Church has been a part of my experience for most (but not all) of my life. I was raised in an Anglican church and I attended regularly. I was involved in different ministries and much of my early teen years were taken up with various church activities. However, as I reached my mid-teens, I began to have doubts about religion. Skepticism is a natural part of my personality and an easy target is that of religion. I still remember the moment that changed everything for me. I was helping to serve communion and the words that I was saying as I administered the cup was “Christ’s blood, shed for you.” As I said those words, I realized that I no longer believed them. Sure, Jesus died but I did not believe that his death had any more significance than anyone else’s.
I began to see my church experience simply as family tradition and having very little to do with what I really believed. I originally intended to respond with a comprehensive study of world religions to see if I could discover any real spiritual truth. I ended up taking what I saw as the easier route and that was giving up on all religion and becoming an atheist. There was something freeing the first time I told my mother that I was not going to attend church. I could sleep in, hang out, do whatever I wanted. My church was not very conservative, so there was no greater freedom in lifestyle questions, but it was an interesting change.
What kind of atheist was I? I was not an angry atheist. I have trouble understanding the actions of the new atheists in terms of my own experience as an atheist. It did not bother me that other people went to church or believed in God. If they wanted to get up early for church, they were welcome to that. I did not see Christians as dangerous or irrational or deluded. I simply saw them as old-fashioned. I was happy that they found comfort in what they believed even though I did not believe it.
As I passed through my teens, there was an aspect of my atheism that did bother me. I liked the idea that there was no God making up rules as to how I should act. But it did bother me that atheism meant that there was no afterlife. If we are just on this planet for seventy or eighty years (if we are lucky) and if that is the end, what is the meaning of life? I was attending university, but why bother? Did it matter what career I had or if I even had a career? Was there a difference between choosing to be doctor or being an unemployed alcoholic? Why bother getting married and having a family? It seemed to me that life was a cruel joke. The irony was that there was no one to blame for the joke.
As I began university, cracks began to form in my atheism. The cracks were not out of longing for an afterlife. As I would travel to school, I would look at the world around me. I would observe the natural world and I would reflect on the complexity of the human body. Even with all our technology, we still have not created anything like the human body and we are just one species out of countless species on this planet. I would try to imagine where all this came from. I was told that millions of years ago, the right chemicals mixed and that some life form came into being. This one celled life form was such that it was able to evolve and would eventually be the ancestor of every form of life on this planet. All of this was an accident, a random event with no meaning. I thought about that and realized that was harder to believe in than God. I realized that I did not have enough faith to be an atheist. It was interesting that it was my own skeptical nature that pushed me out of atheism.
This did not make me a Christian. I only considered myself a theist. Zeus or Odin could have been the true god for all I knew. I knew that I had to look at religion again and try and figure out the truth. I actually was somewhat prejudiced against Christianity. For me, it was too obvious. I was raised attending a Christian church because I happened to be born in Canada. If I had been born in Saudi Arabia or Tibet, things would have been different. What was the true religion?
Since I did not know, I asked the one person that did know: God. I prayed a prayer something like this: “God (whoever you are), I want to know the truth. I don’t even know where to begin. Reveal yourself to me in some way. Show me the true religion. Amen. PS Please don’t let it be the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I really was fearing that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the true religion and was picturing myself going door to door in a bad suit.
Not long after this prayer, I found myself working for some born again Christians. They would go on and on telling me about Jesus. Since they were paying me, I let them. However, the things that they were telling me were very different from what I remembered growing up in church. They had to be wrong in the things that they were claiming. To find out, I did something radical: I began reading the Bible. We always had a Bible in the house but I never considered reading it. I thought it was the minister’s job to read the Bible. I started reading the New Testament and in many ways I began to encounter Jesus for the first time. I had learned about the parables in Sunday school, but I did not know anything about who Jesus was and what he did. Reading the Bible was an incredible experience. I did not understand everything but I did have a sense that my life was being challenged in way that reading about some other historical figure would not have.
As a result of my Bible reading, I began to make some lifestyle changes. I was not a Christian but I did see the wisdom in some of the teaching and I was starting to believe that there was truth in Christianity. However, I needed something else to push me. One Spring after exams, a friend and I took a trip to Mexico. I told my friend that I would drink but that I would not get drunk. Well, our first night in Mexico I got horribly drunk. Not only was my wallet stolen, I was arrested and spent the night in a Mexican jail with my friend not knowing where I was. In the morning, I was told that I had to pay a fine to get out. I explained that my wallet was stolen and that I could call my friend to bring the money. The guard told me: “No phone calls! You pay or you do not get out.” I panicked as I did not know what to do. I then looked up and saw a painting of Jesus on the wall. Since I had no other options, I (silently) prayed: “God, get me out of jail in Jesus‘ name.” Not long after, another person in the cell walked up to me and offered to pay my way out.
This shocked me. I had prayed many times during my childhood growing up in church but it never crossed my mind that God would answer a prayer. Not only did God answer a prayer, he answered this prayer after I did something I knew I shouldn’t do. This shook my entire world. I made the decision to become a Christian. I called upon God to save me through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Someone recently asked me what it was that made me move from being an atheist to being a Christian. Was it through philosophical reflection? Yes it was. Was from historical/biblical investigation of who Jesus was? Yes it was. Was it through a spiritual experience? Yes it was. In my case, perhaps because of my deep skepticism, there were many factors building on each other that led me to become a Christian. I continue to reflect philosophically, to study the Bible and to experience God. Each area helps to strengthen my faith and deepen my understanding of God. I am much happier as a person now that I am a Christian. However, I am a Christian not because it makes me happy but because I believe it to be true.