Faith & Self Defense

Building Confidence Through Evidence

How to “Un-Create” an Atheist

It happens every day around the world. A Christian teenager goes away to college and returns an atheist. How does that happen? How can someone who grows up in a Christian home and church be turned so quickly from their faith in Christ? I can tell you how it happened to me.

Mark WINQ SmallMy story could have come straight out of Peter Boghossian’s new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.” An atheist world religion professor in my first semester of college worked very hard at convincing students from Christian homes that God did not exist. I was prime for what he did because of what my church had not done for me. The same thing is being done every day in colleges around the world.

Both of my parents were Christians and we attended Baptist churches wherever we lived. My mother’s mother lived with us when I was a little boy and she was also a Christian. Sundays were all about church. We attended Sunday School and morning worship, then went home to eat and rest before returning to church for Training Union and evening worship. We also attended church every Wednesday night and other nights during the week for special meetings, conferences, etc. My parents were heavily involved in supporting Baptist missionaries around the world and eventually retired and became home missionaries for almost 20 years.

The churches we attended had active children and youth ministries. The emphasis was on “knowing” things, so I did well in that environment. I was able to answer questions with the right answers and find references in the Bible faster than other children. It was well known that children in our church should be saved and baptized by the age of 12, so I “walked the aisle” of the church during one of the many verses of “Just As I Am” on a Sunday morning and told the pastor I wanted to be saved and baptized. I was 10-years-old, certainly old enough to make that decision, so everyone seemed very happy with what I had done. I attended mandatory classes for children who were candidates for baptism and learned what to do and say during the baptismal service. When my turn came to be baptized, I did and said what was expected and became a member of the church.

Something I didn’t expect was that I would be invited to attend church business meetings when I turned 12. I thought that was pretty grownup and cool, until … I attended one of “those” business meetings where tempers flare, harsh words are shouted across the aisles, and the underbelly of the church shows its fury.

What came up during that meeting was the firing of the church’s youth pastor. Adults were passionate for and against and some pretty tough words were tossed around the church worship center. I sat in my seat stunned and disheartened by the news. All of us kids loved our youth pastor. He was kind, loving and lots of fun.  He was somebody we could talk to when no one else would listen. As I remember it, that was the day that eventually led to the creation of an atheist.

I was angry with the adults involved in the firing of our youth pastor and those who supported the decision. I saw them in a new light. Their hypocrisy loomed large in front of me. My anger grew week by week until I no longer wanted to attend church. I became interested in martial arts in junior high school and began studying about Eastern religions. When I was a junior and senior in high school I pulled out of many of the school and church activities that had kept me engaged for years. I spent more time reading the writings of people like Bertrand Russell and David Hume.

My parents were concerned about the road I was traveling and thought working at a denominational church camp might be a good experience for me. What it did was introduce me to other young people who were having similar struggles with their faith in God and were further along in their rebellion. I had just graduated from high school. Many of them were college students with more “real world” experience.

The summer I was working at the church camp was the same summer the news came out that John Lennon had pronounced Christianity in decline and the Beatles “more popular than Jesus.” I remember hearing the news and seeing Christians from all over the campground bring their Beatle records and posters into the middle of a courtyard to burn them in protest of what Lennon had said. Some of the kids seemed serious, but it was just something to do for many of them on a warm summer evening. I thought the whole thing was a bit weird.

I started college a couple of weeks after getting home from summer camp. I remember walking into the Studies in World Religions class and seeing a serious-looking professor behind a large desk. Once we were seated at our desks he went to work evangelizing us for atheism. He questioned everything we had ever been told about Christianity. He threw up reason after reason about why Christianity could not possibly be true because religion was based on the theory of the existence of God and there was no proof that God existed. If God did not exist, how could a non-existent God have a son who would be born of a virgin and die for our sins? Where was the proof that Jesus had ever existed? Where was the proof that the ancient texts of the Bible weren’t written by madmen? Day after day the professor hammered away at every belief of the Christian faith claiming that there was absolutely no evidence for it. I had no interest in standing up to the professor in defense of Christianity. I even found what he said enlightening. Taking the final step into atheism was just around the corner from that class.

My path to atheism began long before attending an atheist professor’s religion class. It began with Christians and churches that did not prepare me to believe in God. Because I was not prepared to believe, I was not prepared to defend. When I did become a theist years later, I immediately began focusing on how to defend Christianity to atheists and how to prepare young people to believe in God and defend their faith. Why? Because of people like my professor and Peter Boghossian.

Dr. Boghossian is a fellow martial artist, so we have something in common. Martial artists have a special code of honor and respect. Something else we have in common is the deep desire to impact the lives of people. The State of Oregon has funded his research studies in helping prison inmates increase their critical thinking and moral reasoning abilities. The goal is “to increase their desistance to criminal behavior” (Biography of Dr. Peter Boghossian, Portland State University). He also teaches in hospitals, public and private schools, seminaries, colleges and universities (Biography). His specialties are in critical thinking, science and pseudoscience, atheism and new atheism. Dr. Boghossian is a national speaker for the Secular Student Alliance and an international speaker for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. He has also written many papers and articles on the subject of philosophy, skepticism and atheism, and now has a new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.”

If we had met during the ’60s, I believe Dr. Boghossian and I could have been friends; maybe even trained together in martial arts and shared together about the philosophy of atheism. He would have been a great guest for my atheist radio talk show. However, that will not happen now because of something that happened to me more than 40 years ago. I looked at the evidence for the existence of God and the claims of Christianity and became a theist and Christian. While that strikes my atheist friends as strange and very “un-atheistic,” it makes complete sense to me. I went through it all – the creation of an atheist to the new creation of a theist.

The timing of Dr. Boghossian’s new book is probably very good for the atheistic movement. It has been floundering for decades. The arguments atheists use today are the same old, tired arguments I used almost 45 years ago. “A Manual for Creating Atheists” may change that. As one reviewer of the book wrote, “Up to now, most atheists have simply criticized religion in various ways, but the point is to dispel it” (Dr. Jerry Coyne). The goal of Dr. Boghossian’s book is to prepare atheists to attack religion at what they think is its weakest point – reliance on faith rather than evidence.

While that has a rather ominous tone, it is certainly too soon to begin digging Christianity’s grave. The reason is that we have a mountain of evidence to support the claims of theism and Christianity. Even as Dr. Boghossian and other atheists plan their attack and mount their great steeds of reason and critical thinking, it is time for the Church to hear the battle cry and prepare an army of apologists to defend the faith and prepare the next generation of Christian soldiers.

Now is not the time for fear, doubt or pulling back. God has called us to go forward and take our stand – “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

The first step in “standing to withstand” is to put on what Paul calls the “belt of truth” (Ephesians 6:14). While I was taught “what” to believe growing up in a Christian church, I was not taught “why” to believe it. Truth is more than just who, what, when, where and how. It’s also “why.”

Mark McGee

Mark McGee

WHY is the missing piece that makes all the difference in creating or un-creating an atheist. If someone had taken the time to train me as a child and teenager in understanding the “why” to the “what,” I may have never become an atheist. Theism makes all the sense in the world when we know why it’s true. The Christian’s first defense against the onslaught of atheism’s attacks on faith is the truth and why it’s true. Knowing the truth of God’s existence prepares us to defend theism. Knowing the truth of Christ’s existence prepares us to defend Christianity. We begin where we must – by standing surrounded by and held together by “truth.”

(Published originally at CreatingAtheists.com)

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17 thoughts on “How to “Un-Create” an Atheist

  1. I am sorry but this article does not sound like you would like believers and non-believers to live in harmony, Mark. This article sounds like the battle cry that atheists hear all the time.

    Referring to your original words: //The timing of Dr. Boghossian’s new book is probably very good for the atheistic movement. It has been floundering for decades. The arguments atheists use today are the same old, tired arguments I used almost 45 years ago. “A Manual for Creating Atheists” may change that. As one reviewer of the book wrote, “Up to now, most atheists have simply criticized religion in various ways, but the point is to dispel it” (Dr. Jerry Coyne). The goal of Dr. Boghossian’s book is to prepare atheists to attack religion at what they think is its weakest point – reliance on faith rather than evidence.

    While that has a rather ominous tone, it is certainly too soon to begin digging Christianity’s grave. The reason is that we have a mountain of evidence to support the claims of theism and Christianity. Even as Dr. Boghossian and other atheists plan their attack and mount their great steeds of reason and critical thinking, it is time for the Church to hear the battle cry and prepare an army of apologists to defend the faith and prepare the next generation of Christian soldiers.

    Now is not the time for fear, doubt or pulling back. God has called us to go forward and take our stand – “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”//

    //Theism makes all the sense in the world when we know why it’s true. The Christian’s first defense against the onslaught of atheism’s attacks on faith is the truth and why it’s true. Knowing the truth of God’s existence prepares us to defend theism. Knowing the truth of Christ’s existence prepares us to defend Christianity. We begin where we must – by standing surrounded by and held together by “truth.”//

    Please enlighten me how words like “attack”, “weakness”, “ominous”, “grave”, “battle cry”, “army”, “defend”, “soldiers”, “fear”, “doubt”, “pulling back”, “take our stand”, “wrestle”, “powers”, “rulers of the darkness”, “wickedness”, “armor”, and “evil day” project your desire to live in harmony with others of different belief, or no belief at all?

    Your blood-cult cries of attack are precisely why I will remain a non-believer… That and the lack of empirical evidence that can demonstrate the existence of a supernatural, all-powerful, invisible friend.

    • Hi, Tat. Living in harmony does not mean we do not have a mission to accomplish during our life on earth. As the Apostle Paul wrote, we do not fight against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers. All of us, every person on earth, are in the same spiritual situation. The commonality of that is certainly reason for harmony and understanding. The words you asked me to enlighten you about are in the spiritual sense. I have taught martial arts and self defense tactics for 50 years. I teach anyone who wants to learn how to protect themselves. I have no ill will toward anyone. Therefore, living in harmony as a believer with believers and unbelievers is a joy. The enemy about which I speak is Satan and other spiritual powers of darkness.

      As for the comments about atheists attacking Christians, that’s a quote from atheist Jerry Coyne concerning Dr. Boghossian’s book. My words concerning the theist response to the atheist attack is simply to “defend” and “prepare.” It’s the same lessons I teach in martial arts. Our response to a physical attack is to defend. Our primary defense is to evade and remove – evade the attack and remove the attacker to a place where they can no longer do harm. In Chinese martial arts we call the process “leading the opponent to emptiness.” That “emptiness” (also called the “void”), means the place where they can no longer carry out an attack. We lead the attacker in the direction they want to go, except that we remove ourselves as the target of their intent and lead them to a place of quiet repose to consider the error of their ways.

      My desire is to live life in a way that does good and not harm. Sharing with others the love of God is the best way I know to do good and not harm. To know the Truth that will set people free but not share that Truth would be to do harm and not good.

      Resolving these life issues is much like solving a math problem. If I find that I am unable to solve the problem, which direction should I go? Continue moving in the same direction? Or admit my mistake, return to the beginning and find the proper path to solving the problem? The quickest way to solve the problem is to go back to go on. If I find myself traveling on the wrong path, I can continue moving along that path but it will never lead me to my desired destination. I must admit my error, turn back and return to the beginning of my journey and seek the right path. It is there, on that right path, that I will find what I’m looking for.

      As for the “lack of empirical evidence” concerning the existence of God, it is in the eye of the beholder. I once looked at the evidence and disbelieved. I looked again and believed. I understand the difficulties and the challenges. That’s why I’m sharing the investigative process into evidence in “Convince Me There’s a God.”

      Hope that helps. Thanks for writing!

      Mark

    • Mark, please demonstrate your god to me and I will agree with you. Then we won’t have to discuss belief and faith, but rather the facts. In this I would like to see your demonstration to be: observable, testable, falsifiable, repeatable, and predictable. TIA.

    • You would like God to become a scientific experiment in a laboratory? Is that the only way you will agree He exists? I ask because I did basically the same thing. I challenged God to show up on my radio talk show and let me interview Him. I had a chair and microphone for him at the broadcast table. He didn’t show up … at least not the way I planned it … so I made fun of people who believed in God. I was asking the supernatural God to jump through my naturalistic hoops. What He did was have me jump through His. I was definitely surprised.

      This is how God works – “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

      God is not a pet that I can “demonstrate.” He doesn’t jump when I say jump or roll over when I say roll over. If I was able to “demonstrate” God, to make Him be what I want Him to be, He wouldn’t be God as described in the Bible. He would be closer to one of the “gods” of many religions that people can manipulate to get what they want.

      I understand that this won’t meet the criteria you set out in your challenge to me, but your naturalistic criteria is not going to work in the case of the supernatural. How does the natural prove the supernatural? Does the supernatural not exist simply because the natural does not want it to exist? How can you be sure?

      Mark

  2. Here’s what atheism is…………

    “If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.”

    —William Lane Craig

    “As atheists, we must build our lives on a foundation of unyielding despair.”

    —Bertrand Russell

    • themutatedshrimp on said:

      Bertrand Russell never wrote that. The only context in which he wrote the words “unyielding despair” was the paper “A Free Man’s Worship”, but that paper is more of an argument against Christianity than one for, or even about, atheism. See quotes like:

      “The savage … is willing to prostrate himself before his gods, without inquiring whether they are worthy of his worship.”

      “Worship, if it is not to cease, must be given to gods of another kind than those created by the savage.”

      Read the whole paper. The language and sentence structure is very flowery, but it’s a good read.
      (Text of “A Free Man’s Worship”: http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-fmw.html)

      Also, it needn’t be said that while Bertrand Russell was a very good author, he hardly speaks for all atheists.

      William Lane Craig is a professional Christian apologist, known for his dishonesty when presenting non-religious views, and cannot be trusted to provide an accurate statement of what atheism is.

      Atheism is a lack of belief in any god or gods. If you try to characterize atheism for all atheists as anything beyond that, you will be making a grievous error.

      To me, atheism is freedom from the tyranical, murderous god that I was taught about as a child. My atheism is the ability to choose my own destiny. It is the responsibility to make the world a better place, because there is no supernatural being who will do it for me. It’s the burden of righting my own wrongs, because I cannot just ask for forgiveness. And it’s the joy of knowing that my life and my future is determined by me, not by a being that delights in suffering and still claims to be the embodiment of love.

      That’s what my atheism is to me. Ask a different atheist, and he or she will give you a different answer.

    • “………William Lane Craig is a professional Christian apologist, known for his dishonesty when presenting non-religious views”

      He is a philosopher and theologian. How is he known for his dishonesty?

    • It doesn’t really matter what Craig or Russell might say when we have so much empirical evidence to the contrary. Chris Johnson’s book, A better life, profiles 100 atheists talking about what brings them wonder and joy, and how the cherish the lives they lead, steeped in love and the satisfactions that come from service.

    • It matters greatly what these two thinkers have to say. They are both profoundly deep thinkers who have focused on exactly the topics we are discussing. They have both followed the evidence and the logic of their worldviews. Because many atheists are happy has really almost nothing to do with this discussion.

  3. I read your article carefully and came to the conclusion you might be prey to bias blindness. I see where you were indoctrinated to behave in church/family approved ways, I see where you wanted to make decisions you thought were what your family and extended family [church proxy] would approve of. I see you recount your disillusionment with the “people” in the church who let you down emotionally. I understand you reaching out to other support systems you thought were the antithesis of belief, in as you state, in anger and rebellion [a common occurrence in puberty, as I recall]. I also see your eventual return to the environment that gave you the *most emotional comfort*. Nowhere do I see any positive statements that your belief in god was real to you in a concrete sense. In fact, although you cite mountains of evidence, you don’t actually give any. Children at 10, or 12 for that matter; don’t have the tools available to them to make intellectual decisions beyond their emotional capacity. I think you are today a product of your early conditioning, and you want to believe badly enough to be able to shut out any cognitive dissonance you experience from day to day. It’s ok. Some people are unable to deal with the concept of personal responsibility that occurs outside the auspices of “your heavenly father.” The majority are with you demographically. Many share similar journeys as you do. They all have the same common thread. They think they were atheists. They now think they are believers. Some regale us with “I used to be an atheist” stories and offer it as evidence of god.

    Thinking critically is not “atheism”. Withholding affection isn’t atheism. Searching for answers to metaphysical questions is not atheism. Counter-Apologetics is not atheism.

    Not believing is.

    • Hi, P. I wrote “How to ‘Un-Create’ an Atheist” for another blog, so it was for a specific purpose to address the new book written by Dr. Boghossian. You will find many posts on FaithandSelfDefense.com where I share specific evidences for belief in God.

      I have heard similar “conclusions” from other atheists since becoming a Christian, but it doesn’t ring true.

      Thanks for writing.

      Mark

    • I’m sure it doesn’t. 🙂 That’s the nature of bias blindness. I’m not building a case for atheism, by the way, or trying to de-convert anyone. I’m satisfied with your beliefs if you are. I only object when christianity isn’t as laissez faire as I am.

    • Hi, P. Bias blindness is based on introspective illusion? How do you know you’re not suffering from it? How are you sure of your confidence in what you believe? Can no one be sure?

      I agree with you, if this is your point, that we are all blinded by our biases. That is the human condition as explained thoroughly in the Bible. We need to look to something or someone with clear vision since ours is clouded by illusion. What or who would that be? My search through a variety of thought-belief systems led me to theism and Christianity based on the evidence presented. Giving “sight” to the “blind” is what Jesus does. He came for that purpose.

      As for Christianity being as “laissez faire” as you are – how laissez faire are you? Merriam-Webster defines the term as, “a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action.” How does your commenting on this blog fit with “deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action”? If you are truly “laissez faire,” why write me in the first place? Why did you write me unless you wanted to direct my choice or action in some way? That’s not a condemnation of your writing because I’m glad you did. Just a question so I understand how laissez faire you want Christians to be.

      A true disciple of Jesus Christ cannot be both a follower of Jesus and laissez faire. The very definition of a disciple of Christ means we follow, learn and obey. Just prior to ascending to Heaven Jesus told His disciples to make disciples of all the nations and teach them to observe (obey) everything He had commanded them to do. The process Jesus gave His Church for making disciples is the opposite of laissez faire. God wants Christians involved in helping people make right choices that lead to right actions.

      You have raised an interesting subject here because a large number of people who are counted as Christians practice the philosophy of laissez faire rather than true discipleship. Would I be correct from what you’ve written that you would like all people who are counted within Christianity to be more like them (laissez faire) and less like true disciples of Jesus? I ask because I don’t think atheists have as much problem with the average Christian (so-called) than disciples of Christ. If I am wrong about that, please explain how.

      Thanks!

      Mark

    • I would mostly agree with Webster’s definition of laissez-faire. My social activism in the political arena is to promote a pluralistic society where all faith/non-faith people can live in harmony, without feeling the need to impose their views on others. I’m sure given your expressed views already, that you don’t agree. The founding fathers [with support from early christians] felt it important to keep church and state separate in order to avoid the situations they had escaped from where church, entwined with the workings of government prevented their free expressions of religion.
      I have to roll my eyes a little when I see someone touting “true discipleship”. If christians were to follow jesus as the disciples did, they would sell their property, donate the money to the church, and serve the needs of the poor. I don’t see a lot of that happening in the US today.
      As for your predictions of my intent in posting, why have a public blog and promote it in social media if you don’t want participation and comment? I half expected my comments would not get out of moderation as is the wont and common practice of many theist blogs. Kudos to you on your willingness to interact with others.
      A final thought in conclusion.- I was raised in the church. Went to seminary. Had plans to be ordained. There was just one problem. I couldn’t believe. Not for lack of trying or enthusiasm, either. I’ve been an apostate for 50 years or so, now. I have yet to see any evidence of the existence of god. If you find any, feel free to share it with me. 🙂

    • Hi, P. I agree with you about people of faith and non-faith living in harmony, without feeling the need to “impose” their views on others. Also agree that church and state should be separate. That makes for a free-will society. True discipleship as practiced by the apostles in Judea in the years following Christ’s resurrection and ascension was pretty strict as you might expect for a group of people waiting for the Messianic kingdom. What changed Christianity was God’s reaching beyond Judea and opening the door of faith to the Gentiles through the ministry of Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and others after Israel rejected the God’s offer of the Messianic kingdom. The way God managed the household of faith moved from communal living to exemplifying Christ in the community. Most of the values remained the same or similar, but Christians lived in their own property and determined how much they would give to the poor. The writings of the Apostle Paul explain the change well and challenge Christians to give themselves fully to God’s purpose.

      I do like participation and comment on blog posts. I was asking about the term “laissez faire” since you mentioned it. I think it’s good for people to dialog about matters important to them. Christians willing to dialog with me is how I learned about the evidence for the existence of God and of the truth of Christianity.

      You mentioned that you “have yet to see any evidence of the existence of god.” Do you mean you have seen no evidence or that you have seen no evidence that convinced you? I’m assuming it’s the latter given your background in the church and seminary experience. I will admit that I was not aware of how much evidence was available to investigate in 1971 until prompted by apologists to do so. It took months for me to look through it and ask questions about the credibility of the evidence. I’m currently detailing that investigation in a series on this blog. It’s called “Convince Me There’s A God.”

      Thanks again for writing! Hope you have a wonderful week.

      Mark

    • Hi Mark- I guess we’d have to come to an understanding about what we consider evidence. Personal experiences and anecdotal accounts of supernatural events are not what I would call evidence. I also feel it important to have independent verification for historical claims.

      All right, it’s been enjoyable discussing. You have a good week as well.

      P

  4. Dr. Boghossian’s book is very welcome. We have mountains of evidence and the more atheists attack the better. This will only have the unintended consequence of helping better educate Christians.

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