Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 4

Links: Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3

In early 2010, my questions took a different track that I hadn’t expected, and it happened quite by accident. I was writing material for the adult and high school Bible classes. We were about to begin a study of Christian Evidences, and I was writing a couple of lessons that showed some of the flaws in other religions, like Islam. Basically, it was an attempt to explain why we were Christian instead of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. In researching the problems in other religions, I also came across articles that talked about the problems in Christianity, including a series of articles on the historical contradictions in the Book of Daniel. I read the articles out of a sense of curiosity. I had been a Christian for a long time, and I had done a good bit of personal work. Though I had heard people claim the Bible had flaws in the past, I had never seen anyone present any. So I was very skeptical, even a little dismissive, of these articles. Until I read them, that is.

If you’d like to see them for yourself, I’ve reposted them on my blog. Links to all the articles can be found here. For now, I’ll simply say that the articles had much more substance than I had assumed they would. I was troubled by what they said, but I wanted to verify the information before I got too carried away. However, it didn’t take very long to find out that the main points of the articles were correct. Daniel, in my view, had a lot of problems.

At first, I didn’t really know what to make about this. I had always believed in biblical inerrancy, but now I was faced with a part of the Bible I no longer believed was inerrant. Could it be that only Daniel was the problem? Could the rest of the Bible still be okay? Thus began a period of time in which I began hunting for all the reasons to believe in and/or be skeptical of the Bible and Christianity. This was a really crazy time for my wife and I. I read everything I could get my hands on.

I came across Farrell Till fairly early in my search. He had an ascerbic tone, but he did an excellent job of digging into the details of the Bible and pointing out its flaws. He had written countless articles on contradictions and problems with prophecy fulfillment. He had been part of the church of Christ, though I think a slightly different flavor than the one I had been raised in. But he had still held to biblical inerrancy when he was a Christian, just like I had. And it was through that lens that he critiqued the Bible.

I quickly found that the problems in the Bible were not isolated to the Book of Daniel, they were littered throughout. It was incredible to me that I had been a knowledgeable Christian for so long and never realized these problems were there. But I had always studied my Bible to learn its lessons, not to critique its facts. I had just assumed it was true, since it was written by God. So in February of 2010, I began asking to borrow some apologetic books from some of the people I went to church with. I don’t remember if I told them why I was interested, but even if I had, they would have assumed it was just a passing interest that would quickly be satisfied. In reading those books, I didn’t find their explanations of the Bible’s problems to be very convincing. They sounded more like the kinds of arguments one makes when trying to convince himself to have a second piece of pie. He wants the arguments to be true, so he readily accepts them. I wanted sound arguments that would actually show the skeptic’s accusations to be completely groundless. That’s just not what I found.

Early on, I had shared my growing concerns with my wife and a couple of other close friends. I’ll always appreciate the way they stood with me — they walked a lonely path with me for quite some time. My wife was shocked by the things I had begun to find, and she was initially just as skeptical as I had been. But many of these problems in the Bible are very easy to see once you’re aware of them. And it didn’t take long for her to agree with me in thinking that the Bible was just not what we had always believed it to be.

One of my friends took a more cautious approach, and I think this was good. He willingly read everything I asked him to, and he met with me many times and listened to me talk about my growing concerns very patiently. In the end, he viewed the Bible’s issues as complicated things that we may never have answers for. But they were not of a high enough magnitude to make him question the entirety of his faith. I didn’t share that position, but I understood and respected it. In return, he also understood why this was such a big deal to me. And he never discouraged my looking into these things, nor did he ever criticize my character or attribute base motivations to me. That was a huge comfort, and I’ll always remain grateful for it.

By the time April of 2010 had rolled around, I realized that I needed to tell a few more people about my severe doubts — by this time, my faith was extremely weak. I knew that my parents and my wife’s parents would need to know. I’ll explain more about that in the next post. And if you would like to know more about the prophecies and contradictions I had problems with, the links are provided in my About section.

41 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 4”

  1. Just discovered this blog. I’m really enjoying this series of posts. I’ve been there. For me the red light really started flashing with Numbers 31 – in which the Israelites massacre the Midianites and Moses is furious because they didn’t kill the women. I had always read past things like that, until I just couldn’t anymore… unlike your commenter philosophical11, who is compelled by faith to reject conscience, worship a sadistic murderer and call him good.

    Like

  2. To my fellow believers, please remember we are to respond in love and in truth. For a great example of how not to do that, click on over to philosophical11’s blog; what garbage. How Christians think they will ever have any results with such an attitude escapes me.

    Like

  3. Thank you for posting this series, your story is a fascinating one. I was a believer as well (though not part of the Church of Christ) from high school into college. I’d been raised Catholic, but left that for a more Protestant-flavored Christianity. So, while I wasn’t a professing inerrantist (I figured since I hadn’t read all of the Bible, I couldn’t assume it didn’t contradict itself), I did expect it to be generally perfect. I was not pleased when I started finding the same problems you seem to have found with the Bible.

    By the way, I read on M. Rodriguez’s blog that you wrote a rather lengthy account regarding problems with the Bible and your faith. If you don’t mind me asking, do you still have that nearly 50-page letter/essay?

    Like

  4. @ Pretentious Ape — thanks for the comment! Numbers 31 became a big deal to me too — it’s just unthinkable that a God would condone such barbarism when he’s supposedly the father of all mankind. I’m really glad you chimed in, and I’ll be checking out your blog as well.

    @ matt — hey man, thanks (as always) for the kind comments. I’m so glad to have your support, even though we look at some of these things in different ways. It really speaks to your character, and I appreciate it.

    @ Daniel — thanks for the great comment! I’m you stopped by, and I hope you’ll feel free to comment on any of the posts you see here. I do still have the paper I wrote, and I’ll email you a copy (I can see your email address when you leave a comment, so no need to post it).

    @ M Rodriguez — you know, I might just do that. It’s not a bad idea. I keep thinking I’ll flesh it out and make it a real book, but I don’t guess there’s any reason why I can’t have both of them posted…

    Like

  5. So, I have a question about those that did try to work through this process with you. You’ve said a few tried to study with you at the beginning of your journey, what happened? Did it get to a point where they just washed their hands of the matter, gave up so to speak? If so I can’t see how that was very good for either you or them. Also, have they tried to recontact you to go over stuff again, maybe with new answers to your questions; or have they just left you to (in their opinion) burn in hell? I don’t mean to be harsh, but we both know that IS exactly their view of where you’re deconversion has left you bound for. I just don’t see how friends, let alone family, could just leave it at that.

    Like

  6. Hi Matt,

    The conversations with those who did talk to me varied. The friend that I referred to in the above post remained very calm and understanding throughout our discussions. Whenever I brought up a particular issue, he usually agreed that it seemed problematic. Sometimes he was satisfied by some of the explanations that we found (even though I wasn’t), and other times he would just take the position that the problems were unanswerable or that we didn’t have answers yet. But those kinds of conversations were rare.

    Most of the discussions I had with family often devolved into heated arguments, which didn’t help at all. And they would eventually say that the problems I was bringing up were just details that didn’t matter in the great scheme of things. Some of the people I talked to obviously weren’t ready to discuss specifics, so those discussions didn’t go far either, and most of them didn’t try to schedule follow-ups.

    But in the cases of those who did have many conversations with me, after a number of months, we just ran out of things to say. I had given my points; they had given theirs. I know it was difficult for them to “give up” on us, but there just wasn’t much else to say. I don’t usually hear from anyone anymore, other than an occasional exchange with my dad or my mother-in-law. It’s rare that I hear from anyone else. It’s definitely a weird situation. I appreciate your asking about it…

    Like

  7. Those are some big questions! 🙂

    1) I think a good bit of our morality comes from common sense and a conscience that was probably developed through evolution. But I know that topic is much bigger than the answer I gave, so let me point you to some of the things I’ve already written on it:
    Absolute Morality
    The Bible’s Morality
    Moral Codes…

    2) This is a deceptively difficult question. I’ve written on it before (here), but I’m not sure that I totally agree with what I wrote there. I tend to use truth as a statement of fact. For instance, either a god(s) exists, or it doesn’t. One of those options is true, even if we don’t know what it is. So I want to know what is factually true about as many things as possible, but I know some things will forever be out of my reach. In those cases, I just try to get close. As a side note, I do think we can know whether or not Christianity is true. I don’t think we can know if a god really exists or not.

    Thanks for all the great questions. If I haven’t answered them well enough, let me know, and I’ll try to do some detailed posts on them soon.

    Like

  8. G’day Nate, I read your post when you first published it, but I decided to wait and see the comments, and consider, before I made any comment of my own.

    I think we have some agreement on the facts, so my particular interest at the moment is the process of choosing. I know I have raised this before, but it seems to me to be the key question.

    I began thinking about the difficulties in the OT when I was roughly at a similar age. You and I probably had similar knowledge of christianity (though my “brand” was certainly less ‘exclusive’ than yours was). And yet, with much the same background and information, we responded quite differently. And I am pondering why.

    I am considering a few possible (hypothetical) reasons:

    1. For whatever reason, my belief was stronger than yours (whatever that means).
    2. Your background encouraged an “all or nothing” approach to the Bible, whereas mine was less strong on that (though not much less).
    3. I believed Jesus must be true even if the rest wasn’t, whereas you took it all as a package.
    4. You were subconsciously looking for a way out whereas I was wanting to stay in.
    5. You had been brought up with it, and this was your first real opportunity to choose, whereas I had to make several small choices on the way through and so I was already committed to belief in a way that you weren’t.
    6. You seem to have only considered two options, whereas I considered a few others.

    Perhaps some of these are the same. Perhaps there are other options. And perhaps, in the end, I could conclude that you hardened your heart against the Holy Spirit, or you could conclude that I hardened my heart against reason, but that doesn’t seem to be a useful way to start.

    Any thoughts?

    Like

  9. Hi unklee,

    Thanks for the comment. I didn’t realize that you came from a more fundamentalist background — that’s very interesting, and I appreciate your sharing it.

    In looking at your hypothetical reasons, I think some of them are probably close. I do think my background encouraged an “all or nothing” approach that was supposed to emphasize the importance of the entirety of the Bible, but which I ended up using as a test of the Bible itself. I also think your 3rd hypothesis is correct. I viewed Jesus as being dependent on the Bible, and when I felt it was no longer reliable, I didn’t feel I had a reason to keep believing in Jesus. The 6th hypothesis might be accurate too, at least as far as Christianity is concerned.

    I don’t think the 4th hypothesis is true. I sincerely believed it. It was all I’d ever known, and I was happy in the lifestyle. As time went by, the doctrine of Hell bothered me more and more, but I didn’t consider that Christianity might not be true until I saw some strong evidence against the inerrancy of the Bible. As you know, that was an important facet of my faith. But I don’t think I was looking for a way out. I was convinced it was true, and I couldn’t imagine living without it.

    I also don’t think the 5th hypothesis is true. I haven’t talked a lot about it on my blog, but I held several different positions than most of the people I worshiped with. And I disagreed with my parents over some issues, which wasn’t the case when I was a kid. I studied on my own, worked through things on my own, etc. I was kind of known for not necessarily following the party line on some issues that the church of Christ considered to be big deals. So I feel that I had done a lot of spiritual growth in my time as a Christian.

    Also, I never considered belief to be much of a choice, but more of a conviction. As a Christian, I had many opportunities to choose whether or not to live according to my beliefs, but I never felt a need to choose belief over unbelief. I was convinced that Christianity was true, even if I knew I didn’t understand every aspect of it. But seeing that the Bible was not inerrant was a huge blow to me — I had based every decision on what the Bible said and to see that it couldn’t always be trusted brought everything into question. After a lot more research, I just reached a point where I couldn’t believe it anymore, even if I wanted to. It wasn’t a choice, but more of a realization.

    So I think our differences hinge on a couple of key foundations.

    1) I still think a divinely inspired text would be perfect, if we’re all going to be judged on how well we try to follow it.

    2) I think I find the overall premise of Christianity to be less likely than you do. I feel that the Bible’s descriptions of God and his actions tend to conflict with one another. And I think the timing and method of Jesus’ mission on earth seems a bit illogical.

    Maybe those somewhat slight differences in our viewpoints is what led to our different positions. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    Thanks!

    Like

  10. Nate,

    We are exploring, and I guess the nature of exploration means being uncertain. But I have pondered over your 2 suggestions.

    1. I think your definition of “inspiration” is probably different to mine, so you end up being ‘forced’ to your conclusion here. But I still don’t understand why you are unwilling to consider other definitions of inspiration, and hence of what to expect from the Bible.

    2. If you can’t believe in the God the Bible describes, or in Jesus, then clearly this is an important difference. But again, I think you take the definition of christianity that you grew up with (which is that the whole Bible tells us equally about God) and this almost ‘forces’ you to disbelief. But if one accepts progressive revelation, then God is defined by Jesus, not by the book of Numbers; and if one understands the Bible as a collection of writings that give different pictures of God, rather than expecting it to be a scientific textbook, then one is less troubled by different portraits of God.

    I also think that your statement about the timing of Jesus’ mission being “illogical” is revealing. You are willing to judge this according to your expectation, even though neither of us can really have much of an expectation of how a God might act. Again, it seems your assumption ‘forces’ you to your conclusion.

    So I feel that we are closer to understanding our differences, but I still don’t understand why you took an all-or-nothing approach whereas I adapted my view of christianity according to what I found.

    Choice is an interesting thing. Do you as an atheist believe we have choice, or are our actions determined? (I think most atheists and most neuroscientists believe they are determined.) But if one believes in freewill, then we can see that if we have very clear reasons based on complete understanding, we don’t really have much choice, because the facts compel us. On the other hand, if we have no reasons, then the choice is actually random. Only if we are somewhere in between (i.e. reasons but not complete understanding, so we have to carefully consider and balance all the facts) do we have rational choice. Now it seems to me that you have acted like someone who believes the facts and assumptions are very clear and only one choice is possible, whereas I have a more flexible view and hence a very definite choice.

    That’s my thoughts so far.

    Like

  11. Hi unklee,

    I have considered different views of inspiration, but I just don’t find them very believable right now. Also, this series of posts is just trying to describe how I felt during my deconversion — there are a few nuances that might not be directly applicable now.

    But if one accepts progressive revelation, then God is defined by Jesus, not by the book of Numbers; and if one understands the Bible as a collection of writings that give different pictures of God, rather than expecting it to be a scientific textbook, then one is less troubled by different portraits of God.

    I think that’s true, but I just don’t find progressive revelation very believable. I won’t go into all the reasons right now, because I think it would just take us too far afield. But they’ll definitely come up in some future posts.

    I also think that your statement about the timing of Jesus’ mission being “illogical” is revealing. You are willing to judge this according to your expectation, even though neither of us can really have much of an expectation of how a God might act.

    Maybe we can’t have many expectations about a god we know nothing about, but surely we can have some expectations about the god of Christianity? Shouldn’t we assume him to be fairly logical? And the Bible claims he is just and loving — so can’t we make some conclusions based on those qualities? I believe it’s very fair to judge Christianity’s god by the standards Christianity has supplied.

    The question of choice is interesting. It’s a really deep subject, and we can’t touch on all of it in this one thread. But I think you’re suggesting that if God gave us complete knowledge of him and his desires for us, then we would all choose to follow him. We would have no choice to disbelieve or disobey. I don’t believe that’s true. My children know who I am, and they know what my desires for them are. But there are many times that they choose not to obey my wishes, even when they know there are consequences. Even the Bible shows plenty of examples of those who knew what was required of them, but didn’t follow through: Adam, Eve, Moses, Achan, David, Solomon, Samson, etc. All of them knew that God existed, and they knew what he expected of them. Yet they still failed.

    In fact, I’d say that real choice only exists when we know for certain what the options are. If a child sees escargot on a menu, he may order it instead of the hamburger because it has a cool name. But if he knew ahead of time that it was snails, he may not make the same choice. I don’t serve the Christian god, but it’s not because I just want to rebel against him. It’s because I don’t believe in him. If God really wanted to know how I’d react to his wishes, then he could find out by simply interacting with me directly. Real knowledge of him and his desires would allow me to make a real choice.

    Like

  12. G’day Nate, yeah, I think it’s about time.

    I think progressive revelation fits in with the real world real well – it’s how parents bring up kids and how teachers teach.

    And I think you don’t understand how much the power of God is veiled in this world if you think anyone on earth has complete knowledge of him.

    But like you say, perhaps some other time. Best wishes.

    Like

  13. I don’t think anyone on earth has complete knowledge of God — sorry if I somehow gave a different impression. I think God’s power is veiled so well, it’s very easy to question his existence.

    Thanks, as always.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s