My Story-Taking the OTF and Not Even Knowing It

My name is Zach and I am a recovering evangelical Christian. It was about two and a half years ago, shortly before graduating from a Christian seminary with my Master’s in theology that my eyes (mind, heart, etc.) were opened and I saw my Christian faith for what it was; false.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian home and by the time I was in middle school Christianity had become the most import part of my life. I was soon absorbed in the study of my bible, going to youth groups, attending summer camps and leading prayer meetings. I believed that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and savior. I believed that he was one hundred percent human and one hundred percent divine. I believed he was part of a triune God. I believed that he came into the world to die for the sins of all of humanity because we had been corrupted by original sin. I believed that he had been resurrected from the dead, rose to heaven and would one day physically return to the earth. I believed that the bible was the inspired and inerrant word of God and contained the truth every person needed to know about this world and God. And I believed a person needed to believe all of these things and accept Jesus as their own personal savior in order to live a meaningful life and go to heaven.

Looking back I now see so many of these beliefs as ridiculous that it is hard to fathom that I ever took them seriously. So what changed? First my methodology for knowing what was true changed. Reason replaced faith and the scientific method replaced revelation. As a young Christian I accepted by faith what I had been taught as a child and every new thing that I learned was accepted, rejected or adapted based on the tenets of my faith particularly the inerrancy of scripture. If I learned something that did not fit within my Christian worldview I knew that what I had learned was either false or it was just a mystery and I had to trust that God knew what he was doing. As I grew up this system began to crack but for a long time I still felt my faith and my reason could co-exist though as a Christian I believed that reason ultimately had to submit to faith. The second thing that changed was what I would describe as my moral blindness. As I grew up I simply could no longer ignore the obvious moral failures of numerous parts of Christian theology and the Christian god himself. This led to constant struggles to explain to others and myself how I justified following such a god. So I can say both my head and my heart played an important role in freeing my from my Christian chains.

In my pursuit of spiritual maturity I studied the bible constantly and soon I studied theology, history, ancient languages, other religions and philosophy both in my undergraduate work at a secular university (I majored in Jewish Studies and yes all my teachers were Jewish, no Christians) and then in my graduate work at a Christian seminary (I got my master’s in Christian theology). Perhaps the greatest thing I learned as I studied was how little I knew. With each book I read and each class I took I found more and more ideas, events and people that I simply never knew existed. Soon my faith began to shake because as I looked at many other systems of belief I had to try and find ways to justify the beliefs I held while rejecting the ones I learned about. The longer I tried to do this the more I found faith unhelpful in justify itself. Faith could not provide me any answers rather it simply told me to stop asking questions. But I could not do that I had to figure out why I should accept my own personal experiences (Christianity is true) while rejecting the majority of the rest of humanity’s experiences especially while knowing so little about them.

So in my effort to justify and save my faith I turned to another source to do it and that was reason. I began to question more critically the things I had been taught in order to measure them fairly and equally over and against other systems of belief and prove to myself that my faith was in fact the true one. But as I did this rather than affirming my faith I came to find that there were just as many holes in my own belief system as those of the other religions and ideologies I was studying. As I placed my own faith under the microscope I had to laugh as I began to see that all along I had been using reason in order to show the shortcomings and inadequacies of other faiths and yet I had never bothered to place my own faith under that same rational scrutiny. As I placed more and more of my own Christian beliefs under the examination of unattached reason and scientific testing I found them to be filled with numerous shortcomings and inadequacies of their own. This process has taken years but the further I move from the faith of my childhood the harder it becomes to understand how such a faulty system ever held such a great sway over me.

As reason replaced faith so too the scientific method replaced revelation as my tool for understanding the world. I went from wanting to be a theologian interpreting “divine” scriptures to wishing I was a scientist testing the world around me. One of the things I have found the most valuable about science is the work ethic it instills in those who would pursue it. Truth may be the goal of both the theologian and the scientist but it is the scientist who works hard in pursuit of it while the theologian sits around waiting for it to drop from the sky. The theologian accepts the truth to be whatever she is told whereas the scientist takes what she sees and questions it, examines it, tests it and then decides. The theologian’s truth is not to be tested but merely accepted without question while the scientist’s truth is meant to be taken and retested by others so that they can see for themselves. One of the most important differences I have found between the scientist and the theologian is that the scientist’s pursuit of truth utilizes disinterest. Disinterest does not mean non-interest which would be nothing more than not caring rather it means the scientist comes at questions of truth without predetermined answers. The same is not true of the theologian whose answers must conform to a predetermined set of beliefs. The scientist accepts the fact that the truth may turn out to be unsavory but does not let that hinder her quest or persuade her to use simpler, faster and yes inadequate means for finding the truth such as revelation. The divine game of telephone that is revelation is not enough for the scientist. Even if the sky itself parts and God speaks to the scientist telling her what is true she would still question and test what she was told because the truth of an idea should not be determined by who is speaking but by the validity of the idea itself. If some god spoke to me I honestly hope like a good scientist I would question what I was told. The fact is, “because I said so” may be an answer that a child is willing to accept but it is not an answer that is satisfactory to anyone honestly seeking to understand the world in which we live.

Finally my rational awakening was closely accompanied by a growing ethical maturity that could no longer affirm an immoral deity. The longer I studied scripture the more difficult it became to justify the commands and actions of the biblical god. All the lessons (tricks) I had been taught by the church were exposed as mere band-aids trying to cover up the horrific evils committed by the biblical god and his followers. Similarly the longer I looked at the history of Christianity and of other religions I found that the fact is that most people do not truly choose their beliefs but rather inherit them. I became a Christian at age 12 and yes I “chose” to become a Christian. But when I made that “choice” I only had two choices; I could choose to become a Christian or I could choose not to become a Christian. I never had the choice to become a Buddhist, or Muslim, or Hindu or anything else because I simply didn’t know they existed. Even the choice to not become a Christian was not equally accessible to me since everything I was taught pushed me towards becoming a Christian. Then once I became I Christian I spent the rest of my time focused, not on finding/understanding truth but rather on affirming or supporting what I already believed to be true. And once one is already inside a faith it becomes much more difficult to see the rational problems of one’s own beliefs while it remains amazingly easy to see the rational defects in other people’s beliefs. I realized that if I had been born in China I would not have been a Christian or if I had been born in Iran I would not have been a Christian or if I had been born 1000 years ago in Brazil I would not have been a Christian. I could not help but see that the Christian god expects the same results (choose Christianity) from all the people in the world without giving them the same tools/gifts/benefits. If the Christian god is real it became quite clear that he favors some over others and I could just no longer follow a god who would hand me heaven while condemning a majority of the rest of humanity throughout history to hell. This god’s moral shortcomings just became too glaringly obvious to ignore. The Christian god is a self-involved, small-minded liar who abuses and manipulates human beings all for his own enjoyment and I realized that I could not believe in such an evil being.

Looking back at my story one could say I took the Outsider Test of Faith before I had ever heard of it and simply put Christianity failed the test. And I can say that I have not regretted leaving (escaping) the faith of my youth. It’s a freedom that is difficult to explain and wonderful to experience.

Written by guest Blogger Zach Dills