How Christianity Disintegrated Right in Front of Me

While I was in seminary!

When I was growing up, missing church on Sunday was unthinkable. My mother was devout, and this had a major impact on my world view. But she was gifted with intense curiosity—born and raised in Indiana, she had somehow escaped being a fundamentalist—and was a voracious reader. When I was a teenager, she bought the 12-Volume Interpreter’s Bible, a product of liberal Protestant scholarship. Because I read the scriptures with this kind of guidance, taking the Bible literally wasn’t something I was coached to do. But doubting the existence of God wasn’t on the horizon for me at that time. My mother allowed me to take the Interpreter’s Bible with me to college, and during those four years my interest intensified: I decided the ministry ought to be my career.
But there was another subject that intrigued me as a teenager: the night sky, which I found so fascinating. We lived on the very flat northern Indiana prairie, about eighty miles south of Chicago. The night sky, with only a little light pollution (a faint glow from Chicago), was crystal clear and spectacular. How could anyone not wonder: what is out there? This question, in fact, would come to haunt my theology a few years later. 
After college, off I went to the Boston University School of Theology, with the ministry in my sights…for a while. It eventually dawned on me that a better career would be teaching Bible at the college level, so getting a PhD in Biblical Studies soon became my goal. But I still went through with ordination in the Methodist Church, and served as minister of two parishes while I plowed through the PhD work. 
The Disintegration of Faith
Swiss theologian Karl Barth was at the height of his fame and reputation at the time. Over a thirty-five-year period he had written a gigantic multi-volume theological treatise, titled Church Dogmatics. So of course, Barth’s work was one focus of our study. Yet my theology professor had a sense of humor, and one day remarked, “No one knows 8,000 pages about God—not even in German.” For me, this was a full-stop moment. Yes, it was a funny thing to say, but I had to wonder: How does anyone know just one page about God? We hold dear our religious traditions taught us, as we do our cherished assumptions/feelings about God. We hold dear the many ideas about God based on ancient writings, i.e., the Bible. 
But what do we/can we actually know about God? That is, where do we find reliable, verifiable, objective data about God? 
So that problem had dawned on me even in seminary. And at the same time, the question that fascinated me as a teenager as I looked at the night sky, “What is out there?” resurfaced in another way, “Who is out there?”  I don’t know if, at the time, I had fully absorbed the impact Edwin Hubble’s discovery in the 1920s that there are billions of galaxies beyond our own. I did know that our own galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars, so isn’t it possible there could be   civilizations out there that have been studying/researching cosmic origins far longer than humans have been? I put my thoughts down in an essay that I wrote—not for any course—but just to help clarify my own thinking. 
I titled the essay, On the Improbability of God. I was in seminary—how could I do that? But the main point I made was that all human theologies, all of our speculations and guesswork about god(s), have been made in total, absolute isolation, on one small planet that could well be described as lost in space. How wonderful it would be if we could compare notes with other thinkers out there. What were their conclusions/opinions about god(s)? What had they discovered about cosmic origins? I showed my essay to a devout classmate, and his primary response was that I was hung-up on astronomyWhat? No: I was hung-up on what astronomy had revealed, and on the implications of our total isolation in the cosmos: how does that affect our confident conclusions about God? Where/how would we find the data to write even one page about God?
Another of my professors posed the question, “What is the value of a forty-day resurrection?” Don’t forget: this was a liberal Protestant seminary, so tough questions were encouraged. He was referring to the story of Jesus ascending to heaven in Acts 1 forty days after his resurrection. He knew that the account of Jesus floating away above the clouds, to sit down next to his father-god’s throne, could not possibly be true. It was fantasy, based on the ancient idea that the heavenly realm existed above the clouds and below the moon. 
There is strong emphasis in the gospels on the body of Jesus coming alive again, e.g., the story of Doubting Thomas in John, and the newly-alive holy hero dining with disciples in the Emmaus story in Luke—and eating breakfast with the disciples in John 21. My professor was actually ridiculing the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. Since the newly-alive body of Jesus could not have floated away into space, he must have died again. The professor was challenging us to think: Why bother to believe in a forty-day resurrection if that happened? Just as the risen Lazarus died again, and the crowd of people who, according to Matthew, came alive in their tombs the moment Jesus died, and toured Jerusalem on Easter morning—they too died again. Actually, by sending Jesus up beyond the clouds, the New Testament indulges in a cover-up: it doesn’t tell us what actually happened to Jesus at the end, because theological imagination had to preserve the Christian myth of their dying-and-rising god. (See Richard Carrier’s 2018 essay describing eleven other ancient dying-and-rising god cults.) While I was in college, I had written a 57-page paper, The Legend of the Virgin Conception in the New Testament, for a religion course. Based on my study of the writings of many New Testament scholars, my conclusion was that this concept was borrowed from other ancient cults: it had been added to the Jesus story to enhance his status. 
It had become clear to me that the beginning and the end of his story were both contrived, phony. I realized there is too much superstition and magical thinking in all of this. Thus was my faith punctured as my seminary experience moved along. 
I was trying to hold on to some concept of god, and theologian Paul Tillich’s claim that “God is the ground of all being” was something to hold on to. 
But even if it had been possible to retain belief in a creator god responsible for billions of stars and galaxies, how likely is it that such a god enjoyed human praise, fawning, and flattery? For me, leading worship services became an ordeal. Worshippers on Sunday morning would perhaps have been curious about identifying their god as “the ground of all being.” But they knew him as “The Man Upstairs”—why not, he was literally their father? —and they came to Sunday services to beg favors and sing songs to him. 
By the time I had finished my PhD program, my belief in god had vanished. I gave up my ordination, and left the ministry. I was able to engineer an escape. My hopes for a teaching career had vanished too, since I had published nothing while I pastored two churches: my résumé brought no responses. With one major false start (namely, selling life insurance, which I hated more than the ministry), I landed in a human resources-related field. The last seventeen years of my business career, I was the director of an association of career coaches. So I had ended up in a helping profession. 
But the problems that plagued the Christian faith were never far from my mind, and continued to bug me. After my retirement in early 2014, I began working on my book that was published in 2016, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith. A couple of years ago, I transferred this book to another published, Tim Sledge, of Insighting Growth Publications. We are in the process of splitting it into several manageable volumes. The 2016 version was published without a bibliography—I had to yield to the publisher’s objection that the book was already too long. But that turned out to be a good thing. Why not put the bibliography online? Thus the Cure-for-Christianity Library was born, and I have added new titles as they have appeared over the years. There are now more than 500 titles in this collection. Not all have been written by atheists, but the falsification of theism, Christianity especially, is the focus.  
Not long after the publication of the 2016 book, John W. Loftus invited me to write for his Debunking Christian Blog, and I gladly accepted. I developed the practice of publishing an article here every Friday, and my 400th article appeared recently. I post the link to the articles on Facebook, Twitter, and recently on LinkedIn as well. 
But there is one thing that I don’t do.  
I never go onto Christian blogs or websites (or those of any other religion) to advocate atheism. Forgive me for being old-fashioned, but in my opinion, to do so would be bad manners. I have compared it to walking into a church on Sunday morning, striding down the aisle, and picking an argument with the preacher. Bad manners. I would not be wanted or welcome there. When Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness missionaries knock on doors to preach and pester, it’s the same thing: Bad manners
But it’s no surprise that Christian apologists come onto the Debunking Christianity Blog to promote their belief in Jesus, to somehow find fault with the many sound arguments against the existence of god(s). They are in denial mode: how dare we challenge the truths revealed—so they claim—by their deity? Commonly their minds are locked onto the god-concepts they learned as they grew up, and which must be defended at all costs: getting to heaven depends on it.
One recent troll, a determined, devout Catholic, could not wrap his mind around a few of the most basic flaws in Christian theology. His first response was to my article explaining, in detail, why none of the Jesus-script in the gospels can be verified. He wrote, “Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—that’s obvious.” For several reasons, it’s not obvious at all. It’s hardly a surprise that these folks are scolded by followers of this blog. They have been called village idiots and morons! But come on, what do they expect? Anyone who still holds fast to an ancient superstition about a human sacrifice to save sinners from divine wrath, and advances supposedly clever arguments in its favor, cannot expect a warm reception here. 
Nevertheless, the Debunking Christianity Blog is an appropriate forum for debating Christian apologists. John Loftus has published articles here written by apologists, so that we can take a close look at their arguments. And Loftus does a good job blasting their arguments out of the water. 
After all, this is the 21st Century, and we still have no idea what other thinkers out there in the galaxy have discovered about Cosmic origins. In our total isolation, the wild guesses and wishful thinking about god(s) no longer are worth the trouble.   
David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here