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SkepticsApprentice

Much To Learn...You Still Have

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Hello everyone!

 

I've been lurking around here for several weeks now, but I finally decided to make a profile and see what things looked like from the inside (Yay!) I'm still quite new to the idea of being an 'ex-Christian'–I first began asking serious questions a little over a year ago, which then grew into concerns, which evolved into doubts, until finally here I am today (a bit more on that later). As a result, I don't have nearly the faith experience that I've seen plenty of others had before leaving the Church. Still, I find I'm rather grateful for this, since I haven't spent years praising Jesus only to find out that I've wasted my life at the end. For those of you who are interested, however, this means that my 'extimony' (what there is of it) doesn't span much time, and so I'll probably focus on a few key periods where I felt the most committed to 'God,' or underwent the most change.

 

Like a lot of people here, I was raised in a Christian home with my younger brother (and later my little sister). When I was about to start school, my mother felt that God wanted her to homeschool me herself (presumably so I wouldn't become a Devil-worshiping pagan like all the other kids in the Big Bad American Education System). Regardless of my personal feelings about homeschooling itself, however, I'd like to think that my mom did an exceptionally good job, given the fact that she'd never done it before. Since our family didn't chase social interaction with a nail-studded club, I didn't have a huge group of friends growing up. It didn't help that I was more of an introverted personality, either. Pretty much everyone in my social circles were other young people I met at church, or at youth group. And boy, was I invested in youth group growing up. When I was a fifth-grader, my church became a participant in the A.W.A.N.A. program. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, A.W.A.N.A. (which is an acronym for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) strives to indoctrinate help kids to come to faith in Jesus by doing special activities and memorizing Bible verses. Lots and lots of Bible verses. Completion of certain objectives meant that you'd be rewarded with special stickers and pins, sort of like the Boy Scouts with their system of merit badges. If a kid completed the entire program, he or she was presented with the Timothy Award in appreciation of the years of work it took to achieve such a prize. When I got mine (I still have it), it was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen. It was practically glowing. It was also the first trophy I'd gotten that didn't look like someone had bought it for five bucks from the local Party City, so that was a plus. Although our church's A.W.A.N.A. branch closed down after two years, I remained active in youth ministry, at one point taking a student leader position in my high school years. 

 

Where education was concerned, I originally had a secular curriculum, but then we switched to a program specifically for Christian families that promised to approach education through a 'Biblical' worldview. We changed just before I would probably have gotten exposed to the 'evils' of evolutionary theory, and instead I was handed textbooks that taught all the 'errors' of evolution. I later discovered that the textbook authors either had no idea what evolution really taught to begin with, or else they were lying by putting forth information that had been falsified by the scientific community for years. My general science courses made the typical arguments from beauty, design, and 'irreducible complexity' that are so often found in apologetics circles. One year I had a textbook that, while discussing geological phenomena like the Grand Canyon, suggested that such natural structures could be attributed to Noah's Flood (which also drowned all the dinosaurs, don'tcha know). Of course, being a student who never expected his teachers to be horribly mistaken about basic scientific knowledge (and being forewarned about Satanic secular science–ooh, alliteration!), I accepted it all without question.

 

Science class wasn't the only place where I was exposed to apologetics. My mother got me and my brother into the habit of studying our Bibles in order to discern God's truth for our lives. Despite what I know now, the hours we spent reading together and discussing how the text applied to our lives are still pretty fond memories for me. As a result of my study, I became acquainted with difficult passages in the Bible, such as when God commits global genocide through the Flood, messes with Pharaoh's free will so He has an 'excuse' to torment the Egyptians before letting the Israelites go free, commands the 'Chosen People' via Moses to conquer indigenous tribes while killing and raping in ways that remind me (unnervingly) of religious fanatics like I.S.I.S. today, makes racially-based slavery the law of the land, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Basically, I was reassured by parents, pastors, and fellow believers that even though God's methods might seem drastic and cruel by today's standards, by golly those sinners deserved it! And anyway, who were we, mere creatures, to judge our Almighty Creator who was gracious enough to give us the breath of life so we could worship and enjoy Him forever? Later on I got to read Christian gems from authors like Josh McDowell (ugh), Norman Geisler, Lee Strobel (ewww), Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis and others, which helped immensely to strengthen my faith. I'm not especially proud of my thinking 'back then,' because as far as I can remember I was pretty arrogant, intellectually speaking. I had the Bible, the true, inerrant Word of God Almighty, for starters. With so much historical evidence on the side of Christ, and so many philosophical arguments that showed the emptiness of unbelief, I genuinely believed that anyone who wasn't a follower of Jesus already was ignorant at best, hopelessly lost at worst. Even though my faith was mostly rationally-based, my family has experienced some unusual phenomena in past years that I, at the time, attributed to God because I couldn't see how it could be anything else. I'm not going to go into them here, but I may end up describing them later in another post (or if anyone wants to ask). My perspective changed, obviously, but not at all in the way I expected.

 

When I started attending college, my family (me included) were adamant that I go to a Christian school, at least to start. The particular school that we chose (and that I still attend, by the way–at least for a little while longer until I get my degree, and then I'll be out) requires its students to have a minor in Theology, so during my first year I piled on the Bible courses. One of these classes was called the Progress of Redemption, which centered around the narrative of God as found in the Bible. Interestingly, the professor divided the class into teams and required everyone to participate in three debates spread throughout the course, each one dealing with a major theological or social issue. One team would argue for the Christian perspective, and the other would tackle the topic from the viewpoint of a nonbeliever. The first debate dealt with Morality, specifically whether someone could claim a sense of morality without believing in God. I participated in a lot of debate prior to college, so I was especially excited to see how these discussions would turn out. To be completely honest, I didn't expect much of a debate for the first topic. It seemed so obvious that without God, morality had no absolute basis and therefore people could just make up moral rules that allowed them to do whatever they liked. I remember quite clearly sitting in my seat in the classroom, waiting for the Christian side to tear their opponents' arguments apart. Except...that isn't what happened. From the opening statements alone, it was clear that the Christian team was at a disadvantage, and things only got worse from there. Every time Team Jesus tried to argue from the apologist's playbook that I had been trained to use to corner unbelievers and force them into admitting my point, the other team would wiggle out with ease, arguing from common experience in ways that showed that people can (and do) act morally all the time, even if they don't think that a magical Sky Daddy is watching over them. It didn't help that Team Jesus's own source for morality (the Bible) included instances of God-endorsed acts that no sane person would consider moral today, and the 'atheist' team really hammered them with that. To be fair, Team Jesus didn't have very many strong personalities or confident speakers, so when they were pressed into a corner their natural response was to backpedal. By the end of the debate, I heard one student remark, jokingly, "Well, I guess I'm an atheist." For my own part, I struggled for quite some time with what I'd just witnessed. Were God's instructions moral simply because He said so (which would make Christians no better than the Nazis in WWII, who were 'just following orders'), or did He have to follow some exterior rule that kept even the omnipotent Creator of the universe in check (which would remove God as the source of morality and perhaps open the door to the possibility that God Himself might be immoral)? Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had inadvertently discovered Euthyphro's Dilemma, which would bother me for some time until I found an apologist who had an answer. In hindsight, it wasn't a particularly good answer, but at that moment in time I didn't really care, as long as it helped solve the cognitive dissonance I'd been experiencing. Unfortunately (for my Christian self) that peace was not to last for long.

 

In another of my classes, I learned the basics of textual criticism and redaction as it dealt with the New Testament texts. Even though the professor believed in the authority of Scripture (otherwise he'd be out of a job), he had no problem admitting that certain passages (such as the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery) could not be found in the earliest Gospel copies available, which would suggest that they may have been added by another writer later on. Even more disturbing, from what I could tell, the Gospel of Mark did not include the resurrection message in its earliest copies either. If Mark was the first Gospel written, and its earliest copies held no mention of the resurrection of Christ, what did this mean for the rest of the Gospels which did (albeit in bizarre, contradictory ways that could only be reconciled by someone dead set on the inerrancy of the Bible)? Things moved very fast from here, as I discovered blogs from atheists (some of whom were former Christians) and other resources that had the same effect on the rational bases for my beliefs as a paper shredder would to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Even as I realized that the logical foundations for faith were essentially being eroded with every new argument I addressed, I had developed this insatiable curiosity to learn more. If the old apologetic arguments and evidence weren't trustworthy, then what else did I 'know' that might turn out to be false?

 

By now, I fully realized that the tenets of my faith were collapsing, and even though I could read and think without fear during the day, I found myself lying awake sometimes at night, worried–no, terrified–of the implications of what I was discovering. Interestingly, unlike a lot of ex-Christians, I wasn't really afraid of going to Hell. I'd think about it every so often, and it might concern me a little, but that would be it. My real fear was that going public with my unbelief would drive a wedge between me and my family and friends, all of whom considered themselves believers and would no doubt worry about my eternal security, no matter how much I might try to reassure them that there was nothing to worry about. It was much easier to be a liberal Christian who believed the scientific record when it spoke to the age of the earth and evolution, and who didn't take the Bible literally in everything it said. I did this for some months, bolstered by groups like the BioLogos team who believe that science and the Bible do not conflict at all, and that it is the human interpretation that is errant, not the Scripture itself. I eventually came to realize the logical shortcomings of such an approach to the Bible, however, and returned to a state that could be described as agnostic atheism. In that time, I also came to terms with the idea of not 'coming out' as an ex-Christian to my family and friends, at least for the time being. Considering that I'm just getting started learning about the beautiful, implausible universe in which we live, I feel like I want to have a solid understanding of how things work before challenging the deeply-entrenched assumptions that the other people in my life hold dear. I'm actually quite hopeful about things at this point, as those close to me understand that I don't necessarily accept everything that they do (my mother knows I accept evolution as a scientific reality, and we have some interesting discussions about that once in a blue moon). I naturally tend to keep my own counsel when it comes to my thoughts and beliefs; I think it's the introvert in me. In any case, I realize that I'm quite young and inexperienced in comparison to some of the folks who've been here for awhile, and struggled a lot longer–and harder–with keeping faith than I have. I look forward to interacting with everyone and learning from the experiences of those who've gone before.

 

Well...this went a lot longer than I thought it would, especially for an introductory post. So sorry if this was boring; I don't usually talk this much, I swear! :fun: Here's hoping everyone's having a nice day, and I'll see you in the forums!

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Welcome SA. Congrats for figuring out Christianity isn't literally true or historically accurate at such a young age. Many believe Christianity should be identified for what it actually is, in other words it should be labeled Christian Mythology because that is what it truly is.

 

You're fortunate to figure it out at a young age because the longer you are exposed to the indoctrination the harder it is to walk away from it. I'm looking forward to more of your thoughts.

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This really hit home for me. Although I only spent one semester in Bible college, I've since studied a lot of apologetics in an attempt to strengthen my arguments for belief. I think it's interesting how when one starts to apply logical conclusions to biblical concepts and stories, one will suddenly see things quite differently from what we're taught in Sunday School. 

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Welcome to the forum! :)

 

I agree with Geezer - that's great that you figured this out so young and without tremendous suffering! 

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Welcome! And thanks for your introduction. It really is so easy to tear down religious theology when in this day in time. Science and Archeology have accumulated so much evidence now that it can be hit from any angle. Also I don't see why christians think they have the monopoly on morality. I've known several non believers that are moral people. Guess that proves morality is a human thing. Not a God thing ?

 

DB

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@DarkBishop pretty much all the non-believers I've met are quite moral. You're right though, Christians do believe they have the only perfect moral code. They think people are too stupid to figure out how to treat others properly without a god to show them how. 

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