This summer, as I was picking tomatoes in my garden, I wondered to myself, “How did tomatoes become tomatoes?” Once upon a time I would have said, “Well, God made them, and then men developed them through breeding.”
But this summer, I didn’t believe in God.
I think about life apart from the doctrine I was taught. I change my mind when confronted with facts and logic that merit consideration. This year, I became a Freethinker. A Freethinker is “one who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation.”
So instead of telling myself “God made tomatoes,” I wondered, what animals ate them? How did they become tomatoes before they were bred by humans? What were early tomatoes like? What were their ancestor plants?
My childhood wonder was coming back, replacing the certainty of “God did it.”
I grew up with utter certainty. The Bible was God’s perfect word. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so I could go to Heaven instead of Hell. God was good and perfect and wanted me to be perfect also.
I always loved the story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven because of the utter certainty it represented. The Lord was God and Baal was not, because when the servants of Baal prayed, nothing happened, but when Elijah prayed God sent fire to consume the offering. Clarity, blessed clarity. And the Bible said it so it must be true, therefore God was the one true God over all others.
But as I grew, I began to notice problems. Things like, how can a good God send the majority of the people who have ever lived to Hell for sins they apparently couldn’t help due to being born with a sin nature? How is that just?
And questions like, if God made the earth exactly like the Bible says he did, then why does evolution seem so very true and have so much science to back it up?
And if God is always the same, why don’t we have wonders and miracles like Elijah did?
And if people were filled with the Holy Spirit, why were people often nastier in the church than out of it?
And oh so many more questions; mostly I wondered, “Is God really loving?”
Of course, I always strove to find the biblical answers to these questions. I fought, I struggled, I read book after book, trying to reconcile my faith and my doubts, trying to believe that God is good. I read Disappointment with God. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Crazy Love. Love Wins. A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I left my sometimes-toxic church, and during my break, which I meant to be temporary, I devoted myself to studying finding answers to my questions, until I had a faith I could live with, a faith I knew was real.
I had to save the faith because the faith was my life. As the disciples said, as my dad reminded me to say to Jesus anytime I thought I saw problems in Scripture, “You have the words of life, where else could I go.”
I was sometimes accused of wrestling with questions too big for my mind.
I think people can genuinely wrestle with these questions and remain Christian — I am not trying to talk anyone out of faith, just telling my story. And for me it eventually became too many questions; I struggled to justify my faith in God and the Bible.
But then came the deathblow question. I asked myself: “What would make me believe this if I hadn’t been taught it as truth from childhood — what would convince me this was true over Buddhism or Judaism or Islam?”
And I had no answer.
I know the hope of the gospel convinces a lot of people, but for me it wasn’t enough to believe it was real. After months of hunting for the answer to that question, during the most severe and debilitating depression of my life — in which my faith crisis certainly played a role — I decided to take a break from the search for truth in Christianity. If Christianity was Truth and I was hunting for Truth, I would find it. If the Bible was right and all of nature pointed to God, then I figured I should be able to find Jesus without Bible scholars telling me what to believe about the Bible.
I had finally reached the point where I wanted truth above wanting to keep my childhood beliefs.
I believe it was at that moment that I became a Freethinker, when I decided to set aside allpreconceptions and dogma and hunt for truth. Only I still sort of thought it might lead me back to the Bible. It hasn’t.
Once I decided to stop trying with all my might to believe the Bible, I figured I should go ahead and start reading about other beliefs. I started with one little book about atheism: Why I Am Not A Christian by Richard Carrier.
And suddenly, I had changed my mind completely.
An interesting thing happens when you leave your faith and become a Freethinker:
Some of your friends get selective amnesia.
They forget how well you argued for the Bible, how much you loved it and how well you knew it. They forget how on fire you were. They forget all the service you did for the God you loved.
Suddenly you become The Other. The Unsaved. The Immoral. They use the same old arguments to try to convince you back that you once used to convert people.They lament that your children won’t have godly parents. They post trite conversion stories on your Facebook wall.
You become a project, where you used to be a friend. This hurts.
I didn’t suddenly forget the Bible. I know it quite well, thank you.
I don’t need to hear the Gospel. I know it, I just don’t believe it.
I’m not out to make you lose your faith, I just don’t want you to push my old faith back on me; it doesn’t fit me any more.
I don’t hate Christianity, although I hate when it causes injustice, hatred, and pain.
I’m not in favor of outlawing religion, although I will defend the separation of church and state.
I’m not against you talking about your faith with my children, although I won’t let you scare them into a decision with talk of Hell.
By the way, I do parent my children with love and I do have morals. I just don’t get them from an ancient book. I may have changed a lot since questioning my faith and becoming a Freethinker, but really I haven’t changed as much as you might think.
I’m still just a person, trying to love and hunting for truth.