While laid-up at home over the weekend with health issues, I’ve had a chance to dig into this book I’ve had for a while called Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. This guy was as deep into the Christian culture as one can get: raised that way from the start, leaving home at age 15 to preach on the streets, becoming a youth pastor, starting his own ministry, traveling town to town and living solely on donations from his sermons (even with two kids in tow), “healing” many and bringing countless people into his flock, writing many famous Christian songs and several full musicals for children…he’s done it all, and he was 100% convinced that he was doing the lord’s work and following a higher call.
And then…cracks began to form in his reality. In his 30s he began to have doubts and ask questions about the things he was teaching. He began to seriously examine the bible and what it actually says, leading him to see the glaring contradictions and downright immoral nature of many of its teachings. He also began to explore areas outside his Christian universe, things he was always told never to pursue: science, philosophy, physics, computers, art, evolution, psychology, and mathematics. Over a period of a couple of years he finally had discovered that he didn’t believe in god, miracles, faith healing, the second coming, the resurrection — none of it. He found it absurd and contrary to logic and reason.
I’m not even halfway through the book yet, and I’m already raving about it to people! It’s a joy to read about his journey of awakening from this absurd dream, and to see how it transformed his life from one of intellectual oppression to one of infinite curiosity and wonder, without having to live in fear and dread of some End Times that will never come. His parents even dropped religion eventually, with his mother saying “Now I don’t have to hate anymore.” His thoughts on religion echo my own (which took me years to cultivate and even admit to myself), though his are far more articulate and his experience as a Christian was far more intense than anything I’ve ever been involved with. It’s a refreshing and validating read.
He also easily dismantles common arguments made by believers, a skill he gained from many years publicly debating theists on the existence of a god. There’s a whole chapter on this, it’s almost like a debate primer.
One of the biggest things in this book that really struck a chord with me is his attitude towards Christians (and people of any faith) as an atheist: he doesn’t hate them or consider them “the enemy”, he prefers to judge people based on actions rather than beliefs. He lost many Christian friends after coming out as an atheist, but he also kept many of them and they remain good friends. They just have different views on god, that’s all.
Now, to me this idea sounds good but it’s difficult to put into practice, because for so long I’ve viewed most Christians as “the enemy” because of their hateful, oppressive behavior and impact on our culture. Hell, they may be the single biggest source of human pain, suffering, and death in recorded history! So I’m not sure how successful I will be at adopting this attitude, but I’m trying…because it’s the non-asshole thing to do, and I’m trying to be less of an asshole these days, believe it or not. And I think for most Christians this attitude would make sense, because as I’ve said before, even I know that they’re not ALL dangerous. They’re just so much fun to ridicule and they often deserve it!
I do have one example to build on which I haven’t ever mentioned on my blog before: my own brother. He’s gone through Christian “phases”, some good and some not (his college years were especially bad), but his latest phase is the strongest and most focused. He’s finally in with some good people and making some good friends, and he’s even got a cause. For the past three years he’s been making annual trips to Liberia with his church group, not only doing the churchy-Jesusy stuff, but also raising money for fresh water pumps, helping rebuild damaged homes, and generally helping out some people who could use it.
Now, I’m not saying I wholly agree with the churchy part. I think that if you’re going to be charitable, do it with no strings attached. You shouldn’t have to do good works at the prompting of an invisible man in the sky who promises rewards in the afterlife. This has been a major sticking point with me because my brother wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for his church. But he’s doing it…and it’s something I never thought I’d ever see him involved with. (Liberia is mostly Christian anyway, so it’s not like he’s over there converting people — I don’t think that’s his church’s thing.) He’s finally found something worthwhile to be passionate about, and I can’t fault him for that. He does rattle on and on and on about it, Liberia this and Liberia that, but I can deal. He’s never been this enthusiastic about something that didn’t involve a computer, so I’m proud of him and I should cut him some slack.
I still think Christians are self-deluded and putting all their stock in a make-believe afterlife, which tends to diminish the life they’re living now, but that shouldn’t negate any good works they do. I just wish more of them were spending time helping the needy like this, rather than working to oppress those they don’t like or spreading their intolerance around.
So that’s my sort-of book review. If you’re not sure you’re an atheist or you’re having serious doubts about Christian teachings, you need to read this book. It’s got a little something for everyone, maybe even believers.