This blog post originally appeared on Facebook on 6/10/2017. It has been edited for grammar and formatting.
Several people have asked me the same or a similar question over the past year or so: Why are you so hostile to religion these days? Weren’t you brought up Christian? What gives?
What follows is as short an answer as I can honestly give.
It is not that I don’t want to believe in God anymore. I can’t believe in God anymore, same as I find I am incapable of convincing myself that the sky is green, the earth is flat, or that gravity actually pulls things apart. I no longer consider theism a legitimate, credible conclusion from any reasonable or desirable perspective.
I was not “corrupted by the world” as friends or family have suggested. I did not have atheist friends who talked and tempted me out of faith. I was not led astray by a dogmatic, anti-Christianity professor. In fact, until the day I admitted to myself that the religion in which I was brought up no longer (and had never) made any real sense, I had not read a single atheist or humanist piece of literature, nor encountered legitimate arguments for a secular worldview against a religious one. Every “science vs faith” debate I had ever witnessed in my childhood had been from the point of view of faith: the non-religious participant was cast as a God-hating heretic, and I accepted this perspective without much question. I had no philosophy courses in high school or college and was in fact attending both Bible study and a local church on a weekly basis. I even kept going to church after I had graduated, but had to call it quits in order to be honest with myself and maintain my personal growth.
I spoke of “the day I admitted” my atheism, but in reality I have no recollection of a specific date beyond mid-2015. I just know eventually “atheism”—that is, the absence of belief in a deity—was the term I realized best described my philosophy. But if there was an event I had to point to that, at least in memory, had perhaps the biggest impact on my transition out of theism, it occurred at church in 2011. As I said I was a weekly attendee at two Bible studies and my church, and was also reading my Bible, Science & Faith (which argued in favor of specifically Christianity’s compatibility with the scientific process and data thereby obtained), and the masterful C.S. Lewis. I was in a very mindful state, having plowed through a half-dozen Lewis books (including The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and Mere Christianity) in a matter of months, and we found ourselves in the college Sunday school class discussing hell and damnation.
By that time I had already started feeling decidedly uncomfortable with the American Christian concept of eternal damnation for billions of people simply because they were born and died in the wrong country whose society, parents, school, and every single friend already believed in the wrong god. I was trying to square this sense of deep injustice with my faith in Jesus and I voiced my concern. I wouldn’t say anything so dramatic as “the room was stunned,” but I was clearly not among sympathetic listeners. At some point I brought up the end of Narnia’s The Last Battle, where Aslan seems to welcome to paradise those of all religions, suggesting that simply following through on the divine urge (by worshiping whatever god your society revers) is worthy of salvation—Aslan greets the false prophet of Tash, “Beloved, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”
Lewis himself admits that many elements of his fantasy (and even religious) works are based more on imagination than theology, and I believe perhaps he let his inner compassion show too much here, failing to follow through and cement it only for fear—possibly subconscious—of how an open embrace of universalism would be received.
I believe that in that classroom I encountered the very reactions he may have been trying to avoid: chiding condescension, righteous indignation, self-assured correction—almost all accompanied by disappointing looks and raised eyebrows. I do not remember the full dialog and so will not try to recreate it, but rest assured that many verses were quoted at me with the goal of admonishing me and convincing me that only faith in the singular, literal Jesus Christ was enough to avoid eternal torture in hell and separation from God, including but not limited to “Whoever is not with me is against me…”.
I was certainly upset, and shaken that my seemingly friendly compatriots and holy brethren were so sure of their own state of salvation, their own having followed all the right rules, that they were quite evidently disgusted at the very possibility of people who did not think exactly as they did getting to enjoy the very best possible existence. I had had a similar though muted reaction from a member of my own family when I had brought up the subject several months earlier, where I even referenced early church writers who had the gall to hope for a similar universal salvation sometime in the post-Revelations era… a look of horror, or perhaps shame, as though she were embarrassed and worried on my behalf.
I contemplate that this reaction is similar to the sense of outrage one might feel at the grocery store when perhaps only 2 clerks are ringing up customers and each line is 7 or 8 people long. Suppose I had waited in line for 20 minutes and finally got to the front when a 3rd lane was opened and a woman just coming out of an aisle gets instant service. I would probably laugh, or shake my head, or even moan with a sense of injustice at her good fortune considering my own inconvenience. After all, I followed the rules. I made the effort. I endured the hardship. Why should she get her needs addressed same as me without paying the same cost?
But I would not demand that she get back in the seven-person line behind me, nor shout that she shouldn’t be able to check out at all. How much less should we begrudge the eternal joy of our fellow human beings? (Even Jesus himself admonishes this selfish urge in his parable of the workers.)
There was perhaps a 6-month phase 2 years later during which I considered myself somewhat of an “areligious Christian,” in that I loved and tried to follow the words of Christ, but disregarded the entirety of the Old Testament, the church’s interpretation of scripture, and all the writings of Paul—who, it seemed to me, had stolen the leadership role of the Early Church from the actual apostles (to whom Christ directly gave authority in this world) in order to establish his own religion that frequently disagrees with Christ’s teachings. I felt most pastors and congregations should call themselves Paulian instead of Christian since they seem to prefer the obsessive, judgmental, anti-women, anti-homosexual works of Paul over the literally-everyone-is-welcome acts and words of Jesus.
But once I snapped out of it and admitted that picking and choosing was an invalid way to approach an all-or-nothing doctrine, only then, with a sense of loss and instability, did I seek out the literature, philosophy, and company that might help make sense of my newly secular situation.
Perhaps I have spent too much time focusing on that day in Sunday School, but it’s the best I can do to come up with a singular event that seems to have played a significant role in my conversion, or deconversion as some unnecessarily put it. As I stated before there was not a guiding influence, character, or conversation wholly responsible for my transition; my problems began and continued while surrounding myself with faith-based people and practices.
In the years since I have come to see a host of incriminating aspects of not just a single interpretation of Christianity, but religion as a whole. Regarding the faith of my upbringing, it is now clear to me that my acceptance of it was entirely predicated on having been “trained up in the way he should go” (also known as “indoctrination”) and that any intellectually honest, curious, and critical individual coming from the outside cannot fail to see it as such: a cult, or cultural delusion and obsession. There is no evidence for a global flood—there are trees older than the supposed age of the earth. There is no proof of Hebrew slaves in captivity in Egypt—no remnant Hebrew artifacts, culture, or language, nor any record of them in the expansive Egyptian engravings (which actually suggest the wonders of Egypt were designed, engineered, and built by well-paid skilled laborers). There is no foundation for even the existence much less the words and miracles of the person of Jesus Christ, all records of his life and deeds having been generated decades after their supposed occurrence—extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the best evidence for Jesus is inferior even to evidence for similar 21st-century characters (for instance consider Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba, 1926-2011, who claimed virgin birth, reincarnation, and numerous Christ-like miracles that have literally thousands of documented, living supposed-eye-witnesses, yet clearly qualifies as the subject of a “shared delusion” or perhaps illusion). In the vein of Occam’s Razor, it is wise to accept the most plausible solution as the best—is it more likely that the God-man Jesus existed, escaping all contemporary accounts including the thorough Roman records (nearly every aspect of his birth and childhood in the Gospels, like King Harod’s reign and the “every man to his home town” census, directly contradicting all available historical, anthropological, and archeological evidence); or that the character of Jesus was manufactured in the first century AD, a winding and plot-hole-ridden story crafted to check a prophetic list of incompatible messianic boxes?
If you are religious, it is quite possible that you have responses to one or more of these concerns. However, it seems to me that quite literally every argument in favor of religion, spirituality, and certainly the Abrahamic deity Jehovah and his Only Begotten can be dismantled through rational discourse—yes, including the claim that, being supernatural, He is above our ability to understand (it’s involved, hit me up if you’re curious). From the pain of innocents in the world, to the concept of Original Sin, to hostility toward homosexuality, to the fact that the religion a person is most likely to adhere to depends almost entirely on the date and location of their birth (consider: there have been over 4,000 recorded deities in human history)… there is nothing about it that supports itself or stands up under scrutiny. If religious society is to maintain any hope of honesty and consistency, it must abandon the attempt to compete (or claim compatibility) with rational secular pursuits of understanding.
I want to live a better life. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Christianity has nothing to provide on these grounds considering its history of selling women as property, burning scientists as heretics, drowning witches, lynching black men and women, attempting to stone gays, and on and on. There is no context in which it has proven itself a steadfast foundation for an ethical society. In fact, religious fervor is directly correlated (with tremendous statistical significance) to a decrease in happiness, health, equality, and level of education, and an increase in racism, violence, corruption, and abuse. This applies regardless of whether you are looking within a given nation or comparing across the entire world. The sooner we can eject from the decrepit craft of religion, the sooner we can float steadily onward in our pursuit of understanding the human condition and confering on the least of these our brothers and sisters an existence superior to that dealt to them by their genetic makeup, disease-ridden environment, or violent society.
I have decided to issue a short addendum in response to a comment (basically that “Christians ruin Christianity”) that a friend made after reading my post. However, I don’t believe we don’t need to look any further than Christ himself for that.
As I said in my original essay, for a while I basically tossed out everything that wasn’t the direct words and life of Jesus. And although an honest reading of his deeds undoubtedly paints a very different character from the one that American Conservative Christianity would have us believe in (he was basically your stereotypical liberal hippy who paid his taxes, decried war and injustice, and tried to help everyone), we tend to ignore his actions and teachings that don’t sit right with us.
Second, he supported barbaric social standards instead of pushing the Truth. He would have already known what things were right and wrong, but although he hung out with lepers and whores and tax collectors, he tolerated slavery and even used it as an analogy for our relationship with God, casting God as the slave-owner in his parables. Plus he condoned racism and nationalism within Israel and supported the Old Testament commands to murder kids who talk back to their parents.
Third, he was a serial hypocrite, often giving completely contradictory sets of commands; for instance “let your good deeds shine” vs “do not be righteous in front of others“. He also gave numerous conflicting instructions on how to inherit eternal life, including simply loving God and others, partaking in communion, and even hating everything EXCEPT God, plus another dozen or so contradictory requirements.
Fourth, last for now and perhaps most abhorrent to me, he treated sickness and disease as the works of Satan (or worse, the works of God). This is almost too frequent to reference completely, but the biggest instances are the epileptic boy in Matthew Ch. 8 from whom Jesus supposedly cast out demons (which went into a herd of pigs and killed them) and the blind man in John Ch. 9 who was sightless “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Why not teach people even a little about germs, infections, viruses, or genetics instead of pretending it was all supernatural in order to manipulate people? He could easily have avoided the next couple thousand years of medical barbarism, witch burning, and faith healing scam artists with a dozen verses about health and hygiene. He even had the gall to claim that “nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them… in saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.”
The fact that we tend to overlook or dismiss these things just confirms our superior human capacity for morality and decency compared to the lessons given us by “God” two millennia ago. The 10 Commandments, the O.T. laws, the Pauline letters, and even Christ himself cannot be considered the moral foundation of any healthy society, and again beg the question: Is it more likely that the character Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Scriptures was the actual, literal, perfect Son of God? Or that his story was manufactured decades later by normal, errant, first-century humans whose knowledge of reality, illness, and ethics can only be described as barbaric when compared to our current state of understanding?
Are there beautiful, compassionate, and inspiring messages to be taken from the Gospels? Of course. But treating it as an all-or-nothing Divine Truth cannot in my opinion be considered honest, rational, or moral.