Why I was a Christian
I adopted belief in Christ when I was fifteen. I did so having never read a page of the bible. So why did I do it?
I assumed that if so many people believed it, there must be something to it. I mean, how could most of the people in the United States be wrong? Also, my fellow church-goers befriended me. As do all fifteen year-olds, I suffered from low self image, and my conformity to Christianity was a certain way to get “friends” (I now realize that my definition of that word was a bit wonky at the time). But I prayed, felt god was speaking to me (though he was never clear), and adopted the stances of my church as my own.
While I was a Christian, I attended church regularly. I made the trip with them to a rally of Promise Keepers in Tennessee. I witnessed to people, and I held that homosexuality and other things I was assured in church that god didn’t care for, were immoral perversions. After all, how could so many people be wrong?
It also made me feel intelligent. I lived outside a small town growing up, and would spend many nights going outside and taking in the stars. At that time I knew nothing about Astronomy, but in my mind I didn’t need to know. God created the stars, and in lying there and appreciating them I was taking part in god’s handiwork – in essence, I was communicating with god. In my eyes, this made me amongst the most blessed people in the world, for I knew everything about the stars that was necessary to know. Sure, there were processes in place that made them shine, but it was all part of god’s plan. Furthermore, I was certain that even the scientists knew that god catalyzed the stars, and that they knew they were just uncovering the way god decided to make it all work – everybody believed in god, including scientists, and those that didn’t were rightly reticent to say so.
Why I changed my mind
My parents had always had gay friends growing up and, because they were kind and good people, they had also been my friends. I started to wonder if god would really send those good people to hell. So, when I was on the cusp of twenty-one, I began to read the bible and, sure enough, it does condemn homosexuality in no uncertain terms. How could that be? Homosexuals, though immoral perverts, were typically nice people. When I met malicious people such as thieves, bullies, etc, they were despicable and cruel and worthy of contempt. But homosexuals were not like that, they were not criminals. They were hurting nobody. It was strange…god despised homosexuality; he despised it to the point of annihilating entire cities because of it. Yet, he enjoyed the occasional human sacrifice.
What I was reading in the bible appalled me. I may have cast the monstrosity of it aside, saying that god’s ways are inscrutable or something like that; except that it was shortly before I started reading the bible that I also began to read up on Astronomy. The difference between the bible and even the most elementary Astronomy book astounded me. There was no need to explain away seemingly atrocious parts of Astronomical texts – they were written plainly and precisely. They were stuffed with so much information, things that I could not even come close to comprehending as a child, but that they were always willing to explain if I applied myself.
Conversely, the bible insisted that I could not question. It made a virtue of obeying even the cruelest edicts without pause (see the story of Abraham and Isaac or of Jephtha and his daughter). There was never a case of god ever explaining anything to anybody. It occurred to me that this was why people were always bickering over what god’s will truly was, even in my old church. It was because the bible is a muddled book from which we can draw no precise conclusions the way they could in Astronomy.
It was at this point that I realized that Christianity was absurd, but I didn’t drop it entirely. Perhaps god really worked in mysterious ways? Later that year, I finished my first read through of the bible and realized I needed a basis for comparison – so I picked up the Koran. Suffice that it suffered from the same problems as the bible. Both were filled with tall tales and demands that our moral sense reject issues of happiness and suffering, as the bible had with homosexuality. Still being a pseudo-Christian, it was painfully obvious that the Koran was not the word of god. It was silly in places and frightening in others, but it was clear that no intelligent person could think it was the work of a higher power. Like the bible, it was ignorant of everything in my Astronomy books, and it said several things that were just plain false. It followed that it was constructed by people who were much more ignorant than Astronomers, and no such person (or persons) could be called a higher intelligence.
But it was so similar to the Old Testament, the book that began the religion that provided myself and so many others with such a sense of empowerment. At that point I was forced to admit that I was wrong. The bible was constructed in an ancient time where people would have known very little about humanity. Its atrocious ideas of morality were every bit as horrendous as I had thought they were.
I have since read it through twice more to make sure of this, and every time I am increasingly disappointed in the younger me. Though I felt myself enlightened when I used to look at the stars, it is now clear that I was calling my ignorance of them “god” and, as a result, I was proud of my ignorance. Such is the effect of a world view that makes a virtue of believing without seeing, and makes belief the object of focus rather than the effort required to formulate the belief. I was ignorant of morality, I was ignorant of science, and it didn’t bother me. Unfortunately, my beliefs dictated my actions (as they do for every person), and because I had never truly thought about them, I acted ignorant. I opposed the rights of normal people, and I viewed good people as lesser humans.
Faith in Jesus made sure I had “friends” but it made me a bad person. I realized later that no matter how many “friends” I had, that I hated myself for what I had done and how gullible I had been.
Ever since that time I have worked to figure out who I am and how the world really works. For any belief I hold now, anybody can ask me at any time “How do you know that?” or “Why do you believe that?” and I will be able to explain it to them using the same methods that revealed the true nature of the stars. I have also come to understand that belief without reason informs people’s actions, and that we’re all playing on the same team down here. Ignorant beliefs, like mine in my youth, are dangerous. They are divisive.
And I now realize that it would be immoral of me not to fight unreason.
Why I think people believe in the Christian god
It should be exceedingly plangent that I think the application of thought to your world view will eliminate belief in god. As Richard Carrier concisely puts it, “The only way to maintain belief in god is to remain ignorant of the facts or to make a virtue of being unreasonable.” The facts of the world are in contradiction to Christianity, and the only way to keep god in your world view is to remove science from it. Yet, there are people who are only unreasonable about god, but perfectly reasonable in every other capacity. Why? Here are the reasons I suspect:
It is no secret that people tend to adopt the beliefs of their parents. This is true in Christian homes, Mormon homes, Muslim homes, etc.
If this is the case, I can understand how it would be difficult to part ways with your faith, even if you realize that it’s false.
2. The truth can suck.
Is it so surprising that religion thrives? Nobody wants to die, so the notion that there is some nebulous place where everything we love will be returned to us after we die for all eternity is a very appealing proposition. That doesn’t make it true though.
Sadly, the truth does not conform at every turn to our sense of wishful thinking the way our various religions do. The universe is pitiless and unfair, and discovering the truth about it forces you to confront many unhappy facts. Facts like:
- You will one day lose your conscience.
- Ugly people will be lonely no matter how nice they are. Biology ftl.
- Every 100 million years on average, a meteor of sufficient size will strike the Earth and eliminate most of the life on it.
- The Earth will be destroyed by stellar radiation or consumed by an expanding Sun in a relatively short amount of time, astronomically speaking.
3. Being a Christian helps me to be accepted.
Yeah, it does. But that’s not an argument for truth, even if I can understand why that would make it hard to leave.
It’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you aren’t though. If you are thinking about why you believe what you believe, there will be people waiting to hang out with you. It may cause your previous “friends” to ostracize you, but if it does…are those the kind of friends you want?
Think about what you believe. Think about why you believe it. Think about how you know. Be curious, embrace evidence, and don’t be afraid. Don’t let anybody threaten you into a belief or scare you away from stating only what you have a reason to believe, and stridently rejecting what you have no reason to believe. They will try – it’s all the various faiths have.
Pick up an Astronomy book and see the difference in approach. Talk to a skeptic (I’ll volunteer), and see if we need to frighten you into agreeing with us.
I love you, and I love mankind. That is why I do what I do. That is why I criticize your beliefs with the same tenacity that I have criticized my own.