Monday, January 31, 2011

My Atheist Testimony - Part 1: Getting Saved

Okay, this is my third re-write of this story. I've been waffling on writing this tale for a while now, but since George has offered his "atheist testimony", I suppose this is a great time to complete the tale of my deconversion. I'm also trying to curb my Lance Mannion-esque capability to require three hundred words to say "hello" (sadly, I have none of his wordsmithing skills - while Lance can make those three hundred words interesting, the experience of reading my prose is most similar to receiving repeated blunt force trauma to the kidneys with a frozen rainbow trout). Since every time I attempt to craft this story, I seem to hit two thousand words before I get even a quarter of the way through it, I'll be chopping out a lot of detail that might be interesting to narcissistic little me, but probably boring to most other people, and splitting this post into at least two parts.

The original impetus for this tale is from a comment made by my sister-in-law. A while ago, I was having a discussion with a handful of my wife's family that subscribe to the Jehovah's Witness faith (her father, sister, brother-in-law, aunt and uncle). During the discussion, when it inevitably came up that I'd been a huge Bible-thumper in my teens, my sister-in-law mentioned that she'd always wondered what happened to cause me to doubt the Bible and the existence of God. This conversation occurred over a year ago now (at least I think it was - there have been a few discussions over the years, and my fallible brain has done a good job of mashing them all together into only a couple of memories), and I've been planning to recount the story of my deconversion ever since. So let's get this exercise in navel-gazing started!

When I was growing up, I basically had two completely different families, at least as far as religion went. My father's family was decidedly non-religious. As far as I can remember, the closest I'd ever heard any of my Dad's side ever talk about religion was my Irish grandfather cursing out the Catholics ("Those fucking dogans!") for stealing his parking spot in front of his house while they attended the church a few buildings down the road.

My mother's family was quite religious. Her grandparents were very devoutly Catholic (my granddad is still a member of the Knights Of Columbus), although my Mom converted to Pentecostal/evangelical Christianity when I was quite young. I can't recall religion being discussed often (besides, what kid pays attention to that?), but it was very obviously important to my grandparents, and my Mom followed suit with slightly less ostentatious displays of religiosity.

Because my parents divorced when I was a mere two years old, and my Mom and I moved away from my hometown for about half of my youth, neither side of my family was a huge influence over me, although my mother did her best to make sure that I stayed connected with both sides of my family. It also helped that maintaining strong family ties was extremely important to both clans, and despite the distance, my family was always welcoming and loving. The one exception is my Dad - after he remarried, my relationship with him became almost nonexistant for a number of years (but to save space and stave off boredome in my readers, I'm not going delve into detail on that subject). To this day, I enjoy regular contact with most of my family, though I'm closest to my Mom and my grandfather on my Dad's side (where it helps that I'm his only grandchild with his last name).

When it comes to religion, I have vague recollections of going to a Catholic preschool and elementary school for a couple of years, then transferring to a public school when we moved. I remember going to Pentecostal-type churches when young, having Christian entertainment (I was particularly fond of my "Bullfrogs & Butterflies" and "Nathaniel The Grublet" tapes - thirty years later, I can still remember some of the lyrics!), and going to vacation Bible camp in the summers. From what I can remember, I said my prayers, read my children's Bible stories, and was a good little Christian child. As much as one can be through those years, anyways.

The biggest difficulty for Christianity to overcome in me (especially the Pentecostal, the literalist "Bible-says-it-therefore-I-believe-it" version) was the fact that I'm a nerd. A geek. It took me 30 years to come to terms with that fact, but looking back, it's undeniable. I've also learned to embrace my nerdiness.

In elementary school, I loved science class. I couldn't get enough of dinosaurs, astronomy, geology, and these new things called "computers" that my elementary school had just received a couple of. I was good at math, pretty good at English (THAT wouldn't last), and smart enough to be put into the Gifted Program, which gave opportunities for more challenging science classes!

As I moved up to middle school, "Nathaniel the Grublet" and "The Black Hole" tapes were replaced by Weird Al Yankovic and Metallica. Owl magazine and Encyclopedia Brown was
replaced by Discover magazine and Dungeons & Dragons. What little youthful interest in Jesus I had was pushed aside by computer games like Wizardry and Ultima. During this time, the Satanic Panic hit, and since my mother was a member of an evangelical church at the time, all of a sudden I wasn't allowed to play D&D anymore. I even remember receiving the infamous "Dark Dungeons" Chick tract from someone at church! Mom wasn't pleased with Slayer and Megadeth, but it was a small part of a very eclectic music collection of mine, so she left my music alone.

At that point, I was only vaguely Christian. I went to church, but it was because I was forced to. I secretly played D&D with my friends and told Mom I was playing Car Wars isntead (which was only a lie 3/4 of the time - but I think she knew that). When I was with Christian friends, I acted like a (movie approximation of a) Christian. When I was with non-religious friends, I wasn't a Christian. I was doing what nerds generally do best: rebel in a passive-aggressive manner.

That all began to change when, ten days before my fifteenth birthday, we moved a thousand kilometers away to a small, isolated community of 5,000 people. I was a socially awkward teen with no friends, but my Mom found an evangelical church to join, and she continued to make me join her in going to services. It turned out to be an easy way to make friends, since I was fairly shy and bad at meeting people, but I was familiar with Christianity, though I informed them that I wasn't "saved." Most of them didn't seem to mind, and set out trying to convince me to accept Jesus. I also managed to make a handful of friends outside the church, so I got to resume my nerdy enjoyment of science (especially astronomy and biology) and D&D. But, with a good amount of my time spent with Christians, it took six months for the inevitable to happen.

I still remember the night I got "saved" pretty clearly. I was your typical angsty fifteen year old with few friends, and an absent father. I had been pretty depressed around that time (as fifteen year olds tend to be, no matter what their environment is like), and had been spending a fair bit of time alone. A lot of that time I was angry at my Dad, since I felt abandoned by him. That night at youth group, after the worship service and sermon, there was an altar call. The youth pastor implored, "there's somebody here who needs to forgive someone in their life". (Seriously, in a room with about 20 teenagers in it, could you possibly come up with a more generic, cold-read of an altar call?) I was looking for a way to get out of the depressed funk I was in, so I went up and acknowledged to the youth pastor that I needed to forgive my father. I had a bit of a cry, along with the pastor and a couple of my Christian friends. At that point, the pastor asked if I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart, and I acquiesced. He asked me to repeat a prayer that I can't recall the exact words to (but if you've heard one salvation prayer, you've pretty much heard them all), which I did. The youth pastor looked up at the crowd and nodded with a smile, and the youth group went nuts.

I was now one of them: a born-again Christian. And I would jump in with both feet.

Next: Part 2 - Christianity Insanity


  1. As a Christian nerd myself, I am awaiting part 2.

    BTW, I do not believe Christianity and Nerdom are mutually exclusive, nor science and faith.

    And don't worry, I won't try to "convert you back" or whatever.

  2. Don't worry, I'm working on Part 2. I don't want to rush it out, as I want to handle that part of my testimony honestly. It's too easy to look back and let my current viewpoint colour the events that took place at that time of my life.

    I agree that Christianity and Nerdom aren't necessarily mutually exclusive (and to some degree, religion and science, although that's a different discussion), but in my lengthy dealing with geeks over the years, I've certainly noticed that atheists, agnostics, and skeptics seem to be heavily over-represented amongst nerds.

    Anyways, I hope to address why I said that in a little more detail in Part 2.

    Thanks for posting. It's good to know somebody actually read that lengthy screed!

  3. I look forward to reading part 2 to find out if you threw the baby Jesus out with the holy bath water!

    Sorry, I just had to post that... Can I claim the Devil made me do it?


  4. Good post!
    It is interesting that most of the atheists I know who were heavy evangelicals started out in relatively irreligious households, then jumped in with both feet, then embraced atheism.
    I wonder if this is less common for people who have always known religion, two of my very Christian friends come from that kind of background and are quite hostile to any irreligious intrusions.
    I think the "both feet" jump might also be common among people from irreligious families. Many of the "born into" kids I hung out with were very religious but had found a more balanced stride than me. Novelty might have some play here, as well as feeling like you have something to prove.
    I think in a lot of ways I was pre-wired for religion. I was a history and English geek, I was awestruck by architecture and art, I was fascinated by relationships and communication. These interests made religion- pomp and circumstance, ritual and rites, symbolism, metaphor, aesthetic- very intriguing to a kid who could taste these fruits.
    What made this relationship doomed to failure was my voracious appetite for information. I need to know about everything. I cannot live in comfortable ignorance. My wife calls me a walking encyclopedia, if I find myself in over my head, I will read until I'm competent. I think that Christianity requires a mistrust of facts and some degree of ignorance. Either that or Christians who claim to be otherwise have found a secret that eluded me for years.

    I still want to write at least one more post about testimony. Maybe I'll start it today.
    Thanks again for telling your story.

    1. The 'things' of God are hidden. He uses the 'simple' to confound the wise! Some of the most intellectual people are truly confused at how believer's can...well, 'believe!' No matter how many degrees you earn or enclyopedia's you read you'll never find the answer to God's existence. Because to qualify you must walk by FAITH (trust, belief) and not by SIGHT. (proof) When you seek Him w/all your heart is then that the hidden things will be revealed to you. After the truly first step is when faith is built upon faith and it's almost magical the way He begins communicating w/you (me, others) The experiences are endless of tangible things I've seen, heard, participated in. HONESTLY! ;)

  5. you are brilliant. you are funny. you do go on so i stopped when I found my answer to your 'deconversion.' so sad. The Word of God got stollen from your heart as soon as you opened doors unbeknown to you at the time via Dungeons and Dragons and yes, your music. Duh, 'mega death?' Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He got you good. I googled "how to get an atheist saved' and your link was a top one. Thought it was maybe a former atheist giving his view on what stopped his heart on a dime to be wide open to the Supernatural God not the supernatural evil that lurks everywhere. No one can deny there is an eery evil set out there against us. have a good day.

    1. Hello Alliemo,

      I appreciate the compliments, and I have to agree that I certainly can be long winded, often to my detriment. That's why this post was originally intended to be part one of a two-part series about how I converted to, and then left, evangelical Christianity.

      Unfortunately, you stopped reading long before the "payoff" of this post. You see, I played D&D and listed to heavy metal music before I found Jesus. I was raised in a Christian home, but never fully subscribed to Christianity until later in my teenage years. My Christian testimony on how I got saved was the final couple of paragraphs that you skipped.

      Anyways, thanks to you, I've been reminded to finish off the second part of this post. The fact that I'm on the front page of a Google search for "how to get an atheist saved" definitely gives me the the impetus I needed to complete the tale of how I reached my current religious outlook. Thanks for pointing that out - I'd be lying if I didn't mention that discovery puffed up my ego immensely!

      I'll even take some of your advice and try to keep it concise and to the point.