I grew up very active in a conservative Southern Baptist church. I
served in music ministry, set up Vacation Bible School, went on
domestic and international mission trips, took Bible courses at a
Baptist college, and chaperoned youth trips. I truly believed in God
with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul.
I always thought that Christians became atheists because they were mad
a God; that it is an act of rebellion against giving God total control
of their life. The complete opposite happened to me.
I drifted away from the faith for several years because I became
disillusioned with the mingling of right wing politics with the
pulpit, but then I discovered several progressive Christian writers
such as Shane Claiborne and Donald Miller, and I felt a renewed zeal
to study the Bible and pursue my personal relationship with God. It’s
funny that this pursuit of God led to my atheism.
Several years ago I traveled to Japan and China and visited Shinto
shrines and Buddhist temples and it occurred to me that these people
that I was meeting and getting to know have morals and ethics often as
great as or greater than most Christians I know. I read Confucius
Lives Next Door by T.R. Reid and pondered how can so many Asians have
such high moral standards, lower crime rates, strong communities and
families, all without Jesus?
Around this same time, over the span of several years, I began to
learn more about the world around me. When I was little, God was
bigger than I could imagine and there was no truth, no morality
outside God. One day I came across this thought exercise: “If God told
you to kill someone, would you do it?” Of course the answer would be
that God would never ask me to do that. “But if he did tell you, that
it was for the greater good, part of his plan?” I would have to answer
no. My morals would never allow me to take another life. I’m a firm
believer in non-violence and pacifism. At this moment I was almost
shocked to realize what this means: my values go beyond God – go
deeper than God. It is as if God got a little smaller, or the universe
as I know it got a little bigger.
As I studied the Bible more in my quest to grow closer to God, the
more issues with theology I discovered. Perhaps the greatest issue I
had was with salvation, or put simply, “who goes to heaven and who
goes to hell.” If salvation is though faith in Jesus alone, then it is
unjust to condemn those who have never heard the Gospel, and equally
unfair if these people get a “free pass” to heaven while those who, to
varying degrees, have heard the Gospel are judged.
The more and more I learned about the world, the more I disagreed with
the exclusivity of faith in Christ. Somebody who earnestly says a
prayer accepting Jesus, then goes about life as usual, is more
deserving of heaven than a Buddhist monk who dedicates his entire life
to feeding the poor and clothing the needy, and caring for the sick?
After all, Matthew 25 pretty plainly states that those who do “unto
the least of these” are rewarded with heaven and those who selfishly
do not are condemned. How do you reconcile “faith alone” with this
teaching? How does simply saying a prayer supersede this? Maybe just
praying the “Sinner’s prayer” and repenting of sins is not enough.
I thought that perhaps I am a Universalist – that there are many paths
in life and all people will eventually be reconciled to God. But if
this is true, then why is there a need to believe in God anyway?
What’s the difference, as long as I seek to live out the message of
Matthew 25 and seek to “love my neighbor as myself?”
Still, I tried fervently to seek God in spite of growing doubts. I
wanted to believe that he existed. I prayed that he would show me the
way. Lying in bed at night I prayed until I cried, begging that he
would restore my faith. I read more Christian books and studied the
Bible more fervently.
Eventually I accepted what my heart and mind was telling me – there is
not God. It’s not that I didn’t believe in Jesus’ teaching, but that
his divinity and the existence of a God seemed increasingly unlikely
in light of what I was learning about the world around me. I never
stopped believing in the Bible in the sense that it is the greatest
source of moral truth in my life. Jesus’ teachings such as the Sermon
on the Mount and Matthew 25 form the basis of my ethics. I will always
follow my conscience and seek peace, justice, equality for all people
I guess some Christians will say it is okay – people take many paths
and all people will be reconciled to God eventually. Some will say
that I’ll eventually “come back around.” Some will say that I was
never a Christian to begin with, or that I was not predestined, or
elected, by God. My faith was completely real to me for the better
part of two decades. I was certain that God heard and answered my
prayers. I felt his supernatural presence in still quiet moments of
But now I realize that it was just a creation of my own mind. I want
to be honest with myself and use reason and logic, not blind faith, to
explore the world. Life as a human being is very precious, and it is
something to be cherished. I want to spend my life creating “heaven”
on earth for the “least of these.”