Linda LaScola over at the Rational Doubt blog asked me a series of insightful questions trying to get at what precipitated not just my deconversion but my willingness to listen to my doubts in the first place. I failed miserably at trying to answer her questions. I have had some time to reflect on it and this my attempt to further answer her questions.
I have tried to explain the why of my deconversion in a few other posts. I have written about my deconversion story before and also a series about presuppositions (not to be confused with presuppostional apologetics) that lead one to believe or disbelieve. The more I think about it the more I am convinced these cultural norms are what contribute to wide spread belief and it takes analysis to overcome this cultural bias.
But to Linda’s questions of “what started you on investigating the doubts you say you always had?” and “what motivated you to give yourself the permission to take the first step?” In a word: discontent. Call it the (twenty) seven year itch. I was not satisfied and I had not been for some time.
A brief history
To better explain I have to give you a bit of history. I became a Christian in my late teens. I spent a year or so reading the bible before I went to church with any seriousness. When I got to church I experienced an initial shock. I would often find myself saying:
I wonder why they believe that?
I worked to fit in anyway and eventually I was encouraged to go to bible college. I attended a small fundamentalist bible college where, ironically, I received a fairly decent education in critical thinking. It was a (relatively) safe place to ask and wrestle with (most of) the big questions. With hindsight my professors, whom I am still fond of, were too good at their jobs. There were certainly down sides to being at a bible college, but the professors were intelligent, caring and loved teaching. Several of those professors had a particular focus on grace that made a lasting (to this day) impact on me.
The really big shock came when I graduated and it was time to get licensed by my particular denomination. In the opposite of the critical thinking of bible college, the leaders of my denomination demanded a level of doctrinal fealty not seen since the inquisition. (OK, not quite).
You will believe and preach X, Y and Z
I reluctantly signed on the dotted line after having spent four years attempting to attain this very thing. I then spent a relatively unfulfilling (loved the people, hated the job) two years as a youth pastor before succumbing to burn out (more on this in a future post). I finally realized leadership in the church specifically and the people helping profession in general were not good work for my particular personality, an occasionally misanthropic introvert. I moved on and have had a successful career in technology where misanthropic introverts abound.
I promise I am wrapping up my digression and getting to the point. In the ensuing years, on my own and eventually with my family, I kept trying to find that same bible college experience: big questions, critical thinking and a focus on grace. No pastor and no church lived up to this ideal in my head. Mind you, I remained a dedicated Christian during this time. But to say that I was unsatisfied by the church would be a wild understatement. I was discontent but I figured it was just misanthropic me.
Faith discredits itself by proving to be insufficient to satisfy the faithful.
— Christopher Hitchens
I started to really feel U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Which until then always confused me: Aren’t these guys Christians already?
I believed that if my faith was worth anything it could withstand scrutiny. So I stopped ignoring the occasional article that was critical of Christianity. I allowed myself to ask hard questions.
My last read through of the bible was uncomfortable as the grace colored glasses came off and I was facing head on the reality of the implications of the stories.
Already a science geek, I found the critical thinking and the big questions being asked. And unlike religious doctrine the more I explored the more solid the scientific truths became.
In essence the snowball was very slowly beginning to roll down hill. Finally, after having spent some time looking at the beliefs of religions that had more modern beginnings and which appeared to me as obviously untrue, it began to dawn on me that is how believers of other faiths viewed my Christianity:obviously untrue. In the end, my faith did not withstand scrutiny. I allowed myself to listen to those doubts and realized they were more true than my beliefs.
What about now?
I think it is a part of the human condition to feel unsatisfied. Sam Harris talks about the “fleetingness of happiness.” But this is what I find fulfilling: continually seeking knowledge, learning, asking the big questions and wrestling with the answers or lack there of.
It is the freedom of free thinking that is invigorating. There are no bounds besides my human finiteness on what I can explore and what knowledge I can seek. There are no questions that cannot be asked. And there is no fear in accepting the answers that are found.
I want to know all the things
I can’t get no satisfaction. But I try.