November 30, 2014

How I Became a Christian

Camp Worship
By Paul M. Walsh [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you are an atheist, I'd say the odds are fairly good that you have uttered something close to the following words on at least one occasion:
How can anyone possibly believe much of what many Christians claim to believe in this modern era in which we are now living?
It is a tempting question, and I've certainly asked it myself. But I think it is a fairly easy question to answer, at least tentatively, by drawing on my own experience and the experience of many other ex-Christians.

I am an ex-Christian who has written previously about how I became an atheist and about my path to skepticism; however, I do not recall writing much about how I became a Christian. And as I think about that subject now, I believe it may offer at least one possible answer to the question above.

How did I become a Christian? I was raised by Christian parents who indoctrinated me into their faith from birth. Like most young children, I trusted my parents and believed what they told me. Their Christian messages were echoed and reinforced by my extended family, the people at the church to which I was dragged every week, my peers, and many aspects of the culture in which we lived and to which I was exposed at the time. That is how I became a Christian. And yes, that really is all there was to it.

Obviously, this brief account cannot help us understand how a particular educated adult could still believe any of this stuff today. But it may help to explain why many children of Christian parents initially believe what they have been taught and subsequently identify themselves as Christians. And for those who have never been particularly observant or inquisitive - or who have had a different set of experiences - why wouldn't they still be Christians today?

If I had not been exposed to a few of the great teachers I was lucky enough to have in school, had not found the right philosophy books at the right time, had not been interested in science, and had not had the ability to tolerate the ambiguity involved in asking questions for which there were no clear answers, I might still be a Christian today. And even if I would still be an atheist today without all of these things, I am positive that it would have taken me much longer to get here than it did.

As tempting as it is to feign puzzlement over how any adult could still be a Christian today, I suspect the answer is much more obvious than we sometimes want to admit: they have had different experiences around religion than we have.

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