Last updated on June 2nd, 2023 at 07:32 am
This is the story of how I became an atheist. I don’t have the exact date I left the church, but I certainly remember my last days in the church. It was undoubtedly one of the most gruelling moments in my life. But I am glad that I was able to finally ditch my faith for good. Who would have ever thought that such a devout believer, aspiring to be a minister, would one day become an unbeliever? How?
I swear I was more surprised, probably more than anyone else. The surprise was not that I had become an unbeliever. The real surprise was how I became an unbeliever. I would say it was a natural progression.
The more I studied the bible, the more I transformed into an atheist.
That reminds me of this premonition often propagated among believers, particularly Christians. The belief that the more you read, the more likely you are to stray from the faith; that having too much knowledge corrupts your faith in God. In fact, one of the popular comments thrown at me when my loved ones found out I was no longer a believer was, “You have been studying too much. You have been reading a lot of books, haven’t you?’
Is it not the same bible that says ‘… You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’? How about Proverbs 18:15, which says, “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise speaks knowledge.” Knowledge is not bad after all. Is it? Well, Proverbs 24:5 says, “A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might.”
Defining my last days in the church as gruelling might not do enough justice to explain the experience I had. For a moment, let me pick up a dictionary.
My last days in the church were excruciating, agonizing, harrowing, torturous, intense, unbearable, punishing, cloudy, desolate, moving and endless.
This transition from being a believer to an unbeliever was finally realized in the early months of 2017, my last year in university. I was the Off-Campus Bible Study Coordinator of the Bible Study Wing of the National Union of Presbyterian Students-Ghana (NUPS-G) at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. I was also part of the team that designed the Bible Study Manual for the fellowship. I also ministered on my accordion and recorder.
Studying the bible was my daily bread. I studied the bible at most six hours a day. It competed with my time for my course studies. At a point, I started studying the bible in the original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I had a Hebrew and Greek bible. I remember a friend, Helena, telling me, “Ei Peter, we don’t even understand the bible in English and here you are reading it in Hebrew and Greek.”
For me, it was not for the fun of it. I studied a lot because I loved to understand the bible and deepen my faith in God. I even shared devotionals on WhatsApp every morning based on my studies. The question still remains, and I am sure you might be wondering how studying the bible made me an unbeliever. Let’s dive in! I will categorize the factors that contributed to my conversion under the following: CHURCH, which stands for
Contradictory, Historicity, Unrealistic, Reasonability, Confusion, and Hostility.
I studied the bible in two ways, which is how bible scholars mostly do it: horizontal reading and vertical reading. There are those who say the bible is the perfect word of God. That it contains no contradictions. This is true if you read the bible horizontally. If you read the bible vertically, you would understand how beautifully contradictory it is.
When I read the bible horizontally, it means I read the bible like how we read any book, line by line, page after page. Every normal human being reads this way. That’s how most of us read the bible, line after line, page after page, chapter after chapter, etc.
When I read the bible vertically, it means I read the books of the bible side by side, especially the synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which talk about the same story. If I were reading the crucifixion of Jesus, this is how vertical reading would be done.
Let me pose this question: when the women (disciples) visited the tomb of Jesus, how many angels were present? If you answered 2, You are correct – Luke 24:4. If you guessed 1, you are also correct – Matthew 28:2 , Mark 16:5. This is what happens when you read the bible horizontally. If you read this story vertically, your answer will be ‘The number of angels depends on the book you read’.
Well, why is this so important? – at least to me. As the only path to truth, the foundation for faith and belief in God, the book should be truthful about its events. I mean, if we were in court today testifying about the number of people that were in a room when an incident happened and all the witnesses mentioned different numbers, there could be two conclusions. First, only one of the witnesses is right about the number, which is to say, all the witnesses can’t be right at the same time. One is right and the rest are wrong. Secondly, it is also possible that all the witnesses are wrong.
However, someone might want to stop me here and say, “But these little things do not matter. What matters is the message in the bible.’ Well, it definitely does matter! It is the little things that make up a story, especially when the truth is of concern, or at least if you honestly care about the truth. The next category, Historicity, will probably explain better why the bible is riddled with such contradictions or errors.
Historicity is seen in two forms.
The first deals with the historical quality or authenticity based on fact. What this means is establishing whether or not an event is in accordance with established facts. This is usually what we think about when we are referring to “history” in everyday language. The second form of historicity is not concerned with the authenticity of facts. It is concerned about preserving the structural integrity of an event. What this means is that we are concerned with following a story line, how it unfolds, so long as it is intelligible. We are not concerned about whether the events really did happen or not.
A typical example of the application of the second form of historicity can be seen when bible publishers maintain the clause ‘THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO…’ on the first pages of the synoptic gospels. What is happening here is that bible publishers since time immemorial have been very careful about distinguishing between the two forms of historicity; knowing for sure that an event happened versus believing that this event happened as presented are not the same. The fact is that the authors of the gospels are unknown. In fact, the data available shows that the gospels were written many years after the death of Jesus and the apostles. All four Gospels were originally anonymous. None claim to be written by eyewitnesses, and all contain giveaways that they were written generations later, by well-educated Greek-speaking theologians, not illiterate Aramaic speakers.
I mean, if the apostles were dead before the gospels were written, they couldn’t have authored them, but well, if they were resurrected, they could have. Moreover, these gospels were not written independently, as is believed by most Christians. The first gospel to be written was Mark. Matthew and Luke copied heavily from Mark, hence the similarities in their stories and the errors in them. More information about the authorship of the synoptic gospels can be found at here.
There are numerous other cases of historicity that call into question the bible’s credibility as the “true” word in its literal sense.
Another discovery that alarmed me was the “missing” books of the bible: The Shepherd of Hermas, The Book of Enoch, The Gospel of Judas (130-170 AD), The Gospel of Thomas (140-170 AD), The Psalms of Solomon, The Odes of Solomon, just to name a few. What criteria did the church use to canonize the bible? And what was the assurance that it was not politically motivated or Holy Spirit motivated?
Before I talk about Logic – reasonability, let’s take a look at Reality. By “reality,” I mean, how humans normally live their daily lives and what is generally accepted as normal. It is normal to throw a stone up in the air and watch it fall back to the ground. It is normal to wince in pain when you step barefoot on a sharp object. It is normal to drink a hot cup of tea and scald your tongue. We consider it the natural order of things. We consider something to be unreal when it goes against the natural order of things. Oh boy! I was so engrossed in my bible studies that everything in the bible seemed normal to me. After all, even if it seemed unreal, I had to accept what I would normally consider unreal as real, and I did so with awe and reverence. Then one day, I chanced on a question that made me question my measurement of reality.
The question went like this: “Let’s assume a person from a completely different religion from yours told you the exact same stories you (now) know of in the bible, only this time it is the very first time you are hearing the story. Would you believe those stories really happened?’
To be honest, if someone from another religion told me that a woman gave birth to a baby but there was no human sexual intercourse, I would not see that as normal. I will probably think they are somewhat crazy. And that is how I saw other religions except mine. My religion was the true one. Every other religion was weird.
The intensity with which I believed unreal things in my journey was amazingly unbelievable. Remember how long I could study the bible? The more I read, the more I imagined and accepted the stories as “normal”. It is normal for virgins to give birth without sexual intercourse. It is normal for humans to walk on water without sinking. It is normal for dead people to be resurrected. Not on this earth, but in the bible it is. I also believed Jesus was born of a virgin. For a brief moment, I was terrified of reality, wondering what the difference was between me, who believed that a virgin could conceive a child without sexual intercourse, and the Muslim, who believed that the prophet Muhammad split the moon in half. Yet I will mock at the idea that Muhammad split the moon in half or that Okomfo Anokye conjured a golden stool from the sky. So I looked closely at all the things I believed as a Christian and found the culprit – Faith. It is summarized beautifully in the words of Benjamin Franklin.
"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." - Benjamin Franklin
Here’s how the categories above affected me.
My brain crumbled under the weight of the contradictions I saw in the bible stories when I applied vertical reading. My brain couldn’t just pretend that these contradictions didn’t exist. The problem? I didn’t know which narrative to believe. Wasn’t the bible supposed to be the perfect word of God? My doubts increased the more when I found out that the historicity of the stories and their authorship were questionable. What if I’ve been worshipping the wrong version of God all along? Finally, I was concerned with how reality in the bible conflicted with reality in my everyday life. I was convinced that these were real: the splitting of the sea, snakes talking, donkeys talking, the dead resurrecting. I remember even during one Christmas season when the Holy Spirit appeared in my room (a discussion for another day).