The Christian Post’s series “Leaving Christianity” explores the reasons why many Americans are rejecting the faith they grew up with. In this eight-part series, we feature testimonies and look at trends, church failures and how Christians can respond to those who are questioning their beliefs. This is part 1.
Editor’s note: We decided to post testimonies (there are two in this series) from people who are no longer Christians because we wanted to hear their stories and try to understand why they chose to abandon their faith. Our hope is that the Church will listen.
If I believe in God and He exists, I’ve gained everything. If I believe in God and He doesn’t exist, I’ve lost nothing. If I disbelieve, and He does exist, I’ve lost everything. Therefore, a rational person who has any doubt should take the leap of faith just in case. I don’t know when I first heard about Pascal’s Wager, the argument for believing in God based on possible outcomes. It went on to be an enormous part of my training to defend Christianity in a secular and hostile culture and be ready always to give an apologia for the hope within me.
Being a warrior for Christ was, without any hesitation, everything to me. I was homeschooled outside Molalla, Oregon, with a strong emphasis on debate, the written word, and defending the faith. I don’t remember asking Jesus into my heart, but my parents say I was about four or five at an Easter Sunday service. What I do remember is that my entire childhood revolved around reinforcing and strengthening that commitment through a social life centered on church and a curriculum centered on Creation science. I was eight when I first heard the earth was 6,000 years old, which quickly became a central theological litmus test for whether one took God at His Word.
It’s impossible to say when doubts first began creeping in. I remember spending hours on my knees in prayer, my entire emotional focus pinned on talking to God, only to hear nothing back. I would feel my stomach churn wondering if there was nobody there to hear me, then convince myself it was my fault that I didn’t believe hard enough, or that I was trying to connect with God on my own strength, or something along those lines. Then, I’d redouble my efforts to connect to God more strongly in worship, or in Bible reading. If I ever felt doubts, my focus was to study to show myself approved, a workman who need not be ashamed.
So study I did. Delving into the Bible was never my weakness. Starting when I was 13, I memorized twenty-two books of the New Testament, all in KJV. I got some of my earliest public speaking experience reciting chapters of the Bible aloud in front of church, and it was only a matter of time before my pastor was mentoring me to teach and preach from the Word of God. I think I was fifteen when I started, and seriously considered the ministry as a calling throughout my teenage years. I never decided against it, really. I just had the opportunity to go to law school and thought I would get my seminary degree in my spare time. That way, I could be available whenever a congregation might need me to step into that role in the future while making a living in the meantime. So during my two summers of law school, I took seminary classes online, always aspiring to be an advocate for Christianity in the public arena.
On that track, I learned there’s a funny thing about legal education. It requires you to argue for both sides of a case. The better you understand your opponent’s position, the better you will be at advancing your own. So in the interest of being the best Christian apologist I could be, I learned a fair bit about arguments for and against Christianity and took a strong interest in the work of the apologist who influenced me most growing up, Ken Ham. When he debated Bill Nye the Science Guy on the scientific legitimacy of creationism, I was about halfway through law school and organized a debate watch party, ordered pizza, and gathered my evangelical colleagues to root for Ham together. So imagine how devastating it was to watch my childhood icon be so embarrassingly destroyed before my very eyes. Ken Ham brought faith to an evidence fight, and even my fundamentalist creationist eyes could see it. I resolved in that moment to learn more about evolution, astronomy, and geology so that, when it was my turn to debate the Bill Nyes of the world, I would do better than Ken Ham had.
Armed with the ability and the will to research both sides of a case, I channelled my curiosity into philosophy, science, and ancient history to disprove alleged falsehoods in my belief system. In ancient history, I learned just how impossible it is to cram the entire Bronze Age into the time after Noah’s Flood around 2,300 B.C. Growing up I was taught that the pyramids, for example, were newer than that, with whole systems of pseudo-history developed to validate creationism at any cost. The more I tried to investigate, the more problems I ran into. If the pyramids were built during the Fourth Dynasty, I couldn’t just say they were built a little later. I had to push the date of the pyramids more and more recently to make room for earlier dynasties and somehow justify believing that every date recorded both in antiquity and by modern archaeologists was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that the only way it made sense was if all of academia were conspiring against the Bible. Starlight is another good example. Growing up, I was taught that starlight literally speeds up and slows down during transit across the universe in order to arrive from across the cosmos in less than 6,000 years. A simple course on physics, which was not prioritized in my secondary education to say the least, cleared that up without any difficulty. At some indistinguishable point along the line, my quest for effective counter-arguments for Christianity became a sincere search for what I believed myself.
I won’t belabor the examples because plenty of good books have been written on point-by-point refutations of young earth creationism. I only narrate these instances to highlight that I had to make a choice. Could I modify my views of Genesis and keep the Gospel intact? In the end, I couldn’t make it fit. Not for a lack of trying, either. I just couldn’t separate creationism from the Gospel. My entire frame of reference for Christianity had Genesis as its foundation. If the creation story is unreliable, then why believe in the resurrection? If Noah’s Flood didn’t happen as described, then why believe Jesus was coming back someday? I say this with no disrespect for those who do reinterpret the creation account in order to let their faith evolve, but for me, I may as well have converted to another religion or to no religion at all because that was no further from my starting point. To bend my rigid faith was to risk shattering it entirely.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Luke Douglas