I Was an Atheist Like You Before I Found Jesus

adam savage quote

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.

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8 Comments

  1. Geoff

    Lee Strobel is another, very well known, example of an apologist who claims once to have been an atheist.

    As in your post, I don’t believe him. At best, he may once simply have been ‘not a Christian’. As you say, it is a claim that gives an outward appearance of authority, that he is able to see both sides of the argument from personal experience. In reality I think it is nigh on impossible for a person to see the intellectual reality that there are no gods, in any shape or form, and then take the retrograde step of genuinely becoming a believer. Of course, many religious people will say the opposite, that it is they who see the light; but that is only possible because they have never truly understood the intellectual release that atheism offers.

    Reply
  2. ratamacue

    Atheist? Maybe.

    Skeptic? Almost certainly not.

    Reply
  3. TLC

    Thank you for this. I am in the questioning stage now, and figuring out that pretty much everything I was taught in these fundagelical churches was a load of crap. It helps to know that the pain and confusion are a normal part of the process. I appreciate your openness and honesty.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      Oh, HELL yes. The pain and confusion are normal. The cycle between “I’m supposed to believe this” and “I can’t believe this, it makes no sense” and “I wish I could still believe this” is normal. The weird feeling of half-floating, half-falling is normal. Hell, the anger at having go all the way back through your life and reassess everything, even the things you thought you understood about yourself (because you were living there, and really ought to have known!)… Yeah, that’s normal, too. Even a little bit of nostalgia for your former beliefs is normal.

      It eases off after a while, and you do find… I’m not sure it’s a more stable footing, exactly; maybe it’s just a better sense of balance. But it’s definitely a process, and it definitely takes time, and it will definitely jump up and whack you over the back of the head once or twice when you’re least expecting it.

      I promise you, you’re not crazy, and it isn’t just you.

      Reply
  4. Logan

    I agree with you Geoff. I read Strobel’s book ‘The Case for Faith’ long ago, and I originally enjoyed the book because it helped to squelch the cognitive dissonance I was feeling for a little while longer. But under critical review, his book was weak and dishonest, in part because he painted himself as journalist with integrity who wanted to present both sides, but clearly, he didn’t. His book pandered to a Christian audience ($$$). And was he really an atheist before hand? I seriously doubt it.

    Reply
  5. exrelayman

    Ah yes. I was like you. Now I have improved to a better place. Therefore my words should carry more weight. Works pretty well for those who are looking to salvage their faith – not so much for anyone critically seeking the truth of the matter.

    It is even true that we say much the same thing. I was a devout believer. Now, with greater understanding, I have left that behind. So wherein lies the difference?

    The difference is that becoming a believer was induced by the cultural prevalence of Christianity, peer pressure, childhood indoctrination (Jesus wants me for a sunbeam), and the heaven/hell emotional blackmail – (Just As I Am alter calls). Becoming AN INFORMED atheist was induced by an increasing awareness of difficulties, inconsistencies, and brutalities contained in the Bible and an investigation into whether it all makes sense and also the provenance of the faith. What emotion was involved in deconverting was a fear of doing so, while the emotion involved at the alter call was the fear of not obeying it. In both instances, emotions are on the side of belief: it is only logic and critical examination on the side of non belief.

    Reply
  6. Kenneth

    The thing about becoming a Christian and later deconverting to atheism is you are now more certain of your unbelief than you were ever before. It’s like coming to a realization of who you really are as a person. At least, that is what it was like for me. I’m no longer susceptible to religious doctrine.

    Reply
  7. Brian

    Kenneth, for me it was more a feeling of well-being, not an intellectual certainty but an openness to the whole world, saying okay, yes… Letting the delusion go gave me a sense of balance and the freedom to look out windows, any windows I chose. I am convinced in my unbelief but I do not insist on it for others. If a real God arrived on my farm and said, “Listen here, I don’t appreciate being denied!” I might say, “Okay, you prick, let’s have it out. My fucking sister was born in a toxic birth in the late 40’s. My mom was a Baptist preacher’s kid and she married a fucking Baptist preacher, you asshole. And you let this happen to their first child. Mom went into convulsions at home (toxemia) and when she got to the hospital they pumped her full of narcotics, causing severe brain damage to my sister. So Rosie lived her life in a crib, for about half a century before God allowed her to be lowered into a scalding bath by a professional caregiver, where she suffered severe burns that killed her after several days of agony. You fucking son of a bitch, God. You prick from Hell.”
    And after we finish that talk, then I have some other issues that need attention from the big FUCK.
    I listen to assholes like Susan-Anne and they could be family…. it is sad and disheartening sometimes. I have no desire for some eternal life. Just give me a day, one day at a time and I will make it poem or a shit-barrel of waste. It is my choice. You can only imagine there is no heaven if you have faced the hell of delusion and belief. Imagine a mother like Susan-Anne White or a dad like Michael Pearl. Thank-you Jesus.

    Reply

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