The Night Atheism First Reared its Head…

I am now an atheist, but there was a time when I believed fervently in God and Jesus. My book, Portrait of an Infidel, describes my exit from Christianity and my embrace of atheism. The follow excerpt is taken from that book.


December of 2005 was perhaps the darkest month of my life. I spent the days alone in my apartment, becoming like a hermit in a haunted hibernaculum. I didn’t bother to look for employment or apply for jobs anymore; I just took for granted that I wouldn’t get them anyway. The days were short as it got dark very early. I spent those miserable days sleeping, staring, brooding, crying, and shuffling around my home like the tormented, diseased, defeated zombie I was. Numerous times I opened my Bible, hoping to recover some measure of hope, some kind of balance, some sense of God’s fingerprint in these desolate psychological wastelands in which I was wandering, but it never helped. The words on the page had grown quite tiresome to me, black and white reminders of a faith that had all but fled, of a religion that appeared to have deceived me, of a joy that no longer existed, and of a God who seemed content to chain me to the rocks with nothing but my injured faith to hold on to as the vicious waves crashed against me.

Despite psych medication, I ultimately became so depressed that I eventually stopped bathing and eating. Before long, my beard went wild on my face. I rejected the pretense of getting out of bed—it was almost as if gravity was keeping me there. I spent the days leading up to Christmas swallowed in a chasm of ennui, turning like a rusty hinge on my mattress, alternating between pounding fists of anger, tears of depression, and the vacant gazing at the ceiling one would expect from a creature that’s no longer fully alive and yet not quite dead.

My life no longer made sense to me. I felt as though I had spent the last eight years living for other people, being selfless, being generous, striving to obey God, cultivating love, orienting my life around biblical values, and trying to conquer sin. When it came to sin, explicitly sexual sin, I wasn’t always successful, although sometimes I was. In any case, my occasional backslides were always followed by sincere repentance. Moreover, when I felt I couldn’t stop myself from sinning, I begged God for the power to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” [1] But I never sensed any power, never any additional capacity to make this decision over that decision. There was no supernatural source of divine energy flowing from within me, radiating outward, filling me with the ability to change.

There was certainly no noticeable “victory in Jesus.”

Not for me.

And now here I was in a moment of deep need, the kind of need that the Bible assured me God was proficient at meeting. Here I was lost in the dark wastelands, wandering aimlessly, crying out in tears and in pain for God to ground me again, to suck me out of the downward spiral, to reveal himself, to show up, to do something, anything. Here I was rotating back and forth on my bed in disheartened agony, all but abandoned by this loving God who had obviously rewarded my faith by turning his back on me.

On Christmas Eve, when a friend phoned and expressed to me that my faith was being tested, that this was precisely the kind of thing God was known for and that it was all part of “his plan,” I cringed inside. I was absolutely sick of this kind of meaningless platitude, evidence of the feeble means by which believers explain those moments when God doesn’t seem to be acting like God. “His ways are higher than our ways,” was the next trite prosaicism to come barreling forth from my friend’s mouth. At this point, I lost it. I made some excuses, hung up the phone, and threw it against the wall where it shattered and fell in pieces to the ground. Feeling like the languid statue of Talos with his rusted joints creaking, I finally got out of bed. This was the breaking point… the moment where everything I had become since 1997 began to unravel. Once again, I began pacing through my home, a bearded, unwashed man, ranting to his God.

“WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?” I screamed into the silence. “What the FUCK do you want from me? What kind of God hides when his people need him most?”

I then recalled the passage in Romans where Paul alludes to the believers calling God “Father.” [2] God didn’t feel like my father. He didn’t feel like a dad who’s there for his children. As I paced, I tried calling out to this “father,” but no comfort was forthcoming.

Then I abruptly stopped pacing as I imagined a fictitious scenario in my mind’s eye. I pictured a huge plantation house, bordered by a heavily wooded forest. A father sits on the patio, sipping tea, reclined in a chaise lounge. His son, about seven years old, is playing only a few feet away. A movement from the brush in the short distance reveals a tiger, which summarily makes his way over to the boy and begins to attack him. The boy, being mauled, maimed, and thrashed about in the mouth of this ravenous tiger, cries out for his dad to save him, to pick up the rifle that is sitting nearby. But the father’s expression grows apologetic as he shakes his head. “Sorry, son,” he says. “But you have to learn to use your faith. Only that will beat the tiger. If I intervene on your behalf, you won’t grow. You won’t learn the lesson.”

“Daddy!” the son screams. “Daddy! Father! Save me!”

But the father says, “I can’t, son. You have to trust me that faith will make you well.”

As the tiger carries the dying son off into the woods, the father shakes his head again and says, “His faith wasn’t strong enough. He has earned his torment.”

This scenario replayed in my head several more times. It occurred to me that if a human reacted to his son’s impending death in such a way, he would be branded as criminal, cruel, and malicious. Yet how many times had my Christian friends said to me during the darkest periods of my growing disillusionment that God was merely testing my faith?

“He’s not going to save you,” they would say. “No, because your faith needs to get stronger.”

I began to see myself much like that little boy having been carried off and mauled by all kinds of fierce tigers. The world, after all, is populated with all manner of beasts. And that was when I began to see God as that calm father, sitting there, expressing indifferent regret, hoping that his son will learn the lesson.

Then, to God, I said, “Is that the kind of father you are?”

But even as I said this, I knew that such a thing was impossible. It wouldn’t make any sense that such a God could be both real and good at the same time. No, a God who could or would allow his children to be carried off by metaphoric tigers simply because their faith was insufficient could only be described as evil. But could God be evil? No, that wouldn’t make any sense either. In fact, if God were evil, that would have to mean… that would have to mean…

……

(and the truth finally shows its face)

……

“Wait a minute…” I said, even though there was no one there to hear me. “Wait…”

(pause)

…that was when, for the first time in the history of my stay on this planet, I entertained a startling new thought, a provocative new possibility that had never before dared to enter into my head…

What if…

What if he wasn’t real? 

What if there was actually no one there at all?

What if the whole thing was nothing more than a lie?

In a moment of spectacular clarity (quite an achievement amid the nebulous confusion that characterized my mind at that time), I realized that when everything else was stripped away and the nucleus of the question was laid bare, there were only three options:

  1. God is real but is unable to prevent evil
  2. God is real but is unwilling to prevent evil
  3. God is not real

All three of these possibilities came with disquieting questions. Moreover, I knew in my heart that there was no fourth option. So I sat down on my floor and wept, no longer certain about anything, a broken man thoroughly disillusioned with himself, his God, and life itself.


 

[1] Matthew 3:8.

[2] Romans 8:15.

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