How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 6

The first part of this series can be found here.

Around April of 2010, I finally decided to talk to my parents and in-laws about my growing doubts. Though I was now aware of several problem areas in the Bible, I thought the best approach would be to tell them about the articles I had found on the book of Daniel. I knew those articles could present the information better than I could, and I imagined that my family would be just as troubled by the information as I had been. If so, then we could kind of go through the process together, instead of it being a “me against them” sort of thing.

So one day, I was talking to my dad on the phone, and I brought up those articles on Daniel. I think we had already been talking about spiritual things, so it was a natural place to bring it up. I was very nervous. I didn’t go into a lot of detail about what the articles said, because I wanted him to read them for himself. So I just gave a bit of a primer, saying that the articles made some claims about historical mistakes in the Book of Daniel, and that the evidence seemed solid. My dad didn’t seem too bothered by that, and he said that history was not an exact science — history has had to revise its accounts many times before. Of course, he was right. So I gave just a couple of specifics, like Daniel calling Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar, even though we knew from historical sources around that time that he was not. Dad still didn’t seem too bothered (I honestly don’t blame him for that — he hadn’t seen any of this evidence for himself yet, and he had no other reasons to be skeptical of the Bible), so I just told him that I’d like for him to read the articles, because I thought they had made a good case, and I hadn’t been able to find any answers to them yet. He agreed, and our conversation moved on. I emailed the articles to him shortly thereafter.

Later that month, I had to go to some business meetings in Atlanta for a couple of days and decided to stay with my parents, who live nearby. One night I was sitting in the living room with my dad and my youngest brother, who was living with my parents at the time, and I asked my dad if he’d had a chance to read those articles yet. He told me that he had started them, but he quit when he saw that the guy who wrote them was an atheist. I was pretty frustrated by that, because I didn’t think it was a good reason to dismiss the articles’ points. So I told him that regardless of the writers’ beliefs, he had some real evidence backing his claims, and I thought they were worth considering. I ended up telling him that I’d hoped he would read them because I was very bothered by them, and I thought they may be right. That final admission got his attention. It also ruined any chance I’d had at keeping us all on the same page; now it was going to be “me against them.” Instead of us all considering these things together, I would be the one presenting the evidence against Christianity, and they would be the ones defending it.

We talked for a while longer that night, but since no one else had read the material, our conversation didn’t go very far. Later that night, I talked to my youngest brother for a while and went into much more detail with him about problems throughout the Bible, not just those in Daniel. He mostly listened, didn’t comment much. The rest of my trip was very strained. And I’m not sure if Dad ever read those articles or not.

Talking to my in-laws didn’t go much better. I don’t remember the details of those early conversations, but I essentially only succeeded in freaking everyone out. I don’t think it ever occurred to any of them that I might have a point — they were just trying to figure out how they could help save my faith. My wife was actually in the same position I was too, but I hadn’t wanted her to admit that yet. I knew it would compromise her relationship with everyone if they knew that she shared my doubts, and I wanted the heat from the situation to be centered on me.

I was still reading a lot at this point. I had read some apologetic books already, and I was still going through some others. I was also given various articles by family members or the few people in our congregation who now knew about my doubts. I contacted some of the preachers I knew who were knowledgeable about the Bible’s history to see if they had any explanations for the issues I was encountering, but their answers weren’t satisfactory to me — they were really just speculation. For instance, I already mentioned that Daniel 5 says Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar — in fact, it refers to them as father and son 7 times in that one chapter. Our historical sources (multiple ones) let us know that Belshazzar was actually the son of Nabonidus. How can this be resolved? Well, perhaps it meant “father and son” figuratively. Or perhaps Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s maternal grandfather, though there’s no historical evidence to think that’s the case. For some people, these answers may have been fine, but I needed something more certain. After all, if the writer of Daniel really had believed that Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were father and son, there’s no clearer way he could communicate that than what’s said in Daniel 5. Why would God allow such a misleading passage in his word? And of course, it’s just one of many.

Since the answers I was receiving didn’t seem to answer the questions, the pressure continued to mount. In the next post, I’ll cover how the spring and summer of 2010 unfolded.

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22 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 6”

  1. Nate, I’m not sure if this gets back to you, or one must ‘comment’ through your blog. But if this reply works, I would like you to know a couple of things. I am a Church of Christ minister’s wife who has not believed for over four years. My husband knows of the change. Basically I live in two worlds… mine and the church’s. If you are interested in corresponding, let me know. Thanks for your honesty. Polly

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  2. G’day Nate, just a brief comment to let you know I am still reading with interest, still sympathetic, but (for once) with nothing more to say! Best wishes.

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  3. Thanks unklee!

    @pollyann27 — Hi! It’s great to hear from someone else who’s been in the Church of Christ. I’m definitely interested in talking to you — I’m sure you have a very interesting story. I’ll shoot you an email today.

    Thanks!

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  4. Nate,

    This series has been a help to me. Thank you for writing what I’m sure must be for you a gut wrenching series of posts.

    It is so valuable and necessary for people to understand that for many people, decisions like this are not made lightly. All the best to you and yours.

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  5. I can understand the frustration with the apologetic answers and books. It seems like the apologetic answer is typically just lazy logic. Always pointing out speculation and all possibilities, instead of searching for the most reasonable and logical answer.

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  6. I think it stems from motivation. I sometimes think some apologetics seem to (1) start from a strongly held premise, then (2) build up their evidence around this premise. An alternative is (1) looking at the avaliable evidence and then (2) building a premise according to the evidence.

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  7. Apologetics focus on defending a position. If a person is always on guard, it might be rather hard for them to reassess whether what they are guarding is actually accurate.

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  8. I too have the same frustrations with apologetics that all of you have expressed so well. I get so tired of the “card stacking” techniques that are so prevalent in apologetics. It seems to me like such a dishonest approach to trying to find what is true.

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  9. I think we need to be careful not to be too theoretical about apportioning belief to evidence. It is a fine ideal, but in reality, most of us don’t have time to investigate everything, not should we. Some examples:

    1. We don’t conduct personal relationships that way. We don’t withdraw trust from someone we know and love if we have evidence of their disloyalty or infidelity. Rather, we cut them some slack before we demand an explanation.

    2. I’ve read several scientists who say they don’t investigate every alternative to the hypothesis they are working on, or they’d never get anything done. They have to go with the investigation until the evidence against gets compelling. That is the origin of the aphorism that science proceeds one funeral at a time.

    3. Christians believe they are in relationship to a personal God. They will treat God the way we all treat friends and loved ones in #1, and hold on in loyalty unless the evidence is compelling.

    4. I’ve seen many non-believers do exactly the same thing. For example, I’ve discussed healing miracles many times with sceptics, and I don’t recall ever finding one who was interested in investigating the evidence. Some obviously didn’t want to know, but others argued that they had seen so many refuted miracles that they weren’t interested in looking at any more.

    So I suggest a more reasonable approach is to accept that we will all tend to hold onto our views in the face of contrary evidence, and the challenge is to know when the evidence has mounted up to such an extent that it demands to be re-considered.

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  10. Hebrews 11:1
    King James Version (KJV)

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    – Faith then seems to be trust in what we hope for, but we can’t yet see.

    How does physical evidence have anything to do with faith?

    I think faith is a valuable and beautiful part of humanity, providing it doesn’t force people to be dismissive.

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  11. Unklee

    1. but our relationships are based on evidence: if we we can, we base our decisions on what we: see, hear, touch ect. Even if a relationship is based on a phonecall the evidence is hearing them. For example: Even if people are discussing online the evidence is in the exchange (in what we can see). Even our understanding of the wind is based on evidence, in the way it can be measured and how it manipulates other physical objects.

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  12. Yes I agree relationships are based on evidence, but I didn’t say they weren’t. What I said was that if we have a strong positive relationship, we don’t drop it if we get some evidence against the person, but give them some loyalty and cut them some slack. So our relationships are not 100% based on evidence, but also on trust and loyalty and even intuition.

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  13. I came across this on ThomisticBents blog:

    Michael Shermer Quote
    Posted on October 11, 2012 by humblesmith

    “Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism, and science as a worldview, I guess, to be honest, I just liked the people in science, and the scientists, and their books, and just the lifestyle, and the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with – just socially. It felt more comfortable for me. In reality I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact.”

    – Michael Shermer speaking in ‘Nine Conversations: The Question of God’, PBS documentary

    This prompts me to think about whether people sometimes attach justifications to actions only after they have decided to do those actions. In other words do our preferences come first, and then our justification?

    I would be really interested to know if anyone has identified this in his or her own ways of thinking.

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  14. I’m sure it is true for me, at least in part. I try to be honest with that, and I adapt my beliefs as I find evidence for different views, but I have always said that following Jesus, for me, is about personal loyalty as well as factual truth.

    Just by the way, my experience is the opposite of Shermer’s. I think if I lived in a culturally christian country like the US or Italy (perhaps?) I’d find many so-called christians who would offend me deeply (it happens even now over the web), but in a secular country like Australia, I have many good non-believing friends, but the people I admire and appreciate the most are generally fellow christians.

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  15. That’s a really good point Ryan. That is why it is so important to me to try and think a lot about everything I believe and why I believe. It’s also important for me to try and understand a lot of different perspectives from reading and talking with people of different beliefs. Not that easy to do, and I certainly don’t do it all the time but it’s definitely a goal of mine to help in trying to avoid what you are describing.

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  16. “…he quit when he saw that the guy who wrote them was an atheist.”

    If anything is true, why should it be threatened by either an opposing view, or the messenger who brings it? “Truth” is only threatened by these things if it is not completely true. Darkness never overcomes light; it has no resistance to it. Too often, in any argument (not just religious), alternative views are dismissed, not because they are not true, but because the hearer is afraid of the implications if they are true. Fear is not love. If truth is what you seek, you should never be afraid of any statement.

    Btw, you did the right thing by your wife, and I applaud that…

    “Why would God allow such a misleading passage in his word?” As a side note, I wish to point out that the “Word” (capital W, as expounded in the gospel of John) is not the same as the “word” (little w), which is the Bible. One is a living entity, another is a translation of it. One is a voice, the other an echo. Echoes are never completely accurate, as you demonstrate in your paragraph on Daniel.

    Your series is presenting an accurate picture for me, but I’ll defer from offering some final comments until you are finished. On to the next…

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  17. If anything is true, why should it be threatened by either an opposing view, or the messenger who brings it? “Truth” is only threatened by these things if it is not completely true. Darkness never overcomes light; it has no resistance to it. Too often, in any argument (not just religious), alternative views are dismissed, not because they are not true, but because the hearer is afraid of the implications if they are true. Fear is not love. If truth is what you seek, you should never be afraid of any statement.

    I’ve never seen it better stated.

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  18. Nate,

    Something you said in this post struck a definite chord:

    “I ended up telling him that I’d hoped he would read them because I was very bothered by them, and I thought they may be right. That final admission got his attention. It also ruined any chance I’d had at keeping us all on the same page; now it was going to be “me against them.””

    For myself, I have been through three major theological crises in my life. Two were as a young adult coming out of a heretical background, and the third has been just recently. I’ve also watched similar events with relatives several times. Everyone is questing for a better view of the truth, but the results are always the same.

    I don’t believe there is anything a person can say/do in these situations to prevent the us/them alignment you mentioned. The difficulty of being a person is that we can only hear certain things from certain people. This is true of me and of everyone I know. I would encourage you by just saying that you simply did not have the right “chair” to be heard. There’s nothing for it, IMO. We do the best we can, but the us/them thing is to my mind pretty inevitable.

    At bottom, if we are wrong on faith, then we are by definition suffering from a delusion (at least in part). This strikes the deepest ego centers of the human animal. If you inform them, you’re doing so as someone who has “seen” and I think this is nearly always taken as an implicit judgment, no matter how misperceived. If we are wrong on faith, then we have so very much to answer for, so to speak. A life spent in a faith that was fundamentally flawed hammers so many pain points – personal identity, expectations for eternity, earned reward, past judgments on others, etc. Heck, just having to admit being wrong on the small stuff is nearly impossible for some people. What about the big stuff? What about the biggest stuff of all? I think its less about accepting the facts on the Bible and far more about accepting the facts about ourselves.

    Don’t kick yourself. I doubt there was ever the possibility of it coming out a different way. Where it can be heard, it has to be from the right person in the right moment. No right approach can overcome that.

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  19. Hi Brisancian,

    That’s a really insightful comment, and I haven’t really thought of it that way before. I think you’re probably right, though. I guess it’s a shame that our minds tend to work that way…

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