Friday, 13 March 2015

The (Shortish) Story of a Failed Atheist

This was originally posted at my personal blog the Failed Atheist.

Within the next few months I would have been a Christian for ten years and that seems like a long time. Not only did my life go in the direction I had never expected but I’m also the sort of person I never expected I’d be. Over the last ten years I’ve often been asked how and why (two very different questions) I became a Christian which to most people seemed an obvious and embarrassing mistake. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because most people post 9/11 and Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ have gone the other way.

School Nativity

I could write a lot but I will try my best to stick to what I think are the most salient points and not ramble. So, I grew up in a secular non-religious single parent family and as far as I can remember like most British children I was in the school nativity play (I was a shepherd) and was occasionally read the odd Bible story by a neighbor. Although the only one I can actually remember was the wise judgement of Solomon found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. I spent one year at a Church of England primary school and if I’m honest the only thing I can remember is that the Priest was a bit of a weirdo.

My Early Doubts

My interactions with anyone I knew who were religious amounted to the JW’s stopping by to give me a copy of the Watchtower which I probably fed to the dog. I also happened to live very near to a massive Mormon temple but it was years before I even knew what  a Mormon actually was and why they wore magic underwear. I remember a friend of mine in Biology class when I was about 13 asking me whether I thought there was a God, I can almost remember verbatim what I said to him, “I like the idea of there being a God but there is no evidence for one”. I suspect if people were brutally honest most would prefer to be born in a universe where their existence mattered to the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator of the universe. The reverse being what Bertrand Russell so eloquently summarized the astronomers view of the human life to be “...a tiny lump of impure carbon and water crawling impotently on a small and unimportant planet…“. Of course I should point out that the degree to which we prefer something to be true has no bearing on whether it is in fact true. I digress.

So by 13 I was persuaded that the universe I inhabited was not created by any deity, and that evolution alone explained life’s journey from the (simple yet incomprehensibly complex) single cell organism to complex carbon based life as reflected in natures pinnacle creation the ‘wise man’ Homo sapiens. Most people I grew up with were either atheists or agnostics although my next door neighbors were Roman Catholics but if I’m honest I didn’t have a clue what that even meant. I just remember my mate coming back one Sunday with tons of money telling me it was his ‘Holy Communion’. I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t think to ask but I remember being jealous, I could’ve done with people pinning cash to my tracksuit bottoms.

Charismaniacs (I believe there is a distinction between Charismatic & Charismaniac)

My next interaction with Christianity came in the form of my grandparents who had become Christians of the excitable Charismatic variety, it was weird and I remember just thinking that they had been taken in by some religious cult. Whenever I saw them they would talk about the church and their Pastor, I remember being about as impressed as getting stung by a wasp (My grandparents are no longer Charismaniac’s after both of them converted to Roman Catholicism and are awesome people). Looking back the thing that was most strange and sadly far too common in Charismatic circles is that they spend far longer talking about ‘their’ church and Pastor than they do about Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world not your charismatic, ‘anointed’, self-appointed ‘Apostle’ or ‘Pastor’.

School and Safeways

I’d since finished school and after never doing any homework, giving in late coursework and doing little to no revision I surprisingly didn’t get very good grades in my GCSE’s and subsequently couldn’t take any of the A-Level subjects I’d wanted to. I managed to persuade my school that I would change for A-Levels and they graciously let me in. I got excluded three weeks later. So I took a job at the local Safeway’s (now Morrisons) and made my purpose in life to party more, drink more and do crazier things than anyone else, something I excelled at. I managed to get all under 18’s banned nationwide from attending Safeways Christmas parties, unsurprisingly that didn’t help my work relationships, after all, no one likes having their Christmas party shut down by the police after 45 minutes. Needless to say this did not make me flavour of he month.

After that I moved to Norwich to live with some BMX friends where I lived in a small cupboard for £10 a week rent for 6 months. Norwich is lovely I recommend a visit, friendly people and a nice castle. I feel like I should just point out that I was not very well read, the only book I can actually remember finishing from 12-18 was ‘Of Mice and Men’ and that was only because I was forced to in English. Yet I was still very opinionated and argumentative. I had intellectual problems with the idea of theism, but, the idea of reading a book about not believing in God would have sounded about as fun to me as getting kicked in the gentleman area.  I didn’t need to read a book to tell someone how silly the idea of God was, it was obvious right? I suppose as an atheist I would have considered myself to be a mixture of the non-theist and intellectual atheist going by these categories.

Grandad’s Garden

So, moving on. I ended up being out of work for a bit and so dabbled in some laboring and landscaping work, I wasn’t very good but I ended up spending a lot more time with my grandparents (the Charismatic converts I mentioned earlier) doing work in their garden. They would incessantly badger me about their church, Jesus and what I believed, I remember telling him to F-off (Foxtrot Oscar) more than once during that time. But what it meant was that I was confronted for the first time to properly to evaluate my life, my worldview and the fact I was actually pretty ignorant of Religion, Philosophy and anything else slightly highbrow. I remember having a lot of questions and thinking to myself that I should probably do a bit of reading so I can prove how stupid my grandparents were.

Staines Library

My first course of action was to head to Staines library (not because it is in any way special, just my local library at the time) where I stumbled upon ‘The Case for Faith’ written/edited by Lee Strobel, a journalist who interviewed Christian philosophers and theologians like William Lane Craig and JP Moreland about the big questions. This was either a stroke of luck or divine providence, the first Christian book I had encountered led me to the best defenders of the Christian worldview which made it much easier for me to do further research. The book itself was not that good but ts strength was in that it led me to the names of some of the best defenders of the Christan worldview. If you have ever been to a Christian book shop you will know how small the chances are of coming into contact with a decent book let alone in a public library. This led me on a journey that took me just over a year reading about different religions and worldviews, I eventually got to the point where I was at least persuaded  that you didn’t have to be stupid (I know some atheists claim that it helps) to believe in God which had been one of my starting assumptions.

The Starry Sky above and the Moral Law within

I remember becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the answers I was finding and struggling to understand how atheism and naturalism could account for the cosmos and morality. I like what Kant says about those two things, “Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me“. It was these two things that persuaded me that Christian theism was worth exploring further. This led me to spend a lot of time looking at the strongest presentations of Christian theism, Jesus’ resurrection, the problem of evil and the reliability of the Bible. I think I was becoming increasingly persuaded that my atheism wasn’t as robust as I had though and Christianity was far more reasonable than I had ever expected. I wish someone had told me sooner, it would’ve saved me a lot of grief.

I then became more interested in the person of Jesus and wanted to read more about him in the Gospels, to cut a long story short, I was persuaded that Jesus was who he said he was and that he had in fact risen from the dead, as weird as that sounded it seemed like the best explanation of the historical data. I decided I should do what Jesus said and repent and ask for forgiveness which I did and that was 10 years in March. What is hard to grasp from this though is the change of character this encouraged. I remember one friend telling me of all the people who could have become a Christian I was the last on his list. I went from being a “nutter” to someone who liked to read, think and talk about the big questions. Looking back I can see how strange this might have looked to people, especially my family. But the gospel is powerful, and the New Testament is full of unlikely misfits/weirdos and nutters who ended up following Jesus, so I didn’t feel like my experience was either strange or unique.

Since then I ended up in an African Charismatic church which was teaching the prosperity gospel and being that I had actually been reading the gospels I left that church after a year and was left quite hurt after experiencing some ‘light’ cultish shunning. I still keep in contact with a few good people from there but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. This left me struggling to feel like I even wanted to be part of a local church for at least a year and I only started going again when I met my now wife (she is awesome) at University. I felt very skeptical of church leaders for years after because I felt that I had been taken advantage of in some way, but I didn’t know what a local church was meant to be like.

My First Year as a Christian
Life was pretty tough that first year, I had to move out of my mum’s place because her boyfriend hated Christians, so I had to live in a converted garage on the floor for a year. Reading the Bible more I very quickly realized I needed to sort my life out, it was a mess. So I enrolled in college so that I could eventually go to University, however, this meant attending college three days a week and for two of those days I was working 12 hour night-shifts in a frozen warehouse. This meant I got no sleep or rest for those two days and had a ton of homework. It was ‘mildly’ stressful. I also had to try to give myself an education because I’d pretty much cocked up school. This led me to books, and so I started reading lots and I was filled with a desire to read and learn and to finally put my God-given brain to some use. It seemed obvious to me very quickly that the wisest and most inspiring people in the world had been readers and so began my pursuit of wisdom.
This is getting way too long now so I will just speed things up, I bought lots of books and I pretty much read a book a week now, went to University, met my wife on our first day at a Christian Union Quiz night, got a job, did another degree whilst working and currently in the end stages of an MA in Moral Philosophy and now have a beautiful little daughter. The last 10 years have been crazy, its had its highs and its lows but certainly it was rarely ever boring, lonely sometimes but never boring. There is a ton I could write and I have skipped a lot of significant information but I’m more than happy to answer questions and clarify anything I’ve written if you happened to be interested. I hope you found it interesting.

I have a recommended reading list where you can find some of the books I have found helpful throughout my journey.

Colossians 3:17


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