The Slow Road to Reason

As a new contributor to this website, it is my turn to share my path away from theism. However, my story is somewhat less striking than those of most of the other posters here. Rather than a severe 180 from fervent fundamentalism, my story is less one of a titanic struggle to retain faith in the face of lost innocence, and more one of a slow, plodding slog from mainline Protestant theology to where I am now.

Like most children raised in a small town in the Southeast US, I initially became a Christian not due to a strong indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but rather because my family were Christians, my friends were Christian; heck, even my enemies were Christian (except for that one Thai kid; man, did I hate that kid). You couldn't swing a stick without hitting a pastor of some sort, and the most exotic game in town was the small Catholic church. My family were members of the local Methodist church, which was perhaps the most liberal church in town, but my parents did not attend. I did go to services and Sunday school from time to time with my grandmother, but I was not baptized as an infant because my mother wanted me to wait until I was old enough to make the decision myself. When I was seven, my family sent me to an evangelical summer camp. While there, my bunkmates began asking each other when they were "saved". Now, I was seven, in a church that did not emphasize a single moment of "saving". So, when I was asked, I said "what is saved?" At that moment, my bunkmates ran out and grabbed two of the counselors, who told me that I had to be saved right now, or else my eternal soul was in immediate danger. So, I gave myself to Jesus and asked to be saved. The counselors made a big deal out of it, and I will be honest, I had a serious emotional response (goosebumps, crying, the whole shebang). From that time on, I was "saved".

When I was a bit older, I began going to church every weekend. I joined the choir, and I began attending an adult Sunday school class taught by the pastor. I truly enjoyed this time, as I was involved in what was (at least for me) serious theological discussions. However, this is also when I was introduced to the truly difficult problems in standard Christian theology; the Problem of Evil, the incompatibility of infallible foreknowledge with libertarian free will, the internal and external inconsistencies of the Bible, etc. Most people were able to accept the usual answers of mystery and faith, but I remained unsatisfied. However, I was fully convinced that Christian theology could answer these questions if I just contemplated and looked for the answers.

I continued to struggle with these problems within Christianity until I was in my second year of college. I toyed with various ideas, from Calvinism to the idea of a God who is only omniscient about the past and present, but does not have perfect knowledge of the future. I read various theological solutions proposed to these problems; however, the answers usually created as many problems as they solved, not only logical and theological, but moral as well.

My first real experience with fundamentalism came when I was sixteen. My very serious girlfriend was a member of a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church. I attended church with her several times, and was apalled by the shallowness of the theology and the presentation of the religion. I discussed the major problems with various congregation members and the pastor, and the answer was always more faith. Not more knowledge, not more understanding, just more "shut up and clap harder." The deception from the pulpit, that Christianity offers trivial answers to difficult problems, invoked a physical disgust in me. I never toyed with the idea of joining fundamentalism again.

In college, I pursued a religious studies minor at the state's major public university. By this time, I was becoming more disillusioned with organized Christianity, but was still convinced that God did exist and that the Christian religion served as a good basic blueprint to him (although I had also pretty much concluded that Paul was a total ass). During my studies of comparative religion, I became what could be described as a Hindu Universalist or Inclusive Universalist; that is, I believed that many or all religions had some truth and some error in it, and each served as a separate but valid pathway to God. While this approach left God as a mystery, it still supported the search for God as a valid and worthy pursuit, and I pursued it, with Christianity as my main "path" due to my attraction to much of Jesus' teachings and my knowledge of the religion.

Eventually, I slowly lost the last kernels of my faith that a God exists, ceasing to self-identify as a deist about three years ago. The reason was quite simple; in all my searching through theology, not only of Christianity but other religions, I saw no reliable evidence of God. I saw lots of people saying God existed, but little evidence. Now this, in and of itself, is excusable in a religion. However, religion had also comitted what was, to me, the final mortal sin; it ceased doing anything for me. Religion had ceased being a comfort, but had at least been an interesting question. However, in the end, the only questions religion addresses are those to which it has no reliable, definite answers, just more opinions that have no greater basis than secular opinions.

I now self-identify as a weak agnostic/weak atheist. I do not claim to know if a God exists; however, I will not believe in one without evidence. If a person claims with no evidence that he knows the nature of God, I can state with confidence that he is probably wrong due solely to the laws of chance. However, I hold no opinion regarding theism/deism in general. I have lived happily this way for years, and I can confidently say that I am no less moral and no less happy than when I was a theist.

Unlike many excellent posters here, I am not nor have ever been a professional theologist or philosopher. I am a scientist by training and profession. As such, I may have a different style than others here. I became involved in the theist/non-theist debates during the height of the social and political push for creationism to be taught in the public school system that occurred a couple of years ago. Before that time, I was a quiet atheist; I thought that other people should wrestle with their faith without my input. However, during the social and political movement that was ID creationism, I realized that well-meaning people are very happy to lie, cheat, misrepresent evidence, and twist people's words to do what they felt was the "Will of God". So long as theists were willing to lie to subvert science, I was unwilling to "live and let live." So, I began speaking out against creationism, which led to speaking about why I was not a fundamentalist, which has now led to speaking about rationalism and free-thinking. I hope that I am able to add constructively to the discussion, and look forward to interacting with those here who honestly seek the truth.