I was born in March of 1978 to a young Christian couple. My dad was a divinity student at a Bible college in San Jose and my mother was on medical leave, herself a student. I was raised in a very conservative Christian family. My dad was a minister and my mother was a housewife and music leader for our Church. When we were growing up, like many other Christian families, we were taught never to question the faith. Religion was never considered a matter of reasoning or logic but we were taught to believe it based on authority; religion was not something that was backed up by historical or any other kind of scientific evidence or any sort, but rather, it was true because my dad said so.
I was first baptized at 13. I really didn't have a deep grasp at what being a Christian was all about. It wasn't so much that I really understood what Christians described as a "relationship" with Jesus Christ. Rather, I had convinced myself that I committed a sexual sin and sought relief from the guilt it created. Some time after I was baptized, I backslid for a year or so. In the summer of 1992, my dad moved our family to San Francisco. My dad was the only pastor at a First Christian Church and the Board of Trustrees had decided to prepare a house they owned next door to be a parsonage for my family. My mother didn't want to go but my dad wouldn't hear of it. After much arguing my dad moved us over there, having put his foot down.
My dad decided to enroll my brother Dan and myself in a private Christian high school. I recall meeting an English teacher who was a committed Christian. Impressed by his character, I decided to devote my life to Jesus Christ. This time I wanted a relationship with Jesus. Things went well for some time. But soon enough I began to have doubts. How did I know Christianity was really true? I believed it wholeheartedly but I began asking myself how did I know it was true, though? What got me to question it, I am not sure but I did. And the doubts crept in, especially when I once heard a guest speaker at my high school give a talk. Did I handle my doubts in a calm, rational, and objective manner? Far from it! I hit the panic button! I recall the first time I ever had doubts, rather than try to rationally analyze them and treat it as a problem to be solved, I tried a silly superstitous ritual to revitalize my faith. It worked and I was able to stave off doubts for some time. But, like a pesky poltergeist, they would return.
I never really talked to my dad about doubts I had or trials I seemed to go through. He seemed to get rather angry that I would even doubt or question the faith. I recall one time I asked a very innocent question to my dad. I was fascinated with theology and asked him a simple question because I thought he was the best resource. My dad could've replied "That's an interesting question, Matt. I never really studied that a lot. Tell you what-why don't you go down to the library or a Christian bookstore and see if there are any books on the subject?" His actual response was in angry frustration: "I don't know and to tell you the truth, I am not really worried about it!" Offended by such a response I recall saying "Geez..you're a grouch!" "You have no right to call me that!!!" he yelled, snapping back at me. I recall leaving the living room thinking what a jerk he was.
After this and similar experiences I decided not to go to my dad for help. I couldn't go to my mother because she would simply refer me to my dad and it seemed like every time I had a problem or trial in my life my dad would make me feel very guilty or stupid for letting a problem "get to me". As far as my religious problems went, I knew I was on my own. Sometime after my freshman year, I became interested in "apologetics". Apologetics is the art of defending the Christian faith. Now, one might assume that I would simply go to the nearest Christian bookstore and stock up on Josh McDowell, Paul Little, and other Christian apologists, right? Well, not exactly.
Inspired by a television show, I decided to manufacture my own proofs of God's existence. All from the Bible! What a naive young teenager I was! When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I decided to test my "proofs" out on my history teacher. You can imagine the expression on my face when he saw right through them! But problems got worse. That year marked my first deep exposure to the theory of evolution beyond a mention of it in a history book from my freshman year. I recall reading my dad's college biology textbook on the "evidence" for evolution and I recall reading the first chapter of Romans and about how men exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and creatures. Somehow I just knew Romans was right but I had no clue how to explain the "evidence" for evolution.
About a week before Thanksgiving of my sophomore year, I was jumped at the public high school I had been going to. The administrators at Galileo High couldn't assure my parents that I would be safe from the gang-related activity so I was withdrawn. My parents decided to homeschool me. That proved to be a mistake as well. By that time I had gotten interested in apologetics. My dad decided to try to talk me out of it. According to my dad, instead of being interested in apologetics, I should think about becoming an inventor. That way I could make a lot of money. But I wasn't interested in making any money at that time. I was only 15-16 for Pete's sake! I wasn't going to make up for what I later thought was my dad's or grampa's lost dreams of being rich and very wealthy. Yet my dad thought that Christians should be trying to make a lot of money and preach Christ crucified to their friends.
My dad didn't like the thought of apologetics very much. My dad thought that a good testimonial of the joy that Jesus gives someone should be more than sufficient proof that Christianity was true. My dad expected us to believe the faith was true mostly because of his testimonial ( the irony, of course, was that my dad was just as often grumpy and grouchy as he was joyful as I was growing up). But there was something odd about testimonials. I couldn't put my finger on it right then and there but there was something fishy about it. I would learn a short time later that many different religions as well as atheism, pantheism, deism, and agnosticism had glowing testimonials and using glowing testimonials to argue for Christianity was special pleading at best. Never-the-less my dad believed that a testimonial was the only correct proof that anyone could need or want that the faith is true. My dad just couldn't see how anyone who was not a Christian, after meeting him, could not want to become one.
That Christmas, I got McDowell's tome Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Here was the miracle tylenol that I needed to quench my doubts! I recall devouring the chapters on the historical reliability of the Bible and the chapter on fulfilled prophecy. So impressed with this book, I decided to write to the ministry and express my struggles with evolution. I was sent a book by McDowell on the subject of evolution (yes, the very one that Glenn Morton had ghost-written the section on evolution for!) I had at this time became fascinated with "creation-science" and started odering books from the Institute for Creation-Research and The Bible-Science Association, if I recall correctly.
It was at this time that my dad was considering moving out of the city. My mother was happy because we had a family meeting and my dad was strongly considering it, especially after he had played a game of basketball with my younger brother Dan in the backyard. Everything was going pretty good it seemed. Or so I thought.
I don't know what it was but my dad made some decisions that he didn't explain to us. My dad thought that it was a mistake to take me out of public school and so the next year, I learned, I would be going back to public school and he decided that we were not moving out of the city. My dad not only didn't expain it to us ( he felt he didn't need to explain his decisions; we just had accept them without question) but his personality seemed to take a turn for the worst. Over the next couple of years my dad seemed to become more grumpy and much more domineering. He fancied himself the unquestionable father figure.
I recall going to Pt. Magu naval base (near Santa Barbara, California) to visit my uncle Bruce and his family. When I went there, my grandmother made me a grandiose offer; she offered for me to go up to Oregon and stay there and even go to a Christian high school. As much as I loved the opportunity I turned it down. My dad wouldn't even hear about it. I just knew it. My dad wouldn't even discuss it, wouldn't hear of it, just put his hand up and look the other way.
Soon enough I found myself back in high school. I went to Arroyo High school in San Lorenzo. I was determined this time to get straight A's. I tried and I tried but I barely got above C's or B's. I tried my hardest but I felt that my hardest was far from good. I couldn't go to my dad for help because I felt that he would get angry. I didn't even want to go for help. I had this stigma of going to help for my studies. I felt that the only proper way to learn anything was to do it all by yourself without anyone's help whatsoever. Help was the whimp's way out. It was a complete academic cop-out. It was my responsibility and mine alone to get good grades without anyone's help.
I never achieved academic excellence. Nor did I ever meet my dream girl. Throughout junior high and high school, as far as I could tell, I always wanted a girlfriend. All the other kids seemed to have a romantic partner, including Christian kids, so why not me? Why shouldn't I be privy to the same kinds of blessings as other kids? I recall sitting in a chemistry class at Arroyo and looking at the girl, Heather, sitting behind me. It dawned on me that no girl would ever like me, especially not in high school. My junior year of high school was the year of hell for me. However, my senior year of high school wasn't so bad. In fact, it was much better! I not only finally made honors but I decided to dress differently, to try to fit in. I thought that if I dressed like my brother Dan, I was bound to get a girlfriend. So I dressed like my brother. All the girls seemed to adore him. The girls thought he was so cute. I so envied him. I graduated from high school with honors that semester. Everything seemed to be going well except that Mrs. Right never came along. What happened?
In my freshman year of college, I encountered a different atmosphere. I joined the Los Positas College Republicans and became the treasurer. It was going good for a year. I managed to do well, but not quite honor material. Still the girl of my dreams didn't show up. I managed to do well until the next fall. My whole life then fell apart. I was feeling more lonely than ever. I decided to stop dressing like my brother because I wasn't fooling anyone and I wasn't being myself. I decided to go back to being nerd-boy.
It was in the fall on my sophomore year that I fell swoop into deep clinical depression. I recall taking a chemistry class and I became very suicidal. All I could think of was my dream girl. It wasn't fair. I was missing out on so much! So I ended up withdrawing from all my classes. When I finally told my dad he exploded. I enrolled back into my college but it wasn't the same. I tried to ward off depression as much as I could but my emptiness consumed me. I was still very deeply depressed. At that time something interesting happened. I had ordered a book by a Christian astronomer who argued that the universe was very old. I read this book and became persuaded that the universe was indeed ancient and so I became a progressive creationist. I even recall a fellow Christian trying to persuade me to become a young-earther again. Didn't happen though. Then came graduation day. A girl in the Christian club named Eunice graduated with highest honors. What the hell?! That was no fair! She is as happy as can be and a straigh A student while I was a miserable and a mediocre student.
I pretended to be happy for my graduation but I was feeling miserable. I couldn't see the fairness in any of this. I didn't go to a university that fall. My father suggested that I take a year off from school because my parents reasoned I was feeling burnt. Well not really. I was depressed because of some stingy deity who was playing favorites with people and tormenting others purely for the hell of it.
It was after my graduation that my family moved from San Francisco to Manteca. My dad got so sick of my mother's griping and about how miserable she was in the city that he resigned from the ministry and my family moved. I was so happy to leave that Church. I started attending a contemporary Church in Manteca, called "Calvary Community". I decided to seek Church counseling for my depression. Who knows? Maybe I would even meet a lovely Christian girl there.
First I went to the worship service with my parents and then to my parents' Church-of-Christ. Soon after, I went to Calvary exclusively. I became friendly with the worship team there and some of the pastors over time. They got a new pastor there named Dan. He was a great guy, someone you could really laugh with. I recall discovering at that time the websites that attacked "creation-science" and so I wondered if there were any that attacked the Christian faith. I decided to go through the google search engine and found a site attacking biblical inerrancy by a former Christian named Fred.
Upset by this, I went out to Barnes and Nobles near where I worked, and purchased Gleason Archer's book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. I challenged the skeptic to a debate. I was so cocky-sounding and determined to make a fool of this atheist. I found out that Archer had made a mistake and I found myself apologizing to this skeptic for my rude behavior and feeling that I had my clock cleaned, I didn't want to debate any further. He was grateful for my apology and told me not to feel so bad.
My depression didn't lift at all. In fact, it grew worse if anything. I was feeling constantly suicidal. No amount of counseling helped me. Around this time I went to look for more sophisticated apologetics. I don't recall how but I soon hit upon the Secular Web. I found Jeffrey Jay Lowder's anthology debunking McDowell's book. I decided to take a second look at McDowell's book and I was shocked to discover many errors and logical fallacies I didn't see addressed on the "Jury is In". Soon enough I began to realize that Christian apologetics was falling apart. Not only was McDowell's book shot through with errors but the progressive-creationist books were flawed as well. It was at this time I began having serious doubts. I read some blistering essays by Robert M Price. He wrote a kick-ass review of Bill Craig's book, which he entitled "By This Time He Stinketh". I was troubled by what Price and others wrote. I recall reading that a narrative or two in the Bible was not in the earliest manuscripts. This troubled me. If stories such as Jesus and the women caught in adultery were not in the earliest manuscripts, what was? What might be in the earliest manuscripts that might not have been in the original autographs? If these stories were added to subsequent generations of manuscripts, then that meant one thing: the Bible had been tampered with. I began wondering if the Bible was tampered with on these points and if it was..what else had been tampered with? On top of deep depression I began to wonder if the faith really was true.
I was attending a college youth group at the time. I told a youth minister named John Hoppis that I was considering taking a leave of absence to tackle my questions. John persuaded me to stay and share my concerns to the youth group. I guess I was expecting a warm and understanding atmosphere. What I got instead was an judgemental and icy reception. When I went there, I encountered a self-righteous jerk named Jason Wallenberg who attended the group with his girlfriend Liz. I explained my doubts and Jason tried to argue a confession out of me that I was looking for reasons to be self-serving. What the hell??? Another guy named Mike Mercer tried to help me but was utterly clueless. While I loathed Jason for his self-righteousness, I thought Mike was well-meaning but a moron. I tried explaining my intellectual doubts to him but he thought that the reason I had doubts was because I was not doing daily devotionals with prayer! Presto! That was it! I just wasn't pronouncing "Abbra-Ca-Dabbra" correctly or snapping my fingers as I was doing it! It was so simple, wasn't it Mike? All I had to do was click my heels three times while chanting "There's no place like home, there's no place like home!"
The solution was ludicrous! Why would I continue to pray and read the Bible when I wasn't so convinced that the Bible was God's word after all? What the hell kind of stupid solution was that? I wasn't going to continue praying or reading the Bible until I found out why on earth should I even believe it was God's word. I wasn't going to pray or read it until I knew what historical evidence existed to back up the faith's claims! I wasn't going to pray or do devotionals until every contradiction or error was solved to my satisfaction! I wish I had discontinued to go there. Hell, I wish I had began reading the Bible more closely and critically. I would've noticed the contradictions and errors earier and I would've left the faith earlier. But, no, like a fool I stayed.
I began to realize that most Christian apologetics had very little substance to it. I found that the last reasonable reconciliation of Genesis with science was the Days of Proclamation theory, championed by Alan Hayward and Glenn Morton. This theory stated that each day of Genesis was literal but was a day of proclamation or fiat. Thus we have a literal creation week followed by billions of years of astronomical, geological, and biological evolution which fulfilled the creative proclamations of Genesis! The flood of Genesis, I came to conclude, was a local flood and the Garden of Eden was where the Mediterranean Sea now was. It made so much sense now!
I came to the conclusion that Christian apologetics was in need of deep reform. It was around this time that I became aware of the Skeptical Review and the SkepticsAnnotatedBible. But I only read critiques of the Skeptical Review, never really read many of the articles themselves. As for my depression, it was still there. I was still deeply depressed and still to a large extent suicidal. I recall once deciding to end my life. I looked up a gun store in the Yellow Pages and found one on Yosemite Ave. I started down there. My plan was to find out how much a 45 semi-automatic handgun cost. I would then go to Bank of America and withdraw the necessary funds from the ATM.
As I was going down there, I noticed the family car pulling up and my dad asked me if he could give me a ride somewhere. I couldn't tell him I was going to blow my brains out. Knowing a Bank of America was near, I told him that I was going there to get a withdraw. He showed me a B-of-A machine nearer to our house. It amazed me how close I came to ending it all that day. Now my dad wasn't expecting to find me there nor did he know of my plans. In fact, it was purely coincidental that he pulled up to where I was. I attributed the aborted plan to divine intervention and so I tried to get closer to God. I tried to pray to him. I tried harder and harder. Nothing seemed to work. I could be out on the backlawn trying to pray and it would be interruped because an ant would crawl on me.
I would be trying to pray in my room but at times I would encounter a cold, deafening silence. My faith was on very weak grounds. After having someone else's romance rubbed in my face, I would sometimes go into my room screaming at God "Why do you hate me?!?!?!" No answer. Just a stubborn silence. Near the summer and then the fall of 2002, I discovered Deism. I really liked it. A belief in a Creator based solely upon reason! Sounded absolutely delicious. But no. I knew better. The Christian faith was backed up by solid evidence. I printed out some essays online from a few Christian apologetics websites. I also had some debate books in which Bill Craig seemed to kick skeptics' asses on the resurrection.
I was absolutely miserable at this time. Like it or not, the Christian faith was backed up by historical evidence. No matter what pleasant, freethinking alternative was available, some Christian apologist be it William Craig or James Patrick Holding always had a rational rebuttal to it. At the end of the day, I was always left with the conclusion that the faith was true. I was miserable and I began to hate apologetics. I hated it to death! I was "stuck" with apologetics now matter how miserable trying to be a Christian made me. I loved Deism on the other hand. I recall a week or perhaps days before my deconversion thinking "I could be a Deist right now if the resurrection wasn't backed up by historical evidence!" I was infuriated. Sadly, no one knew of the deep turmoil I had inside. No one knew of the misery I faced deep inside.
I recall reading one anti-apologetics website that absolutely intrigued me. A skeptical historian named Richard Carrier noted that he wasn't going to be responding to an apologist, James Patrick Holding, whose arguments I was "stuck with". Apparently, Carrier explained:
"I see no need anymore to respond to Holding. His method is typically polemical, childish and disrespectful, he rarely comprehends anything I or any opponent says or means, and he has a nasty tendency to make wild, unsubstantiated claims about antiquity, and then, when he is called on it, deletes or alters his essays without notice, and modifies them to suit research he conducted only after his lack of research was pointed out.
"In this case, his argument against me is simply bizarre. He says that a story about a man who died and came back to life and founded a religion wherein believers went to eternal paradise has no parallel with Christianity. That is to engage in some pathetic special pleading, and I think it is patently absurd to any reasonable observer."
Carrier also noted:
"The rest of his points fall to the same objections: wild generalizations about antiquity that he does not back up with any scholarship, and which are seriously suspect to anyone familiar with the actual literature of the period; complete disregard for how my evidence actually relates to my point; misunderstanding of even the simplest things I said; and addressing details as if they refute my point when in fact they have nothing whatever to do with it."
I think it was because of this, I decided to give the Skeptical Review another look. A closer, deeper, honest look. I was amazed at what I read. The resurrection accounts contradicted each other, Jesus was supposed to be God, and yet Jesus was tempted despite the fact that James says God can't be tempted. I decided to take a closer look at how the Field of Blood got its name. The accounts contradicted each other. Finally, I decided to go to the Skeptical Review website. I read some debates that Farrell Till had with a Christian apologist who calls himself "James Patrick Holding". I thought Till had really hammered this apologist badly. Till demonstrated to my satisfaction that Jesus made an error in Mark 2:26 in reference to Abiathar being high priest when David went to Nob when it was his father Ahimelech was high priest.
I recall the last pieces of my faith evaporating in one night. I felt free. I had a crush on Deism so I decided to become a Deist. Within a day or so I felt that my depression had completely lifted. I had a newfound sense of confidence, a newfound sense of joy. Hell, my sense of humor even improved. I remember signing a manifesto for my deconversion stating that I had become a Deist. I was a freethinker and I loved reason.
This is not to say that I didn't have any second thoughts on the subject. On the contrary, I had several second thoughts. I found out that in a debate, Farrell Till had made a huge anachronistic mistake, especially arguing that guilt really did exist in biblical times (I consider this very unlikely given that the ancient Mediterranean was an honor-shame societ). This made me wonder if his arguments about Mark 2:26 were indeed mistaken. I recall having panicky sensations and made some dumb mistakes. I even recall if I gave up on the Mr. Turkel too easily ( I recall embarrassingly having expressed this on Till's discussion list and he got the misleading impression that I was pulling their legs the whole time about having deconverted). I eventually came to conclude that the only way I was going to resolve any remaining questions is if I became a Bible scholar. So I decided to do just that.
It's been four years since I deconverted. Since then, I have managed to stabilize myself. I have discovered what I believe to be several more errors and contradictions along the way, not to mention failed prophecies. The resurrection narratives contradict, the virgin birth narratives contradict, Peter's denail accounts contradict. Jesus made a mistake about men being with David. Yahweh's land promise failed and there never was an eternal kingdom for King David. As of today, I consider myself an atheist. I disbelieve that any gods exist and I consider myself an agnostic about the supernatural, generally speaking. I no longer have second thoughts. My second thoughts were just those and nothing more. It wasn't easy giving up on Christianity and the faint fear that I was going to go to Hell. I had second thoughts and there were nights I recall having cried myself to sleep begging Jesus to forgive me and take me back. However, the next morning I realized that I was still a Deist and still a skeptic. I was tormented by second and third thoughts.
Then came the point of no return! I recall reading a book on biblical inerrancy which was edited by Norman Geisler, called Inerrancy. I read an essay called "Higher Criticism and Biblical Inerrancy" by J Barton Payne. I read the following in a passage which took me aback:
"Put more concretely, until a scholar becomes willing to accept the lordship of Jesus Christ over his life and thought, it is futile to try to argue him out of Wellhausen's literary analysis of the Pentatauch, which, to the naturalistic mind set, is the only viable option" (pg. 111)
This struck me like a bolt of lightening! I thought to myself , Why does a scholar need to accept the lordship of Jesus Christ in order to be persuaded to abandon Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis in favor of the traditioanl Mosaic authorship? If the Pentatauch was written by Moses for the most part, then shouldn't historical evidence alone be enough to convince any scholar, regardless of where his/her religious commitments lie? Why does one have to be willing to accept the lordship of Jesus to be able to consider the traditional authorship claims? If the Bible was divinely inspired or if the traditional Evangelical claims about the Bible were correct, then shouldn't historical evidence by itself be enough to persuade a scholar to accept it? Why does one have to become a Christian first or be willing to accept the gospel? But reality came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks and I had a profound realization: Christian biblical apologetics is based on historico-grammatical method while Higher biblical criticism is based on the critical-historical method. The former presupposes biblical inerrancy while the latter presupposes that natural claims require natural forms of evidence and supernatural claims require supernatural forms of evidence. Higher biblical criticism didn't rule out the possibility of miracles or the supernatural, it rightfully demanded evidence of such in porportion to the strength and type of the claims made. You claim something supernatural happened, you need supenatural forms of evidence to back it up!
I recall after having read this chapter (as gross and appalling as it was to stomach such antireason and antiintellectual crap like this!) I went online and reread Price's essay "By This Time He Stinketh". What an eye-opener it was! It all made sense now! I clearly concieved of the difference between biblical apologetics and biblical criticism! The former supposes its conclusions first and looks for evidence to back it up, having already decided in advanced what is allowed to be true and what is not, while the latter started with the evidence and sought to follow it honestly, whereever it went! I decided that biblical criticism, based on the critical-historical method is the only intellectually honest way of approaching the biblical texts. If I was going to be a Bible scholar, I was going to devote myself to being an advocate of biblical criticism and a staunch defender of the critical-historical method. I devoted myself to just that. I had reached the point of no return and I walked confidently through the door. I could never go back to fundamentalism, never go back to Evangelical Christianity, and never go back to apologetics. I had entered the door and passed the point of no return!
The Religious Right needs informed opposition as well as Christian evangelists. Even if I was wrong and the Christian faith was true, I could never became a Christian again. Not after what I went through.
Am I happier now? Absolutely! Have I made some mistakes and errors of judgement? Sure. But I have realized that I am human and I must rely on my powers of reason. No personal deity loves me or will help me. It's up to me to love myself and love others. I can do so because I have discovered reason.