Agnostics Anonymous

My religious transformation was difficult, but I’m grateful to know both sides of the spiritual coin.

Hi. I’m Lyndsay, and I’m an agnostic. I say this as if I have stepped into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because my transition from “believer” to “non-believer” feels somewhat pathologic. The purpose of my story is not proselytism; I simply wish to articulate how difficult and consuming this transformation was for me, and in doing so, hopefully feel less alone.

My pious history

I “accepted Christ into my heart” at the tender age of nine. For several weeks, hellish nightmares continually plagued me, each one implicating my death. As I grappled with my own mortality, I clung to my parents, desperate for a way to avoid the perils that loomed menacingly in front of me.

Like the generations before them, both my mom and dad are devoted Christians, dedicated to raising their children steeped in the Word. My mother immediately called the associate pastor of our church for assistance with my existential crisis.

Teary-eyed, I explained that I did not want to die and I did not understand why I had to. She gently reassured me that there was an easy solution: I could have eternal life in Christ. I agreed to pray the necessary prayer, naïvely watching as everyone in the room solemnly bowed their heads.

I kept my eyes wide open throughout it all, soaking the ritual in without fully participating. For at least six years after, I was haunted by the notion that I should have closed my eyes with the group. Consequently, I “rededicated” myself to Christ on three separate occasions, terrifyingly convinced that I had performed the first time incorrectly, voiding my admission into heaven.

As I advanced through secondary school, Christianity became an inseparable part of my adolescent identity. I was heavily involved in my church and actively participated in evangelical extracurriculars.

I engaged in daily quiet times — private sessions with God intended to immerse the believer in spiritual meditation. At age 13, I participated in my church’s purity seminar for teens, where I took a vow of abstinence before the Lord. My parents gave me a diamond purity ring — a gift intended to reinforce the significance of my virginity as a bride to Christ.

At age 15, I became determined that mere attendance did not suffice. I felt God calling me to effectively utilize my “spiritual gifts.” In dutiful response, I began leading a Bible study for every girl in my grade.

Each week, roughly 30 girls came to my home, sat in my living room, and attentively listened to my prepared lesson. At the time, I genuinely felt humbled by the idea of God stirring the hearts of my community through me. Retrospectively, I am ashamed that I felt compelled to spiritually oversee my peers.

At age 18, my church small group upped the ante, wary that graduation was just around the corner. I was cautioned that my college educators would stray from the Word and attempt to plug my brain with blasphemous slander. I prepped myself by committing several verses to memory, including one that comes to mind now:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

Goodbye, sense of self

When I emerged from the bubble of my hometown and began my studies at the University of Virginia, my heart was being pulled in contrary directions. I wanted to resist becoming a captive of deceit, but I could not ignore the fact that my doubts toward Christianity were mounting.

At this point, I was in the engineering school and none of my professors were even speaking of religion, much less scheming to inculcate me with the “spiritual forces of this world.” Yet, I started voluntarily distancing myself from the religion that had once defined me.

In high school, everyone had put me in a box. Gradually, I felt suffocated from being stuffed in a box that could not contain me. The freedoms of college, and my deliberate decision to move far from my city, enabled me to lift the box’s lid.

Once I was given the opportunity to breathe a breath of fresh, secular air, I could more easily acknowledge that Christianity is a way of life, not the way of life. I desperately wanted a different way of life, but coming to terms with that flagrant fact was the hardest thing I have ever endured.

I do not mean to sound so dramatic, but the changes rousing inside of me truly shook me to my core. I was a Christian. This label was all-encompassing — it felt completely impervious to change. If I abandoned God, I would be stuck starting from scratch, discarding my entire identity along with my Maker.

More than just a loss of sense of self, I would be stripped of security, hope, and companionship. But I could not will myself to believe any longer. Next to my bed stood a stack of devotionals for youths, designed to tackle conflicts I might potentially face. I stopped highlighting them and started shoving them to the side. I became paralyzed by depression. If you are told enough times that nonbelievers go to Hell, you start to buy into it.

Farewell, rose-colored glasses

There are moments in my adult life where I want to legitimately run around kicking and screaming because I consider myself having been brainwashed. My parents are genuine believers who care more about the welfare of my soul than anything else. As such, my formative years were filled with limited exposure to pagan influences and my young, impressionable mind encountered other religions in an exclusively negative light. I balked at irreligious people, wondering what they were thinking and pitying their succumbing to Satan.

I had difficulties with the concept of otherness because I was taught that Jesus was the one, true God. I was implicitly trained to keep nonbelievers at an appropriate distance, praying for them from afar, but not allowing myself much contact with their devilish ways.

I was under the spell of a false pretense: that I was thinking for myself. In reality, I had not chosen Christianity, I was born into it, and I viewed the world through rose-colored glasses, splattered with the blood of Christ.

I do not intend to demean the experiences of my pious history. I truly love my church and appreciate the friendships that have derived from my formerly faithful attendance.

Most importantly, I owe my current wealth of religious knowledge to my upbringing, and I feel blessed to understand the detailed history behind such culturally significant literature. Out of my prolific Christian education stemmed a desire to investigate additional creeds later on.

In college, I double-majored in psychology and religious studies, as I was fascinated by humanity’s quest for meaning and transcendence. I see the incalculable value in learning how belief systems drive societies, and I have dived deep into the holy books and backgrounds of faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Wicca.

Religion is a formidable force capable of both division and union — to misunderstand or ignore this power is an injustice to the spirit of humanity.

Unfortunately, the same spiritually explorative nature that emerged from my Christian childhood proved a high price to pay. Indoctrination is a murky issue, but my opinion of it feels very clear

Life in my own hands

It is an odd, dissociative experience to want to suppress the memories of your former self. A complete and total personality schism occurred within me when I made the leap from Christianity to agnosticism, and it is incredibly distressing to see such a glaring disjointedness between who I am and who I was.

Because I lack a continuous stream of character, I sometimes feel very immature, as I have only been “alive” for roughly three years as the person I am now. I barely recognize the old me, and I am hostile towards her — sympathetic to her circumstances, but appalled by her stifled thinking.

They say admission is the first step. So, I’m Lyndsay, and I’m an agnostic.

Unfortunately, unless conditions drastically change, I will never tell my parents or grandparents about my agnosticism. I feel alienated from them, as well as my three younger siblings. I am a deeply spiritual person and I would like to be known as such, but it is not worth their tears for me to feel more at home when I am at home. I am unfortunately forced to be an actor in an environment where I theoretically should be relaxed.

Still, despite the depressive episodes besetting my religious transformation, I am grateful to have experienced both sides of the spiritual coin. It is an underreported journey not entirely fathomable to someone who has not traipsed similar paths.

Formerly, everything was in God’s hands. In my transition period, I hysterically questioned who/what had grabbed what had slipped from the Almighty’s fingers. Now, I am learning that it is in my own hands.

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Chelsea Francis.

Lyndsay West
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  • BJ

    What!? You went to college and lost your faith! I am sorry that you feel alone, but this happens by the thousands. You realized that there were others out there who believed differently, you got confused, and turned your back on the faith of your parents. This is so not new. Please just tell your parents. Lying to them will do nothing but harm.

    • bakabomb

      Her experience goes far beyond “getting confused”, and the perspective seems a little patronizing. But I do agree that she will feel the need to “come out” to her parents at some point, and wish her all the best when that day comes.

      • BJ

        Thanks for the response.

        I wasn’t necessarily trying to be patronizing but I will admit to a little snark, yes. I say this as a believing Christian who came from a home quite the opposite of hers. The confusion (and even beyond as you pointed out) is completely understood and as I mentioned in my last post I do feel bad that she feels alone. But this is a secular culture and what adds to the loneliness is her dishonesty. As a parent I would want my child to be honest with me above all else, and she’s clearly not doing that which (whether secular or religious) is what we always need in conversations like this.

        • mikehorn

          Some families tolerate disagreement and dissent quite well. As Americans, some of us understand that difference and debate is stronger in the end than conformity and silent obedience.

          But your family is not a universal status. Understand that her situation might be as psychologically healthy as yours, but it might be very different. In today’s economy, often a child is legally an adult before they are self-sufficient in several ways, financially, socially, emotionally. Almost certainly an atheist would lose faith before they found or developed a non-Christian social group. It is often before they can afford room and board without help. Since losing faith is kinda a big deal, being uncertain those closest to you would understand and support, much less accept, is a big obstacle. Facing hate, retribution, and ostracism is a common risk and a common outcome.

          • BJ

            Thank you for response. I do appreciate them. Was coming out, so to speak, difficult for you, as well? I am always interested in hearing stories from other folks who are secure in their beliefs, as you seem to be.

          • mikehorn

            I delayed for my father’s sake. He had enough to deal with at the time. But I grew up poor, I started earning my own food money at 14, nearly full time employment at 16, and was financially completely my own man at 18.

            I later split with a very catholic sibling over fertility issues. My wife and I needed IVF to have children, and a part of my family considers me a murderer for that. Complete ostracism came then.

            I hid my atheism from the military for about 3 years. My recruiter told me not to put atheist on my dog tags for safety and career reasons. Fortunately 9/11 has attracted atheists to the military – fighting religious violence is the main motivator. We are now fairly common and sometimes able to serve openly. The Army is the most difficult to serve openly in. I’d guess Marines might be the easiest, but I don’t have stats on that, just a gut feeling from joint service. The Air Force is a middle area, but the fundamentalists bible thumpers in Colorado Springs have affected far too many Academy trained officers.

          • BJ

            Let’s combine these two threads.

            Public beatings of atheists are not common if not completely nonexistent. That is bunk and I think you know that. Perhaps privately it happens, but I am very skeptical of any public beatings. Plus, the claim that America is not so much different than Middle Eastern Muslim countries is just pure ridiculousness. Immigration patters alone make that case clear.

            Also, as a military staff sergeant in the Air Force with over 10 years of service in I have known a number of atheists who did quite well in the military. And now we are beginning to see repercussions for Christians in the military who are vocal about their faith. I don’t doubt your stories are true and I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through that but the fact is in America people of all stripes can live openly much more now than ever.

          • mikehorn

            I never meant public beatings, though those can still happen inside churches. I meant inside homes, parent on child violence. Especially the more strict homes, where ruling by rod is still accepted.

            I was very careful in my phrasing, so please re read: don’t assume that America is so very far advanced. This has a different meaning than what you inferred. It assumes that America is more advanced in personal rights, but that we aren’t as egalitarian as we sometimes like to think. Also that we are not separated in time very far from public beatings, stocks, scarlet letters, slut shaming. It was after the Constitution that publicly denying the Trinity was against the law. Public tax support of specific denominations was common, and even today it hides better but is still there, as recently as “faith based” initiatives last decade. We have plenty of Christians trying to turn back the clock, take away rights from those that dare disagree.

            Consider this quote from the 1930s, from the Nobel winning author Sinclair Lewis: America is “the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today.” There is another saying that no one can decide who it is from, but is commonly attributed to Lewis: “When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the Flag and bearing the Cross.” We in America tried an historically new thing, basing our freedoms on “we the people” and not any God or specific religion. This doesn’t sit well with many Christians, and the various Awakenings in our history show how fragile some of those freedoms still are. Try reading the “Syllabus of Errors” that the Pope put out in 1864, condemning religious freedom and separation of church and state as heresies, separately known as the “Americanist Heresy”, only officially changed with Vatican II, but still allowed as a viable clerical stance.

            Christians had their reformation, and America was only peripheral to the carnage it caused, but it was still a real thing well into the 20th century.

          • BJ

            Thank you for the back and forth and historical notes. Very interesting. I have never seen or even heard of a beating in church and I have been around this world for quite some time. the rest of your comments are well taken so I do appreciate them. unfortunately I have to go so let me close by saying that I stick by my original point that honesty whether secular or religious is always best no matter the repercussions. Blessings to you.

            BJ

          • mikehorn

            I appreciate honesty. It is the best basis for dialogue. I also think that honesty implies a respect for the other person, which is often lacking in the religious conflicts. That is personality dependent, though, so not a general statement.

        • bakabomb

          Concur, thanks!

    • mikehorn

      This depends. In my own experience losing faith, and talking with others, coming out to family can be the most difficult, most personally harmful things you can do. Statistically, Christians are far more accepting of LGBT children than atheist children. It is possible the result of coming out to her family will result in ostracism, financial ruin, and complete loss of friendships. She will have to determine to potential negatives and decide if they are acceptable. If she still depends on her parents in any financial way, she must either be prepared to lose that support or wait until she can support herself. This can be the single most difficult choice a young atheist can face, coming out to religious family.

      Your patronizing attitude contributes to the problem. She is legally and morally an adult. Her decisions and beliefs should be respected as those of an adult.

      • BJ

        There is certainly no doubt that walking away and turning your back on the worldview in which your parents raised you is difficult. But she is an adult and adults have to make difficult decisions. Dishonesty is immoral and a little snark in good fun is not the problem, living a lie is. Especially when one lives in a secular culture. As you pointed out, there are huge numbers of secular communities she can join. Do you really see it differently?

        • mikehorn

          It is a safety and security thing. Some people really, really hate atheists. For a Christian, an atheist has by definition rejected something very central to the Christian’s sense of self. They tend to take it personally. A hard core Christian is more likely to accept a Muslim, Wiccan, or Animist over an atheist. Statistically, LGBT children are more likely to retain family ties than atheists. Having experienced it first hand many times, Christians can be intensely hateful, ugly, and cruel towards atheists. If a young atheist person is not willing to accept the worst outcome, they should stay closeted for the sake of personal safety. If it is a choice between brute honesty and personal safety, I recommend safety first, honesty later.

          This is very real.

          • BJ

            Name the last time an atheist was killed, beaten, or abused merely for being an atheist. This is not Saud Arabia or Iran. I get that it is emotionally terrorizing or personally devastating to have family disown you. I really am sympathetic. But being honest about doubts and belief is always better in the long run. I had to be honest about hard choices (though to be fair her situation is likely much worse than mine was), but my experience with Christians who have children give up their faith has been that it is just as emotionally difficult and personally devastating for both sides, not just the child.

          • mikehorn

            Death is not common in the USA, but beatings are. Cruelty is : my first military supervisor and senior leadership were cruel and abusive, which is how I found Atheists in Foxholes, and why I support, contribute, and have asked for help from Mikey Weinstein’s MRFF. I wasn’t the TSgt who was denied re-enlistment for requesting to affirm only in his Oath (which also omits “so help me god”, a legacy from Quakers and others who refuse to swear in god’s name), but I have fought that Oath battle several times, and have been cursed and condemned by many officers with high rank. I went nose to nose with a jerk O6 who claimed I lacked integrity for being an out atheist in god’s military. I won, but I don’t think he paid for his abuse of authority.

            That is military. Some religious families rule their children more strictly than military. In conservative areas, they are free to physically punish, deny food, medical care, shelter, any type of support. Friends are usually at family churches, and those are gone now too.

            Don’t assume that America is so very far advanced over Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, or Indonesia, all of which publicly execute atheists. Killing isn’t common, but creating hell on earth is a very common Christian reaction.

    • mikehorn

      FTR, I lost my faith around age 14, finally recognized it around age 20, and I am now in my 40s, a veteran of 2 wars and very much still the atheist I was at age 20, though I perhaps understand the why part better now.

      • BJ

        As both a Christian and Iraq veteran, I appreciate the honesty. There are foxhole atheists, afterall, I discovered. I did quite the opposite of you. Found Christ kind of sort of at 14. Became fully convinced at 21-22.And likwise at 34, I understand the why much better now.

  • Paul Cornelison

    Lyndsay, Thank you for your testimony. I hope that someday you are able to share your true self with you family so that you will be loved for who you are and not what you pretend to be.

  • http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/ Charles Kinnaird

    Thank you for sharing your honest journey. I can relate to the disjointed feeling of one’s old “religious” self vs one’s adult spiritual path. For me moving out from my culturally accepted Southern Baptist heritage felt surprisingly (and shockingly) like coming out of a cult. I can say that with whatever your spiritual practice (you describe yourself as deeply spiritual), there will come a point at which you can affirm your whole self and you will see the continuity in who you were and the person you have grown to be. For me, I credit a few years of meditative practices to bringing me to that point of affirming the continuity of all my life experiences. Your honesty about your journey as you have expressed here is an important part of that process.

  • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

    This is incredibly sad because the word that seems to be completely missing from Lindsay’s life and upbringing is Truth! I’d be an agnostic too if my faith had been based on assertions and affirmations and experience and emotion. None of my children would ever be in danger of becoming a relativist agnostic like Lindsay because we have grounded their faith in evidence, logic and answering the tough questions. There is only one reason to be a Christian: It’s the Truth. If it can be shown to be not the Truth, neither I nor my children will want to have anything to do with it. There is no doubt from what the says, even if it is admittedly a very limited picture, that she was indoctrinated, and indoctrination is a thin reed upon which to base answers to the ultimate questions of the meaning of life. If Lindsay were my daughter she would feel free to share her doubts with me and her mother, and we would have tremendous conversations about the struggle of existence, and her own struggle with faith. It’s a shame that some Christian traditions want to make Christianity a leap of faith when there is so much evidence for its veracity, and so many logical, psychological, emotional, and philosophical reasons that drive so many people to embrace it.

    • mikehorn

      Be careful what you think was or wasn’t included based on a short article. I’m certain it is more complex. I think mostly you don’t accept the idea that people can find Christianity, its claims and defenses, entirely inadequate and unconvincing. Consider this: all Christian denominations combined total around 2 billion people worldwide, though that includes some 30,000 different ideas on what Christian even means. I include catholic, orthodox, Protestant, evangelical, and Mormon. That leaves more than 5 billion people who reject Christianity. It is entirely possible, even probable, to reject Christianity.

      • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

        Mike, that’s why I qualified what I was saying by admitting it is a very limited picture. Contrary to your assessment, I have absolutely no problem accepting the idea people won’t find Christianity’s veracity unpersuasive. Maybe you’ve never read the Bible, and if you had you obviously have not read it very carefully, but God’s message NEVER gets a warm welcome, and the Bible isn’t afraid to admit that. Read 1 and 2 Kings sometime, and you’ll see God’s man was never very popular. You ever read the story of my Lord and Savior? He wasn’t exactly the most popular guy in Roman occupied Palestine. He himself even said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I think you’re missing the point, Mike. Truth is never determined by 50% plus 1.

        • mikehorn

          Sorry for the late reply.

          One thing about people that deconvert, or unbaptize from a religion, is that they usually go through a period of doubt when they do a great deal of study. This usually starts with doubt that generates questions they want reassuring answers for, so their faith can maintain itself. But often it leads to more doubt and more questions and more study. I was raised Catholic, my father a man who for a few years was at seminary to be a priest. I read church catechisms and histories, Fulton sheen books, aquinas, Moore. The Bible I read straight through for the first time at age 14, and I consider that read to be the moment I stopped believing, though it took years of doubt and study to accept it. Before I was 20, I had also read the Koran (a bad translation anyway), the Book of Mormon, some bhagavid Gita, and Mao’s Little Red Book. None of them were any more convincing than the Bible. Later on deployment I read a better translation of the Koran. All have beauty, none were convincing.

          You are right about Truth, but while majority doesn’t prove anything, it can raise questions. But Truth should be clear enough to convince people, otherwise I fail to see the point, and I also think obscurity and bafflement are consistent with a universe without a god, or at least without a god worth worshipping.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Hey Mike, I really appreciate your honest reply and sharing your story with me. This is fascinating, how people come to belief or a different set of beliefs (there is no such thing as non- or no belief; we all live by faith as you imply) looking at the same things. Are you familiar with the term plausibility structure? It’s a sociological phenomenon, and thus psychological as well, that simply means what SEEMS true to a people or a person, what is plausible to them, is for them true. You and me are Venus and Mars on this one. But, I can appreciate that Christianity simple doesn’t seem plausible to you, and I can totally understand why.

            I was “born again” in 1978, and my plausibility meter, if you will, regarding my belief in the Christian faith has gone up and down, at times appearing less than totally plausible, and at other times absolutely plausible. I’m in an absolutely plausible phase now, and reading through the Bible the last several years from beginning to end once and now again reading and writing my way through, has me convinced of the complete genius of God’s plan of salvation, that his redemptive purposes in history correspond so incredibly perfectly with human nature and the world as we find it. The beauty of the Bible, and thus God’s story of redemption in history, is invisible to those who presume to judge it by standards of simply human reason, as if their moral standards are somehow The Truth, the way reality really works. It may be, but as you can guess I don’t think it is.

            Thus the concepts that probably turned you off as you read through the Bible (and I can very easily guess what those are), to me make perfect sense when I let God be God. I read an article recently that argued that there are only two religions in the world. One says you can work your way to salvation, that being a good, nice, moral person will put God in your debt, that he must accept you on the basis of what you’ve done. The other and only one like it, Christianity, says you cannot earn your way to salvation, that your works are worthless to find acceptance before God. We call this the gospel, the good news, that God sent his only son (I’m sure you know the drill) to take our place, to suffer the wrath of God’s holy justice against sin, and when I accept that, trust in him, his righteousness is imputed to me and I’m fully accepted. I go from any enemy of God, one who is angry at him, who hates him, to a child of God, adopted into the family, he is now my Abba, my Father. Utter transformation.

            One reason it is so plausible to me is that it is utterly counter-intuitive to our natural inclinations. If human beings were to make up a religion, this would not be it. In fact, the entire Bible is a story of human failure, over and over and over again. We cannot save ourselves. So your point about truth should be clear enough to convince people is a good one, and one Christianity answers effectively. Think about the New Testament. Jesus came, claimed to be God in the flesh, did miracles, raised people from the dead. How much more plain can you get! Yet they crucified him! The problem wasn’t the evidence; the problem was the human heart. Think of the Apostles. They claimed to have seen him risen from the dead, touched him, ate with him (no critical, non-believing scholar argues that this is false, that this is what they claimed), yet the Bible accurately depicts that all but John died horrible deaths for this claim. Odd, isn’t it. Every explanation other than that they actually interacted with the risen Christ makes no sense!

            So there you go. One man’s plausibility . . . Thanks again.

          • mikehorn

            First, I’d like to thank you for a good willed response. Too often believers engage with ugliness, and your approach is appreciated. In an ideal “marketplace of ideas”, which is central to the American notion of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, honest debate and an understanding of another’s rights being as important as your own are vital. Only then can we engage the actual topics rather than creeds, sects, partisans, etc.

            About faith vs deeds, realize this was and is still debated within Christianity. American evangelicals and fundamentalists favor faith. I find this repellant. While attending a funeral at a baptist church in Georgia, it was clear that the dead woman was rich and powerful in that church, but was an ugly, hateful person to everyone her whole life. But she had faith, so it’s all good with God. Catholics have a notion that both are important, and the two cannot be separated, teaching about both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. In Catholicism, one can believe deeply in everything, but without good works and sincere regret for bad works, faith alone is insufficient. At this point I’d like to enter for consideration that, in Christianity, satan and any humans who follow him have significant amounts of faith in God and Jesus. Satanists can be considered a branch of Christianity. (This excludes most “satanist”, who are really atheist but combative in their mocking of believers, just trying to irritate Christians).

            For atheists, faith is irrelevant. You are either a good person or not, your life will either leave a positive legacy or not.

            About anything based on the bible, that is all built on the conclusion that the bible is true in its supernatural claims. Note that some, all, or none of its worldly claims can be true without affecting the truth of its supernatural claims. If its supernatural claims are not verified, not convincing, anything based on those claims remains unproven. For my bit, even if they are true I don’t consider the bible’s God to be worthy of worship. Many reasons for this, but topmost in my mind is that eternal reward and punishment are based on unclear rules (see paragraph above about faith/works) that even his followers can’t agree on (30,000 different Christian sects, many with mutually exclusive claims to Truth). Above the unfairness and confusion in revealed rules, the notion that eternal status is determined by a finite life is immoral. Eternal punishment based on finite actions? That is a tyrant worth opposing, not a benevolence worth worshipping. But this all assumes the bible makes true supernatural claims, which I and my fellow atheists remain unconvinced of.

            FTR, I also remain unconvinced by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Greek paganism, Thor, Animism, Egyptian mythology, the Navaho religion…

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Yo, Mike. Thanks for the kind words. I too find most internet atheists, for lack of a better term, pricks. Really. They are arrogant to the point of insufferable. Not a shred of humility in the obvious limitations of their finite knowledge, nor respect for anyone else who might just see the world differently and come to conclusions different than theirs. The reason you find many religious believers to be the same is because both have something in common. Give up? They’re both human! The Bible gives us the answer to why this is; we call it the Fall. The atheist answer has never been close to plausible to me because the atheist answer for the way humans are is, well, just because. That’s the way they are; no need to give any reason for it.

            The reason there are so few of you, and so many of me is because materialism explains absolutely nothing. In fact the very values you express in your comment have been stolen from the very religion you reject! Where do you even get the concept of the good? Why, in a material universe, would Hitler be any worse than Mother Theresa? I have yet to read or meet any atheist who can get ought from is, and the reason for that is because it is impossible! The only truly honest atheist is the one who embraces Nietzsche. He knew you could never get moral values, logically, from molecules.

            For instance, is it right to torture babies for fun? Of course we all know it is, but logically materialism, i.e. that only the material exists, which is what you claim and believe (yes, I’m afraid faith very much is part of the atheist’s worldview regardless of what you assert), offers absolutely no logically coherent reason for why torturing babies for fun is wrong. Of course we all know it is wrong, but the only rational, logical reason is that we are made in God’s image, that God himself is the moral true north, and the only reason goodness, beauty and truth exist. I’m speaking purely logically. C.S. Lewis rejected his atheism and became a Christian largely because of this moral argument.

            I very much like your assertion that the Bible’s worldly claims are based on its supernatural claims. I think that is fair. I don’t know if you are familiar with biblical criticism, but there are a lot of non-believers in that field, and almost to a man, even Bart Ehrman himself, believe that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was empty, and that his followers believe they saw him risen from the dead. This is the most well established historical fact of the ancient world. Far more attested than that Julius Cesar lived, or that Plato and Aristotle ever existed, etc. I believe that the best explanation that justifies these historical facts is that Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilot, died, and was buried, and rose again on the third day. None of the other religions you mention base the veracity of their claims on a falsifiable historical event. Tomes have been written on why this is plausible, and I am convinced beyond a shred of doubt. Could I be wrong? Of course! All of our knowledge is ultimately probabilistic. But I’d stake my life on the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection.

            Lastly what you address first, there is absolutely no faith vs. deeds in the Bible. James says faith without deeds is dead, it doesn’t exist. In John 14:15, Jesus says that if you love him, you will obey him. Grace, i.e. God’s unmerited favor in Christ, does not negate works, but rather affirms itself in works. You will know them, Jesus says, by their fruit. But works, biblically speaking, never means perfection. Read Paul’s argument in Romans 6-8. The reason we need a Savior is because we can never achieve perfection in the flesh, and we could never be accepted by a Holy God as a sinner. Christ satisfied God’s just judgment against our sin, and we are completely accepted before him based on Christ’s righteousness and obedience alone. That is why it is very good news indeed!

            Take care.

    • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

      “There is only one reason to be a Christian: It’s the Truth. If it can be shown to be not the Truth, neither I nor my children will want to have anything to do with it.”

      That’s not how evidence works. Claims about the nature of reality are not assumed true until proven false, they’re not accepted until proven true.

      • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

        Define prove.

        • deadher0

          Proof – pro͞of/ – noun – evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Great. There is absolutely an astounding amount of proof to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Christianity is true. I’d be happy to show you were you can find it.

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            Define Christianity 😉

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Paul from 1 Corinthians 15:

            3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            Christianity is verses 3-8 from first corinthians chapter 15?

            What I meant by “define christianity” was for you to clarify what you meant was true in your statement “Christianity is true”. Christianity isn’t a single sect and even within one sect there are doctrinal differences between individual members. There’s a breadth of claims different christians make on behalf of christianity, I wanted to know what set of claims you were asserting to be true.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Yes. I am asserting that Jesus lived, died and was risen from the dead. Declared God and Savior by overcoming death, witnessed by many. The set of claims I assert to be true can be found in the Nicene Creed.

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            So you believe a man named Jesus rose from the dead and was declared a god. On what basis do you believe this?

          • deadher0

            I wasn’t aware that I said it wasn’t true, you simply asked for the definition of a word. Besides, please spare me your rhetoric. If we can’t agree on the semantics of what is “real” or “true” there isn’t a debate to be had. I also find it difficult to believe you understand what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means. Regardless, as a practicing Buddhist, I respect your beliefs despite your logical fallacies, and don’t wish to convince you of anything.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            Really? So it is true? You joined the conversation, so why in the world would I spare you my rhetoric? You are obviously superior to me in your inestimable logical capabilities, so maybe I will spare my rhetoric.

          • deadher0

            kthx

  • CHEMST

    Thank you for sharing your experience, but I would like to let you know that as you describe yourself, you are still young with much to learn and experience. Years from now, you may look back at this time as your moment of doubt, you may see it as the opening to a new faith of adulthood that you have yet to identify, or you may remain agnostic. In any of these cases, I sincerely hope you find the peace and serenity that I did not find until my 40’s when I stepped back from my faith in pure logic to a faith that fulfills me.

  • bakabomb

    I like the AA analogy because it reminds me that Christianity the way Lindsay was taught it :: true Christianity, in the same way that alcoholism :: the way regular folks drink socially.

    In this instance, dropping Christianity cold turkey — rejecting it categorically — may not be exactly equivalent to “putting the plug in the jug”. And such an extreme measure may not be necessary. So the analogy is only a limited one. Let me cobble together a different analogy and apply it to spiritual life: One may not need (and it may not be the best course of action) to “switch one’s major from Engineering to Psychology/Religious Studies”.

    Agnosticism is, however, an excellent point from which to reboot one’s spiritual search. Saying “I don’t know, I’m not sure” is a profoundly healthy statement for anyone who has lost the certitude that defined their earlier life. There are many “small-t” truths out there to be gleaned from belief systems from all times and places, to be reality-tested in one’s own life and circumstances, to be adopted or set aside accordingly. And this can be — frequently is — a lifelong quest. Paradoxically, one may come round again to finding some of those truths in Christianity, albeit not the dogmatic Christianity instilled in one’s youth.

    Lindsey, may your spiritual path be a rich and fulfilling one. AA would remind you that openness and willingness are two of the keys. The Bible says that we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. Yeah, sometimes; but more often awe and wonder are our companions on our spiritual pilgrimage.

  • mikehorn

    Lindsay, consider this: your struggles before college were the beginnings of your deconversion, or unbaptism. As someone raised Catholic and now (agnostic) atheist, I put my loss of faith around age 14, a couple years before my Confirmation. I had already started to doubt, found central tenets absurd (the Trinity), and their theological defenses silly and entirely inadequate (it’s a central mystery to meditate and pray on – a non answer that means “be quiet and accept it”). Fear of hell kept me trying to accept Christianity till maybe age 20, but that really failed years before. Consider your struggles and see that maybe you lost your faith much earlier, but only recently accepted that status. Usually it is a long process. It also usually includes a great deal of study and learning, which is why first generation atheists tend to be the most religiously literate people out there (including knowledge of non Christian faiths).

    Atheism and agnosticism have squishy definitions depending on who you ask. I consider them to not be mutually exclusive. Atheism addresses exactly one question: do you accept any God-claim out there as true? If your answer is no, you are an atheist. Agnosticism answers a slightly different question: are you certain any God-claim is entirely true or entirely false? If you are open to further argument either way, you are agnostic. If you are certain of your answer either way, you are gnostic. It is entirely possible to be an agnostic atheist, as well as an agnostic Christian. I’m convinced agnostics are the most common type of people, whether they tend to believe or not.

    Try finding some atheist communities, even if they are just websites or online communities. Iron chariots wiki. ACA. Secular Student Alliance. Atheists in Foxholes (one of my personal favorites, but usually for military members). There are many out there, and likely there is something near. Humans have a universal need for community and shared purpose, and atheists are no different, so finding a community can help.

    Find a source of awe. I like music. A Mahler symphony or something by Brahms. I’m a sucker for West Side Story, and Bernstein recordings of other composers. Some like astronomy. Deep time. A mountain vista. This helps get out of yourself.

  • Daniel E. Bond

    Lyndsay – Obviously the matters addressed by the world’s faiths are deeply important to you. I encourage you to stay on your path of skepticism and ongoing inquiry. For many of us, a church community remains important. I have found the right church home for myself in Unitarian Universalism.

  • Icefishinglady

    I hear you loud and clear, Lindsay. My upbringing was fundamentalist – any person not professing to our “club” was out. I was taught that outsiders were desperately unhappy people, immoral, that I could not have close friends who were not in the same fundamentalist camp, that my soul was in mortal danger if I did. As I grew up, I began to question this – I saw that others WERE happy, DID treat their fellow human beings kindly/morally… and some were, in fact, more loving, kind and compassionate than the “Christians” who had taught me all of the fundie dogma. Now, we are all seeing the political right taking over certain factions of the church; the message has turned from one of the love and acceptance that Jesus taught to something that any compassionate human being recoils from. These factions have ceased following Jesus and are now following the almighty dollar – some in evil awareness, and some as innocent authoritarian followers.

    I came to an adult faith, and now belong to a church – one of those churches condemned by fundamentalist Christians. I’m in a place where I am not afraid of being condemned for questioning, for having beloved friends who are of other faiths or who profess no faith at all, for reaching out in compassion to all people in need. I’m active politically; sometimes it’s hard to convince people that the Westboro folks are not representative of all Christians, nor of Jesus… but getting out there and being among people, just being kind and caring and giving, without preaching at ’em – that is what I strive for.

  • http://discover-thetruth.blogspot.com/ HopeLawrence

    Well, this opened my mind up a little. I recently began dating an agnostic who has a Jehovah’s Witness mother and Catholic father (not too sure how that worked out, but they’re still married). He’s done the whole door-to-door thing with the Watchtower magazines as well as been to Catholic mass and has been to other houses of worship, such as a Buddist temple and a mosque. Good thing he got turned off by Islam real quick, but anyway, with all of these “religions” he’s tried, he found one similar factor: we [religious affiliation] are better than non-believers in [said religion]. I’ve only been an evangelical Christian just over 6 years and after been taken out of my “fanaticism” due to different life events, I see how correct he is and I think even within each religion, there’s a superiority factor between sects. Ex: Catholics are better than Eastern Orthodox, and vice versa; Evangelical Christianity is better than Methodist, etc. A little bit of agnosticism helps me, and I hope other Christians, to see the big picture within our own church/ Christian communities and the secular world.

  • Donna Blancett

    I was brought up Baptist but never believed. I went thru the motions, even baptism, because I didn’t know how as a child and teenager to tell my family no. As an adult they have gradually come to realize I don’t believe but I have assured them I am not militant about it. Even if I’m not religious, I support everyone’s right to believe the way they want as long as it’s not forced on me. I have had to back up a couple of family members and friends when they start preaching at me.