It took a little while, but I managed to get my first comment from a believer where it's claimed that I must not have been a true believer, or that I must have been a poor christian.
This sort of thing is bound to come up almost any time
that anyone leaves a religion and starts advocating against their former
It's the first online "No True Scotsman" that's been leveled my way, and I admit that I almost want to wear it like a badge of honor. To be fair, I've had it happen to me before in person, and I think that this makes for a very nice springboard to point out exactly how much of a believer I was. To be fair to my commenter, there is a bit I left ambiguous in my "About Me" post that led to his confusion.
So lets start clearing things up!
What it "Felt Like"
To answer my one commenter, I never heard any voices. I felt this
chill go up and down my back a few times when I prayed while emotionally distressed. Towards the end I clung to that as a sign that it was all real. That didn't change the fact that even then I knew I can get the
same thing to happen now if I close my eyes and think about it, or watch
something particularly moving, or manage to solve a tough problem at work under a hard deadline.
My "relationship with Jesus" was pretty much reading the bible, understanding
why the church interpreted verses a specific way, and then following
what was taught because this was the word of god. There was a relief of
the sense of fear I had when I "rededicated myself to Christ" at age
11, mainly because they were showing us videos of people being sent to
My Church History
One thing that wasn't very clear was my church history, so let me reveal a bit more.
I was born into a Catholic family. I was baptized as an infant and attended Catholic school until the third grade. I attended mass and as for the sacraments, I took my first confession and communion.
At the age of 8, my family converted to evangelical Christianity. Specifically, we were Baptists. I then attended Baptist schools from grades 3 through 8. We moved states at this point, but we were still in very conservative Baptist churches. At age 11, at a youth retreat, I couldn't recall the exact details of my "conversion prayer" at age 8, so I re-affirmed my salvation and "accepted Jesus into my heart".
In high school, I attended an Evangelical Christian school that was not directly affiliated with a church, however I still attended the same conservative Baptist church until I was 17.
I attended Awana as a child, youth group as a teen, and volunteered in various ministries. I witnessed, I converted people.
Every day at school from 4th grade until my Senior year I had bible classes that covered scripture, doctrine, and church history in detail. Every facet of my education until college was taught through the lens of the Christian worldview. This includes "creation science", it was like the curriculum came directly out of the wet dreams of Ken Ham.
A Brief Respite
I then (luckily) went to a secular college. At this period in my life I didn't attend church any longer because of a schism in the church we were attending and the fact that I was rebelling (aka having sex), but also because when you major in engineering and take 18 credits a semester, you don't have a lot of free time. That said, I still "believed" through these years, though I didn't attend church.
In fact, as I was finishing school I was well underway dating the woman who would become my wife. I converted her to the stricter form of evangelical Christianity (she was nominally christian before). We then went looking for a church, because it was important to us and especially in her new found faith.
Back in the Habit
We attended a Methodist church because another couple we were friends with were attending. We left the church after about three months when the pastors were rotated and a female minister was being installed. My wife and I were both uncomfortable with that (this fact is a source of shame for us now), and that's when we looked into the doctrinal parts of the Methodists.
We then joined an Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC-USA) after that; basically a conservative denomination that broke off of the mainline Presbyterian branch once they started to liberalize.
This was a bit different from my Baptist upbringing, but this specific church was liberal enough on the TULIP's of Calvinism to admit that they didn't know if Predestination vs. Personal Election was correct, but that they leaned towards Predestination. They admitted it came down to how to interpret various verses in the bible, and that it was "one of the first questions to ask the Lord when we get to heaven!"
That being the largest issue doctrinally for me, we stuck with the church. I was particularly impressed with the EPC's motto: "In Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity; Truth In Love."
How and when baptisms happened wasn't the big issue for my version of Christianity. I didn't think god cared much. What he cared about was whether or not you believed you were a sinner. He cared that believed Jesus died for your sins, and that you accepted that the only way to heaven was by accepting Jesus's sacrifice. There was no real difference in the "core" parts of prescriptive behavior between my Baptist upbringing and the EPC - "the greatest commandment" still held.
We went there for 8 years, and I was a volunteer for the sound team almost for the entirety of our membership. My sound duties necessitated that I be one of (if not the) first people at the church every Sunday, and I was at the Tuesday practices almost weekly - for almost 8 years. I was a trustee for about 4-5 years. I volunteered for various ministries and events. I tithed 10% weekly. I attended a small group regularly for about 3 years, towards the end.
That's when I deconverted.
I knew what I believed
This should make it fairly clear that I understood the doctrines of Christianity very well. I've had about as much formal training as you could expect of someone who hasn't gone to seminary. I've read the bible, I know the mainline interpretations of the major passages.
When I say that I "encountered apologetics" when I was deconverting, that's not exactly the case. I had encountered them before in school, but like most Christians they merely "made sense" and reinforced my worldview. I had no interest in philosophy at the time, academically I was too enamored with science and math.
This is what happens when you're taught that god and Jesus exist from the same time you're learning that water is wet and that 2+2=4, and you have the same people teaching you both sets of facts.
Part of the reason why I felt no need to go further into apologetics was that it was presented as an open and shut case. The arguments were laid out, we were drawn through to the conclusions and it was "Checkmate, Atheists!". At that point there was no struggle when I encountered apologetics, you may as
well have told me the sky was green than tell me that there was no god. No one around me questioned anything religious in nature.
When you're in this kind of world, you barely know anyone who isn't a Christian. I barely knew anyone who wasn't my specific brand of Christian until I got to college!
There were some struggles. Eventually in college I had to deal with actual science debunking Young Earth Creationist science that I was peddled in my conservative Christian schools. I had to deal with Evolution being fact, though I never let the theological problems inherent with that belief ferment. I just didn't bother, my teachers at college, many of whom were Muslim reinforced the idea that god could create using these methods, and the churches I attended after college were liberal enough to allow members to hold these views.
I didn't just know, I believed...
Most educated Christians appreciate that there's a difference between belief and knowledge.
I didn't just have the book training, I actually believed Christian dogma. I can relate this through a few stories from my life. I realize some people will think these stories are fake, but such people can't really be convinced. You can read this and decide for yourselves if you think I'm lying.
Belief as a Child
The churches and schools I attended taught Premillennialism. I believed in the rapture, to the point where from age 11 forward, I refused to ever be in a room with any of my cats that had the door closed. I threw a fit if any of the other family members ever fully shut the door with the cats in a room that didn't at least have water in it.
This was because the rapture could come at any time, which would leave any cats in the room to die of dehydration - a long painful death. If they weren't locked up, they'd at least last a while before someone would invariably loot the house and they could escape and have the chance of a relatively quick or painless death in an earthquake during the tribulation.
Belief as a Teenager
When I was in college my grandfather was dying. Grandpa was an alcoholic since well before I was born. He was also an immigrant that barely spoke English, and due to drinking, was never really in a "solid" state of mind.
We had no idea if he accepted Jesus, he was nominally a Catholic. He really couldn't carry a conversation or understand what you were talking about beyond the most simple concepts. We thought he was going to die, so I went with my "religious" side of the family and while there I couldn't take the uncertainty any longer. So I lead a prayer over him, spending a good amount of time trying to explain and re-explain the gospel, asking if he believed Jesus was the son of god, if he would accept him as his savior.
The still-Catholic side of my family that was at the hospital left the room, but my family was rather proud. I broke down in tears afterwards because we weren't really sure if grandpa was aware enough to actually be saved. This happened while I wasn't attending church regularly.
Belief as an Adult
I make no bones about the fact that during college I "fell away" from church. Like most teens, I became sexually active. After I had converted my girlfriend (now my wife), we were engaged and living together in our own home.
Because of our faith and at the urging of our minister, we segregated ourselves in the house and went back to abstinence until our wedding. If the fact that we managed this as a young couple (that's a code word for "we fucked a lot") should show that while we weren't perfect Christians, we took our beliefs seriously once we started attending church again.
Add to this the extensive weekly work I did for the church, the tithing - well frankly if I didn't believe this stuff, then I sure as hell sacrificed as much as you'd expect from someone who did sincerely believe.
Don't tell me that I was a bad disciple for Jesus.
Don't tell me that I didn't understand.
Don't tell me that I never believed.
And don't tell me that I "discovered apologetics while trying to leave my faith". I discovered apologetics when I started questioning.
I had questions. I saw no good answers, and I didn't like the conclusions that led to.
I was trying to go back.
Belief is a very interesting thing. Can you force yourself to "believe" Islam is true if you're a Christian? I certainly wasn't forcing myself to believe the stuff I was taught, I just believed. I acted in ways that were hard on myself because I believed they were the right thing to do.
I left the church for a variety of intellectual reasons that I will cover in a future post. There was nothing traumatic, no "big sin" that was in my life. Just exposure to good people that weren't Christian, and life experience showing me that the bible was wrong on some very important things.