Mr. Super Christian
My name is JT and I’m an atheist. That may seem obvious since I’m writing this blog post for Bold Atheism. But for me, it is a big step to make that statement publicly. I’ve told parts of my story on various atheist sites and forums. However, I’ve never written the complete story of my journey to atheism until now.
My dad is a Southern Baptist pastor. He’s been a pastor for as long as I can remember. I was raised in the church from the time I was born. I accepted Jesus as my savior (my official conversion) at the age of 5 years old. I remember the exact prayer I said, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I think my mom had talked to me about God’s book of life. She told me that God writes down the name of all Christians in the book of life and if you’re on that list then you get to go to heaven when you die. If you reject God your name is written in the book of judgment and you go to hell. I knew all about hell from Sunday school and the thought terrified me. That night I prayed quietly in my room, “God, I want to be a Christian. I love Jesus and I love you! Please write my name down and never, ever, ever tear it up. I’ll be good, I promise.” My parents were thrilled, but they made me wait two years before getting baptized. They wanted to be sure I understood what I was doing. I suppose I did, but only as much as a child can understand religion and theology.
From then on, I was all about being a Christian. I would take my tiny New Testament Bible to school just because I had been taught that it was forbidden by the government – it isn’t – and pray at my desk, quietly, but obviously. I talked to my friends about Jesus and convinced several of them to come to church with me. Starting in middle school, my parents decided to home school me. I think their motivations were more out of safety than religion because the middle school in my town was known for violent incidents. My curriculum came from Bob Jones University and was completely infused with Christianity. This was particularly true in the subjects of science and history.
In 1994 our little church in Moore, Oklahoma was dying. The congregation consisted of my family and only a few other people. My dad sent resumes out to churches all over the country. A small church in Bosque Farms, New Mexico decided to hire him and we packed up and moved to New Mexico. This church had a large youth group. It wasn’t long before I was heavily involved. Between youth drama club, Christian rock concerts, conferences and volunteer work, I was at church almost all the time.
As a young adult, I began to take on more church responsibilities. I taught children’s church once per month. I also taught the junior high Sunday school class on a semi-regular basis. I ran the sound board during Sunday morning services, put together PowerPoint presentations for the messages and sourced video segments that were used as object lessons. I suppose you could say I was attempting to be Mr. Super Christian. It wasn’t a far-fetched thought that I might follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a pastor myself.
Doubt Creeps In
The number one rule of being a Christian: don’t doubt God. Doubt is the enemy of faith. If you find that you’re starting to doubt God’s existence then you should double-down. Read your bible more, pray more, volunteer at the church more. Just distract yourself with “good works”, stop thinking about it and trust in the lord.
I knew the rules, but I just couldn’t follow them. Ironically, it was the church that made me start doubting the legitimacy of my faith. I had been taught that Christians were good people because of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. You should always be able to tell Christians from unbelievers because of their actions. This comes from Matthew 7:16 which says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” But I started noticing that this wasn’t the case at all. Some people in our church were absolutely horrible. My youth pastor, especially, was a selfish, jealous, controlling woman who manipulated kids. She would turn friends against each other, break up couples she deemed wrong for each other, undermine parental authority, and the list goes on. I could write an entire horror novel based on the psychological abuse and manipulation of that woman, but that’s not the point of my story.
I witnessed so many mean-spirited and self-serving people in the church over the years that I couldn’t help but let the doubt creep in. If Christians were no better than unbelievers, then what other assertions in the bible might be false? I decided to check it out for myself. Oddly enough, I began my search on reddit. When I first signed up I was looking for cute cat videos and video game news. At the time, the atheism subreddit was a default, so it would pop up on the home page. I read a few posts, got scared and blocked the subreddit. Once I decided a thorough examination of my faith was necessary, I unblocked them and started reading.
The more I read, the more convinced I became that I had been wrong about God all along. I slowly transitioned from an absolute certainty of God’s existence to a more agnostic view. Maybe God isn’t there? Can we really know? Maybe there is a God, but it isn’t the Christian God. At some point, I’ll write a blog post detailing the major arguments that lead me away from Christianity.
After reddit, I moved to YouTube. I started by watching as many Christopher Hitchens debates as I could find. He annoyed me. He was offensive. He was tearing down my faith. The worst thing about him was that he made sense and that scared me. I switched to Richard Dawkins and watched his debates and TED talks.He may have been more offensive to religion than Hitchens, but I was beginning to agree with the atheistic side more and more. Be sure to check out some of the videos I watched on the viewing list page.
Then I did something big. I made a major step towards abandoning my faith. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I felt like I had just bought a stack of porno magazines. I broke out in a cold sweat and I just knew the cashier was glaring at me. This was forbidden fruit. A good Christian, even a doubting Christian, should never, ever read books like these.
I won’t re-hash the books here, but I suggest that everyone read them. They were the final tipping point on my journey to atheism. About midway through I knew, without a doubt, that I was now an atheist. If I’m being honest with myself, I was probably an atheist long before that point. I just couldn’t admit it to myself, let alone anyone else.
Letting go of childhood indoctrination is incredibly hard. When you’ve had the threat of hell drilled into you for your entire life, the thought of leaving your religion is thoroughly terrifying. I felt like I was literally putting my eternal life at risk by taking a critical look at Christianity. The simple act of reading an internet post would leave me shaking. I knew I was wandering into dangerous territory, but thankfully I kept searching, kept thinking, and kept questioning. I came through to the other side without being struck down by a deity in the sky. I’m no longer afraid of hell. There is a light at the end of the tunnel – just not the one I was expecting.
This is the first post on Bold Atheism and it is a long one. I wrote it more for myself than anyone. It’s time for me to live up to the name of the page and be bold. My goal is to provide resources and articles for atheists. I also want to help guide those doubting Christians (or Muslims, Mormons, etc) through the tunnel. Being an atheist is not as scary as you’ve been led to believe. Atheists have morals. Atheists have a reason to live. Our lives are not meaningless without God. Keep reading, keep researching and feel free to reach out if you have questions or just need someone to talk to. I’m a passionate and compassionate atheist. Leaving my faith behind was the best decision I ever made. When you stop living for a life after death, you have much more time to focus on the present. Every important thing we will ever do must be done in this life. It’s time to be bold.