To fully explore my transition from Christian fundamentalism to atheism would require an
entire autobiography. This page merely hits the highlights
of my doubts, thought processes, and eventual realizations.
It is still very long. Click here to read an
abbreviated, bullet-point version.
A curious thing about my transformation is that I rarely realized it was happening. Therefore
writing this page was not as simple as recalling memories or going through old writings. In
places, I had to deconstruct my old thought processes. Where possible, I have relied on my past
writing — including journals, letters, poetry, and even fiction — to shed light on
my thoughts at the time.
If one only reads the excepts from my writings I have selected,
it would seem I was very aware and concentrating on it all the time. But these are cherry-picked
from among many thousands of words I wrote.
Further note that it wasn’t entirely an intellectual process, as much as I
wish it had been. Especially in my teens and early 20s, emotion was a big part of it
too. Today, it’s easy to calmly sift through my past without much angst, but it is clear
that there was plenty of it then: hopelessness, fear, anger, sadness, frustration, interrupting
long periods of joy, comfort, hope, and confidence.
The process only became rational near the end, as you will see.
I want this to be clear: the emotions were not the cause of, nor helpful for, my changing
beliefs. If anything, they were a hindrance. I am convinced that my journey
would have been much shorter and much easier without the guilt and fear clouding my judgment.
And lastly, my journey was not a straight line from point A to point B.
My transformation was not a straight line. The path was jagged. If “Theist” is on one
side of the graph and “Atheist” is on the other, a timeline of my life between them
would waver and swoop.
We each define ourselves based on our own paradigms. I wasn’t
simply redefining myself, I was shifting from one paradigm to another, long before I knew
that word’s definition. Inside the original worldview,
I didn’t believe that other paradigms were legitimate.
For years I subconsciously defined myself as a failed Christian, which is a
definition only possible for someone who still believes in a specific god and a specific set of
rules. I thought I could get back someday. I wanted badly to “get back”, and I
thought it must be necessary.
Overall, however, my shifts in belief could be described in seven “stages”, or
Original Position: The entirely true Bible accurately describes the God that
The God of the Bible (who definitely exists) isn’t making himself evident
to me; perhaps life is some kind of cruel test.
I think there is a god, but there’s really no way to know what it’s
like. Ancient religious texts are a mishmash of prehistoric legends and idealized oral
There is probably a god.
Uncertain. Gods sound exactly like what an ancient culture would invent for
its own purposes.
Current position: There is no evidence of anything supernatural.
Incredibly unlikely that there is any god.
Clearly, these positions don’t match up well with Richard Dawkin’s
scale of certainty. I had never heard of such a
thing when I was struggling with these thoughts and doubts, and didn’t learn of it
until after I had written the above list specifically for this page.
There was overlap. When checking my writings
from these times, it’s clear that the positions cannot be accurately delineated by time. I
did not move from #1 to #2, and so on down the list. The first two stages repeated themselves
often in my journals, with stage #3 thrown in occasionally, from late high school through my
college years (1990-95). Post-college (1995-2005), I spent about two years flipping from #2 to
#3, but then stages #3 through #5 were the primary occupants
of my mental merry-go-round. From ‘05 through today, I went through #4 through #7 in order,
though there was still noticeable overlap. During this last period, I wrote almost nothing about
Position #2 is the most untenable, logically (because the God of the Bible regularly interacts with
humans and is very interested in proving himself), yet that stage took a few years for me to
The final, current position ultimately makes for a less interesting, wholly unmagical worldview,
but it is more believable, reasonable, and — without question — less violent and more
moral. It is certainly more explainable and more observable.
Why did it take so long to move past positions #2? Fear (see
below) and the inability to understand the world without the Bible and God.
In The Beginning
How did it start? And when?
It happened naturally. There is no single key in my story that will help free others from religion.
There are, however, glaring signs in this story for any believers hoping to prevent others from
going down my road. You’ll need a god for which evidence is readily available and make sure
your claims match up more accurately with reality.
The first evidence of doubt on my part is in my journal, on March 10, 1990 —
I was about 17.5 years old and nearly finished with high school. It was during the act of
“I even started doubting if God were really real. I told God that if He were real, He’d give
me a sign, like any thing that would be undoubtably (sic) from Him, to
let me believe for the rest of my life.”
In a poem four months later, I twisted a line from the hymn “Amazing Grace”, thusly:
“I will soon be lost, Yet once I was found”, almost as if predicting what would
What I was seeing in life was the direct absence of a deity’s influence, especially the kind of
deity that my Bible described.
These doubts were organic, not forced when someone challenged my belief with a philosophical
argument. And for the most part they were not initiated by
some tragedy or bad thing in my life. They were forced by my faith and by the assertions of
my church and my Bible that God was not only real, but was here among us, in
us, and involved. What I was seeing in life was the direct absence of a deity’s
influence, especially the kind of deity that my Bible described.
A god like the one I believed in would have chosen those exact moments to show Himself. A pat on
the shoulder, a word to the wise, a blazing sign in the heavens, a
Instead there was silence.
“This... difficulty is impossible for me to solve, and God chooses not to intervene...
How cruel could the God of the Universe be to bring me into such an inevitable pattern of
It was a test, I knew. A test to see if I would keep believing in Him despite his standoffishness.
A test to see if I could think of other ways He was actually helping and caring for me. And I did
think of those things. “He’s allowing me to breathe, and I’m breathing air He
created just for this purpose”, I would tell myself. He must want me to be stronger in my
faith, to learn more of the Bible, to practice my beliefs more obviously.
Prayers, Answered And Unanswered
As a teenager — and increasingly so as a young adult — it became difficult to keep
believing when witnessing the “power of prayer”. I did not keep a tally of
every prayer I ever prayed. But the
accumulating impression was this: most of the “answered” prayers were things
that would have happened anyway. I wrote in a letter in 1996:
“But I do still believe that He answers prayer. I know that all last week, I prayed that He
would keep my muffler from falling off my car, and He did. Of course, then I drove through a car
wash, and the bump at the end ripped the muffler off. Poor muffler. But the point is, He
I arrived safely at my destinations regardless of whether I prayed for safe travel. Athletes were
injured during ball games whether we prayed for their safety or not. People died from illnesses
whether I prayed for their healing or not, and others recovered, whether I prayed for them or
Some of the starving children were fed — because we also sent money. No one was fed by miracles.
Of course, if the outcome matched the prayer, it was a “miracle”. If it
didn’t, I forgot it as quickly as possible or muttered something about it being God’s
will. A poignant example of this was a couple at my church who had a baby with
no brain — just a fluid-filled cavity in its head. Hundreds of faithful folk, including me,
repeatedly prayed fervently for this hopeless little tyke who was kept alive by machines for a
while and then died. We prayed for starving children in countries we’d seen on the news.
Some of them were fed — because we also sent money. No one was fed by miracles.
The cumulative effect of this was depressing — and mind-boggling to someone (me) who had
never thought of life any other way. There had to be a reason why prayer seemed to have no
effect, and I set out to find this reason.
The Bible gives a few requirements for getting prayers answered:
(1) ask in Jesus’ name
(2) believe (Matt.
(3) ask with the right motives (James
(4) avoid sin (Isaiah
(5) pay attention to the poor (Prov.
(6) remain in Christ and make sure His word remains in us
(7) ask according to His will (I John
5:14-15). Plus, more than one preacher said God would be more likely to answer
prayers of people who tithed. Fasting was supposed to help too.
So I examined myself and my prayers. I was asking in Jesus’ name, believing He could do
anything, asking with what I believed were correct motives, heeding the cry of the poor as best I
could, and remaining “in Christ” and keeping His Word in me. I was tithing
twenty percent of my income in those years. I had fasted for days on end while praying, on
That left only God’s will and the sin thing.
The Bible said “ask, and ye shall receive”. It said we could move literal
mountains with our prayers. We could walk on water.
Was it really God’s will that hungry
children should starve to death? Or that babies should
be born and die with only fluid in their cranial cavities? I hadn’t even heard of the
most painful childhood diseases in those days. Also, if only prayers according to
God’s will were answered, and if his will would be done whether we prayed or not, then why
did the Bible say “ask, and ye shall receive”? It said we could move literal
mountains with our prayers. We could walk on water.
As far as avoiding sin, well, I researched that too.
I John 5:18 says “We know that
anyone born of God does not continue to sin”. Other verses say that of course we continue to
sin, but God continues to forgive us, which seemed like a
contradiction to me (and still
does, though many preachers attempted to explain it away). I carefully identified anything in my
life that could
possibly be identified as ‘sin”, and worked to excise it (and prayed for God’s
help to that end). And still my prayers were not answered.
I concluded — some time during Bible college — that either (1) some sin I
couldn’t identify or avoid was causing God to ignore me, or (2) it was almost never His will
that my prayers should be answered. I struggled on in darkness, wanting badly to know how to fix
It was years later before I looked at these conundrums objectively. If God’s will is going
to happen, no matter what, and if the only prayers that will be answered are according to his
will, then what’s the point of praying? If all of us will alway sin, but the only prayers
that can be answered are from sin-free people, then why pray?
At one point, long before the book The
Prayer of Jabez was published in 2000, I preached on
I Chronicles 4:9-10,
stuck in the
middle of a boring genealogy, about a man named Jabez, whose only qualification was that he was
“more honorable than his brothers”. He asked the
Lord to bless him and give him more land, and to be
kept from harm and free from pain. “And God granted his request.” Boom.
That was a fairly selfish prayer, all things considered. But even my selfless prayers were going
Looking back, perhaps the only tangible outcome of my prayers was the heightened
emotional state I could achieve during them — sometimes bordering on ecstasy, which to an
outsider would probably appear to be a “fit” or seizure of some kind. It is probably not
a coincidence that this happened more often when I was fasting.
The original source of my doubt then, without question, was my religion, and how it didn’t
match up with reality.
The original source of my doubt then, without question, was my religion, and how it didn’t
match up with reality. Had the Bible not promised
that prayers could be answered, I would not have expected them to be. If it had stopped at
“God’s will shall be done” and not included a hundred examples of prayers
being answered — and dozens of examples of prayer changing God’s mind —
there would have been no initial cause for doubt.
After each recorded incidence of such doubt, my journals are filled with brilliant testimony of
completely trusting in God again and assuming His hand in everything. And my poems returned to
their usual preachy nature
But the instances kept happening, even after I decided that the only thing a true Christian could
do is be a missionary (“If you’re not a missionary, then you’re a mission
field”, courtesy of David Baroni, and
YOU Should Go To The Mission Field, by Keith Green), and even after enrolling at a Bible
college affiliated with my denomination.
The Bible College Years
• First Year, 1991-92
While at Bible college, it was rare that I doubted God’s existence. Everyone
around me was a fervent believer, intent on the ministry. It was a preacher’s college, a
place that turned out pastors, missionaries, evangelists, youth pastors, music ministers, and
more. Very few people showed up to that college hoping to have a normal college experience.
We were out to change the world.
During my second semester there, I wrote in my journal that there “came a wonderful outpouring
of the Holy Spirit” during a class on the
book of Acts. I described my hopes for my
ministry and “I am once again getting excited”. I determined to pray “more often,
more seriously, and for the right reasons” and added (in all caps) “I want to know
Christ for who he really is, in all his power, in all the reality of who he really is.”
Yet just two days later I wrote the sorrowful and doubtful poem
So It Seems, which begins:
“message after message is preached
many hearts are being reached
or so it seems
Tear after tear rolls down cheeks
We hear the Spirit when He speaks
or so it seems”
It was such a powerful expression of doubt that I felt guilty about it and hid it among older
files and lost it for two decades. (See below why the doubt bothered me so
much.) Two weeks later, I recorded in my journal that I walked in the woods behind my college, praying,
and again asked God “for some kind of special revelation of Himself”.
Publicly, I did well enough. I was selected to preach to my entire freshman class of two hundred
students. I spoke in youth and adult Sunday School classes at the church I attended during college.
After one such class, my college’s senior class president — a powerful preacher in her
own right — made a point to say she was impressed with the lesson I delivered. I was working
nearly full time, carrying a full load of classes, volunteering two nights a week at the
college’s radio station, preaching at a mission downtown, and still managing to compete in a
weeks-long chess tournament. I was elected to be Vice President of my class the following year.
In the summer, back home, I worked 60 hours a week, trying to save up enough money to get back
to school, preached to the youth group, preached at our church. That summer, my only remaining
grandfather died, as did the faithful dog I’d had since a child. Both deaths shook me
emotionally, but I was certain both went to Heaven.
• Second Year, 1992-93
My second year at college saw a very strong renewal of faith. My journal shows that any doubts I
had were about my own abilities, whether I was actually “called” to preach, and my own
personality. Never about God.
I did wonder (September 1992) whether I had “a tragic flaw... It could be the things I
say.” I also admitted to myself that there was a communication gap between myself and God,
but affirmed my belief in him using both the Cosmological
argument and the Argument from morality. I continued to
preach, to study, and to publish the devotional newsletter I’d begun in 1991. I studied
hermeneutics, homiletics, history of missions, church government, cultural anthropology, sign
language, and theology, and took a second job as a part-time janitor at a church.
My most intense struggle during this time was with something completely natural, yet
something I saw as a sin: attraction. Surprise! I was a 20-year-old straight guy, attracted to
females. Because Jesus had said (Matthew
5:27-28) “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed
adultery with her in his heart”, I thought I was sinning every day. This was
incompatible with my purpose in life and my belief in the Bible.
I John 5:3
said I wasn’t loving God unless I was keeping his commandments, and that “his
commands are not burdensome”. The same chapter assures
us that “anyone born of God does not continue to sin”, so I began to wonder if I was
even a real Christian. This command actually was “burdensome”.
And a few chapters earlier: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues
to sin has either seen him or known him”
(I John 3:6).
• Third Year, 1993-94
I missed half my third year at Bible college due to a too-high school bill that had to be paid off.
That turned into a spiritual struggle as well. I questioned my “call” to the ministry.
If God wasn’t helping me stay in school via funding, then perhaps that’s not where he
wanted me to be. I prayed almost constantly about this, disturbed that I was doing the wrong thing
— growing up in the charismatic, prosperity gospel 1980s, it was kind of ingrained in us that
money would never be an issue as long as we were following God’s plans for our lives.
During that time, I attended (relatively inexpensive) classes at a city college while working
full-time at a supermarket and sharing a car with my sister and Dad. I didn’t understand
that I had overloaded myself for more than two years straight — in addition to my guilt and
confusion indicated above. I was “considering going insane... I would be an eligible
candidate for such an illness... but... As long as I hold to a definite and concrete belief in the
God of the Bible, I shall have no fear of insanity” (Sept. 1993). I worried that I was a
“materialist” because I owned things — clothes, hair gel, cassette tapes
(Oct. ‘93), and maybe that was keeping me from God.
Then I fell in with a young woman from work who said she was trying to straighten up her life. To
her, I seemed to be exactly the guy who could help with that. Maybe I did help a little. But
instead of me pulling her up, we met in the middle somewhere — I compromised some of my core
values and it haunted me on and off for years.
“Shadows haunt the hallways of my mind, dancing in mockery, leering at my foolishness...
The Word of God, pure and holy, leans over my shoulder, witnessing my conduct, and keeping
record... And now... should I crumble inwardly, utterly destroying my God-given sense of
I was physically distressed by this, experiencing several nosebleeds and fainting spells,
all of which I managed to conceal from those around me. In hindsight, it’s a wonder I
didn’t succumb to a mental illness.
God still wasn’t talking to me or answering my prayers.
And then I returned to Bible college in the spring of 1994, a changed man. I threw myself back
into the flow of things: work, classes, prayer, socializing. There was no
doubt recorded this semester. I fasted several times, including instances that induced
physical sickness from lack of nutrition. Yet I mention in my journal “my growing
coldness” and several instances of extreme curfew violations — something I never would
have considered the first two years. There is evidence of growing emotional problems. I began to feel
like I couldn’t better myself, that no amount of effort was succeeding. God still
wasn’t talking to me or answering my prayers.
In the summer of ‘94, I considered quitting college, but instead I saved for a return. I
preached to my home church’s youth group and to the adult congregation.
• Fourth Year, 1994-95
During my last year at Bible College, I had the longest romantic relationship of my pre-marriage
life, decided to be a missionary to Russia, learned basic Russian, and suffered through laryngitis
and bronchitis (at the same time). I wasn’t having doubts about God anymore, and in fact once
mentioned someone else having “doubts about God... just like I used to”, indicating
that I’d put it behind me.
But things were not well. “There is still a hollow place in my heart that cries for
fellowship with the Divine”, I wrote, and I had grown tired of trying with no results.
“So somehow I merely ‘muddle’ along, hoping that something miraculous and
extraordinary will happen that completely changes me and thrusts me into the life of a Christian
minister ‘super-hero’. But, obviously that extraordinary phenomenon is not
happening... The only problem is that the flame of passion within me for Christian perfection has
By March, I was “ready to LEAVE this place.” I was failing my two morning classes
since I couldn’t wake up in time
because I was working so late at night to pay the school bill so I could take those classes. I was
reading the Bible so much for school that I quit reading it for myself.
“The other night, as I walked home from work just after midnight, I prayed to God, trying to
piece my life together. I thought of all my memories, all my experiences, all my pain, all my joy...
and I asked Him, ‘What does all this mean?’ I’m still waiting for the answer.”
Feeling close to falling apart — because God still refused to interact with my life —
and unable to cope with that, I started sneaking drinks of Scotch.
Ironically, it had the effect of helping me get to sleep quickly and easily, which helped me to
start waking up earlier and feeling better in the mornings. Of course, I felt guilty about this
too. I felt guilty about being attracted to the woman I’d dated all year and was by then
engaged to marry. And, as our relationship fell apart — it lasted rockily until September
1995 — that blinded me to the cracks in my life and in my faith. Perhaps the entire
relationship had been masking my troubles.
I went the next couple of years thinking I was broken-hearted over her — which was surely
part of it — and not realizing what else I had lost in the meantime. In hindsight, it is
very clear to me that what I had truly lost was my devout faith in God, and that I didn’t
realize this sooner because I misidentified the source of my pain.
• An Aside On Money And The Ministry
Before going to Bible college — which was noticeably more expensive than a state college
would have been at that time — I did not worry about how much it would cost. I was convinced
that if it was truly God’s will for me, then God would make a way. This was not a theology
of my own invention; it had been drilled into me from childhood and was consistent with the
teachings of the Bible, not the least of which was God supplying the children of Israel with food
during their 40-year trek in the “wilderness”. Of course, I worked, as mentioned above,
and I worked hard. While I occasionally made frivolous purchases, by far the majority of
my earnings went to pay my school bill (after subtracting income taxes and 20% tithes).
But it simply wasn’t quite enough. And I noticed it wasn’t just me. All over campus,
the people who had no trouble paying their school bills were the people whose parents were paying
for it. Some came from big churches with scholarship funds that covered Bible college. It was
completely unrelated to how fervently anyone prayed, or to how pious or holy they were in their
I further noticed that real-world rules held true when looking for employment in the ministry
after college. Friends ahead of me graduated and either went into the ministry or got
“real world jobs”. The difference appeared to be the same differences that would have
applied at a secular school. The ones who got good jobs in the ministry (youth pastors,
associate pastors, missionaries, etc.) were often the people with good networking skills,
socially active, or connected through family somehow, while the people who became managers at
McDonald’s or line workers at factories were like me — unconnected, socially inept,
etc. Again, it was apparently unrelated to any level of devotion to God or the ministry, any
self-control, any amount of prayer.
It was disillusioning, to say the least.
Restrained By Fear
What took me so long to fully examine these doubts and questions?
There is very little disagreement on what gets you to Heaven:
faith — and doubt is the opposite of faith.
First and foremost, I feared Hell — eternal torment. The Bible is clear that it’s one
of only two places you will eventually arrive. There is disagreement about what actually
gets you to Hell, but there is very little disagreement in scripture on what gets you to
Heaven: faith — and doubt is the opposite of faith.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe
that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”, says
Hebrews 11:6. Impossible is a pretty
strong word. I was
afraid to admit I already didn’t believe “he rewards those who earnestly seek
him”, and couldn’t consider not believing in him at all — because
“whoever does not believe stands condemned already”
(John 3:18). “Everything that
does not come from faith is sin”
(Romans 14:23). I felt that I
couldn’t even ask the question without cutting the thread that held me suspended over the
Lake of Fire.
I couldn’t even ask the question without cutting the thread that held me
suspended over the Lake of Fire.
So I sometimes prayed, hot tears dripping from my jaws as I clasped my hands so
tightly they bled, asking for God’s help to get back, to avoid this eternal punishment for
being human. Was there something extraordinary He required of me, some great sacrifice I could
make, that would open the channels of dialog between Him and me?
Though various groups have different views on how easy it is to go to Hell, especially after
salvation, my particular denomination leaned toward the “it’s pretty easy” side
of the argument, with plenty of scripture to back this up.
(In retrospect, incorporating the fear of eternal punishment into a religion seems like a good idea, if
you’re going to create one from scratch. At least it worked on me — for a time.)
Secondly, I feared being wrong. The world was a wide-open and scary place without the God
I had known all my life. Even a momentary consideration of this felt like finding out that
gravity wasn’t real and I had just been sticking to the ground by luck all this time. I
worried that if I put all my doubts and concerns on the table and examined them, that I
wouldn’t come up with enough to believe in.
The Bible Wasn’t Helping
Deeper study of the Bible didn’t help either. At every turn there were contradictions,
gaping holes, and unanswered (or poorly answered) questions — not to mention increasingly
glaring problems with historicity. These became more problematic for me when the answers were
always “well, we think...” or “the church has been arguing that one for
2,000 years.” I had gone to Bible college partly hoping to answer some of those questions.
How or why could an almighty, all-knowing deity inspire every word of the entire Book yet not make
it clear enough for scholars and theologians to agree upon major issues? I didn’t learn until
2017 that this criticism of religion is called “The Problem Of Instructions” or
“The Problem Of Clear Instructions”. I realized how easy it would have been to write a
better Bible. The clearest instructions in the Bible are those for building the tabernacle and for
proper cleaning procedures.
For a time, I assumed that humans were the problem — we must have added so much doctrine
on top of the Bible that we were being blinded. I tried reading it without any assumptions
— impossible, of course, but that led me to even more questions, and therefore more
Without question, the most difficult part of my journey was right after Bible
college. Most of the difficulty was emotional and financial, which interfered with any
thinking I attempted during this time.
I was heartbroken over the end of my relationship, knowing it was (mostly) my fault. I worked
manual labor jobs to make ends meet. My career hopes were increasingly unrealistic. I was
lonely as I searched for new friends.
My belief in God was still intact, with my only doubts being about the direction of my
own life and why God wasn’t interacting with me.
My belief in God was still intact, with my only doubts being about the direction of my
own life and why God wasn’t interacting with me. I originally intended to return to college
as soon as my bill was paid. But when, a few months after leaving, I went back for a visit, the
whole town felt like a piece of my past instead of something I was returning to. It was full of
ghosts and memories instead of hope for the future. I realized I had already, subconsciously, made
the decision to not return, but didn’t have the courage to tell anyone.
At the age of 23, I lived as an unsupervised adult for the first time, paying rent and other bills,
being responsible to no one except myself.
I attended church for a time and found myself bashing the preachers in my notes: “This man
has murdered the art of sermonizing”, for example. I had just spent the past four years
hearing the best preachers in the world five days a week; I realized it would be difficult to just
sit in a normal church. I knew more than they did about the Bible, about preaching, about
theology... I began to notice the sheer amount of storytelling and doctrinal assertions that
didn’t match up with the Bible. About one preacher, I wrote: “Steve Martin
must’ve studied this guy before making ‘Leap of Faith’.”
At one youth service at the church my parents attended, I wrote in my sermon notes that
“my spirit does not bear witness”, which is a Christianized way of saying I
couldn’t agree with the methods, which looked like emotional manipulation to me.
“I’m getting sick at my stomach”, I added. I considered writing to headquarters
(of the denomination) about it, but began to realize I’d been seeing these same emotional
manipulation tactics my entire life. A few weeks later (1995.07.16), I wrote:
“It seems to me that we as a church have fully departed from the truth of God’s Word.
We act as if other churches are apostate when we are no better. Our songs are emphasizing different
truths than scripture. We emphasize the music and its sound rather than the worship of God. Our
preaching is for acclaim and notoriety rather than to proclaim the poignant propositions of
life-changing words of God. What can one do alone to change this sickening trend?”
This eventually led me to notice that all Christian denominations and
individual believers cherry-pick the parts of scripture they want to follow, and
somehow dismiss or ignore the rest. And that realization eventually led me to
notice that it would be impossible to fully follow the Bible, since it doesn’t always agree
with itself. It further finally sank in to me how few Christians actually knew the Bible. I kept
running into people who spouted nonsense that they claimed was from the Bible — if you
pressed them, they would admit to never having read it.
At the same time I felt broken about it — because God still hadn’t
spoken to me, directed me, answered my prayers. But he seemed to be speaking to, or working
through (at least some of) these preachers. Like a walkie-talkie without batteries, I was sure
the problem was somewhere inside me.
I could not find the answer to the question: What is keeping me from connecting with God?
Instead of examining my own belief and comparing it to reality, as I should have, I turned my
critical eye to the church, writing (in my journal) scathing critiques of services, songs,
preachers. I also excoriated myself for the inability to live up to my own standards. I visited
several churches, continued to pray and study the Bible, “trying to see if God
would jump out and grab me, but nothing happened.” I could not find the answer to the
question: What is keeping me from connecting with God?
I refused to consider the possibility that God simply didn’t exist, which from
Occam’s razor would be the most reasonable place
to start. It would fit the facts and easily explain my experiences.
In 1997, I wrote about the previous two years, describing a battle
between “my mind”, “my will”, “my heart”, and
“desire” about “ridding myself of the delusion” of religion
(not God though), and how guilt
and fear were plaguing me. I wanted to think about my life and the universe rationally, but could
not. Apparently I made a snap decision (and in retrospect a questionable one) to do “things
that I knew were wrong, just to cauterize my conscience... After a
while, my feelings of guilt began to
ease”. I further described this process a few years later in the first stanza of a poem,
Waiting For Beyond.
From my letters and journals, it’s clear that it wasn’t until the guilt eased that I
was finally able to rationally examine my beliefs and my doubts. In mid-1997, I was
“unsure of life, the universe, and everything” and began describing myself (in
private) as “The Lone, Questioning Man”.
Seeing Christianity As A Rigged Game
By 1998, I finally revealed my secret struggle to a few people, mostly in letters.
Though I asserted “there must be a Being so much higher than ourselves”, I was
“suspicious” of the rest.
It was unfair of God to set up such a rigged game.
When I re-examined the foundational premise of Christianity — that we all have innate sin
deserving of Hellfire (even if you never actually do anything wrong!) and can only be
saved by God’s grace, through faith — it seemed unfair. It was unfair
of God to set up such a rigged game, a game that I begin with negative points and can only recover
if the captain of the other team (who is also the referee, umpire and rule-writer) shows mercy.
It’s not like an underdog in a basketball
game, where you still actually have a chance. This is a zero-chance thing.
If a deity was fair (and I believed it must be), then that part of Christianity must not be
true. Think about it:
According to the Bible: God created humans with the ability to sin and placed the first temptation
right in front of them. The first sin was to acquire knowledge. Because of that sin by two people,
God held every human guilty. Not long after, he destroyed most of humanity for sinning. Then he
impregnated a virgin with himself as her child so that he could be killed as a sacrifice to
himself because of a rule he made about sacrifices so people could be saved from the sin he
gave them in the first place. And if this doesn’t make sense to you, he’ll burn you
It was realizing this, and thinking about it clearly that — finally — set me on the
right path. Either I had to believe life was set up unfairly, rules
were impossible to follow (and changed over time), and the only way out was
the symbolic “blood of Christ” (a reference to ancient animal-sacrifice
rituals), or... Or I would have to not believe that.
Every time these thoughts entered my head, of course, I still felt guilt. And the fear of Hell was
still strong. It was also confusing and painful.
God would not intentionally withhold evidence from me and expect me to believe anyway.
Still, I stubbornly insisted that God must be better than that. He wouldn’t
send me to Hell just for thinking about it. It was a big logical leap from there to the next step,
but I made it somehow: God would not intentionally withhold evidence from me
and expect me to believe anyway. If (and I often did say “if” by the late ‘90s)
he existed, he would be patient with my attempts to think it through. It was a big relief to
finally convince myself of this, and it eventually allowed me to inject reason/logic into the
Wavering And Wondering
You can’t go from there to immediately disbelieving in any God at all, at least I
couldn’t. I’d spent too many years taking Him for granted. My mind was set up to
assume that the universe — and Life — could only exist because of a Maker.
So, for years I believed that there must be a god, but that the Bible — because of its
failure to match up with reality — did not contain accurate
descriptions of it. The original truth had been distorted by hundreds of generations of oral
retelling. This also explained, for me, the presence of the plethora of viewpoints in ancient
religions. Perhaps all of them had originated from the same kernel of truth in human history.
During this extended period, my faith stayed at that stage. But the
graph’s line would still be jagged — there were days (as early as 1999) when I came
close to shrugging off theism entirely. For example, in 2003, I wrote in my journal:
“Purportedly, answers are waiting for us after the Judgment Day, but I also fear that this
is not so. I fear, deep in my spirit, that this ‘Judgment Day’ is merely an affectation of
tight-assed, over-moralized religious nuts, looking for a way to control disruption in
As my agnosticism turns to atheism, any viable proof of ‘God’s’ existence washes over me as
so many trite words which I have spoken before...
Maybe ‘god’ made this world, and started the great chain of life, and then moved on to a
more exciting project, a project of which I cannot conceive in my smallness...
Do not hate me for my doubt.”
And there were days (as late as 2005) when I considered giving
up this emotional, spiritual, and increasingly intellectual struggle and just going back to church and
embracing it all over again.
“The ancient part of me, the part that believed in the Christ of the Bible, thinks I should
sink back into that lifestyle, submit to the psuedo-religious culture in which I’m immersed.”
Everything in my psyche wanted this “return”. My brain was organized for that to happen
and had been trained that way for decades. I knew all the songs, most of the scriptures, and all
the right phrases. Even after years away, I knew I could fall right back into rhythm. And I was
tired of being alone with my thoughts. It would be comforting. Further, I was more than 30 years
old by this point, and starting to wonder whether I would ever have a family — a wife and
children. In a mostly Christian town in a mostly Christian state in a mostly Christian nation, I
realized how difficult it would be to find a wife if I was honest about my doubts. That alone
was almost enough to get me back to church.
“Still, I feel deep down that would be just another form of giving up...
I would be trying to force myself to believe in a God that I don’t really believe in, just to gain
some kind of emotional solace...”
I knew that it would only be a decision to participate in religion, rather than
believing in what I had once believed. Any return would therefore be on different terms than my
previous religious activity. I would be acting a part, having
decided to act the part for the rest of my life — much like gay people over the
centuries acted straight so as to avoid the ostracization that would occur if their true thoughts
were known. It would be a once-and-forever thing if I went back — I didn’t have the
energy to continue vacillating, wondering, and doubting.
And I knew that it would be somewhat hollow. I wouldn’t be able to fool myself. Deep down
I would still harbor doubts.
I realized I still wanted to struggle onward toward a more lucid reality. I didn’t want my
return to be just “fire insurance” (to avoid Hell) or to enlarge my circle of
friends; I wanted it to be real. I was still waiting for that sign I had requested at the
age of 17, something that would be unassailable, undoubtedly from Him.
Finding A New Paradigm
Once it sank in for a few years that I’d effectively discarded the
Bible as the infallible Word of God, I realized that things were suddenly more relative. For
the first time, the idea of God wasn’t set in stone; I could think about Him without every
thought being wrong. What were His characteristics, if not the incorrect ones in the Bible?
Is he fair? Yes, if He’s all-powerful, then he should be fair. Should he be kind? Why not?
I almost got trapped in the circle of argument: “but He’s so beyond us that His
standards of fairness and kindness might be so different from our own...” But I brought
myself back to Earth. That’s unthinkable, simply because I can’t conceive of ideas of
fairness or kindness that go against every standard of kindness and fairness known to me. (And
if God existed, of course, he was the originator of these standards.)
Who says he’s even interested in what happens on this tiny
planet in a forgotten corner of the galaxy?
But the assumptions of omnipotence and omniscience brought up new questions: Who says he’s
all-powerful? Or all-knowing? Who says he’s even interested in what happens on this tiny
planet in a forgotten corner of the galaxy?
If not the Bible, then from whence came my ideas about
God? Was there a book? Was it laid out somewhere in black and white, in an unconfusing way? I tried
all kinds. I read books about Buddhism and Hinduism and others, mostly out of curiosity, but also
wondering if there was something to it. After all, millions of people believed in those religions
too. I examined the idea of reincarnation and it seemed as plausible (yet as unprovable) to me as
what I had been taught all my life.
As I wrestled with these issues, it wasn’t merely an intellectual exercise, but a slow eroding of
all that I’d known and believed about the entire world. I was, for the first time,
applying reason to the equation rather than assumption.
Finding A New Morality
One thing that held me back for years — aside from the aforementioned fear of eternal
torment, was the assumption that morality was absolute.
Theists (including myself) have long thought of this as a trump card of sorts:
because they assume a god, and that this God invented right and wrong, then without a god there
can be no higher absolute truth, and there can be no morality. The idea is that an
atheist would — by his very nature — be an amoral, depraved, and very sad person without purpose. This
didn’t stand up to careful inspection. As it turns out, people who don’t believe
in gods are moral for basically the same reasons as people who do believe in gods.
Another thing that held me back was the assumption that my life should have a purpose, and the
related assumption that this purpose came from God. Also, I thought, there should be a
reason for life itself.
The need for meaning was one of the arguments for
God’s existence I had used in earlier days: If there is no god, then all is meaningless.
I thought, based on decades of being told to think this way, that my life — in fact, all
lives and all of Life — was pointless without some higher power to give it purpose.
The farther I pulled away from former faith, the more strongly these ideas tugged.
The farther I pulled away from former faith, the more strongly these ideas — absolute
morality and the requirement of a purpose — tugged. Maybe more than
anything, they were the two most difficult assumptions to shuck from the previous paradigm —
which, as it turns out, was based entirely on baseless assumptions.
I had no basis for understanding that life is beautiful without God — perhaps even more
precious and surprising. There was no foundation in my mind for the idea that one can live, love,
and learn for their own sakes. It was next to impossible for me to see my own life in the context
that there wasn’t some giant unseen hand guiding my steps, protecting me, speaking to me
— and with some end goal (Heaven) in mind. This life is tough, most of us agree, and it sure
seems better if we know it’s just the very short introduction to eternal bliss.
My assumptions did not survive scrutiny.
As it turned out, I met and observed a great number of people who had little or no purpose to their
lives, and almost all of them believed in God — or at least in the idea of god. I also met
and observed a smaller number of people who seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to do in
life — most of them believed in God too, but not all of them. In fact, I noticed each group of
people had about the same ratio of believers-to-nonbelievers.
Finding or losing purpose looks more like a normal part of the maturation process and less
like a result of either the intervention of an almighty God directing us all or the belief in
such a God.
Over time, I watched some in the latter group (definite purpose) lose their way or change their minds,
and I saw many in the former group (purposeless) seem to finally find meaning of some kind, whether it
was a career, a family, art, or a cause. Either way, it looked more like a normal part of the
maturation process and less like a result of either (1) the intervention of an almighty God directing
us all or (2) the belief in such a God.
Also over time, I read a great deal of history. I realized that countless billions of humans have
lived and died on this planet, almost all of them in abject poverty (by today’s western
standards), and almost all of them without affecting the course of human history one iota.
Cumulatively, through the millenia, how many millions (a good chunk of them children) died in
droughts, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or plagues? Was that part of some higher
purpose? Was there a meaning to these lives? How many millions only existed to become cannon
fodder for invaders or to die in prison camps?
It increasingly began to seem like a mix of folly and narcissicm to assume the my
life had some God-given purpose while all those billions did not.
Seen without the lens of religion, it seems the only actual “purpose” of most people
was simply to produce and raise more people. Some of them, by their actions or words, made the
world a better place for the rest of us, whether they realized it or not. But when studying
history, I saw no evidence of a guiding hand.
Eventually, I realized that my need or desire for meaning, for a purpose, for a reason, was
just that — something I either wanted or needed — and not a proof of God’s
existence. This was not cause for despair, though it certainly caused me confusion — until
I recognized and dispensed with the faulty assumptions.
It was then that I realized I must find my own meaning to life and make my own purpose, but that
neither was guaranteed.
Through most of this, I had no friend, no confidant with whom to share my deepest thoughts and
agony. It was not an area about which I could ask my family for advice — as far as I could
tell all of them still believed in a fairly specific God. And I already knew what they would
say because I had said the same things to others with doubts. My friends, roommates, coworkers
— almost everyone I knew, even the drunkards and drug abusers — all believed in at
least the general idea of God.
None of them were educated in religion, theology, philosophy. Few of them were educated at all.
I didn’t know it then, but there were internet forums and discussion groups about
atheism and other related subjects. Even if I had known, I likely would have shied away from them,
still unwilling or unable to consider a godless universe.
Even in 2014, as I prepared these web pages, I trembled at the backlash* I expected from many
people I know. Most of them still believe
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done
abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
So, for the most part, I kept these thoughts to myself. I worked, and then came home. At home,
I finally found one person with whom I felt completely comfortable sharing my struggle honestly.
She was far
away. We only communicated via written correspondence. This helped, tremendously. Eventually I
grew comfortable sharing the same thoughts with one other person, also far removed, and
again only through the mail.
* After a month, the “backlash” failed to materialize. I’m
glad I was wrong. Click here to read some of the immediate responses I
received from friends and family members. However, many, many of them did not respond at all,
which gives me cause to wonder what they will say when I next see them in person.
Another Paradigm Shift, Through Writing Sci-Fi
My first paradigm shift (above) took me from believing in God based
on the Bible to believing in a god not based on the Bible. Part of that
process came from writing fiction, and that a later second paradigm shift was even more greatly
due to my process of writing.
While still in Bible college in the early 1990s, I wrote a new draft of “Wesley’s
Story” (working title), a story I had begun before college. Following is the final
paragragh of Chapter 1 of “Draft 5”:
“There were a few written laws, drawn up by Jef’s staff, and tempered by
Winston’s wisdom. Basically, everyone was required to help a neighbor in need; defend at
all costs the peace of the little nation; help in their own way to provide for the needs of the
group; and lastly, to study the Holy Scriptures and follow God’s laws therein. Everything
considered, the tiny country was fairly successful, and those who lived within its borders were
totally devoted to its leaders, and every one of them were at peace with one another.”
When I wrote this, circa 1993, it made perfect sense to me that a nation following
“God’s laws” in the Bible would lead to a peaceful, optimal society. I thought
this because I had been taught it by church and family during childhood. A few years
later, I worked on a now-gone “Draft 6” of the same story. I thought it would be
worthwhile to list a few of these biblical laws for the uninformed reader. I thought
I would begin with the “10 Commandments”. I discovered that there were not ten
commandments in the Old Testament, but hundreds, something I should have known already, having read
the Bible many times.
I could not bring myself to write into my story that the characters had reverted to animal
I struggled. I did not want the fictional society in my story to follow all of the
laws found in the Bible. For example, killing people who worked on the Sabbath wouldn’t
make sense in my story. There are other nonsensical commandments too, including how to properly
buy and sell slaves, dietary laws, not using mixed fabrics, precise instructions for building and
maintaining the temple, and for offering animal sacrifices. I could not bring myself to write into
my story that the characters had reverted to animal sacrifices (the story was set in the
not-too-distant future, after a societal collapse). I began to question myself on this:
“Why not?” At first, my answer was the typically Christian answer: “because of
the New Testament”, because Christ was the ultimate sacrifice for us, etc. But I had
to back up and question why animal sacrifices were ordered in the first place, if God knew all
along that he had an “ultimate sacrifice” in store that would wipe all sin from
everyone. Since God decided not to tell the Israelites about Christ, he initiated a wholesale
slaughter of millions of animals over the centuries, all to cover sins that were already (from
God’s perspective) covered by the future blood of Christ.
Why, in the first place, did God decide that the answer for sin was shedding blood?
This line of questioning — all due to one line in a story I never finished (despite
going through at least nine drafts) — led me to unanswerable questions: (1) Is God
really all-knowing — including the future? (2) If so, why did he keep the perfect
answer — Christ — a secret for so many generations? (3) Why, in the first place,
did God decide that the answer for sin was shedding blood? I had never, in all my years of
study and instruction at Bible college, come across the answer for this third question
(the other two were usually answered “yes” and “mysterious ways”). There
was no reasonable explanation why God would have set up the universe to require a blood
offering, the death of an innocent creature or person, as a way to cover sin or make things
And thus, along with other thoughts already mentioned, writing fiction helped along that
first paradigm shift.
The second paradigm shift came when I worked on a few science fiction novels a few years later,
none of them ever published. My usual method of writing sci-fi was to start with a premise and a
few characters, and then see where they took me. I rarely had an end-point in mind.
While I worked on “The Last Rock Band”, in an apartment in Jacksonville, Ark.
Self-portrait, circa 2000.
This was the case with “Prichard’s Choice”, on which I worked in
the late 1990s and early ‘00s. The
premise was that robots had become intelligent, self-aware, and fully humanoid —
indistinguishable at first glance from actual humans. When writing dialog between Captain Prichard
and his crew of robots, I had to put myself in the mindset of an entity
who had been programmed with basic functionality, information about the universe, and the
ability to reason. Unlike the human in the conversation, the robot had not been raised to believe
in — or wonder about — God. It only had information and reasoning skills. What if
that’s all humans had, instead of years of indoctrination?
One robot in particular, named Jewel, asserts to Prichard that humanity never figured out its
purpose, while the robots had clearly been built to serve humanity. Prichard mentions religion,
that it asserted man’s purpose was to serve God. Jewel ignores this because the
difference is obvious — robots were clearly built by humans and can currently see
humans and physically serve them, whereas humans don’t even know whether God exists and
therefore cannot serve
him. She is forced to conclude that humanity’s purpose is to reproduce. When Prichard asked
for the reason, she changed the subject — because I as an author had run out of
In “The Last Rock Band”, which dealt primarily with a group of future youngsters
rediscovering the energy and angst of rock ‘n’ roll, somehow religion crept in again.
This time it was the “New Reformation” spreading through the colonized planets.
People who had never heard of religion were encouraged (by law) to take it up. Again, I was
forced as a writer to think from the viewpoint of someone (this time a human) who had never
considered deity before. He had to admit that the missionaries were nice enough people, but
their ideas didn’t make sense to him.
The subject came up again in Robber Baron. Some
characters believed in a god of sorts and others didn’t, though most of the
conversations dealt with morality rather than belief. It was clear my mind was dealing with
these subjects even when I didn’t intend to.
As highly improbable as this storyline was, to me it was more plausible
than early religious legends were.
Then, in 2003, I came up with Gennifer Orphala Daniels, the primary character in a short story,
working title: “G.O.D. Was A Teenage Girl” (G.O.D. are the initials of
the girl’s name.) She lived 40,000 years in our future, with every conceivable type of
technology. On a lark, she stole a time machine, some planet-builders, and cloning machines. You
can guess, but I’ll tell you: she went back in time, built the solar system,
populated it with plants and animals, and then added humans. Fearing she would get in trouble,
she hid her true identity from these humans, but gave them just enough information to survive.
She checked in on them from time to time, occasionally using her technology to intervene or
impress. She was flattered by their awe of her and humored by their ignorant discussions about
her. Frustrated by some of what she saw, she occasionally grew angry and “punished”
the disobedient humans, but as the population grew, she was increasingly unable to see everything
or solve every problem. As highly improbable as this storyline was, to me it was more plausible
than early religious legends (like the Bible) were. (Note: In a later draft, there was no time
machine; she just built a world in the future, but it turned out that time was circular.)
In 2004, I worked on a story about a genetically-engineered police officer in the near future.
Unlike most humans, she knew she had been grown in a lab — there was paperwork to prove it.
Her musings about the supernatural were similar to mine.
“And if an angel, or demon, or ghost, or spirit, or god appeared to me to explain
the intricacies of life beyond this one, how would I know that that apparition was not merely a
product of my imagination, trying to convince me of something I want to believe? I cannot tell you
Each time, I had invented the characters without really thinking about where the story would go,
and tried to develop the plot organically, based on what these characters would do if they were
real people and based on the premise of each story. And each time, I was forced to deal with
questions that I had feared tackling on my own — because the character had to deal
This process, though I didn’t realize it at the time, is what caused my second major
paradigm shift, from believing in a god not based on the Bible to acknowledging that
a godless universe was possible.
Eight Years At Stage 4-6
I finally arrived at “There is probably a god” as my default position in my early 30s
My logic was thus: I am not equipped to understand the world or behave in it without assuming some
kind of metaphysical power or being. For me, it was the only explanation for the universe, and for
the origin of life. But I had no further logic or reason with which to flesh out this belief. So
I didn’t embellish it. Just: “There is probably a god.”
And I stuck there for years. I didn’t think about it much during this time.
Some people have said they became fully convinced of God when they witnessed childbirth.
It didn’t work that way for me. My only thought was: surely an all-knowing creator could
have thought of a better way to bring my child into the world.
I hadn’t quit writing, though my poetry dried up almost entirely during this time, as did
my fiction-writing. I switched from writing letters to email and online comment forms for
correspondence with friends and family. My journal became
my blog, which was public and therefore not the best place to
hash out deeply felt beliefs or doubts. So there is almost zero evidence during
this eight-year period (2005-2013) of what I was thinking.
When analyzing this time period in hindsight, it is clear that I moved from “there is
probably a god” to “uncertain, likely invented by man”, and then to not really
having an opinion.
Last Paradigm Shift, From Science
My last major paradigm shift came while doing research for politically-oriented entries for my
second blog, Verily I Say Unto Thee. I noticed that —
almost without exception — the people who made the most sense, had the most information,
and expressed the least amount of vitriol, were either scientists or people in the
“I’m with science” camp.
On the other side of nearly every argument were people who began with an assumption and then had
to force every other fact into that mold.
The point of science is to begin with as few underlying assumptions
as possible, because underlying assumptions derail the process and block clear thinking.
I saw incredible examples of this while researching
global warming. One group started
with the position: this subject is interesting, so I’ll study it. That is the scientific
mindset. Information is gathered. Observations are made. Hypotheses arise. Experiments are
conducted to prove wrong those hypotheses. The point is to begin with as few underlying assumptions
as possible, because underlying assumptions derail the process and block clear thinking.
Whereas the other group, non-scientists, nearly always begin with underlying assumptions: the Earth
isn’t warming, warming is okay, global warming is happening but isn’t caused by
humans, the economy is too important (and apparently fragile) to disrupt by changing our energy
sources, scientists are in a big conspiracy, and so on. And they would scrape together enough
facts to make their assumption seem plausible.
This was true on any number of subjects. One group starts with a question, a thirst for knowledge
and understanding, while the other group starts with assumptions. Once I made that realization, it
was easy to notice that the latter almost always tended to be religious, while the former was
much less so — often atheists or agnostics.
The religious folk were
fine with science unless it contradicted their deeply held personal beliefs.
The religious folk were
fine with science unless it contradicted their deeply held personal beliefs. And
I realized I had once been that way too (see my 1989 poem
The Evolutionists as an ad hominem
example). The religious camp, also almost without exception, had a tendency to get very nasty
very quickly, in any discussion topic where science or facts were brought up.
Thinking back over my life, I had always tended to embrace the no-assumptions ideology except
when it came to God. For example, when choosing a car and someone would say Chevrolets were more
reliable than Fords, I would want to know whether there were numbers backing it up or if it was just
a feeling they had. When someone told me vinyl records sounded better than compact discs,
I wondered about it, and listened to them side-by-side (it wasn’t true).
I had always rejected superstition, astrology, luck, etc., because there was no rational basis for
believing in any of them. This reminded me of the so-called “rational”
proofs, or arguments, for the existence of God, so I began going back
over them — looking for underlying assumptions. Are you ready? Every one of them had an
It makes sense to collect data and observe
If you and I both assume that your house is larger than mine, then I can
“prove” it to you with no effort whatsoever. But if we disagree, then the solution is
to measure our houses and compare
the information. But what if I measured both houses and found mine was larger, and you refused to
agree with me because of your prior assumption that yours was larger. “I see your numbers,
and I watched you do the measurements and math, but I will choose not to believe it.” Most
of us would raise eyebrows at that statement. It makes sense to collect data and observe
Further, I realized that all throughout my life, I had doubted any claim that
seemed to have no basis in evidence. Except for God and the Bible. This was something of an
epiphany for me, more than 20 years late. I began to subject supernatural claims to the same
standard of evidence that I had always applied to everything else.
It didn’t take long before I (privately) labeled myself an “agnostic”. And
that’s when I decided to start writing this set of web pages. From there, I just had to
learn a few definitions to begin calling myself an
This is the updated version of this page. To see the earliest available version,
click here. The full list of edits is
here (.txt file).