From Christianity to Atheism
I did not grow up in an extremely religious family, but I was raised as a Baptist and to believe in God. I was taught that God was the creator of the universe; that his son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins, and that the Bible was a sacred book; the infallible word of God. I accepted this without question, and knew without a doubt that it was true.
Growing up, I often attended church whenever I had the chance. As adolescents, my siblings and I regularly attended Sunday school each week and Vacation Bible School during the summer. The only time in my life in which I didn't attend a church was the 3 years my family lived in Berlin, Germany. However, my faith and beliefs remained intact and strong as ever, and after returning to the U.S., church going became a regular ritual once again.
During my junior year in high school, my school had a guest speaker. Classes were suspended and all the students and faculty gathered in the gymnasium to listen to a guest speaker. He had come to talk to us about Jesus, and the rewards we would receive by accepting him as our Lord and Savior. Being a believer that Jesus was the messiah, I found the sermon somewhat interesting, and listened intensively as he preached the gospel. Of course, such a speaker would not be allowed in public schools today.
After his little sermon, he invited everyone to come and know Jesus as their Savior. He said that anyone who wanted to be saved, and to have their sins washed away, that they should repeat the prayer that he was about to say. He began praying, and I began repeating the prayer under my breath. I had officially become a Christian.
After becoming a Christian, I felt that I should try to lead a Christian life, the best that I knew how, since I was fairly new at it. I made sure to attend church and Sunday school every weekend, and to go to prayer meetings whenever possible. I felt that one of the best ways to get to know God was to read the Bible. I made it a point to read every night before going to bed, and I figured the best place to start was from the beginning with Genesis.
At first I tried reading as much as I could before I got too sleepy and had to turn in. The book was so boring, it took every ounce of strength I had to stay awake long enough to get through a few verses. I was determined to read the Bible, no matter how boring it was, so I decided to dedicate myself to two chapters a night. This worked out fine for a while, until I got to a section that mentioned everyone that begat an offspring.
So and so was 800 years old and he begat what’s-his-face. What’s-his-face lived 750 years and he begat numb nuts. Numb nuts lived 890 years and he begat . . . Well you get the picture. Needless to say, there was a whole lot of chapter skipping.
Eventually I realized that this Christian thing wasn’t working out. Although I was new at being a Christian, I felt there had to be more to it than this. I eventually gave up living the Christian life, but still maintained a strong belief in God. I would attend church every now and then; and continued to read the Bible every night. However, reading the Bible became more of a mission to complete it, instead of a way to get to know God. I was determined to get through the whole thing, no matter how painful it was to read.
Upon graduating high school, I started attending a Freewill Baptist church. Not because I wanted to get closer to God, but because it had an abundance of females. After attending this church for a couple years, at about the age of 20, I decided to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savoir again. I made this decision after viewing a film about Hell, and the consequences of not asking Jesus to forgive your sins. Once again, I became a devout Christian and a witness for Christ. This time, it seemed different than my original attempt with Christianity. The desire to live a Christian life and to have a relationship with God was much stronger.
I had the great desire to give up the sinful life I was living. I stopped doing things that I knew a Christian shouldn't be doing, such as smoking, looking at pornography, using fowl language, berating other people, just to name a few. I had long hair at the time, but because the Bible said, "...if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him", 1 Corinthians 11:14, I cut it short, just like a respectable Christian male should have. I began watching Christian programs such as the PTL Club and the 700 Club. I sent money to Jerry Falwell in support of his televangelical program. For my monetary gifts, I received a lapel pen that said "Jesus First". I also received a tie clasp in the shape of two tiny feet; it represented the feet of a human fetus at about 12 weeks. I proudly wore both the lapel pin and the tie clasp to church, to show that I placed Jesus first in my life, and that abortion was the murder of an innocent child. I didn't wear a suit to church, but I did sport a nice shirt and tie, so I wore the lapel pin on my collar.
When I became a Christian the first time, I attended church because I felt I had to. This time around, I attended church because I wanted to; I enjoyed it. Only this time, I didn't go to church only on Sundays. There were services on Wednesday and Friday as well, and you can bet I was there. After accepting Jesus as my Savior, I knew I had to be baptized; the Bible said so. I did not want to be baptized in the large baptismal behind the pulpit, because Jesus wasn't baptized in one of those. Jesus was baptized in a river, so that is how I wanted to be.
The "river" I was baptized in was actually a large creek. The creek was large enough and deep enough to allow for "complete submersion", this is how most Baptist denominations perform baptisms. The person stands in the water that is about waist high, his arms across his chest in the form of an X. Two other people get in the water with the person to be baptized. The "baptizer", usually the minister of the church stands on one side and another member of the church, usually a deacon stands on the other side to help support with the submersion. The baptizer says a prayer, and then he and the deacon lay the person back, completely submersing the individual under water for about 1/2 second, and then leaning them back up. I accepted Jesus as my Savior and had my sins washed away in the creek. I was saved. Not only did I know I was saved, I felt I was saved by the grace of God, a sensation indescribable to a sinner who didn't know Jesus. I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that my sins had been cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb.
I became a member of Grayson Freewill Baptist Church, and it wasn't long before "Brother Derrick" was leading the congregation in prayer before Sunday school services. I was pretty nervous the first couple times, because I don't like speaking in crowds. However, it did get easier, and I didn't mind hearing my name called out to lead the morning prayer. It was also my desire to one day become a Sunday school teacher, so I tried to learn as much as I could from my teacher. That dream would never come to pass.
Saturday mornings was a time for "visitation". A few friends and myself would dress in our Sunday bests and head out each Saturday morning to visit with people in order to talk to them about God and Jesus, as well as inviting them to our church. We would select houses at random, usually hitting between 10 and 15 before calling it a day. About 90% of the time we would be welcomed into people's homes to talk about the Lord. And before we would leave, a member of our group would lead everyone in prayer for the members of that home. Of the 20 or so people that we would talk to each Saturday, only 1 or 2 would accept our invitation to visit our church. Most of the people we visited were already members of another church, and some just turned down the invitation. Oh, we prayed hard for those people.
This phase of my life lasted approximately 1 1/2 years, not very long, at which time I began backsliding to my wicked ways. It wasn't that I stopped loving God or no longer wanted to be a Christian, I just felt I didn't have the time to work at it. And believe me, being a Christian takes some work. I was going to college, and was very indecisive as to what I wanted to study and ended up dropping out. I decided to move to Arizona where I had some family who was going to help me find employment. I said goodbye to the members of the church and thanked them for their love and prayers. That would be the last time I would ever step foot into a church, except to attend weddings or funerals; it was in 1986.
From as far back as I can remember, I have always had a fascination for science; for astronomy, chemistry, biology, evolution...And there was always this conflict between what science taught and what the Bible taught. Science said man evolved from a lower life form; a process that took billions of years, where as the Bible states that God created man from the dirt of the Earth in one day. Science also states that the universe is at least 13 billion years old, yet the Bible can only place the age of the universe at a mere 7,000 years. Although there was this contradiction, I never let it get in the way of my religious beliefs. I accepted what science said because the evidence was too great. I saw science and the Bible agreeing with each other, I just had to fudged the numbers in the Bible to match with what science said. Days in the Bible were actually millions of years.
I have always been a skeptic when it came to such issues as UFO's, Bigfoot, Psychics, The Bermuda Triangle. . . So why wasn't I a skeptic when it came to believing in an unproven God? The idea of God contradicted with everything I knew about what science said, but I didn't see it, or didn't want to see it. I never questioned the existence of God, because I knew he had to exist. How did I know this? Because I was told so; raised to believe in God and his son, and that was the only reason. Throughout my life, that reason was good enough for me.
Until I first began to question the existence of God, I never had any doubt for one nanosecond that he existed. For the first 27 years of my life, I never fathomed to ask whether or not God was real. I knew he was real as sure as I knew that gravity worked. Of all the things I was sure of in the world, God's existence and his son dying on the cross for our sins, were the things I was most sure of; no question whatsoever.
I began questioning my beliefs one night while I was out observing the cosmos with my telescope. I was living in Arizona at the time, and as any astronomer knows, Arizona skies are some of the best for observing the universe. This one particular night had the best seeing conditions I had ever encountered, and no other night compared, in more ways than one.
I happened to be looking at a planetary nebula in the constellation Aquila, NGC 6781 to be exact, when I had an epiphany. The dictionary defines an epiphany as "a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience". The seeing conditions were so good, this nebula looked almost three dimensional, just floating there in space. As I looked at the nebula, it just dawned on me...If God is real, and he created the universe, why would he stick that thing out there for no reason. If God created the Heaven and the Earth, as described in the first chapter of Genesis, and we are unique in the universe, then what was all this other stuff out there for? It may seem trivial to most, but that one question at that moment lead to more questions.
Slowly, things started to fall into place. I began questioning the existence of the universe. I realized that the matter in the universe served no purpose; that it really didn't benefit man. Not only was the universe immense, it was old, much older than what the Bible described, but I never put two and two together. I started to question other things that I observed around me; things that didn't make sense anymore, if one true benevolent god actually existed.
Trivial questions, yes, but questions I never thought to ask before. After these and other questions, I realized that everything I was brought up to believe could not be completely true; my beliefs no longer made sense. I became agnostic at first, because I did not want to accept that everything I ever believed in, everything that I was ever taught, was just a lie. There was a part of me that still wanted to hang on to the belief in God, and the Christian faith, but it just wasn't adding up. There is a saying, that if it doesn't gel, then it isn't Jell-O®, and everything I believed in just wasn't gelling at all.
After further research into what I beleived, I apostatized my faith and became a strong atheist. That was about 18 years ago, and my life is no worse off now, than when I was a Christian. Frankly, it's actually gotten better. I no longer have to worry about living my life to appease some deity. I no longer live in fear that if I live a "life of sin", I'll end up in Hell when I die. No greater weight has been lifted off my shoulders, than the weight of Christianity. It's like a man who has lived in slavery most of his life suddenly being set free.
It is hard for some Christians to accept the fact that one of the sheep had left the fold so voluntarily. Some Christians would say that I had become disappointed in my faith, or that I blamed God for some terrible event in my life, and this is why I turned away from him. Well, that is simply not the case. The fact is...My eyes were opened. To say that I blame God for something bad that may have happened in my life would be like a child blaming Santa Claus because he didn't get anything for Christmas. It is pointless to blame someone or something that doesn't exist.
Other Christians have said that I was never really a Christian, or I was never a "true" Christian. Just because I went to church, that didn't make me a Christian. Well sorry; I was just as much a "true" Christian as Billy Graham. When I fell to my knees and begged Jesus to forgive my sins and to come into my life, I did that in true faith. When I stood in that creek to be baptized, in front of my family and friends, I wanted everyone to know that I wanted salvation through Jesus Christ. When I visited with people to try and get them to come to know God, I knew without a doubt in my that I was doing the Lord's work. If God truly existed, then he knew how sincere my "heart" was, and how much I truly believed in him and his son. So, yes, I was a "true" Christian in every sense of the word.
Now, I no longer live a lie; I live a life.
© 1998 Derrick Miller