Interview with A Former Atheist   4 comments

The Markham clan discussion group started with reasonable adults who wanted to understand one another … or at least convince each other that we were reasonable.

But we didn’t start out like that. Rick is older and grew up in Seattle, while Bai, David and myself were all kids together here in Fairbanks. Growing up, Bai and David’s mom was Catholic, but the family quit going within a year of arriving in Fairbanks and so the boys didn’t really grow up with that tradition. Toward the end of high school, I became interested in Christianity and Bai dated one of my Christian friends in college before he became a Christian himself. He and I both agree we were something akin to rational deists before we came to Christ. We didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ, but we also both saw evidence for the existence of the metaphysical before our salvation experience, so when God called us, we wanted evidence, but we didn’t demand proof because we already knew something besides the physical existed.

In high school, David dabbled in Eastern Mysticism and researched Catholicism. He announced that he thought Christianity was cannibalism because of the whole transubstantiation dogma. He was surprised to find out that I (the only evangelical he knew) agreed. The Bible describes a memorial feast. There’s no actual blood or flesh involved in the bread and wine/juice no matter how many magic words a priest says. It’s all symbolism.

In college, David was surrounded by atheists professors and was particularly drawn to a philosphy professor who was an avowed Christian hater. I’d had the same professor a few years before and found him charismatic and intelligent, and managed to get a B out of his class without renouncing my faith. David never really needled me about my faith probably because there’s nearly five years age difference, so we weren’t close friends in college. The few conversations we had were reasonable enough, though I found myself having to correct his misperceptions about Christianity a lot. When Bai accepted Christ, however, David exploded. He became determined to prove to Bai, if not me, that Christianity was unintelligent delusional crap! He played the battering ram for years before Rick suggested a reasonable discussion over the controllable environment of email.

A few years ago when he announced he’d become an agnostic, in my capacity as chronicler of our group, I asked him why?

Why have to decided that agnosticism is a more reasonable response than atheism?

“I got tired of being angry all the time against people who were irritated by me, but who I knew wished me absolutely well. If I needed a kidney, Bai would be the first one to offer. Rick would figure out how to cure my kidney disease before I needed the kidney. You were there when (his wife) went into labor and I was half a world away. No matter how much I wanted to say your beliefs turned you into monsters, that wasn’t true. You’re all good people.

Then there the questions I see in my own profession. Rick especially helped me to see that too much certainty is not a scientific way to view the world. Evidence is not proof. Evidence can be interpreted different ways and sometimes the pet theories of yesterday turn out to be ridiculous in the next generation. I still think my view of the evidence is the best way to view it, but I wouldn’t be shocked (now) if I was proven wrong.”

What sort of evidence would constitute proof for you of God?

“Honestly, although I say I don’t know if God exists, it would still take something very definite to convince me of his existence. If he really does come back, I’ll believe in him then — I think.”

So at least one ticket on the Post-Tribulation Believers’ Express?

“Yeah, I know — that’s what you guys don’t want for me, but unless I can see, feel, touch God in the physical world, I don’t see myself accepting a phantom as real. I put God with the multiverse theory of universal origins. You may want it to be true, but there’s no evidence. It’s just conjecture, so I’m abstaining until some more evidence shows up.”

What drives you crazy about Christians?

“Your certainty. I used to call that arrogance or non-thinking, but I can’t call Rick non-thinking and you, Brad and Bai have not been arrogant to me. Your certainty in the face of so much opposition is hard to grasp. I see the same evidence you guys see, but you come to different conclusions. I used to think you had to go through some delusional mental gymnastics to do that, but over the last 20 years, I’ve recognized that you don’t. “

So, how do you see things differently from when you said you were an atheist?

“I don’t know that I do. I think it’s more my attitude. Before I was very zealous. My ‘faith’ in science and materialism was so absolute, I felt I needed to beat you into believing it. It was a crusade. And, now I don’t feel so messianic. I don’t know that I’m right. I don’t know that you are either.”

So do you think some of this new softness comes from the birth of your son?

“Cheap shot, but yeah. It’s hard not to wonder about miracles when your wife gets pregnant when she’s supposed to be unable to conceive and then she goes into labor a month early and you just happen to show up with a midwife. And, he’s gorgeous and healthy! I know the pregnancy was medically possible because it happened and the midwife was a mountain-biking coincidence, but wow …. Yeah, that definitely made me think. But I’m not going soft-headed.”

Just soft-hearted?

“Maybe. Being a parent does make you think about the future and even eternity. Is my atheism best serving my child?  Just as I am now planning more time at home, which means less time in the field, I also want to be less angry and argumentative. And, when I think about the cold, material world that I believe in, I’m not sure I want that for Dylan. If there’s an alternative, I might prefer that for him.”

Does that mean you’ll let him spend time with his heretic relatives?

The answer was “yes” and Dylan is on our son’s babysitting list for the summer and our son is a 15-year-old who lives his faith. To the extent that you can have a theological conversation with a four-year-old, they’re talking about it.

As I’ve said, I have no problem with agnostics. Of course, I live my faith in front of them and they can accept that or not. The Markham Clan Discussion Group continues to this day and David remains the sharp counterpoint who can be counted on for a non-believing perspective. We’ve also added a cousin who is an engineer. He’s afraid to call himself an atheist, but he’s definitely a non-believer.

Posted June 16, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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4 responses to “Interview with A Former Atheist

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  1. My sister is Raelian. She has faith in Lord Rael and the spaceship and the alien DNA. Yes, it is as wide-eyed creepy as the livestock insemination by genocidal Yahweh (ankles-to-ears?) that resulted in a virgin birth but hey, we all have our wacky relatives. Lord Rael communicates with her on a daily basis and it’s just like talking to Jesus but only through a hair dryer. I told her that Lord Rael’s voice is really her own voice, only a little bit deeper but she swears that the low contralto voice is the voice of Lord Rael. She believes in miracles like when Lord Rael found her a parking space at the mall but I still have gut-wrenching, PTSD, images of hungry children in the Sudan. I guess Lord Rael must’ve been blessing middle class Americans who are already as overstuffed as a Southern Baptist preacher on Bud Light. BTW, you can be an agnostic atheist. Atheism doesn’t “serve” anything. If Lord Rael and the spaceship “served” my kid’s moral reasoning, I would still reject this. I prefer truth and I curb my enthusiasm with a suspension of judgment when I don’t know. Oh, and as to transubstantiation being ritualistic cannibalism…Here is a priest in my native country who transforms the rancid cracker into the bleeding body of a 2,000-year-old virgin carpenter…This claim is in the bullshit camp along with the resurrection of Jesus:


  2. Leading a horse to water is the only requirement. To live the horse must make the decision to drink the life-giving water. The harder one fights, the more the spirit is working on wooing.


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