No you weren’t.
Usually, this line is used by a Christian trying to get me to see that they understand where I am on the God issue. However, when pressed, they usually reveal that they were not as atheistic as they claimed to be or they wrongly believed that not being a Christian means you are an atheist. Each of us were born into this world without any religious belief or moral framework. No one is born a Christian. This is the clear teaching of the Bible and every Christian denomination. To become a Christian, a person must commit to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. One must embrace the Christian gospel and profess a desire to follow Jesus. This profession of faith is different from sect to sect. Some require a person to be baptized, while others require the person be confirmed or make a public profession of faith.
These rituals do not take place in a religious vacuüm. The United States is predominantly Christian, so it should come as no surprise that most Americans embrace the Christianity of their family and culture. Religion is inherently tribal, as can clearly be shown by looking at what the dominant religion is in a particular place. There are historical, geographical, and sociological reasons why in a certain locale most people are a certain flavor of Christianity. For example, most of the Christians in the South are Evangelical and Baptist, while here in the North Methodists and mainline sects have a greater foothold. Even at the local level we see dominate sects, such as in nearby Archbold, Ohio where the Mennonite sect has numerous churches or parts of rural NW Ohio where Lutheran churches dominate the religious landscape.
The atheist-turned-Evangelical-Christian and I began life the same way, but our stories are very different from there. Like the Christian, I too became a follower of Jesus Christ. For almost 50 years I was a devoted follower of the Jesus, but at the age of 51, I left Christianity and embraced agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. This was an open, honest, and sincere intellectual choice of mine, unlike many people who are Christians because they grew up in the Christian faith, and not because of any intellectual choice of theirs.
Most of the Evangelicals who say they once were an atheist never made an open, honest and sincere intellectual choice to become an atheist. They were atheist by default, and at some point in their life they decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ, or their parents decided for them. They took off their atheist clothes and put on the robes of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. One day they were an atheist, the next day they were a Christian. This is not how the process worked for most of the atheists I know.
Many atheists were at one time like me, devoted followers of Jesus. Our deconversion wasn’t a matter of taking off the righteousness of Christ and putting on shirt with a scarlet A. Most of us spent months and years reading and studying before we concluded that the claims of Christianity are not true and that the Christian God is a fiction. For some atheists, due to family and social pressure, they spent decades in the atheist closet, unwilling or unable to declare their godlessness.
While I can point to a definite place and time on the last Sunday of November in 2008 when I dared to say out loud I no longer believe, I spent years getting to this point. My journey took me from the strict fundamentalism of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement through Calvinism and generic Evangelicalism to emergent Christianity and liberalism, and on to univeralism, agnosticism, and atheism. Every step along this path was laden with emotional and mental anguish. The hardest decision I’ve ever made came at the moment when I was willing to say that no longer believed. Making this decision meant I was saying that my previous life as a Christian was based on a lie.
So, I say this to Evangelicals who say they once were atheist. Yes, you may have been an atheist, but you were not an atheist like me. Until you can show me that you have done your homework, then I am going to assume that you were what I call a default atheist. If you are going to comment on my blog and claim you were an atheist before you became a Christian then it is fair for me to ask you to demonstrate how and why you became an atheist. It is not enough for you to say that you didn’t believe in God and then you became a Christian. ALL of us didn’t believe in God at one time. That’s the normal human condition, according to the Bible.