Back when I was a dedicated Christian, I read a book called Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler and became very interested in the subject. Soon after, I read several more books about the supposed evidence for God and Christianity. Books like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Why I Believe by James D. Kennedy, Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell, and The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, to name a few.
I was overwhelmed by all the philosophical and historical evidence for God and the Bible. How could anyone be an atheist? Perhaps they just weren’t aware of the evidence. Maybe if more of them knew about it, then at least the ones who were open-minded would change their beliefs.
For a short time, I felt God was calling me into the ministry so I could help share this information with the secular world. I came up with a very specific strategy: I would show atheists that if you approach the question of God’s existence and the historicity of the Bible with an open mind and no biases, you will come to the conclusion that Christianity is true. But in order to show them that, first I had to do it myself.
My plan was to pretend I’d never heard of Christianity, be as objective as possible, and investigate the Christian religion with an open mind. As a Christian, I already “knew” I would come to the conclusion that Christianity is true, but I wanted to do it anyway so I could walk atheists through the process and show them my line of reasoning.
I never expected to find out that Christianity isn’t true.
You might be picturing a cliche montage of a student spending hours at the library, sitting at a table and poring over volume after volume. It didn’t happen like that. Yes, I did a lot of reading, but the main thing I did differently was change my perspective to that of an atheist. I tried to imagine how they saw the world and what criticisms they might have for Christianity.
If you’re a Christian, then at this point you might think I read several atheist books and was “corrupted.” Nope. I didn’t read a single atheist book or article. Throughout my entire deconversion process, I read nothing but the Bible and Christian books. In fact, I didn’t read any atheist books until years later. Which means I deconverted completely on my own.
All I did was imagine the atheist perspective and I came up with all sorts of questions I’d never thought of before:
- Isn’t it a contradiction to say we’re born guilty?
- Why bother praying if God has a master plan?
- What’s so great about blind obedience?
- Why do the 10 commandments seem so primitive?
- How can a loving god punish good people so viciously?
- Why doesn’t God perform big miracles anymore?
- Why doesn’t God appear to people anymore?
- What would I believe if I had been born elsewhere?
- Why is God’s word so poorly organized?
- How can a loving God threaten his children with torture?
And dozens more. I looked for answers in Christian books, but most of them didn’t even address these questions. I also asked family members and people at church, but it was obvious they’d never seriously considered these questions. In fact, they seemed to be making up their answers on the spot, and their answers usually missed the point of the question anyway.
One day my pastor said something I’ll never forget: “You have to have faith.” I know, it seems pretty obvious, right? All Christians ever talk about is faith. But what I realized is that faith is all they have.
Once you point out all the problems with their philosophical arguments and supposed historical evidence, they always fall back to faith. “You just have to believe and trust God,” my pastor said. “Someday he’ll give you all the answers, but for now you have to have faith.”
Suddenly my plan to lead atheists to God using evidence was ruined. Why? Because there is no evidence. Sure, there are countless reasons why people believe in god, but none of them involve reliable evidence that other people can verify. In fact, there’s more evidence for aliens than for Christianity. So if you want to be a Christian, you just have to set aside your doubts and believe.
But that raised a new question: How did I know my beliefs were true? Normally when you’re not sure if something is true, you can do your research and find out. But when it comes to religion, you can research it everyday for the rest of your life and never come any closer to finding out whether it’s true. All you can do is have faith.
So how did I know my faith was in the right religion? I didn’t. I remember the moment I realized that. I was driving to work, and it made me so sick to my stomach that I almost pulled over. Up until that moment, I would have happily said, “I know Christianity is true.” But now my honest answer was, “I don’t know if Christianity is true.”
Once I acknowledged the possibility that Christianity was just another made up religion, I began to see more and more problems with it. Pretty soon, the stories of Yahweh seemed about as plausible as the stories of Greek gods. And the life of Jesus seemed about as realistic as the life of Muhammad. How could I go on dedicating my life to something that might not even be true?
It’s one thing to have strange beliefs. Lots of people believe in things like Bigfoot, aliens, and the Lochness monster, and most of these people will acknowledge that they could be wrong, but they’re fine with that because they’re not basing their lives on these beliefs.
But with Christianity, everything hinges on it: how you look at the world, how you treat your spouse, how you raise your children, how you decide what’s right and wrong, how you spend your Sundays, and so forth. Christians are even counting on their beliefs to be true so they can escape death itself.
How could I let Christianity dictate my entire life and hopes for the future if I didn’t even know if it was true?
“You have to have faith.”
That answer just didn’t work for me anymore. I didn’t–and still don’t–know how to base my life on something that could be completely made up.
At some point, I forgot all about my plan to convert atheists to Christianity. At first I kept reading Christian books in hopes that I would stumble upon better answers to my questions, but the more I read these books the more certain I felt they were wrong. Eventually I quit reading Christian books altogether. It was too depressing.
Over the next two years, my faith in God and the Bible continued to fade away. There were a couple times when I got emotional and rededicated my life to Christ, but it never lasted long. Sometimes I begged God to strengthen my faith, but he never did, and that only made my faith weaker. Eventually, I just didn’t believe in god anymore.
I still thought god was one possible explanation for the origin of the universe, life, and consciousness. But I also knew there could be other explanations, perhaps ones nobody had even thought of yet. So until somebody could prove the god hypothesis, I wasn’t going to believe it. And that’s how I became an atheist.
The reason I’m sharing this is to offer myself as an example of someone who set aside his biases, investigated the claims of Christians as objectively as possible, and came to the conclusion that there is no good evidence for the existence of God or the historicity of the Bible. Ultimately, you have to have faith. And if Christianity requires faith, then it’s no more valid than any other religion.
To the Christians reading this, I know some of you probably skeptical. You might think I was never a true Christian or that I’m suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Go ahead. All I can do is share my experience. You don’t have to believe me.
But I want you to do something: Stop assuming you’re right and at least consider the possibility that you could be wrong. Stop being so arrogant as to think you have it all figured out, and have a little humility. When you go to church, study the Bible, or read a Christian book, don’t enthusiastically agree with everything you hear and read. Instead, just think about it. Be as critical of Christianity as you would be of any other religion. If your beliefs are true, then you have nothing to be afraid of.