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Dear Christians: The Word “Atheist” is Not Shorthand for Your Lives Before Jesus

Calvin the atheist

It is not uncommon to hear Evangelicals claim that they were “atheists” before they became born-again Christians. Often, their goal is to connect with atheists, hoping to win them to Jesus. These atheists-turned-Christians think if they show that they “understand” atheism, that atheists will more likely accept their evangelistic appeals. Over the years, countless Evangelicals have tried this approach with me: Bruce I understand! I was once an atheist just like you! And then one day I realized I was a sinner in need of salvation and Jesus saved me! See! We are just the same. No. Really we aren’t.

I was a Christian BEFORE I became an atheist. I spent fifty years in the Christian church. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I was raised, saved, baptized, and trained in the Evangelical church. I attended an Evangelical college. I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I, at one time, had a library that contained over 1,000 theology books, all of which I read and used in my sermon preparation. I also had Bible and language study programs on my computer. I spent most of my adult life thoroughly immersed in study of the Christian Bible and Christianity. When I deconverted, I did so because I intellectually concluded that the claims of Christianity were false. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) My unbelief was the result of my painstaking, agonizing deconstruction of Christianity.

Most Christians-turned-atheists, deconvert when they are younger. Rare is the person who is in his fifties before he decides to walk away from Christianity. That I was willing, regardless of the cost, to renounce all that I once believed, doesn’t mean that I am, in any way, unique. While many people embrace atheism in their 20s and 30s, I do know of people who were much older when they lost the ability to believe in the existence of gods. All that being older means is that I had a lot more to lose by publicly announcing my defection from Christianity. I had accumulated a lifetime of experiences and friendships, and losing these was painful. The moment I dropped Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners in the mail and posted it to my blog, I knew that my life, from that point forward, would never be the same.

While my wife came along with me as we walked out the doors of the church for the last time, it was not at all certain that Polly would come to the same conclusions I did. The same goes for my six adult children. I risked losing the love of my life and the six blessings we shared over the course of our marriage. While I can now say that things worked out better than I could ever have imagined, there were times when I wondered if I wasn’t an arsonist who torched his own house.

So, dear atheists-turned-Christians, in what way was your “godless” life like my current life as an atheist? Be honest. Isn’t saying you were an atheist BC (before Christ) really just a generic, meaningless shorthand for life before Jesus? Evangelicals love to claim that there really is no such thing as an atheist, yet, when it suits them they are willing to claim the atheist moniker. If, as Evangelicals claim, everyone knows there is a God and has his law written on their hearts (Romans 1,2), how then is it possible for Evangelicals to be atheists before they became Christians?

Very few people schooled in the nuances of atheism, agnosticism, and humanism ever embrace Evangelicalism. Some might embrace moderate or liberal forms of Christianity or some other religion, but atheism is a sure antidote for Christian Fundamentalism. When it comes to reaching knowledgeable atheists, Evangelicals are batting pretty close to zero.

Instead of saying they were atheists before Jesus, Evangelicals should say they were indifferent towards religion. Virtually all religious belief is the result of where and when a person is born, along with tribal, social, cultural, and environmental exposure. Very few Evangelicals are willing to investigate why they believe what they believe. Better to make up stories about being atheists before being supernaturally saved by Jesus, than to admit that the reasons for their beliefs are quite human and earthly. In working with people who are in the process of leaving Evangelicalism, I try to get them to look at their lives from a sociological and cultural perspective. Once they are able to see how they became a Christian, sans any claims of supernatural action by the triune God, they will then be able to examine the claims of Christianity without faith getting in the way. It is not enough for people to say, I BELIEVE! Such a faith claim lies beyond investigation. If Evangelicals want their religion to be taken seriously, then they must be willing to expose Christianity to intellectual examination. If they are unwilling to do so, then atheists are free to dismiss their claims out of hand.

If there is one thing Evangelicals love, it is a glorious, often bloody, violent, sex-filled salvation testimony. Years ago, a young adult Amish-Mennonite man confided in me that he was distressed over the fact that he was not a bad person like many people were before they were saved. This man grew up in the Amish-Mennonite church and never strayed far from its teachings. He told me that he couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t a Christian. There was almost a yearning in his voice, a desire to live a little and experience the sins of the world. Then he would have a story to tell.

This young man, like many Evangelicals, likely heard countless testimonies from people who were (fill in the blank) before they became Christians. In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, larger-than-life testimonies of licentiousness and debauchery are quite common. I hate to reduce everything down to the penis size matters metaphor, but in the case of salvation testimonies, it often the case that Evangelicals want to “out–bad” each other. If Bro. Joe was a drunk, then Bro. Hank was a bigger drunk and a drug addict too. If Sister Sally lost her virginity to the preacher’s son, Sister Julie lost her virginity to the deacon’s son and had sex with the preacher’s son too. And on and on the dick-waving goes. Result? Fantastical stories of lives before Jesus that are legendary, often admixtures of embellished truths, lies, and fantasies.

Having heard hundreds of salvation testimonies, I have concluded that most public declarations of life before Jesus are fabrications built around a kernel of truth. So, when Evangelicals say they were atheists before Jesus, I generally roll my eyes and silently say to myself, sure you were. Many Evangelicals sincerely believe their testimonies are true. They are unwilling or unable to see that their stories are the products of telling the same falsehoods over and over. It is easy for us to convince ourselves of things that have no basis in fact. Atheists are capable of self-deception too. When I read a story about an atheist who says he knew Christianity was false by the time he was five years old, I want to laugh. That five-year-olds can be indifferent towards religion is certainly true. But understanding atheism, and intellectually weighing Christianity in the balance by age five? Not a chance.

It is common for atheists and Christians alike to take present experiences and beliefs and read them backwards into their lives. In doing this, the truth becomes stretched, often to such a degree that it distorts reality. When I first deconverted, I wanted people to know that I abandoned Evangelicalism solely for intellectual reasons. While certainly the reasons for my deconversion are intellectual in nature, I am now willing to admit that my loss of faith also has an emotional component. I couldn’t admit this for a long time because Evangelicals used it against me, suggesting that I was angry at God, bitter, jaded, and cynical, and these were the REAL reasons why I am no longer a Christian.

While emotions and bad experiences certainly played a part in my deconversion, the most important factor was that I no longer believed that the claims of Christianity were true. Can the atheists-turned-Christians say the same? As our math teachers used to say, please show me your work. Show us the path that led you to atheism before finding Jesus. Few Evangelicals can show their work. Saying they were atheists before Jesus gives their testimony instant credibility within their houses of worship. Oooh, Bro. Jeremiah was an atheist before he got saved! Instantly, the stereotype which countless Evangelicals have of atheists is applied to the Bro. Jeremiahs of the church. What is that stereotype? That atheists are evil, followers of Satan, immoral, and eat babies for lunch. Rarely do Evangelicals ever bother to investigate whether pre-Jesus claims of godlessness are true.

When Evangelicals tell me they were once atheists, I usually ignore them, realizing that they likely have little to no understanding of atheism. When Evangelicals continue to say that they were once members of the Church of Atheism, I then press them for evidence for their claims. Point me to the atheist, secular, or humanist groups you were once a part of. Show me what atheist books you have read. Provide the articles, letters, and term papers you wrote in defense of atheism. Provide names of people who will attest to your claim of atheism. I have yet to have an atheist-turned-Christian provide such evidence.

What is ironic is that Evangelicals demand these very things from Christians-turned-atheists. I have spent fourteen years proving that I was a bona fide Evangelical Christian and pastor. I have written thousands of words in defense of my testimony. My claims can easily be checked and verified. I have, in every way, proved that I once was a preacher of the Evangelical gospel, a devoted, die-hard follower of Jesus Christ. Surely, I should be able to expect atheists-turned-Christians to give similar proof for their claims. While I am quite willing to accept that there are a handful of people who were once atheists and are now Evangelicals, I am unwilling to accept at face value testimonies that cannot be verified and vetted. And until these atheists-turned-Christians prove their claims, I hope they will forgive me for not believing a word they say.

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to notable people who were once nontheists and are now Christians. Most of the converts are now Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, or liberal Protestants.  While I have no interest in going through the list name by name, I think it is safe to assume that there are very few Evangelicals on the list. The most notable Evangelicals are Lee StrobelWilliam Murray (son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair), Jeffrey Dahmer, and Kirk Cameron. Boy, there’s a panoply of intellectual greatness. While there are others like Francis Collins, the renowned geneticist, who claim the Evangelical moniker, many Evangelicals doubt evolution-believing people such as Collins are true Christians. Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to start a Wikipedia page listing the names of atheists who became Evangelical Christians. I hope that, in doing so, Evangelicals will provide verifiable evidence for claims of once being atheists. If Evangelicals want people like me to believe they were once atheists, then they are going to have to prove it. Just saying it doesn’t make it so. Just because Pastor John down at First Baptist has a whopper of a before-Jesus testimony doesn’t mean it is true. Preachers know the value of great story, and what better story than that of an atheist who found God. Such claims can open doors to wider ministry opportunities and increased income.

The more bizarre and unbelievable the story, the more likely it is that Evangelicals will believe it. After all, the Evangelical God is a miracle-working deity. If he can raise the dead, heal the sick, walk on water, and turn water into wine, surely he can take a gun-toting, crack-smoking, whoremongering, thieving, hitman for the Mafia and turn him into a Bible-thumping, Jesus-praising, hallelujah-shouting Baptist preacher. With God, all things are possible, right?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    I’m quite sure that it’s just not possible to move from genuine atheism to evangelicalism. The mindset required to be an evangelical Christian is muddied with contradiction and irrationality (of course, they don’t see it that way, but that’s also the problem). To be an atheist is to step outside of a mindset that is ruled, in effect, by wishful thinking. It is a developed understanding that is much more than a casual time before you came to religion.

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      I’m quite sure that it’s just not possible to move from genuine atheism to evangelicalism.

      Don’t confuse atheism with skepticism. Skepticism as a method often leads to (thought-through) atheism. But atheism is also the default position (not believing god claims), so a less skeptical atheist could be accept the claims for bad reasons.

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    Nate Klaiber

    I loved this line: “My unbelief was the result of my painstaking, agonizing deconstruction of Christianity.” I can relate to that sentence.

    As many have mentioned before me, I would say these believers are still atheists about all gods but their own. Taken at it’s definition: “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods”, then they fit that definition for every other of the thousands of religions and god(s). This is why it’s funny when a specific sect of christians want to claim that “atheists don’t exist.” I’ve asked several of them what term they would use to describe their lack of belief in all of the other god(s). Many don’t answer, and one person told me he would say they are “not true-ists”. They make up the terminology to make themselves feel better.

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    I can clearly remember the day I embraced atheism as a teenager. I did not grow up around Christianity or attend church as a child accept a couple of times with my grandparents and a Vacation Bible School one summer. One of the biggest influences on me was Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” which we were required to read in 11th grade. I saw Christianity and Jesus as just one more myth that people relied on to explain things.

    I joyfully embraced secular humanism and atheism. I was however always in the conservative camp – I was pro-life then and pretty much a Republican in political views. I never felt animosity to the majority of Christians – they could pray, say the Pledge, do whatever as long as they stayed out of my life and business. I tried to respect their beliefs but they rarely did respect mine. I was never a fan of the Big Bang Theory but embraced more of a Static Universe theory and I always struggled a little with evolution.

    I’m not going to share my conversion story but I was indeed a 100% atheist for most of my adult life. I was a live and let live / co-exist kind of guy until somebody tried to push their faith on me. The funny thing is I see pretty much no Christians in my experience claiming to have been atheists. Some Christians even question me on whether or not I was truly an atheist before or just agnostic. I give them assurance of my previous beliefs.

    I still have a good dose of the old me in my faith. I struggle with doubt, and also the logic of the Bible and faith. I don’t blindly follow any leader. I see massive problems in the church, especially in the fundamental Evangelical side of things. I consider myself on a search for higher truths in life, and I am willing to follow that path wherever it may lead me. I generally have more respect for atheists than Christians because I find them usually more intelligent, better critical thinkers and many times much nicer in general. That’s why I love Bruce’s blog. It challenges me and offers me a different perspective on things.

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      Nate Klaiber

      Hi Randy,
      I believe conversion stories can happen both ways. As Bruce mentioned, I would still be skeptical and ask for the before/after facts as christians request of those who have de-converted.

      I am curious: what facts or evidence led you to follow the current path you are on. Why christianity and not some other path?

      You mention that there are massive problems in the church. What are those problems, and how do you identify them as such? Do you believe you have the solutions to those problems?


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    While such people were no doubt non-religious a simple thought experiment can separate the sheep from the goats. If you asked Kirk Cameron, Jerry Falwell, or any of the other thumpers that extol their past atheism what their religion was back in the time when they claimed to be atheists how would they answer? I seriously doubt they would have proudly exclaimed “atheism!” (At best they’d say they weren’t religious but more likely they’d just say Christian.)
    I’m sure it does happen, there are people who like to try different philosophies out for size, but these people are embellishing their narrative by going from being a “none” to being an active atheist.

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      Personally I see that kind of thing as offensive to atheists and atheism in general. Simply not believing in the Christian God does not put you in the category of atheist. I embraced an entire philosophy of atheism and humanism, and even though I no longer adhere to that, I have a respect for those that do. Atheism is not best defined as anti-Christian or anti-any religion. It’s a complete philosophy in and of itself that does not intrinsically adhere to an anti-Christian agenda. It’s just natural in a primarily Christian culture that atheism is going to butt heads with it more than any other faith system, especially the militant fundamental evangelical variety.

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        Nate Klaiber

        Hi Randy,
        I am curious – what term would you use to describe someone “simply not believing in the Christian God” and their non-belief in the thousands of other god(s)?

        I disagree that Atheism is a philosophy. This is something that many in religion(s) want to spread to try and discredit atheism. By it’s definition it is simple: “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existing of God or gods.” This same term can be used by you to describe your non-belief in all other god(s) that aren’t the Christian God (and, as above, if you don’t use that term – what term would you use to describe your non-belief in the thousands of other god(s)?)

        Yes, non-believers (atheists) have worldviews and philosophies, but they are not driven by a holy book, institution, or dogma. They are personal views and opinions completely separate of their lack of belief in god(s).

        I also lack beliefs in unicorns. My personal worldviews outside of my lack of belief of unicorns has nothing to do with unicorns. My views on evolution and the big bang are completely separate. I do not have a Unicorn Philosophy™.

        What do you see included in the “philosophy of atheism”?

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          Simply I see it as rejecting any supernatural argument for creation and the purpose of life. I always looked for things that had hard evidence to support them. Supernaturalism is seen as a hold over from ancient and ignorant cultures whereas today we have science. Embracing the power of humanity to survive and thrive and as intrinsically good would be another area. I suppose secular humanism was a big part of my life as an atheist and it definitely composed a big part of my world view at the time.

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    Another aspect to explore is, what emotional influences surround the atheist-turned-Christian? I have found that many times the atheist falls in love with, and marries, a believer. Suddenly they reconvert.

    Another story heard was from someone who was already married to a believer and was himself a believer when he found he no longer believed. The fear of losing the relationship would not allow him to speak up, and he convinced himself he still believed.

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    Bruce wrote: “I am now willing to admit that my loss of faith also has an emotional component. I couldn’t admit this for a long time because Evangelicals used it against me, suggesting that I was angry at God, bitter, jaded, and cynical, and these were the REAL reasons why I am no longer a Christian.”
    First, thanks for this most informative note on belief and non-belief. I have maintained that emotions, human emotions are a major aspect of belief and of non-belief. This statement rests on my personal experience of course but also my observation of others. The most intellectual expression of belief always and finally reveals a primary emotional element that is foundational in its being.
    We believe because we feel and we exit belief because we feel. Human beings are a genetic and experiential knit of intellect and emotion. Some of us here on the this blog have shared the power of feeling in our lives and its excesses too, in, for instance depression.
    Depression has some genetic basis and can be reached sometimes through allopathy, medical treatment of symptoms using drugs and other therapy. The feeling of depression fuels the intellect as if thinking was simply a human tool. The darker the feeling, the blacker the thoughts that become the life narrative around that blackness.
    When I began my atheistic bends, I first felt terror. As I rose out of belief into non-belief, I felt somatic fear and nausea. The old testament gawd grabbed my balls and squeezed them and he laughed at my silly antics. He was real in my feelings but my experience in my everyday life was signaling to me, habitually calling to me and showing me that God was false, that the king was strutting around naked in church and everybody was ignoring it. (Well, not everyone: Atheists were smiling and sometimes shouting about issues that concerned me, issues to do with how children are harmed in fundagelical life and how women are systematically oppressed.) Even though I felt the false part of the everyday belief, when I made an active move away from God, the prick hit me hard below the belt so that I was frozen in pain.
    The thing about bullies, is that they have to enforce their status. The Doug Wilsons, the Steve Andersons, the patriarchal hater Christians who want to tear atheists to pieces, must keep busy and produce lots of bully sermons and examples to reinforce their hold on believers. Over time, people tend towards freedom. They think about things and the internet now offers so many views and directions that bully preachers have to work very hard to keep their flock under control. After all the king is without a stitch of clothing.
    As a child, I was a dog. My Baptist upbringing hit me hard and hit me often, not with the beatings common to other IFB kids but with emotional wreckage, the shame and blame, the Calvanistic hatred of flesh and hopeless human condition. It ruined childhood finally and as the saying goes: As with dogs, hit a child enough and the child will be sure he has caused the assault.
    So to achieve even the idea of non-belief is quite a radical stance. I remember the feeling in my gut when I read the title of Abbie Hoffman’s, Steal This Book. Wow. I did not steal it! I did read it though and it was an inch gained along the path.
    I am still a beaten dog in ways but not only…. I did not cause the harm that came my way and in all honesty I know that my parents did not cause it either, both of them coming out of delusional faith families. The harm is systemic. It is built in to our culture and our history. It is held tightly to our hearts along with flags and guns. It is is a scourge in its excesses, as hyper-nationalism is, as gun-lust is a scourge.
    I am not a Christian because of my emotions, because I deserve to be simply human. I am not a dog and now that I am free of God, I know that even dogs do not deserve to be harmed as they routinely are by ugly bipeds. When I was a Christian, a good one, I hit my dogs and would have hit my children too had not I been allowed my non-belief. God sometimes tries to kick me in the nuts but I fight bullies now even as an old guy. I hate bullies, their actions based in fear that dump harm on everybody in their path. The fundamentalist Christian God has no human right to do what is done with the hands of popes and mouths of preachers. It is wrong and yet I tolerate it as long as they keep it to themselves, which is to say I do not tolerate it. They cannot keep it to themselves because the bully has warned them that they are on unsafe ground if they don’t save YOU!
    Human emotion is a glorious evolution. It offers us the heights and lows that define the colors of life. Janis Ian wrote: I’m great at building castles in the air and living there for days, you’d be amazed… and Janis was talking about something that every child of God-delusion knows very well. We were driven to dismay, driven to harm ourselves, told we were evil from birth and that only the Big Bully could save us. He let his own son die for me….. (Bullies are like that.)

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    It is not enough for people to say, I BELIEVE! Such a faith claim lies beyond investigation.

    “If it is a miracle, any evidence will suffice, if it is a fact requires proof.”
    — Mark Twain —

    “Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing, yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up, must come down, down. down. Amen! If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.”
    — Dan Barker —

    “It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists, and if religion were not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.”
    — Ernestine Rose —

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    Ratamacue said

    “Don’t confuse atheism with skepticism. Skepticism as a method often leads to (thought-through) atheism. But atheism is also the default position (not believing god claims), so a less skeptical atheist could be accept the claims for bad reasons.”

    The point I was trying to make was with regard to ‘positive’ atheism, which I entirely agree is arrived at via considered scepticism. The ‘passive’ atheism that you refer to includes (though not exclusively) the type of atheism to which Bruce refers in his post, that is a person who, by and large, hasn’t considered the matter. Sceptically considered atheism is the type from which it is difficult ever to turn.

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      Yes – but both qualify as atheism. Your first comment seems to say that only skeptical atheists are “genuine atheists”.

      I just want to make sure we don’t play no true Scotsman.

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        I agree that I wouldn’t want to go down the ‘Scotsman’ road, but I do think that distinguishing types of atheism can be important. The ‘passive’ version says that as there is no evidence for any sort of god then belief in one is not warranted. Anything less than that is, at best, a form of agnosticism, and is the sort of mindset that Bruce is meaning (I think) when he refers to evangelical ‘former atheists’.

        I go a step further in that I positively believe there is enough evidence to conclude that there is no good. It is a belief.

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    There is a difference between having once been a believer and now an atheist vs never being a believer to begin with. At least for me, having been there and already experienced deism makes it easier to let go of, as I now feel enlightened to the truth and I’m not going to change my mind. On the other hand, having not seen deism for what it really is, I suppose there lies a chance of being “saved”, of “falling for it” per say (which is what happened to me). For most of us on this blog, we finally opened up our eyes and saw deism for what it really is, and it isn’t much. Would we ever go back to believing the fairy tales? No, never again (contrary to what Evangelicals say about only being temporarily backslidden).

    I’m sure many are waiting for Bruce to come back, like many others like him, only to be sorely disappointed.

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    Great post!

    I always considered myself to be an atheist before I became a Christian however I was never actively seeking out Christians to dispute or the member of any organizations. More of a “passive atheist” than in “in-your-faith-eist”…

    Atheism never drove who I was in the same way Christianity does so perhaps I fall into the “shorthand” category. I believed strongly that God (or Gods) did not exist and would gladly share my worldview when an opposing one was presented.

    I am however not sure I could prove I was an atheist, it is an interesting thought. I can recall several conversations with people in the past. I can remember making fun of come Christians (this had less to do with me being an atheist and more to do with me being a jerk). Very thought provoking!

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    What most people fail to realize is that there are two conversions for christians raised as christians – they accept christ as children – yeah! but then as adults they must again continually convert. There are continual alter calls for sacrifice – what are you willing to sacrifice for christ? Often you must kneel down, or throw a physical object out. This is common in large Evangelical churches – not just small out of the way churches with odd customs. There is also the being “baptized in the holy spirit”. All of this is to make you more like christ. The difficulty is that you must become less like yourself, and more like everyone else in the church, conform more. It is all about conformity – If for some reason these things don’t work – your behavior doesn’t change or you don’t become healed you can always be anointed with oil (they literally put oil on your forhead), and have people lay hands on you. That is the most frightening thing – standing in a group of elders (men) completely surrounded all them with their hands on you and you can’t escape – you must conform! There is no escape! What if that doesn’t work? What if you aren’t healed? What if you don’t change? Then your salvation is question – maybe you didn’t really accept christ. Maybe you are demon possessed (an actual thing that happens in real churches!) – it is a downward spiral from there especially if you are too young to leave on your own. And imagine being poor on top of it! No where to go, no money to go even if you could. This is how things work in Baptist churches, Foursquare Churches, Church of Christ, Lutheran Churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches – I have know people from all or attended all and more Evangelical protestant – small circles actually. The point is – the church is incredibly driven by culturally conformity. The point of it is to bring every one in line – to become like Jesus. And God’s love is withheld until you do. It’s as simple as that. Ask any christian – you have to be saved to go to heaven. God loves you – he wants you to be saved. But they won’t tell you unless you ask that once you are save that you have to become more like Jesus. That you will become changed. That you must change – bye bye you. Hello christlike person. Who wouldn’t want to be like Jesus after all?

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      you have to become more like Jesus.

      Yep, exactly, except I would add ‘the pastor’ or the authority in the church. One must be homogenized to be safe for membership, churched until no-self is all you have left…. and Jeebus is Lord! Very scary stuff indeed especially when you think that some of us were born into this coo-coo woo-woo. Thanks for saying it so well, Lisa. I cannot express how thankful I remain every day to have crawled out of that rape and lived to talk about it. My dad was a Baptist preacher but not like some, not like Doug Wilson and all the vile patriarchal pastors. I would not have survived that kind of brainwashing, nope.

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      Well, ‘nice’? I think that patriarchal Christianity is rape, the kind of rape a victim actually might even appear to agree to suffering as a sinner deserving to suffer. Have you been reading the latest stuff from Natalie Greenfield’s blog or Katie Bodkin? What that preacher does to people is ‘pastor’ them. In patriarchal faith, that means emotional bullying, overpowering with his ordained serrated scriptures, admonishing and correcting personal family decisions, business decisions, you-name-it. He owns his believers. But people sit and take it and the pastor sees his ministry (sic) grow.

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    I am so appreciative of this excellent website. I grew up as a lowly female in the Christian Reformed Church. We weren’t allowed to wear pants, and the only teaching women could do, was to kids up to the6th grade. Then the men had to indoctrinate us with the Heidelberg Catechism. Despite all of this, I felt God in my life. I do understand now, that a statement like that is maddening, where is the evidence, etc. Several years ago, one of my brothers converted to Catholicism, and my youngest brother gave up pretending and trying to be a Christian, and turned to a scientific and rational atheism. I am so embarrassed that I made every mistake Bruce points out. Now,we have conversations about science, and which philosophers he is reading, as I realized it is ridiculous to quote the Bible to someone who has no common belief in it. Bruce, thank you for your honesty, and transparency about how your journey has been. Anne Graham said, “Christians are the only faith that shoots their wounded.” I have had a lot of frustration in religion, but never in my belief in God. I cannot make a rational argument for my belief, but I profoundly thank all of you, who have finally helped me to understand why secular humanism is a relief for almost every person I know, that subscribes to an evidence based approach to life. I plan on reading a lot more, so I am better educated. I have been studying Christianity my entire life, and find people who have different approaches to life fascinating. I admit, I am not a typical Christian, as I am pro-choice for others, and pro-life as my choice. To me this means I cannot and will not make a girl or woman feel tortured over these decisions. If someone chooses to be pregnant I support them as long as they want help. I hate how anti-abortionists are only concerned about fetuses, but don’t assist the infant or mother. I would think, just out of basic humanity a person would want to help anyone who needs it. I continue in my pro-life beliefs to be against the death penalty, or corporeal punishment. As to end of life, it is honestly my opinion that people who have horrible pain, with no end in sight should have options to no longer be in pain.

    I have really enjoyed and appreciate al of you who have made comments, for you, as well as Bruce are giving me much better understanding of your own stories and choices. Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Michael Mock


      My story is almost exactly the opposite of yours; I grew up in the church, but as I entered my teens I started trying to explore how all the bits of Christian doctrine I’d been taught fit together… and I couldn’t get them to mesh. After a while, the whole thing just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t have much sense of the divine, and what I have</em experienced doesn't match a Christian view of the world very well at all.

      That said, you shouldn't find anyone trying to argue you out of being a Christian here; that in itself isn't really an issue for most of us. And personally, I think that having a variety of views and perspectives is actually helpful. So, like I said: welcome aboard!

  13. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Although there are Evangelical churches all over the world, this post shows how fundamentally (pun intended) American the movement actually is.

    We’re taught to venerate the rags-to-riches Horatio Alger success stories and to love the Hollywood ending. The “I was the biggest sinner before I met Christ” tale is a religious version of those tropes. In brief, it’s sentimentalism, something that has caused exactly zero human beings to grow up in all of history.

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    They were non-religious, not atheist. But at the same time, they probably believe the words have identical meaning. Non-religious people are people who don’t think about religion, not even to the point of labeling themselves something, like “agnostic” or “atheist.” There is a component of “don’t care about the idea of religion.” Atheists are people who do not believe there are gods at all. Of course there are nuances, but that doesn’t matter as fundies don’t do nuance. 😉

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    This post is great, and the comments are thought-provoking as well.

    I see a huge difference between myself as an evangelical turned progressive Christian turned atheist, and my adult kids who were never religious at all. They don’t have emotional attachments or trauma from being in a religion so they dismiss Christianity along with any other mythology they learned about in school or through fiction – EXCEPT when they see religious people weaponizing their religious beliefs to abuse or marginalize others. That makes them angry like it makes me angry. But otherwise they can brush off religious comments as one would brush away a gnat. I, on the other hand, am often triggered by elements of Christianity, particularly the fundamentalist concepts.

    Whereas I have spent years studying why Christianity doesn’t hold up, my kids just dismiss it as mythology. They can’t go into details about there being no original scriptures, about the processes of translations, about areas Christianity co-opted from other religions, etc. They can’t do that any more than I could do that in refutation of Islam, or Hinduism, or any other religions. I am an atheist regarding every religion, but I only have in-depth knowledge of one, particularly the fundamentalist evangelical arm of Christianity.

    So I would argue that my kids are atheists because they were raised nonreligious but haven’t really delved into specifics – just generally the religions they are familiar with don’t make sense, and they aren’t interested in digging further at this time. I, on the other hand, am an atheist who was thoroughly indoctrinated into a particular sect of Christianity and have spent a lot of time examining and deconstructing those beliefs. As for other religions, I am just as lacking in specific knowledge as my kids are. However, my deconstruction of one particular religion has made me quite confident that deities don’t exist. It would take a lot for me to believe in any deity. My kids? I don’t know what it would take for them to believe in a deity. The deconstruction process has given me a lot if tools for examining supernatural claims.

    As for testimonies in church, I remember as a teen being told that we HAD TO develop a testimony to share when the opportunity arises. Heck, what could my friends and I say? We were raised in the church, attended several times a week, and one Sunday walked the aisle to make a public profession of faith. What choice did we really have? We were encouraged to develop a personal relationship with Jesus/God through Bible reading and prayer. Some of us were able to convince ourselves of the relationship better than others. But as for having a compelling story to tell about conversion? We didn’t have that. I didn’t know anyone who did! I remember at the Baptist Student Union in college we got all excited about an Indian non-Christian girl coming to meetings. We really thought we could convert her! Turns out she was just curious about religions and told us she was planning to check out Islam next. We never saw her at the BSU again. We wanted to tell her what a huge mistake she was making but there was no opportunity.

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    They think claiming they were an atheist before they were a Christian gives them “street cred”. They imagine it helps them connect with atheists on our level; maybe giving them an “in” to talk Jesus to us. Of course, it’s a ridiculous lie. It’s ok though, lyin’ for Jesus ain’t sinnin’.

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