|About a year ago, I came to the conclusion that I'm an atheist. That statement will come as a shock to people who know me and haven't heard this, since it came as a shock to me as well. I've been a Christian my whole life, and not just a Christmas and Easter Christian or a Sunday morning Christian. I've been an everyday, Bible-believing, Bible-reading, praying, worshiping Christian since I was in high school, and even a little before then. I've read through the Bible on more than one occasion, I've led Bible studies and discipled younger believers, and I've led worship in various churches and groups for many years. Suffice it to say, I was a Christian, like for real.
I was into my faith to the point where I developed doubts, which is completely not a bad thing. I'm of the opinion that if you have no doubts, you haven't completely investigated your faith. Apologetics filled in some of the gaps, so that on the continuum between faith and doubt, I was on the side of faith. I read and studied all kinds of things that provided more knowledge and insight into the historicity of the Bible and the evidence supporting a young earth, among other things. The fruits of my labor were that I knew what I believed and why I believed it, and I could defend my beliefs in the face of questioning and criticism, even though it rarely resulted in either side changing their mind.
One of the early turning points in my deconversion actually happened at a Bible study I was leading. One of the members (who had training in geology) mentioned that it was really no longer an option to believe in the idea of a 6000-year-old earth, since there's too much evidence regarding the carbon dating of rocks and things like that. He mentioned it almost in passing, and it really hurt my young-earth creationist leanings. But like anyone who believes things that contradict reality, I rejected his "opinion" and relied on the fact that God would make sense of it all someday.
There's an interesting psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person tries to believe two contradictory ideas at one time. It's called cognitive dissonance. I found it relatively easy to assuage my cognitive dissonance by using faith, or hope in a future change. For example, I knew from experience that miracles were either impossible or exceedingly uncommon, but I had faith in the existence of a being who could bend the rules of the universe, so miracles were possible by definition. This worked for a lot of things.
Despite my best efforts, I gradually came around to accepting the theory of evolution (and with it, an old earth), which directly contradicts the creation story in the Bible. I specifically remember having a conversation with my wife where I told her I didn't believe the creation story anymore, and she said she was already there and didn't see it as a problem. It was a huge problem for me, because it meant I was cherry-picking what I deemed worthy of believing in the Bible, and there's really no guideline for things you should read as literal versus things you should read as figurative. If you're going to make the claim that certain things in the Bible either aren't true or aren't meant to be taken literally, where do you draw the line, and who gets to draw that line? Why take any of it literally? Or figuratively, for that matter?
As simplistic as it sounds, this slippery slope was indeed quite slippery. The idea occurred to me that if some parts of the Bible weren't true, maybe other parts weren't true as well. Maybe miracles didn't really happen. Maybe this Jesus guy didn't rise from the grave. Maybe -- and this was a tough idea to stomach -- God didn't exist.
Oddly enough, I had been seeing a Christian counselor around this time for various reasons, and he suggested to me that all the work and effort I had been expending to have a relationship with God might actually be completely misguided and that my interpretation of key Bible passages might not be entirely accurate. This was obviously pretty discouraging, but it served to reinforce what I was already feeling: There's no single way to interpret the Bible, and everybody can't be right. And even if everyone could agree on the correct interpretation of a cobbled-together, mistranslated, 2000-year-old document, there's no way to prove any of it. On the faith-doubt continuum, I switched over to doubt.
Continued in part 2. #religion