I'm glad yours was as well.

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It sounds like you and your wife grew closer in this, that's beautiful. Your entire story is beautiful, thank you for sharing.

 

My spouse took the journey with me, I also couldn't have been more lucky. But as it turned out, I chose someone more like me than I realized.

 

Blessings.

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Hi Brent!

What an encouriging story!

It is great to see how you have worked it all out with your wife.

I personally felt really close to your story, since my mother's father was also a preacher and a "founding father" of the pentecostal movement in Hungary.

I did not have the courage and oppurtunity to "come out" before my family. That is still a great question and a challenge for me.

Please let us know how things turn out with your mother and sister!

Welcome!

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Welcome, BrentRQ!

 

Wow, you really are lucky that your wife came to the same conclusions about Christianity that you did. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

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You were indoctrinated when you were a young child, a very young child. Give yourself the time and space to rectify that abuse.

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What you say about Paul when he went to Damascus confirm me what I lived and saw when I was a christian : people received visions or prophecies some were fake. It has also disappointed people. I think all this stuff is the result of brainwashing. I cannot explain all this supernatural but I understand

it can happen everywhere and not only in christianity. I heard also about fake healings, people thought they were healed and after a while they werent.

I also knew some missionaries that used to give "word of healing" to people and they were healed. This is another point I cannot explain. But I know

it is not the case for everyone.

 

As soon as you realize that the bible isnt' true it helps a lot of letting all the fear of taking the wrong way behind you. I struggled a lot with that when I started having my own thoughts again : I was paralyzed if I let the doubt entering in my brain about the bible.

 

I am very glad for you Brent Wendyeaves.gif

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It really makes me wonder what percentage of people sitting in the pews are like your wife. How many of the people I grew up with still in the church are really only a few short youtube videos away from total enlightenment? It kind of makes me smile on the inside knowing that some of them may really get a shot at a "normal" life someday, even if it takes awhile.

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What you say about Paul when he went to Damascus confirm me what I lived and saw when I was a christian : people received visions or prophecies some were fake. It has also disappointed people. I think all this stuff is the result of brainwashing. I cannot explain all this supernatural but I understand

it can happen everywhere and not only in christianity. I heard also about fake healings, people thought they were healed and after a while they werent.

I also knew some missionaries that used to give "word of healing" to people and they were healed. This is another point I cannot explain. But I know

it is not the case for everyone.

 

As soon as you realize that the bible isnt' true it helps a lot of letting all the fear of taking the wrong way behind you. I struggled a lot with that when I started having my own thoughts again : I was paralyzed if I let the doubt entering in my brain about the bible.

 

I am very glad for you Brent Wendyeaves.gif

What you said reminded me of those cases (and there were lots of them) in church when the everyday people got the stage to share their testimonies and prophecies. In almost every case, I felt utterly ashamed for them. Sometimes even the pastor stood up to lead the simple minded grandmas to their seat because their stories were just endless babbles of unintelligent and superstitious nonsense. EVEN THE PASTOR WAS ASHAMED by the "glorious work the Lord has done in the life of His follower", or the "divine revelation about our church and country that He wants to communicate through His faithful servant".

 

Now I see that when this christian stuff is not interpreted by an intelligent person, who carefully chooses what he says, then it all sounds "batshit crazy". (I learn so much from you guys! :D )

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I am touched by your story. It's a long hard road given the early indoctrination.

 

Hey I would like to tell you I have been on high-alert re: Young Life sending its apolgeticbots around to the schools here to get to the kids when the parents are not around. Super creeped out by these people. Why aren't more parents hip to this?! There seems to be a lot of assumption that they are only well intentioned, and essentially harmless.

 

Anyway welcome to Ex-C.

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Sometimes I think that some books of the New Testement bible were plays of some kind that were found years later and thought to be real. People didn't live nearly as long, so there could have been just 50-60 years since the plays were performed and no one remembered.

 

Anyway, great story about finding your own way in life.

 

 

Congrats!

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Thanks for the responses.

 

"You were indoctrinated when you were a young child, a very young child. Give yourself the time and space to rectify that abuse."

 

I think this is true. I was in church and told all this supernatural stuff was true from the time I was in diapers. I think that is one reason it took me so long to see the light. Even after I started doubting, I had in the back of my head that maybe even if it isn't true, if I didn't take my kids to church they would be missing out on good moral lessons. Since I had a pretty good time in Youth Group, I felt they might miss out on something. In the end, what is true is what matters.

 

I think also what I was doing is just defining God into existence instead of actually looking for a way to see if it was really true. By that I mean I would tell myself, "Well ... if God is all powerful, of course he could perform supernatural miracles", but that is just defining God into existence. It doesn't make him actually exist.

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Regarding Young Life. In high school, they had YL leaders that would come on campus and hang out the halls, and talk to kids at lunch. They were at all the games. YL club was held in the High School music room. To be in the "in crowd" there was a lot of pressure to get involved in Young Life. Young life really plays on the emotions of young people. They get kids worked up into an emotion state, and then tell them they need Jesus. Looking back on some of the stories that the YL leaders would tell to convince people the Jesus was God I have since become aware of the fallacies they use.

 

One they used a lot was Josh McDowell's "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord". In fact just last week I was going though some old books and found a McDowell book with this in it. The problem is this is a false dichotomy (really a false trichotomy.) The conveniently leave out a fourth possibility of Legend. It's possible the there was a guy the story of Jesus was based on, but by the time it gets written down, the things were exagerated, and the New Testament writers were reverse engineering Old Testament Prophesies to attribute them to Jesus.

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I absolutely remember that McDowell phrase (and of course the "I kissed dating goodbye" book). Being that I already went to christian school I don't have much experience with YL. So, they meet in public high schools?

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Thanks for sharing your story. I registered tonight to let you know that I am proud of your bravery -- I am (cowardly) fearful of the moment when I confront my wife with this conversation. I can only hope my she reacts in a similar way to your wife.

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I even checked a Richard Dawkins book out from the library. My wife saw it said “What is this?” I said “it’s about evolution.” She said “The Christian version?” I said “I didn’t realize there were two versions of science.” She didn’t say much more and left it there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You just never know how a spouse is going to react, but I couldn’t have been more lucky.

 

Welcome, RQ! I loved your dialogue (above) about evolution!

 

I'm glad your wife is on the same page. My husband (both of us fundies from a young age) is leaning towards agnostic (I've slid into home base as an atheist) but something he said made me wonder the other day if he is even agnostic. I was stating some honest incredulity at the "only as slaves to Christ are we free" mental contortion and he said, "You know, that totally makes sense to me." I thought he was kidding. Maybe it's time for another honest talk!

 

Thanks, RQ. Hope to see more of your writing here!

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"only as slaves to Christ are we free." I think this phrase is powerful to people because it's almost like if they can debase themselves enough, they will see the light. It sort of absolves "the lord" from fixing your sadness. If you are a true believer, but can't find true freedom (which i find hard to believe many christians do), it is because you haven't really been able to "give yourself over." The message is if the cross is foolishness and other circular logic.

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Regarding Young Life. In high school, they had YL leaders that would come on campus and hang out the halls, and talk to kids at lunch. They were at all the games. YL club was held in the High School music room. To be in the "in crowd" there was a lot of pressure to get involved in Young Life. Young life really plays on the emotions of young people. They get kids worked up into an emotion state, and then tell them they need Jesus. Looking back on some of the stories that the YL leaders would tell to convince people the Jesus was God I have since become aware of the fallacies they use...

 

They are still around and they proudly hang around our kids when they are at school activities, like a bunch of creepers, which is what they are. My daughter's high school soccer coach was one, and before long my daughter was being picked up after school to go to this young lady's apartment to read the Bible. The YL people are college aged (some are much older and much creepier) but of course high school and middle school kids are impressed by someone a little older than they are and on their own, and cool, ya know, and so they are impressed/influenced by them. Of course YL knows all this and manipulates the kids with no regard to the ethics of this.

 

YL's hang out in the parking lot before school with doughnuts to attract the kids. They attend their games and practices and performances. They are not allowed in the buildings, and the school officials may not be aware that the YLers are there. I spoke to the School Board and they were appalled. I spoke to the athletics director and he about fell over apologizing - of course these people are seeing their careers flash before their eyes if a law suit happens as a result of this obvious breach of the Supreme Court rulings against religion in public schools. But I cannot help but wonder if some are turning a blind eye to this, either because they endorse the indoctrination or they feel it is benign.

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YL's hang out in the parking lot before school with doughnuts to attract the kids. They attend their games and practices and performances. They are not allowed in the buildings, and the school officials may not be aware that the YLers are there.

Sounds like drug dealers! (Well, I guess they kind of are drug dealers, although they only deal in placebos!)

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YL's hang out in the parking lot before school with doughnuts to attract the kids. They attend their games and practices and performances. They are not allowed in the buildings, and the school officials may not be aware that the YLers are there.

Sounds like drug dealers! (Well, I guess they kind of are drug dealers, although they only deal in placebos!)

 

They sure do. I mean same thing - they both have product they are selling.

 

YL. Creepers.

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I even checked a Richard Dawkins book out from the library. My wife saw it said “What is this?” I said “it’s about evolution.” She said “The Christian version?” I said “I didn’t realize there were two versions of science.” She didn’t say much more and left it there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You just never know how a spouse is going to react, but I couldn’t have been more lucky.

 

Welcome, RQ! I loved your dialogue (above) about evolution!

 

I'm glad your wife is on the same page. My husband (both of us fundies from a young age) is leaning towards agnostic (I've slid into home base as an atheist) but something he said made me wonder the other day if he is even agnostic. I was stating some honest incredulity at the "only as slaves to Christ are we free" mental contortion and he said, "You know, that totally makes sense to me." I thought he was kidding. Maybe it's time for another honest talk!

 

Thanks, RQ. Hope to see more of your writing here!

 

 

Yes! Some Christians think that science stops working when it doesn't suit them. If the Biblical God really is the creator of the Universe then it is clear that his marketing literature is not the whole truth.

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An update:

 

I talked to my mom the other day and she asked if I'd be willing to read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. When I talked to her last summer and said the "I no longer hold the same beliefs" I wasn't totally clear to her if I was still trying to figure things out and questioning, or if in fact I have left Christianity all together. I'm sure she was trying to be helpful, and said she wants to be respectful and not push anything. I'm happy to read the book, but I kind of know a lot of the criticism of C.S. Lewis logical fallacies, and heavy use of argument from analogy.

 

I felt like it really wasn't fair to her to not be clear about what I believe because she was in good faith trying to help me. So, I decided to write a letter to her, and cc my sister. I'm not sure what my mom has told my sister, so it will be interesting to see what the reaction is.

Mom,

 

I'm glad we had a chance to chat on your birthday. I've been thinking more about our talk about reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I know when we talked last summer about where I currently am in my journey to examine my beliefs, I'm sure I was less than clear about where I stand. This was in large part me being afraid of the reaction I might get, and not wanting to do anything to hurt our relationship, so I guess I was testing the waters a little. It is important to me that I am able to live an authentic life, and I also want to be fair and honest with you about what I believe like you always have been with me.

 

I think the best thing for me to do is to explain what my current beliefs are. I also thought this would be a good time to include [my sister and brother in law] so that you know where I stand, and so we can also avoid any awkward situation where you assume I hold a belief I no longer hold.

 

I want to tell you that I am no longer a Christian. This is not easy to say, and it is not a decision I have come to lightly. It has really been a result of years of questioning and examining the things that at one time I claimed to believe.

 

I want to assure you that this decision is not because I was bored with church, or I want to start leading an unethical life. In fact the process of examining my beliefs has made me more aware of my moral and ethical decisions than ever, and wanting to instill in [ my kids ] values like empathy, compassion for others, and personal responsibility is still just as important.

 

To be more specific, I no longer hold any supernatural beliefs. I don't believe in angels, demons, heaven, or hell. I think the natural universe is all that can be investigated. Where there are claims for supernatural causes to things or events in the natural world, I don't believe there is a way to test if in fact something was caused by the supernatural, so I don't feel justified in believing those claims, especially where there are reasonable natural explanations. I don't think faith can be a path to knowledge, so I don't think accepting extraordinary claims on insufficient evidence is justified. I don't claim to know a god doesn't exist, but I don't know how I could tell if an intervening god does exists because the universe seems to work without that assumption. I don't believe that my consciousness will survive the death of my brain, so I don't think there is an afterlife.

 

Some people may think this is a depressing view of life, but I have found it to be just the opposite. Investigating and understanding the scientific explanations for big questions has given me a new perspective that can be just as exciting and inspirational.

 

As far as reading C.S. Lewis, I'm happy to read Mere Christianity if it is important to you. I just want to ensure you that I feel that I have researched to the best of my ability the arguments for Christianity. One of the big C.S. Lewis arguments that I remember hearing when I was younger, Is the Liar, Lunatic, or Lord argument, where it is put forth that Jesus could not have been a Liar or Lunatic, so the only other alternative is that he must be Lord. This is a logical fallacy called a false dichotomy because he fails to list other possible reasonable options like Legendary.

 

Although I had had doubts for a long time, and my faith was fading away, I kept this to myself because I guess I was holding out hope that I would find something that would convince me and change my mind. When I finally shared this with [my wife] last February she was surprised, but supportive. After discussion and reading many of the things that were key in my deconversion, she also came to the same conclusion. We are in agreement on these matters and we continue to take this journey together.

 

I'll leave it at that, and just say I love you all, and I respect how important your faith is to you. The most important thing to me is that we can maintain a strong family relationship no matter what our position may be on religion.

I sent this last night, so it will be interesting to see what the response is. At this point I don't think I need to tell everybody else that I used to be close to through church. If we meet up again and it comes up, I'll be honest, but I'll be on an is need to know basis.

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