My de-conversion: A discovery of deliberate lies
I was born into a very religious Christian family. My maternal grandfather was a former Baptist pastor and leading elder of his church, which he also founded. He and my grandmother had been heavily involved in Campus Crusade, especially during the 1960s. My aunt worked for Campus Crusade the majority of her life, and after that taught Bible studies. When my grandfather would meet a new person, the first question he would ask them is, “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart as your personal savior?” My first memory of anything religious is of him asking me that very question.
I don’t know how old I was when it started, but I can remember being no older than 5 and being dogged by that question every time I was in his presence. I remember being perplexed by the question. I didn’t really know who Jesus was, or what it meant to ask him into my heart, but I knew it was something I had to do. I was told that prayer would make it happen, but I had no concept of what prayer was either. I remember laying in bed, again no older than 5, and in a quiet whisper asking Jesus to come into my heart. I was plagued by the fear that I hadn’t asked loud enough, that Jesus hadn’t heard my request. I ask him several times over to come into my heart, with increasing loudness. To finally make sure Jesus could hear, I went into my parent’s large walk-in closet, crawled underneath some hanging clothes, and shouted, “JESUS! Come into my heart!” Surely that did it, I thought.
From the age of seven on I was sent to a large nondenominational Christian school. We went to Chapel once a week where several grades met together to sing praise and worship songs and have a mini-sermon. We memorized Bible verses along with our list of spelling words. A portion of every part of the day was set aside for the subject Bible, just like the subject Math. We even had a Bible workbook and regular homework assignments. All of our textbooks had Christian themes and were from Christian publishers: Science, History, even English. In 6th grade for literature we were assigned Joni, the autobiography of Joni Eareckson-Tada, a quadriplegic who turned her tragedy into a way to tell others about the love of God. That same year I was punished for bringing a book about the history of philosophy, which my paternal grandmother had given me, because it contained chapters on unchristian thought, like Nietzsche. I pointed out to the teacher who confiscated my book that it also had a chapter about Jesus, but that didn’t matter. They did everything they could to keep us locked up in a very tight Christian bubble, with every aspect of our lives completely saturated with Christianity.
During my elementary years I proudly identified myself as a Christian, but I hadn’t given much thought as to what that actually meant. By the time I reached junior high I had rededicated my life to God with teary-eyed passion. I started taking my faith much more seriously. I began doing daily “devotionals”—reading a passage from the Bible or a page from a devotional book that contained a verse and words of instruction or inspiration. I prayed for at least 15 minutes before going to sleep every night, and attempted to “pray without ceasing” during the day, which resulted in my inner dialog switching from a conversation with myself to a conversation with God, a habit that became so engrained in my psyche that it still rears it’s head from time to time.
As I entered high school, still at the same Christian school, I was a Christian novel reading, W.W.J.D. bracelet wearing, mega-church attending teen; my life was still consumed and defined by my faith. At school they kicked our Bible instruction up a few notches in order to prepare us for the mission field, the ministry, and the dreaded “real world” outside of that bubble they had so meticulously built. Bible was often my favorite subject, and one I always earned high marks in. I was excited to learn apologetics and how to interpret scripture on my own. Along with being taught how to defend our faith, we were also taught morality, or rather, how we should think. We were taught about the evils of abortion and shown a video of hacked up fetuses, piles of baby hands and feet, and crushed skulls that made every single one of us cry—even the football players. We were shown a skit about how God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and read the passages in Romans about the evils of homosexuality. And that is where they started to loose me. Because of my Christian bubble I had never met an atheist, a girl who had gotten an abortion, a Muslim, or a democrat, so I could comfortably consider those people immoral and hell-bound, but accidentally a homosexual had slipped through the cracks. His name is Rufus Wainwright and he’s an openly gay musician and songwriter who I had fallen in love with. It was all well and good to say that the abortion girl was evil, but Rufus? My Rufus? Evil? No. He couldn’t be. He was too nice, too kind, too caring, and too talented to be condemned for a lifestyle choice that he felt he had no control over. The Rufus Problem caused me great psychological stress. I remember pouring it over night and day. Finally I came to my mom and ask, “With gay people, wouldn’t it be best to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’?” She agreed that would be best, but admitted that a lot of Christians had problems with that policy, and that it would be harmful for society if the gay lifestyle was accepted. “Just look at Rome,” she said. “Homosexuality was accepted there, and they fell into ruin.” So even my mother, the most loving, caring, wonderful Christian—no, the most loving, caring, wonderful person I knew—thought that homosexuality was a pox on civilization, an unnatural abomination.
Around the time that The Rufus Problem cropped up, I had a very strange change of heart. I slowly lost interested in my devotionals and cut back on my long daily prayers, opting many nights to just go to sleep instead. While I felt immensely guilty about it, I couldn’t help but notice that my life was unchanged. I didn’t suddenly start failing tests, or being mean to my friends, or having evil thoughts. I decided to try to stop my constant dialoging with God as an experiment. I was sure my life would fall apart, that even simple tasks would be emotionally difficult if I wasn’t constantly chatting with my best friend Jesus, but much to my surprise I found that I was able to get through day just as easily. Despite this, I remained a proud and vocal Christian. I wasn’t about to let go of the most important thing in my life just because I had stopped praying as much as I used to. I had so many other reasons to believe. Or so I thought.
I continued on for another year, still a Christian, but not quite as passionate as I had once been. I began to find religious conversations tedious and annoying, which was shocking and another source of guilt. I remember distinctly a road trip with my mother where she was talking about religion nonstop. She always talked about religion, so this was nothing new, but I found it absolutely insufferable. I can’t say what it was exactly—maybe it was the hypocrisy of her words that I was starting to discover, maybe it was the fact that it was all beginning to sound too much like a ridiculous glorified fairy tale, but I couldn’t take it any longer. I asked her suddenly, “Mom, can we please talk about something other than religion. Anything other than religion.” My outburst resulted in a mini-inquisition, where I admitted that I was feeling like I didn’t have very much faith anymore. She told me that it was normal, that all Christians went through times of high faith and low, and that I should just continue to pray and rely on God and it would all resolve itself. I was satisfied enough with her answer that I didn’t delve any further into my true feelings. I prayed that God would help me find my great faith again and trusted that within a few weeks I would be back to my old happy Christian self, but I never did reclaim that teary-eyed passion. Despite all of this, I never once even considered leaving the faith. I was still a Christian, just a bad one.
The next year was my senior year of high school, where we got to finally learn under the most revered Bible teacher at our entire school. I had heard stories of changed lives from other students, and I had high hopes that Mr. L’s class would help me through my little faith problem. He was supposed to be extraordinarily smart, the greatest mentor, and the most learned Christian. His entire class was devoted to high-level apologetics. We were presented with arguments against our faith that we were likely to encounter in the “real world,” and then walked through step-by-step instructions to debunk the claims. A large chunk of the class was devoted to debunking evolution. We were told that they would teach us all about evolution so that we could understand it as well as our moral opponents, but in reality all they told us was lies. They asserted that no transitional fossils had been found and that none exited, that there was no way to reliably date the earth and the universe, that the theory was full of more gaps than answers, and that it should be disregarded because Darwin himself recanted the theory on his deathbed shortly after his Christian conversion. We mocked the silly idea of life coming from “primordial soup” and were even given that old line, “If we evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys around today?”
We were taught that the Bible is a scientific authority, not Darwin, and given a handful of verses that illustrated that point. The one that sticks out most in my mind is Hebrews 11:3. We were given the following passage, “what is seen was not made out of things which are visible,” as proof that the Bible predicted atoms. I found this very interesting and decided to look into it further. We had already been taught how important context is to Biblical interpretation, so my first step was to dig deeper into the surrounding verses to build up the context. That phrase from Hebrews 11 comes that the beginning of a chapter about faith, and by reading the entire third verse and those that come before it, it was clear that the author was not talking about atoms at all when he wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Looking at that entire passage, the first three verses and not that one little phrase, it became clear to me that the author was saying that “what is seen” is made from the words of God, which are invisible, as God is invisible according to the first sentence. To say that he was talking about atoms was such a stretch that I found it to be deliberately dishonest. Mr. L hadn’t presented us with the context of the verse in order to dupe us into thinking that this was a scientifically accurate passage. He was supposed to be teaching us, but this was underhanded and despicable. From that point on I decided I would no longer participate in Mr. L’s class. Before I had been one of his star pupils. I was always willing to answer his questions, and always knew exactly what to say even when others were stumped, but I wasn’t going to parrot his shallow answers back anymore. I was going to sit there and think. I was actually going to consider the atheistic arguments Mr. L presented, and weight them seriously against the answers he taught us to give in response. Much to my surprise, I found that the atheistic arguments made more sense and were more logically consistent and honest than Mr. L’s counters. Yet, I was still a Christian, and I still couldn’t even consider being anything else.
One man’s poor defense of the faith and the constantly emerging hypocrisy I found amongst my teachers and schoolmates wasn’t enough to convince me that the Bible wasn’t the word of God and that God didn’t love me, but earlier that year I had met someone, another person outside of the Christian bubble, who was enough. He was an atheist, and I was in love with him. Not “in love” like I was with the celebrity Rufus, but wholeheartedly and genuinely in love. We had met that summer and formed a very deep and serious relationship, but I attempted to keep him always at arm’s length because of his lack of faith. I had always believed that the most important quality of candidates for my future husband was adherence to the Christian faith and I had been warned over and over again of the dangers of being “yoked together” with an unbeliever. I didn’t want to love this guy. I wanted to love a good Christian boy from school or church. Despite my ever-increasing feelings for him I considered breaking things off several times, but my love for him was completely undeniable. In many ways he was the straw that broke my Christian camel’s back. I just couldn’t believe that the God of the Bible, the loving God I had prayed to for so many years would bring the perfect guy into my life and then require me to break up with him because he wasn’t religious. It was too cruel, and beyond a test of faith. It made no sense. What could I possibly gain by severing ties with someone I deeply loved? Even now as I think about it I know what a Christian reading this would say: “What about Hosea and how he was tested?” “We can never know the mind of God or what he has planned for our lives.” Maybe if this was the first thing that had caused me to question my faith I would have accepted those answers, but it was just one more piece of a mountain of evidence forming against God in my mind. One evening as I lay in his arm I said very quietly, “I don’t think I’m a Christian anymore.” The first time I said it was the first time I had even allowed myself to think it. I realized at that point that it was true, I was no longer a Christian, and I hadn’t been for several years, but that denial had hidden that fact from me.
Even with my quiet confession, and the mental shock of finding it to be actually true, I still couldn’t let go. I held out hope that I would find some reason to believe again, that I would find some proof or have a change of heart. That never happened. In fact, the opposite happened. I found more and more proof against my religion. The first line of evidence came surprisingly from a college course on British Literature, and from that thing I had been told about Darwin back in high school, that he refuted his theory on his deathbed. For the Lit class we read an excerpt from Darwin’s autobiography. I came to a passage about his faith, “During these two years I was led to think much about religion…By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,–that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,–that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,–that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events,–that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses;–by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation…But I was very unwilling to give up my belief;–I feel sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of…manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at least complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct.” His account was so similar to my own journey that I could hardly believe it. In Darwin I found a kindred soul, and I couldn’t believe that he, even on his deathbed, would have taken back those words, so I decided to research it on the internet. Sure enough, I found out that the Darwin deathbed refutation was a lie made up by an evangelist and was debunked by Darwin’s own daughter who was actually present at his death. I felt hurt and angry that I had uncovered yet another lie, and shocked that Christians were obviously so threatened by Darwin that they felt the need to create lies instead of defending against his theory with reason. I decided that if they had lied to me about Darwin’s deathbed words, that they had probably lied to me about his theories as well. Boy was I right! I took a course the next semester on biology taught from a non-Christian textbook, looked things up on the internet, listened to podcasts, and read a few books. I soaked up all of information on evolution that I could find and concluded that it was 100% truth.
As I began to search for the truth, I discovered more and more deliberate lies that I had been told in order to convince me of everything from the divinity of the Bible to the young age of the earth. I researched negative claims about the Bible and learned that those “little discrepancies” we had been taught were no big deal were in fact very damning evidence against the Bible being the inspired word of God. The structure of self-reinforcing belief that my parents and teachers had built up around me crumbled completely. I learned more and more about how the universe works, about scientific discoveries, theories, and the proof behind them. I realized that the universe was capable of operating without a divine force and sealed my fate as an atheist.
Not long after my de-conversion completed I married that atheist guy I was so in love with—I consider not breaking up with him over Christianity to be the best decision I ever made. He is the only one who knows of my loss of faith, and is a constant source of love and support. I haven’t told my family about my de-conversion, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to. Sometimes I have nightmares where my mom and I are fighting and I suddenly yell out, “Mom, I’m an atheist!” causing her to break into tears and disown me. That might seem dramatic, but I’m confident that it isn’t far from the truth. I don’t think I’d be disowned, but I think I would be treated so differently that I would be forced to end contact with them. I’ve seen how they act around people they know aren’t saved. They would never stop trying to convert me. They will never accept me for who I truly am, so in order to not hurt them and maintain at least the semblance of a relationship, I’m going to keep lying to them.
Christians reading my story will say that I didn’t really “know Jesus or have a relationship with him.” I know I won’t be able to convince them that I did, but I can say with all confidence that I “knew Jesus” just as well as they, and that I considered my relationship with him not only the most important thing in my life, but an unshakeable reality. It’s easy to think that way when you have all of your beliefs reinforced by everyone and everything around you. Jesus was real to me, but his reality was grounded in the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. As evidence mounted against those things and my faith in them faded, so did my faith in Jesus.
[Cross-posted on The Art of Skepticism]