I was brought up to be a Christian, taken to a protestant church from the time I was born until I went off to college. Everyone in my family is a Christian, indoctrinated into the faith with bible stories every night and prayers at every meal and nearly every public event. Christianity was part of who we were and part of my personal identity. I believed, and I prayed, and when I prayed I knew what God wanted me to do.
Our church and even the whole denomination was bible-focused. As the song says, we knew Jesus loved us because the bible told us so. The bible was the proof. God had inspired men to write down his words so we would know how to live. Sermons and Sunday school lessons were each based on a passage or even a single sentence or phrase from the bible. The bible wasn’t just a historical document for describing the relationship between God and man, it was a communications device that God could use to get a message to individual people. God would tell the preacher or the Sunday school teacher what passage to use and what lesson to emphasize, and it would be a specific message for someone in the group. This view of the bible as all-important, inerrant, and magical is what led to my loss of faith.
I was a good student of the bible. I did well in bible-quiz (a Q & A game for xian youth), and during my first year in grad school, I read the whole bible – front to back. That is where the problem came. I couldn’t get over the problems with the genealogy from Adam or Abraham, through David to Jesus. First, what is the point since it traces the line to Joseph, husband of Mary, but not Jesus’ father? Secondly, the two versions are very different. Of course I wasn’t the first to notice this, but I had not read the apologists’ spins, and so for me it was a discovery of a clear error of fact. I had long before settled that the days in Genesis were ages long enough for evolution to occur, so I had no problem interpreting the bible to mean what I was told it should mean. But this genealogy thing was a clear error. If God told men what to write in the bible, why would he have let them make this mistake? Thus, it was clear then that it was not God, but men who had written the bible. If this part was wrong and made up by men, then what else was wrong and made up by men? Could any of it be believed? No. I had to admit it. My religion was based on the writings of a bunch of men, men who got stuff wrong and put in words to support their own agendas. I was so angry for having been deluded all that time, and I was so sad, because this change would tear me from my family.
I have always loved the truth. So in the end I felt better knowing that the bible was just made up. I no longer had to go through the mental contortions to try to make its words fit with reality. Atheism also made for a more consistent world view. It fit with there being so many different religions (people just made them up) and why there was disease and suffering and injustice (there is no omnipotent being to stop them). So now I work to understand and cure disease. In grad school I loved to sequence genes, because there is truth in those coded instructions. There is no way to spin or misinterpret a DNA sequence, it either is that sequence or it is not, and you can find out what it is.
As a scientist and as a citizen, I try to work for good in the world. Since there is no god, we are the only ones who can make things better. If we let people destroy the environment, there will be no god to fix it. If we let injustices occur, there will be no retribution for the perpetrators in hell. If we let people suffer, there will be no balm for them in heaven. I feel empathy for the good religious people of all types – it is not their fault they were lied to. But I look forward to a time when these delusions are gone and never taught again, a time when everyone will work for the good of all people and we can all enjoy the one life that we each have.