Episode CCCXXII: Do we want to encourage this sort of thing? »« Why I am an atheist – Tracy Hemenover

Why I am an atheist – Libby Anne

I was raised on the line between fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. I was homeschooled, and nearly every subject was related to God and the Bible. History was His story and our science textbooks were all creationists. My parents were great fans of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis and I was taught to use “creation apologetics.” In other words, when you evangelize someone you start by showing them the truth of young earth creationism, and after that they will have to concede the truth of the Bible and convert to Christianity. I read everything Ken Ham wrote, attended conferences put on by Answers in Genesis, and even visited the Creation Museum. I was taught that we know the Bible is true because young earth creationism is true. As Answers in Genesis so often trumpets, I learned that the foundation of the Bible was a literal Genesis.

And then I went to college, where my young earth creationist views were challenged. I responded by fighting back. I argued with both students and professors, sure that I had some sort of truth they were missing. I brought out every argument I had, and went back to my creationist resources for more. As time went by, though, I found my arguments effectively refuted by arguments and information I had never been exposed to before. To my utter shock, it seemed that the evidence actually fell on the side of evolution and against young earth creationism. After nearly a year of fighting, I conceded defeat.

As I accepted evolution, I watched everything I had ever known crumble at my feet. I had been taught that the truth of the Bible rested on young earth creationism. Now that that foundation was gone, I had no idea what to do with the Bible. How could I trust it? How could I believe in it? How could I interpret it? But on the other hand, how could I give it up? My entire life centered on Christ and I found my entire value in what I meant to Jesus. Without my relationship with God, my life was nothing.

Desperate to hold onto my faith, I turned away from evangelicalism and fundamentalism and toward more hierarchical and liturgical traditions, especially for Catholicism, searching desperately for absolute truth, for some way to salvage what I had left of the Bible. My fascination with these older religious traditions was accompanied by a fascination in understanding where the Bible come from, who wrote it and why. Reading scholarly work on this subject fascinated, and I saw the Bible unfolding in new and marvelous ways before my eyes as what had before been a simplistic and two-dimensional fundamentalist/evangelical understanding of the Bible deepened. At first, my reading of the the history of the Bible and of the early church fathers led me to find solace in more liberal Christianity, but this solace was short lived.

The more I read about where the Bible came from, the more human the book appeared. Its errors, its contradictions, and its eccentricities suddenly appeared very, very human. Yet I felt that I was being pulled in two, for I was both losing my grip with the divine and becoming incredibly fascinated with the very human development of the very human book that is the Bible. I finally felt like I was understanding things that had always puzzled me. Finally, finally, the Bible made complete and total sense. I felt that I was being forced to choose between holding onto the divine and the beauty of total understanding.

Around this time I read the God Delusion, and things became even more complicated. Dawkins put questions to me that I had never even thought of asking. I realized that the entire center of Christianity rested on human sacrifice, that the Trinity was not “a mystery” but rather simply something that made no sense, and that the very idea of a hell was barbaric. I suddenly saw the God of the Old Testament as a maniacal tyrant and I realized that mankind’s greatest moral achievements – such as valuing gender and racial equality and castigating human slavery – came from man, not God. My world was spinning, and I hardly new what to do.

For about a month, I called a moratorium on all questions of religion. I needed a time out, not time to think so much as simply time to be. At the end of the month, I turned again to questions of religion and realized that my faith had simply slipped away. It was gone. And you know what? I was still there. Life had gone on, and it had not lost its meaning and purpose. I still saw beauty, I still valued love, and I still had goals and dreams. And so, I closed the door on the first two decades of my life and stepped forward into the unknown, excited for what would come next.

I would like to point out that by teaching their children that their faith rests on young earth creationism, fundamentalist and evangelical parents create an Achilles heel in their children. If they grow up to find that young earth creationism is wrong, they have to completely evaluate everything they believe about the Bible, God, and Christianity. In trying to buttress their children’s faith, these parents build into it a fundamental flaw. Who I am today is a product of that flaw.

Libby Anne
United States

Comments

  1. kevinalexander says

    Yey, Libby Anne!

    I’ve been following your blog for a little while now and I find the world that you came from fascinating. I was raised to be Catholic but it never took so there’s no conversion story for me.

    I find it interesting that you moved your blog over to Patheos which is mostly religious. A little subversive, are we?

  2. machintelligence says

    Hi Libby Anne:
    It’s nice to see your deconversion essay here, although I read it earlier when you were blogging here at FTB. I became a regular reader, and still follow you over on Patheos, because you write about a group of people with whom I have had almost no interaction. It is certainly obvious that in order to sustain their beliefs, the fundamentalist types depend on forced ignorance of the young. It is small wonder that they generally despise science and higher education. I wish that I had 20% of your abilities as an essayist.

  3. Mary says

    Thank you Libby Ann. I’ve also been following your blog for a while and learn so much. I was a “liberal” Christian for many years–with a faith so pliable that I could “virtuously” give up hope of heaven, a literal Bible, and even (maybe) a literal Jesus and still be humbly faithful. What finally got me out of this was “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. When I really took a good look at how un-virtuous the basic structure of the religion really is–based on human sacrifice–a cosmic parent who loves humankind so much he’ll torture and murder his son for us–well, that is just sick. And other religions are not truly any better. They all expect us to believe things without reason–and call that a virtue.

    I think that the Achilles’s heel for liberal Christianity is the religions’s basic cruelty.

  4. pipenta says

    First time reading you, not the last. A very nice history and a grand way to start the day when a clear sunny day stretches ahead of me. We spin around the sun on a jolly roundish lump and it’s a fine place to be. Thanks for sharing.

  5. says

    For me the God Delusion was a bit boring because I had already thrown out all my supernatural fantasies a long time ago. But now I see how useful the God Delusion can be for people who are trying to recover from the child abuse called religious indoctrination.

    I was impressed by your “I read everything Ken Ham wrote”. I think my head would explode if I tried that.

  6. says

    If they grow up to find that young earth creationism is wrong, they have to completely evaluate everything they believe about the Bible, God, and Christianity.

    To a lot of them this just proves that creationism is what is important–question that, and you’re essentially lost to “doubt.”

    So they don’t question YECism, thus never know what a total crock it actually is, and so never even realize that they’re setting kids up to leave the religion that supposedly they’re being taught to believe should those kids ever learn enough to knowledgeably evaluate Ham’s ignorance and strawmen.

    Glen Davidson

  7. reasoningbeing says

    I too was raised in a fundamentalist Christian religion. At 12, because religion was not making sense to me and was leaving me confused, I made the conscious decision to suspend belief in things for which there was no objective evidence. Fourteen years later (4 of which were applied toward a biology degree)on finally understanding the evidence for evolution, I lost the last shred of uncertainty about whether Christians might be right. At that point,I had long before found faith to be a flimsy excuse for believing in something and had long been disgusted with biblical stories, manipulation, and teachings. I have been following your blog for a few months now and appreciate so much your documenting your intellectual journey out of the darkness of religious thought. I wish I had done the same. I wonder if those who have not had religious brainwashing can ever understand what a struggle it can be to overcome it. I particularly have appreciated your analysis of the warped and distorted religious perspective on sexuality and gender roles. Also thanks for the link to Melissa’s story. It’s fascinating.

  8. says

    Fascinating. I couldn’t imagine having my worldview rocked like that.

    .

    I never had to recover from religion, but I think the thing we have to remember about recovering from religion is that the people to blame died long ago and being angry at them is a waste of fuel, and that many of the people you think are to blame today are merely victims themselves from those same perpetrators. So it’s only right to avoid that anger and convert it into giving credit to the “abolitionists” and joining them for this intervention on a global scale.

    .

    Those recovering from rebuilding their worldviews as adults are justified in wanting to be filled with anger and regret, but most choose the more dignified trajectory. And there’s a fine line between passion and anger, and I see that line brilliantly traversed in Libby Anne’s work. (And even PZ’s–regardless of what Harvard thinks.)

  9. says

    Thank you Libby,

    I like to collect (brilliant) quotes and I’ve added this one to my collection:

    “…mankind’s greatest moral achievements – such as valuing gender and racial equality and castigating human slavery – came from man, not God.”

    Libby Anne, USA

    I hope you don’t mind.

  10. Owlmirror says

    Last year, the Pharyngula commentariat got into a pretty long argument with Kenneth, which spilled over into another thread:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/04/hitchens_address_to_american_a.php

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/04/im_working_on_that_dignified_e.php

    He explained that he was a teenager who had been brought up, like Libby Anne, to think that the only “real” options were YEC or atheism.

    Oddly enough, we found ourselves explaining that there were in fact other logical possibilities — despite that fact that we didn’t think that the other logical possibilities were supported by evidence either.

  11. Rip Steakface says

    I’ve had the good fortune to not be raised religious. My parents simply never said a word about religion until I started hearing other kids talking about church, at which point they told me to “think for myself.”

    Since then, they’ve told me that they were atheists the whole time, but aren’t into indoctrinating children to be religious or irreligious.

  12. concernedjoe says

    God is dead and has been for awhile.

    Few modern people on this planet need a god or live by a god.

    Nietzche and other philosophers recognized god’s death at the start of the truly modern world of science and technology in the latter part of the 1800′s. Simply put, science provided the foundation and technology the advertisement for the death of god in the hearts and minds of mankind. The knowledge gaps and fear of being powerless became less pronounced and profound.

    But as Libby points out the nihilism that the philosophers feared would happen happens to many. So the charade continues.

    The rub is people believe they believe and are so convinced they believe that they will swear they believe.

    Yet empirically most people (again modern educated sane people) do not act like they really believe. They act no different than atheists act when the rubber meets the road of life. They turn to mankind’s achievements, they seek out the best of mankind to trust and put their faith in.

    Professing belief and being ritually active is not belief in god. It may illustrate that you want the power of social groups and of feeling warm and fuzzy; it illustrates that you can delude yourself. But does not illustrate your TRUE faith in the higher power.

    When you refuse medical treatment for your child and instead only rely on Christ to heal your beloved – now that is what I’d call sincere belief.

    Oh BTW I along with a host of so-called believers will call it what it is – CRAAZZZYYY! Even the Judge with “In God We Trust” at her/his back will call it as I an atheist would call it.

    To me this is a profound point. the professed belief of most modern people is a charade played to stave off the nihilism people believe will happen (an unfounded fear people like Libby discovered) and to maintain the cultural and social bennies of a religious community (something that indeed is real in many parts of the USA and/or for several major ethnicities).

    Libby congratulations for having the intellectual honesty and strength to make the break honestly.

  13. jonnyscaramanga says

    This is a brilliant story. Thanks, Libby Anne. My fundamentalism fell apart in college too, and like you it was in large part because young earth creationism fell apart. I’m only getting around to looking at the history of the Bible now, and I can’t wait to learn what you’ve found out. If anyone can recommend good books on this subject, please let me know.

  14. saguhh00 says

    Finally a Ex-YEC. I really like to read these testimonies, because they fill me with hope that YEC can actually be confronted through discussion and logic.
    I believe in 20 years or so, YEC will have practically disapeared.

    Also, thank you for your essay, Libby Ann.

  15. llewelly says

    Libby Anne:

    I would like to point out that by teaching their children that their faith rests on young earth creationism, fundamentalist and evangelical parents create an Achilles heel in their children. If they grow up to find that young earth creationism is wrong, they have to completely evaluate everything they believe about the Bible, God, and Christianity. In trying to buttress their children’s faith, these parents build into it a fundamental flaw. Who I am today is a product of that flaw.

    All religious parents are subject to this problem. The flaw is of a different character, and in a different place for each different sort of religion, but it is always there.

    It is akin to one of those joke math “proofs” which appears to prove something incredible, but upon closer examination contains a division by zero. Such constructs can be reformulated an infinite number of ways – but in order to reach their false conclusions, a flaw, such as division by zero, must be present.

  16. pedantik says

    You see? YOU SEE? If our children are taught evolution, it makes atheists out of them!

    Muah-ha haaa!

    Seriously, though, Libby Anne, thanks for sharing this. All too many of us have had to go through the same painful path to having free minds.

  17. Yukimi says

    In the last week and specially in the last two days we have had a lot of Godbots come by the blog and we regular commenters are having a bit of a trouble answering them all and refuting their flawed arguments effectively (creationism, atheism is a religion, …) so if people with more experinece here at Pharyngula read this and could come give us a hand even temporarily, I would appreciate it ^^ Thanks.

  18. says

    Congratulations (I think) Libby for getting the attention of Answers in Genesis as a result of this blog:

    http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/05/06/need-more-than-just-exposure/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+KenHam+%28Around+the+World+with+Ken+Ham%29

    http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/georgia-purdom/2012/05/03/answers-in-genesis-and-libbys-journey-to-atheism/

    Maybe you and Dr. Purdom may initiate a discourse concerning your ‘misunderstandings about Genesis and the Bible despite [your] exposure to creation apologetics’. If so I fervently hope you’ll share any such interactions with us ‘AiG watchers’.

    Oh, and hurray for your ‘Wager’! I vote for Option 3.