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In the 2 days I had allotted to rethink my status as a Christian, I spent most of the morning thinking about what my life would look like if I was an atheist. I thought about a lot of the standard problems that come up between atheists and theists (origin of the world, morality, etc.). The first thing that would typically happen to me when these topics arose in my mind would be for a flood of objections against the possibility of there being no God to present themselves. I’d think of all the things that just wouldn’t make sense if there was no God, things I didn’t think I could ever come to terms with. Things like: If there is no God, how do people have a sense of right and wrong? If there is no God, where did the world come from? If there is no God, how could anything have meaning? Only then, with my Christian objections close at hand (in a previously typical situation) would I have considered in my mind whichever atheist argument had been presented.
I tried something different this time, though. When I recognized one of my standard Christian objections popping into my head, I forcefully held it in suspension so that I could consider the atheist position WITHOUT that objection right there at my disposal (because I wanted to know if it was a valid objection or just a defense keeping me from properly considering the other side). I thought “what if I were a person who genuinely and whole-heartedly sought truth, but I did not believe in Christianity?” What would I, as this non-believing truth seeker, think about these issues? Surely I would have considered those knee-jerk Christian objections and found a way to come to terms with them. But how? How would someone intelligent and seeking the truth look at these objections and still come out an atheist? So I tried to do it myself. I tried to see how I could overcome these objections as someone who genuinely sought the truth but had found Christianity unsatisfactory.
The results of this were quite strange for me. I looked at the world as a godless place and, for the very first time, I could see it making sense that way, but only because I forcefully allowed myself to see it that way. I had to forcefully set aside my defensive objections to atheism in order to see this. I had decided that only if my mind naturally came to these objections would I allow them back. I was quite sure that the objections were valid so I wasn’t worried, but it quickly became clear that those objections were little more than defenses, defenses I’d constructed as a Christian to hold me in, so that in times of doubt I could fall back on them, defenses I never allowed myself to seriously consider the possibility of being false. This made me suspicious. Why had I constructed these “untouchable” objections? I didn’t want a belief system that caused me to create mental walls of defense around it. I wanted to believe something that was free and open to be questioned. If something is true, what’s the need for walls of defense to be constructed around the belief of it? Of course, I had never thought that these objections were serving as defenses. This I only realized after I had suspended them for a time and realized that coming to terms with the atheist perspective is not actually so impossible as I’d thought. It actually made sense. But it never could have as long as those defenses were up.
These considerations filled the mornings of these few days, but usually by the afternoon I’d be defending my Christianity again. The realization that a world without god could make sense was extremely overwhelming and after a few hours of thinking about it I just wanted to go back to what was familiar. So I thought about a world where Christianity was true for most of the afternoon. Although it was satisfying to be back with what was familiar, I started to notice more and more things that I never noticed before about my Christianity. I noticed that my desire to remain as a Christian was nearly always rooted in things other than genuine belief. I wanted to remain a Christian because trying to figure out the world again with an entirely new worldview seemed daunting. How would I decide what was “good” or “bad?”
It also bothered me a little that if I wasn’t a Christian I wouldn’t be able to feel a separation from all those “bad” people. Of course as a Christian I wouldn’t have allowed myself to believe that I was morally better than them but I would have believed that my life choices (specifically my choice to be a Christian) was superior to theirs, that they were products of their base desires while I lived for something higher. Without my Christian belief I wouldn’t even have that. I’d have no way of separating myself from them. They’d just be other people going through life, making choices based on what made sense to them, just like I am. In a way this bothered me. I took pride in my decision to be a Christian. I didn’t really want to become “one of them.” I sort of liked being the one with the “answer.” It made me feel important. But if I wasn’t a Christian I wouldn’t be able to feel so noble and important, shining the “light of Christ” to the lost souls. If I wasn’t a Christian I’d just be another “lost soul.” I’d walk along side them and offer them no eternal cure, because I would have none. This thought was humbling.
I wavered back and forth for the two days that I had set aside to think about the status of my Christianity. Then, on day 3, I went to the Sunday morning service at The Meeting House (church) like I usually did. But, that Sunday I did something that I didn’t usually do. I walked out, because I didn’t believe anymore.
(Sound like the end of the story? It’s not…)