My Pastor Made Me an Atheist

My Pastor Made Me an Atheist October 3, 2019

By James Fielding

Alright, so maybe I am exaggerating slightly. I can’t completely give my pastor ALL the credit for my eventual departure from religion. Let’s just say he planted a very important seed in fertile soil. While it took several years, a few hundred miles, and some life changes to finally blossom, my “fall from grace” can be traced back to a single point in time on a fateful Sunday. This part of my story is just about how it all got started.

I’m happy to report that the planting of this seed of doubt was not a traumatic experience, as it can be for so many. It was actually a valiant attempt by my pastor to step outside the bounds of normal biblical literalism and try to offer an alternative view of the creation story in Genesis. Looking back, I can see it was just and apologetic exercise but at the time, it was exciting and almost scandalous.

One Sunday, my pastor finished up his normal sermon and made a special announcement. He would be holding a special series for the next few Sunday evenings to explore the true meanings of the Hebrew translation of the Genesis creation account. He stated that because some may find it a bit uncomfortable, he was not willing to discuss it during a normal sermon; but rather wanted a small group to study his findings.

Being the naturally inquisitive type that I am, I jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know that the next few Sunday evenings would open my mind to new possibilities and create a collection of unanswered questions that would fertilize the seed of doubt about to be planted.

A New Translation?

The cornerstone of this creation study was that the original story was written in Hebrew. Once it was translated into Greek, then Latin, then English, etc., some of the definitions got a little fuzzy. One example I recall was the word “day.” According to my pastor, in the creation story, the word day didn’t mean a literal 24-hour period, rather a task being brought to completion.

In the space of 5 minutes, he managed to not only shatter my perception of a 6,000-year-old earth; he also opened the door to my inference that perhaps other things in the Bible might be mistranslated. At the time, I did what most indoctrinated teens do and treated this as some sort of smoking gun to show those dirty evolutionists that the world CAN be old without me evolving from a mutated fish-frog. However, years later, I would look back on this revelation as the pivotal argument that I would use as the foundation for many of my doubts.

If we were wrong about Genesis, what else could we be wrong about?

Why All the Confusion?

While I found all this new knowledge fascinating, I couldn’t help but have a nagging thought in the deep, dark recesses of my religion-soaked brain. “Why can’t God just be more direct?” More than 20 years later, I still don’t have a satisfactory answer. Over time, I just couldn’t see why something so perfect as the immutable word of the one true God was so fluid that a simple translation error would change the fundamental truth of the nature of the universe. You’d think God would have seen that coming and been a little more hands on in the editing process. My poor pastor had no idea that his attempt at apologetics put me on a path to walk away from my faith and use his words as the basis for it.

Mental Gymnastics

This concept didn’t hit me right away. At the time of this study, I was far too excited about my “a-ha” moments and wanting to stick it to those skeptics. About 9 years later as I was firmly on the Agnostic train to Atheistville, I was traveling with my brother to go see our parents. I am an avid audiobook enthusiast and thought my brother and I could nerd out to a book by Stephen Hawking. During one of the breaks we took to just chat, we started talking about the age of the universe. I stupidly assumed a science geek like my brother would have long ago abandoned all notions of a young earth. I underestimated the power of indoctrination.

My bother referred back to the study our pastor had hosted and told me about some additional research he had done into an author named Gerald Schroeder. The pastor had quoted him heavily in his talks. My brother then proceeded to lay out this incredibly complicated mess of how light refraction makes the universe look older and some other nonsense that I have permanently blocked from my brain. It was at that moment that I realized what lengths believers would go to in order to preserve their worldview. My question, “wouldn’t it just be easier to accept that the universe is over 13 billion years old?” was met with a blank stare.

I can see now in my 20/20 hindsight that the entire Bible study the pastor conducted was Olympic-level mental gymnastics. When I think about how much energy I spent in my youth doing the same thing, my brain begins to hurt. What I thought was a meticulous, progressive look at creation turned out to be a convoluted training exercise on a mental balance beam. I’m not even mad about the whole thing. It just boggles my mind that I was ever so enveloped in the dogma.

Sincere Thank You

The pastor died a few years back so I never got to thank him for setting me on my path. I’m not actually sure I would have, but one never knows. I am fairly certain he would not have appreciated the compliment. That fateful Sunday morning invitation to join that study was the seed that grew over time and eventually set me free of my religious ideology. I truly do feel grateful for that experience. It helped to open my mind to doubt and uncertainty about things that I knew were concrete. I only wish more people were able to look at their religion so objectively and question it.

The moral of this story is that knowledge can be a powerful fertilizer for the seed of doubt. Ask more questions. Keep pulling the thread until the sweater unravels. The world won’t end because you asked a question. Thank you Pastor Ken for allowing me to peek behind the curtain. I know it wasn’t your intent but it changed my life and I owe it to you.

About James Fielding
James Fielding (Pseudonym) is a former evangelical Christian, science enthusiast, skeptic, and passionate atheist in the Midwestern United States. His hope is that others can live their best lives by finding their purpose without God. You can read more about the author here.

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