Pastor Graham Barlin sent me his seven page précis of what he believes atheism to be, called “Atheism Lost.” It seems to be from a sermon, or perhaps, intended pastoral he wrote. I intend to do a thorough review of his seven page explication, but first I should admit that I don’t know much about Mr. Graham Barlin except that he emailed me out of the blue and started quoting scripture to me—which without any context seemed rather meaningless. Random quotes are fine, don’t get me wrong, I like a good quote sharing like the rest, but it seemed rather arbitrary. After a few exchanges the topic of atheism came up.
Now if you’re a regular reader of this blog you will know that I was a Born again Born again, baptized twice, in the Assemblies of God Church, a strand of Protestant Evangelical Christianity, which I actively, and piously, adhered to for nearly three decades. Until recently, I was an ardent acolyte of Christian faith—and a passion for my beliefs raged within me as strong as my love for Jesus Christ—or more specifically—it was because of my beliefs that Jesus was Lord and Savior and the Redeemer of the human race, who brought us out of sin, by paying the ultimate price, his life, and thereby cleansing us through one final atonement—via these beliefs I came to have a personal experience with Jesus as I worked hard to follow his teachings.
Granted, I wasn’t perfect. Like all peoples, I had my flaws, and perhaps the most fatal flaw was my undying curiosity and thirst for knowledge. After about five years of intense involvement with Biblical Criticism and New Testament studies including reading nearly 150 books on historical matters related to Christianity, I gradually shifted in my position about what I thought I knew. As it turns out, convictions are best left uncontested, but when they are challenged, and when they are challenged by opposing information which seeks to override the cherished beliefs you hold dear to your heart, it’s no simple task merely to ignore these challenges. Many people retreat further into faith—and practice a type of blind faith—so they don’t have to ask the questions these sorts of challenges raise. But I was bold—intrepid—and perhaps a little naïve. I thought my faith was impervious. I accepted that doubt was natural—but no doubt was too big—in the end, I believed, the Bible had all the answers—but more importantly—God would show me the way.
As I investigated my faith, I did something most people who study religion usually do not do. I made a pact with myself. I promised myself that for every religious history or theology book I read I would balance it out with a science book. I didn’t want my faith to be lopsided by a lack of real world knowledge, because I felt that the real science, and the real wonders of nature, would only reaffirm my faith—and ultimately reinforce and strengthen it. So I dove right in—reading books on evolution and cosmology, divided up by books of ancient history and religion, which in turn were divided up by books of psychology and cutting edge neuroscience. Philosophy books were stacked next to theology books, and the more I read, the more I came to see a very specific pattern of human involvement in the area of religious belief (but more on this later).
After five years of this regiment study plan, I finally admitted to myself that I was no longer a believer. Now I didn’t get upset, although I found the prospect a bit of a letdown. After all, my faith had failed me, not I it. I tried my best to understand it, and like most people I know who have become nonbelievers/atheists, it’s not because they never took the time to understand religion, but often times, they become nonbelievers because they understand their religious beliefs and experiences all too well.