« Website Update - Top 10 Page List for January 2016 | Main | Happy Darwin Day 2016 »

Answering Quora - What questions (and answers to these questions) led you to become an atheist, or to denounce your belief in religion?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismOnce again, I'm going to recycle a Quora answer for this website. This time, the question was, What questions (and answers to these questions) led you to become an atheist, or to denounce your belief in religion? (follow the link to see other people's answers). My answer was similar to things I've said on this site before, but I do like the way this essay turned out.

---

I can't say there was one single question or moment of epiphany that led me to abandon Christianity, but in hindsight, I think I can identify some of the first major seeds of doubt that led me down that path.

First, let me be clear that prior to becoming an atheist, I was a devout Christian. My family went to church nearly every Sunday. I attended CCD and was an altar boy. We were active in church activities. I read the entire Bible. I prayed privately every night, not to mention innumerable small prayers throughout the day, and truly thought I could feel God's presence when I prayed. I wasn't faking it or just going through the motions. I was very sincere and earnest in my religious beliefs.

Like most Christians, I had minor doubts throughout my life, but I did my best to either rationalize them, or simply push them to the back of my mind and ignore them. I think the big moment for me came when the Intelligent Design movement was around its peak popularity. Prior to that, I'd always accepted the mainstream scientific view of the history of Earth and the rest of the universe. And I rationalized it with the Bible by assuming that the Genesis accounts were figurative, though without ever giving those accounts any real scrutiny. I naively assumed that most other Christians also accepted mainstream science, and that it was only fringe types that took creationism seriously as a literal story. It was the Intelligent Design movement that finally made me aware of the extent of creationism. And that realization made me wonder if I was being a bad Christian by accepting the scientific view of the history of the planet & the universe when so many other Christians were saying that you had to accept creationism. So, I began to research the topic from both points of view, particularly in biology. I learned a whole lot more about evolution than what I was ever taught in high school biology class, and I read various creationist websites to see their arguments. Needless to say, there's a reason why evolution is so overwhelmingly accepted in the scientific community, so this only strengthened my acceptance of the scientific viewpoint. And the outlandish and many times dishonest arguments put out by the creationists greatly tarnished the reputation of Christians in my view.

But, that wasn't enough by itself to make me leave my faith. After all, I'd already accepted the mainstream scientific view prior to that - I just didn't realize how many other Christians didn't. So, with a bit of hubris, I thought I might be able to reconcile this conflict. I decided to study the Bible even more closely to figure out the best way to reconcile it with reality, since by this point I was aware that my figurative interpretation was a bit strained. I didn't read the Bible cover to cover again, but I did focus in on certain areas, read commentaries and studies by others, and allowed myself to notice and acknowledge the contradictions that my faith didn't allow me to see clearly before. And I'm not just talking about Genesis Chapter 1 vs. science, but all the books, including the discrepancies in the Gospels. I eventually came to realize that the Bible wasn't divinely inspired, but even this wasn't enough to make me abandon my faith. After all, there's no logical requirement that the Bible has to be divinely inspired in order for God to exist. But at this point, having gone so far as to question the divine inspiration of the Bible, I was well on the path to questioning all of Christianity.

There were a few other big questions & issues that happened somewhat simultaneously with the above. The first was how the Bible dealt with homosexuality. From secular ethics, I could see nothing wrong with homosexuality. It was just something two people did that didn't affect anyone else. Further, it seems almost certain that people's sexuality is innate, and people don't choose who they're attracted to (not that sexuality is necessarily purely genetic, but some result of development that we have no conscious control over). So, if homosexuality wasn't all that wrong, and people had no choice in who they were attracted to, how could a just God condemn it so vehemently, and have commanded punishments as harsh as stonings?

Another question was the whole concept of Hell. This one actually predated my investigation of the creationism vs. reality debate, but I didn't let myself fully consider it until I was questioning everything about religion. I recall reading a book by Douglas Adams while I was still a Christian. It was after Adams had died, and I remember feeling so bad that a man that good could be suffering in Hell because he was an atheist and hadn't accepted Jesus. It made me lament all the countless others who would suffer similar fates. At the time, I blamed Adams - how could he have been so stupid as to not accept Jesus, knowing the consequences. Later, once I'd begun to question things, I wondered how a supposedly loving god could inflict that type of punishment on anyone, let alone for a crime as minor as disbelief.

And granted, those issues about homosexuality and Hell are arguments from consequences, or emotional appeals, rather than evidence. After all, there's no reason a god would have to be fair or just or loving. But they certainly made me question the traditional representation of the Christian God.

The final issue wasn't a question about religion, but a life change for me. I became a father. I hadn't fully abandoned my faith, yet, but with the responsibility of raising my daughter, I wanted to be damn sure that I raised her properly and didn't teach her falsehoods or indoctrinate her the way I had been simply out of tradition. So, that gave me extra motivation to look deeper at religion and try to get to the bottom of it.

Of course, that's far from the full extent of the questions and issues I considered. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I'll include a link to a collection of essays I wrote during my process of deconversion, Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays. But the original question was about the issues that led me to become an atheist, and those were the initial ones that put me on the path to leaving religion behind.

Post a comment


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.jefflewis.net/blog/jlnet-tb.cgi/863

Archives

Selling Out