From Deism to Agnosticism to Atheism?

I have addressed numerous subjects during my many months of blogging. One of those subjects is whether miracle testimonies or positive personal anecdotes prove the existence of God. I concluded that they do not, largely because of a thing that I haven’t mentioned a lot by name: confirmation bias. The website Science Daily describes confirmation bias (with regards to science and psychology) as a “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”

A good example of confirmation bias would be when someone excitedly praises God when a parking space is open “for them” close to the front of the store. Various factors were involved in making that happen, all more to do with fortunate timing than anything else. If you want to bring the divine into it, you have to say that God (or a higher power) was personally responsible for the time the original parking space holder left home, the amount of time they spent in the store, and the exact time they pulled out to go home. God was also responsible for the actions that you took to get to the store at that exact moment. This would mean that God was somehow directly influencing even the smallest of peoples’ thoughts and actions- and doesn’t he/she/it have something better to do than to preside over who gets what parking space? More importantly, this muddles with the concept of free will and takes us into controversial predestination territory.

There is a website called The Odds Must Be Crazy that addresses the mathematical probability of various events. The purpose of the site is to express that certain things that we think of as “meant to be” or “synchronicities” aren’t as special as we think that they are. For example, if your friend calls you just as you’re thinking of them, you might think of this as an uncommon occurrence, but the probability of this happening is higher than you might expect. Or maybe you unexpectedly run into someone that you haven’t seen in years at a place where neither of you has ever been before, on the anniversary of when you first met. Or maybe- as I heard recently on the radio- you, your mom, and your grandma all end up having the same birthday. Is a higher power really responsible for these things, or are they more or less random chance?

It has been very hard to separate myself from the notion that “everything happens for a reason” and “some things are meant to be.” It is awfully unromantic to think that the universe began expanding inexplicably and is moving naturally towards entropy, with us existing as simply a consequence of this. We are very insignificant in the grand scheme of things, so it makes sense that we would try to draw significance from the finer details of life.

This brings me to my next point; is there an intelligent being that created the universe, and if there is, do we really have a duty to worship him/her/it? These were questions posed to me- more or less- by my younger brother, and these were some ideas that I had never considered. He also asked, if there really was a god who created everything, would he really be hyper-focused on such a relatively tiny part of his creation?

Again, we must envision the bigger picture here. Proponents of intelligent design propose that there is a god that created everything, and more often than not they describe this as the Judeo-Christian deity. Why would a god so advanced require animal sacrifice, and later on, a human sacrifice in order to forgive our sins? Why would God be concerned with our sins in this way? Why would He, being privy to our human frailties, require unconditional worship and devotion? Surely, we were created with more in mind than stroking the divine ego. Why if, in the end, belief was so important to Him, would He not reveal Himself more clearly to His creation?

Often times I am told not to ask why, but to simply accept the Bible is God’s word. My question would be, “On what basis?” There are plenty of purported “holy” texts that have preceded the Bible by centuries, and there are plenty that have come after that are said to amend it. Where is the starting point that will eventually lead us to the truth? Also, Christianity has yet to sufficiently explain how extreme human suffering fits into God’s loving plan for us and our planet.

So where does that leave me? When I started my journey away from Christianity, I still believed in God. I believed that “something” had to have made us. I later described this as the underlying life force of the universe. I believed that this being/entity could be contacted in meditation in order to receive guidance, but did not necessarily believe that the this being intervened on our behalf in the physical world. This helped me to resolve some of my misgivings about the apparent inconsistency of “divine intervention” in the world. As time went on, however, I began to feel frustrated at the thought of an intelligent god that existed but was unable to aid me or others in any practical way.

After my experience with that form of deism, I moved on to agnosticism. Maybe God was real, but there didn’t seem to be a concrete way to find out. Throwing out the idea of a higher power altogether did not quite appeal to me. Plus, the pity and/or disgust exhibited towards atheists from Christians was still something that I was keenly aware of. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1) was something that I have heard quoted my entire life. I was also familiar with Paul’s diatribe in Romans 1, where he states the creation itself is a testament to the invisible God. To say that I did not believe in any god at all seemed so final, so defeatist, and so concrete. I was afraid to exhibit that kind of certainty about something that had seemed so uncertain to me.

Despite all of that, here we are. Here I am, not seeing any reason to believe that there is an overruling higher power, yet still unwilling to let go of some of the baggage of theism. When something fortunate happens, I am still tempted to believe that there is hidden agency or that there are unseen forces pulling the strings (even though that also requires believing that misfortune is divine as well). I also had my experiences with 12-step programs, where admitting powerlessness and surrendering to a higher power are touted as foundational steps towards recovery. This “God presence” seems to permeate every aspect of our society. To step outside of that understanding, I feared, would make me a pariah to people that I loved. I envisioned the looks of disbelief when I told people that I no longer believed in any sort of intelligent creator.

The question, however, isn’t about how I will be perceived, but rather what I perceive to be true. I ran into a man, almost a stranger, who told me that I was going to hell if I didn’t believe the story about Jesus. Those were his perceptions. When he had asked me why I didn’t believe anymore, I told him that it “just didn’t seem real to me” and I told him I had some doctrinal issues. He told me that that was unfortunate, that it really was real, and after that was when he told me that if I didn’t believe in Jesus I was going to hell. He told me that he was “just the messenger”, as if that would soften the blow a little bit. Needless to say, it did not.

There wasn’t time to continue the conversation with him, and he would never have been able to understand my point of view anyway. I just went away from that, marveling as I do nowadays at the ease with which Christians are able to express their beliefs in this country. You have beliefs that are wholly based on a lack of evidence, and yet they roll off the tongue as if they were established fact. Once upon a time, I felt the same way. I was sure that there really was a man who miraculously rose from the dead 2000 years ago, seated himself physically in heaven, and would someday return for his “spotless church.” Never mind that we have never seen any evidence of heaven when we peer into the vastness of space, or the fact that to pass through the atmosphere- and then also survive there- is a pretty farfetched idea. Of course, Jesus was God, and somehow being God makes you able to trump the laws of nature. Also, maybe we can’t see heaven because it’s not up but rather in another dimension? (No Christian has ever told me that, I am just hypothesizing.)

A lot of Christians say that it takes just as much- if not more- faith to believe that we all came from nothing and then evolved, than it takes to just believe the Bible. I would beg to differ. I think it takes a whole lot of blind faith to ignore mountains of archeological and scientific evidence and still insist that the earth is merely thousands of years old. Or to see the complexity of the universe and believe that an invisible man in the sky created it all with his words in only six days. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I feel that knowing that is what opens the door for more discovery and knowledge. Christianity claims to have this whole thing pegged down, and I just can’t accept those claims.

Ultimately, though, the purpose of my blog is not to discredit Christianity. It is simply a personal record of my journey from faith to disbelief. Even describing it like that- “faith to disbelief”- subtly supports the idea that belief in the idea of god is positive and a lack of belief in the idea of god is negative. Atheists are often isolated and judged based solely on their lack of belief in a deity, which is in many respects only one aspect of their lives. Atheism isn’t all about “disbelief” but it is also about the things that we do believe in. Many of us have faith in ourselves, in our friends and family, and of the ability of good to triumph over evil. The difference is that we do not depend on a higher power to bring about change in the world, but we allow the burden of responsibility to fall squarely on our own shoulders. It is a sobering position to be in, but we accept it because we believe that we have no other choice.

The next time I hear another story about guardian angels, miracle healings, “coincidences” (it’s always said with quotation marks), or Jesus helping someone find their car keys, I will again be reminded that confirmation bias allows people to interpret these events through the lens of whatever faith they ascribe to. If someone warns me about the possibility of hell, I will ask “Which one?” (also a great question if they urge you to believe in God.) The truth is that most of what religion has sought to explain can now be explained using our knowledge of biology, natural laws and how the universe operates. Every time someone tells me “God did this” I can ask, “Are you sure about that?” If your loved one was healed of cancer, are you sure that was God, or was it medical intervention? Are you aware of people that eschewed medicine in the name of God and died? If someone sent you money just when you needed it, are you sure that was God or was that just their intent meeting fortunate timing?

As I stated earlier, people take the pervasiveness of theism in our society (especially here in the U.S.) for granted. One of the most common things people say to encourage another person is, “I’ll be praying for you.” People often throw up the exclamations, “Oh my God” and “Thank God” regardless of their level of religiosity, because those ideas are so woven in to our culture. Natural disasters are legally called “acts of God”. God is everywhere and in everything, and like I said, stepping outside that narrative presents a lot of challenges. It hasn’t been easy for most people who have deconverted, and it hasn’t been easy for me, but I am ready to face the future with my eyes wide open.

 

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8 thoughts on “From Deism to Agnosticism to Atheism?

  1. Ah…Christians and their parking spaces! I think God is fed up of those prayers 🙂
    Seriously, I believe in God because he has made himself real to me and I have had far too many amazing things happen in my life that only he could do. People can argue ‘intellectually’ until they are blue in the face, but nothing can refute a personal relationship with him. Call it emotionalism, hyping yourself up, being childish or whatever, the true Christian KNOWS there’s a God because he makes himself real to those who open their heart to receive him. The bible says that it is a fool who says in his heart there is no God and that is not because God wants to insult you but because he has made his existence very clear indeed. Nobody can take a sperm and egg and turn it into a baby whose heart is beating in two weeks of conception, nobody can put the intricate details of a flower together, nobody can fathom how big the biggest stars are. But we could go on like this all day and get nowhere, for the hard-hearted will always refuse to see what is plainly obvious. God cares about you and wants to have a relationship with you but it is your choice. Hell was never made for human beings, but if you choose to be deceived and follow the wrong path, unfortunately one day you will realise Hell is very real. You don’t have to publish my comment because this is your blog and you have the power and control over what is seen. But I wish you all the best in your journey for truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.
      You used the example of the sperm and egg coming together to form a living embryo with a heartbeat as being evidence of the existence of God. Fair enough, but then, why is the process so imperfect? Every year thousands of children are born with physical defects. Also, some pregnancies of desperately wanted infants fail to carry to full term. Does God simply treasure some lives above others?
      You also mention that a Christian knows that God is real because they have a “personal relationship” with him. That is your perception, but not everyone seems able to experience that closeness with God, as you call your higher power. If God really wants to make himself known to everyone, why do people have such varied experiences? Why do people across cultures- and you cannot tell me that none of them are earnestly seeking God- have such vastly different interpretations of God?
      Finally, you mention hell, where people who “choose to be deceived” will go. You seem to have glossed over my question when I asked “which one?” Various religions have different versions of hell and how to escape it, but you just jump to the conclusion that the Christian depiction is accurate. Also, you assume that people willingly turn their backs on God by choosing to ignore the “plainly obvious truth” when the “truth” is not nearly as obvious as you paint it to be.

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      1. Your questions do not surprise me as all Atheists seem to use the same arguements. God doesn’t need anyone to ‘stick up’ for him as he says himself that he has made the world in a way that clearly proves his existence – that is how he shows himself to all those who are willing to accept what he says rather than try to use their intellect. He is a spiritual being and our minds are not any where near fathoming things out because when we do that, we are trying to understand with a limited brain. It is like a blind person telling you he doesn’t believe in colours because he cannot see them or understand the different shades. Just because he cannot see them doesn’t mean colours do not exsist. And the disabled children thing – and the poor kids starving in Africa thing. When mankind disobeyed God, his sin made the world imperfect. So imperfect things happen because this world has been tainted. That is why wasps are nasty. And rats and scorpions etc. They were all perfect before ‘the fall’. We basically live in a world that has been tainted by evil but God in his mercy has offered us a way out. So that is why there is decay and disease. He may allow certain people to be afflicted with things but only to show his glory by showing how he can bless them in that circumstance. Have you heard of Nick Vuijic? He was born with no arms and legs but has a wonderful relationship with God because he has reocgnised the power of God in all circumstances. He swims far better than I do and God has blessed him with a beautiful wife and children. Look him up on the internet (Life Without Limits) It is how we respond to things that determines whether we grow bitter and bitter each day or see how God can do amazing things through our weaknesses. He does not force us to love him because he wants us to love him willingly. If we dragged our kids to us and forced their lips to kiss our cheeks, that would not be willing love. God wants us to love him because we want to not because we feel we should out of duty. I hope i have answered everything and that helps you understand things a little better. xx

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      2. You say that atheists always use the same arguments, but I feel that Evangelical Christians (and I was one for years) fall back on the same arguments time and time again as well. You say that God has said that he has made the world in a way that clearly proves his existence. Where did he say this? If you are talking about in the Bible, it is important to note that God never wrote a single word in the Bible. Men wrote the Bible based on what they believed God said, and most religion, or even just other denominations are based on that fact. Who are you to say that rhe Bible ended with Revelations? According to Islam, God added to and corrected it.
        And as for your blind man analogy, the blind man can fall back on others’ knowledge because there is a clear consensus on what colors are and how rods and cones work in the eye. Try to imagine what would happen if no one could agree on what was green or blue or yellow. That is exactly what it is like trying to navigate the world of religion today.
        Also, you talk about the fall. Is this based on the old story on Genesis? We have no evidence that any of that happened, but we do have evidence of species developing over time.
        I actually have heard of Nick before and think that his story is indeed amazing.but it doesn’t prove that God exists, only that faith and spirituallity have a positive effect on someone’s life and health- something that even science concedes.
        Have you heard of scientist and atheist Stephen Hawking? He has ALS and is confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or use most of his body. Yet he continues to work and live a fulfilling life. He has also far exceeded his life expectancy. Humans are resilient. We can overcome amazing obstacles, sometimes through believing in a higher power and sometimes through meditation or having a positive outlook. These are personal experiences and cannot prove or disprove the existence of God.

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  2. I grew up in an evangelical household-“asked Jesus into my heart” when I was 4, and believed it with every fiber of my being until about 4 years ago, when my husband de-converted from evangelicalism to atheism. What followed was, without doubt, the most painful and dark two years of my life. In the end it led me to the point I’m at today-deism.

    In some ways, deism is almost as painful as those initial months after my husband told me he no longer believed in God. It sucks to think there is this being who created the entire universe, but apparently cares so little for his creation, that he lets wars run rampant, and thousands of innocent people (many of whom are children) be killed by treatable diseases, war, and famine.

    As you stated, if he wants us to believe in him, then why does he not reveal himself to us?
    He created us in specific ways, so now we get punished because the way in which we are created makes it impossible to believe in him? And because of that we have to burn in hell for all eternity? Also, IF the Judeo-Christian belief is the one true belief that leads people to heaven, then that is super shitty of God to let one side of the world have chance after chance after chance to believe in him, while the other side, populated with billions of people who are just as sincere in their beliefs as any Christian, goes to hell because they never had the chance to hear the “truth.”

    Anyway, I apologize for the rambling, but all of that to say, at this point I really am ready to stop believing in a god. My brain isn’t quite at the point where it can accept that, but I want to be there, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the matter.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my post. Your argument was one of the reasons that I struggled so much with deism myself. It’s not fun to believe in a God who is strangely absent from the human experience.
      I know it doesn’t matter now, but my dad used to say that people who never heard about Jesus don’t automatically go to hell, but rather they go to the judgment where they are “judged according to their works”. However if you hear and reject Jesus there was said to be no hope for you. But there are so many reasons- as you’ve pointed out- that people might not believe the story.
      I hope you are able to find peace, no matter what you decide.

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