A Christian Pastor influenced my de-conversion

August 7, 2008 at 11:59 pm 41 comments

The most influential event for me in my de-conversion was actually talking to a Christian pastor.

I was visiting my brother in Kentucky, and prior to going to see Pirates 3 Saturday night, we all went to watch him perform at his megachurch where he plays the drums. As we were getting ready to leave, some of the people in my party were chatting with friends they knew, and while this was going on, the lady pastor there somehow caught wind of my parents’ recent divorce. She took advantage of this and she immediately started asking me very prodding, personal questions.

I tried to defuse them with stuff like “I’m handling it” but she wouldn’t let up. Finally, thinking it would satisfy her, I was frank about my reactions to the whole situation. She then started crying, and gave me a hug (freakin’ awkward) then asked me if I was trusting Christ. At the time I was somewhat of an agnostic Christian loosely clinging to emerging church theology but I really hadn’t used any form of faith in dealing with that particular situation. This quickly devolved into an attempt on my part to defend my faith-position on the fly to someone who was extremely well-versed in apologetics and well-practiced in religious debate (contrast this to me who only ever had to defend a Christian faith to people and was now finding himself unwittingly on the other end of the shotgun!)

After about an hour of me trying to get out of there gracefully, she had successfully broken down all my emotional and psychological barriers, and I was pretty much ready to just jump the gun and “re-commit” myself to Christ, but on an intellectual level I knew I was being manipulated. So I managed to ask her to pray for me to “find the truth”, so we prayed together and then I got the hell out of there.

The rest of my party had left except for my brother who had been instructed to stick behind and continue the conversation on the way to the theater.

After that weekend what stuck with me was the importance of “finding the truth” so, among other things, I wouldn’t be stuck in that situation again. I prayed to Jesus to help me in my search. I started up a blog where I could put down my thoughts on faith-related matters and struck up conversations with an emerging church pastor, Mike, on his blog. I also lurked on the Friendly Athiest blog for awhile (this was around the time of the “A Christian Pastor Responds” series) before beginning to post. I started exploring the blogosphere for different points of view, and started striking up discussions and debates with people of different faith backgrounds.

In the beginning, I wasn’t really opposed to arriving at a Christian faith (in fact I pretty much expected to!), I still prayed to God and felt him responding, and felt like he was blessing, sanctioning, and even guiding my search for truth.

But after a long period of doubt, prayers that felt totally un-listened-to, a frank look at the reality around me and a realization that the world truly acted self-sufficient and seemed a whole lot like there wasn’t a benevolent, supreme, eminent mover in it, I realized my beliefs in God were slipping away. I of course
fought this. Hard. I prayed earnestly and fervently to God to just do something, *anything* that would convince me he was real. I didn’t know what would convince me, but surely he would, and I wanted so desperately to be convinced.

Then, wondering if I was missing something by sticking too close to the Christian path, I tried spoon-bending. This is what pretty much killed off any belief in a spiritual otherworld for me. I became a monist agnostic deist… and then the deist part of it just sort of slowly tapered off.

I know at this point the atheist label is not wrong, but I still call myself agnostic because I sincerely believe that real “knowledge” about God or godlike entities is truly unattainable. I also know that a good many people have “spiritual” experiences that I am just not ready to discount entirely, simply because I just do not know what is going on in their minds.

But I am pretty certain that none of this would have happened, and I would still be contenting myself as a non-practicing emergent-leaning agnostic liberal Christian, if it hadn’t been for one eager Christian pastor on the prowl for a soul-saving.

- Derek Berner (Guest Contributor)

Entry filed under: ~Guest. Tags: , , , , .

Pan’s Labyrinth Blue Like Jazz: A book for disillusioned Christian fundamentalists

41 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Quester  |  August 8, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Welcome, Derek. I’m glad you found some support and information to help you in your search for truth.

  • 2. qmonkey  |  August 8, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Hi Derek.

    You don’t seem to have been very convinced at any stage, were you? what made you become a christain the first place?

  • 3. mysteryofiniquity  |  August 8, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Good story Derek! People outside Christianity looking in, and even those Christians who cannot take an honest look at their faith, have no idea how manipulative Christian counseling and prayer can be. It’s designed specifically to leave you feeling your absolute worst and making impulsive decisions about your “soul.” I’m not saying everyone does it intentionally, because it’s just a given in these environments, but until I was able to stand outside the experience and critique it for what it was, I was so susceptible to this kind of manipulation. I applaud your quick thinking in the heat of the moment. Like you I cannot discount peoples’ experiences of God, but like you “I sincerely believe that real “knowledge” about God or godlike entities is truly unattainable.”

    Thank you for the essay!

  • 4. Derek  |  August 8, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Like so many I became a Christian at an early age because that’s what I was raised to believe. That’s not to say I never took it seriously, of course. I believed in God, believed Jesus had died for me and accepted his payment for the forgiveness of my sins. I read the bible, prayed regularly, and I tried to please and glorify God in all aspects of my life. In high school I even helped lead worship and led two bible study groups. I wasn’t without my doubts, of course, but back then I delved into various apologetic works to assuage my fears.

    I stopped going to church in college after I started dating a girl and we became sexually intimate, and I wanted to avoid judgment. Over the next few years I began to take a much more liberal stance but kept assuring myself I was a Christian and saved. Eventually, after graduating, I read some EC books and felt like that was exactly what I needed to revive my struggling Christian faith, and I didn’t really question it too seriously again until the night at my brother’s church.

  • 5. Lorena  |  August 8, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Nicely written article, Derek.

    It amazes me how the manipulative tricks that pastors are so good at can bring a person to their “knees” so quickly.

    It reminds me that feeble, weak, insecure people–as I was when I converted–don’t stand a chance.

  • 6. oxysmoron  |  August 9, 2008 at 12:25 am

    Derek I think it is good that you brought this out on the blog.

    I noticed you said you tried to believe, had doubts, etc.

    This isn’t uncommon.

    Actually many weak, broken down, hopeless people are a Target to be converted to ” what may seem like christianity”.

    I always ask the question: ” what is the motive?”

    more than likely if there is a motive it is due to religion and a notch in their salvation buckle. EGO.

    No one manipulated me into believing in God or Christ, or the Holy Ghost. Could say I was wooed by God Himself.

    No church
    No christian
    No psychiatrist

    but I can say I was awakened to the fact that many who aren’t christian (in the real sense) were manipulating, controlling, and quite deceptive in their motives as to what I should be taught, what I should believe, and a stack of knowledge that was not helping me to stand firm on anything. Wanting balance; yet looking at both sides and could not find proof in the pudding.

    I don’t mind being called simple, or any other tag one desires to label me; for those labels were all over me too while participating in circles. Today I would rather be strong in faith and looked upon as weak or feeble minded due to my faith, than to conform to the masses. I talk to christians all over… not just the U.S. and find that many have diverse ideas of their own christianity. I don’t want to be diverse, I want to be transformed. I don’t want to conform to ideas… and many call me rebellious because I won’t.

    It takes just as much faith not to believe as it does to believe. Both who stand strong and firm are generally influenced. Yet my pursuasion was of the opposite… so much pursuasion not to believe it made me begin to rethink what exactly do I believe in, or who exactly do I believe in?

    Guess one could say my refusal to conform, my stubbornness to commit, and my ability to trust in something/someone which seems to waiver helped me to finally see how the weaker things of this world certainly are foolishness to man/woman and how Ego is such a delight. Right there… Ego… Pride, and a slew of other things that began to make me ill. I wasn’t having it. No one pats me on the back now and that is just fine with me. People like it when you agree with them… actually they like it too much and this too made me wonder: are they agreeing with me because they really believe it, or is it only because they want so badly to be accepted. Today I humble myself before God because He alone and only He revealed to me HOW when He knew I was READY. Even He doesn’t force, manipulate, or use tactics to convert; only men and women with motives do that. And to what is the conversion? To be a Carbon Copy like them? No thanks… I will keep my eyes upon the One who called me. And I understand I really don’t have to prove to anyone why I believe and it is ok when they say ” this is foolishness”.

  • 7. The Apostate  |  August 9, 2008 at 1:50 am

    Thanks for the contribution oxysmoron.

  • 8. orDover  |  August 9, 2008 at 2:12 am

    “It takes just as much faith not to believe as it does to believe.”

    Has there been a post about this (mis)conception yet? That would surely be interesting and worthwhile.

  • 9. The Apostate  |  August 9, 2008 at 2:48 am

    orDover,
    I don’t think it would be worthwhile. People who make those statements generally cannot even define “faith” in the first place.

  • 10. Derek  |  August 9, 2008 at 11:57 am

    oxys, I’m not implying that all conversions are the result of manipulation of course, and I wasn’t issuing a challenge to your faith. I am aware that people come to belief — regardless of which religion — for a slew of reasons.

    I did, however, recognize what would have been an ingenuine conversion that would have been paraded around that particular church as an example of what a difference Jesus can make in the lives of people. On the same night three other people “gave their lives to Christ” in that auditorium with everyone around them applauding and shouting out hallelujahs.

    Good luck peddling your “it takes faith not to believe” to nonbelievers though. For some *strange* reason we seem to be a real stubborn bunch when it comes to that.

  • 11. Derek  |  August 9, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    And as for the implication that I’ve never, once, ever experienced “real Christianity”. If that’s true, how do you know for certain that any conversion, anywhere, is genuine? For that matter, how do I know YOU have experienced “real Chrstianity”?

    I’ve also never met a Real Scotsman.

  • 12. Amy Van De Wynckel  |  August 9, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    I want to tell you the truth, The One Holy Apolstolic Catholic Church Truth where through the time I converted in 2004 I realized Jesus is the reason I am here because I suffer but not as much as he did on that crusifix and the stations of the cross after watching them in Australia in WYD 2008 this year. Athethism was predicted by the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary would cause shipwreck in the faith.
    http://www.mmp-usa.net/7
    http://www.mej.com
    http://www.markmallett.com
    http://www.vatican.va
    http://www.holylove.com
    http://www.ewtn.com

  • 13. silentj  |  August 9, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Derek,

    The manipulation you bring up is another way where I really can’t be totally at peace with religion. While many wonder why atheists can’t just be happy with religion, this kind of manipulation is horrid when it’s done to minors, which is a big part of youth group meetings, especially the large concert/festival type events.

    Here you have kids trying there best to figure out what in the world is going on with themselves, then you tell them they’re sinners and they need to repent.

    I don’t have much of a problem with it when people are adults. If they feel “led” as adults, so be it. But the idea of churches having alter calls– life changing events– in big festival type atmospheres with young kids is pretty disturbing. Even when I was a young Christian at these events, they seemed wrong.

  • 14. Richard  |  August 10, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Derek-

    Nice point. I had a silmilar experience of leaving fundamentalism but still considering myself loosely affiliated with Christiainty — non-denominational, but still accepting most Christian claims — until I had some encounters with fervent and confident fundamentalists that sent me scurrying back to apologetics. This time around, though — in sharp contrast to my fundy days — I took a good long look at the counter arguments and criticisms. It was shocking to me just how uncritically I had read, for example, Lewis’ “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” argument or Pascals Wager. I was shocking to see for the first time how gerry-mandered all the Biblical harmonizations were and how much more sense it made to regard the Christian Bible as a thoroughly human document. Or how much simpler it was not having to tie myself into knots trying to explain away evil!

    Honest engagement with apologetics did more to solidify my de-conversion than anything else could have.

  • 15. Luke  |  August 11, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    excellent post! i find myself repelled and repulsed by the type of christianity that tried to guilt you back onto the “straight and narrow”. i wrestle with my faith every day and i’m in seminary. for those of us who truly think things out, we’re going to have that problem. our hearts can’t believe what our brains don’t comprehend.

    and there is a core tradition built into christian theology! it’s the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Apophatic Theology.

    The apophatic tradition focuses on a spontaneous or cultivated individual experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception, an experience often unmediated by the structures of traditional organized religion or learned thought and behavior. so that place where words fail you.. that is God. can you describe what it was like the first time you saw the ocean? first time you fell in love? that indescribable part is where God lives.

    thank go you didn’t go the route of apologetics or trying to fake it til you make it. neither works to well.

    your continued reader, yet seldom commenter,
    -L

  • 16. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 11, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    can you describe what it was like the first time you saw the ocean?

    This is a perfect example of just how subjective beauty really is; I don’t find the ocean very appealing. I see it as rather featureless and unimpressive except in it’s massiveness.

  • 17. Derek  |  August 11, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    SB, either you’ve never been to the beaches in Mexico or Hawaii, or you have no soul…

    (false dichotomy alert! nobody has a soul…)

  • 18. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 11, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    See, now beaches I can see the beauty of. But the ocean itself? It’s boring.

  • 19. Derek  |  August 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    so that place where words fail you.. that is God.

    Thing is — I’m sure I’ve been to that place and back, but I have no reason to believe that it was God and not a chemical response in my brain. People can experience that state of indescribable euphoria in a variety of religious and irreligious contexts.

    Even C.S. Lewis rejected emotional states as evidence of God.

    One of the big steps for me was realizing that bosom-burning, that unique “presence of God”, as it were (I wasn’t a Mormon, but the terminology is apt), was not unique to any religion, and could be measured and observed in an MRI chamber.

    But it’s the reason I still sometimes pray to help me fall asleep at night. Old habits die hard…

  • 20. Derek  |  August 11, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    for those of us who truly think things out, we’re going to have that problem. our hearts can’t believe what our brains don’t comprehend.

    With you 100% on that one though.

  • 21. john t.  |  August 11, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Derek

    “but I have no reason to believe that it was God and not a chemical response”

    Maybe the chemical response is God. Who knows maybe we are all just chemical reactions in the body of God. All for one and one for all. lol.

  • 22. Brandon  |  August 11, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Nice post D, thanks for the honesty. My friend deconverted when the priest said “If you are in a burning building do no try to get out, just pray to God, if you are being robbed and brutally beaten, do not fight back, just pray to God, he will save you if you are a true Christian” She thought he was out of his mind and didn’t like that everyone was buying into it. It really opened her eyes up.

    Ever since then she just walks around work saying Religion is Bullshit, reminds me of George Carlin.

  • 23. silentj  |  August 11, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Brandon,

    That post reminds me of the old joke about the guy trapped on his roof during a flood. In short:

    A guy in a canoe comes by to help him, but he just replies, “No thanks. God will save me.”
    A guy in a motor boat comes by to help him, but he just replies, “No thanks. God will save me.”
    A guy in a helicopter comes by to help him, but he just replies, “No thanks. God will save me.”

    Finally, the water consumes him. In Heaven, the man says to God, “You told me to pray to you when I was in trouble, but you never came to help me.”

    God replies, “What do you mean? I sent you a canoe, a motor boat, and a helicopter.”

  • 24. Brandon  |  August 11, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    LoL, Yea I can definitely see the connection of that joke to the reality of my post. That is a good one!!!

  • 25. Derek  |  August 11, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Maybe the chemical response is God.

    And maybe it’s not.

    Maybe when I die, my soul will be reincarnated in a Twinkie unless I believe in the invisible purple hippopotamus.

    That’s the thing, you don’t stake your entire life on a maybe. I don’t, anyway.

  • 26. Brandon  |  August 11, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Not all maybes are bad, some fit nicely in place where they belong until they can be proven (tachyon particle/higgs boson). I just want them to develop a convincing T.O.E. already!!!!!

  • 27. silentj  |  August 11, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Brandon,

    I think the problem with maybes is the massive impact they are having on world politics, culture, education, scientific inquiry, etc., etc. If it was just that the guy on the bus would say wacky things everyone once in a while, not many people would care. But, when these “maybes” start impeding potentially beneficial scientific research or, worse yet, promote bloodshed, they become more than an individual style that makes life more palatable.

  • 28. john t.  |  August 11, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Derek

    “That’s the thing, you don’t stake your entire life on a maybe. I don’t, anyway.”

    I didnt say anything about staking your life on it, or did I hmmmmm. Maybe you are Psychic ;)

    Its just an Idea I floated out there, almost like the Gaia hypothesis. I love the connected feeling it gives me. Im not asking you to believe it, maybe consider it. And if not, Cest la Vie.

  • 29. Derek  |  August 11, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Maybe you are Psychic ;)

    Interesting. I now have an urge to go buy a lottery ticket :)

    Im not asking you to believe it, maybe consider it.

    That’s the thing, I have considered it. For years and years. And the thing I can’t answer is what tangible benefit it would have for me if true, and how living my life as though it were true would be any different from how I live now.

  • 30. Derek  |  August 11, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    But then nobody said I wasn’t pragmatic

  • 31. Derek  |  August 12, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Not all maybes are bad, some fit nicely in place where they belong until they can be proven (tachyon particle/higgs boson).

    Unless the LHC destroys the universe. But why let a little maybe like that get in the way of scientific research?

    (in case you can’t tell, tongue is firmly in cheek)

  • 32. john t.  |  August 12, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Derek

    Just having faith in something, doesnt mean you throw all science out the window. I truly believe you can have both. Now Im not talking about religion or any doctrinal based idea, I am talking about a “belief” in some kind of driving force to the universe as we see it. Science seems to point to some health benefits for prayer and meditation, so I guess there are some tangible perks to it.

  • 33. Brandon  |  August 12, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Derek – LoL, GOOD ONE!

    SilentJ – Yes, I agree, maybes as a whole whether good or bad has a massive impact. There is no way around it, it has potential to be either really good, really bad, or no effect at all. The majority of scientific hypothesis’s start out as a maybe. But I understand your main point, it is the unverifiable maybe’s that can have a big impact in distorting reality, nevertheless, not all maybes are going to fit under the scope of science. Heck, Jar Theory is a maybe that is accepted as a possibility by sum and too me that theory is really out there!!!

  • 35. Echo  |  August 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    If you have time to read this article it is actually quite interesting. At the end of the article the Author’s third option. This thought has crossed my mind many times. Did God put Hebrews 6:4-6 in the Bible for the very reason that it will act as a restrainer to anyone who is truly a Christian and wishes to apostasize? True Christians will read the passage with fear and a desire to avoid that end at every cost.

    Whereas a “professor of faith but not a possessor of faith” will be ABLE to get past the verses and actually apostasize. I find this to be fascinating. I now de-cons do not like to be told they “never really believed”—-you heard that all before—-but this article gives a bit of a different perspective than I have heard before, and I found it very interesting.

    http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue49.htm

  • 36. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 18, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Echo-

    Reading that article, I’m not sure what to make of this line, regarding the third option (that those verses serve as a warning that is always effective):

    “It is legitimate to introduce the possibility of something that will not happen to motivate one to avoid it.”

    Does that strike anyone else as absolutely absurd? If it can’t happen anyway, why motivate anyone to avoid it?

  • 37. Echo  |  August 18, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Snuggly—-

    The thought has struck me several times when reading those verses in Hebrews if they in a sense are like a safety harness to a true Christian. If a true Christian wanders so far that he is getting close to apostasizing, he knows it. When he/she reads Hebrews 6:4-6 it brings great fear to the heart!! Why? Because they TRULY BELIEVE the Bible. That verse CAUSES the “fear of falling” that will drive the true believer back. It is a literal safety harness–something that drives the true believer back to the truth.

    A person who doesn’t really believe can GET PAST those verses. Why? They DON’T really believe the Bible, therefore they continue on their path to apostasy. I personally, in the past, strayed so far that I thought I had committed the Unpardonable sin. Those verses in Hebrews filled me with so much fear I couldn’t even sleep. But you know what? They eventually led me back to a place where I saw how stupid I was being in running from God. Heb. 6:4-6 is like barbed wire to the true Christian who is wandering. But to the person who only professes faith rather than possessing it, the verses mean little more than anything else in the Bible–and they continue until their apostasy is complete.

    I think this man’s interpretation is a very good one. It has helped me to far better understand those verses, and why God put them there in Hebrews.

  • 38. Derek  |  August 25, 2008 at 11:09 am

    When he/she reads Hebrews 6:4-6 it brings great fear to the heart!! Why? Because they TRULY BELIEVE the Bible.

    I would argue that, if the only reason you believe is because you’re afraid of what would happen if you did not, then that is not genuine faith.

    Employing fear as a means of preventing “apostasy” is a sign of megalomania, not compassion. Being afraid of something is not the same thing as actually believing in it.

  • 39. gina  |  May 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Derek, I think you were making it too much about the people and the evidence…the longer we believe the more evidence we get from God. There are times when God is silent, b/c we are saved by faith,not proof. I have experienced kind of what you have…but that’s when you trust God’s word, that He is there…not because you have proof…and the Bible does say that in the end of days even the elect will fall away…this is not the time to de-covert, trust me…it’s not out of fear, it’s out of the intellectual side of you know the truth…if I let my walk with God be affected by other Christians I would have de-converted a long time ago…and I hate that word…God made us to be in relationship with Him, and to do His will, so finding God is not being converted, it is going back to the first one who ever loved you. This world has nothing for me, everything I own can be burned, and my husband could leave me tomorrow…if you don’t have God, what is it in life that is eternal…nothing. I will keep you in my prayers that god will reveal Himself, but please have faith, and don’t give up on Him…it is not about a spiritual experience…it’s about knowing the one true God, like you get to know a friend, a little at a time, until you see who they really are, the whole picture.

    If you know any of the Bible you also know that satan is real and he is the father of lies, and the author of the subtle attack on every believer; doubt discouragement and disbelief…don’t give in.

  • 40. LeoPardus  |  May 15, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    gina:

    the longer we believe the more evidence we get from God.

    Precisely the opposite of what we all found. But it’s funny that you start with this statement and then go on to tell us how you don’t get proof from God.

    At any rate, the rest of your post is just a bunch of assertions, which you think are true. They aren’t true. There. Now I’ve made an assertion. And as long as no proof/evidence is needed, we are at a complete impasse.

  • 41. Eve's Apple  |  May 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Reading these posts reminds me of the time when I was attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. You might say it was my last stop before deconversion. I was still trying to hold on to my faith but it was getting harder. Anyway, the LCMS was an interesting experience. They were pushing evangelism big time as they wanted to build a church (but had only about 20 members) and of course the pastor was aggressively pushing tithing as well. So it was an education in how to manipulate people. Well, the church eventually folded and never did get their building. By that time I was long gone.

    What was especially revealing was the video they showed on how to evangelize. It specifically pointed out which types of people to target, and which not to. It should come as no surprise that all of us deconverts are in the latter category. The firm specifically said to avoid people who ask hard questions, to not waste time talking to them. Right then and there I knew that I was wasting my time and that my stay in the LCMS would not be a happy one and could only come at a price I was no longer willing to pay. Manipulation has never been my game; I have always felt that if you had to use arm-twisting or any kind of deceit to sell your product or win your case, then it probably wasn’t very good to begin with. I don’t think would-be evangelizers realize or even care that by using manipulation, pressure and outright deceit, they are advertising that Christianity is indeed unable to stand on its own merits and therefore isn’t worthy of the consideration they would like the rest of us to give it.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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