What Convinced Me — And You

What Convinced Me — And You November 11, 2011

Greta Christina wants to hear the stories of those who left Christianity. So here’s mine. First, a little background. My father is an atheist. My mother was a sort of vague, new agey “there’s something out there greater than us” kind of theist. And when my parents divorced when I was 8, I went to live with my father, who remarried a couple years later to a Christian. And he basically sold me down the river, agreeing that I would go to church with her (I say this jokingly; I’m actually glad he did it).

To make the first part of this long story shorter, I became a Christian before long. I was even one of the “core group” of the local Youth for Christ. And I really believed it. After all, I was surrounded by good people, authority figures, and they wouldn’t tell me something that wasn’t true, right? Everyone around me seemed to believe it and I just assumed that it must all be true.

And my father did not try to talk me out of it. He never even mentioned it. When I sang in church, as I often did, he would come to see me. But we never talked about the subject. I knew he was an atheist but he never tried to tell me why or make me question my faith. I asked him about it much later, after I’d deconverted, and he said, “I just figured that I had raised you to think for yourself and had given you the tools to do so, and eventually you’d figure it out.” And he was right.

The questions began at about 16 — shortly after I’d been baptized, ironically. I wasn’t baptized as a child, so I did it on my 16th birthday, in a swimming pool at the house of some friends who went to the same church. The place where that house sat is now a Walgreens. That church was a Methodist church, but this was right around the time my stepmother changed to the Assembly of God. I went with her for two weeks and decided that was way too crazy for me. But I think that’s actually what started me questioning things. There were such starkly different views even within Christianity, which meant there were other ways of thinking about the subject — something I really hadn’t considered up to that point.

I decided to go find my own church, foregoing both the Methodist and the Pentecostal churches I had been in. And I settled on a Church of Christ — to be honest, it was mostly because I knew the daughter of the pastor and thought she was cute. And it was at that church that I really began to ask questions, mostly of the youth pastor, who was not very well prepared to answer them. He kept referring me to books by apologists like Josh McDowell, whose answers just didn’t make a lot of sense for me. After several months of my annoying questions and his even more annoying inability to give reasonable answers to them, the youth pastor finally just gave up and said, essentially, “Go find out for yourself.”

So I did. At that age I was far more advanced in terms of my research ability than the average teenager because I competed in debate. The Western Michigan University library was like a second home to me, so I started looking for stuff to read about it — not the Josh McDowell stuff, real scholarship like Bruce Metzger’s work on the development of the New Testament and books by real scientists instead of creationists. And that was pretty much the end of Christianity for me. The whole process took less than a year and a half. By the time I graduated high school, I was a non-believer.

There wasn’t any great trauma in it for me, no dramatic cries to God to show himself to me. I started my research thinking that it would confirm my faith and it did the reverse. And that was okay with me. What mattered was that I was following the evidence where it led. The critical thinking skills that I had developed early on and that were strongly reinforced by my experience in competitive debate had prepared me for it; I just had to reach a point where I was mature enough to break away from the social setting that reinforced the false beliefs I had accepted.

So what was it that really did it for me? Science was a big part of it. Though the Methodist church is considered a relatively liberal denomination, the Christianity I was taught was fairly fundamentalist. The flood was a literally true story, as was the creation account in Genesis — and it all happened in the last 6,000 years. So when I learned that the evidence is strongly opposed to that idea, I had no fallback position. It was either true or it was not, and the evidence was very clearly on the side of science.

But it wasn’t just the historical evidence. One of the huge sticking points for me was the barbarism of the Old Testament god. This was one of the questions I kept asking my pastors and getting ridiculous answers to. I just could not reconcile the vile things allegedly commanded by God in the Old Testament with the notion that God is the source of morality. Why would God command, for example, that the sins of the father are not to be visited upon the children and then strike down David and Bathsheba’s child for their sin?

Probably the single biggest passage that did it for me was Numbers 31. This is the attack on the Midianites. The Israelites believed that two Midianite women had “tempted” two men to worship their god instead of Jehovah. As a result, Moses commanded — supposedly because God told him to do so — that all Midianites be slaughtered. Except for the virgin females, who were divided up among the soldiers as the spoils of war. And it occurred to me that this is something that even Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin didn’t do. Even Nazi Germany didn’t force the women they’d conquered to marry the men who had slaughtered their fathers and brothers. That’s how barbaric it was, it went beyond anything even the worst human beings would do. And this is the same being that supposedly commands us to love one another and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us? It just didn’t add up for me.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

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