Journey of Faith

This is the story of my journey leaving the Christian faith. The process took years and was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. My hope is that by sharing my story, I can provide some understanding to those on the outside looking in. No matter what you believe, I’m glad you’re here, and I encourage you to read this with an open mind. Cheers.

I grew up in the Baptist church and was deeply religious from a young age. I read the Bible cover-to-cover when I was in eighth grade. I attended church or church meetings several times per week, occasionally teaching and mentoring in various capacities. I was genuinely seeking to learn about and serve and love my god. My family was religious, and, because I grew up in a suburb in the South, so was pretty much everyone I knew. Looking back on these years, I realize that, like so many other Christians, I had joined the faith without thoroughly and objectively examining the evidence for its teachings. I was influenced by the culture, friends, and family around me. I’ll get more into that in a bit. Regardless of how I came to Christianity, I was most definitely all in.

Some of my first doubts started to creep in during college while studying the Christian doctrine of election. Most of the pastors I had studied under or had been taught by were of the Reformed/Calvinistic school of thought which taught that we do not have free will and can only be saved from an eternity in hell if God chooses to save us. This doctrine was very popular in the groups I associated with and the theologians I was into, including John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler. As I studied that doctrine, I was devastated by the thought of billions of people on our planet dying and spending an eternity in hell without possessing the capacity for salvation. It was an idea that I knew I didn’t feel comfortable with, though several parts of scripture seemed to support it (eg. Romans 9:14-22).

As I contemplated this more, I realized that even if we do have free will, there are still billions of people on our planet who don’t believe in the Christian god due to their geography, culture, or education. Did they really deserve eternal damnation? The Christian response is typically that we do deserve it because we are sinners, but that still seemed like an unjust penalty, especially considering how impossible of a standard perfection is. I began to think that the whole idea of salvation based on belief seemed unfair. Could someone growing up in the slums of Pakistan really be expected to come to Jesus, even if they had heard the message once or twice? Does that person deserve eternal damnation in hell? It didn’t make much sense. I hadn’t asked myself this question too much in my life simply because I hardly knew ANY non-Christians. It had been easy to imagine non-Christians as simply a concept, not real people, “others”.

I knew, however, and was reminded by my Christian friends, that just because I didn’t like something about God, that didn’t make it untrue. So, I tried for a while to continue to be a good Christian and just chose not to worry too much about the things I didn’t understand. After all, God’s ways are higher than my ways. Isn’t is arrogant for me to try to understand them? Those are the things I told myself.

Several years passed, during which time I hardly thought about the questions I had grappled with before. In these years (around 2009-2014), I think I knew what I would find if I really studied my faith, but I was scared. I knew it might fall apart. Not consciously. I never let myself actually acknowledge this, but the fear was there, buried just below the surface. I knew that abandoning my deeply held religious beliefs would be a traumatic experience. My wife was Christian, my family was Christian, every one of my friends was Christian, even most of my coworkers were Christian. I knew, deep down, that, if I lost my faith, things would be different with my friends and family. In short, I just wasn’t ready to make that change yet. So, my brain kicked in its defense mechanism of cognitive dissonance and just pretended that there wasn’t a problem.

I’d like to stress that this struggle that went on in these years was not conscious. I didn’t sit down at night and think “I’m not ready to examine evidence for and against Christianity” or “I’m afraid of what I might discover”. I just evaded the difficult thoughts altogether, and instead just felt a vague uneasiness. All I knew was that there were things that I wasn’t addressing and that I’d probably have to confront them at some point.

After a few years of this, in late 2014, I finally decided it was time to address my doubts. At the time, I had been thinking a lot about intellectual integrity—the idea that we should be honest with ourselves, that we give due consideration to even the most unpleasant of thoughts. I began to view lying to myself as one of the worst forms of dishonesty. And I knew that, deep down, I had been lying to myself—that I wasn’t fully convinced that the Christian god existed or that he was concerned with me and my life. I also decided that knowledge is not something to be feared. Wherever the truth takes me is OK.

I think what was happening at this time is that I was starting to develop some principles of my own. Before this point, most of my guiding principles came from my religion. But these were new principles or morals, fundamental values that my conscience told me were important: I should not deceive myself to make myself believe. I should not fear truth. And I decided that even my religious beliefs should not be exempt from being filtered through these principles.

This was scary though, because I knew that wherever reason took me, I’d have to go. If I’m just following reason, I can’t choose what I believe.

My mind started opening up at this point to the possibility that God does not exist, something I’d never let myself think about before. I realized how odd it is that I’d never seen or heard him or experienced anything in my life that was definitively an act of God. It also seemed peculiar that demonstrable miracles don’t seem to occur. For example, has an amputee ever regrown a limb, or has a bone ever un-broken? The miracles I had heard about seemed to be explainable as coincidence or just things that we don’t understand.

Then I thought about the world and how much pain and suffering there is. The world is harsh, and events seem to be random and un-guided. Would an all-powerful, all-loving God sit by and watch human suffering unfold like this? I was also still troubled, after all these years, by the thought of God sending people to eternal torment for simply not believing in him. I also studied the Old Testament accounts of bloody conquest, concubines, and slavery. With these new eyes, the god of the Old Testament started to not seem like someone worthy of praise to me.

I also started to think about explanations for creation and the stories presented in Genesis. I came to believe in evolution and that the world is billions of years old. I was shocked by how much evidence exists for the theory of evolution—it isn’t shaky science as the apologetics books portray it. The Bible was starting to seem like it could be a man-made attempt to portray our origins. As I studied more of Genesis, I realized that the tower of Babel story is discounted by historical linguistics evidence regarding the spread of language, and there isn’t evidence of a worldwide flood as depicted in Genesis (though it does exist in other Mesopotamian legends). My faith in God was slowly starting to unravel.

An interesting aspect of “de-conversion” for people like me who were deeply religious is that we often feel the need to hide this process because we fear that our families and friends won’t understand. Such was the case with me, and for that reason, I didn’t include anyone on this journey that I was on. No need to prematurely worry anyone, right? In hindsight, I wonder if I should have been more up-front with my wife as I started to doubt. It was unfair to her for me to blindside her after I had come to my conclusions, which I’ll get to in a bit. Monica was working night shifts as a nurse, and my research consisted of me reading various books and blogs and sources on the internet using private browser sessions while she was away. I didn’t want people to even know I was googling about my doubts.

The final straw for me came as I started to research Biblical inerrancy. I had noticed several inconsistencies in the Bible through my study over the years, so I figured this was a good place to start. I figured that if the Bible had errors, then how could I fully trust anything in it? I began studying contradictions between the Bible and science, the Bible and archaeology and within the Bible itself. I was shocked at how quickly these started piling up as I researched. The Bible was starting to look to me more like a collection of man-made writings than a book written by a divine being.

At this point, I was experiencing a number of different emotions. I think since I had let my initial doubts stew for several years and hadn’t quite felt a full faith in that time, I had been subconsciously preparing for this moment. In some ways, I was already troubled by the fact that billions of people might be going to hell if the Bible were true, and finding that the Bible might not be divine would be a sort of relief. In other ways, this was my worst nightmare, and I was terrified of the difficult conversations and strained relationships that I knew would be waiting for me down the road should I abandon my faith. Also, since I wasn’t yet talking about my discoveries out in the open, I felt like a fraud. I was still praying out loud before meals, attending church, and nodding when someone said something religious, even though, internally, I was beginning to not believe in God. I was miserable.

Sometime around December of 2014, I had come to accept that I was an atheist. By that, all I mean is that I no longer believed that there was compelling evidence to justify a belief in a particular god or god in general. A common misconception is that atheism is a belief system or religion, or that it is a positive assertion: “there is no god”. In reality, it’s just me saying that I “lack a belief in a god” (per the dictionary). I wasn’t making any claim or asserting that I had any of the answers. That was freeing to me—I was able to admit that I wasn’t sure about god.

Actually that isn’t entirely true. I was able to admit this, but only to myself. I went about a month before I worked up the courage to tell Monica about my new beliefs, or lack thereof. I was scared to death of what the implications of my changing faith would be on my marriage. I was aware of all of the Christian teachings about not being yoked to an nonbeliever, and I knew how important faith was to Monica, since that had been an integral part of my life as well until only a couple months prior.

On New Years Eve, 2014, Monica and I watched the New Years ball drop while having a quiet night by ourselves in our living room. After midnight, we were sitting on the couch, and I can’t remember how it came up, but I decided to tell her that I didn’t believe in God. For some reason, I has assumed that she might not be utterly blindsided, since I had talked with her occasionally about doubts over the years. I was wrong. She was devastated.

The next several months were hell. Monica was in despair over my lack of belief, and I felt powerless to do anything. The best I felt like I could have done would have been to pretend to believe, and I didn’t think it would be right to do that. As a concession, I agreed to make a sincere effort to restore my faith. I started an apologetics book with a friend, and another on my own, met with three pastors and my Dad, attended an apologetics conference, and offered to continue attending church (though I can’t remember if we did during that time).

Over the course of a few months, Monica started to come to terms with the fact that I probably wasn’t going to change my mind, and the shock started to dissipate just a little bit. I slowly let some friends know about my faith change. Some, I still haven’t told. In truth, it’s tiring “coming out” to friends and family. I’m a people pleaser, and I don’t like feeling their disappointment. I also don’t like feeling misunderstood, which is sometimes the case.

Monica and I have reached a point now where we don’t talk much about faith, though we do occasionally. I know she misses that part of me and our relationship, and I regret that I can’t give it to her. At the same time, we are happy together, and I think we both believe there are more important aspects to our relationship than what we believe about God, and we are making it work.

I’m actually really happy, nowadays. It’s true that I don’t believe life has a pre-ordained purpose, but I know my purpose, which is mostly the same as it was before—to try to leave the world better than I found it. I don’t believe that I will live forever, but that’s OK. I also don’t believe anyone will be tormented forever. It’s a net positive to me. It can be a little scary sometimes feeling like there is no one in control, no higher power I can go to for help when I need it. Pretty much though, I’m the same person, and my life looks more-or-less like it always has.

Thank you for making it to the end of my long story. I appreciate you reading it and hope none of it came across as snarky or negative as these sorts of manifestos sometimes do. This story is very personal to me, so please use discretion when sharing it. I will probably take this page down in the near future.

-steve