Monday, February 4, 2013

But I was a True Scotsman!

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 beliefs.

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 hell.

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 PremillennialismI 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.


  1. Interesting story. It must be hard to accept that your faith has been misplaced and that much of what you believed was untrue. It's good to know that you got through it - apparently without too much trouble.

    I am one of those lucky people who has always been an atheist. I can still remember the day when I was in Sunday School and the teacher was telling us about Jesus walking on water. I spent the whole lesson looking into her eyes and trying to figure out, "Does she really believe this rubbish or is she telling lies to children just because she can?"

  2. Very interesting. I'm glad you're doing this blog. I really profited from your Kalam critique. I'm looking forward to your further posts on deconverting.

    Bob Moore

  3. Yeah, I am also quite curious how the deconverting went. I have never even been baptized, so the "no real believer" argument actually applies to me. Obviously that says nothing about the quality of my arguments pro atheism.
    As a child - I was nine or ten - I realized that the Adam and Eva story had an interesting consequence: that all people in the world were nephews or nieces. But when I actually said it I immediately realized how silly this was and especially how silly the Adam and Eva argument sounded.
    Still I have fond memories of the church choir and acting in a Christmas play. Like the three times I attended Sunday school it didn't influence me.

  4. I kind of had my creative switch flipped on another topic that I want to pursue first, but I will get to the deconversion story.

    The problem with it is that there are so many parts to it that I want to express, and unlike the other videos I've got it's not really arguing anything, it's just telling a fairly emotional story.

  5. I concede that if the standard is performance, you were a better Christian than I have ever been. I will grant you that you were, are, and unfortunately will probably always be more religious than I am. I am truly sorry that you spent all that time in a Christian home and in Christian churches and never came to know Jesus Christ. I accuse you not. You, by your own testimony, make no claim to have ever known the living God. You conflate disciple with employee. You conflate understanding with logic. You conflate believe with convinced. In order to be Christian you have to have a personal relationship with Christ. You don’t even claim that you thought you had such a relationship. How can you claim to have been a Christian? I know the LORD Jesus Christ because He has revealed Himself to me. He did so because He wanted to promised to when I came to Him with a unconditionally surrendered heart. I did not decide it was the best thing to do. I did it because I realized that I needed a savior; I was lost for now and eternity. And Jesus saved me. It is possible that I am deceived. But, if I am deceived then I am totally deceived and have no chance of being set straight. Jesus is LORD or I am nothing. That is what it is to be a Christian.

    1. Oh, so I didn't "know" Jesus, even though I believed in him and asked him into my heart?

      I had a "relationship" in that I thought he existed and I wanted to follow what he wanted me to do. I thought he was lord of all. I did the same "unconditional surrender", twice. The second time I did it just to make sure since I wasn't clear in my memories of doing it so young.

      So now, tell me - is your relationship different? You say he's "revealed himself to you". Tell me how:

      Has he spoken to you, as in verbally? Do you hear voices, but only in your head? Have you seen him in the flesh - in his risen body?

      Or do you only know him by 'reading his word', not hearing any voices, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Just interpreting the bible over and over, and imagining it? How can you tell the difference between that and the fact that it's all in your head?

      Also, you say you're "nothing" without Jesus. You can have a low opinion of yourself if you want, I suppose, but that's rather unhealthy. Most of us don't need imaginary friends to have a decent sense of self worth.

  6. Are you saying you did know Jesus the living God Creator of the Universe and all that is there in, but, you don’t want to anymore?
    How did He reveal himself to me? Well, I was sitting in a hotel room in Rehoboth Beach DE. I was in graduate school (mathematics) at the University of Delaware and had recently sent my wife and two small children packing back to Erie PA. You see they were in my way. I wanted to be the smartest person I knew and they needed all this time and attention from me which was blocking my goal which was for the good of the family and all. Them being gone I became involved with a married woman who was also a student. She came to understand the error of her ways and dumped me. So, I went to the hotel. I bought a Swiss army knife at the gift shop and was absolutely prepared to use it on myself. But before I did the dead it came to me what they had told me in Catholic grade school. That was the stuff about Jesus being a savior.
    I was never a Roman Catholic I just went to school there because my parents thought it would be a better education than I would have received in the public system. If fact I made great fun of the whole story book and drew stick figure movies in my issued copy during the boring Religion class I had to go to but was not graded on.
    So, there in the hotel room, I got down on my knees and confessed that I had ruined my perfectly good life; that I had sinned with no regard for God or man. I confessed that I needed a savior and asked Jesus: “If you are who they say you are then I am asking you to save me, please Jesus save me from my sin.” Immediately I was lifted to my feet and before I knew it I had put away the knife. The next part is hard to describe. It was like how you talk to yourself but it was not me who was talking to me. I was told to call my mother (I was like 32 at the time) and she would fly down to meet me. She would take me back to Erie and it would be there that I would be saved.

    1. Over the next months and at every turn Jesus Christ showed to me His person, His power, His grace, and His love. I had run up a $32,000 debt over a period of four months that was reduced to zero at a bizarre bankruptcy hearing before which I had confessed to God my gilt and set myself at His mercy. You see none of my creditors showed up even though I had assets. The secular judge said: “This has never happened before; I guess you can go.” And then he stamped the paperwork as closed and the debt was forgiven. So, yes I hear voices in my head. Like the time I sold a car for $2,000 but reported the price as $200 in order that my friend would pay less sales tax. On the way home I was convicted by the Holy Spirit. He did not waste any time telling me what I had done was wrong. He simply told me that when I arrived home I would call my friend and tell her that we had to go back down to the office and record the correct price; I would pay the extra tax. There is no mistaking the prompting of the Holy Spirit He carries far more weight than my conscience. I have hundreds of more like encounters where I have heard the voice of God in my head.
      Reading His Word, yes. Jesus speaks to me through the Word. Do I always know it is Him, no. He is always with me but not in the same intensity. There are times when he speaks to me through His Word so directly that it is hard to remain physically standing or sitting upright. Like the time I was preparing to humiliate my daughter’s third grade teacher who obviously had no concept of how to properly assess (point wise) a test. I mean in a 100 point test there were at least 300 possible one point errors. So, you could get 200/300 on the test and receive a zero. I was so well prepared to embarrass her in front of her principle and was so looking forward as I was sure she deserved it. That morning, it just so happened that the next Bible reading for that morning’s prayer group was Colossians 3 and I was the reader. Let me tell you, when I hit “…if any of you has a grievance against someone…” I could not physically continue. I was on the floor bowling like a little baby. The meeting with the teacher and principle went very well later that day because I took God’s direct correction of the state of my heart very seriously.
      How can I tell it is real? All I can tell you is that is that it is more real to me than the ground I am standing on and ten times as reliable. If you have truly studied the theory of knowledge then you know it is not possible to know reality with physical certainty. Everything we know as truth is based on a set of axioms. My axiom is that these set of experiences is true and real. Your set of axioms include that your experiences are true and real. We are no different in that way. As I have pointed out many times, my God is no more imagined than any other thing you or I take as real. My only hope is that the revelation of Jesus Christ to me is real. I have no plan B. I am all in. Though none go with me, still I will follow. My opinion of myself may be low but it is Biblically accurate. I can do nothing apart from Christ!

    2. Yes, and I am either right or lock'em up cuckoo's nest crazy; I understand.

    3. Don't pretend for one second that our "axioms" are equivalent.

      My "axiom" that I exist is true by impossibility of the contrary. I can't be "wrong" in thinking that I exist, since by the act of thinking, I must exist.

      You on the other hand could very well be imagining all these things in your head. It sounds particularly plausible that this is the case given that you were in a suicidal state of mind when you "found Jesus."

    4. And what do you say to people who've had nearly the exact same life experiences, except with Allah? Or the Hindu Pantheon? Or the more supernatural forms of Buddhism?

      They have the exact same assurances in their heads that you do that it "just had to be real".

    5. I think therefore I exist therefore I think therefore I exist ..... hahahahahaha You are joking right? You can't domonstrate that you are thinking. You only believe on faith that you are thinking. It could be a mere sting of chemical reactions beyond anyone's control least of all the immaginary you.

    6. Those that experience a spirit other than the one true living God and call it god are decieved. Be it them or me, one of us is wrong. There are the spirits of darkness masquerading as the Spirit of light. That is why we must test the spirits. Are you sure you read the Bible?

    7. I have admitted that it is possible that I imagine the whole thing. Your refusal to admit you do the same is sophomoric and unbecoming one who claims to embrace truth. As for my state when I met Jesus, can you think of a more broken, more surrendered, more ideal position to meet him? You are so conceded so self-righteous in your position now. Why you even boost of what a great Christian you were. In fact, you have so much pride that you have yet to even give a hint of your supposed surrender X 2. You will only say “I surrendered.” And so you can check that box off as complete. It reminds me of when I was a boy and I was forced to tell my sister I was sorry when I was anything but. You had more in common with the Pharacies than any Christian I have known. Or can you tell us how it was exactly that you came to “surrender” and what that meant to you? Or would that make you look too weak and foolish to your fellow homo sapiens sapiens?

    8. Are you actually going to try and go against "I think therefore I exist"?

      What's you're alternative? That something that doesn't exist can think?

      When we're at this level of philosophy, it doesn't matter if my "thinking" is "a string of chemical reactions beyond anyone's control", if that's what my thinking is, then fine. Those chemicals and everything else still exist, and it's producing an effect I call "thinking".

      My "thinking" is demonstrating itself to the only person it can, me. I can't demonstrate it to you, but I've already said that. This is why I said I start out with the fact that "I exist" and this fact is demonstrable to me.

      Your "axiom", which is laughable, that god exist isn't demonstrable to yourself in the same way at all. You could be imagining it, as you've admitted.

      I can't "imagine" my thinking, if I'm imagining, then I exist.

    9. So the other gods people profess to believe in could be evil spirits?

      This is an odd all powerful god you believe in, that wants all people to believe in him, and only chooses to reveal himself in a way that you can't be certain of, and also allows evil spirits to give false revelations in the same method to other people.

      Either way, I have no way of knowing if you or the other people are correct in what you say. How do I not know YOU are the one possessed by a demon and Allah is the true god?

      Tell me, how do you test the spirits? I just can't wait to hear this.

    10. "As for my state when I met Jesus, can you think of a more broken, more surrendered, more ideal position to meet him?"

      YES! Yes I can think of a more ideal position to meet him.

      Like me being in my normal frame of mind, when I’m not likely to be imagining things.

      Facts are that you were in quite a questionable mental state when you suddenly “found” religion. That, combined with the fact that you say that you hear voices sometimes (if you were serious) makes me think you might want to seek medical help. There really isn’t any shame in that, this kind of thing happens and it’s not your fault.

      That aside, if you’re going to question whether I “surrendered” or not, why bother accepting anything else I say? You’re calling me a liar in one respect, so why not the others? I laid out some fairly profound actions I took because I had faith, because I believed.

      When my wife and I started “living biblically” before we were married, while still living in the same house, so we could be right with god – we didn’t have to. We could have lied to our pastor; there was no way he would have known at all. It wasn’t economically feasible for either of us to move out of the house at the time, so we were stuck living there until the marriage.

      I did it because I was supposed to, because Jesus would want me to have done it. At the time I thought it was the will of god, my creator, and my savior. I thought it was wonderful that he’d forgive me for living in sin for 2 years before that, and that I had this chance to make things right before being married and having it “be right” by a technicality.
      If you think that my wife and I were particularly happy about stopping the sex before our marriage, you’re wrong. We took that step because it was what we were supposed to do in order to make god happy. Period.

      So if you’re going to tell me I didn’t really “believe”; or that I didn’t “surrender” then you can go fuck off. You’re calling me a liar, I don’t take kindly to being called a liar – especially when it’s related to things like this. And don’t you dare try and call me a Pharisee - until I made this blog post, the only other person who was aware of it besides my wife and I was our pastor. I took the lesson of the Pharisee quite well growing up, no one knew that didn’t have to know until I made this post.

  7. "I think therefore I am" So I must accept that I exist because I am immagined in a skull but I don't have to accept that God exists when He is immagined in the same skull in the exact same way (voice in my head)? No, I only have to accept that something exists. The something that exists is by no means necessarily me. That I fancy it is me is an arbitrary choice that may or may not be reality. That the other voice is God, is again an arbitrary choice that may or may not be reality. Something is going on, but, that the one voice is more real than the other voice has not been demonstrated.

    1. You're demonstrably wrong.

      You refer to your god as the "other voice", except you can't have an other without a sense of identity.

      Further, when did the voices start in your head? Didn't you only have one voice until you converted? Is that when the other voices started or was it before that?

  8. "I have no way of knowing if you or the other people are correct..." You have no way of "knowing" anything for sure. Everything you think you "know" is imagined based on input of all different sorts. You have decided to trust some sorts over others. I have decided to trust a different set of sorts. Your authorities are the five senses and human reason even though they are self-defeating (show themselves to be faulty). My authority is the revelation of God Almighty. If that revelation is false, then all of my eggs will be crushed. If that revelation is true, then I will live for eternity with the one who created me and loves me more than can be imagined.

    1. Logic has showed itself to be faulty? This is something new.

      Here's the thing, logic and reason show consistent results, and one thing we know about truth is that it's consistent with itself.

      You've not even demonstrated that your "revelation" exists, and even if it did exist, that method shows mutually contradictory results - which is why we have "revelation" from Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, Buddha, the angel Moroni, etc.

  9. God requires unconditional surrender. If you are no longer surrendered, then your surrender (both times) was conditional. This is a fact that can’t be denied. You must face this fact. Cursing at me will not help you face it.

    1. Bullshit. I "surrendered unconditionally" at the time. I had no doubts, I was going to do what I thought god wanted me to do.

      Skip ahead 18 years, and I realized what I surrendered to was nothing more than a man-made idea.

    2. Oh and I curse at you because you call me a liar, and you called me a Pharisee, as if I were acting self-righteous. At the time, no one knew what I did or went through. I've not spoken about this until after I deconverted.

      What you're doing is exactly what the actual Pharisee's would say about Paul's statements in the beginning of Philippians 3. Paul must have never been a "real Pharisee", because he no longer believed their version of the story..

    3. unconditional - not limited by any conditions; absolute. absolute - free from restriction or limitation.

    4. Just had ham and eggs this morning and I thought of something. The breakfast was great. The chicken was involved in how great it was but he pig was committed. You were involved in Christianity. If the Colonel would have fixed a mirror to the face of his golf club and inspected the under regions of your kilt, he would have seen no cod. Read 1 John 2:19 and this is my final contribution on the subject.

    5. I had no conditions and absolutely surrendered at the time, and I held to it for almost 20 years before I realized it was a "surrender" to nothing but an idea, and that the idea contradicted mountains of evidence that I do have.

      Oh and your quote of 1 John 2:19 is pretty hilarious. The same thing is said by every single religion for every apostate ever. It's what that actual Pharisee's would have said about the apostle Paul.