Andrew received $550 from FFRF for his essay.
Abandoning my belief in God didn’t happen overnight. Growing up on the mission field, attending a private Christian school and college all played key roles in ensuring that I was thoroughly indoctrinated in my faith. Yet somehow despite all that, today I stand unshackled from the oppressive and controlling religion of my childhood.
My experience with religion can be neatly summed up by a passage from 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
I can trace the beginnings of my uncertainty back to my childhood. The first six years of my life were spent in Africa because my parents were missionaries. It was after one of our nightly bedtime bible stories that I had my first personal experience with Christianity as I asked Jesus to save me from eternal suffering in hell.
Although I accepted everything told to me by my parents, even at a young age I remember wondering why it was that some people had to spend eternity in hell for the sole crime of never having heard the Gospel.
My parents moved on to be missionaries in Haiti, and it was there while I was a teenager that I first started to notice the hypocrisy of religion. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with one of the highest rates of illiteracy, yet instead of distributing food to the poor, we gave them bibles. Instead of teaching them to read, we handed them pamphlets about God and told them to have someone else read it to them.
Being a pastor in Haiti was an obvious profession, not a calling from God. Many pastors were able to live a luxurious lifestyle while their congregations lived in extreme poverty. I looked around and saw people starving, unable to afford an education and dying from preventable diseases. In a nation where 96% identify as Christian, I couldn’t help but wonder why God seemed to have forsaken them.
After leaving Haiti, I spent a year attending Bob Jones University, one of the most renowned conservative Christian colleges in the U.S. I had many unanswered questions, but I continued to push the doubt aside.
I remember vividly the day I first allowed doubt to creep in. It was Jan. 15, 2010, after receiving a call from my parents in Haiti, who confirmed what I knew to be the inevitable: one of my friends had died in the earthquake, crushed as the five-story classroom building she was in collapsed.
Along with an estimated 600,000 deaths and casualties, millions were displaced. I sat with tears in my eyes and wondered how God could let such a terrible thing happen.
As I allowed the doubt to seep in, slowly I embarked on a quest for answers. I began to study other religions and see their absurdity. I realized I had easily dismissed supernatural claims of other religions while blindly accepting Christianity’s claims.
In short, I came to the realization that I was already an atheist about every religion except Christianity. My de facto “atheism” had not required me to systematically examine each religion and find tangible proof that each claim was incorrect. Instead, I simply wrote off all other religions because the bold claims that they made had no evidence to show that they were true.
This led me to try to objectively examine my own beliefs to see if they were equally as absurd. I saw within the church an apocalyptic fanaticism, where Christians longed for the destruction of the Earth. Instead of love for one another, I saw hate for anyone who was different from them. These “followers of Christ” were more concerned with fighting abortion than preventing genocide or curing AIDS.
I asked myself why faith, which is abandoning the use of reason, was considered to be the most important trait of Christianity. I came to realize that, in the words of Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and there was little proof for what I believed.
Again I thought about the earthquake in Haiti and came to this conclusion: God was either evil, impotent or nonexistent. When you look at the millions who call upon the name of the Lord only to receive silence in return, in the words of Herb Silverman, “Some days the best thing you can say about God is that he doesn’t exist.”
I was afraid to take that final step and turn my back on everything I had grown up believing. I mulled all of this over for months, and in discussing it with a friend was challenged to live my life for just one week like God didn’t exist.
As I walked outside that day, I looked up at the sky and was finally able to give up my childish ways and accept that there is no God.
Andrew Spalding, 24, was born in Paris but moved from France to Benin with his missionary parents when he was 6 weeks old. He is a senior studying business management and French at Florida State University.