So, I have a guy that is emailing me after listening to my podcast series "This JW Life" about my life story before, during, and after being a JW. This guy happens to be an elder and pioneer serving where the need is greater. I love this guy. He's telling me some of his story and he's so genuine, open enough to listen to my story and genuine. He's not trying to convert me back, just reaching out with sincere feeling and he's had his own tough times. Regardless, one question he really had for me was why I no longer believed in a god/creator. The beautiful thing is that he's not being argumentative or anything. He even said that he knew it was quite a question to ask and that he shouldn't ask if he's not prepared for the answer. Below is an excerpt from that email and it just flowed so well as I wrote it that I kind of thought maybe it should be my "atheist manifesto" of sorts.
Why share it here? I don't know exactly. Because it flowed so well and I enjoyed writing it. Because maybe it helps someone else to question where they are if they're ready and/or willing. Because maybe if nothing else it gives believers to see the behind the scenes action of why someone might end up as an atheist hopefully in a spirit of love and not being confrontational. That's what I was going for, anyway.
So, I'll just leave this here for whatever it is worth to whoever may read it. A few things are callbacks to our conversation previous, but you'll get it all easily, I think:
Alright, so now let's get to your question about why I no longer believe in a god/creator. You're right that many that leave do still believe. So then, with such a thing being so fundamental to who we were, so intrinsic to what we did and our hope for the future, leaving that behind has to be done with good reason, right? True, a person could just have their feelings hurt and be lashing out at Jehovah or even the concept of a god, just writing it all off along with the religion that they once held dear. That was never my intent though. I believed and had faith in god, and my plan when I left JWs was to honestly kind of be an independent JW of sorts, if that makes sense. I still thought, even when I disassociated, that they had at least the closest thing to Biblical truth even if I had seen some gaping holes in things. So let's start with realizing that when I left I lost my family, I lost my friends, I lost my religion, so do you think I wanted to lose god and my hope for the future too? Of course not! That's the problem with looking at things with an open mind though. If you go digging you don't know what you will find.
So my first step was realizing that what I was taught by JWs had many holes in it. That was my first crisis of faith. For instance, we were always poking fun at other religions for not taking into account the context of Bible verses, but just as an example if you read the context of Acts 15 about blood you'll see that Paul was merely mitigating issues between sets of people and trying to get them to stop arguing by saying you make this concession, and you make this concession, and let's just get along. Certainly to make it a matter of issue of medicinal blood transfusions is a giant leap anyway. But those are things that we poked fun of other religions for, and it didn't sit well with me that we did it too.
Now, this gets to your "imperfection" critique. True, imperfection exists, and I tried to overlook as much as I could. (Trust me, this all gets to the god/creator thing, but I'm showing you my thought process.) When I started seeing where the organization clearly took quotes from scientists or publications out of context, and the time that I saw them quote what ended up being an ex-scientist that was now a JW as an expert, now it gets past imperfection and to intent. Imperfections are mistakes. Deliberate misquotes and hiding who you're using as experts in one edition of the magazine where he'd be known speaks to intent to mislead. They even went and changed the originals online to hide the original quoted "expert" who was pointed out to be an active JW without acknowledging it in any way after being called out on it. Intent to mislead isn't a mistake anymore, and isn't something that I would choose to follow. I don't like being manipulated or lied to especially in the context of "The Truth".
So once my belief system broke down as far as Jehovah's Witnesses went, I kind or realized that everything I ever stood for was based on one book, the Bible. I just took for granted that it was true, just as I took for granted that "The Truth" was true. Again, I wanted it to be true. Emotionally on levels I needed it to be true. It was my hope, my faith in something bigger than me. But this was a search for truth whatever the cost. I wanted to live more of an evidence based life than a faith based life. Now, if you go by the Bible's definition of faith it is "the EVIDENT demonstration of realities though not beheld", so evidence should bear it out too, but I think that humans have a need to have their "ears tickled" because there are evident realities though not beheld like the fact that we'll all die that we desperately don't want to face. Sometimes we just believe in belief to escape the fears of uncomfortable realities of life like death, or how out of control we really are of so many things that happen to us, particularly the bad stuff. Humans want control. Belief allows us to escape the lack of control. I didn't get into my loss of faith in the Bible or god much on my podcast because I didn't want to take it away from anyone as I believe that many of us need it. I had spent years getting healthy emotionally and mentally and was ready to open my eyes and see whatever I saw, no matter how painful, but I realize that many are not so I skirted the subject as much as I could in my podcast while still remaining true to who I am. In this case right here, in this email, you asked and said yourself that you had to be ready to see what I had to say if you were to ask, so I'm delivering. Anyway, let's get back to looking at the Bible.
Everything I knew about the Bible was learned from JWs and I knew that I could no longer trust them implicitly. At the same time I couldn't just let go of the Bible and/or god/creator easily or over one imperfection. Again we're going to talk imperfection (mistakes) and intent (lies). So I started looking into it and found things like:
The Bible, right out of the gate, the very first chapters, have some real issues. There's a literal talking snake and figurative creative days. Also, if you look at the creative days, god puts the plants on the earth before he creates the sun. Plants need the sun to live. That's a big problem. At the end of the Eden account when the pair are kicked out of the garden an angel is guarding it with what? A sword. There were no swords back then if you're following the Biblical account. Was it god then that introduced them to weapons?
And let's get to why they were kicked out. They were expelled because they disobeyed and ate of the tree. Why is god so insecure that he has to put a tree there to tempt them in the first place? To that point sin hadn't existed, so why this whole test? It makes no sense. Go on to the example of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, again why is god so insecure that he needs humans to prove something to him over and over again. In fact, if you believe the JW version of the future, even after surviving Armageddon and making it through Christ's reign you will have yet another test.
I was always taught that the Bible was scientifically accurate, but the Noah account is full of enough holes to sink an ark. A box of that size and material wouldn't float. There is no evidence of a water canopy and if you had a water lens above the earth it would probably super heat the earth and burn it up. The amount of water that it would take for a global flood doesn't exist on the earth today. Where did all of the extra water go? You could not fit all of the species of animals on the planet on the ark. Zoos cannot keep up with even the excrement produced by that many animals with hundreds of humans working on staff. They would have all been buried in poo. And what did they eat, especially the carnivores? If you believe in the Noah story then you have to believe in evolution. They could not have taken all of the different animals we see on that one boat. It wasn't large enough, so apologists talk about the "kinds" of animals. Okay, then if that's the case, in order to get the diversity we see today there would have to be a super fast evolution that occurred in order to get the variety that we see today. Also, how did those creatures migrate, like the kangaroo, to their eventual homes, like Australia. There is no evidence of kangaroos in some sort of migration.
If we're talking science, then what about the dinosaurs? There's a picture in an old JW book, maybe the Bible Story book or maybe the Paradise Lost book, of dinosaurs boarding the ark. Really. Science puts dinosaurs way before the ark. Also, science has no fossil record of such a purge of "creation". It doesn't exist. There is no evidence of a global flood. JWs like to use science if they can find something that agrees with them and point to it as proof of something, but they discredit science if it discredits them or the Bible. You can't have it both ways. Science absolutely destroys much of the Bible. I haven't researched this, but apparently there isn't evidence of the Exodus either. Oh boy, if you want to learn about the Hebrew scriptures talk to some Hebrews, some Jews. They see their book, as it was their book to be honest, completely different than did we. It's eye opening to get their perspectives on it as they can actually read it and know much more of the history.
If you want to get in science again let's look at how long humans have roamed the earth. It is MUCH longer than Bible chronology. If that's the case, then Adam and Eve couldn't have been the original humans. If that's the case then there's no original sin. If there's no original sin, there's no need for a redeemer. If we're talking chronology let's talk about the Sumerians and the epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible's stunning resemblance to much of that work which predates it.
Let's talk about god through the lens of Noah. If he's all powerful, and if he's a god of love, and if he values life and blood so much, why kill all of the innocent babies and the animals? Is he bound by the laws of the earth which he "created"? Could he not just snap his fingers and make the bad people go away, or at least the Nephilim? Why couldn't he just have a talk with the humans on earth at that time and straighten them out? Why the need for violence all the time?
While we're talking of god and love let's talk about abortion. God killed lots of babies in the Bible. He even commanded that some be dashed upon rocks. But none of those were necessarily in the womb, right? Okay, but god killed David's unborn baby for what David did. He aborted it.
God also allowed women to be taken as spoils of war. They were raped. How is that loving? How does that match with the god that you love that would keep that elder in his heart that committed suicide?
You see, what I see is that we humans developed god in OUR image, not the other way around. The god of the Bible has many of the worst traits of humanity instilled in him, reflective of various time frames and semi-barbaric humans.
You're a father. You have kids. Jehovah is supposed to be the superlative example of a father. Let me ask you this. Do you know your kids? Do you know how to communicate to them so that they understand? Why can't god, as our father, give us a book that is simple and that just makes sense? Shouldn't he know that this book that he gave us would cause so much pain and bloodshed, in part because it is so unclear? Would you give your kids a riddle, and if they couldn't figure it out would you kill them? How is god the superlative father? My goodness, the original bible writings contain no punctuation or paragraphs. We are literally left to fill in blanks. How is that fair? Look at all of the pain that has caused. You can't blame satan for that.
We would even say things as JWs like "god doesn't change" pointing to our feeling that god was consistent and that although the world around us devolved his standards didn't. But that's not true either, as he allowed multiple wives when the people wanted it, divorce, etc., didn't he?
I was taught that the Bible was consistent. There are two sets of 10 commandments if you look, and that is super weird. I can't remember off the top of my head now, but there are accounts that I found that were written and then it was like someone had forgotten that another person had written such and such so they kind of started it again. I had never noticed before. The Gospels are full of inconsistencies. Mark says nothing of a virgin birth, has a young man and not an angel open Jesus' tomb, and then just ends without Jesus appearing again. That's just one, but there's a reason that we always jumped around during the Memorial from verses here to there and that's to overcome the inconsistencies. You can literally see the story build across gospels to create a narrative. John has many differences to the others. They were all written long after Jesus' death too. What are the chances that you could write a book long after the people that knew him were dead and still have accurate quotes and sayings and such (unless of course you got together to tell a story and built off of one another)? Oh, and what happened to the 12? They're such important people, and yet they just disappear from the scene? Doesn't that seem like a huge oversight? Have you ever read the gospels that were voted to be left out at the Council of Nicea? The Gospel of Thomas is insane.
Oh, and Mary was the one with ties to Jesus, yet Joseph was the one in the lineage of King David. Joseph had literally nothing to do with Jesus' conception or birth. Wouldn't you think that if we're talking the most important thing to happen to humankind that god could get that straight?
Now, my faith in God was based on what? The Bible, of course. The creation account was listed there for me to believe in, right? Why would I believe it? Now, I would look around at "creation" with awe at the beauty and complexity. What I always failed to look at while romanticizing it all was the horror and terror and pain that also existed. From natural disasters to creation that imbed themselves in other creation and eats them from the inside out to creation like viruses that wipe out life by the millions, you have to look at both sides of creation. You can't just point to one side and say that it's god's love exemplified without looking at the other. And you can't point to imperfection as the cause of those other horrific sides because animals didn't commit sin. So why would they be punished?
In the grand scheme of things I didn't like that my hope was tied up in the slaughter of billions of people on the earth. If, in the end, this is all about god's right to rule and the actuality is that satan can attract more people than god can to where god has to kill 8 billion people so that 8 million can survive, who really won? Might doesn't make right. Just being the almighty with the power to destroy anyone else doesn't mean that you are in the right, it just means that you have the power. I would rather die with those 8 billion people as a victim of the almighty than to live at all costs, to serve a genocidal god that puts power and authority above love. Satan in this case wins the numbers game. He can point to the scoreboard even if god just destroys him. A love that only exists to those that follow you unquestioningly, that do your bidding, that agree with you, is a weak love. It doesn't fit the love shown in Corinthians. It doesn't fit the love preached by Jesus. Love covers over sin, believes all things, hopes all things, doesn't fail. It fails when you have to destroy or cast aside anyone that disagrees. That's weak love. It is much harder to look at a person and love them even though they've done something hurtful to you. Shunning people is easy. Out of sight, out of mind, to some degree. But I would sit down today with those that shun me and have a meal and love them anyway. My brother, who was shunned long before I was, accepted me back into his life immediately when I reached out to him. THAT is love. I had wronged him for over a decade. He didn't have to accept me back. He did out of love and understanding. If he was god he would have just wiped me out. Again, that's authority and control, and that's not love.
Let's talk "intelligent design". One marvel often held up is the human eye. Did you know that for the light that comes in the lens to hit the receptors it has to go through things like blood vessels and nerve fibers that are actually in the way and that the brain has to fill in gaps? It's not the sign of intelligent design but rather the sign of something that evolved and changed over millions and millions of years, with defects. We all walk around with corrective lenses to fix many of the problems with the very design. That's just one thing. And there are animals with much better laid out eyes, so if a designer designed it why would he have left in the flaws? We have leftover organs like the appendix that do nothing for us but that provide us the opportunity to die a horrible and painful death if it bursts. That's not the work of intelligent design but rather evolving bodies over millenia. When you really dive into evolution, which I admit was VERY hard for me to not only do but to grasp with the linear and false view of evolution that Watchtower gave me to suit their purposes, it is not something that diminishes the value of life, but rather something that enhances it.
The chance that the sperm and egg that made you or I on that one day survived and became us and that we survived birth and infancy to where we are today is the greatest miracle ever. How many sperm had to die so that you and I could be born? How many fertilized eggs had to die and slip out of the mother at menstruation had to fail so that we are here? Again, if god hates abortion and life starts at conception, and we are "intelligently designed" by a creator that loves life, why is there a system by which so many fertilized eggs "die"?
I could go on and on forever. Again, I'm not doing so to try to hurt anyone, but to answer a question, and the answer must be huge and complex because the issue is. If I were to let go of god/creator over some simple disagreement then clearly I had no real faith to begin with. I did. I believed wholeheartedly.
I am an atheist now. That doesn't mean that I'm opposed to the concept of a god, it just means that I don't see the evidence for one. I would LOVE for there to be a god. I would LOVE to know that I was created with a purpose. That's so much easier than having to find and create your own purpose in life, to have one imbued to you simply for having been born. However, I also LOVE my new life. If there's a god he's blessed me tremendously in it even as an atheist, which again cripples the belief most would have in a god. Again, that gets back to what I see as the fact that people read into a god what they want, what fits their individual desires, what fits their culture at the time, whatever helps them explain life. So much of what was believed in times past to be of god had been proven through science to have reasonable physical causes and effects but yet god still exists in the minds of people and is just changed to fit the new parameters.
I watched the play The Book of Mormon. It wasn't just poking fun of Mormonism, and even avoided some of the cheap shots that it could have exposed. I remember as a JW making fun of their book, laughing at how ridiculous it all was. Golden plates, visions, this addition to the Bible. Then I thought about how ridiculous the Bible would be to someone that was unfamiliar, probably to people in other countries where they have the Koran or another holy book. I thought about how divergent the Hebrew scriptures were from the Greek, how Jesus was this likable and humble guy that was supposed to be a reflection of his father but that appeared nothing like the god of the Hebrew scriptures, a vindictive and warring god. The play put the book of Mormon on par with the Bible on par with Lord of the Rings on par with Star Wars. All fictional works containing some grains of human truths that could be followed but that pointed to something greater, that tomorrow is a "latter day" and that we can all be "saints" by helping our fellowman and by loving others.
I don't need a god to love others. I don't need to believe that I was created to feel special. Everything that I do is of my own volition, my own love. People think that atheists lose the magic of life, or they'll say things like "well if you don't believe in god why don't you just kill yourself". What a stupid thing to say, yet I once though that way myself. I don't need a reward from a spirit being to be a good person. I don't need a holy book to give me morals. I don't like hurting people. There's a built in punishment for that comes from our evolution because if you hurt people you would be ousted from the tribe and your lineage wouldn't go on. Evolution is all about survival, not of the fittest, but of the ability to replicate life. If you're ostracized you can't reproduce, and it requires that.
I hope that you can read this and see that it is out of love. It was hard won knowledge that I gained through taking steps back from what I was taught my whole life and looking at things anew. It was a deeply and personally painful process of disappointment and at times, horror. It wasn't what I wanted. It wasn't what felt good. It's been a few years of studying and looking into things and opening pandora's box. I don't want to live a lie though. In the Bible it was satan that was the originator of the lie, wasn't it. And what was his lie? That if you do this thing you'll know right from wrong and live forever. JWs say the same. It is mind blowing when you start looking into these things.
Take your time with this. I almost feel bad writing it to you but you asked and seem so sincere and you would feel unloving in withholding what you perceive to be truth from people, as do I. When we left the JWs nobody tried to save us. All of these people claiming to have truth, claiming to be identified by love, but nobody tried to save us. I'm not trying to save you here though I believe what I wrote to be true because I don't necessarily believe that people need saving, that's a Biblical narrative. Ironically, the only thing you need saving from in the Bible is the god that will kill you if you don't follow him correctly. But I do want to answer questions, to help people see something if they are open, to at least give people an opportunity to think outside the box they were given and to be open to life.