I grew up in an evangelical Christian household. I believed that Jesus was the Son of God, that the Bible was the inerrant and inspired word of God, that belief in Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior was the only way to avoid eternal punishment in Hell and have eternal life in Heaven, and that Christianity was best understood as a personal relationship with God. I remember at a young age, around 4 or 5 years old, praying to accept Jesus as my personal Savior and to let the Holy Spirit into my heart. Christianity was, until relatively recently, the lens through which I saw the world.
While I was sincere in my faith, I sometimes felt like the way Christianity was modeled in the evangelical church — a deeply emotional and personal relationship with Christ in which there is deep and frequent communication — didn’t quite map on to my experience. While I had the occasional transcendent/deeply emotional/spiritual experience, I felt that God was distant or that I wasn’t hearing from Him as often as a good Christian should. However, I didn’t allow myself to entertain my doubts until my college years.
I went to a private Christian university for undergrad. Every student was required to get a minor in Bible, which included two classes on the Old Testament, a class on the New Testament, and several other classes such as Spiritual Formation, Progress of Redemption, and others. Additionally, students were required to attend at least three on-campus chapel services per week. Faith was constantly being reinforced and was discussed constantly. While it was acknowledged that having doubts was something that everyone experienced, the culture on campus subtly discouraged being open about them. It was easy to put on a smiling face and hide my doubts from others, and even from myself.
When I graduated in 2018, I still considered myself a Christian, though I was coming to grips with the doubts I had. My Young Earth Creationist worldview had shattered (as I outlined in my previous post), and I was left wondering if the other foundations of my faith were more solid or merely shifting sand.
I don’t recall if there was a definite moment where I decided to critically reevaluate my faith, but I eventually felt that it was something that I needed to do for the sake of my intellectual honesty. However, because Christianity was the entire foundation of my worldview and identity, I couldn’t handle scrutinizing more than a small piece at a time: leaving my entire worldview up in the air would have provoked too much existential anxiety. My deconstruction was a slow and a difficult process that took almost two years.
One of the most influential things that has shaped this journey happened in early 2019 when I watched Jordan Peterson’s Psychological Significance of Genesis lectures (YouTube playlist link here). I found Peterson’s analysis to be incredibly illuminating. His framing of the stories and imagery in terms of Jungian archetypes and evolutionary psychology explains so much about why the biblical stories (as well as other narratives) take the forms that they do and why we find them so compelling. Listening to his lectures helped me to realize that a literal view of Christianity and hard atheism were not the only two options, that a metaphorical view should also be considered.
I was pretty familiar with the common Christian apologetics arguments, which had been continually reinforced throughout my college years. There were several arguments that I considered to be foundational to my faith: the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe, argument from objective morality, historical reliability of the old testament, reliability of the New Testament (specifically that the gospels were eye witness accounts of the life of Christ and His resurrection, etc.). These were the pillars of my faith that I decided to reexamine.
One of the resources that I found most useful in helping me sort through these issues is the YouTube channel Unbelievable?, which hosts conversations between Christians and skeptics on issues regarding faith, often featuring high-profile scholars, philosophers, and theologians. While both sides usually made good points, I eventually found myself agreeing more and more with the skeptics.
Fine-tuning of the universe: the fundamental physical constants of the universe (e.g., strength of the gravitational constant, strength of the strong nuclear force, etc.) and the ratio of their strengths relative to one another appear to be precisely tuned in order to allow life as we know it, and the probability of this happening by chance is incredibly unlikely. Therefore, it seems plausible that our life-permitting universe had a Designer. However, this argument assumes that the constants could theoretically assume any arbitrary value and that those values would all be equally likely in a multiverse scenario. But because we do not have other universes to compare ours to, we do not know whether the values for constants we see are likely or unlikely. In addition, life evolves to fit the constraints that the universe enforces. If the fundamental properties of the universe were different, it seems to me that life still may have emerged but simply would be in a different form.
The argument from objective morality: objective morality can only be grounded in a Moral Law-Giver, objective morality exists (as evidenced by human universals of strong moral intuitions and moral behaviors), therefore a Moral Law-Giver (God) exists. I no longer find this argument particularly compelling partly because I no longer believe that morality is truly objective (I would describe it as subjective yet universally shared), and because the evolutionary explanation — humans are a highly social species and a sense of morality increases cooperation/reciprocal altruism and therefore increases evolutionary fitness — is just as explanatory.
Historical Reliability of the Old Testament. I also came across the YouTube channel Digital Hammurabi, which features interviews with scholars who specialize in archeology and literature of the ancient near East. I was shocked to learn that the evangelical understanding of the Old Testament (taking the books at face value and trusting them as historically accurate) was mostly unwarranted based on archeology and a critical literary analysis. For example, no archeological evidence has been found indicating that Israelites were ever slaves in Egypt or that a mass Exodus of hundreds of thousands of Israelites ever occurred (it’s hard to believe that such a large scale and economically disruptive event would leave no archeological or literary traces if such an event truly took place). Additionally, the Israelites likely did not conquer Canaan as outsiders, but instead were originally Canaanites themselves. Similarly, Yahweh was originally one of the gods within the Canaanite pantheon, and the Israelites’ monotheism developed out of that.
Historical Reliability of the New Testament. I also watched many debates and presentations regarding the historical reliability of the New Testament. I find Bart Ehrman’s analysis especially convincing. The gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus, and are anonymous. The earliest known attributions of the gospels to the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not occur until about a century later. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the gospels in the New Testament are from eyewitness sources. The more likely scenario is that as the stories traveled by word of mouth for decades, the legendary and miraculous elements of Jesus’s life were exaggerated and grew until they were eventually written down.
In early 2020, I came to the conclusion that I consider myself an agnostic, maybe a “soft” atheist. I do not currently believe in the existence of a God or gods. While I think that a god could exist, I also think that there are strong arguments against believing in the evangelical understanding of Christianity (as outlined above). If I do return to faith, I expect it would be a much more metaphorical view than the evangelicalism I grew up with, though I’m not sure what that would look like. I imagine there is a sort of scale of metaphorical reductionism regarding faith: on one end, Christianity is entirely metaphorical and merely a product of evolutionary psychology and mythological developments over time. On the other end, the Bible should be interpreted mostly literally. And somewhere in the middle, while many of the stories described in the Bible are not literally true, their mythological development could be seen as God beckoning humanity toward the divine and the archetypal Ideal, with that Ideal culminating in the figure of Christ.
My faith journey is far from over or settled. Where along this metaphorical axis the truth lies is something that I’m continuing to think about. Regardless of where I end up, I’m grateful for the upbringing that I had. I believe that religion and spiritual experience is very important to the wellbeing of humanity and that it plays crucial roles in the development of values and cultivating community.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7–8