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Real Deconversion Story #19 – David N.

Real Deconversion Story #19 – David N. October 15, 2021

Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs, as you can see from the various accounts. Thank you to David Nicholls here who has provided this personal account. Please consider contributing your own, if you so desire.

Please also check out my book of deconversion accounts, edited with Tristan Vick, which can be bought from here (UK), or by clicking on the book cover. The previous accounts can be found here:

Over to David:

I was born in 1954, and brought up in a working-class family on a London council estate. My father was a staunch atheist, presumably arising from what he witnessed during the War, and my mother was a non-churchgoing Christian. My sister, my only sibling, has never had any interest in religion.

Even though religion was not a subject of any significance in my household, as a child I attended a Sunday School at the local Anglo-Catholic church: firstly, because there was nothing else to do on a Sunday morning, and secondly, for some inexplicable reason, I found religion to be a fascinating subject, even in childhood.

When I was 14, I encountered a fundamentalist who, to put it bluntly, frightened the life out of me. He demonstrated that my knowledge of the Bible was almost non-existent, all my beliefs were unscriptural, and I needed to “get right with God” because we were living in what he called the “last days”.

I went to a local Christian bookshop to find out more about the subject and I bought the book Who Says? (published by the evangelical Moody Press): this “converted me” to evangelical Christianity. I kept returning to the bookshop to buy more books, and I began reading the Bible (and books about the Bible, and the Christian life) daily. I also worked at the bookshop as a part-time volunteer.

Eventually, I found my new evangelical belief conflicted with the teachings and practices of the Anglo-Catholic church, so I became a member of a local evangelical church where I was baptized by immersion. I also attended a Pentecostal church: after a few months, there was an occasion of open prayer and one of the congregation said “Thank you heavenly father for dying on the cross”, which naturally made me react although nobody else there seem troubled by the comment. This was followed by someone praying “O holy spirit, when you walked in the city of Jerusalem…” Bewildered, I immediately looked up and saw something that I had never noticed before – the cloth over the communion table said: “Jesus Only”. I had been attending a ‘Oneness’ Pentecostal church for months without realizing it! I continued attending the evangelical church where the pastor was a hardline Calvinist,  who I later discovered became a reconstructionist: this is someone who believes “the ultimate calling of Christians is to dominate the earth.”[1] Frightening!

After a while, I noticed how fellow church members did not seem to have a particularly good knowledge of the Bible. Also, some aspects were beginning to trouble me: as Protestants, we believed “sola scriptura” but it was obvious that the Bible was unclear about a number of important doctrines, and this was apparent by the existence of so many Protestant denominations.

Additionally, my mother’s leftwing politics had influenced me (and still do!) and at age 14, I had already attended numerous demonstrations in London about changing the world for the better, e.g., against nuclear armament and the Vietnam War, etc., but interest in such matters was noticeably absent in the church and with the Christians with whom I spoke. And again, because of my mother’s influence, I was (and continue to be) concerned about the appalling abuse of animals and the destruction of this planet, but once again, there was no concern about such matters in the church. As I once heard someone remark “People with their eyes on heaven all the time are usually no earthly good”.

As an evangelical-fundamentalist, I read and studied the Bible with zeal and enthusiasm, as well as reading books about the Bible. As other evangelicals, I only read books written by evangelical authors and/or produced by evangelical publishing houses. When I was about 15, I came across a passing reference to the ‘Gospel of Thomas’. I was confused by this and made inquiries that led me to discover the existence of the ‘New Testament apocrypha’. I went to a religious library, run by the Catholic church in Victoria, which had numerous books about the New Testament apocrypha and I still recall reading these books with astonishment. This reading led me to question whether the correct books were in the New Testament canon. Shortly afterwards, I saved up my Saturday job earnings and went to the SPCK in London and bought Edgar Hennecke’s 2-volume New Testament Apocrypha. This introduced me to the very lengthy (and chaotic) process that the church adopted to select the NT canon (a subject never mentioned by the church I attended – most Christians are blissfully unaware of how many gospels, epistles and apocalypses circulated in the first three centuries of the church).

I have seen extravagant claims by Christians who say the canon was settled by the time of Origen (early third century CE), but this is nonsense as it remained undecided as Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter of 367 CE testifies. Moreover, canonical lists continued to be produced by the church after 367 and these do not always agree with the present canon. The fact that it took the church so long to settle its canon inevitably raises questions, and this is apart from the fact that the post-200 CE church rejected a number of writings used by the early church. Christians can cite 2 Tim 3;16 as much as they like, but it is abundantly clear that the methods used by the church to select its canon were haphazard and erratic.

About this time I purchased a secondhand copy of Collins One-Volume Commentary, and this introduced me to the subject of variants. I then realized that if the Bible is God’s inspired word then he had made a really poor job in producing it. Indeed, while the observation by Christians that the vast majority of variants are minor is correct, many variants are not minor and the result of deliberate alterations by Christian copyists. The difference between the “text families” is also a witness to the extent of alterations made in the early manuscripts by copyists. I consider it significant that the early Christians did this as it clearly meant they did not believe the writings, that would eventually become the NT, were inspired or infallible, but merely a guide that could be changed whenever the mood suited them. For example, Codex Sinaiticus reveals that copyists were even correcting other copyists in the fourth century!

It was a combination of these issues that made me accept that Christian belief cannot stand up to scrutiny. Furthermore, the Christians whom I met were invariably on the political right, with little interest in the wellbeing of the most vulnerable (human animal and non-human animal) and this made me realize that Christianity was not only absurd but actually harmful. After all, why worry about social conditions and the environment when Jesus will be returning soon? Interestingly, despite a firm belief in the nearness of the Parousia (a belief strengthened by Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth that some Christians carried around with their Bibles at that time,[2]), I found it disconcerting that Christians who said they believed the Parousia was close,[3] still adopted a lifestyle indicating otherwise, i.e., they bought property, took out longterm insurances, etc. And while the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels told his followers to desert their families and preach the gospel, the Christians I met were happy to ignore this command. Indeed, many “inconvenient” Biblical instructions were ignored, “reinterpreted”, or deemed to be “just symbolic.”  Frequently, other Biblical texts were quickly found that supposedly superseded those “awkward” ones. In sum, you could just select the Biblical texts that most suited you…

Furthermore, the problem of suffering and the matter of theodicy that constantly troubled me never seemed to bother any of the Christians I met, and I later realized they “solved” the problem by simply burying their heads in the sand; and on the rare occasions they might attempt to offer any explanations, these were trite and banal.

In later years, I read books written by Christians who tried to explain why a loving, omnipotent God would allow such terrible suffering, but I found these attempts to be both feeble and offensive. There is clearly no way that the extent of suffering that afflicts both human animals and non-human animals could occur if the God of Christianity exists.

After my departure, the Christians I knew claimed my “falling away”, as they described it, was because my faith was intellectual rather than spiritual. However, I was not prepared to shape my life by something that made no sense, apart from being so inconsistent and contradictory.

Many Christians refer to the terrible fear and doubts they experience when they leave the faith. In contrast, when I abandoned my faith this generated a truly wonderful and liberating freedom, as it allowed me to think for myself. As rightly noted by Dr David Eller, “Almost universally, the benefit of deconversion is an experience…of liberation and of the right to claim one’s mind for oneself”.[4]

I was born with type 1 diabetes but had reasonably good health until 1983 when, as other T1 diabetics, I suffered lasting adverse reactions to a new, supposedly ‘improved’ insulin. I lost my job and a doctor suggested that I kept my mind occupied and recommended studying to achieve this. I had attended a large comprehensive school until age 16 and was unfamiliar with higher education, but I began studying for a Religious Studies ‘A’ level by correspondence course: I gained this and continued with Cambridge’s Diploma in Religious Studies, then a Religious Studies and Philosophy B.A. (Hons), an MPhil and a PhD. I was, and remain grateful for my Christian background as this made the studying enjoyable.

In the time I was a Christian, I did not witness a caring or loving attitude among the Christians I met, and to me their faith was little more than a personal fire insurance policy. In the years after I abandoned my Christian faith, I lost count of how many Christians I met who presented a sickly-sweet, caring facade that suddenly disappeared once they realized their faith was being challenged, and their initial demeanour was swiftly replaced with fierce hostility and resentment.

I imagine many unbelievers who have attempted to have a meaningful exchange with Christians on the internet have witnessed this disagreeable phenomenon. Such hostility by Christians is not only apparent if their beliefs are challenged, but is also demonstrated by an intolerance of anyone of whom they disapprove. People tend to consider activity such as the Westboro Baptist church is exceptional: I reject this as I consider many fundamentalist Christians are simply very adept at hiding their true selves and their odious beliefs.

I currently have a small website, an updated version of a site I had over twenty years ago. This challenges Christian beliefs but primarily argues for the mythicist stance regarding Jesus. During the time of my earlier site, when there were very few mythicist websites, it was constantly visited by Christians. I was bewildered by the fact that they had so much spare time on their hands and had nothing better to do than wander around the internet trying to start an argument; however, what really astonished me was their extraordinary ignorance of the overall subject, and how their anger and resentment became very evident when confronted with facts.

On the subject of hypocrisy, I have to admit that I find the lengths to which Christians will go to make the Bible agree with their own circumstances to be breathtaking. An example is how “bible-believing” Christians will divorce, despite the Bible’s condemnation of this, and the dishonest manner they adopt to make the Bible support their personal lifestyle and wishes. I have written about this elsewhere.[5] Additionally, while Christians assert that the New Testament teaches the importance of family life (which it doesn’t), research shows that the divorce rate is high among Christians including ‘born again’ ones.[5] Yet more hypocrisy…

I would mention that in 1984, I went to a humanist bookstore to obtain some reading material. The only books dealing with the Bible and Christian belief were by Prof. G. A. Wells (1926–2017), of whom I had never heard: nonetheless, I bought them. They were: The Jesus of the Early Christians (Pemberton, 1971), Did Jesus Exist? (Pemberton: Prometheus, 1st ed. 1975), and The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Prometheus, 1982).  I began reading them on my journey home and was concerned to read Wells suggested that Jesus never existed. I was annoyed that I had wasted my money as such a proposition seemed ludicrous. However, I decided that I would read the books and I was astonished at the careful detail that Wells included and his calm and deeply analytical approach. I found his arguments to not only be logical but irrefutable and I became convinced of the mythicist stance. Since then, Wells wrote further books and I would recommend these, along with writings by other authors on this important and fascinating subject.[6]

To try and put this matter into some sort of context: let’s say that I (or you) meet someone called John who says that he has made a friend. He describes his friend:

John says this friend is very unusual, as he’s invisible (although there is no testable evidence whatsoever for his existence). And not only is he invisible, he’s all-powerful too, and he created everything. Now, despite this friend being all-powerful, he can only communicate with John by imparting feelings, impressions and the occasional dream (that, unfortunately, leads to frequent misunderstandings).

Although the friend does not have a physical body, he somehow manages to exist and function: he even managed to have a ‘Son’, who, remarkably, is as old as he is. As this ‘Son’ wanted to come to this planet, he was born here, and despite having no human father, he somehow managed to be a human being. In fact, a full and perfect human being.

After he lived a remarkable life, he died but then came back to life and returned to the place from where he had originally come. The only ‘record’, if you can call it that, are four anonymous writings, produced many decades after he lived, and these contradict each other at significant points. These accounts say many, many thousands of people saw this ‘Son’ and the amazing things that he frequently did, although incredibly, no one living at the time bothered to record any of these events. So, that’s why we have to rely on these four anonymous, contradictory accounts, written many years later.

There is also the matter that two of the four accounts are dependent on one of the other two, so the authors were clearly not witnesses. The author of the one from which they copied made mistakes about the geography, history and customs at the time, so his account is clearly not based on any eyewitness testimony either. And in the case of the fourth account, this is so different from the other three, it’s just about anyone’s guess what its origins are.

Returning to John’s (invisible) friend, he says that he loves John so much, he wants John to be with him for eternity (apparently he wants John to spend all this time constantly telling him how wonderful he is, despite there being no evidence for this). This being, however, will only love John if John obeys everything that he demands, and if he doesn’t, the being will torture him for evermore. This being also tells John, through one of his agents on earth, that John has to regularly contribute towards the cost of telling other people about this being:  he also has to be immersed in water once, and then regularly eat his Son’s body and blood.

Now call me finicky if you wish, but I suggest that anyone like John suffers from some form of serious psychological illness. And in view of John’s condition, and wishing to convince everyone else about his invisible friend, he should be viewed as having something akin to a virus that causes serious delusions.

That to me, after my experiences, is how Christianity, and theism in general, should be understood.

I conclude by saying that at this critical time in our history I sincerely hope that atheists and humanists will take a much more active and radical approach in protecting the environment and non-human animals (who, despite what the Bible says, have as much right to be here as we do).

And finally, the fitting words of Arthur Schopenhauer:

“Christianity…hardly deserves to be called a religion at all. It is rather a play of fantasy, a production cobbled together by poets out of popular legends, and for the most part an obvious personification of natural forces. It is hard to imagine that grown men ever took this childish religion seriously…

According to this dogma, God called into existence out of nothing a weak and sin-prone race in order to hand it over to endless torment. There is finally the further fact that the God who prescribed forbearance and forgiveness of every sin, even to the point of loving one’s enemy, fails to practise it himself, but does rather the opposite…”[7]

NOTES:
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_reconstructionism
https://politicaltheology.com/paul-mcglasson-what-christian-reconstructionism/
[2] https://infidels.org/library/modern/gaunilo2-late/
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2018/10/04/hal-lindsey-a-prophecy-huckster-thinks-prophecy-is-very-important/
[3] It is obvious that the majority of New Testament writers who referred to the Parousia clearly believed that it was imminent and/or would occur in their own lifetimes, i.e., during the 1st/2nd centuries CE.
http://21centuryvision.co.uk/mythofjesus/failedpredictions.html
[4] Dr David Eller, Natural Atheism (American Atheist Press, 2004), p.12.
[5] http://www.21centuryvision.co.uk/mythofjesus/divorce.html
See also https://www.learnreligions.com/divorce-rates-for-atheists-248494
(Readers may be interested to know the divorce rate is lower among atheists!)
[6] E.g., Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, David Fitzgerald, Raphael Lataster, Robert M. Price.
[7] Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (Penguin, 2004), p.181-182,184.

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