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Why I am an atheist – Evie-Grace Beresford

I havent always been an atheist, in fact until I was almost 23yrs old I was a Church of England Sunday School teacher who took Communion every Sunday at 8am, could quote huge tracts of the Bible, recite The Book of Common Prayer word for word and went to church every day during Lent.

I began to question my faith and the veracity of all I had been told when I was about 18 and went off to University to study archaeology and anthropology, neither of which subjects was compatable with my Bible!

I questioned my professors about how I could reconcile my “faith” with my new found knowledge and skills and what those skills were revealing to me on a daily basis.

On the subject of Adam and Eve, and biblical creation in general, one particular professor who was also a devout Catholic explained to me that the writer of Genesis actually meant that Adam and Eve were not actually the very first people on the Earth but they were the first to “find God” which set them apart from the rest of creation and is why, when they all toddled off East of Eden, they found other folk to marry!!

He spent a lot of time trying to help me marry my faith to historical facts.

I did my best to see his point of view but I was fighting a losing battle and by the time I left University I was quite troubled by the erosion of my faith and belief in the God of the Bible.

My first job after Uni was as a site assistant on a dig in East Africa searching for the most ancient of Mankind’s ancestors, my fellow diggers had absolutely no truck with my still semi-religious leanings and we spent many a night in deep discussion on the subject. Eventually, someone suggested that I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations with a more critical and educated eye, employing my new found anthro/archaeo knowledge.

So thats what I did.

The more I read the more I realised how little I knew or had questioned over the years. The long passages of biblical verse that I could quote had all been learned as a child and thus had been unquestioned and undoubted. I didn’t even know until I was 22 that the familiar Christmas scene of the traditional nativity wasn’t even in the New Testament!!

I began to see that ignorance played a large part in the maintainance of unquestioning faith.

Never one to do things by halves, I threw myself into Biblical study, I pestered the life out of a very patient Hebrew scholar, enlisting his aid in re-translating mistranslated words in the English Bible and he put me in contact with 2 other Biblical historians who were also very helpful in identifying places and people.

By the time I went back to Uni to do a PhD at age 24 I had no religious beliefs of any kind. I still read and study and dig and puzzle over the Bible to this day but with a very different attitiude and for different reasons.

You ask why I am an atheist……………… because I grew up, I sought knowledge and I used the knowledge I found to enlighten me.

I can not explain it any better way than to quote Corinthinans 13:11 ……”When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things”

Evie-Grace Beresford
France

Comments

  1. Art Vandelay says

    I also didn’t realize that the nativity scene wasn’t in the bible. So what…did someone just make that up? Steal it from Little Drummer Boy?

  2. says

    that the writer of Genesis actually meant that Adam and Eve were not actually the very first people on the Earth but they were the first to “find God” which set them apart from the rest of creation

    I don’t know why anyone bothers with such a modern myth. Genesis works as an early myth utilizing elements of other myths (the snake in the Epic of Gilgamesh snatches away the plant that renews life), hardly as a history of even two people.

    I mean that I’m not especially bothered by someone clinging to their religion, but when it distorts the anthropological meaning of the text–as the Hebrew version of ME origination stories–you’re just destroying meaning to make room for faith.

    Glen Davidson

  3. says

    I love these posts! And yes, quoting Corinthians is an awesome way to make a point about getting a grip and giving up childish mythology. I believed in god when I was a kid, but I believed MORE in the Hobbit.

  4. says

    Consider the author(s) of any religious texts. Consider the people who did the first less-than-perfect translations of those texts. Consider what those people would have produced had they the equivalent of an education of a student graduated from the average state college or university. With even a layperson’s understanding of cosmology, genetics, anthropology, geology, etc., would they have produced what they did and call it the inspired word of god? I doubt it.

    So long as religion attempts to interpret the world and our experience in it with texts authored at a time of great ignorance, we will be crippled by it.

  5. says

    I also didn’t realize that the nativity scene wasn’t in the bible.

    Most of the elements are there, just not put together in that manner.

    You could argue, actually, that it’s a reasonable result of the interpretive strategy of assuming that the Bible has to make sense, then rationalizing the different traditions found in different gospels to fit the implications of said assumption.

    There is no excuse for the assumption that the Bible makes sense (not today, at least), as the evidence distinctly suggests that it does not.

    Glen Davidson

  6. joed says

    there is a wonderful book by Isaac Asimov titled,
    “In The Beginning”.
    Asimov analyzes the first 5 books of Genesis. Crown Publishers, New York, 1981.

    Asimov compares the science of the bible with the verse.
    He breaks down Genesis into the “J” document and the “P” document. do biblical scholars still do this?
    any way I found this book to be an excellent guide into a reasoned look at the bible.
    Thank you for the fine essay.

  7. says

    Mt. 18:2

    And he [Jesus] said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

    From post:

    ”When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things”

    Too bad Paul hadn’t read Matthew, although that’s understandable since probably none of the gospels had been written when Paul wrote his letters.

    Of course it can be “explained,” as can anything can be no matter how, um, childish those explanations may be.

    Glen Davidson

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    joed @ # 9: [Asimov] breaks down Genesis into the “J” document and the “P” document. do biblical scholars still do this?

    Yes. They also infer an “E” and a “J” document (not to mention “Q”, but that’s a source document for the New Testament gospel accounts).

    See (for O.T.) Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?

  9. says

    @9: The Documentary Hypothesis, with some modifications, is still the main theory on the authorship of the early OT. There are actually four sources generally discerned; see the Wikipedia article on same for the details.

    A similar hypothesis exists for the compilation of the Gospels.

  10. joed says

    @11 Pierce R. Butler,
    thanks for the info. am always looking to expand knowledge or at least reasonable thought.
    better to point out facts, or correct a believer, in an exchange of ideas.

  11. stonyground says

    PZ, you say that you have hundreds of these testemonies and that you are letting them out one at a time. Is it possible that you could get them published in a book? I realise that you would have to get permission from all of the contributors and that might be difficult. Could the book then be sold to raise money for a worthy cause? I now have to go away and write my own testemony so that, should it happen, I will be included.

  12. CJO says

    Friedman’s book is a good popular introduction to the DH, and it is certainly the most readable one I’ve come across. But in my opinion it suffers a little under the burden of Friedman’s own very specific theory about the identity of the so-called Deuteronomist (author of the “D” source, Deuteronomy and the “Deuteronomistic history,” Joshua through 2 Kings). By all means, read it for a brief history of the development of the hypothesis and a good synopsis of the consensus presentation of its outline. But take the ‘reveal’ with a suitable dose of salt.

    As regards ‘Q’ and a “similar hypothesis” for the composition of the gospels, there are notable differences. ‘Q’ is a proposed explanation or hypothetical source for similar (often near-identical) material appearing in Matthew and Luke. But if the author of Luke was familiar with the text of Matthew, then the need for such a reconstructed text evaporates. With the Documentary Hypothesis, it’s generally taken for granted that later authors and redactors had at hand the earlier texts. It’s a matter of exactly which older sources they used, why, and when, and what original material they added themselves. That is, we know that two different authors wrote Matthew and Luke on theological and stylistic grounds alone; questions in the DH are more about teasing out the “seams” between different authors’ works in a final, redacted and edited whole, and showing that the texts on either side of the stitches were actually composed at different times by different persons for different theological and political ends.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    Re my # 11: They also infer an “E” and a “P” document…

    FTFM.

    CJO @ # 16: Friedman’s book is a good popular introduction to the DH, and it is certainly the most readable one I’ve come across. But in my opinion it suffers a little under the burden of Friedman’s own very specific theory about the identity of the so-called Deuteronomist …

    He makes it quite clear his speculation is just that, and sfaict doesn’t distort or omit anything else to prop up his case. That said, if I had to recommend just one book on the OT in context, it would probably be Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.

    joed probably already knows this, but for the record: Asimov’s biblical magnum opus is Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, which explains the names, places, etc in secular-historical terms (though without challenging believers directly).

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Fixing my fix in # 17 – The Documentary Hypothesis infers four sources from which much of the early Hebrew (“Old”) Testament was drawn: “E” (for Elohim, the word usually used for the god in E stories); “J” (for Jahweh, the name of the god in J stories); “D” (for Deuteronomist, whose hand is detected mostly but not exclusively in the D book); and “P” (the putative provenance of pro-priest propaganda portions).

  15. rickk says

    Thanks for sharing your story, Evie-Grace.

    Once again we see one of the most effective routes from Christianity to atheism is to actually read the Bible.

  16. says

    Well, since this thread seems to have gone off into OT Source Criticism…

    For an example of the J vs. E sources, compare Genesis 12 with Genesis 20 at your favorite online Bible site (or a dead-tree copy, if you have one). Note how basically the same story about Abraham gets told twice, with a few details changed — but in one version it uses “God” (Elohim) and in the other “the LORD” (conventional rendering of Yahweh, going back to the Hebrew copyists who considered the Divine Name too holy to be written or spoken). Fairly obvious inference: two variants, maintained by two different groups, of this story about A Greate Hero Of Olde floating around orally, eventually getting written down, then combined in one manuscript by a later editor.

  17. carolw says

    Thanks for your story. I find that the more of the bible I read, the less Christianity makes sense.