May 3, 2016

Ex-Christian to Atheist: The Most Influential Book

holy bibleThere are many excellent books on atheism that are ideal for those just beginning to explore it, but one stands above all others when ex-Christians are asked what they found most influential in their journey from Christians to atheists. Yep, you guessed it! It is the Holy Bible. I have seen no other book credited by so many ex-Christians with setting them on the path to atheism than their bible itself.

Of course, I would never claim that reading the bible will make every Christian into an atheist. That would be absurd. I know plenty of Christians who have read their bible several times, and they continue to believe in gods and to identify as Christians. And yet, many Christians never bother to read it for themselves. Some are probably content to trust their pastor to provide an accurate summary. Others may have tried to read it and found it too dense, confusing, or time-consuming to finish. I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons (e.g., illiteracy, lack of interest, more pressing concerns, and so on).

I vividly recall reading the bible for the first time. I thought I knew what was in it based on what I had heard at church and from family. I was wrong. Reading it was traumatic and not just because it was long, boring, and full of inconsistencies. No, it was traumatic because it destroyed much of what I had been taught about the particular god in which I was expected to believe.

To be clear, my first reading of the bible did not make me an atheist. That would not happen for at least a few more years. What it did do was open my eyes to the gulf between much of what I had been taught about this religion and the contents of the book I was told to regard as "holy." And yes, it also led me to wonder why the god who was depicted as being so intimately involved in human affairs seemed so conspicuously absent. It planted seeds that would take some time to germinate but that would eventually take hold.

So many ex-Christians have pointed to their reading of the bible as being instrumental in their becoming atheists that it seems like there must be something there. Sure, they could be lying or suffering from self-deception. But I see no reason to dismiss their claim. I'm inclined to think that their reading of the bible really did help them question and ultimately reject their prior indoctrination just as it did in my case. And this raises the question of why. Why would reading a "holy" book disabuse some their faith?

I think there are at least a few possibilities to consider:
  1. Finding flaws in a "holy" book may lead one to question whether the book is really "holy," inerrant, or whatever else one has been told about it.
  2. Discovering that the god depicted in the bible is not only very different from the god about whom many of us were taught in church but is also a genocidal monster may present some with a shock to their faith that is difficult to resolve.
  3. Realizing just how little other Christians seem to know about the contents of the bible they claim to regard as "holy" may lead one to confront hypocrisy and question the sincerity of other believers.
  4. Confronting the nature of biblical morality may open one's eyes to the absurdity of the claims that this book and the god that inspired it are the sources of all that is good in the world.
  5. Learning about a god who is responsive to humans, communicates with them, and regularly intervenes in human affairs may lead one to question why none of this is evident in one's own life.
For me, it was all the above.

What did I miss? If your reading of the bible moved you in some meaningful way from Christian to atheist but I did not include what did it for you, let me know in the comments.
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