What was the thing or moment where it all started to unravel horribly, the pulling the first thread away moment, when you said ‘screw all of this’ and walked away? Was it one thing or a gradual buildup of stuff?
This is a great question, one that is not easy to answer.
My story drives Evangelicals crazy, especially those who are hardcore, never change their beliefs, fundamentalists. What they see in my story is a lifetime of theological change, and this is a sure sign to them that I never had a surefooted theological foundation. After all, the Bible does say that the double minded man is unstable in all his ways. In their mind, it’s no wonder I deconverted. Look at my ever-evolving theology.
However, I view my change of beliefs in a different light. For those of us raised in the Evangelical church, we grew up with a borrowed theology. Our theology was that of our parents, pastor, and church. When I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, I had a borrowed theology and when I left three years later I still had a borrowed theology. I believed what I had been taught.
Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I diligently studied the Bible. I read over a thousand theological books and prided myself in working hard to give parishioners with exactly what the Bible taught. Over time, I encountered teachings and beliefs that were new to me, and after thoroughly studying the matter my beliefs either stayed the same or changed. Over the years, my soteriology and eschatology changed, as did my view on inerrancy the law of God, faith vs works, and Bible translations. These new beliefs led to changes in practice. I like to think that my changing beliefs were simply an intellectual response to new information.
Over this same 25 year period my politics evolved and changed. I entered the ministry as a right-wing Republican culture warrior. I left the ministry as a progressive/liberal Democrat. It is likely that my changing political beliefs affected how I read and interpreted the Bible.
I left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity in 2008. In the three years between these two events, I went back to the Bible and restudied what I believed about God, Jesus, creation, salvation, and the Bible. I read numerous books written by authors like Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, Robert Wright, Jerry Coyne, John Loftus, Rob Bell, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Brian McLaren, John Shelby Spong, Henri Nouwen, Marcus Borg, Elaine Pagels, Hector Avalos, Soren Kierkegaard, John Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, Paul Tillich, and a number of other authors. I was doing everything I could to hang on to some sort of faith.
I went through what I call the stages of deconversion: Evangelical Christianity to Liberal/Progressive Christianity to Universalism to Agnosticism to Atheism. This path was painful, arduous, contradictory, and tiring. I spent many a day and night not only reading and studying, but having long discussions with Polly about what I had read. In November of 2008, I concluded, based on my beliefs, that I could no longer honestly call myself a Christian. Since I no longer believed the Bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, nor did I believe that Jesus was God, rose again from the dead or worked miracles, there was no possible way for me to remain a Christian. At that moment, I went from believer to unbeliever. I call this my born again atheist experience.
Evangelicals will read this post and point out what they see as a fatal flaw in my deconversion; I didn’t read any Evangelical theologians. I didn’t read any of the shallow apologetic works that are bandied about as surefire faith fixers. The reason I didn’t is because I had already read them. I can recite Christian theology, in all its forms, frontwards and backwards. Since there hasn’t been an original thought in Christianity since Moses got off the ark, I had no need of rereading Christian theological books. The few Christian authors I did read, were new authors that I hoped would tell me something I had not heard before. I read their books in hopes of getting a new perspective on Christianity, hoping that they would knot a rope and throw it to me so I could hang on. In the end, the rope had no knot, and down the slippery slope I slid until I hit bottom.
So, my deconversion took a long time, but there was also a moment in time when I went from believer to nonbeliever.
If I had to point to one thing that most affected my deconversion, it would be learning that the Bible was not an inspired, infallible, inerrant text. I suspect this is the case for many Evangelicals turned atheist. Bart Ehrman is a good example of this. The belief that the Bible was a perfect text written by God and absolute truth from the hand of God himself, was the foundation of my system of belief. Remove this foundation and the whole house comes tumbling down.
One unanswered question remains; if I had started out as a progressive/liberal Christian would I have still deconverted? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Since I have a pastor’s heart and I love help people, I might have found a home in progressive/liberal Christianity. This is one of those would of/could of/should of questions. That’s not the path I took, so here I am. Unless a deity of some sort reveals itself to us, I remain a convinced atheist.
Polly and I regularly watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Real Time, along with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, highlight the important news stories of the week, giving them a comedic twist. Sometimes, when these shows focus on American religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, I am often irritated when they play loose with the facts. Bill Maher, by far, is the worst.
Maher loves to bash creationists. I am all for him doing so, but I wish he would not distort their beliefs when he does. As an atheist and a critic of religion, Maher has the responsibility to speak accurately when critiquing, attacking, or ridiculing creationist beliefs. Look, they make it easy for us, so the least we can do is represent their beliefs accurately.
Over the years, I’ve heard Bill Maher repeatedly say creationists believe the earth is 5,000 years old. I know of NO creationist who believes this. None. Nor do I know any who think the earth is 10,000 years old. Adding another zero doesn’t make their belief any more rational or scientifically correct. Creationists are literalists. They believe the book of Genesis is a science and history textbook. When the Bible talks about Adam living 930 years, Noah living 950 years, Abraham living 175 years, David living 70 years, and Jesus living 33 years, creationists believe these ages are factual. They also believe the genealogies found in the Bible are factual. This is why James Ussher, a 17th century Church of Ireland archbishop, was able to add up the ages and genealogies and conclude that the God created the universe on October 22, 4004 BC.
The chronology is sometimes called the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology because John Lightfoot published a similar chronology in 1642–1644. This, however, is a misnomer, as the chronology is based on Ussher’s work alone and not that of Lightfoot. Ussher deduced that the first day of creation began at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, in the proleptic Julian calendar, near the autumnal equinox. He elsewhere dates the time to 6 pm. Lightfoot similarly deduced that Creation began at nightfall near the autumnal equinox, but in the year 3929 BC.
Ussher’s proposed date of 4004 BC differed little from other Biblically based estimates, such as those of Jose ben Halafta (3761 BC), Bede (3952 BC), Ussher’s near-contemporary Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) or Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC). Ussher’s specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth’s potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This view continued to be held as recently as AD 2000,six thousand years after 4004 BC.
The universe then, according to creationists, is 6,019 years old not 5,000 years old. I sent Maher an email and a tweet about his inaccurate date. He did not respond.
Here’s why this matters. We who think the universe is 14 billions years old often criticize creationists for playing loose with the facts. I know, the difference between 6,019 and 5,000 is just 1,019 years, but we should do our best to accurately represent our enemy. If atheists and scientists are going to do battle with creationists, then the least they can do is know what their enemy believes, Far too often, atheists say things about Evangelical beliefs that are not true. They read a meme or see something on Facebook or Twitter and they assume that what they read is correct. We make ourselves look bad when we misstate our opponents beliefs.
Very few abortions occur at late or full term. 89% of all abortions occur in the first trimester, with 63% occurring in the first nine weeks. 98.8% of abortions take place before viability. Late term abortions after twenty week are 1.2% of all abortion procedures performed in the United States. Out of 1.2 million annual abortions, 14,400 are after 20 weeks. Most of these abortion are medically necessary due to the health of the mother, the fetus, or both.
I realize that almost half of Americans are pro-life, or at least when polled they say they are pro-life. I am not at all convinced that as many people are pro-life as the polls suggest.
I wonder how pro-lifers would respond to polling questions like these:
Your eleven year old daughter is raped by a serial rapist and she became pregnant. Would you support your daughter having an abortion?
Your wife is raped by an AID’s infected man. Her rape was a Todd Akin “legitimate” rape and she became pregnant. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is pregnant with a fetus that tests show will be born without a brain. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is in danger of dying if her fetus is carried to term. The doctor says unless she has an abortion she will die. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is carrying a dead fetus. Should she have an abortion to remove the fetus? Why? Perhaps almighty God will work a miracle and breathe the breath of life back into the fetus. Shouldn’t you wife wait to see if God works a miracle?
When faced with reality and not political talking points I wonder how many people would actually stand by their no-exceptions anti-abortion stance?
Some pro-lifers say they support exemptions for rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is at stake. However, these exceptions are antithetical to the pro-life view. If life begins the moment the egg and sperm unite, then any abortion is the killing of a human life. It is inconsistent and hypocritical to call yourself pro-life and then turn right around and say, in some circumstances, it is permissible to kill the fetus. Shouldn’t this life and death choice be left in the hands of God?
According to anti-abortionists, life begins at conception. At the very moment the sperm and egg unite a new life is created. Anti-abortionists are intractable when it comes to their position. Life begins at conception…end of debate.
Let me tell you a story……
This story takes place at the We Make Life Possible Fertility Clinic.
Sue gave birth to a beautiful baby girl through in vitro fertilization. Her baby girl is 1 month old . Sue stopped by the Fertility Clinic to show off her newborn to the Clinic staff.
While Sue was at the clinic, a huge explosion rocked the place and the clinic was engulfed in flames. Later speculation on World Net Daily, suggested a supporter of Barack Obama was behind the attack.
John, named after John THE Baptist, a pro-life activist, happened to be passing by the clinic when the explosion took place. John went running into the clinic hoping to perhaps save someone from the fire.
John had been to the We Make Possible Life Fertility Clinic before. His wife Patience had problems conceiving, and not wanting to wait on God to open her womb, John and Patience went to Clinic. While the treatment was successful, Patience miscarried a few months into the pregnancy.
John knew the Clinic stored hundreds of fertilized eggs (embryos) in a freezer. As he rushed into the Clinic, John saw Sue huddled in a corner with her newborn daughter trying to get away from the fire. John thought “Surely I should save these two.”
John thought for a moment, asking himself What Would Jesus Do? Suddenly, he realized the fire was going to destroy all the frozen embryos. John told Sue and her baby Sorry, maybe Jesus will come rescue you, and he rushed to the freezer where the frozen embryos were stored. Through John’s heroic effort, hundreds of frozen embryos were saved. Sadly, Sue and her newborn daughter were burnt to death.
Who among us would fault John? After all, he acted according to the greater good. Who wouldn’t save 200 lives at the expense of 2 lives?
The above story follows the logic of the life begins at conception viewpoint to its illogical conclusion. There is no difference between 200 embryos and Sue and her baby. Life is life. It makes perfect sense for John to save the frozen embryos and not Sue and her little one. Surely John would be praised for saving the 200 embryos, right? If the clinic is unable to reopen, perhaps the frozen embryos can be put up for adoption. After all EVERY embryo is a life.
If life begins at conception and terminating a pregnancy is the murder of a baby as pro-life zealots claim, then the following conclusions can be made:
The woman who has the abortion is a murderer
The doctor who performs the abortion is a murderer
The nurse who helps with the abortion is a murderer
The receptionist who books the abortion appointment is a murderer
The person who took the woman to the clinic is a murderer
If these conclusions are true, then it means that none of these people will go to heaven when they die. Why? The BIble says:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. Revelation 21:8
It is also fair to conclude that people who kill innocent men, women, and children in war are murderers too. Where are the same pro-life zealots proclaiming the evil of war? It seems that killing a zygote is murder, but killing an Afghan child or mother is not. It seems that the only life pro-lifers protect is that which has not yet been born. Why is this?
I have come to the conclusion that pro-lifers who do not condemn war are guilty of facilitating murder.(use their logic and exegesis) Pro-lifers charge those who believe abortion should be rare, safe, and legal with facilitating murder. Pro-lifers make it quite clear that those who promote and facilitate abortion cannot be a Christian. How can they be since they are facilitating murder? I ask then, what about pro-lifers who promote and facilitate war. How can they be Christian and support the murder of innocent men, women,children, and the unborn? It seems to me that heaven is going to be quite empty if murderers are barred from entering. If you still doubt that no murderers will enter heaven:
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. Revelation 22:14,15
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 19:17-19
In about 17 months there will be a Presidential election. Republicans know they have a fight on their hands. They need to make sure that the faithful turn out in record numbers and vote for the Republican candidate. They need to appeal to the value voters, those who hold to right-wing political and social beliefs.
One of the key issues that will make it to the ballot in 2012 is whether or not a fertilized egg is a person. Personhood USA is circulating petitions in all 50 states hoping to get politicians to enact personhood laws. According to Rachel Maddow, there are already eight states debating personhood legislation and with 2012 being a Presidential election year it is quite likely that there will be a concerted effort to get personhood initiatives on the ballot.
One of the implications of Personhood laws is that they could make the use of birth control pills illegal. (since birth control pills are an abortifacient and can, and do cause spontaneous abortion) 46 years ago in Griswold v. Connecticut the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right of privacy extended to the use of contraceptives and states could not ban the sale of contraceptives. (it is hard to believe there was a time when selling birth control was illegal)
Personhood laws could upend not only Roe v. Wade but Griswold v. Connecticut. If a fertilized egg is a person, then any deliberate effort to kill the fertilized egg would be considered murder. A quick perusal of The Pill Kills website will make it clear that the personhood crowd is dead serious about banning abortion and birth control.
What is the implications of a personhood law?
All abortion would be illegal, including abortion in the case of rape and incest
Abortion to save the life of the mother would be outlawed since it is illegal to murder one person to save another
Using any form of birth control that is an abortifacient would be illegal
Our entire legal code would need rewriting to reflect that a fertilized egg is a person
A person causing a woman to miscarry could be charged with murder.
Parents would be able to claim the fertilized egg as a dependent on their income tax return
Fertilized eggs would be eligible for adoption
Stem cell research would be curtailed and possibly banned
I can imagine a new Evangelical evangelism outreach to fertilized eggs. “Winning People to Jesus, One Fertilized Egg at a Time.”
We must not sit on the sidelines while right-wing Christians attempt to push their social agenda down the throat of the American people. We must consistently and continually point out that personhood laws are fraught with legal implications that will turn the legal code into a mine field.
Right-wing Christians are not going away. Obama being elected President was a wake up call and they have no intentions of sitting idly by and letting liberal, fertilized egg killing Democrats win in 2012. I expect a vicious fight, not only on the federal level, but the state and local level too.
Look at the graphic below. Is what you see a baby? Is aborting this the same as murdering your mother, father, or grandmother?
Only those blinded by their religious ideology can conclude that this is a picture of a baby. At best, it is potential life, but not life itself.
Now let me get personal for a moment.
If you believe people who support a woman’s right to an abortion are murderers or evil people, then why do you have anything to do with me? If this is your view, why would you want to associate with a neighbor, friend, husband, father, father-in-law, or grandfather who advocates m-u-r-d-e-r? IF I am a murderer because I support the slaughter (your word) of over a million babies a year, then aren’t I just as evil as Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy?
And herein lies the problem with your shrill rhetoric. I am a kind, decent, loving neighbor, friend, husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather. Yes, I am an atheist but I am more “Christian” than many of the Christians you know.
How about asking me WHY I support a woman’s right to an abortion? If asked, you would find out that:
I don’t think human life begins at conception. Potential life, yes, but human life? No. Science tells me that this is true, not a pre-science, antiquated religious text.
When I look at the embryo above I don’t see a “baby.” It is a group of cells, not a baby.
I support a woman’s right to use birth control to keep from getting pregnant. I know that some forms of birth control might cause a spontaneous abortion, but I have no problem with this since I don’t think life begins at conception.
Since 89% of abortions occur in the first trimester, long before viability, I fully support a woman’s unfettered right to an abortion. This right includes over the counter access to morning after drugs.
I do not support abortion on demand after viability. However, only 14,400 a year occur after viability, and, in most cases, these abortions are medically necessary due to the health of the mother, the fetus, or both.
I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe the teachings of the Bible. My beliefs are not governed by the Bible or the teachings of a sect. When I came to the view I now hold on abortion it was because of the science behind the abortion debate.
I am also a husband, father, father-in-law, and a grandfather. If ANY of the women in my family were raped or were carrying a fetus that could cost them their life, I would want them to have access to every medical and psychological means necessary to help them. I am most concerned for the LIVING.
I didn’t come to this position easily. I have a daughter with Down Syndrome. I know many women have an abortion when they find out they are carrying a fetus with Down’s. I can’t imagine our life without Bethany. My brother was born three months premature, not too many weeks past the viability line. I can’t imagine life without my little brother. My point is this: everything doesn’t fit neatly in a pro-life or pro-choice box. Life is messy and we are often forced to make hard decisions.
This post is an attempt to get people to see that it is simplistic and offensive when people label someone like me a murderer or evil. But, I don’t do that, you might say. Are you sure you don’t? Every time you post to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest that people who support abortion are murderers or evil, you ARE saying I am a murderer or evil. This is the inescapable conclusion of your rhetoric and moralizing.
I have come to the conclusion that there is no common ground to be had with people who are pro-life. They start with religion and not science, and I see no way of finding common ground. All I can do is present the facts about abortion and work to keep them from causing any further harm to women.
I understand the pro-life view, I really do. I was pro-life for most of my adult life. I fully understand the why’s of being pro-life. I know all the proof-texts and I think the Bible supports the pro-life view, along with the pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, pro-incest, pro-genocide, pro-war, pro-peace view.
I understand where you are coming from. Now it is time for you to give me the same courtesy.
If you are an atheist, agnostic, secularist, or liberal Christian and you often find yourself in discussions with Evangelicals/fundamentalists about the Bible, then I want to recommend you download the E-Sword Bible Study Program. The program is free. There are additional modules you can buy, but I think you’ll find the free program is sufficient for looking up Bible verses, reading commentaries, and looking at the Hebrew/Greek text.
The free version includes (not a complete list):
King James Version with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
American Standard Version
English Standard Version
Contemporary English Version
Revised Standard Version
German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian translations of the Bible (along with a number of other languages)
Hebrew New Testament
Hebrew Old Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Greek New Testament Majority Text
Greek New Testament with Variants
Greek Old Testament, Septuagint with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Commentaries by Albert Barnes, John Gill, Matthew Henry, Jamieson Fausett Brown, Keil & Delitzsch
There is also an iPad ($4.99) and iPhone ($1.99) version. I use the iPad version quite often when I need to look up a verse or study a particular passage of Scripture. Right now, the program is Windows only, but a Mac version is in the works.
Beyond An Absence of Faith: Stories About the Loss of Faith and Discovery of Self, edited by Jonathan M.S. Pearce and Tristan Vick, is an anthology of deconversion stories, including my own. In the book, you will find the deconversion stories of:
Sergio Paulo Sider
No Cross No Crescent
Beth Ann Erickson
Beyond An Absence of Faith is not a book written to defend atheism or attack religion. It is 263 pages of everyday people detailing their journey from belief to unbelief. Since I have a chapter in the book, and many of you know some of the people listed above, I thought I’d let readers know how they can get a copy of the book.