I suppose the first seed of doubt came in my senior year of Bible College. I was enrolled in a course called Apologetics 322 which is the study of the defense of faith. (For a more detailed explanation of Christian Apologetics click here) Curiously it was the only course that I came close to failing since I could not bring myself to perform the mental gymnastics that it took to argue many of the positions. Apologetics frustrated me since the arguments always seemed to come back to an appeal to faith, shifting the burden of proof or making presuppositions about things that could not be proven. Despite the frustration that the course created more questions than answers, it somehow did not shake my faith at the time. It would not be until several years later that these doubts would propel me to action.

Five years after graduating from Bible College, while being actively involved in ministry, I set out to find out if the belief system that I had held to my entire life was true or not. I found myself at a crossroad: if I was going to continue in my faith as a follower and activist, I needed to know beyond the shadow of a doubt if it was true. The thought of questioning my faith was terrifying. After all, it had been engrained in my mind since I was a child that we were the true church and everyone else was wrong. In a way, until then, I really didn’t know that logically questioning and testing my faith was even an option. Sure, I knew many people who had walked away, but I always thought that they were just mad at God or the people in the church. I had seen on many occasions what could happen to someone’s family and social group when they left the church. I know the outcome could tear apart the very fabric of my life, but I decided that truth was more valuable than whatever the cost may be.

So, I set out on my quest. In the beginning I was quite comfortable that my search would somehow bring me back full circle and my faith would be more solid than ever before. Boy, was I ever wrong. I came up with only one rule for my search: “Follow the evidence wherever it leads, without emotion.” or “Facts without emotion.” This rule allowed me to clear away much of the baggage that I had after years of blind devotion to a set of ideals. It allowed me to approach the quest with as little bias as possible.

Next, I had to figure out where to start. At first I just watched any documentary that I could get my hands on with subjects ranging from Noah’s Ark to the Gnostic Gospels. But, I quickly realized that there is just so much information out there that I needed to focus my search on one subject at a time and I needed a way to properly evaluate the information that I found.

I began with the history of Jesus and the question?: “Outside of the canon of scripture, are there any records of Jesus? If so, how do they compare to scripture? Are they a reliable source? Are the records authentic?” I will go into the details in a later post but in short; there are few records outside of scripture and differ wildly, they are all hearsay accounts therefore cannot be completely relied upon, some are proven forgeries and others are authored anonymously so cannot be reliable sources. With all of this in mind my conclusion from available history: The evidence paints vividly different pictures of the man Jesus and since there are no contemporary records of him outside of scripture we can never know which Jesus was the true Jesus.

The next step was to evaluate the gospels as literature. I was curious how the four different accounts of Jesus’ life compared to each other. When were they written? Were there discrepancies? Are they reliable? Conclusion: The Gospels were written by anonymous authors starting with the Gospel of Mark written c. 66-70 CE followed by Matthew and Luke and eventually John. There are many similarities but are many discrepancies in regard to the birth narratives and the resurrection. In fact, in the earliest manuscripts that have been discovered, the Gospel of Mark does not include either. Conclusion: These are stories that were all written close to a century after the death of Jesus. Each builds on the earliest story and draws parallels to other myths of the time. Jesus most likely existed but his story was elaborated into legend as time passed.

From there I spent a great deal of time studying the theory of evolution and realized that this is currently the best understanding of how all life came about on the earth. (For a better understanding of evolution I would recommend The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins) For years I heard how evolution was “only a theory” and had subscribed to the creation model. How naive I was to think it was “only a theory”. It turned out that I didn’t even know the true definition of theory and what it took before a hypothesis became a theory. Conclusion: Evolution by natural selection is the best working model of how life diversified from a single-celled organism to millions of multi-celled species that we see on the earth today. Similarities among species do not show the fingerprint of a common creator but a common method of evolution among them.

It was coming to the realization that evolution was true that eventually destroyed my faith. I think that this is why Christians are so touchy on teaching evolution in school. For if evolution is true, it brings the very foundation of christian doctrine into question: Without creation there is no original sin. If there is no original sin, there is no need for atonement. If there is no need for atonement, there is no need for Jesus. If there is no need for Jesus, there is no Christianity.

As I continued to look critically at the stories of the Bible it became more and more evident that these were not the infallible words of God, but a collection of writings and pronouncements about a god character passed down for generations and embellished into legend, written down by mostly anonymous authors writing contradictory works that would eventually result in the vast kaleidoscope of religious beliefs that we now encounter.

Today, I am an atheist. I am happier than I ever have been. I am free from the constant threat of hell. I am no longer afraid of death and I live every day valuing the very short time that I have here and enjoy every second of it.

Michael Greenslade – editor, becomingatheist.org

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