Since the question of my deconversion almost always comes up eventually, I figured that as a first blog, I’d go into the story and answer it before it comes up. I have lost count the number of times I have heard your question and it always makes me smile. It’s been 6 years now since I changed my ideological opinion and while it’s been some time since I’ve looked in a mirror and gasped at what I saw, there is still the recurring thought that I have turned into the very thing I used to preach against. Life, it seems, is full of irony.
I went to Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, MI after high school, with the intention of becoming a pastor. I was still very much a believer and had already begun studying extensively, mostly apologetics, in particular the works of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. However, as my mother once told me, I was going to ask too many questions at some point. Considering where I now am, it would seem that I did.
I had already become convinced of evolution and had been struggling to fit it within my studies of the “bible.” I then started studying philosophy particularly christian philosophy. Reading the likes of Carl F.H. Henry and Gordon Clark, I spent a short time as a presuppositionalist, though was rather irked by the criticisms offered of it by evidentialist apologists. Thus, I started reading the opinions of other points of view from the source. This was, in hindsight, my final “error.” In reading the actual people who I’d spent my life preaching against, I realized that often the apologists for christianity lied about or mischaracterized what the other side said. It was not difficult for the needles of doubt to begin questioning why this was so. Then I read “Atheism” The Case Against God” by George H. Smith. I was convinced inside of 60 pages.
There was no single event that changed me, no relationship that ended or emotional experience that troubled me, at least in so far as being the singular inculcating event. Certainly, the troubled relationship I had with my parents didn’t help and the attacks of 9/11 showed me just how much fundamentalism and ideological commitment can affect the world negatively, but these were points along a long line of questions and life experiences. I never believed to believe, I was a believer because I thought it answered my questions. When it ceased to do so, I left it.
So, I am an atheist. I like to explain it by saying that if you were to stretch out my beliefs in a long line, there would be a gap where the question of a “god” would be. There is no affirmation, there is only an absence. Where people say there is an entity, I shrug and say there is no clear definition, no ability to talk about the supernatural, and as such there is nothing to talk about. It’s like playing 20 questions without the other person giving any clue, only telling you that what he’s talking about ISN’T something, never what it is.
I am also a scientific humanist. I believe that the answer of the divine is to be found in our society, in our ideas about life, seen through the eyes of evolutionary theory and hence scientific discipline. Thus, the power of change is ubiquitous, permeating nature and our ability to understand it. Given our surplus of neurons, we are able to view reality in a way different than any other creature and so shape it as we see fit, but always, always, are we faced with the inevitable finality to our existence. Change is, as I mentioned before, in everything.
I rarely actually call myself a buddhist but I find that people more easily accept that than they do atheism, despite the fact that the two are virtually synonymous. A problem arises due to the many misunderstandings the west has about buddhism. It is not a religion per se, because it has no specific doctrines. It is more a view of life, one in which the only reality is the natural/physical and man’s reason through discipline can be used to grasp it. True, there is a oneness within buddhism but it is not the oneness of the mystic but a recognition that there is only one reality, one substance/process to all things. I don’t agree with every aspect of buddhism, but many of its central ideas are special to me, especially as so many of them are borne out by science.
Hence, I can say that I am atheist/buddhist/humanist. I study, meditate and expand my ability to grasp reality. It is liberating, challenging and I am more at peace now than at any time in my life.
© David Teachout