I am an atheist, and have been for a while. I do not believe God exists, nor do I believe in heaven or hell. I am an atheist, a sceptic and a humanist.
This letter has been one of the most difficult letters I have ever written, but also one of the most necessary. The time has come for me to be open and honest about who I am and what I believe. I know for many of you this will come as quite a surprise or shock, as you have gotten to know me through my work for a Christian ministry over the past seven years. It will be impossible for me to describe and explain a long journey in every detail, and I will not attempt to do it. But, I will try to give you some background that led me to this point in my life.
The reason I decided to write this letter is not to de-convert anyone, or to try persuade anyone else to accept my position. I am writing this letter for me. I want to be who I am, and be able to freely express what I think and believe. This is my “coming out” letter. It’s part of a journey that began almost five years ago.
How did I become atheist? Those of you who know me well, will know that I do not come to any decision or belief without proper thought and vast amounts of research. My studies in Psychology, Theology and personal sparked many questions in me with regards to the Bible, what it is and what it is not. It sparked questions about God, life, human beings and the world we live in. Life events, both personal and through the ministry, sparked many ethical and moral questions about God, religion and life. Through a long journey in which I listened to and read countless amounts of arguments on the Bible, God, morality, ethics, science and philosophy, I came to a rational conclusion and decision that I can no longer believe that God exists. The evidence, for me, points much stronger to the non-existence of God, than to his existence. I can answer certain questions much better, and much more satisfying as an Atheist and sceptic, as I ever could as a believer. It was a long journey, a hard struggle, and definitely not an overnight decision.
Why have I decided to “come out”? The past two years have been two of the most difficult years of my life. As a “closet” atheist working for a Christian ministry, constantly deceiving people and lying to them about who I am and what I believe drove me to a place where I really hated myself. Constantly feeling guilty for my deception, I became more and more isolated from the world and friends. The reasons I took so long to come out is many, and I do not wish to try and defend my actions in any way.
My wife Lindie had no idea about my journey until about six months ago when I shared the information with her. Since then we have had many good and interesting discussions about faith, religion and raising kids in a mixed faith family. Lindie is still a believer and I respect her faith tremendously. I told the boys, Joshua and Jaiden, about being an Atheist a week ago. I think that they are too young to truly understand what I tried to explain to them. But me and Lindie will aim to raise kids with great moral character. She will impart her faith to them, and I promised to not purposefully try and undermine her efforts. But, ultimately, we would want our boys to decide for themselves which road they will one day choose to walk.
I would like to thank Lindie for supporting me in this. I know it’s not always easy, and has made her ask many questions. Lindie, thank you for allowing me to be me and supporting me in this. I love you greatly and respect you tremendously.
My parents also had no idea about my journey, and they are most definitely still believers. I only told them about being Atheist two months ago, the same day I resigned from my position in the ministry. They by no means deceived anyone or had any knowledge of my beliefs. The moment they found out about my beliefs, they asked me to finish the projects and work I was busy doing. I would however like to thank them for the opportunity they gave me to work with them in their ministry. For allowing me to learn and study, and for supporting me. I know that the news of my beliefs came as a major shock to them, and I hope that those of you who support the ministry will continue to do so.
Do you really believe there is no God, or are you just choosing to not believe in him? I do not believe that the God of the Bible, YHWH, exists. I believe he is like all the other gods that have been around for centuries, that have been relegated to the realm of mythology. He forms part of the mythology of Israel, as they emerged from a polytheistic near Eastern culture and developed into the monotheistic nation we know today. I also belief it’s easy to trace the polytheistic origins of early Israel in the Bible and see how their views developed into the monotheistic one we see in most of the Old Testament. I also believe it is easy to see the development of Satan in the Bible, and the influences of Persian and Babylonian thought on ancient Israel and their understanding of the supernatural. In short, I do not believe God exist, nor that Bible proof he exists.
One question people may ask is what about those experiences you had where you “experienced” God in your life. I believe that those experiences are nothing more than confirmation bias in terms of how my particular community of faith expected me to “experience God”. As Niel Carter puts it: “I can see how I actively worked to conform my own perceptions to match my devout expectations. I learned how to “hear God’s voice” and I revelled in it for many years.” I know for some of you this might be offensive, but it is how I have come to understand “experiencing God”. Those experiences are nothing more than our own thoughts and feelings masquerading as “proof” that he exists.
What about the Bible? In my studies and research, I have come to view the texts that make up “The Bible” as just that, ancient texts. Texts written by men who described and tried to explain their worlds, understanding and experiences of who they believed God was and how he influenced the world and societies they lived in. Before the Council of Nicaea started the canonisation process of the Bible in 325 CE, into what believers now view as “The Word of God”, these 66 books formed part of a much larger collection of ancient writings that spanned thousands of years, many authors and many different contexts. They are ultimately the works of men, trying to explain who God is and how he works. That the books of the Bible have literally value I would agree with. The Old Testament shows how a nation grew from a polytheistic society into a monotheistic society, and preserves for us the history, mythology and beliefs of ancient Israel. The New Testament preserves the emergence of a new sect within Judaism, based on the beliefs this group had about who Jesus was. But, any scholar of early Christianity will tell you that beliefs and views of who Jesus was in the 1st Centenary CE was very wide and varied. This makes the Bible a great source for religious studies. I will also not deny that many of the core moral themes in the Bible helped shaped Western society into what it is today, although I think it is much less than most Christians truly realises. But, that the Bible itself grows, develops and changes its own moral understanding and obligation placed on people over time, also cannot be denied.
What about Jesus? I am in the camp who believes that a person named Jesus (Yeshua) did live during the Roman occupation of Israel. However, I believe historical Jesus is far removed from the persona created by his disciples and early followers who believed he was raised from the dead. And I definitely believe that historical Jesus is even further removed from the persona created by the 1800-year history of the church through doctrines such as the Trinity and various divinity debates within the church’s history. I am of the same view of those within the historical Jesus debate who believe that he was merely man, who had a following and got crucified by the Roman Empire.
Aren’t you afraid of going to hell? No, as I believe there is no hell. In fact, I believe the idea of internal torture to be one of the most immoral and cruel doctrines of the church. I also find the idea illogical, and not very well supported in the Bible. Before anyone rip out their proof texts to show me that hell exists, please be sure to trace the emergence and development of the concept of hell throughout the Bible. You will soon find that the idea of “hell” (as a place of eternal torture) is a very late development in the Biblical texts. Not just that, the idea of eternal torture by a loving God is illogical and cruel. It actually undermines one of the basic tenants of Christian salvation: that the “wages of sin is death”. If you were to go to hell, you in fact receive not death but eternal life. Just eternal life separated from God, being tortured for eternity.
Are you angry with God or the church? This is one of the greatest misconceptions most believers have about atheists, that we must be angry with God or the church. I am not angry with God, nor am I angry with the church. It is true that the death of Luca influenced my path, only in that it made me ask certain questions. But, I do not blame God for his death, nor am I angry at God for not saving him. I am also not angry at the church, nor did I get hurt in the church. But, I am not blind to some of the very unhealthy and even abusive things that do happen in churches, and against those things I will always speak.
If you don’t believe in God, how can you be a moral human being? This is another great misconception many people have about atheists; in that we cannot be moral human beings. I do not believe that belief a deity makes a person moral. Some of the world’s greatest atrocities were committed by people who believed in God. I believe people have both the capacity for good and evil, and many factors (genes, upbringing, society, belief systems, life events, etc.) influence the moral choices a person chooses to make, and the path a person decides to walk. Morality and ethics is by nature a function of society, we need them to create good and well-functioning societies. Belief in a deity might influence a person’s and society’s moral character, but isn’t its sole or only determining factor. I believe in making healthy choices for myself, my family and the society I live in.
I am an atheist, but not an anti-theist… at the moment. What this means is that I may not believe God exists, nor practice any form of religion, but I do my best to respect those that do believe in a deity and practice a form of religion. I have seen and experienced how faith and religion have meant a great deal to many people, how it has actually been healthy for some people, and how it has helped many people to become good and moral human beings. In that sense, I respect people of faith and their right to practice their faith. My wife is a Christian, all of my family, and almost all of my closest friends are still believers. I respect their faith, and hope to maintain those relationships even though my own views have changed greatly.
I know some of you will have many more questions, and I am more than willing to answer those questions to the best of my ability. However, I do not wish to get into great debates, as I am not going to try and de-convert anyone. I will explain my views and beliefs for those of you who want to know more. Ghandi said the following:
Friendship that insists on agreement on all matters is not worth the name. Friendship to be real must ever sustain the weight of honest differences, however sharp they be.
I hope that I may keep your friendship, however sharp my views and beliefs may now differ from yours.