Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 1: The Wake-Up Call

A few months ago, I told the story of my becoming a Christian. Today, I’ll begin the story of my departure.

If you know any home-schooling, church-going, large families who earnestly seek God in all they do, you have a good picture of my family in my faith-filled days. Ironically, the chain of events that culminated in my loss of faith began because I took my duties as a Christian father seriously.

It happened when my kids started to progress out of our home-school, and eventually out of the private, Christian high school most of them attended. It was time to think about college. My wife and I wanted to give good advice about colleges, and the question came up: should we endorse only creationist colleges, or a broader array of choices?

In our home-school, we taught that God created man; he did not evolve him. I had some questions about creationism, but my allegiance was still with it. I cheered when creationists scored points and pooh-poohed the arguments of evolutionists.

I realized that not all of my children would take readily to the idea of a creationist, and therefore hyper-conservative, school. If I were going to take a strong stand in favor of creationist institutions, I knew I had to resolve once and for all my lingering questions on the subject. It was my duty as a father. (You might well observe that it had always been my duty, and it should not have taken me so long. As you’ll see in my story, sometimes we need a wake-up call.) I decided to do some serious research.

It’s not like I was totally uninformed. I had been reading creationist books and literature for 20 years. We had subscribed to the monthly publication of the Institute for Creation Research (now available online), and I had devoured each issue.

I had also read a few books by the likes of Carl Sagan, but had been able to chalk up their conclusions to their atheistic assumptions. I had never read a scientific, comprehensive case for evolution by a non-Christian.

And why should I have? Evolutionists were generally non-believers, so they were biased against the truth. Creationists were Christians, so not only could I trust them to present their own case accurately, but they would tell me the real truth about evolution. Right?

Maybe, but with the serious question of college choices in front of me, I decided I should stop and listen to both sides. I browsed the shelves at Barnes & Noble and found a book that seemed germane: Scientists Confront CreationismThe book consisted of essays from scientists in various fields, each explaining how the evidence in his own discipline supported evolution and/or refuted young-earth creationism. 

After decades of creationist input; after countless denunciations of evolution from conservative, Christian speakers; after knitting myself into a culture that was anti-evolution; after most of my close friends were creationists; and most of all after investing my entire adult life building a creationist family — with every motivation not to be convinced of evolution — that one book was all it took to convince me that evolution, including the evolution of humans from non-humans, was a reality.The interlocking, independent lines of evidence were that persuasive.  It was not the conclusion I wanted, but it was inescapable. Either God was deceiving/testing us by planting mountains of evidence that were contrary to what had actually happened (that seemed unlikely), or evolution was a fact.

The truth of evolution was the least of my problems. Plenty of people manage to be both evangelical and evolutionist. Much more serious was the realization that the people I had trusted the most — the conservative, Christian leaders at the top of the young-earth creationist movement — had been lying to me. These men are not stupid, and they are well-read. Even now, about six years later, I cannot make up my mind as to whether they know they are lying, or whether they are just so committed to one point of view that they are beyond the reach of evidence. Either way, I had learned that I could not trust them.

I felt enormously betrayed. I had spent countless hours with my children in my lap, reading creationist books to them, and now I found out that the authors were more concerned with pushing an agenda than with honestly evaluating evidence.

Even more acute than my disappointment with the conservative Christian elite was my disappointment with myself. The evidence for evolution had been there the whole time, but I had chosen not to seek it out.

It was a real wake-up call.

I had managed to maintain an uneasy sleep through many of the questions that bother a lot of believers — why does God allow so much suffering; why doesn’t God grant seemingly worthy prayers; how do we know the Bible is inspired — but I could not sleep through this betrayal of my trust.

Long-dormant questions began to reassert themselves. In most cases, the answers I had been going on were based on the word of evangelical authorities and that was no longer good enough. I had learned that they could be just as untruthful as anyone else. I also realized that I was prone to believe the things I wanted to believe and ignore contrary evidence.

I resolved to do better.

Over a span of four years, I sought answers to my questions. I’ll tell you what they were, and what I discovered, in the next post.

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50 responses to “Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 1: The Wake-Up Call

  1. This series promises to be one of your best yet. Its off to a fine start, and I cannot wait for the rest of it!

  2. “A few months ago, I told the story of my becoming a Christian. Today, I’ll begin the story of my departure.” In your reasons for leaving I noticed that you stated belief in people and in God, but not in Jesus Christ. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” James 2:19 NIV 1984. “I also realized that I was prone to believe the things I wanted to believe and ignore contrary evidence.” How do you know you are not doing that again with evolution if “one book was all it took to convince me that evolution, including the evolution of humans from non-humans, was a reality”?

    • >> In your reasons for leaving I noticed that you stated belief in people and in God, but not in Jesus Christ.

      Stick with me for the next few posts, AlienAmbassador. This one did not outline my reasons for leaving; it only related the story of my wake-up call. There is much more to come.

      >> How do you know you are not [believing what you want to believe] again with evolution…?

      Because I never *wanted* to believe in evolution. As I said in the post, I had every motivation to remain a creationist.

      As for it only taking one book, all I can suggest is that you read the book. It’s an inexpensive paperback and a link to it is in the post.

      Lastly, I would point out that I have done a great deal of reading — of both sides — since reading that book. I have only become more and more convinced that macro-evolution is a reality.

      • > As for it only taking one book, all I can suggest
        > is that you read the book. It’s an inexpensive
        > paperback and a link to it is in the post.

        I think everybody should do that — not only in religion, but also in politics and other matters of life: confront your beliefs with contrary information. If your belief is right, you’ll be able to refute their claims.

        If you have already read books where creationists confront evolution, perhaps it is time to read “Scientists Confront Creationism”.

    • ” In your reasons for leaving I noticed that you stated belief in people and in God, but not in Jesus Christ.”

      I suggest you read Remsberg’s “The Christ”, published in 1909. You can read it online – free.

      This chapter:

      http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/rmsbrg02.htm

      is particularly on point.

  3. Anxiously looking forward to part 2. Also, what do your adult children believe now?

    • Part 2 is coming soon!

      As much as I enjoy talking about my kids, this blog is not totally anonymous so I feel I should respect their privacy and not say much about them. Suffice it to say that they have a variety of beliefs, and I’m on good terms with all of them. Thanks for asking, though.

  4. Pingback: Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 2: Worthy Prayers | Path of the Beagle

  5. Great stuff, so far. I’m excited to keep reading. One book changed my entire outlook, as well. In my case, it was ‘The Case for Christ’ by Lee Strobel which I was leading a small group study on. The weak arguments, one-sided evidence and contradictions throughout were all it took. I don’t remember the specific chapter I was reading in Panera the day that it clicked, but I remember that moment and the feeling of ‘Wow, none of it is actually real’. Fast forward four years….my ‘conversion’ has come at an immense cost. As of last week, my marraige of 13 years ended. My three children have to experience divorce because of this. My ex-wife actually told me that she would have preferred me to just live a lie and we could still be happy. It’s a surreal experience to lose your faith and in my case had a cost far more than I would have imagined.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that your marriage has ended. My deconversion was very hard on my marriage, too. When I came out to my wife as an ex-believer I really didn’t know how it would turn out. It looks like we’ll survive but there have been some very difficult times. At least you have a good response to those who say, “You left God because you wanted an easier life.”

      Hopefully your kids understand, respect and still love you. If not, I’ll bet they will as they get older and start to think things out for themselves.

      I also hear you about Lee Strobel. I read his Case for Faith and it struck me the same way. Not only was it weak, but it was ignorant. For example, he trotted out the old argument about the odds of even a single cell coming together by chance. Of course, no scientist argues that evolution started with a single cell. It started with the first, primitive, self-replicating molecules and built up from there. To think that arguments like Strobel’s used to convince me!

    • It cost you a hollow partnership with a foolish person who loved an imaginary god, and the public image of doing so, more than she loved you. I’d chalk that up to bitter experience and work on healing and loving yourself :)

  6. Interesting article. I have been trying to find the most usual inducement to dropping religion. It seems to be when the bubble gets pricked and it can come from many directions. There doesn’t seem to be one good argument. People are touched by different pieces of information they come across. One thing that does seem to be consistant though is that they question god when they come to a crossroads or a turning point in their lives. For many it is the death of a loved one. For some it is a move or job change, marriage breaking up, whatever. Then they reevaluate and move away from religion.

    Again enjoyed the article.

  7. thatgeeknamedjon

    Be it for good or ill, your story has found it’s way onto r/atheism at reddit.com. Your story is just one of many that can be found there, feel free to stop by.

  8. This is a very sincere and heart-warming account, and I want to thank you for sharing it.
    What impresses me the most is the “inward” character of all this – it was your understanding of your duties that led to doing the research, it was your mind that led you to this shift in your convictions. And, cases of mental disorders apart, I believe one should stay true to one’s own mind, even if it makes us go in an unexpected direction. On an Unexpected Journey.

    All the best to you and your family.

  9. Very interesting stuff :-) I love your post and your truth-seeking experience. I am myself an Atheist but very clear on the seperation of science and theistic faiths, many evolutionists are also Christians or similar. However evolution is maybe the most profound and thoroughfly proved concept out there. It can also be transpossed to other areas as culture, art and philosophy :-)

    Cancer is an ugly thing, but mutations are the main driving force of macro evolution. The concept of a Tree of Life with all its branches of different animal families are truly astounding and fascinating. Looking forward to more posts from you.

  10. Interesting and honest — I wonder how many people just continue on saying they are believers simply because they are afraid of the backlash after saying that they just cannot live that lie anymore? My truth came to me after a few years of teaching Sunday school; I realized that I felt like a liar every time I told the stories.

  11. Found you on Reddit. Very insightful post. One word of warning – your increased traffic will likely bring along a slew of very vicious “christians” who’ll assault you for suggesting much of this. Much like your epiphany that you were being misled by creationists, you may be forced to a new epiphany on how some christians react to introspective thought when applied to the search for truth. Don’t let them bother you.

  12. Hats off to you sir!!!! This happened for me while I was in nursing school and on another side of this, I had to take Introduction to World Religions. It was then I realized that all the worlds faith structures were exactly the same, just different characters in the same story. My eyes were opened in disbelief, a lot of Christians told me that you should “NEVER” take Introduction To World Religions. But Why, I asked? They could never answer the question and said that secular schools force “pagan” studies. I walked away and never looked back.

  13. Hats off to you sir!!!! This happened for me while I was in nursing school and on another side of this, I had to take Introduction to World Religions. It was then I realized that all the worlds faith structures were exactly the same, just different characters in the same story. My eyes were opened in disbelief, a lot of Christians told me that you should “NEVER” take Introduction To World Religions. But Why, I asked? They could never answer the question and said that secular schools force “pagan” studies. I walked away and never looked back.

  14. I’ve made this journey. It’s not easy to share it in full view of strangers. I applaud you, sir.

  15. Wow, thanks for posting this.

    I too used to be quite a conservative, fundamentalist Christian who believed in creationism and thought evolution was a devilish belief. Eventually, though, I actually started to read books on evolution by people who actually accept it and I was thoroughly convinced of the veracity of evolution in a heartbeat.

    I did not abandon my Christian faith though. Sure, it has wound up going from very conservative to very liberal but there are still some specifically Christian beliefs I tentatively hold to.

    I hope your own change of faith did not cause too much grief in your household. I have read other stories like yours – where a Christian becomes an atheist – and it seems very common for the still-Christian spouse to want a divorce, for Christian children to shun, etc. My wife, also a former conservative Christian, recently lost her Christian faith and is now a hopeful agnostic-atheist, but I could never imagine treating her any differently because of that.

    Anyways, thanks for posting your detailed personal journey on the interwebs for all to see!

  16. Excellent writing. You’re very eloquent. Can’t wait to read the next in the series.

  17. Pingback: Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 3: Prayer Studies | Path of the Beagle

  18. christophershanebritton

    Very interesting! I went to school for youth and family ministry but after also seeing the church’s agenda I was disgusted with the people I had once trusted so much. If you look even further you’ll find that the government and religion aren’t so far apart as they want you to think.

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  23. Peace be with you. I’m a practising Catholic and I have no problem with God or Science – I have a degree in science and a strong faith in God. More often that not I find that one supports the other, like Einstein said “Science without Religion Is Lame, Religion without Science Is Blind”, similar to St Augustine’s “Crede, ut intelligas” (“Believe in order that you may understand”) Sermon (43.7, 9) http://www.reasons.org/articles/augustine-of-hippo-part-2-of-2-rightly-dividing-the-truth. Augustine knew that understanding was the result of informed faith, not the cause of it. I wouldn’t dare to claim to know more than Einstein or Augustine myself!
    I read this quite interesting book once by a Protestant preacher which told stories of Christian conversions coming through science when the perfection of creation revealed through study convinced them of Intelligent Design, and also spoke of scientific evidence in the Bible which would confirm its inspired nature. This is the book: http://www.amazon.com/Creation-Remarkable-Evidence-Gods-Design/dp/0921714785 I hope you have a look at it if you haven’t already.
    God is the greatest scientist I know and the Church has brought forth many scientific discoveries, such as the field of genetics through the Priest Gregor Mendel. There is nothing we can “discover” that God does not already know :) The Church’s view on evolution is far more balanced than that of Evangelical Creationists, perhaps you have not had the chance to become aquainted with it in your research? Here it is: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution For me it seems to present a mix of logical fact and awe-inspiring mystery (not myth!) – much like the very nature of God Himself :) It shows what is very important, and what is inconsequential.
    This may be a new rabbit hole for you as I am certain your thirst has not as yet been quenched! God is love, and we come from love to love and be loved. I pray that you do not miss the fullness God offers in this life and the next; even though it is a hard road, I always feel life without God is much harder! And that if today you hear His voice, you have not hardened your heart.
    Every question you have every man in history has had. Some found the answer and peace, and others rile eternally with pride and resentment against those who dare to believe.
    I am sorry those you trusted mislead you :( If I had had such an upbringing, perhaps I would have walked away also from that, but never away from my Lord. Please don’t hold Him accountable for the sins of man :( I thank God I have not been in your shoes, but I believe that you were for a purpose, not to walk away entirely, but perhaps to bring back the balance of truth which harmoniously exists amidst the mud-slinging and despite popular (or unpopular) opinion.
    Many blessings that you may find God’s special will in this because you can reach so many people and God wants to use you for a special task :) I conclude with one of my favourite words from Blessed John Paul II from Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2) http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html. Seek with an open heart and you shall find the truth, my brother :)

    • >> Peace be with you.

      And also with you. :)

      >> Einstein said. “Science without Religion Is Lame, Religion without Science Is Blind”,

      Einstein’s conception of God was closer to The Laws of Nature than to the God of orthodox Christianity.I think what he meant by that quote is that scientists should never lose their sense of wonder and awe, and believers should never lose their rationality. In that sense, I agree with both halves of what he said.

      >> Augustine said, “Believe in order that you may understand.”

      I grant that sometimes a “leap of faith” is required before things make sense. However, I found through hard experience that one must also have a way to detect when things don’t make sense even after the leap.

      >> The [Catholic] Church’s view on evolution is far more balanced than that of Evangelical Creationists, perhaps you have not had the chance to become acquainted with it in your research?

      Yes, I read books across the full spectrum. In the next article of this series, I mention the book, Finding Darwin’s God, which is by a Catholic biology professor who is also an evolutionist. In fact, I led a study of this book at my evangelical church!

      >> … if today you hear His voice, you have not hardened your heart.
      … Some found the answer and peace, and others rile eternally with pride and resentment against those who dare to believe.

      You seem like a very kind-hearted person, so what I am about to tell you is with gentleness rather than anger.

      Among my evangelical friends, one of the most common reactions to my loss of faith is to accuse me of having “hardened my heart” or being “prideful”. That’s really annoying because I have invested much more time, effort, prayer and anguish investigating the issues I raise in this series than most of them ever have or ever will. Far from hardening my heart, I pled with both God and man for answers. And my questions were not trivial. They were show-stoppers that required answers in order for me to proceed in faith. Furthermore, I had a 40-year track record of being willing to do whatever God asked of me. So, yeah, it galls me when anyone implies that I haven’t gotten answers because I’ve “hardened my heart.”

      You don’t quite say that I somehow harbor “resentment against those who dare to believe” — you only reference “some” unbelievers. However, I’ll say that I have never met an unbeliever who “resents” people for believing. They might think they’re misguided, but that’s not the same as resenting them. Please see my recent post titled, “How It Felt to Lose My Faith” if you want to learn about my feelings during and since my deconversion. They were not all happy feelings, but “resentment at those who dare to believe” was not one of them.

      Again I say with gentleness that such statements about people who have gone through the agony of losing their faith betray a prejudice that I know a generous-hearted person like you does not intend to carry.

      >> If I had had such an upbringing, perhaps I would have walked away also from that, but never away from my Lord. Please don’t hold Him accountable for the sins of man.

      For the record, I did not become an evangelical due to my upbringing. My family of origin is far from evangelical.

      Yes, “the sins of man” definitely figured in my deconversion. As I explain in Part 4 of this series, the Bible claims that Christians will be better people than unbelievers because they have the Holy Spirit — not to mention a desire to love God, etc., etc.. When, after 40 years, I was forced to admit that the Christians I had known were neither better nor worse than anyone else, I had to ask myself if there even was such a thing as the Holy Spirit. I certainly saw scant evidence of him.

      >> Seek with an open heart and you shall find the truth, my brother.

      Thank you for your kind wishes. What would you say if I told you that I did open my heart, and I did find the truth, but it wasn’t what you or I expected?

  24. Hello!

    Thanks for your reply. Sorry I’ve been a bit busy and unable to find enough time to thoughtfully reply to your worthy response.

    I was Reader at Daily Mass today and the reading struck me. 1 Jn. 3:22-4:6. While reading, you came to mind, and only by the grace of the Spirit could I pray for you while reading to the assembly, both in the chapel and beyond, (part of my job is to manage the streaming of live Mass each day from our Chapel) and not mess up!! If I wasn’t (I assume) on the other side of the world I would invite you to tune in :)

    I’ll put a link here because some Catholic Lectionary arrangements can be confusing! http://www.catholic.org/bible/daily_reading/?select_date=2013-01-07

    I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.

    God Bless :)

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  27. Did you mean “by a Christian” here:

    “I had never read a scientific, comprehensive case for evolution by a non-Christian.”

    • Almost all my exposure to evolution had been from Christian sources — not Christians who were “for” it, of course, but creationists who would say, “This is the evidence for evolution, but here’s why it’s flawed” or, “Scientists claim evolution works like this, but here’s why that’s ridiculous.” When I finally let evolutionists (mostly non-Christian ones) speak for themselves, I not only learned about evolution, but I learned what liars the creationists had been.

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