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Gordon Douglas: Many people ask why someone like me, who came from a Christian home, went to a Christian high school and then went on to spend five years in seminary and become a pastor, a missionary, and an evangelist, would turn his back on the God he spent a lifetime worshiping and serving and give up all faith in the supernatural. The answer is very simple, and I’m about to give it. First, however, let me tell you what the reason is not.
Most people, upon hearing my story, decide (regardless of their own spiritual beliefs or religious affiliations) that I must be mad at God. They tell me I just had the wrong religion, or that I just needed to try their particular name-brand. It’s the one thing religious people of all stripes can actually agree on, and it isn’t even true.
I did, in fact, have a rough time in religion. My formative years of trial and tribulation didn’t weaken my faith in the least. In fact, it was because of these troubles that I spent many nights on my knees praying that I might not be like “those other Christians,” and that God would show me the path to becoming his choice servant. It was because of this that I began to take my studies of the Judeo-Christian god very seriously, and it was this in-depth study and reflection that led to my current state of unbelief.
Let me share with you the ten main reasons I found that reflect why I went from a Fundamental, Independent Baptist minister to an ardent Atheist.
Other Religions Exist: I used to believe that only my religion could be right, and that every other religion was wrong. I studied apologetics so I could prove this to anyone I met. Anyone else who claimed to know their religion was true deep in their heart was clearly suffering a Satanic delusion. At the exact same time, I believed a clearly mythological story with blind faith and nothing more to back it up than the fact that I knew deep in my heart that it was true. Then I realized that people fly planes into buildings, run into crowded plazas with bombs strapped to them, and drink poisoned Kool-Aid in the name of their gods. If faith is really the true measure of the veracity of a religion, I was clearly in the wrong church, and should have become a militant Muslim.
Faith is Rewarded to the Same Degree as Disbelief: Once, I would pray daily, often for hours, for every little facet of my life, turning over even the most insignificant little things to the creator of the universe. Sometimes he would answer positively, other times negatively, and other times by seeming to tell me to wait. If I were not praying for what God would want me to pray for, the answer would undoubtedly be no, but if I were asking in faith for something that lined up with God’s will, I would be rewarded. It made me wonder why it was God’s will that certain of my colleagues drove a Mercedes while he wanted me to drive a pale yellow 1988 station wagon.
Then, I came to the realization that if I prayed to God for a given number of things, and I prayed to a rock for that same number of things, the chances are very good that the rock and God would answer roughly the same number of times. Muslims pray to their God, Hindus to theirs, Catholics and Protestants to theirs, Wiccans to theirs . . . and after all is said and done, every God seems to answer in roughly the same proportion . . . unless of course for the 100% rate of failure for such requests as healing an amputee or “moving a mountain.”
God Can’t Be Proven: I used to say to the doubters “You can’t disprove God!” That’s true, but it’s true for one very important reason: you can’t disprove something you don’t have proof of. I can’t disprove leprechauns, or Bloody Mary, or ghosts, or Smurfs, or anything that I don’t first have proof of. You can only disprove something by showing how the proof of it is not valid. My entire life once required belief in something that in no way could be proven to be real. This is like turning around to sit down on a chair when you never actually verified that the chair was there in the first place. The worst part about it is that, instead of a slightly bruised bottom, you come out of it with an entire life wasted trying to sit in a chair that isn’t there.
The God of the Bible Can be Disproved: The God of the Bible (and the Koran, and the Book of Mormon, etc.) already has enough going against him… If he were really the author of the Bible, it would probably be much less full of atrocities, contradictions, plagiarisms and absurdities. Considering the only real knowledge we have on the subject comes either from numinous, unverifiable personal experiences or ancient books of mythology which can be proven to be as I’ve just described them (in a word: nonsense), the God which they describe can thus safely be assumed to be fictional.
Religion is, By Nature, Deluding: I did a bit of math and found out that I had read the entire Bible, all sixty-six books of it, all the way through no less than 26 times from the time I got “saved” to my senior year in seminary. In all this time, I read every single word, and yet I never caught how evil God was, I never saw his bloodthirsty acts and his terrible, tyrannical ways or his childish temper tantrums. I never saw the obvious mistakes and contradictions in the Bible. There were so many things in the Bible I just didn’t see until the day I chose to read it with a wary, discerning eye, and then everything came out.
There is something about religion that makes it a very powerful force, and that something is its insubstantiality. When something doesn’t really exist, you can make any number of arguments in its favor, and to the believing mind answers can come easily because any answer can easily fit. If you ask me to do something and I don’t do it, I can make up an excuse or give you the facts as to why I didn’t, but in the end there is a real reason why I didn’t do it. When you ask God to do something and he does not, it is easy enough to come up with any excuse for him, and since he doesn’t really exist any excuse fits neatly.
I know so many Christians who can’t see how awful the Bible and God really are, and those that can see it make excuses for it. “That’s just the Old Testament!” they say. “We live under the New Testament!” Yes, but your god still killed 70,000 people with pestilence just because their king counted them. He still had bears disembowel forty-two children for making fun of a bald man. He still made a law that said a woman was to be stoned to death if she was raped and didn’t scream loud enough for someone to hear her. He’s the same God.
We don’t release mass murderers from prison because they “turn over a new leaf,” and we wouldn’t suddenly vote back in a violent despot we just deposed because he swore he’d be a little nicer this time around. We shouldn’t worship a monster because he offers us salvation from a pit of fire he himself is threatening us with.
Science is Obviously Better: Science, it has been pointed out, is not perfect and doesn’t have all the answers. However, it does have a method for obtaining answers, whereas religion simply claims answers without having ever done any of the work to get there. Science starts with the idea that we do not know something and then tries to figure it out. Religion starts with the arrogant assumption that we know God exists and therefore must base all our knowledge on that idea.
Once again, religion causes a delusion which stands in the way of readily-available facts and steps around the intellect. This delusion was so strong in me that despite my deep-seated love of science I accepted the pseudo-science of men like Kent Hovind (I even attended one of his lectures in high school), Duane Gish, and Ken Ham without bothering to seek out the truth. As soon as I chose to open my eyes, it became clear to me that the only reason I believed in Creationism was because that’s what I wanted to believe in, and the only reason I didn’t believe in Evolution was because I chose not to see all the available evidence.
The Origins of All Religions are Clear: The first man to invent religion obviously looked up at the sky and said, “I have no idea how all this got here. I made this hut, and this fire, and this wagon, and I tamed this wild dog, and so whatever made the sky must be something very similar to me, only much more powerful.” Obviously. God was made in man’s image, not the other way around. He was a creation of humanity from when we couldn’t figure out any better explanation for the difficult questions of existence. When I was less educated and was inundated on every side with religious “science,” I believed that the only answers were in God. When I started to see answers to these “unanswered” questions revealed with ease and the evidence for true science piling up while the explanations offered by religion withered away, it became obvious that humanity had surpassed its need for these easy answers and their remaining vestiges were holding back our species.
There’s No Difference: Religion and a Relationship with God are just jargon for the exact same thing. When I was a Christian, I used to use the phrase “Some people have a religion, but what I have is a relationship with Jesus Christ.” I also used to throw around the words “Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge” quite a bit. But in reality, it’s all just fancy ways of saying the same thing: having an emotional, spiritual experience that can’t be quantified logically. It’s faith, either way… it’s believing in something that isn’t real. Some people just get arrogant about it and think that only they have the right answer, and then silly phrases like the ones above get formed.
Personally, since I’ve become an atheist, I’ve heard this a ridiculous number of times directed back at me. My religion was just the wrong flavor, it all boils down to, and I should have forsaken religion and instead seek out the true power of a relationship with Christ. This is rather upsetting to me, because these people don’t know me, and they don’t know the sleepless nights I spent praying that God would use me in a powerful way. They never saw how I wept over “lost souls.” They never listened to my preaching, which I swore didn’t come from me as I was always terrified right before I stepped up to the pulpit and became strong as the words seemed to flow from the Holy Spirit. These people don’t know that I was exactly like them, and the only difference between us is that I dared to question my faith.
Religion is Destructive: Religion creates rifts and divisions in the world. It causes backwards-thinking and halts medical, scientific, and societal progress. It encourages people to be content rather than try to better themselves, and to trust in an invisible friend rather than strive to succeed. It takes away any joy that we might have in our own successes and instead throws them at the feet of an invisible being that had nothing to do with it. It makes people sit idly by and pray rather than stand up and do something themselves. It locks young people in and does everything it can to ensure that they will never even have the opportunity to look in any other direction. This cannot be the will of any supreme being, unless it is silly or evil.
Christians Don’t Really Get Persecuted: One of the halls in my dormitory was named after a missionary who died a martyr’s death in Romania. The truth of the matter was that he fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a tree. I used to put on a play in my college drama team about the missionaries to the Auca Indians who were murdered for sharing the Gospel, and then found out they knew they were in danger because the Aucas killed any outsiders who entered their village. I also used to do a play about the missionaries who were martyred with the China Inland Mission during the Boxer Rebellion, and then I found out that the Chinese were persecuting and killing Christian missionaries because they were persecuting and killing ANYONE who was a threat to their national cultural heritage (and the Christians were doing a great job trying to make sure the Chinese became just like the White Devil).
The truth of the matter is that Christians get EXACTLY what they want, and they get it because they keep saying that they are a persecuted minority who don’t get anything that they want. The truth is that they are one of the most powerful groups in the world, especially in America, and the most powerful political party in the United States is nothing more than their soap box.
“OH NO!” they say, “people are trying to get prayer taken out of schools! People are trying to get the Ten Commandments out of courthouses! People are trying to get the Bible and Creationism out of the classroom! We are SO PERSECUTED!” The truth of the matter is that a few (and I mean a VERY FEW) people of good conscience in this country who understand the precepts of separation under which the country was founded know that those things don’t belong there, and are fighting to get them removed. It’s us, the nonbelievers, who are having the hard time, it’s us who are persecuted, it’s us who are the minority.
When you go to try to get a new job, and someone says “He’s a good, Christian man,” you have a much better chance of getting the job than when they say “He’s an atheist” about me. When parents hear an atheist is dating their daughter, it’s like they just heard it was a Satanist. You try closing a big deal when your clients find out you don’t believe in God. Any Christian who says he is persecuted is simply repeating back rhetoric he’s heard from his pastor, unless he’s a missionary, in which case he’s most likely being persecuted because he showed up on someone’s doorstep and told them that everything they know is wrong and they need to be more like him in order to be accepted by God.
Evil Exists in the World: My favorite argument for the nonexistence of God comes from Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
I’ve heard so many people say “God allows us to have free will. If we do evil with the gift of free will, it isn’t God’s fault, but our own.” That makes me want to do evil to the people who say worthless, thoughtless garbage like that. Is it really a little girl’s free will to be kidnapped, molested, raped, tortured, murdered, and left on the side of the road in a plastic bag? Is it really a woman’s free will to choose a man because he seems to be a good Christian only to find out that his spirituality has caused him to repress perversions that lead to his arrest for molesting children? Is it the free will of all those precious children who die of leukemia, or AIDS, or SIDS, or who are born into the world handicapped or diseased at no fault of their own? Whose free will was that?
Or was it just God’s will, because somewhere somebody had a lesson to learn from a little boy being born without hands and feet, or a little girl being born in a country where they practice clitoral disfigurement?
I once desired to be God’s primary servant, and now I don’t believe in him at all. All it took was for me to choose to open my eyes and critically examine my beliefs. I know that argument and debate rarely does any good, because both sides often start out set in their ways and firm in the idea that they cannot be wrong, with the sole interest of changing their counterpart’s mind rather than learning something new for themselves. The solution to this is to question one’s own beliefs, one’s own safety zone, with a critical, apprehending eye. I set out to find God, and found that he wasn’t there. I contest that anyone who chooses to seek truth on their own, by questioning their own deep-seated beliefs like I did, will inevitably find that they may not be as true as they once thought.
…Unless, of course, they choose not to see it.