I was raised as a Christian, in a branch of the Quakers known as The Society of Friends, or as they called themselves, ‘Friendlies’.
As far as Christian sub-groups go they’re a fairly low key sort, meeting in follower’s houses rather than churches because they say Jesus said not to build monuments to him/God. They aren’t big on ritual or ceremony, aren’t rigid about a huge list of ‘thou shalt not’s’, and are generally eminently reasonable, gentle, nice people.
So why did I choose to leave?
I guess the first catalyst was when I started racing motocross. I was 12 years old, and motocross meets happened to be on Sundays. It quickly got to the point where my Dad said to me, ‘Mitch, you’re going to have to choose between going to the Meeting (as the Sunday gatherings in followers’ houses are called), or racing motocross’.
As you can imagine for a typical full-of-beans 12-year old boy in search of adventure and thrills, this was a bit of a no-brainer. Naturally I chose the latter.
And over the following few years while I still believed in an almighty and loving God, I was increasingly troubled by what I saw as inconsistencies and failings in The Bible, The Church, and Christians in general.
I still vividly remember staring out the window from my desk at night, looking over farm fields to the harbor and city lights twinkling in the distance, and pondering, pondering, pondering.
If you can only get to God (and Heaven) by accepting Jesus into your life, how does that work for all the millions of humans that existed before Jesus was born? Or all the humans around the world since Jesus was born – that never heard of him through no fault of their own. Were they doomed to hell? Did they get a free pass to heaven? What about aliens if they existed?
Either way it seemed both unfair and illogical to only be able to get into heaven if you believed in Jesus. Surely your actions, rather than beliefs, should count for more when it came to assessing your moral worth? Through no fault of your own you could erroneously believe in the wrong God(s) or even no God, but still be a more morally-praiseworthy person than the most pious of believers. And yet through the sheer luck of birth, sanctimonious and maybe even downright evil douchebags would get into Heaven while otherwise admirable non-believers wouldn’t?
Then there was God’s own character as depicted in The Bible: a jealous, vengeful, insecure dictator, who would only be nice to you if you promised to subjugate yourself to him completely. How did that square with his supposed moral perfection?
Then there was the amazing amount of crazy lessons and contradictions in The Bible, a supposedly perfect book that was literally the absolute truth according to God, as told to Man. There’s at least 400+ contradictions in the bible, as the handy graph below illustrates:
It is well-documented that this is because the Bible has been written by humans – fallible humans, and re-written countless times over the centuries, mainly to reflect different political needs of the time. And let’s not forget all the accounts of Jesus’ life were written at least a hundred years after his death. Reliable much?
And if you step outside and look at it, the bible is quite clearly the product of specific humans: tribal, nomadic, desert-dwellers, living in a specific place and time (the bronze age Middle East), and the stories and moral values it espouses are clearly products of that culture – and definitely not that of some omniscient, morally perfect entity.
Then there were Christians themselves. Most of the most pious believers I knew seemed so self-righteous, petty, and hypocritical – not to mention the fact that they were such glib nerds, that it struck me that the strength of your belief in God had zero correlation with how decent and admirable a person you were. The thought of contemplating eternity hanging out with predominantly this type of people in ‘heaven’ filled me with an overwhelming sense of dread, because if all you needed to do to make it to Heaven was believe in God, it was certain to be full of assholes that I most definitely did not want to hang with for even a small amount of time. Screw that.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more the thought of even existing for eternity bothered me.
Then there were all the rules. You shouldn’t have sex before marriage. Well that’s probably a sensible rule if you live in a time where most people are married when they’re 14, most people die before they’re 40, and you have no access to contraception. But when most people don’t get married til nearly 30 and live to 80, spending half your life denying your sexual urges is a recipe for sexual-frustration-fueled anger and poor decision making. It’s just so against the way human biology actually works as to be quite ridiculous. We are sexual creatures.
And don’t get me started on the supposed evils of masturbation. If more people masturbated more often, they’d be much happier people, not to mention better lovers, because how can you please someone else if you don’t know how to please yourself? All the Christian guilt associated with sexuality just seemed so unnatural to me – even actively opposed to human nature, not to mention morally flawed and the opposite of sensible.
Then there were all the ‘facts’ that were demonstrably wrong in The Bible, like the earth only being 6,000 years old. Then there was the problem of the existence of all the other religions in the world. Surely if there was only one true religion… there would only be one religion? Given that every human culture throughout history has its own religion, and every single religion around the world has the exact same amount of evidence in favor of it alone being the one, true, religion – i.e. none – then how could any of them be true? The mere existence of other religions to me seemed proof that none of them could be true.
And I just couldn’t get over the following philosophical conundrum.
God is purported to be an omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful, morally perfect, uncreated creator. (S)he exists everywhere in space and time simultaneously – which means God sees all and knows all, has the power to do anything that isn’t logically impossible, is possessed of perfect judgement, and is infinite.
So God must know millenia before we’re even born, every single thing that is to happen to us throughout our lives til our death, because he also simultaneously exists long after our death. He knows our future because he’s already in it, and past it. So a) we cannot have free will, our lives must be pre-determined as there is only one way all our supposed choices actually play out and b) not only are they pre-determined, God is the one responsible for every action we ever take, as he sees the consequences of all his actions before he undertakes them, including our creation. For our whole lives we are just puppets dancing along to his whim – for his entertainment, not responsible for any of our choices, and therefore unable to be blamed or praised for our choices – they’re an illusion. It’s basic causality.
Then there was the problem of evil: if God is morally perfect and all powerful, why does he allow evil to exist? It all just started to pile on in this vein: philosophically, morally, factually, aesthetically – the more I thought about it, the more Christianity just didn’t seem true to me.
I decided I didn’t believe that God existed.
It was one of the most terrifying decisions I ever made in my life. At first I felt extremely vulnerable, but gradually I came to feel incredibly free. Free to make choices based on whether they were right or wrong on their own terms, rather than whether I would be rewarded or punished for them by some invisible dictator in the sky after I died. Free to not obey dogma I considered wrong, or malicious, or just stupid. And it made me feel a much more intense sense of awe and wonder at the staggering beauty of the universe, and my own all-too-brief chance to experience the amazing gift of existence.