My Path Out of Christianity

A Personal Project
About a year ago now, I began a major personal project. As a devout Christian husband and father of six children, I was unhappy with the "drifting" I had been doing. We had not attended church regularly for over three years at that point, and while we were still actively involved in a weekly small group/Bible study, my disillusionment with Evangelical Protestantism was such that while I remained committed to my belief in God and my faith in Jesus as my redeemer and savior, Christian faith tends to atrophy and even die when it is not connected to a the support systems of church and faith-based community, in my experience.

The "major personal project", then, was the rebuilding and fortification of my faith and beliefs in such a way that I could, along with my family, "swim the Tiber", and become committed, permanent members of the Roman Catholic Church. I embarked on the effort with some enthusiasm; while I still had some major issues to confront in order to become a Catholic, fully committed in good conscience, these issues seemed surmountable, and at the conclusion of this effort, I expected to begin RCIA with my family, and begin the happy process of settling into our new "spiritual home", where we belonged all along, as Catholic friends regularly reminded me.

I took a "first principles" approach, as a means for really doing the thinking and reasoning that would lay the foundation for decades to come as a faithful, enthusiastic and effective Catholic. For the first time ever, I think, I purposely put everything I believed on the table for review, and went to some length in making careful notes and comments in an MS Word Document and an Excel spreadsheet to keep things organized. My faith in God wasn't in question, but I "cleared the decks" as a kind of "provisional atheist", that I might clearly identify the grounding and basis for "non-negotiables" of my belief. The last thing I wanted was to lead a family move to the Catholic church, only to become a dissident there again, as I had become for so many parts of the Protestant faith and culture I lived in presently. More than anything, I wanted clarity about these issues that would stick.

My efforts quickly became a case study for the caution that one should be careful what one wishes for. I wished for clarity and durability in my beliefs about God and religion, and I got it (durability being tentative just a year in, of course). In forcing myself to do a tabula rasa accounting of what I believed and why, I ended up with undeniable clarity on two propositions: my 30+ years of Christian faith were predicated note on verifiable interaction with God and reasoned justification for the truth of the Bible, but instead 1) an (nearly) overwhelming desire for Christianity to be true in some form and 2) cowardice in confronting the prospects of unbelief in my life.

I had pages and pages of outline items documenting the usual historical (claims) of evidence for Jesus' divinity and the resurrection. I had the standard cadre of philosophical arguments in there - the Ontological Argument, The Transcendental Argument, the Cosmological Argument, etc. I had a list of the "miracles" and events in my life I believed represented supernatural intervention and interaction. One by one, though, all of these fell apart under skeptical, honest review. For instance, I had become concerned several years ago at the frankly pathetic state of Intellectual Evangelicalism. In discussing this with friends, they pointed me at C.S. Lewis and William Lane Craig. I was intimately familiar with Lewis, of course, who was the closest thing I had to an intellectual hero of the faith (Chesterton was appealing too, but not nearly in the way Lewis was).

Immersing myself in the books, articles, and debates of Craig, though, just exacerbated the problem. If Craig was even representative of Intellectual Christianity, never mind being one of its best examples, the situation was much worse than I had previously thought. Reading Bahnsen, Frame, Poythress, Plantinga and rest of the Reformed philosophers made the picture bleaker still, a kind of demon-apologetic wearing a cross, and carrying a Bible.

Provisional Agnosticism
Over several months I worked through philosophical and historical arguments from a new, hypothetical perspective. Rather than presupposing God, and synthesizing what I read and heard accordingly, I was now to a point where I began Craig's Reasonable Faith and Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus without extreme prejudice.

At that point, I was still a believer, but on the horns of a very serious dilemma. My project was backfiring, my "first principles" strategy aimed at shoring up my beliefs and convictions was seriously destabilizing them. If I continued, I understood the potential outcome, and the ramifications were quite troubling. If I aborted the effort, no one else would be the wiser, and I could return to my comfortable faith. But I would still know, and would have to live with the knowledge that I bailed out because of my fear, and an unwillingness to be fully honest and self-critical.

It seems "right for the story" to relate my struggle over that dilemma, and how I struggled over time to be deeply honest and transparent with myself and others about the justification and reasonableness of my faith. I did choose to pursue critical examination, the path of honesty, but as it happened, no sooner had I realized the dilemma I was facing, then it was over. I awoke in the middle of the night, and prowled the house through the rest of the night, agonized, exhilarated, shocked and in despair over facing the facts. I did not have a good basis for my beliefs, and the nature of my faith as an expression of my desires and my fears laid open to see, undeniable. I was a Christian because I was raised to be one, and I remained one because it's what I wanted. Moreover, I remained one because it seemed the only choice available in terms of my social connections and relationships. I was an evangelical homeschooler, deeply embedded in my church, thoroughly immersed in my faith, identified by it. I was a "godly man", and a good man because of my faith in God, which I was never shy about or ashamed to admit.

That night, with the realization of how motivated and determined I was, subconsciously or otherwise to tell my own story to myself and the world in terms of am active, powerful relationship with a living God, the creator of the universe, I for the first time faced the reality of God as a creature of my own invention. I "inherited" it in a way, being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, but I had made the illusion my own, and I now had no way to deny my own self-deception. God was God because that's the way I wanted the truth to be. I wanted to live forever. I wanted a neat clean way to resolve the problems of my immoral and unethical actions. I wanted an easy clear-cut basis for right and wrong. I wanted to think I was special, cosmically-special, just like all my Christian friends and family members. I wanted to think that all men will see judgment day, after death, as a way of relieving the despair of seeing evil triumph on earth, and as a way of abdicating my own personal responsibility to do my part to see justice served; God would fix everything in the end, so I could do what I managed or wanted to do, and sleep easy at night because God would make up any cosmic differences, and ultimately right all wrongs.

I read parts of the book of Job the next morning, which has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Rather than just man being used as cosmic chits in a bit of gamesmanship between God and Satan, I saw man creating God is his own image. I had a daughter die during delivery several years ago (so really, I should probably always say I have seven kids, with one that's dead to be fair and respectful to her), and though I didn't realize it until much later, it was a kind of "Jobian" experience for me. The anguish and pain of losing a child in the delivery room -- her heartbeat and vital signs were terrific at a doctor's checkup at 9am that very morning -- was powerful in reinforcing my conviction this was NOT the end, and that I would see my daughter again some day, beyond this life. It was the only right way for the world to be, and what a happy, hopeful thing to be a Christian, where I did have that very expectation and assurance! If I hadn't ever believed in God until that day, I suppose I would have been quite motivated to invent God, and his heaven, and the afterlife on my own, very much in the mode of Job declaring "And in my flesh I shall see God", out of sheer emotional rejection of the idea that death is final, and some losses are never recovered, some injustices are never set right.

The insight into the plausibility, and the reasonability of my decades of faith being accounted for as imagination, exaggeration and credulity borne of desire caused the full collapse of my faith. I no longer believed, and had achieved a broad, if excruciating, view of why my faith was unfounded and why I had embraced and promoted it still for so long. I knew that I could not prove to myself of anyone else that God did not exist, but I now had a reasonable basis for understanding not just the poverty of evidential arguments for Christianity and the disingenuous dishonesty of the various philosophical arguments for God, but also an explanation for my experiences, and my interpretations of the Holy Spirit and his perceived mediate influence in my life. I had arrived at atheism in my application of honesty, introspection, and fair appraisal of the evidence and issues involved.

I was an atheist.

Costs of De-conversion

My wife is a believer, and has been since before we were married. My family is fundamentalist Baptist. My social circles are dominated by my faith community. I have plenty of non-Christian colleagues and friends through work, but even years after "dropping out" of regular church attendance, my social peers remain members of our last church, and similar churches. We homeshool our children, and so a large part of our lives revolves around the activities of our homeschool co-op. As you might imagine, our homeschool group is a hotbed of religious zeal and fundamentalist/evangelical fervor.

My conclusion, then, or perhaps it's more accurate to say my discovery, was a terrifying one. In a way that is difficult to articulate, the discovery was profoundly relieving, a fact that attests, I think, the latent, subliminal anxieties and stresses that accumulate for thinking Christians and the inevitable cognitive dissonances they must bear. Maybe it captures something of the moment to say that felt supremely honest and open, the liberating effect of renouncing the "sin" of my self-deceptions and indulgences of desire and caprice. But the overriding reality at that point was, in fact, fear. I no longer believed in God, or in anything supernatural as far as I knew, but I very much believed in the value and preciousness of my marriage, and my relationship with my wife. I've been fortunate in many respects in my life, but nowhere so fortunate as I have been in finding and developing the relationship I have with my wife. I've since met a couple men who've confessed to me that they are "closet atheists" who go to church dutifully every Sunday, leading AWANA on Wed. night, and showing up regularly for men's Bible study on Monday evenings. For them, they simply see their atheism as a threat to that which matters most to them, their marriages.

It's easy from outside of that situation to sniff and snort and decry the dishonesty of that kind of "double life", and for what it's worth, it is dishonest, and in a way, quite cowardly. But having been in that same position, those men will find no condemnation or judgment from me. When push comes to shove, I can understand keeping my atheism tightly concealed as a means of preserving stability and continuity for a marriage. One of the best things about my marriage has been an unusual level of honesty and frankness, and this was highly problematic. The most painful experience in all of this was the .... distance I felt from my wife in those few days where I had become an atheist, but not let her know. It didn't take long for the pain of that to outweigh the fear of turmoil and disruption -- I let it all out in a long, difficult night just a few days after the collapse.

It's been a painful, hard year. I'm sure many atheists have a story that relates their de-conversion as mostly "upside". For me, it is fundamentally, upside as well, but the cost of "coming out" is big, unpredictable, and long lasting. I'm happy to say that my marriage is intact, and as good as ever. My kids are aware, and although mostly unhappy about it and feeling a bit betrayed (which they should, given the unfounded things I've been indoctrinating them with sense birth), and of course dislocated. I've been "disfellowshipped" by some Christian friends, and have caused a major uproar in the homeschooling groups and forums where I have related my story. The Christian myth that morality and ethical "goodness" is predicated on the belief in God, and either impossible without, or at best accidental, runs very deep in the evangelical/fundamentalist community. So, many who learn of my de-conversion wonder, often aloud, what happens now that I'm free to cheat on my wife, steal, or do any number of things worse than that. It's been an eye-opening experience, and my de-conversion is a kind of Rorschach test for Christians, I think. When they confront my rejection of Christianity for atheism, one gets a sense of what they imagine themselves to be in their "native" state. They say they are wondering about my actions as an atheist, but I'm a year on into this as my usual self, a faithful husband, engaged father, hard worker, etc., and what they are often telling me is what they suppose they would be like if they had to develop and execute their own moral and ethical principles. I don't really agree with this, as I think the truth as truth is an important good in its own right, but many Christians I know make a good case for embracing Christianity, even if it is false; by their own accounts, the kind of person they would be without their invented gods and demons and heaven and hell is often downright scary.

Worst Case Scenario

In cases like mine, inevitably, there are questions raised and suspicions launched about the actuality or sincerity of my faith in the first place. For what it's worth, I claim to be an atheist who was a deeply committed, "sold out" believer for decades. Raised in an extremely devout Baptist home, I "accepted Jesus into my heart" as a gradeschooler like any good, rational kid does who has grown up with hellfire and brimstone on one side, and felt-cloth Jesus on the easel, welcoming the children into his arms, on the other. I was baptized at 12 years old, had a solid string of ecstatic, powerful "mountain-top" spiritual experiences at Christian youth camps and retreats as a teen. I hit a bit of brick wall in college, as I was set up by my parents to embrace young earth creationism, and allowed to continue in my folly right into enrolling in university. That shook my faith badly, as I'd been betrayed and lied to by many of the people I'd trusted most, but that crisis triggered a transformation for me toward a more mature, thoughtful, and personal faith in Jesus Christ. Through the child raising years, and founding several tech startups that failed badly, then one that did well and eventually got bought by a large Internet company in the dot com days, church was my life outside of work (and inside it, too, often enough!), and I continually identified God's hand in influencing and shaping the world around me and in me according to his will. In the last decade when we've been fortunate enough -- blessed by God, as I saw it at the time -- to have the means, my wife and I have gotten involved with our hands and our funds in church planting and church growth as part of our commitment to reifying the Kingdom of God on earth through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was not a pastor like John, or Dan Barker. I never went to seminary, and my most impressive "official" credentials in the church were nothing higher than "guitarist in the worship band", but I was a "died-in-the-wool" believer. I never heard God "speak" in an audible way, but I saw many things I considered miracles, many events I interpreted as God's special message of reassurance, love and hope to me. I was an avid student of theology, a circumstance which had faith-building and faith-destroying ramifications for me over the years. In any case, I was not a "lukewarm Christian", one of those who slowly drifted out of the faith. My faith did not fade away, it came crashing down, quite unexpectedly, and frankly not of my own choosing (at least at the start). I was a cradle Evangelical fully immersed, well-read and fully on board. As a poster on a forum for (Christian) homeschoolers commented recent in a large "discussion" over my atheism: it's the "worst case scenario". Such is the dissonance for many who have known me, a good share of them have decided I've just been lying or faking it all these years, or I somehow just was never saved, never a Christian that "took".

A Moral Imperative
The irony for me, given all the indoctrination I've received along with so many other evangelicals and fundamentalists over there years about the necessity of God as an underwriter for moral values, is that while my faith collapsed out of reasoning and skepticism, my eventual rejection of Christianity on a lasting basis was predicated on realizing the moral poverty of Christianity. Some come to disbelief in God out of moral outrage toward God, and understandable but dubious path to knowledge. I came to realize my belief was sublimated desire and fear, and that I just did not have any foundation for believing in God's existence, even (especially) in light of my own subjective experiences, which I overlaid on the bare scaffolding of dubious history and incoherent philosophy/theology. I disbelieved first, but freed from my Christian presuppositions, Christianity took on a much more complex, problematic moral character; for whatever good elements remained, the God of Christianity on many fronts represented cruelty, viciousness, caprice, abuse, injustice, and moral incoherence. I did not believe there was any Christian God, or any gods at all, but if the Christian God somehow was real, and I was badly mistaken, I realized I would have to resist his authority and power on moral grounds, as a matter of good moral conscience.

With that, the matter was decided. I had no remaining basis for belief, and Christian belief had become morally problematic, even if I did have basis for it. In the past year, despite all the pain and stress that necessarily comes from someone in my position renounces his faith, I feel like I have a new lease on life, and life itself has value and moral meaning for me that it never did before. There's a lot of adjustment to do when you've come into your life thinking yourself just a "sojourner" here on Earth, making a brief stop on the way to eternal life with God. But as St. Paul said, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child". At 40 years old, I had done well professionally, had a happy, healthy, growing family and a great marriage, but I was stilling clinging to childish thinking and emotions when it came to God, my faith, my moral foundation and the principles I was passing on to my children. Like many Christians, I find great comfort and pleasure in indulging in dreams of living past my death, and living forever. But this past year has been the year -- better late than never -- to put away childish things, and to embrace reality as it is, and live in such a way as to take full advantage of the precious moments I have in this life, and to build a life of virtue, making my little part of the world a better, more just, happier, and humane place for my kids, their grandkids, and all they will share their world with.

-Touchstone

32 comments:

Lee Randolph said...

Welcome Aboard!

KJ said...

This story is incredibly similar to mine, except that I'm slightly younger, and have for the most part remained a closet-atheist. For me as well, my fundamentalist faith came crumbling down when I decided to start to "question the things I was comfortable with". My goal was to become a more knowledgeable Christian, especially because my first child had just been born, and I felt it my duty to do so. Rather than strengthen my faith, it broke the cognitive dissonance which had basically made me a conspiracy theorist (how else can a young earth creationist make sense of the world?) and dove me head-on into all things scientific, philosophical and anthropological; in short, all the things I was never taught in school. In short, I'm now agnostic, if not atheist.

Because my friends and family, especially my wife, are still very much Christian, I feel I have little choice but to live a double life. My worldview is, to them, a miserable hopeless one, and I cannot bring myself to push it on them. The difficult thing is finding a compromising way to raise my daughter free from the bigotry and superstition that underlies much of fundamentalist Christian theology. And of course, the lie I feel I have to live, since leaving the religion would mean being ostracized.

Andre du Plessis said...

Wow, well I am glad you made it. your struggle was definitely harder than mine.

exapologist said...

It's good to hear from you again, Touchstone! Welcome aboard!

Kathy said...

This is the first time I've read an atheist testimony and been moved to tears just like I used to be moved by Christian testimonies. Thank you for sharing it in such a thoughtful, irenic manner. And your story is very similar to mine--although I'm a woman and haven't told my husband or anyone in my faith group for the very reasons you brought up. It was the cumulative cognitive dissonance that collapsed my faith. I'm free of childish and contradictory thinking, free to put my energy and creativity into making sure I don't waste this life on the fairy tale of the next one.

oli said...

Hello Touchstone and thank you for sharing such a personal deconversion story. It was a very interesting read.

On your point (also made by KJ and Kathy) about losing the entire social network about you, i wonder if this is a deliberately constructed thing by christian churches. I know, here in the UK, that there are a few right wing churches such as Kings Church who deliberately cut you off from friends and family outside the faith by keeping you busy with church picnics, study groups, home schooling stuff, informal church meetings and such like until after several years, you have no contacts remaining outside the church circles. Deconverting then becomes terrifying as you stand to lose so much more than your faith, you stand to lose your friends.

This is a vile tactic practised by most cults. I just wonder how conciously most fundamentalist christian churches do it.

Ty said...

Our family has undergone a similar deconversion process as well. My oldest child is 5.5 years and my wife and I systematically indoctrinated him into evangelical Christianity for the first 5.25 years of his life. My younger son in only 2.5 years, so it will be an easier change for him. I am very thankful that I learned what I needed to before the concrete thinking stage had completely hardened God into their brains.

Thanks for your story!

Touchstone said...

kj,

Thanks for the feedback. As I mentioned, I *totally* understand the risks run in your marriage by this kind of development. One of the effects of my "coming out" has been a number of emails and private conversations from other men and women in the same predicament. For the reasons you know all too well, there a lot of people stuck in very difficult situations that pit their loving relationships against their (new) worldview.

The issue of raising and training the kids is a difficult, long term one. I have my oldest who's driving, and will be leaving the house soon, on one end -- he's his own man, now, for the most part, and we talk about this, but it's not really "training" at that point. On the other, I have twin sons still in diapers, and they are very much an opportunity to make some structural changes in how we raise them.

-TS

Touchstone said...

kathy,

Thanks for the comments. Carpe diem!

oli,

I think the term that has emerged from the discussion of the issue you raise is "Christian Ghetto". Unlike more extreme organizations that Christians would call "cults", I don't think there's a conscious effort to isolate, so much as there is the goal of creating a "righteous culture" inside a profane one. You have Chrisian radio stations, Christian bookstores, Christian schools, Christian homeschooling materials, Christian video games, Christian clothes, etc. I'm amazed at how self-contained and self-sufficient the ghetto is.

But I don't identify an urge to eliminate contact with the wider world. As you know, evangelicals have a mission to evangelize, to preach the Gospel, to be a "light unto the world". The Christian culture is developed as a kind of nourishing support system for faith and zeal (and righteous living) that serves as a base for evangelizing.

That said, though, articulated, thoughtful unbelief is a big problem when it occurs "inside the ghetto". There's a very practical rationale behind Paul's advice for dealing with apostate's and unbelievers.

Ty,

Once you've "trained up a child", in the ghetto vernacular, to the age of reason with God, cosmic sin, heaven and hell as axiomatic, it's very difficult to undo. Impressed at the earliest points, it becomes something more than just basic belief, and something like a part of one's identity. Ask me how I know.

-TS

Jon said...

As a home schooling atheist let me say that it's good to see you here. I found your story to be very interesting and easy to relate to.

Ty said...

Touchstone,

You finished your reply with, "Ask me how I know," in reference to religious beliefs being ingrained into one's very identity. I agree, but how do you know? ;)

Ty

Otherfunk said...

Thanks for your wonderful post, Touchstone :)

Shygetz said...

oli said: i wonder if this is a deliberately constructed thing by christian churches.

"Disfellowshipping" (which is more generally called "shunning" in comparative religion) to create a closed religious culture is certainly intentional disincentive to deconversion, and has roots deep in Christianity's Jewish heritage where it was highly regulated and strictly enforced (look up cherem). Even today hardcore Orthodox Jews will symbolically mourn their children who stray too far, such as by marrying a Gentile. It's a standard tool for forcing a conservation of the cultural identity of a group, especially when that group is in the midst of a larger, radically different group.

Rotten Arsenal said...

Hi Touchstone!

Thank you for sharing your story. Yours is the exact opposite of mine (I've always felt I was a "natural" atheist at birth and then spent 25+ years rejecting what people told me to believe until I finally admitted to myself I was atheist). While I can really only imagine the anguish you've gone through during this process, I can completely relate to that sense of relief (I still remember that exact moment I gave in) as well as that fear of how friends and family will react.

If it helps any, only one memebr of my family knows (or has admitted that they know) of my atheism. It's my cousin, a Baptist minister in Kentucky. We talked about it briefly over email a few weeks ago and I was very surprised at how "okay" he was with it. Despite his deep faith, he could understand my position and he never tried to push Christianity on me. I have to say that I found it refreshing and reaffirmed to me that not all Christians are impossible to deal with.

So far, I've had very few adverse reactions from people when discussing my non-beliefs. Some guys on the soccer team I play on who are mostley evangelical seem to be a little more distant to me now, but they don't try to convert or save me. I am in the process of cutting ties with one of my best friends of nearly 20 years, but this is really more to do with the fact we've drifted apart. The final nail, though, was after my mother's death in June (Mom was an ordained minister as well... she knew I was at least agnostic), this "good" friend of mine gave little support and then his loony wife left me a message on myspace saying how sorry they were and then began telling me all about how much she loves Jesus and how she believes there is more evidence for Jesus than there is for George Washington being our first President (which my Baptists cousin thought was absurd).

At any rate, my point is that you might be surprised at people's reactions. Like the two gentlemen who are "closeted" but still active in church life, there are atheists everywhere and many are like you and me who are somewhat fearful of letting the world know that you just don't buy in to this stuff anymore. And there are even believers who won't judge you... because some of them realize that they can only know their own thoughts and can't know what it is that you think and feel.

The best advice I can give any atheist (new or old) is to "treat others as you want to be treated." While the Christians have stolen this worldly philosophy and claimed it as their own, it's still a good plan to live by. Theists can claim that without God there is no morality, but what they don't get is that many of them don't do bad things out of fear of punishment. I don't do bad things because I don't see the point of needless harm.

Touchstone, just find some others who share your beliefs (or non-beliefs) and don't let yourself go mad. You're well on you way to a more peaceful life that you can enjoy instead of fretting over some confusing, illogical deity and the crazy rules the followers push on us.

Evan said...

Welcome Touchstone. I think your story is compelling as well because you lay bare the social networking that perpetuates the myth and how it propagates through the generations.

Thanks.

Touchstone said...

rotten,

Thanks for the comments. I fear from reading you that my post made things sound more bleak, socially, then they really are. A departure like this tends to tease out what people, and your relationships with them, are really made of, and indeed, in some case, my rejection of Christianity has brought out a very dark view of some people I'm otherwise inclined to think highly of.

But for all of those chagrins, there have been many Christians who have reacted with grace and kindness. Not agreeing with me, of course, but maintaining a stance of good well and affection, if a bit worried on my eternal behalf.

More than one Christian friend has been surprised to hear that "Do unto others..." remained a fundamental principle for me. He thinks it's a concept stolen from Christianity, rather than one Christianity riffed on itself. Is there a more fundamental ethical principle so easily derived by pure reasoning?

-TS

Ty said...

Evan,

Have you ever typed up your story?

Ty

Touchstone said...

Evan,

I hadn't gotten around to reading Dawkins' The God Delusion until long after I'd rejected my faith, but I was intrigued by his meme hypothesis, the idea that religion is form of "virus of the mind". It resonated with my experience - transmission, replication, insulation from analysis and attack, etc.

That doesn't excuse my prolonged indulge of the meme, but I think it might help explain it. More than ever, Christianity specifically and religion generally are not hard questions for the atheist to explain as problems, but matters of inevitability given the psychological and cognitive development of man. If God does not exist, and man has evolved in the way we understand he has, religions like we see are fairly predicted and expected phenomena.

-TS

Evan said...

Ty,

Yes.

Touchstone, I agree completely that religion is a natural phenomenon that needs to be understood on those terms. I think Dan Dennett has done a good job at starting this with Breaking the Spell.

eheffa said...

Thanks Touchstone,

As a former evangelical (fundamentalist) Christian with a very similar personal story, I had to chuckle at your wonderful observation in noting the plain common sense of believing in the felt board Jesus when hellfire threatens...I was there too...I too, am happily married to a believer who has been struggling to come to terms with this new man who still loves her but no longer shares her faith. (We too, home-schooled our kids etc...)

You have done an excellent job of articulating this difficult & sometimes painful transformation. It may be a poor trade, (I don't really think so) but we are part of a "fellowship" of ex-believers belatedly discovering this new world together.

It's too bad we can't sit down with a beer or a coffee & trade a few stories...

Thanks for a great post.

-evan

Rotten Arsenal said...

TS,

I'm glad that you found others, both Christian and non-Christian for support! I apologize if I read more darkness in your words than was actually there. So often we here about recent de-converts who are treated poorly, even by family members, that Ive come to expect that to enter into these stories. But it is great that you ARE finding those who are willing to talk with you about your discoveries.

Be sure to keep us posted on how things are going and the new ideas you come across!

RA

Glenn Kachmar said...

Wow, all I can say is wow, that was an incredible deconversion story touchstone!

Although my story isn't identical (I am not married and have no kids), there were many parallels. When I decided to leave the church I essentially did the same thing - the "first principles approach". I set out to decide what I knew for sure and to analyze each belief. Of course, you won't be surprised to hear that this process was the end of faith. I now believe it would be for anyone who approached the process in a truly open-minded fashion and has reasonable intellect and analytical skills.

I too have watched most of my christian friends awkwardly back away in some form or other, but I don't care as their friendship is worth nothing to me now.

Not having a wife and children meant that I was freer to experience the joy devoid of fear of losing those I love (I was the only christian in my family).

I look forward to reading more of your posts on Debunking Christianity.

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

goprairie said...

Cowardly to pretend for the spouse and family? I would not go that far. It could be respectful. Those that truly believe and have not experienced doubt then do truly belive that you are damned to eternal hell. To hide ones atheism from a spouse with that sort of belief is not cowardly but a sacrifice our of love and respect. It is not 'honest' but then pure honesty is not always the good or right thing.
And there are two reasons for the terrible treatment new atheists get from their christian friends. One is that they think you must be somehow recruited or tricked or fooled by satan and they do not want to get too close to you in case. if he could get to you, they might be next. Those who have no doubts fall into that category. They have to explain your rejection of it somehow, and to blame it on evil or the devil helps them understand it.
For those who have doubts, you are dangerous as well, because you prove that the doubts that they try so hard to repress and explain away and ignore might just be, well, true, and they so want the happy warm story to be true, especially the part about getting to see dead relatives again in the afterlife, that they just do not want the doubts to be important. So they must get away from you before you learn about their doubts or they overhear you say something that might crack the cracks in thier faith open even wider. It is difficult to be compassionate to those people, but we DO cause them fear and pain with out atheism, and it is not cowardly sometimes to just let it alone, but compassionate.

chuck said...

What specific objections convinced you that the philosophical case for theism "fell apart"? You leave the readers guessing. Why?

Also, did you think critically about whether these objections were successful?

What methodological and/or epistemological criteria (if any) did you assume during your rigorous theory adjudication?

Providing the details (the actual arguments that, in your judgment, refuted theism) might be helpful, since none of the other testimonies on DC have ever done so.

Touchstone said...

goprairie,

Good comments and cautions, thanks. Some of these people who are apprehensive about this are people I love, so I'm definitely sensitive to the problems that doubts and disconfirmation hold out for them. That's an consideration that has 'gravity', here, for sure.

But as you surely know, there's only so vague and non-committal one can be in life, in tight proximity to family and friends. At some point, and on some level, you will provide words and actions that reflect what you (ostensibly) believe. It may be traumatic, and should be handled with care because of that, but there's really little point in being an atheist at all if you aren't committed to being basically honest, to having your insides and your outsides match in a coherent an consistent way.

Life's got tough circumstances sometimes -- another lesson that atheists accept with equanimity, right? For some, there will be a conflict betwen basic honesty for the unbeliever and comfort/stasis for believers around him. I'm all for being gracious and sensitive in dealing with the emotional and social dynamics that come into play with those around me, but damned[sic] if I'm going to declare my belief and assent to claims and ideologies that are quite antithetical to what I actually believe.

I think we can find common ground on this, though: in many cases, we do have the option of just keeping our mouths shut. Saying nothing quite often will do just fine, and represents no ethical or honesty conflicts at all, and provides all manner of space, comfort and freedom for others around me who have and share beliefs that are at odds with mine.

-TS

Touchstone said...

chuck,

What specific objections convinced you that the philosophical case for theism "fell apart"? You leave the readers guessing. Why?
This post got overlong as it was. It would have ended up as a full length book, were I to answer your question as I'd like to. I'll make a point to traverse the philosophical arguments and their (so I say) failures as a set of future posts. But one example that pops to mind is William Lane Craig's argument regarding "objective moral values", an argument I casually endorsed for a long time, but which, under some examination, completely fell apart, or rather, inverted itself, resulting in theism unavoidably advocating for moral values as fundamentally *subjective*, the "subject-centric" proceeds of the will and mind of God.

I don't want to get too far afield in the combox for this post on that, but that's a quick synopsis of a "standby" of Bill Craig's (whom I used to think fairly highly of, although without much familiarity of the details behind his arguments) argument that became quite problematic under examination (and it's much worse than that -- on the other side of the ledger, 'objective morality' is still a tricky subject for the atheist, but if there is such a thing as objective moral values, they are obtained on atheistic grounds).

Stay tuned on that point, and I'll visit an array of others as well.

Also, did you think critically about whether these objections were successful?

Well, it's important to keep in mind that just because Bill Craig is offering you bag full of BS (with a friendly smile, of course), it doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. All the apologists out there could be offering terrible, nonsensical arguments, and that would not suffice to disprove God. He may exist in spite of all the theistic shenanigans, right?

But for me, the failure of many of these arguments didn't disprove God, it just remained parts of my (putative) justification for believing in the first place. I had other reasons to believe, that failed for other reasons, but the failure of theistic philosophical arguments -- across the board -- weakened the foundation of my belief. I relied, in part, on the soundness and integrity of some of those arguments.


What methodological and/or epistemological criteria (if any) did you assume during your rigorous theory adjudication?

Evidence from sense-data, logical reasoning and analsys, validation, skeptcism. These are the only tools I'm aware for adjudicating these matters, or any matters.

Providing the details (the actual arguments that, in your judgment, refuted theism) might be helpful, since none of the other testimonies on DC have ever done so.

I don't know that that's true, but even if it is, I suggest there's a practical reason for their absence from posts like this: it's difficult to keep the post focused and moving enough that people will actually read it as it is. A decent deconstruction on Craig's "objective moral values" argument -- one of just many in my case to look at -- would serious distract, and bore the reader hoping to "learn my story".

I think DC here may be a good outlet for providing some detailed analysis and discussion on the various poverties of theistic philosophical arguments. Atheistic arguments have their own problems, but in comparison to the theistic arguments, their problems are manageable, tangential or even superable. The theistic philosophical arguments aren't anywhere near that kind of gravity, in my view.

As I said, keep reading the blog if you are interested.

-TS

Mark Lefers said...

Touchstone,
Good post. I'm a recent reader of this blog and it gives me some comfort to see that I'm not the only one who suffers from sever doubt. So sever that one calls oneself an agnostic or atheist. I’m still on the fence, someday thinking I’m an agnostic and some a Christian with doubt. It troubles me to see that there are some who don’t share with their spouse their problems with doubt. My wife has been my best support during this tough time.

I know that it is tough and feels not worth the struggle, but I would keep searching for the truth. It is easy to dismiss Christian fundamentalism, and all the other issues with religion. I came from a denomination which thought that most of fundamentalism was crap anyways. Christianity is very broad, and there are Christians who are pro-choice, evolutionist, who understand there are many difficulties with Christian beliefs. So don’t just dismiss Christianity out of hand because of the crazy right wing fundies.

I definitely don’t have many satisfying answers, which is why today I feel more like an agnostic. But I have just a glimmer of doubt that there might be more than this natural world, that maybe there is a God who loves me. . . or maybe there’s not. But I’m still trying to work it out.

Heather said...

Amazing. As I read your account of your decision to un-Christian yourself many things came to mind. The first was that I felt sorry that your experiences in your Christian walk had led you to this new life choice. I saw that you were most likely surrounding by people that see being a Christian as "the thing to be" and use the Bible as a rule book on how to live life.

I have only recently became a Christian. I was not raised in a Christian home, none of my family or friends are Christians. I came to the choice to live a life pleasing to God due to my own curiousity and investigation of Christianity and the Bible. I do not feel that I am worshiping something "supernatural". Jesus is. God is. The Holy Spirit is. However, I do not feel that I can behave however I choose and that God will forgive me. I want to desire God, desire Jesus. I want to be as Jesus is. I want to model my life, my choices, my desires after those of Jesus. This is not easy or simple. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I imagine you are thinking that the reason for my choice is eternal life. In all actuality, my choice has as much to do with this earthly life as my eternal life. I value both. I do not want to waste my days on this planet in this body behaving in a way that serves the enemy anymore.

As I look around me through eyes that now see, I see a world that the enemy controls. The people of this world are allowing the control to happen. I am saddened by what we are bombarded with on a daily basis, the things that our children are subjected to. I am saddened by the many Christians that have not allowed God to truly live in their heart and instead choose to serve God by attempting to live by "rules". If God truly lives in your heart, if you truly want to follow Gods path, living a life of Grace is available to those that allow Him to saturate their heart.

No one on this earth can love you like Jesus, like God. No one on this earth can fulfill your every need like Jesus, like God. Anything can be discounted, made trivial, if you look hard enough. The enemy will always provide you an answer to discredit Him every time you question Him. That isn't surprising, is it? The enemy will stop at nothing to keep this human race in his grasp.

I am sorry that you needed to question, I am sorry that Faith wasn't enough to take you through the time in your life that you shared in your blog. I wish that I could explain more to you, about truly opening your heart to God.

CharlieontheT said...

To borrow some of your parliance, I was/am a personal witness to every detail of this "testimony" being a D*** F***ING LIE.

God has said, regardless of how acceptable you deem it:

Actually let's start with this:

Isaiah 2:22 "Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?"

And much more to the point:

"And you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes,
when your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil."

Natrimony said...

Touchstone,

First, I would like to apologize for charlieonthet's prior comment. I hope that his condemnation finds him out.


I am new here and I hope you would permit me a few questions.

You say: “One by one, though, all of these fell apart under skeptical, honest review.”

Aren’t you making an a priori assumption that honesty directly correlates with skepticism?

You say: “Reading Bahnsen, Frame, Poythress, Plantinga and rest of the Reformed philosophers made the picture bleaker still, a kind of demon-apologetic wearing a cross, and carrying a Bible.”

Was it the apologetic that was intimidating or was it the Calvinism that came packaged with it?

You say: “I had arrived at atheism in my application of honesty, introspection, and fair appraisal of the evidence and issues involved.”

Once again, you conjecture a position of neutrality by which you arrive at atheism. Do you believe that it is possible to be free of all presuppositional starting points, of which both doubt and faith find homes in?

Becky w said...

Well I do not believe it to be an accident that I came across this page.I am not a Christian full of hate or judgment it is not my place with that being said ,I do believe that those here need to know that the Lord loves them ,even when we reject him .I pray that instead of looking to the church,the world or any convertion you make it personal and get to know Jesus yourself.I know by doing this your view would be different .I pray you find the strength ,wisdom and desire to do so ....sincerely your sister in Christ

Billy said...

Touchstone, you answered the epistemology criteria question with, "Evidence from sense-data, logical reasoning and analsys, validation, skeptcism. These are the only tools I'm aware for adjudicating these matters, or any matters."

That seems like an awful lot of faith to put in yourself, your powers of critical thinking such as they are and your eyes, ears etc. You write that you're 40+ years old. Should I worry about your senses and phenomena-grasping capabilities?

Is your journey enough for everyone else? If not enough for everyone, is maintenance of their faith systems (whatever they are) wrong intrinsically or just wrong for you (to personally adopt) or are you just saying that you are content to believe personally that they're wrong?

If your journey is enough for everyone else, what is the consequence of disagreement with you and how will you enforce it?

Should I worry that you might someday try to coerce agreement with you? If not, why not? Because you say so? You've already said you walked away from something that was a fundamental (pardon the pun) part of you for the bulk of you life. You will forgive me if new promises and assurances of personal sincerity ring somewhat hollow - based on the sensory evidence and all.

On what basis would you have me believe you when all justification and prior motivation for historic actions and conformance with a "social or religiously based morality" have been so thoroughly removed?

Your story could be a joke I suppose.

Or this comment could be too. :D

Hail Eris.