How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 7

The first part of this series can be found here.

Once my parents and in-laws were aware of my doubts, the clock was ticking. Doubts as serious as mine obviously needed to be resolved, or I would be in danger of apostasy. Family get-togethers became weird at this point, because my doubts were always the elephant in the room. Periodically, people would ask how things were coming along, and I always replied that I was still studying — didn’t have things figured out yet, but I felt sure that the answers would be forthcoming. Though as time went on, I was less and less sure that any answers actually existed.

Aside from my wife and maybe one other person, no one really studied along with me. I had plenty of people that suggested reading material to me, but it was always apologetic in nature. I sometimes wonder how it would have been if they had done the kind of study that I was doing and also looked at the skeptical arguments. I had at least one person tell me that they would never read things from a skeptical perspective, because they didn’t want to lose their faith. This didn’t make any sense to me. The Bible is filled with admonitions encouraging people to test spiritual claims (1 John 4:1, 1 Thess 5:21, Matt 7:7, Deut 18:22). And if what we believed in the church of Christ was true, how could we possibly lose our faith in it through rigorous study? It seemed to me that critically analyzing our beliefs would only bolster our faith, as long as what we believed was true. Furthermore, if we weren’t willing to question our beliefs, why did we think people in “false” religions should question theirs?

In May of 2010, I decided to write out the main problems with the Bible and Christianity that were bothering me. It was around 15 pages and it mostly covered Bible contradictions and failed prophecies — in fact, many of the same things that are linked in my About section. I gave this document to the handful of people who knew about my doubts as a sort of “quick reference” to explain what I saw as problem areas. Some copies of this document were spread around a bit in an effort to find answers from various preachers or researchers who might be more knowledgeable. As far as I know, none of those people ever replied to it directly.

However, I was eventually put in touch with a preacher and college professor in the Tampa area who taught classes in biblical studies and philosophy. We’ll call him “Roy.” Roy was kind enough to engage in an email correspondence with me for 2 very intense weeks. We usually emailed each other multiple times each day during that period, till we finally felt that we just had nothing else to say. It was so nice to talk to someone who was actually familiar with all the material I was referencing. Up to that point, most of the friends or family I spoke to just didn’t know much about how we got the Bible or the historical settings for many of the books within it. But Roy knew the criticisms of the Bible (and Christianity as a whole) — he knew all the arguments and counter-arguments.

About 2 weeks before we began emailing each other, I had told my congregation that I didn’t feel comfortable taking a public role in the service until I had worked out these issues. It wasn’t easy telling them that, and it finally made everyone else aware of my struggles. I mentioned this in my first email to Roy when I told him more about myself. I think this section also does a good job of illustrating why I’d always believed biblical inerrancy and objectivity were so important:

I’d also like to tell you a little about myself. I’m not a novice to the scriptures, though I guess I’m still fairly young. I just turned 32, but I became a Christian at a young age. I was raised in the church by very devout parents. My father and his father are both serving as elders right now. The congregation I attend doesn’t have enough qualified men to have elders, and we’re not a large group, so I actually have a very active role in our congregation (though I have stepped away from that for the time being). I have preached often, I lead singing often, I teach Bible classes often (from the young kids through the adults), etc. I’ve always believed that if I’m asked to do something for the church, then I should do it — even if I feel nervous about it. I’ve converted several people to the church since about the age of 20. I ran a pretty successful religious blog for a while too that had some really great discussions on it.

I don’t mean to sound haughty with any of that information. I just wanted to give you an idea of my religious background. One of the things that I have always held onto very deeply is the notion that the Bible makes sense. Too many “Christians” view serving God as some kind of nebulous, “better felt than told” experience. But I’ve always believed that it’s much more than that. I’ve also always believed that God’s word was unassailable — that even if someone tried to point out an inconsistency, closer examination would easily validate the Bible. And I’ve also always expected those I’ve studied with to have an open mind about what I was saying to them. That if their beliefs didn’t match the Bible, then they should be able to draw the appropriate conclusions. Thomas Jefferson said, “We are not afraid to follow truth, wherever it may lead,” and that’s something that I’ve always believed.

So once I started examining some of these claims more closely, I wasn’t afraid of the arguments skeptics might make. They were either true, or they weren’t. And I figured that a careful analysis of the Bible would soon show that their critiques were invalid. It’s just that I’m not so sure about that now.

It would simply take too long to go through every point that Roy and I discussed. But our biggest breakdown centered around the resurrection. Roy didn’t believe the Bible was inspired because of inerrancy, but because of the resurrection. I didn’t really understand that at the time, though I’ve since run into many others who take this approach. Roy believed that the evidence for the resurrection is so strong that it could be considered an actual historical event. And since the Bible is the only book that teaches about the importance of the resurrection, we must trust that the Bible’s inspired, even if it’s not completely inerrant. To me, this seemed circular. It proves the resurrection is true by the Bible, then proves the Bible is true by the resurrection. I just didn’t find it convincing.

I really appreciated the time that Roy took with me, though when we finished our discussion in early August of 2010 I knew there was very little chance I would find any resolution to my doubts. In the next post, I’ll talk more about the fallout from that realization. Thanks for reading.

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14 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 7”

  1. Nate – I’m following with real interest. We have been on very different journeys but I have twice had to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught. I had been a member of the Worldwide Church of God for some 17 years when the leadership in 1995 announced that much of their teaching had been misguided. Like the C of C, we knew we were the one and only true church, because nobody else kept the Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days as we did.

    When the split occurred we were part of a family of 14 related by marriage. Four of that family we have never spoken to since. Our daughter’s in laws went one way – we went another. Her reaction was ‘you can’t both be right’ and she and her family are now atheists, as is my son and his family. My wife still attends but I gave up completely some three years ago.

    I can empathise with so much of your story – the big difference is that I have ended up with a real faith that makes sense to me. But that is because I have come to the conclusion that there is an enormous difference between the Christian RELIGION and the Christian FAITH.

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  2. Hi Peter,

    I really appreciate your comment. I hate to hear about all the turmoil your family has had to contend with through religion. I know how difficult that is, but I imagine it’s even worse when it involves your children. Mine are still too young for that to be an issue for us. Of course, we hope it’s never an issue we have to deal with, because we’ll be okay with whatever our kids end up believing. But who knows if they’ll feel the same way?

    I’m sure your kids becoming atheists has not been easy for you. Are you still able to enjoy a good relationship with them, or is there a lot of tension?

    Thanks again for posting your comment, and I’ll also be sure to check out your blog. Take care!

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  3. Hi Nate – found your blog a few weeks ago and have been enjoying reading through it. Your de-conversion story is very interesting. While my own story is different in some ways, there really are a lot of similarities between them. Especially in our current world views. I keep reading your posts and comments and frequently feel the urge to scream “exaclty” or “couldn’t have said it better myself”. I liked your reference to possibilian in one comment – I had never come across that and I felt it was a good way to describe my whole approach to these kinds of questions. The most impressive things I find about your blog is the “tone” that you keep – very respectful even in disagreements (and even when others seem rude). I like that a lot. When I left Christianity an important thing to me was to not move into “attack Christianity” mode which is the kind of mode that is so easy to find on the internet. Your blog is refreshing – hope you continue blogging for a long time to come.

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  4. @howie, it is refreshing. I spite of all that has happened to NATE, he has handled it very well. He hasn’t gone into ‘attack Christianity mode.’ Which is hard to do, when you live in a world where everybody thinks we have a problem, because we don’t believe in God.

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  5. Howie,

    Thanks for such a kind comment! It’s nice to hear from people who tend to see things the same way I do — I’m really glad you came across my blog. I enjoy yours too, by the way. I look forward to seeing where you take it.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comment. I really can’t tell you how much I appreciated it!

    @M. Rodriguez — thanks for your comment too!

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  6. Hi Nate! I know I rarely comment on your blog, but I do check in fairly often. I just read through all your de-conversion posts so far. I found it interesting to see the things that people in your life did (or didn’t do) that were helpful (or not so helpful) as you were on this journey. I wish more Christians would read your story just for this aspect of it. Christians often seem particularly bad about knowing how to help someone who is doubting…sadly they are too often dismissive. Nothing worse than having real concerns that are deeply troubling you and being dismissed.

    On another interesting note. For my dad, the book of Daniel had the opposite affect on him – as it did on you. My dad spent a couple of years carefully considering Christianity and the Bible, before finally making a decision to trust Christ and become a Christian. One of the decision factors that tipped the scales for him was actually Daniel. For him, more about Daniel made it trustworthy than non-trustworthy. Which leads me to another point that I often contemplate…That “compelling” evidence for one person is not-so-compelling to another. That sometimes the same info can send 2 different people in 2 different directions.

    For me, it comes down to faith. But I sure don’t want that to sound dismissive!! I think you know me enough from my blogging that I’m not someone who wants to ignore problems and “just believe.” Ugh. Non-thinking “put your head in the sand” faith so irks me.

    Will be looking for your next post on the fallout…

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  7. Thanks Laura! I really appreciate that.

    Honestly, I also feel bad for most of the Christians who have to deal with someone who’s “fallen away.” I know it must be very conflicting for them. I’ll occasionally run into people that we used to go to church with, and it’s always so awkward. A while back, I was in the grocery store, and when I turned the corner on one aisle, I almost ran right into a girl whose Bible classes I used to teach. She’s still pretty young — around 18 or 19. We were both surprised, and I immediately said “Oh, hey!” But she quickly turned as though she hadn’t seen me and began studying the various cans of soup, or whatever. I just slipped on by.

    It was a really strange encounter, but I wasn’t upset or anything by it. I actually felt really bad for her. She’s a truly great person, and I know she wasn’t trying to be rude — she just didn’t know how to respond. In the church of Christ, people are told that when someone leaves the faith, you can’t associate with them unless it’s in an effort to bring them back. So when faced with those situations, many of them don’t even know if it’s okay to be polite. It’s really unfortunate.

    Yes, the Christians that had the greatest impact on me during this process were the ones who took the time to listen, consider what I was saying, and study through it with me. In the end, we didn’t agree. But they showed their care and concern by being there and going through it with me. I still consider them friends.

    Also, thanks for that comment about your dad’s view of Daniel. My mom has actually said the same thing about that book. It really is interesting how people can come to different conclusions when considering the same information. Definitely a difficult subject.

    Thanks again for the comment, and I’m glad you’ve gotten some value from this series so far! It’s not been easy to write, but it has been cathartic to some degree.

    Take care! 🙂

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  8. “The Bible is filled with admonitions encouraging people to test spiritual claims…And if what we believed in the church of Christ was true, how could we possibly lose our faith in it through rigorous study?”

    Amen.

    From your email: “Too many ‘Christians’ view serving God as some kind of nebulous, ‘better felt than told’ experience. But I’ve always believed that it’s much more than that.”

    I would agree, with a broader definition than either of these two words suggests. I would include words such as “will”, “soul”, “character”, “humility”, “dedication” along with “knowledge” and “feeling”, and so many others. I think many of the arguments in this debate are centered in exalting the pursuit of any one of these words over others…

    Without reading “Roy’s” words (and, hence, I cannot analyze what he said), I don’t follow the circular logic either. The resurrection is not supported by the Bible in any logical sense. It is simply a testimony to it, and testimonies do not necessarily carry validity. They are either accepted or not. The divinity of Jesus Christ and the resurrection are two points that are either accepted or not. There is no proof as to its validity.

    I would be deeply curious to read the conversation between you and Roy but I understand that this is outside the scope of this series. Still, I hope you still have those emails and that you keep them. Perhaps some of the things Roy said will make a difference to you when you are ready?

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  9. @ Peter: wow, an ex-WCGer! I am an ex-PCGer (Gerald Flurry as pastor general and all).

    Nate, have you written anything about the topic of the resurrection? I occasionally debate with a fellow who challenged me to look into the Historicity of the Resurrection…b/c even if the rest of the bible is wrong, if the Resurrection is true then one would have to be a Christian, right? In the reading I’ve done so far, there is a lot more said about it than I ever imagined! But one point to consider is that apparently, according to the bible, a tremendous number of people were resurrected around the Jerusalem area when Jesus died, yet I’ve not found any historical reference to it…but wouldn’t that be about the BIGGEST event in pretty much the history of EVER?

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  10. Nate,

    Excellent post, and I again had tremendous resonance with what you have here. A few commonalities:

    “Though as time went on, I was less and less sure that any answers actually existed.”

    > Precisely. I saw the likelihood of answers shrink as the months went by.

    “Aside from my wife and maybe one other person, no one really studied along with me. I had plenty of people that suggested reading material to me, but it was always apologetic in nature.”

    > Again, ditto. Apologetic books – stacks. It is such a solo experience. And I will say that was true of the crises I went through when I was younger as well. Where it comes to these things, people often don’t want to engage. I have had incredibly smart friends – friends that I thought would hunt me down and hound me on all of this. Really nothing there, very little engagement. The attitude is quite clear on your quote just after:

    “I had at least one person tell me that they would never read things from a skeptical perspective, because they didn’t want to lose their faith.”

    > I also had a Roy in my life. As time went by, all of his arguments shrank to a single point: the resurrection. Its surreal to read your account.

    “Roy believed that the evidence for the resurrection is so strong that it could be considered an actual historical event. And since the Bible is the only book that teaches about the importance of the resurrection, we must trust that the Bible’s inspired, even if it’s not completely inerrant. To me, this seemed circular.”

    > Indeed, sir, it is circular. I have come to say that the life of Jesus cannot jailbreak the Old Testament if it is fictional. It cannot write a history of events if they did not happen. And, as you say, the only thing that tells us what it means is the backdrop of the human crisis that began in Genesis, the template of blood sacrifice from the Law, and the prerequisite that God is the sort who judges. OT, OT, OT. I had this in mind when I wrote my thesis, which I hope you have the chance to review. Could not agree with you more.

    > My wife has said that reading you is like listening to me talk. Same points, same issues, same response from other people regarding study. Study of these things is regarded with what I can only call Superstition.

    > Glad to not be the only one, but also kinda sad for the same reasons.

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  11. Just to follow what Hartness said before, I think he is right to recognize that the gospels are “testimony”.

    As Christians, we always talk about the evidence for the resurrection. But in truth, we have no evidence for the resurrection or even his life; i.e., no artifacts. We have testimony, and it is critical to recognize that the testimony is not from anyone without a vested interest: the authors were all acolytes. Testimony is evidence of belief alone.

    I have compared this with the Muslim claims about Mohammed riding a winged horse to the heavens, or to Joseph Smith and encounters with the angel Moroni. There is no evidence for either such events – simply the *testimony* of acolytes. We have evidence of belief, not evidence of event.

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  12. And one thing that always perplexed me when talking to believers, even when i believed, was how maby acted like “eyewitness” testimony was the most reliable form of evidence. That never made sense to me.

    I could always understand why it was hard for others to believe, but i couldnt shake my faith until seeing all the holes. Nothing fills them now. And of course now I can see that the bible only claims there were eyewitnesses. It claims a lot of things.

    Wow, 500 nameless witnesses who are all long dead? What more could we ask for? If you dont believe that, what will you believe?

    And many believers dont really take evidence even if they claim there is supporting evidence. The bible is their one “known” and they use it to verify all science, archaeology, etc, not the other way around.

    They may say, “the discovery of David’s palace is great evidence for the bible,” but what they really mean is that the bible is evidence that the discovery of david’s palace is real.

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  13. They may say, “the discovery of David’s palace is great evidence for the bible,” but what they really mean is that the bible is evidence that the discovery of david’s palace is real

    Excellent point, William.

    @Brisancian
    I really appreciate all your kind comments. As you say, it’s a shame that people have to go through this, but it’s certainly nice to not feel so alone in it.

    My wife has said that reading you is like listening to me talk. Same points, same issues, same response from other people regarding study.

    I consider that a huge compliment! And it’s the same feeling I’ve had reading your thesis. Your writing style, by the way, is fantastic. Very descriptive.

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  14. William, as always, I so appreciate your comments. Your thought process is remarkable (at least to me). In this latest posting, I love your comment: The bible is their one “known” and they use it to verify all science, archaeology, etc, not the other way around.

    The truth in that statement is undeniable.

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