i have adventures (sometimes)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Guest Post: Eugene's Story

I'm excited to announce that I have some guest posts lined up! After I posted my untestimony, one of the things that struck me was how willing people were to share their own stories. It prompted me to invite a few people to tell them publicly.If you would like to tell your story of transition out of or into faith, nonymously or anonymously, I'd love to post it! Just get in touch with me and let me know.

And so, without further rambling from me, I present my very first guest post: Eugene's story!

I always get a little bit jealous when I read the untestimonies of people like Ali.  They just figured it all out so quickly and when they did, they they took the next logical step so fearlessly!  Alas my journey took a lot longer with a lot more detours and far less bravery.  I was born in an extremely small town (our high school had about 300 students) and everyone there was a Christian (except for the one Jewish family!).  Sure there were different flavours of Christians and there were bad people and good people but everyone considered themselves Christian.  The only time I ever heard about people who weren't it was when we were being told scary stories about the godless communists in either school or in church.  That someone could not believe for any other reason was just unthinkable.  Christians were the good people, unbelievers were the bad people and besides, deep down they knew they were wrong and just acted that way because they hated goodness!  

With witchcraft and rock music.

Now everyone may have labeled "Christian" but not everyone acted Christian.  Not me.  From a very early age I was extremely devout.  I devoured the Bible stories and my parents were both very active in our small pentecostal church so believing in God was a fundamental part of my life back to my earliest memories.  Now as any REAL Christian can tell you, "growing up in church" is not the same as "being Christian".  Well that does not apply, I was a Real True Christian by any metric you care to use.  I prayed the salvation prayer, I gave my heart to the Lord, I was baptized - in my teens, as a thinking, believing adult aka the RIGHT way - in both water and the Holy Spirit.  I studied my Bible, I prayed constantly, I avoided sinful things and always tried to live according to God's will for my life.  So how does someone like me end up an apostate?

Little Eugene, dressed for church, has no inkling of the dangerous heresies ahead.
Well, I knew all the reasons people leave the faith.  Actually, that is not entirely correct.  I knew all the reasons people supposedly left the faith as it was explained (with convenient counter arguments) in Christian Apologetics textbooks.  Alas none of those prepackaged answers were of any help to me since none of them applied to me in the end.  See I’m not gay or promiscuous or rebellious or a drug user so it wasn't like I left the faith as a way to deal with my “sinful” lifestyle.  It’s also not that I’m angry with God and I don’t blame God for the bad things that happened to me.  No, if anything life’s tragedies had the opposite effect.  The death of my parents made me more devoted to God, not less.  

Oh on that note, I’ll should point out that it also wasn’t because I was angry with the Church or other Christians for their hurtful or harmful behaviour either.  Don’t get me wrong, that sort of thing really does make me angry and to this day it’s my favourite topic to blog/rant about!  However, I always viewed God and His people as two separate entities and I never blamed God for the abuses of His followers.  My friends didn’t lead me astray either, they were all very committed Christians (still are).  My apostasy also had nothing to do with not knowing God and the Bible well enough.  I studied the Bible diligently, reading it front to back.  At a young (Primary School) age I already knew the Bible better than a lot of adults.  I knew the theology, I knew the doctrine.  Lastly there is the Calvinist claim that I couldn’t have left the faith because I obviously never truly had any faith.  Funny thing is, that one is sort of true, just not in the way you may think.

I knew my Bible(s).
If “having faith” means to believe things without any evidence then I did not actually “have faith”.  Now I believed in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I believed in the Bible, that every word of it was literally God-breathed and literally true.  I believed in miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues and the healing power of God. I believed in angels and demons, the end times and the coming tribulation under the antichrist.  From a literal 6 day creation in Genesis (6000 years ago) to the fiery end in Revelation (any day now), I believed all of it.  BUT, I took none of it “on faith”.  I only believed in those things because I was fully convinced the evidence was on my side.

I know that sounds like a weird statement but have you ever listened to a Kent Hovind seminar?  Ever read a Chick tract/comic?  Coupled with what I heard from the pulpit, those were my only windows into the world.  So if you’re familiar with those you wouldn’t be too surprised that I could be so convinced that the case for the Bible being the perfect and uncorrupted Word of God was 100% airtight.  In fact I knew (because I was repeatedly assured) that the evidence was so overwhelming that any scientist or archaeologist who ever set out to disprove the Bible ultimately ended up becoming a believer!  That's because all REAL science supported the Bible completely!  The truth was obvious and those who denied it obviously never really looked for answers OR they did know the truth and were part of the evil satanic humanist conspiracy to persecute Christians!  I had no reason to doubt the things my fellow Christians were telling me, no matter how bizarre it sounded.  So when our youth minister told about how she saw satanists use magic or a visiting missionary would tell of how someone grew new eyes when prayed for I believed it without question.  Surely they would be nothing but honest, right?  If it wasn't for the internet turning the world upside down I would probably still believe all of these things.

I still remember exactly where it all started.  Someone I knew got this list off the internet listing all the contradictions in the Bible.  Now I was entirely sure that there were no such thing – no contradictions, only misunderstood scripture – so I took the list and started working through it, confident that my efforts would soon bring another lost soul back to the fold.  At first it was easy.  I was pretty well versed in apologetics so I could find ways to rationalize every one of the contradictions listed.  Then I read the contradiction about the age of Abraham* and it just hit me like a hammer.  This one I couldn’t wrangle with the mental gymnastics of apologetics, this was straightforward math and it was wrong!  I checked and rechecked but it was undeniable, there was a discrepancy between Genesis and Acts.  One of those had it wrong!  I had no way to process that.  Up to that point I believed that the Bible was PERFECT.  It had to be, it was the Word of God!  It was as if I could feel my faith cracking.  I know how melodramatic that sounds but that really is the best way to describe how it felt!  So I promptly put that list away and never looked at it again, too scared of what else I may find.

In time I managed to plaster over that crack but the nagging doubts had started and they wouldn’t go away.  Then came Facebook.  I got involved in a group discussing Kent Hovind and I was ready to unleash some obvious truth on those poor, misguided evolutionists!  You would not believe how badly I got my ass kicked!  It was there that I really started to see how wrong some of my beliefs were.  Around that time I discovered Youtube and some of the great Science/Skeptical channels there (AronRa, Potholer54 and ExtantDodo to name only a few).  It explained the facts so clearly I couldn’t believe just how just how much I had been lied to!  This was the next big crack in my faith wall.  See I was taught that a very recent very literal 6 day creation was absolutely non-negotiable to the believer.  If there was death before sin then Adam didn’t bring it into the world and then Jesus couldn’t have paid the price for it so basically Evolution falsified Jesus and the entire Christian faith.  Suddenly I was struggling to hold on to my faith as the evidence for evolution was completely overwhelming.  However realised that many Christians somehow managed to believe while accepting evolution so I tried to learn from them.  I ended up reading Ken Miller’s book “Finding Darwin’s God” which helped me to once again plaster over that crack.  The cracks were still there though, no matter how hard I tried to hide them.

He was behind the sofa the whole time!
The Youtube skeptics got me really interested in skepticism.  I had been really humbled by just how gullible I’d been up to that point in my life and listening to people like James Randi introduced me to critical thinking which was like a breath of fresh air to me.  I had to learn the hard way that I believed in a whole lot of stupid crap, from psychics and magic to the Loch Ness monster!  So I started reading and listening to skeptics more and started the hard work of trying to teach myself critical thinking.  Only up to a point though.  I put God in a little bubble and made skepticism about Him off limits.  I know how ridiculous that sounds (it would be like a vegetarian making an exception for bacon) but God was just such a fundamental part of my identity that I was afraid of what might happen if I lost that part of myself.  It didn’t work though.  As much as I tried to be only partially skeptical, the more I learned about critical thinking and the more I learned to appreciate reality, the harder it became to make a special exception for God.  Uncomfortable truths about God and the Bible just kept sneaking in no matter how I tried to avoid it.

So in order to remain faithful I turned to mysticism.  (The Christian kind, not the New Age kind.)  The big cracks had by now been joined by a lot of smaller cracks and my faith was in immanent danger of collapsing.  So I began reading Rob Bell, Donald Miller and David Dark and I managed to transform my faith into something more pliable.  So maybe the Bible wasn’t all true, maybe some of it could still be true right? So maybe psychology could explain everything I experienced in church (as devastatingly demonstrated by Derren Brown) but perhaps some of what I experienced could be the real thing, right?  I managed to sort of convince myself for a while.  Thing is, it’s really hard to be skeptical and mystical at the same time!  Something had to give.  I had a hard time attending church, I just didn’t belong there anymore.  Prayer started feeling pointless and everytime I listened to a sermon I couldn’t help but see everything wrong with it.  Once I believed every word I heard from a pulpit but now none of it made sense anymore.  So there I was, torn between wanting truth and wanting God to be true.  I had run out of good reasons to believe but I still wanted to believe despite myself.  I wanted there to be someone out there so much, someone who cares, someone who watches over me and hears me and can offer me help and guidance.  Despite my doubts I wanted God to be real more than anything.

I think that wanting a real God was my undoing in the end.  In order to try and keep my faith while seeking reality and truth I had to water down my image of God to the point where there was hardly anything left.  The homeopathic solution this left me with wasn’t really worth my time or my reverence.  I wanted a real solid God, like the one from the Bible, the one who appeared to people and talked to them and smote the wicked and helped out the righteous!  Not the neutered one I ended up with who was all weepy about the hurt in the world but unable/unwilling to do anything about it for some mysterious reason!  So my choices were either a God I wanted but knew wasn’t real or a God I could have but who was as good as no God at all.  I realized that this intellectualized god the theologians and Christian philosophers were holding up was nothing but a cardboard cut-out of God to hide the fact that there was nothing there.  I was tired of all the excuses for why God couldn’t or wouldn’t make himself known or help those who called on Him.  It was clearly just people pointing to a picture they made while saying “No, He’s totally real!  He can talk and do stuff!  He just doesn’t want to right now!  But He’s real!!”  Eventually I had no choice but to admit to myself what I had already known for a very long time.  There is no God.

Coming out to myself was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  For about a year I just kinda stood at the door to Atheism, looking up and just sort of waiting for God to show up and say, “Noooo don’t do it!  I’m real!  I’m here! Don’t stop believing!”  But that never happened, so I took a deep breath and just finally said it out loud to myself.  I expected that finally leaving my faith behind would be traumatic.  I thought there would be depression, sadness.  I thought I would feel lost and helpless.  But I felt none of that.

Truth be told, I felt fantastic!  Nothing I dreaded actually happened, instead I felt like a massive, smothering weight had just lifted from me.  In a word, I felt free.  Free to look for the truth and go wherever the journey takes me without fear.  Free from the terror of trying to live according to His Perfect Will and failing because I could never figure out what the hell that was!  Free to be myself and think my thoughts and feel my feelings without worrying about whether or not they were “sinful”.  Free to live without doublethink and cognitive dissonance.  Free from the reluctant bigotry of having to consider feminists, unbelievers, gays and people who had premarital sex “sinners” when I couldn’t see anything wrong with them at all.  

I was finally free to be moral.  Truly moral.  I now have a morality based on reason, empathy and conscience, not on the ineffable will of an invisible, inaudible being whose commands seem outdated and senseless.  I now save my gratitude and thanks for real people who need and appreciate it.  I now take responsibility for my own life and don’t wait around praying for reality to change.  No more hell, no more Judgement Day, no more desperately trying to please an invisible Parent.  It was an incredible feeling!  Freedom, peace, joy, it has almost been like a salvation experience! Except this time I didn’t have to pray, I just had to say it out loud:  I don’t believe in God.  I’m an Atheist.  

The truth really did set me free.  Even though getting there was kind of a long bumpy road!

* Abraham's father, Terah, was 70 when Abraham was born (Gen 11:26), died at 205 years of age (11:32). According to this verse (Acts 7:4), Abraham didn't leave home until after Terah died. If so, then Abraham must have been at least 135 years old when he left Haran. Yet according to Genesis 12:4, Abraham was 75 years old when he left home.

Eugene is a fellow Saffa and "cynical optimist" who blogs about "mysticism, skepticism, faith and reason" at A life in juxtaposition. He writes about thinky things, knows his Bible better than I do, and has a deep love for Lady Gaga. We virtually-met because he also thinks Feed the World is condescending tripe.

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