How I Became An Ex-Christian (n.d.)

Robby Berry

 

I was raised in a Christian home for most of my life, but I never took it very seriously until 1986. I was fifteen, and I had joined a youth group called Campus Life (a high-school division of the infamous Campus Crusade for Christ) in February. Originally, I had joined mainly because they offered a week-long trip to Florida, and I wasn't about to turn down the chance to watch tanned girls in thong-back bikinis while my friends were shivering their asses off back in Ohio. I enjoyed the friends I made in the Campus Life group, though, and decided to keep attending their meetings.

Several of my newfound friends were "born again," and they began to witness to me in a low-key fashion. Gradually, I became aware of a "calling" to become a Christian, and in April of 1986, on a Campus Life retreat, I became a born-again Christian. I hooked up with a charismatic church that my parents were attending, and which I myself had been to from time to time. That became my home church for the next few years.

The changes in my lifestyle were fairly dramatic. I pitched several albums which I deemed too sinful to keep, told my then-girlfriend that fooling around was out (we were still virgins, technically, but... well, you know :-), and began to annoy my non-Christian friends with my witnessing. As time went on, I "grew spiritually," which is just a euphemism for saying that I got more and more caught up in the weirdness of the whole thing. I spoke in tongues, I cast out demons, I prayed over the sick, and witnessed to everybody I could. Apparently, I become quite annoying to nonfundies, as I got chewed out several times for being too pushy. Of course, from my point of view, these people were simply "too cowardly" to face the "uncomfortable truths" that I was presenting to them. Imagine your worst stereotype of a fundamentalist--I wasn't that bad, but I was certainly close.

Once I got to college, I began to witness to my college friends and classmates, as I had done with my high-school classmates and work associates in the past. In college, however, I met something I hadn't ever met before--people with well-reasoned objections to Christianity. Up until then, most of those whom I witnessed to had either never given religious matters any thought, or else had only emotional or irrational arguments against Christianity. Winning debates with people like these was easy. But in college, I began to encounter people who had studied Christianity for hours and could point out any number of holes in my apologetics. I was unable to witness effectively to these people, so I decided to embark on a study project to learn more about how to rationally defend Christianity. At first, I read only works by Christian authors such as C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, John Warwick Montgomery, et al. Eventually, however, I decided to branch out into atheist literature--not because I thought I could actually learn something, but because I wanted to show my skeptical acquaintances that I wasn't unwilling to consider their point of view.

Only one slight problem. I began to encounter solid arguments that I simply couldn't refute, and which weren't adequately refuted in the Christian literature I had read. Michael Martin's Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and Arthur N. Strahler's Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy had the greatest impact, although I read literally dozens of books during this time. Further research into Christian literature didn't yield any good answers to their objections, and my discussions with other Christians were equally frustrating. Almost all of the other Christians simply told me not to worry about "apparent contradictions" and "the wisdom of the world." "Have faith! God is smarter than the philosophers!" they told me. But unlike many of my fellow Christians, I couldn't ignore the problems quite so easily. I had been raised with a strong respect for science, its methods, and its accomplishments. I had also been a computer programmer since fifth grade, and this hobby (which later became a career) had instilled me with an understanding of the importance of being rigorously logical. For these reasons, problems which other Christians would have brushed aside troubled me deeply.

I finally arrived at the point where I knew I had to make a decision. I could spend the rest of my life as a Christian. That would condemn me to a life of hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. Or I could become an atheist, which would mean taking my current worldview and mutilating it beyond recognition--to say nothing of losing my friends (most of whom were Christian) and risking the wrath of my parents (I still lived at home at the time). I'd like to say I became an atheist then and there, but the sad truth is that for several weeks I was too cowardly to do so. But finally, I was able to admit to myself that I no longer believed in God.

Emotionally, the process was a nightmare, a genuine living hell. In the months prior to my deconversion, I fluctuated between confusion, depression, self-hatred, terror and rage. Confusion, because my whole worldview was falling apart, and I didn't know what to believe anymore. Depression, because I felt as though I was losing my best friend. Self-hatred, because I hated the fact that I was so "weak in my faith," and I hated even more the fact that I wasn't strong enough to break free of it all. Terror, because I didn't like the prospect of being burned alive for eternity if I was wrong. Rage, because, from my point of view, I had been tricked into believing a load of bullshit. The nightmare dragged on for weeks until I finally decided that enough was enough, I was an atheist, and that was that.

And the nightmare dissolved only a few days later. In the days that followed, I felt devoid of emotions and strangely empty. Not a bad empty, mind you, but a good empty, as though the acidic feelings had drained from my soul, leaving only a peaceful vacuum in its place. The only analogy that truly gets the point across is throwing up. Have you ever eaten way too much food, and felt sick for hours until you finally threw up, and then felt almost completely better only a few minutes later? It was sort of like that.

Emotions did return to me, quietly at first. I felt a bit like a child, as though I was rediscovering the world. In particular, I remember a month-long period in which I became flat-out fascinated with trees--there was something beautiful about the way they branched out, cutting a tangled silhouette against the sky. I also became enthralled with sunsets, and to this day I still love watching sunsets. Everything seemed fresh and new. It was as if in my enthusiasm for the supernatural, I had overlooked all the beauty the natural world has to offer. Now I was playing catch-up, discovering all the neat stuff I'd missed. I also read dozens of science books during this time--I decided it was time to find out how the universe really works, as I didn't want to ever be fooled again.

When I felt I was strong enough, I decided to come out to those I knew. For me, once I had deconverted, I knew that coming out was something I had to do. I came out to my then-girlfriend (and now wife), whose reaction was actually one of relief. (She later told me that she found my Christian lifestyle highly annoying at times.) I came out to my parents a week after that, fearing the worst. I was fortunate--they expressed regret, but weren't angry. In fact, my relationship with them has been far better these last few years than it ever was during my time as a Christian. My mother-in-law was even less thrilled, but she wasn't mad either. The only really bad reaction was from my uncle-in-law, a fundamentalist minister. Fortunately, he lives in Alabama (I'm in Ohio) so I don't have to see him more than once every few years. Currently, everybody who knows me knows I am an atheist.

That's my story. I'll end it with a quote from atheist author George H. Smith: "Is that how it happened? Probably not, but that's how I remember it."


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