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Jul 18 2013

An Apologist’s Daughter Speaks Out

Way back in the old days, I was a frequent participant in the forums at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries. Matt Slick, who owns the site, even asked me to be co-moderator of the evolution/creationism forum along with creationist Penny Fryman. So I read with particular interest this essay at Hemant’s blog by Rachael Slick, Matt’s daughter who is now an atheist. Some of it is pretty heartbreaking, including this excerpt from her journal that was written when she was 9:

I’m hopeless.

Oh boy. I’ve got a lot to work on. I try to be obedient but it’s so hard! The more I read, the more I realize how bad I am! My problem is that when things don’t make sense to me, I don’t like them. When Dad gets mad at me for something, everything makes perfect sense to me in my mind, so I tend to resent my parents’ correction.

I have just realized that I yearn to please the lord, but why can’t I? I just can’t be good! It seems impossible. Why can’t I be perfect?

And this:



As my knowledge of Christianity grew, so did my questions — many of them the “classic” kind. If God was all-powerful and all-knowing, why did He create a race He knew was destined for Hell? How did evil exist if all of Creation was sustained by the mind of God? Why didn’t I feel His presence when I prayed? 


Having a dad highly schooled in Christian apologetics meant that every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly. Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away.



Atheists frequently wonder how an otherwise rational Christian can live and die without seeing the light of science, and I believe the answer to this is usually environment. If every friend, authority figure, and informational source in your life constantly repeat the same ideas, it is difficult not to believe they’re onto something. My world was built of “reasonable” Christians — the ones who thought, who questioned, who knew that what they believed was true. In the face of this strength, my own doubts seemed petty. 


But all is well that ends well:

Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything.
 My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is — freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful. 



Freedom is my God now, and I love this one a thousand times more than I ever loved the last one.

That passage is hauntingly beautiful and eloquent. Please read the whole thing. It’s very powerful and moving.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    timpayne

    She sounds like one of those recovering alcoholics whose life is still consumed by alcohol, but in a somewhat healthier way. I can think of few things less earth shattering than the gradual realization that religion is just one of many cultural myths.

  2. 2
    Michael Heath

    Having a dad highly schooled in Christian apologetics meant that every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly.

    Well no, it wasn’t explained away thoroughly. That was the problem for me even when I was younger than nine. I still remember confronting conflicting biblical accounts of how Judas died*, how that flummoxed by Sunday School teacher, and how that impacted me; i.e., if a little kid can find contradictions to the supposed inerrant word of God, WTF is wrong with these adults?!?

    *I get that we can reconcile these two conflicting Judas accounts, but that misses the core point. If the Bible’s God’s word, he’s omnipotent, and he wants us to understand the evil he promises to inflict on us if we don’t submit, than it should be safe to presume he’s capable of clearly communicating a logically coherent message to those of us he’s threatening. That’s not a feature of the Bible however, as I began to observe even when I was a little kid.

  3. 3
    Michael Heath

    Atheists frequently wonder how an otherwise rational Christian can live and die without seeing the light of science, and I believe the answer to this is usually environment. If every friend, authority figure, and informational source in your life constantly repeat the same ideas, it is difficult not to believe they’re onto something. My world was built of “reasonable” Christians — the ones who thought, who questioned, who knew that what they believed was true. In the face of this strength, my own doubts seemed petty.

    It’s my understanding people who are reasonable on matters outside their faith and politics check their critical thinking skills at the door on both because they’ve been developed into authoritarians. Those who aren’t, like Ed and myself, leave. The day I was on my own was the day I quit the church.

    What Bob Altemeyer found regarding those raised in an authoritarian [fundie/evangelical] environment who abandon faith was also deliciously ironic. Conservative Christians pound home their exclusive possession of objective truth; while avoiding any legitimate scrutiny. This popular set of talking points actually resonates within those of us who don’t develop into authoritarians. We care about the truth so much we scrutinized the claims of Christianity, where it takes hardly any effort to observe how false the distinguishing beliefs of Christianity are when tested against either evidence or logic.

  4. 4
    IslandBrewer

    So, someone in christian apologetics circles alerted the Hackneyed Apologetics Response Squad, and they turned out in force in the comments. It was like a primer in No True Scotsman and Strawman arguments.

    I got into a protracted “debate” with an apologist who insisted at every turn that Hitler was not a christian. His rationale was that (c’mon, guess) … No True Christian would ever do the things that Hitler did.

  5. 5
    rory

    Having read the whole piece, I have to ask: how would you prove rhetorically that there’s no such thing as a purple dog? Trying to prove a negative seems like kind of a silly example to use given the point she’s trying to make. It’s also curious to me that it took her ~12 years to ask what seems like a fairly obvious question about the apparent moral inconsistencies in the Old and New Testament, but it’s probably fair to assume that there was a whole lot of mental compartmentalization going on.

  6. 6
    rory

    @4,

    IslandBrwer, you had some great comments in there. I particularly enjoyed the bonehead who kept trying to bait you with questions about objective sinfulness. You could tell he had some gotcha moment he was really, really excited about springing, but he just couldn’t…quite…get there.

  7. 7
    skinnercitycyclist

    The worst thing about Matt Slick and his radio show is that they are boring. I like listening to nutbags like Barton, Fisher, Mefford, Enyart, they are all entertaining in their own little shake-your-head-in-amazement kind of way, but Slick is mean, unfunnily sarcastic, and just not interesting. He also seems rather intelligent, but it does not seem to have done him any good.

  8. 8
    Abby Normal

    That nine-year-old perspective really resonates with me. I knew there were good and virtuous people in the world. I knew I was a wicked and sinful child, especially in my thoughts. I knew that if I could become one of the virtuous, my sinful thoughts and deeds would be forgiven. I was often terrified I’d die before I figured it out and be consigned to Hell.

    I think my first real step toward atheism came not long after. I realized that wanting to be good so that I could get into Heaven was a self-centered motivation and therefore greed, a sin that might damn me. I realized that if I wanted to get into Heaven I had to stop caring about getting into Heaven. It took a couple decades, but once I started to explore what it meant to be good as independent question from what it meant to be a good Christian, the outcome was inevitable.

  9. 9
    Geds

    rory @5: It’s also curious to me that it took her ~12 years to ask what seems like a fairly obvious question about the apparent moral inconsistencies in the Old and New Testament, but it’s probably fair to assume that there was a whole lot of mental compartmentalization going on.

    Correct, more or less. In my own experience, as someone who learned science and history and gradually realized that there were a lot of things that couldn’t be reconciled, but then also took many, many years to finally break free, it’s difficult. There isn’t a purely logical way to break free and just be done with it. If they get you young enough you worry that asking the questions will get you in trouble and you fear the consequences, both of the being sent to Hell variety and of the being shunned and treated as an enemy by friends and family variety.

    It also then takes a great deal of time to figure out how to explain what happened. This is not helped by the fact that the people you’re leaving behind are usually going to be all too excited to step up and tell you why you left. Those reasons are always some variation on, “You just wanted to go sin,” or, “You just weren’t around the right kind of Christian.” The sort of reflexively analytical and curious nature it takes to undo the fetters of Evangelical Christianity can actually then cause a spiral of self-doubt. I, personally, decided to leave on several occasions. One of those ended with me going back (there was a girl involved, for whatever that’s worth). One of those ended with me going to a somewhat liberal mainline church. Even after I’d decided to leave I thought about going back from time to time.

    The whole thing, in short, is messy. It’s why I tend to couch my decision to leave Christianity in terms of a particularly bad breakup of a dysfunctional relationship. You keep telling yourself you need to leave, but you’re also afraid to go because you think you’re getting something out of it or it will get better if you just work harder/figure out the magic words/stop worrying so much. Eventually the stress and pain overwhelms the fear, but that doesn’t happen overnight.

  10. 10
    Michael Heath

    Abby Normal writes:

    That nine-year-old perspective really resonates with me. I knew there were good and virtuous people in the world. I knew I was a wicked and sinful child, especially in my thoughts. I knew that if I could become one of the virtuous, my sinful thoughts and deeds would be forgiven. I was often terrified I’d die before I figured it out and be consigned to Hell.

    For me it was the opposite. Even as a kid I never bought the Christian claim we’re all defective to point of deserving eternal punishment simply because some of us do evil things and all of us sometimes commit immoral acts.

    I’ve always seen the good in good people, with no problem separating the good from the bad. Where it was rare for me to find a good person who was also devout to orthodox beliefs; simply because I’ve long concluded that to be good requires one to be honest. And I’ve yet to find one honest hell-believing Christian who would also confront their inconvenient claims.

  11. 11
    dogmeat

    rory @5

    I would argue that the difficulty lies in the situation where someone you respect/love/both tells you something from your earliest years and you end up struggling with the idea that they could be wrong. What makes this difficult also is that their “wrongness” may not be simple ignorance, but may be willful dishonesty. Those possibilities make it quite difficult to embrace the simple fact that these stories don’t add up. The fire and brimstone “god” of the Old Testament doesn’t make any sense with the loving “god” of the New Testament, but having someone you care about tell you over and over again that this entity, character if you will, is the same one, you’re more likely to doubt yourself than that “wise” older person you have an emotional attachment to.

    My own experience on my path to Atheism involved an effort to find evidence that my grandmother was right. My grandfather and my mother weren’t overtly religious, but my grandmother was in a rather nice, sweet, innocent way. I started having problems with the whole thing rather early on, then as a teen I started looking at why these stories didn’t make sense to me. When I got to college I started looking into other religions, perhaps it was just the Bible that was silly and the others were “more correct.” As I did that I figured out they were all utterly ridiculous, full of nonsense, and while there were little nuggets of useful philosophy here and there, these were buried under mountains of misogyny, bigotry, nonsensical rules, idiotic claims about causal relationships, and a whole lot of meaningless woo to justify their “truth.” I then progressed into some sort of vague spiritual agnostic, skeptical agnostic, and now atheist.

    I think the key is, the “me” of today can look at the “me” of twenty or thirty years ago and wonder how I could be so gullible or how I could deny the reality, but when I look back I see images of my grandmother, recognize the hurt on her face when, as a kid I did something stupid, selfish, wrong, etc., and then imagine what impact the “me” of today back then would have had. I’m actually glad I was unable to make that break until I was more experienced and mature, I wouldn’t have handled such a conversation or revelation (if you will) back then and would have hurt people needlessly.

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