by Matt Hollinger
It fascinates me that people like my family will point to, for example, C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel, and say, see! People examine the cold, hard facts, and convert from atheism because it’s an untenable intellectual position! But then I’ll present people like myself or Dan Barker, and they’ll shrug and say, well, they obviously weren’t “saved” in the first place. Makes one want to bang one’s head against the wall, it does…
When I was younger, I was on fire for Christ. I ran an old-fashioned BBS (bulletin board system; remember those?) on the old Macintosh LC in the corner of my bedroom, and I viewed it as my personal ministry. I would spend hours typing up accurate, Scripturally sound posts totally demolishing (or so I thought) the unbelieving position. I’m ashamed that I put forward such arguments as Pascal’s Wager (though I didn’t know it by that name) and the Watchmaker argument, informing my opponents smugly that a cow had never given birth to a dog, sprinkling everything liberally with Bible verses.
Still, despite all this, I spent much of my time in abject religious fear. I was afraid that I might not have been truly saved, that I was destined for hell after all: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (- Matthew 7:22,23, NAS, emphasis in text.) When I would go grocery shopping with my mother and get separated (which happened almost every time) cold dread would settle in my stomach; I was terrified every single time that the Rapture had happened, taking my mother, but leaving me behind. I estimate conservatively that I asked Jesus into my heart a hundred times during the roughly ten years as I spent as a Christian, just to make sure, but none of those times made me less afraid of the “justice” I thought might possibly still await this “sinner.”
But then, when I took ninth grade biology, something wonderful happened. Evolution was explained to me as it is actually put forth by scientists; not in ludicrous creationist strawman form. And I learned that evolution not only made sense, not only made verified predictions, but actually had been observed in the form of bacteria gaining resistance to antibiotics and the famous peppered moths of England. I saw that there was no actual need for a god, that it just made the explanation more complicated. Right there in that classroom, I lost my faith, and contrary to the dread I expected, it felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I have since studied the philosophical objections to Christianity, and they are so obvious that I wonder why I didn’t see them before.
Make no mistake; atheism is not a walk in the park. You watch the news and see the unspeakable horrors that go on every day; the killing, the starvation, the disease, and know that no cosmic cavalry is going to step in. You get laid off from your job, and you know that no one is going to provide your daily bread but you and an increasingly corrupt and indifferent government. And you know that you could die arbitrarily at any moment, and the candle that is your being will be snuffed out, never to burn again.
No, it’s not easy. But it is liberating, and it is beautiful, and it is (most importantly, and so far as I can tell) true. I will take unpleasant reality over blissful lies anyday.