The castle walls of Hinson Baptist Church stood tall amongst the humble SE Portland houses. I first found God there. Younger than ten, I confirmed to the pastor that yes, I believe in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, yes, I have asked Him to forgive me of my sins, and yes, He is my personal Lord and Savior. The pastor lowered me into the warm water, symbolically washing me of my sins, and pulled me up again, symbolically thrusting me into a new life - a cleansed and forgiven life. These were convictions, held strongly and intellectually. The truth was packaged nicely into a box, placed in my hands, and I cherished it.
Middle school began, and with it came puberty and emotional development. I again found God there. What had been a sensical system of ideas and facts blossomed into an intense craving to be known and loved by the only force that had ever created something from nothing. My thoughts were consumed with my salvation, and the miracle that substitionary atonement was to me. For hours I would converse with my savior, and he would converse with me, and I knew to the core of my being that I was a cherished son of the almighty God. The truth was now inside an even bigger box, held strongly, and now emotionally. And I cherished it.
By high school, much of my effort was spent trying to share the truth with others. Where I could find a listening ear, I would passionately proclaim the truth of Christ, the depravity of man, and the single source of salvation that was freely offered, should one only reach out and take it. Memorizing the book of Phillipians, we took to the streets, looking for anyone who wanted to go to heaven. I chalked up convert after convert, each one another soul saved from damnation by my God, who could be nothing but loving. Where questions arose, someone was there to provide an answer. And I had lots of question. Questions about bushmen in Africa who had never heard of the Lord, questions about how so many smart people could fall for Democratic politics, and questions about hell. I had so many questions that eventually the youth pastors ran out of answers, and I turned to books. Books that didn’t assume the infallibility of the Bible. Books that did not fit inside my box.
Beginning college, the emotion of my faith kept me going strong at first. Though my questions were still present, I was meeting other Christians who weren’t as conservative, but still had the same fire. Perhaps, I thought, the core of my truth was correct, but some of the details weren’t black and white. I could live with that. But when one holds a book to be infallible, and a belief system to be perfect and complete, it doesn’t matter if one factual error is found or a hundred. The bow is off the box, and it’s just a matter of time until it all falls apart.
To agree with one of my favorite songwriters, I discovered hell to be the poison in the well. The conviction that hell, even a temporary one, could not co-exist with any kind of loving God led to a series of, what I believe are logical conclusions. Without a hell, the need for salvation disappears. And without a need for salvation, Jesus becomes irrelevant. Coupled with a thorough review of the arguments for the existence of God at all, my box of truths emptied slowly and entirely over a period of 4-5 years. It is common for people to believe that faith or lack of faith is within a person’s control. I don’t believe this to be true. Whether I wanted to or not, I was forced to watch as my personal lord and savior climbed out of the box and walked away.
It’s been a matter of years since my faith left me, completely and most likely permanently. I am convinced that the evidence does not support the existence of God, and without that issue resolved, discussions of complicated belief structures like Christianity are, to me, akin to debating what color a unicorn’s horn is. But arriving at atheism is hardly a satisfying conclusion. Atheism gives me intellectual satisfaction, but it doesn’t give me hope. I don’t want my life as an Earthling to be the end of the story. While the evidence suggests that it is, my daily struggle is to be content with the evidence. I want to be wrong. I want there to be something else.
If there is something else, it makes sense to me that I won’t find it behind an intolerant pulpit. I won’t find it with people who treat others badly because of how they were born or believe violence is an acceptable method of problem solving. I hold out hope that I might find it in silence. And even if I never find it, I believe there is value in community. I believe there is value in allowing my kids to follow their own path. My daughter learned of God from her daycare provider, and believes very strongly. She knows her dad doesn’t, and her mom isn’t sure. But when she tells me, as she did very recently, “Daddy, I hope that when I’m older I still believe in Jesus,” I believe I owe it to her to be surrounded by those who do, and let the cards fall where they may. These are the reasons I’m here.