Why and How I Questioned

I kept silent about much of my personal path for a long time. There was growth that needed to happen, confidence to gain. It’s hard to explain what it is exactly, but I feel like sharing it now. A song was popular when I was in high school, and since it popped into my head, I’ll share the lyrics here from Anna Nalick’s Breathe:

2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to

Writing this blog entry started with another blog entry that started a huge rabbit trail. I separated the rabbit trail into a second entry. The second one wound up with its own rabbit trail, and I suddenly realized I was publicly ready to share my journey into why and how I deconverted from Christianity. Many details of my research have been omitted here. They were detailed on a different blog and they may show up here eventually. I’ll be posting the original and the first rabbit trail post here eventually, they need a bit more editing.

Firstly, the home I came from was not a conservative evangelical home. My mom did and still does believe in God, but has always had a lot more liberal beliefs than the conservative church culture I frequently interacted with. One of her strongest values was supporting her daughters no matter what life path they chose. She found my adhesion to conservatism more than a bit odd. I remember a few discussions with her bringing up a more liberal viewpoint on something. I’d be just puzzled why she didn’t understand. That’s what I went to instead of wondering if she had a point. You know church has a strong influence on you when you can’t even begin to question if you could be wrong.  But her support of us having a life where we could pursue what was important to us spoke loudly. I think our parents have the potential to be an ever-present voice in our heads. Instead of me having the inner parent voice spouting faith and following the Bible as the most important thing, my inner parent voice encouraged me to follow my own path, believe in myself, follow my dreams, and work hard to get there. For a long time that overlapped with the Christian church culture I was heavily involved with for over twenty years.

At the point I questioned the existence of God, I was in my late twenties. I think for many people, this is a point in life where harsh reality has eroded the ideals we heartily embraced in late teens and early twenties. I had been a parent and had already experienced the limitations of God with actually helping me with my most difficult personal matters. As a parent of many small children, socially isolated in a rural community, living below the poverty line, with one of my closest people struggling with severe mental health issues, my life situations defied ideals in many ways. I’m not saying I blamed God for not making my life easier. I’m just saying it was very apparent that the changes with problems were not due to divine intervention. My parenting skills only got better when I educated myself more about child development and positive parenting as suggested by secular sources. Our marriage got a lot better when we stopped being confused by the Christian husband/wife submission structure and instead focused on mutual respect and thorough communication. Before that, any amount of prayer or Bible reading didn’t result in positive changes in situations.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post. I’m randomly sticking happy little pictures in here to break up the wall of text and give your brain a bit of a breather. This is Chrono, who grew up to be a nice rooster.

 

Due to the isolation, I had developed a lot of independent traits. I had also developed a habit of looking into stuff. The Christian parenting resources had failed in many ways, but the research-supporting positive parenting tactics breathed fresh air and peace into our household. My husband also researched everything solidly before making a decision. It became a habit for us. Why just do something based on what’s easy or popular when the alternative is understanding how it works, the cause and effect, and finding out other people’s solutions to the issues? The internet is a tool of information, and the more digging you do, the more you can figure things out.

The other thing the internet was useful for was socializing. I found a group of parents online due to our common interest of cloth diapering (Yeah, fancy, eh?) And for the first time I had an intimate group where was no common religious interest. Because we all shared all sorts of personal life info, encouraged each other in parenting, discussed news and events, and even debated hot topics, it was stimulating adult conversation, and challenging in a personal sense. There was parents from a variety of backgrounds, and we all found the common ground of wanting to make life better for our kids and ourselves.

When the pagans, agnostics, lesbians, divorcees, and other people I normally would have found a bit intimidating turned out to be so similar to the Christian families I was accustomed to associating with, it led to me having a reversed stance on ‘people who have different beliefs than me are a threat’ mindset that I had gradually gained from Christian culture. The main takeaway was that we weren’t so different, they were people, and they had good reasons for their differences. We as adults could have different lifestyles we made good choices to have, and those lifestyles could look completely different. Furthermore, their different lifestyles were not harmful to me. Having a variety of people made for a interesting, wonderful social environment. Many lifestyles that were considered ‘corrupting’ by Christian culture weren’t. The people were just trying to live their lives, make their lives better, and the worst corrupting they ever did was argue that they should have the right to make their own choices, not conform to other people’s. It was clear that them being able to choose did not hurt others. They didn’t want to change the way other people lived, they just wanted to be free to live their lives in peace.

I must add here that none of this swayed me from my faith. There were many others of my faith there, and we encouraged each other in that faith. What it did was clear my mind from some of the prejudices I held about nonchristians. It let me see that atheists could lead happy, peaceful lives, be great parents, and make good contributions to society. The reason I speak about Christians having harmful prejudices against atheists is because I had that attitude, absorbed from the church culture. It took years of interacting with a variety of people daily before I could see it as the harmful prejudice it was.

Thomas, a jolly otter at the High Desert Museum.

Another change happened: I had my last child, finalized by a sterilizing procedure. When I finally began to ponder what my life could be like when I wasn’t surrounded by babies and toddlers, my mind soared with possibility. I had lived among diapers, spit up, and lost shoes for so long. What was life like beyond all that? Change was in the air. It was inevitable, and it was good. It was also scary. But my life had been ‘mommy’ and very little else, and that drags on the creative and innovative spirit. I began to gradually develop an adult self. Moving so quickly from my late teens into parenthood had led me to avoid a lot of personal development, simply being exhausted and busy. I had plenty of development as a parent, and gaining responsibility was a crucial and wonderful thing. But being responsible and a good mom, no matter how important, wasn’t enough for me. The older my youngest child got, the more independence he gained, the more future I could imagine for our family and for me. So I was open to change.

Even so, the way it happened shocked me badly. I had never planned or hoped to lose my faith. It was so dear to me. It was an essential part of who I was. I loved Jesus. I loved the Bible. I loved so much of that Christian culture. I loved the people in it.  I had worked my entire life doing what my faith/the Bible guided me to do.

I regret I cannot remember what question prompted the questioning. I suppose it’s not ultimately important itself, but not being able to find it bothers me. Somebody on Facebook had posted a link to a blog entry. I think the blog entry was about Biblical womanhood. In one of the comments somebody was asking something questioning Christianity. I read through the rest of the comments and didn’t think much about it. Later that evening I recalled the comment. And I asked myself a question. “All the events in my life: is there proof any of them were divine intervention, or could they all be attributed to strong emotions and coincidences? Has there been any proof in my faithful life that God actually exists and interacts with my life?” And I thought back through everything I had witnessed at church, at a Christian camp, in my personal interactions, in my prayers, in my Bible reading. Then the question of proof of God’s existence continued to bother me. Even if I didn’t have personal proof, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t proof elsewhere. So I dove into research. I remember praying so much through all of this for God to strengthen my faith. I reread many Bible passages on many subjects and prayed for God to pull me through this, to reveal himself in an unmistakable way in the apologetics I read. But now I really questioned if God was real.

This was such a personal panic. I couldn’t even imagine a life where I wasn’t a Christian. With so many people in my life being Christians, I knew they would all be heartbroken. I had always hated letting people down. Especially my husband. Our faith together had seen us through so much. Even with acquaintances, I had always worked hard to have a reputation as a loving Christian, because I was to be the picture of Jesus for other people. Now here I was questioning everything. I could no longer just read about a miracle happening in the Bible. I wondered, ‘Is there any evidence besides this paper saying so that this actually happened?’ The answer, when looked into, was always no. The most important miracle, Jesus’ death and resurrection, had nothing substantial to back it up. Lots of people thought it happened. That proved its historical significance, but it didn’t prove it actually happened. There was tons of proof that places in the Bible had/still existed, and that certain events had occurred. There was no proof for miracles. Had I based my faith on what was essentially the opinions of other people?

Columbine, one of my favorite flowers.

Reading on apologetic websites brought up many other subjects. Dating of the Earth. Evolution. The answers seemed lacking in any demonstrated proof, so I had to reach out to a variety of websites to hear other viewpoints. Learning that the Garden of Eden went against everything DNA had shown as our genetic heritage let the air out of some sails. The overwhelming evidence for evolution made the few arguments I’d read from Christian sources against it seem ridiculous. If I had ever really looked into it before, this would have been painfully obvious. But I had taken the Christian church’s information against it with faith that these were men of God, and their information was dependable.

I would go to church, or listen to sermons online, and be critical. How much pastors depended on vagueness instead of specifics was shocking. I finally really understood the word, “Christianese”. It was possible to use key emotional faith words to describe a huge variety of things, and because I had heard them for so many years and applied it to myself personally, I had always filled in the vagueness with my own convictions. But when trying to actually define meaning to terms used in typical sermons and Bible studies, I was filled with the shock of reality. A Bible verse consists of words. What Bible studies do is attempt to bring words written thousands of years ago a personal meaning and conviction that matches up with our daily lives. Sometimes they did directly make sense, but the majority of it was simply up to the hearer’s interpretation, and could be interpreted in application in hundreds of different ways. No wonder there was such a huge difference of doctrines and practices. No wonder there was dozens of denominations of Christianity in every town. No wonder terrible and wonderful things had happened with the support of the Bible. No wonder my years of seeking divine direction and searching the Bible had never actually helped with making a decision and I always had to fall back to a combination of information and my feelings. The things I faced as a college student or young married person in 20xx were drastically different than the church in 70 AD.

I was determined to keep looking. The lack of answers bothered me so much. I felt I had made so many assumptions in my life of faith. I was determined that I would have a faith based on solid information, proof that my God was real and he was the God he said he was. It was not going to be just backed up with emotional fervor, it would be backed up with reality! It was super important to me. I didn’t want to be like other religions, based on legends passed down through culture instead of facts.

More and more I shifted to looking at the scientific method for my searching. If God existed and interacted with the universe, he would be impossible to hide. Specifically the Christian God. Surely the way he interacted with his people would be shown much truer than the way other gods interacted with their people. There would be something that set Christianity apart. But what I saw showed something very different. From early human history, unexplained things had been attributed to God. As we learned more about the way our physical universe worked, we changed from “God did it and we don’t know how” to “well, from what we’ve learned about observing things, the cause and effects are this.” The more people learned about the physical universe, the more physical causes they found. There was no divine mysterious factor, no supernatural contrast to rules. And importantly, upon studying other faiths and religions, there was no personal experiences that were different than Christian ones. Just like us, they prayed, and sometimes God answered prayers and sometimes he didn’t. They claimed miracles but had no proof of them. There were very devout followers, claims of emotional fervor, martyrs for their beliefs, and other things Christianity had. We had a bit better preserved records in some cases, but one piece of paper, no matter how old, is just the recording of one’s person interpretation of reality. I learned many of our great Bible stories resembled legends of older belief systems. There wasn’t even proof of a worldwide flood, it just turns out many ancient cultures thought the world a much smaller place, so a huge flood in their own area was assumed to be worldwide. Christianity was not the unique gem I thought it was. I had just been raised in it, and my personal attachment to that had made it shine to me. However, it was glaringly apparent that people tend to be very faithful to the religion they are raised with.

Baby goats. I don’t think I can ever get enough baby goats.

So then I wondered what would happen if I approached God like a child (or even older person) who has never heard of any religion or gods before. What would that child naturally discover unaided about the universe that would make them think of the Christian God? If nobody had ever told them there was a grand invisible creator, would it ever occur to them on their own? We are cultured by our parents and others around us. If we had never been told Jesus existed, we would have no idea from the observable universe he did. There’s a verse in Romans that tells us God is apparent from the observable universe: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” However, there’s nothing about life on earth that actually shows that. We learn about God’s existence from other people, not from God itself. Every religion is that way. Otherwise, people who sought God could find him outside of being told about him by other people, and all of us could come to a consensus on who he is and what he wants from us. Instead, the lack of God’s involvement with earth means that there’s millions of ideas about who he is and our best behavior in each religion.

Does religion behave as if there’s a divine force guiding it, or does religion behave as if there’s people guiding it? Does any aspect on earth act as though there’s a divine force guiding it, or does it behave as if the physical constraints of life and the natural characteristics of nature are playing out? If we look across the earth and humanity as a whole, how can we tell there’s a divine being involved in all of this?

When I went into exploring the character of the Christian God, it got super confusing as well. I could not find any answer on “Why God allows innocent children to suffer” that wasn’t a brush off of the question with a pat, “We are not to understand his ways, he knows more than we do.” That was immensely frustrating, as I cannot think of any moral reason a good being with the power to end the suffering of children would refuse to do so, and I had a very good understanding of Christian morals. In James: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” It seemed God expected more of his followers than he was willing to do himself, and furthermore refused to give them divine tools to do good in a efficient manner. I cannot think of any considerate churchgoer or Christian who doesn’t ache with pain at the idea of innocent people suffering the effects of poverty. I know many who have pledged their lives to fighting to make lives of other people better. They leave their comfortable American lives and endure great suffering and endless toil fighting against the effects of poverty. Millions of Christians pray and send money for this effort. They have done a lot of good, but the immense  physical and political problems causing poverty and suffering are well beyond the reach of even the most fervent prayer or faithful tithe. Then we have huge issues like incurable childhood diseases, causing babies, toddlers, and young children excrutiating pain. So the doctors do everything possible, hundreds or thousands pray, and death still comes. While a lot of my searching was in the physical realm, the “why” questions bothered me as well. If God is going to refuse to be provable in the physical realm, maybe the least he could do was make sense through doctrine and character. And he didn’t do well there, either.

The night I had started questioning, and in the week that followed in which I asked other Christians many questions, I had thought this would be a faith crisis that would be resolved. I’d go through a big struggle and then find the inexhaustible hope that is Jesus, I’d come back crying to his open arms, and have a stronger faith than ever. But I was further from faith than I’d ever been. Something else had happened in those months. Instead of being wracked with guilt and depression, I was actually feeling more free and lighter. That was odd. Jesus was supposed to be the ultimate freedom. I used to function under typical Christian life guilt. It’s actually pretty wrong to think you have it together in the Christian life. Humility is a honorable thing. So the more faithful you are, the more you are to think you are a wretched selfish bastard who needs a lot of improvement in every life area. There is actually no amount of prayer or Bible reading you could ever do that would be enough. You are actually nothing without Jesus. Any amount of good you do is because he gave you the power to do it. Any failure is because of your wretchedness and personal sin nature. Without having to consistently remind myself what a sinner I was, I naturally felt a lot better about life.

I had also thought that without faith, I’d begin a dive into gross selfish immorality, ignoring the needs of other people, even hurting them to pursue my selfish pleasures. But I still felt very strong about morals. True, some of mine had changed, with me leaning away from using the Bible as a moral guidepost and instead leaning more towards secular humanism. I still thought it very important to treat other people with respect and love. I still wanted to be awesome to my kids and husband and other people in my life. I still cared very deeply about the major tragedies people suffered, about humans finding solutions to big problems. I actually didn’t need faith to want to be a moral person. I had kinda known that on some level. But seeing it in my own life was exhilarating. Even if I never got my faith back, I had happiness and peace in the many other aspects of my life.

There was so many other aspects of my life besides faith! I had thought of faith as the foundation. Surely with the foundation fractured, everything else would be severely shaken, experience tragedies, lead to division and pain. But life went on and instead my faith crisis only impacted certain parts of my life. It impacted parts of relationships with other people. That was seriously rough. But I found I had a core of me that was distinguishable from faith. It still had its own confidence, personality traits, desires, quirks, problems, etc. It was deep and complex. I realized there was a lot there. Many of the good things I’d loved about Christian culture, like seeking to better yourself and the world around you, loving other people, serving them, and encouraging others, were not unique to a faithful lifestyle. I could do all of that even if I didn’t believe in Jesus.

Fishy hats and toe shoes.

Life kept rolling along. I looked less and less into the existence of God after finding more and more dead ends. I realized I was mostly agnostic. A few months later I had a resurgence of looking into stuff. I rechecked philosophical debates and theories on the beginning of the universe. I could see where there was room for mystery at the beginning of the universe, but there was nothing to suggest the Christian God was more likely than any other theory. When they finally figure that out, if they ever do, it will probably be like every other solved mystery humanity has ever uncovered. Physical causes for the physical universe, with no evidence for divine causes. After that, I realized that the lack of proof had lead to me concluding the God I had followed for most of my life either didn’t exist or existed in a drastically different and unobservable form. I saw no evidence for any sort of afterlife, miracles, or other supernatural happenstance. I was an atheist.

Looking back, I think one of the biggest factors in the whole process was something strongly encouraged by the Christian culture: have reasons for what you follow. Examine stuff. Of course, this was meant to refer back to the Bible. In Acts, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Many churches made a big deal of backing up what you lived or thought with the Bible. There should be reasons for stuff. I just happened to take it back one step further and ask if the Bible could really be trusted to guide my entire life. It didn’t seem wise to me to base the foundation of my moral values and the goals of my life on something that wasn’t trustworthy. And when it came down to it, other people finding it trustworthy was not a good enough reason to find it trustworthy. Any person can write down words on paper and claim it to be the voice of God. Just being raised Christian and having our pieces of paper be older than some others and followed by millions of people was not enough to pass scrutiny for me.

I understand that other people, upon examining similar thought lines, come to different conclusions. But from what I have come to understand about human nature and characteristics, that seems a very natural and good thing.  I really believe our diversity can make life interesting. I love thinking, comparing, and debating ideas. It has the potential to help all of us find solutions for the problems facing humans. Many things about the conservative Christian lifestyle have presented problems as well. It is difficult to confront these problems. Most strong conservatives believe their truth is the only truth, and their way is the only right way to live. Even a good argument can be ignored by somebody who has stopped up their ears with their faith. Now that I’m atheist I can look back and see how I did that. I view my ideas and thoughts now not as extreme and absolute, but as works in progress that can use more input. Any input does need to be examined and tested. I have changed a lot, and some of the scariest bits of changing has been knowing how I could be coming across to Christians.

Eventually, I began realizing they were going to think and talk about me no matter what, and the results may cause me some pain, but it wasn’t worth my silence. Several times I have had former Christians message me, confiding in their own agnosticism or atheism they hid from the Christians in their lives. The emotional hangover from the conservative Christian lifestyle is something it can take years to heal from. But there are people out there who may need to make this journey, and be free from a lifestyle that isn’t right for them. My journey isn’t something I’m ashamed of. It’s a part of me. Freely discussing it is something I am ready to do. Part of it is to help out others who have or may make a similar journey. But mostly, it’s something I don’t desire to keep bottled up anymore. I will never earn the respect or deep friendship of some Christians that used to consider me a sister in Christ, or godly role model. I have come to the conclusion that is the way it is, I need to accept it and move on. I know who I am and why I’ve made the choices I have. They don’t need to be accepted or agreed with by others to be valid.

This is probably the longest entry I’ve ever written. If you’ve read it, I thank you for letting me share my journey with you. I hope you understand me a bit better now. I wish I could give you some chocolate cake through the screen. Peace.

6 thoughts on “Why and How I Questioned

  1. I read your entire post and I want to tell you that I am in the same boat. I will not go into details simply because you’ve pretty much covered what is on my mind. I am so inspired by you. I remember the first blog post, I remember thinking how likely I could have written it! I would like a piece of chocolate cake, please! -diane from the cloth diapering forums. ❤

    Like

  2. Well written and thought out. What is important is doing/thinking what is right for you and what you are comfortable with. Life is about change, in our thinking and our doing – it’s called growth/evolving.

    Like

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