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Johnny Bradford's deconversion
I write this essay almost thirty years from the day of my birth, married to a beautiful wife and the father of three amazing children, and consider how fortunate I am — fortunate not to have been born in Sub-Saharan Africa, or born during the Black Plague in the Middle Ages, or born in Communist Russia, or the Nazi state of Germany during the early 1900’s.
My present circumstances are shared by many others in this developed world. But what differs me from many others is this: I do not attribute this position of fortune to the work of any supreme being, creator/designer, or god. Instead, I was the result of chance — of good fortune — that my great-grandparents survived the First World War and gave birth to my grandparents who equally survived the Second World War and gave birth to my mother and father who by chance would find one another and fall in love and give birth to my siblings and me. Calculating the mathematical probabilities that were involved in that particular egg being fertilized by that particular sperm are near impossible. But still the religious faith of millions would allow this to be explained as “God’s will.”
Although raised in what is described as a “Christian home” and having once professed Christianity, I can no longer align myself with that worldview. The move from self-professed Christian to confident atheist has been far from easy and my new-found perspective on life and the universe has been formed and cemented over the last two years, although the journey was begun at least four years ago.
My journey started when I began to wrestle with the idea of hell. How could a loving God send billions of humans to a place of eternal torment for simply not believing in his existence? This paradox cannot be defended or explained. In fact the bible only supports this punishment: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 speaks of God “inflicting vengeance” and non-believers who will “suffer … eternal destruction.”
I realized hell was fear-based propaganda. This questioning and further reading led me to the liberal interpretation that if Christ died for all, then it really meant all. Certainly no god I wanted to believe in would be happy to send millions to endless torture for the sake of unbelief.
From this unorthodox view of Christianity, other beliefs began to unravel.
I noticed Christians behaved the same way as their non-believing “hell-bound” counterparts. Dishonesty, adultery, divorce, judgementalism, and hypocrisy were as rife within the Christian community as they were outside of the walls of religion.
It seemed that people, including myself, were happy to pick and choose which parts of the bible were applicable — which were perfect. We chose to ignore the parts we didn’t like or didn’t understand. We steered clear of the command to stone people to death who committed adultery, or who were heretics, or who were homosexual, or who worked on the sabbath. We also happily agreed with the bible’s lack of objection to slavery for the better part of 1900 years.
The Horrors of the Bible
I began noticing the horrors of the Bible. Many of the worst atrocities in ancient “history” were recorded in the Old Testament and then seemingly ignored when questioned in favor of a more palatable god of the New Testament. Such events as the flood, Abraham’s disgusting willingness to slaughter his son, the plagues, the 3,000 Israelites killed on Moses’ command after they had built the golden calf, the genocide of every living being as the Israelites moved across Canaan, and many many more.
The people killed after Moses came down from the mountain is particularly disconcerting: imagine you are in a tribe and your leader leaves. You have a party and make a god just like every other people-group at time did. Moses then returns and says he’s spoken personally with God and here’s some stone tablets to prove it. In a fit of rage — because the people are partying — he orders 3,000 to be killed!
Who would then question him? Who would now dare to speak out against him or this god he has communicated with? Today this bears a striking resemblance to the likes of Hitler or Stalin: kill anyone who questions your authority and make an example of them — order through fear-based tactics.
Killing His Only Son For You
What could God prove by sacrificing his “son”? It makes no sense that the Almighty God would have to kill himself to redeem the world from the judgment of himself.
There’s no surprise that according to the story Jesus rises again. There’s no mystery or drama — if he doesn’t, he’s not God.
But what did all this blood and gore achieve? Apparently it would break the curse of sin, which was dumped upon humanity by one man who God made and was given an impossible task: Eden was set up for failure.
I also found it bizarre that a created being “the devil” should wield such power — why banish him from heaven to cause humanity such misery, instead of destroying him and all other rebels and give the world a chance?
The Man-Made God
As the holes began to appear in the fabric of my Christian faith I struggled to find reasonable answers from books, the bible or Christians I knew. It was only once I began to allow myself to seriously question the validity of what I had always been told did I begin to find the freedom to think clearly and objectively.
One of the final issues I wrestled with in this journey was God’s love. Calum is my son — I created him. I do not demand that he love me. But with God this is the case — in fact it’s the rule above all others (”Love the Lord your God…”).
Upon further reading of the bible, the Christian god seems to be self-obsessed, egotistical, power hungry and moody. If one looks at humanity over the ages, these qualities are found in dictators and tyrants not loving fathers. Consider the many disasters of late: God can either do nothing to prevent these or he chooses not to. This implies that he is either impotent or evil.
These thoughts led me to the conclusion that this story of a creator god and his plan for humanity is man-made. It served a purpose for a time, just like the Aztecs had the sun-god, the Greeks had Zeus and others, the Romans had theirs, and the Chinese had a religious system for thousands of years.
The story that tells me God is interested in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death is not one I can believe or live with while maintaining my integrity.
The truth, as far as I can see, is this: Christianity was the best we humans could do to make sense of reality at a time when we had no concept of physics, chemistry, biology or medicine. It has served its purpose and must now be discarded along with all other religions.
Turning to Science and Reason
Since making the decision to cease believing in the Judeo-Christian god, my focus has moved away from biblical inerrancies and theological issues toward seeking scientific rational explanations for the world. The theory of god cannot be disproved, but neither can an invisible flying purple unicorn that inhabits the outer rings of Saturn.
All people are atheists. They declare disbelief in many gods, be it Ra, Allah or Jehovah. I, as all atheists have done, have gone one step further to state that I do not believe in the existence of any god.
Unfortunately, the war over whose god is right has raged for centuries and the ill-effects of religion are only too clear in history and the present climate. It now seems incredibly arrogant to me to suggest that the billions of people who have had and will have similar experiences when contemplating Allah, Krishna, or Buddha are in fact wrong and the Christian god is the only true god. I can now confidently affirm the equal implausibility of all religions.
We know that the earth is considerably older than the bible suggests. This is based on evidence and our growing understanding of physics and space/time.
We know that humans in the form of homo erectus have been living for 150,000 years. Through the theory of evolution we can study the effects of change and adaptation over billions of years that bring us to today.
The outstanding lack of evidence for the worldview depicted in the bible is disturbing, yet Americans continue to campaign for it to be taught as truth in their science classes. The argument raging between intelligent design and science/evolution can only be entertained because of the dangerous alliance between church and state in the western world — especially the USA.
No one need believe that a man named Jesus was born of a virgin and was the son of god to appreciate his moral teachings. And yet he was not the first, nor the last, to propose such actions.
The bible is not the source of morality. Without it we know how to live and treat each other. The fabric of society will not suddenly fall to pieces if the religions of the world were to cease. Through thousands of years of trial and error — the rise and fall of many civilizations — humanity has known or learned how to treat others. And we will continue to learn as our ethics progress.
Some believe the life of an atheist is hopeless. On the contrary, I have a passion to live — this is the only life I get; I have a passion to experience, to have adventure, to explore this planet; I have a newfound openness and curiousity about nature and the make-up of this world; I refuse to settle for less, to live wastefully, or to be mundane; I am hopeful that I can make positive impacts in the lives of others, that I can raise my children to question everything and suck the very marrow out of life; I have no fear of death other than its finality and this drives me to experience all that I can before I pass away and cease to exist.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Henry David Thoreau said, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Johnny Bradford is a recovering Christian pastor in Scotland.
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