Christians frequently tell me that I became an atheist because I didn’t follow their advice. I try to say, frequently, that I took Christianity extremely seriously — and I hear many other former Christians say the same thing. And that’s the infuriating thing. This Christian belief was the center of your life for years, and you DEDICATED yourself to it wholeheartedly. And the principles within it, oftentimes, are what turn you against Christianity. There’s an anger there, however irrational, of thinking, “I really genuinely followed all the advice, and that’s what brought me to atheism.”
And most people don’t seem to understand that. It’s like you’re screaming in a glass box and people are making up where you’re coming from, putting you in the box of “Angry atheist rebelling from God” instead of paying attention to the nuances and the struggle in your story. It’s likely that this will be another one of those attempts — that Christians who read this will close their minds and hearts to this story, which is my own and also that of countless other formerly devout ex-Christians.
But maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re an ex-Christian who was once a sincere Christian and is frustrated right now because you don’t really think anyone “gets it.” So, if nothing else, this is written to let you know that I’m here, I’ve been there, I get it. Sometimes all that’s needed is a “me, too.”
So, with that in goal in mind, here are 8 ways trying to be a stronger Christian made me an atheist.
1. Many Christians will say to stop being obsessed with being a good Christian and let God work in your life to draw you closer to Him. I tried that. I stopped being concerned about trying to be a Christian with my own power and just let God work. And the more I did that, the more the only thing that “worked” powerfully in my life and heart was God’s nonexistence. I began to allow the nonexistent nature of God to work in my life, changing my vision and allegiances, until finally I truly connected to God’s nature of nonexistence in becoming an atheist.
2. Several Christians told me that the reason people leave God is a failure to appreciate God’s grace. So I began striving to appreciate it. It became overwhelmingly beautiful to me, and I began seeing grace in more and more people and to believe in grace more and more stridently. And the more basic to the beauty of existence it appeared, the more I wondered why anyone had to do anything to get it. As I kept meditating on this grace, I began to see that the greatest grace possible is the kind that isn’t called “grace,” but “justice” — that it is far more beautiful to love humanity as fellow human beings who deserve dignity a priori than as sinful people who don’t automatically deserve their salvation. Coming to that realization helped me become an atheist who identified with secular humanism.
3. I was told that my problem was that I wasn’t getting deeper into God’s word with my mind and heart. But the deeper I got in the word, the more I tried to let it fill me as I meditated on it, the more I saw inconsistencies within it. I felt the inconsistencies as I saw them, and when I felt the greatest inconsistency of all the deepest I could have possible felt it—the inconsistency between God’s infinite love and God’s eternal separation from those who did not love him back —the rupture became the entire landscape; it became increasingly impossible to identify, at the same time, with the God who loved and the God who had to be separate from some of His creation. So I finally left the illusion of a schizophrenic God to choose love, and became an atheist.
4. I tried to focus more on God than on people. But the more I focused on a God who wasn’t just the creation of the people around me, the more I realized how much people had to do with propping up Christianity, and the more I realized that if I didn’t focus on people and instead focused on God, I didn’t need the picture of God that people were trying so hard to sell me. When I needed that picture least, I became an atheist.
5. I tried to be a more loving and caring Christian by looking for God in people who said they had the love of Christ in the hearts. The more I looked, the more I found this love of Christ within more and more people — especially when I looked at and tried to understand “character flaws” in people that made them not conform to God’s supposed standards. When I saw God in people most, I started seeing Him in the guidelines, instructions, promises, and threats he had for them least, and so seeing God in people as opposed to rules led me to leave those guidelines, instructions, promises, and threats, focus and become an atheist.
6. I tried to be a more spiritually grounded Christian by being more intimate with God in worship, both in and out of the Church, so that I could develop a relationship with God instead of just adhering to a religion. But the more grounded in God I got, the more I found that what I was being intimate with wasn’t the Bible’s God. It didn’t have the boundaries and definitions the book told me it had. As the barriers defining “God” collapsed, I found I was becoming more intimate not with one particular being, it seemed, but with existence itself. And when I was most intimate with existence, the concerns and limitations on its definitions in the Bible seemed to fade, until finally they weren’t there; it was just me and the beauty of existence, and the “God” it spoke of finally vanished due to the consumption of its own flame, and I was an atheist.
7. Some Christians said I needed to embrace my doubts and become a more logical, rational Christian by reading about the logical proofs for God’s existence and using them to defend God. The more I did this, however, the more the criticisms I leveled against other viewpoints were leveled onto my own Christianity. I began to see that, oftentimes, people were trying to defend their viewpoints not because they wanted to be right or wrong, but because they wanted to defend themselves and ensure they had the respect, reputation, and security they wanted. As I saw this tendency in others, I also saw it in myself – I began to see that if I came in trying to prove God’s existence instead of trying to be more accurate in my opinion, much of the time that attitude exposed a desire to be respected, preserve my reputation, and keep a sense of security instead of trying to be right.that my primary commitment to God was really a commitment to myself. Thus, I gradually became less interested in proving I was right and more interested in trying to BE right, regardless of the consequences, and that opened a wide door for me to potentially change my mind when the evidence required it. When that door opened and I gathered the courage and humility to enter through it, I became an atheist.
8. I tried to become a more humble Christian so I could be more in awe of God. But the more I tried to be humble, the more I wondered how I could be a truly humble Christian when so many people I knew were going to hell and I worshipped the God whose judgment or definition meant they were going there. How was it humble to sing about how wonderful it was that God saved ME? I tried really, really hard to figure this out. I tried Arminianism, Calvinism, Open Theism, Emergent Theology, and so on. I tried talking to other people to see how they did it. I tried helping people down on their luck to be more in awe of God. I tried to look more at the beauty and grandeur of the universe, and my own size in comparison to it.
My humility caused me to respect others more. The more I respected the beauty in others — humans and even animals; really, existence in general — the less I saw them as people God needed to give beauty to. And the more I respected others, the less I saw they needed God’s grace. The transition actually made me more humble, in a way. God didn’t make me more valuable in any way than anybody else, and he didn’t “save” me more than He saved anybody else, because everything was already valuable without His salvation. And so, in my humblest moment, I recognized that God was keeping me from realizing the worth of the world, and saw that I had always been part of the world instead of “in but not of” it. Breaking down that barrier allowed me to see a beautiful view from my own humble station in life, and I have come to call the beauty of that humility my atheism.