Well, it finally happened. I got to talk openly this week to someone about my de-conversion and steps towards atheism. Its been about a year since I let go of religion once in for all. Over the course of the past year I’ve read books, listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, attended my first free thought and atheist convention, read the bible critically and had many chats with my wife who is on her second full year of un-belief. But I’ve never talked to any one else close to me about it all.
I have been dying to talk to others about where I am at now with christianity and religion. But have been cautious about how to go about it. It is still quite a scary thing. Especially when it comes to talking to family about it. Which is who I had the opportunity to talk to this week. I had lunch with an in-law who is christian. And it was he who brought it up.
He started by asking me if my wife was still on her “atheism thing”. It kind of took me off guard, but I said, “yes..yes she is.” Then he asked if I was going in that direction as well. I knew it was on then. I stretched my arms as I thought of what to say. But I gave the simplest answer that I could. “Yes, I am.”
He asked what was leading me in that direction. I explained to him how I became a christian in the first place. It was out of fear of hell. When I was in high school, I had a few friends I hung out with that I had no idea were christians. I partied with them all the time. Then for some reason one night the subject of god came up. They asked the usual fear tactic question, “if you were to die tonight, would you go to hell or heaven.” Hell certainly didn’t sound like a desirable destination. So they lead me through the “sinners prayer” and evidently I was “saved”. Then we went back to partying.
So I lived the next 20-25 years as a blind faith christian, with the “fear of the lord” and fear of hell. I constantly had doubts that I just pushed back and lived on faith alone. I read the bible occasionally, but it was usually a laborious task. I constantly asked myself if I really believed it was the word of god and if god was even real. I never wanted to talk to or “witness” to anyone out of fear they might ask me questions about why I believe. I knew I didn’t have any good answers other than I just have faith.
Then, after about eight years of marriage, I watched my wife become honest with herself and began to question religion. I wanted to still be a christian (mainly because all our friends and family were) so it was difficult to see her go down that road. Over a period of a year or two, she decided she didn’t believe anymore. In our conversations about it, what she would say always made more sense. All I could say was, “I have faith.” That’s all I had.
I told him how I had read the bible more over the past two years than I ever had. I explained that it doesn’t quite make sense that these books were so hard to understand. At this he kind of shrugged his shoulders as if to say (whats so difficult to understand?). I talked about how so many people interpret things in the bible so differently. I told him how I might read a questionable passage and how someone might say, “well, what is REALLY meant by that passage is…blah blah blah.” But the passage clearly says this, and someone else says it means that? How am I to make sense of it all? If my eternal soul is dependent on whats written in the book, it shouldn’t take some scholar, who also makes mistakes, to interpret the whole damn thing for me. I can read. I can see what it says, and it doesn’t make sense.
Another thing I talked about is how it became time for me to search for myself honestly about what is real and what is not. No longer could I simply have faith in what my friends and family had faith in. No longer could I believe just because they all did. In all my years as a christian I never had an “encounter with god” or “felt his presence”. I certainly made claims that I had been touched by god, but it wasn’t true. I wanted it to be true, but in all honesty, it wasn’t. It was just the christian lingo, to be in the presence of god. It’s all just atmosphere and emotions.
The conversation then turned to him telling me a story he had heard the night before at his bible study group. It was another story of a guy getting diagnosed with cancer and given only weeks to live. However, the cancer somehow leaves his body, he gets all his strength back and continues living. The man credited god with this miracle and tells his tale as proof for god. And I guess it was somehow supposed to be sufficient evidence to prove to me that it couldn’t be explained, therefore god DID heal him.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am very glad the guy is no longer living with cancer. Who knows, maybe there is a god who saw fit to heal this particular man of cancer. But it can’t be proven and therefore isn’t evidence. I can’t take this story, and many many stories like it (from more religions than just christianity by the way) and just say, “Ok, I believe it now because you said so.” This is exactly what I am trying to get away from. I would be starting at square one again.
Even if I were to get cancer, given a short time to live, then all of a sudden become free of it all, I wouldn’t take it as evidence for a divine healer. I would be happy as hell, but not convinced of a god.
What would it take for me to believe? Evidence that is testable, verifiable and probably not just some incident that only I can see. But is witnessed by more than myself.
Our 30 minute conversation came to a close by switching the conversation to business and work. I felt pretty good about how I made my points. No one got heated. It pretty much happened the way I played out in my thoughts several times before. I just didn’t know who the exchange would take place with. I’m sure there will be many more to come and with other family and friends as word starts to spread.
Just one more small step on the journey.