My nonconversion story: How I Didn’t Become Christian. Introduction.


In Christian apologetics, there’s a very popular type of story that could be described as ‘The Scoffer Is Convinced’. (It isn’t, as far as I know; I just invented that name. But it could be.) The three most famous examples are Lee ‘The Case For…’ Strobel, Josh ‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict’ McDowell, and, of course, our old friend J. Warner ‘Cold Case…’ Wallace. The basic format is thus:

The person in question was once not just a nonbeliever but an utter stereotype of skeptics (although the ‘stereotype’ part isn’t pointed out). They felt nothing but derision for Christianity, laughing at the utter foolishness of it all. Then they actually started looking properly at the evidence for Christianity… and were astonished to find how solid that evidence actually is. Convinced by the overwhelming evidence, they eventually convert to Christianity, henceforth to lead a happily transformed life and possibly write a multibook series about it all.

I’ve never either derided or converted to Christianity, but my story does have one significant thing in common with the stories above: I’m also a nonbeliever who made the decision to look properly into the evidence for and against Christianity and weigh it up as fairly as possible. I spent years of my teens and twenties doing this. And – as you can probably deduce from the fact that I’m here on an atheist blogging platform – I reached the opposite conclusion from Strobel, McDowell, Wallace and their ilk. As a result of all my reading and thinking, I reached the firm conclusion that Christianity is not true.

This seems, by the way, to be an unusual way of doing things; not the ‘deciding Christianity isn’t true’ bit, which is reasonably common, but putting that amount of time and effort into the decision only to stay on roughly the same end of the theological spectrum. I’ve read accounts from people who made the Convinced Scoffer’s journey in the other direction, starting out as Christian and losing their faith as a result of putting thought and research into it. I’ve read about people who convert from Christianity to a different religion. And, of course, I’ve read about people who start out as nonbelievers and stay that way without feeling the need to put much in the way of research into checking out other options. I just can’t remember any other accounts I’ve heard of nonbelievers who put this much time and effort into deciding that, yes, they’re still nonbelievers. There must be others out there, I suppose; I guess we’re just few and far between.

Anyway, I’ve told part of this story already; how I looked at the arguments for believing in (the Abrahamic) God and couldn’t find any convincing ones, leading to me eventually becoming agnostic and then atheist. However, during this time I was also looking specifically at the arguments for or against believing in the Christian faith. (And, no, this was not the same question. On the one hand it would have been logically possible for a god to exist yet for Christianity to be wrong, as per the many other forms of religious belief in the world; on the other hand, the fact that I couldn’t find convincing evidence for a deity’s existence anywhere else didn’t mean that I wouldn’t find it in Christianity, which did after all specifically claim to have such evidence.) That’s a story I haven’t yet written; effectively, the anti-Strobel-et-al story, in which a skeptic genuinely and thoughtfully looks at the evidence and ultimately reaches the opposite conclusion.

So this, for what little it’s worth, is my story; what one teenage skeptic made of Christianity on giving it an honest examination, and why I reached the conclusions I did about it. Not a conversion story or a deconversion story, but a nonconversion story.

While I do not anticipate any multibook deals out of this one, it has certainly run into a multipost story, and a long one. I didn’t want to take my usual route of spending months or years dribbling the posts out one at a time, so I’ve actually drafted them all already, and plan to post them on probably a daily schedule, linking each one back here as I post. (This might well be the only time I ever use the phrase ‘daily schedule’ regarding this blog, so allow me to take a moment to relish it.) Tomorrow’s post will be about the background; how I grew up nonreligious but not anti-religious.

Part 1: Background

Part 2: Motivation

Part 3: About scriptural (un)reliability

Part 4: Reading the gospels

Part 5: He’s not the Messiah…

Part 6: University

Part 7: Word of God?

Part 8: In accordance with the prophecies…

 

Comments

  1. Katydid says

    Looking forward to reading about your upbringing.

    I was raised in a nominally religious family; that is, my family sent the kids to Sunday and to youth group and summer bible school…but I can count on one hand the number of times the parents attended church. In other words, church was a babysitting service for my mother, who did not work, but liked her afternoons, evenings, and weekends to be unencumbered by children. It was obvious to me even as a small child that the adults around me didn’t want to be there either. It led me to question why any of us were doing this.

    The summer I was 12, I read the Bible and was appalled by the contradictions and violence. I was a huge reader and couldn’t help comparing it with my favorite books.

    In the USA in the 1990s and 2000s, there was a whole lot of “GOD SAYS YOU MUST DO THIS THING!” from the fundies, and I couldn’t find a reason to care what their God wanted. I wasn’t militant about it…I just felt their imaginary “friend” (tormentor?) had nothing to do with me.

  2. Daniel Holland says

    My story may be quite similar. It is one of being raised nominally as a Christian, never really believing, but trying to get there. The story ends with affirming to myself that I am indeed an atheist and that I happy about it.

    Religion wasn’t too important to my parents, but I was still raised to be a Christian and did identify as one when asked as a child and teenager. However, I never REALLY believed. My doubts were always greater than my willingness to just accept the miraculous and nonsensical as true. I went through a phase where I actually wanted to believe, but still did not because I just wired in a too rational way (Star Trek was the foundation to my actual belief system as a child, though I only realised that a years later, when I found out what secular humanism is). Throughout the years, I made several attempts to read and understand the bible, started going to church sometimes and even went to confess to a priest once. My hope was that by learning about and understanding christianity, faith would come to me. Reading the bible and going to church didn’t succeed in making me a believer but I retained the DESIRE to believe. I no longer really remember and understand why I had that desire in the first place. Maybe to please a grandmother for whom it seemed to be important, or because I actually believed that religion makes you a better person.

    Then, early in my PhD years, I happened to sit next to an evangelical creationist on a plane. He noticed that I am a scientist and started talking to me about how there is no evolution. I knew he was wrong about everything, but his gish galloping and creationist arguments confused me. As a biochemist, I was annoyed by the fact that I could’t counter the arguments as well as I thought I should (I know now that debating a creationist is almost always a complete waste of time, but I didn’t know it then).

    That was how I a came across scienceblogs.com as well as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. While on the 1-7 scale between believer-agnostic-atheist, I was already closer to the atheist than the agnostic, but Hitchens and Dawkins rid me once and for all from the DESIRE to believe.

    Only then did I start actually considering myself an atheist. After years of unsuccessfully trying to find faith, the realisation that I am ok with being an atheist was a liberation.

  3. flex says

    I didn’t de-convert for the simple reason that I was never religious. I was raised in a household which was non-religious, and so was my mother, which was much rarer in the 1940’s. There is a story there about my grandfathers de-conversion in the 1910s, but I won’t repeat it now.

    For a long time I considered myself an agnostic. I didn’t know if the supernatural existed, and I knew that I probably could never know for certain. But in my early 30’s I thought I might as well take a close look at whether any sort of supernatural was necessary. My reasoning was as follows:

    While we’ve learned a lot, there are a lot of open questions about how the universe works. But we have learned a lot, and we will be learning more. If something exists which appears to be beyond the ability to classify as only needed natural causes, then that leaves the door open for the supernatural. I realized that there are probably problems which humanity will never solve, but that doesn’t mean they are unsolvable, only that humanity will not do so. Further, I was not looking for evidence that the supernatural existed, only that there was a place where the supernatural was necessary. If the supernatural was not necessary, then the parsimonious explanation was that it didn’t exist. Finally, I was not looking to convince anyone but myself. In other words, I would look at the boundaries of the gaps of our knowledge to see if the nature of those gaps requires a god.

    It was pretty easy to quickly realize that while there is a lot we don’t know about physics, or cosmology, or any of the harder sciences, none of the problems which we do know appear to require the supernatural to resolve. Many problems are restricted by our calculation ability, we can’t track the path of every molecule of H2O in Niagra Falls. But that problem doesn’t need the supernatural to solve. There are fascinating, and open, problems in weather prediction, gas giant formation, and the folding of space-time. None of them appear to need the supernatural to resolve.

    Eventually, I focused on the problem of consciousness. There isn’t a good model of consciousness, and it seems to be the seat of the ego, and the origin of the concept of the soul. I spent several years reading textbooks on neurology, behavioral psychology, and developmental biology, and even attended a few neuroscience conferences. I won’t say that I’m a neuroscientist, for I was approaching these fields with a specific question in mind, “Is there anything about consciousness which is inexplicable, not unknown, but ultimately unknowable, and requires a supernatural explanation for it’s existence.”

    I convinced myself that consciousness probably doesn’t require anything supernatural in order to emerge from the structure of the brain, and started calling myself an atheist.

  4. Matt G says

    I was raised in a UU church (my father was the minister!) and never had any theology pushed on me. I never believed, but became conscious of it at around age 8. My grandmothers made my brother and me pray before bed, but our parents didn’t. One day I complained to my grandma about this, saying “but I don’t believe in god”. Grandma replied immediately: “yes you do!” I didn’t learn until my teens that my parents didn’t believe either!

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