This is a story that I have written numerous times, however I never feel that it is comprehensive enough, or at the same time concise enough. That is how I am with my writing. Especially in factual cases, such as this; I aim to write with honesty and provide each detail of the events that led to my atheism showing the logical progression that it took, being both in-depth and at the same time avoiding the sense of clutter and babbling that plagues me. I often feel that my writing becomes incoherent and am never totally satisfied with the final result. But here I begin once more the story of my deconversion from the Christian faith.
Like the majority of middle class westerners, I was born into the dominant religion of Anglo-European tradition – Christianity. My earliest and fondest memories of family include attending church and reading Bible stories. Though my early childhood wasn’t a particularly religious one, there was always an element that was drawn to the warm sense of group identity that came with visiting my ‘uncle’s’* church. *(He wasn’t actually my uncle. The pastor of a Baptist Church and my mother’s former guardian during her time under the care of the Bernardo’s foundation as a child, I had come to know him and his wife colloquially as aunt and uncle, and their children were referred to as my cousins – due to this I still have a strong familial bond with them to this day.) This church remained an occasional place of attendance during my growing-up and was a significant influence on my developing faith.
Around my ninth year I developed a fascination with science, and was introduced to the idea of evolution at school. At this time in my life I dreamed of becoming a scientist, explored the world of naturalism with a child’s science kit that my mum bought me by my request (as well as an awesome Max Steel action figure set – a contemporary of Action Man that I thought was the coolest thing!), and read books about dinosaurs and astronomy. Science, along with history, was to become one of my passions in years to come. But for the time being it was to be short lived. Had it not been for a ‘supernatural experience’ I may have become an atheist or agnostic (or at least a skeptic of the blatantly unscientific stories from the Bible with which I had grown up) much earlier.
Up until this point, though having had a childhood slightly ‘dabbled’ in the church (though as I mentioned not particularly religious), I hadn’t been baptized into any particular faith. The Baptist church of my ‘uncle’ obviously was in no position to baptize an unprofessed child (though there are churches today baptizing children who for whatever ridiculous reason deem them mature enough to make a profession of faith in a metaphysical scapegoat – though usually with kinder sentiments than being saved from hellfire – though this may also happen – i.e. ‘Jesus has a great plan for your life’ or ‘God will fill the whole in your heart’) and so it was into the Catholic faith of my father that I and my siblings were simultaneously inducted. The events that led to this are, in hindsight, ridiculous and incredulous. It began one night when I was nine that during what I now believe was either a dream or sleep paralysis I was convinced that I had seen a ghost. How this became grounds for anything at all is simply beyond me, but after alerting my sleeping mum in a state of shock and panic, it was arranged for the local Catholic parishioner to make a house call. He did so and brought with him some holy water, which he used to bless the house.
I mean no disrespect for my mother, whom I love dearly, but I can’t get my head around this act of gullibility that led to my baptism. Perhaps the parishioner had convinced her that I had indeed seen a lost soul; but to think that in the 1990s this sort of thing could be endorsed by the church or believed by the laity is to my mind, simply absurd. However the number of other apparitions of saints and virgins endorsed by the church seems consistent with this account. (To this day my mother still believes in ghost stories, such as that of my sister’s sadly departed step-brother following us when we moved house, and the claims of numerous psychic mediums and clairvoyants parading on cable networks). Whatever the causal events, in 1999, soon after the birth of my brother, I was baptized into the Catholic church. This led to an instant religiosity on my part. From my point of view now, it was initially due to the family hype around the baptism and the gifts which I received from my godparents. However this was soon to develop into a more genuine faith.
On the very first day of 2000 I was sent to a Christian camp, and another later that year. These were hugely encouraging events, aimed at fusing the gospel, the Bible and church with a cool, fun experience. My main memories from these camps include rapping Bible verses, singing worship songs and a mini-Olympics. But the lasting effect of attending the camps was a new, genuine belief in God, Jesus and the Bible. I bought my first Bible at the January camp and read it nightly. At this point I was young, excited about Jesus and ripe for the picking. And alas, I was plucked from the tree like the fruit by Eve. The woman who took me under our wing was our Pentecostal neighbour (perhaps you can see the multi-denominational combination of Christianity in my life). I looked forward to attending church with her every Sunday and she would give me homework of memorizing a few Bible verses every week. This relationship was terminated by my mother when the two women had a personal disagreement.
As I moved into my early teen years I began to lose interest in Christianity and my focus naturally fell onto girls of my age. But it was in my second teen year that I was once again enthralled in the faith. Once again it was the Baptists with whom I was associated, and this time it was serious. This phase of my development led to my unfortunate abandonment of science. I was again taken under the wing of a Christian, this time the senior deacon of the church. The most important thing however, was not his rank nor membership of the church, but his role as an editor at ‘Answers in Genesis’, the world’s leading creationist organization. From him I was provided ample supplies of anti-evolution material, all within the pages of AiG’s monthly subscription publication ‘CREATION’ (formerly ‘Creation Ex Nihilo’) and a special edition book ‘The Answers Book’ stock full of horrible arguments defending creation science. I am ashamed to say that I bought into this indoctrination whole-heartedly and even refused to accept evolution at school and actively spoke against it, proclaiming my Christian faith. This scenario was repeated when I was sixteen after my faith having been revived during a viewing of ‘The Passion of the Christ’, the plotless two hour trial and slaughter of Jesus made by Mel Gibson. This time my influences were the Hillsong Church and the fundamentalist movement.
The final years of my Christianity were more mellow than the previous four. I lost the zeal that I had for spreading the gospel (or rather forcing it down my friend’s throats), but spent more time than ever reading the Bible, writing a Christian blog and developing arguments from scripture.
The ironic twist of fate was that meeting my Christian (Lutheran – Church going, praying but otherwise not observant) girlfriend would help to break down my faith of ten years. It wasn’t sex outside of marriage or anything that would be frowned upon that led to my dissatisfaction. It was that by the standards of my understanding of the Bible, she wasn’t saved and so I couldn’t be in a relationship with her. The Bible was clear, a Christian could not be in a relationship with an unsaved person. For a while I rationalized that she was saved and that Lutherans were REAL Christians too. But the arguments of Ray Comfort – that she didn’t show the fruits of salvation – convinced me that she was not saved. I did my best to ignore this.
As this struggle between my love for my girlfriend and my faith raged, another battle began to take place in my mind: the word of God versus that of science. Naturally science appealed to that side of me that wanted to save my relationship, and I won’t deny that the events leading to my deconversion were partially founded in my ‘love of my sin’ as some Christians may put it. But the realization that came with what I was to learn was that this religious psychological manipulation was threatening to end a relationship on the basis of a belief that was as invalid as every other religion that I had dismissed as a Christian. Whether it was more saving my relationship or what was learning that led me to atheism I don’t clearly remember, but let’s continue; certainly they both played into each other.
This battle with science came with a sense of fear at what I was beginning to understand. Due to years of indoctrination I was afraid of reading any material that was contrary to the Bible. But part of me caused me to purchase and start reading Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Greatest Show on Earth – The Evidence For Evolution’. At this time I also began to search for Christians videos on YouTube presenting the strong case for Christianity. I was growing afraid of losing my faith and that I had dabbled in something dangerous and needed the antidote to what I had got into. However the more I watched and searched, the more I saw the arguments that I had used myself falling apart, shattering and being destroyed; notably by a man who has become one of my biggest inspirations – Christopher Hitchens. Other YouTubers who presented educational videos on the topics of evolution, religion and science included ThunderF00T, ZOMGitsCriss, Matt Dillahunty (The Atheist Experience) and an array of other users. It was the very act of trying to find answers to support my faith AND my relationship that led to me having an understanding of the topic of evolution which I had previously decried. Eventually I had learned so much that I had no choice but to change my mind on the matter of evolution. I accepted it as a fact. But I still considered myself a Christian. I simply wasn’t ready to let go of the belief that had been the totality of my worldview since I was ten. So I called myself a naturalist – in the sense of studying nature, not the philosophical naturalism which I now hold to.
What happened next was not what I expected to be world-shattering, it was liberating. Something clicked. An acquaintance of mine said to me that I just repeat the arguments of the people I read and watch, but that is entirely untrue in regards to my atheism. What happened was the result of my reasoning faculties turning on as I slowly began to lose my faith. Evolution was the key. Understanding it was the catalyst. It was the basis of my rejection of everything I had held true before. And it showed me the psychological manipulation that I had allowed myself to endure under Christianity. I reasoned:
“The very foundation of Christianity is the doctrine of original sin. That Adam sinned and all mankind has inherited Adam’s sinful nature. And so to be reconciled with God, Christ came to take the punishment that we deserve. But if evolution is a fact, which all available evidence shows that it is, then Adam didn’t exist. If Adam didn’t exist then there was no original sin, which means that mankind has not inherited his sinful nature and nobody is born sinful as is the message of the Bible. This in turn means that Christ came to save us from the punishment for a sin that was never committed and to restore us to a state of grace from which we never fell. And so the moral code of the Bible is based on a falsehood. It has no foundation in reality and no basis on which to call natural human emotions, instincts and imperatives evil and immoral.”
It was so simple. This one fact crumbled the foundations of the entire Christian faith. I can’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it earlier, but alas my mind had been enslaved. And religion continues to enslave the minds of masses, even though the reality is so simply obvious. It was at this moment that I lost any and all belief in the God of the Bible and began to call myself an atheist.
However this wasn’t the end of my troubles. Although I no longer feared sin and hell for my relationship, I couldn’t tell my girlfriend. I didn’t tell anybody. I was afraid of what would happen if I revealed that I was no longer a Christian. So for more than a year I kept my atheism hidden from my girlfriend, friends and family. On the occasion that I tried to tell my girlfriend about it, here reaction was aggressive and furious and I immediately recanted and tried to convince myself into being a Christian again. That didn’t last. When one receives new information substantial enough to change one’s mind, one cannot simply revert to the prior held position on the basis of faith in the face of the new knowledge. And so I stayed in the closet. A year after my deconversion I have decided to come out. I told my girlfriend, and stood by it, and after enduring some dissapointment, anger and embarrassment from her, she apologized and accepted it. I wrote an open letter on Facebook, making it known that I am an atheist. I am yet to receive any comment from my Baptist Uncle’s family, though I am glad not to hide it from them.
However I am still in the closet in the public square. I purposefully wear Richard Dawkins’ scarlet ‘A’ lapel pin in public, however when asked what it means by a colleague I was too afraid to speak out. This is why I want to be active in the OUT campaign and We Are Atheism. I want to be able to speak confidently about being an atheist without fear of being treated differently at work. I felt threatened when my manager made a remark that the staff ‘need some Jesus’. Whether it was said in humor or seriousness the comment made me personally uncomfortable, and I want to be able to speak out and stand up for myself as an atheist.
There is still misunderstanding and distrust of atheists in society. And it is up to us as a community of reason to change the public perception of atheism, and cement our place in society.
My name is Fred Santos, and I am an atheist.