This includes some notes
into my thoughts and reading for reference and further research.
To make finding this information easy, most of the notes lead to
whilst some of the books referenced link to free on-line versions.
My background was very liberal. I was first attracted to Christianity
when I was only about six by hearing the story of the crucifixion at
school. I remember feeling that what happened to Jesus was unfair as
(so I thought) he just wanted people to be good and to love each
other. So he had my support. This was basically my attitude until my
late teens. Very simplistic, and not so far particularly damaging!
What I believed in from the start and what attracted me to
Christianity was a message of love. It was the desire for this that
was primal and would become the driving force that took me out later.
Although I believed in it, for the first years religion was just one
of my aspects. Until my late teens it was not particularly what my
life was always centred around. At about 15 I thought that I needed to
find some more seriousness to life, which I didn't perceive (rightly
or wrongly) in the people around me. I decided I should go to church.
None of my family went, although my parents are nominally Christians,
it was never a big deal for them. So I told them I wanted to go to
church. My Dad used to go when he was younger, so he took me for a
while so he could "explain the ropes." We went to a moderately high
Anglican church, and the layout of the service was very strange until
I got used to it. I loved going. I found the gentle atmosphere and
sense of mystery, and the focus on a message of love just what I
wanted. I was also very attracted to church music (the "classical"
type) and joined the church choir. This got me more involved, but
mostly in the music and fellowship rather than any strong religion. I
did take it seriously though, it just wasn't at all evangelical or
fundamentalist etc. I decided to get confirmed, and also took an
active part in various discussion groups. There wasn't at this stage
in my religious experience anything unpleasant that I had noticed. I
was always unhappy with anything at all fundamentalist in religion and
thought that "charismatics" as we called them were a bit disturbing
and probably crazy. It didn't seem to have much to do with religion as
I knew it.
Next I went to university to study for a physics degree. I joined the
university Anglican society that was again very liberal. They were the
sort who were mostly interested in spirituality and fellowship. The
"kingdom of God" was an inner process and not a revolutionary state on
earth! Their favourite theologian was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They were
certainly not evangelical. I also had (and still have) many liberal
and very good friends who were Methodists and Catholics, as well as
those whose religious status I do not know. As I said, a desire for
the message of love and not dogma was the driving force at the time.
Up to that stage I would be hard pressed to say that my religion was
particularly unhealthy. Instead it was thoughtful and became more so.
It was of course a deeper thinking about Christianity and the search
for deeper spirituality (however one may think of "spirituality") that
would later lead me out of religion.
I had always liked philosophy, but I wasn't widely read. Up to then it
had been chiefly Plato and Aristotle, and I was only just discovering
Popper. I had no problem with evolution or the discoveries of
cosmology or the rest of science, I felt that a literal interpretation
of the bible was trivialising what God must be. What exactly God was
or meant remained a mystery, but I liked the mysteries. Meanwhile, at
university I had the first decent exposure to arguments from atheists.
At first I think I made more of an impression on them than they on me,
because they weren't really attacking Christianity as I knew it and I
was the thoughtful type. I'm glad to say I didn't convert anyone. It
was not my intention to anyway.
I got to know some more informed freethinkers. (Now I loath the term
"non-Christian" with its negative connotations. It is like calling a
woman a "non-man" as if it is a defect!). I was perturbed that I could
not give an adequate coherent account of even the basics of
Christianity. Why was the atonement necessary, and how does it work?
It seemed very weak when analysed by an outsider and was disturbing to
find how easily I could be made to flounder. I was also perturbed to
discover something of the history of Christianity, such that an
a human phenomena should sound so convincing and plausible when
confronted with the evidence. However, since I was not well read
enough at the time, I was cautious. I didn't want to lose my faith
because I read or heard something convincingly deconverting when a
Christian source could have explained in a Christian way for me if I
had only searched better. So I resolved to read Bertrand Russell et
al, but not yet. I needed Christian ammo. (Note I didn't give the
opposite scenario a thought, that I might be hoodwinked into
I was also becoming more worried by the cruel things in the bible.
Especially the unpleasant things said by Jesus .
I could only assume
that they didn't mean what they sounded like, but it was disturbing
that they were there at all. Also, I almost deconverted whilst at
university due to what seemed a more coherent explanation of
Christianity as a human phenomenon. I was kept back though by the
feeling that as Thomas Merton said "by denying God we are denying
ourselves." If I wasn't a Christian I would be missing something
important in life, therefore there had to be something in it. I
finished my degree and got a job.
I read veraciously. I got through Bonhoeffer, all of C.S. Lewis, G.K
Chesterton, "the cloud of unknowing," Thomas à Kempis and other
classics, as many of the archbishop of Canterbury's lent books as I
could find, as well as swallowing a concordance and assorted Christian
books whose names now escape me. I also joined an evangelical church!
Although not really my scene, I actually found it quite exciting when
I tried it out. I was struck by how strongly the people there really
believed in their religion. I had not encountered that strength of
belief before. The people I got to know best (my "home group") were
very pleasant and relaxed, and seemed pretty liberal.
As Christianity became more central, I noticed a feeling in me that I
didn't like. When I was a younger teenager and religion was just one
of the things I was interested in, it did not particularly impinge on
how I felt about other people. Most of the time I wasn't thinking
about religion at all. In contrast, by my late teens and early
twenties Christianity became central and it made a difference to how I
perceived someone if they weren't a Christian. I felt I had a special
relationship with God through accepting Christ. This was a barrier to
people that I became more aware of, but didn't appreciate the full
significance of until I deconverted.
Although avoiding explicitly anti-Christian books, I noticed things in
novels and everyday conversations that caused me to think. I remember
putting some books down after every paragraph and trying to figure out
how I could reconcile that to Christian belief. I read many books of
apologetics in an attempt to understand.
Some of my freethinking friends were so pleasant, kind and moral and
yet completely against Christianity that the condemnation of
nonbelievers in the bible and at church really upset me. One night I
even dreamt that I was told to "pray for a better God!" (How's that
for a paradox?!)
Eventually I bit the bullet. I felt that I had to be allowed (by God)
to examine the other side of the argument. I trusted him to help me
come to a deeper faith if he was there. If he wasn't there then maybe
I would find that out. I put myself in his hands to stop me being
misled. I also kept a journal all through this period which makes a
fascinating (for me) insight into my deconversion. I read books on the
psychology of religion and the history of Christianity from as neutral
as possible sources. Meanwhile I had an (almost) "deconversion
One of my main anchors in Christianity was the feeling that without it
we are missing something important. I was at a rehearsal of the Brahms
German Requiem. Though not an atheistic work, the genius and humanity
at the great achievement of Brahms came through to me and coupled with
this was the disaster of death and the cessation of being. It struck
me suddenly that to be such a deeply conscious aware human being in
life and then to "not exist" is a far more powerful thing than an
afterlife or anything God could do. The heroism and tragedy of human
life which is so marvellous and yet is capable of ending had a very
big impact on me. It was partly the feeling that the universe had
created something greater than itself - conscious, aware, striving man
who is doomed after a short spell of the miracle of awareness to
complete oblivion. The power and impact of such a thought (this is the
important bit of the experience that really got me thinking) was
completely lost if God existed, or was even thought to exist, which really
struck me as remarkable. This was really very shocking and disturbed
me very much. It seemed to me that death is one of the most natural
things for living beings and it is something which is denied us by
many religions. It places a special dignity on human conscious life -
aware and striving - and so vulnerable!
I had thought that we only become fully human by believing in God, and
now one of the deepest human experiences was only possible for me if I
didn't believe in God, or at least didn't believe in the afterlife.
How could this be?
I read Karen Armstrong's "Tongues of fire" and was shocked. I found
here people of all creeds and none having all the deep numinous,
spiritual and loving experiences that I thought were the province of
Christianity. I also saw in the commentary a psychologically
convincing description of the early Christians (especially St. Paul).
I had by this time read much psychology and history. It was starting
to piece together. Next, I read Russell's "Why I am not a Christian."
When I came to the passage where Russell says that Christ had a
serious moral defect, he believed in hell - my stomach churned. I felt
that too but had never dared even mentally expressing it. How was I to
love a God who divides sheep from goats and condemns those I love and
It seems to me now that the idea of hell  is so
disgusting that it
makes a mockery even of the most terrible horrors of WW2. For people
to believe in it or even seriously entertain the idea makes me wonder
if we have learnt anything about human compassion, cruelty and our
real needs. It really seems to me that the idea is so vindictive and
abhorrent that it is a very serious moral defect for anyone to believe
in it with any kind of understanding of what it means. The fact that
the church throughout the ages and that Jesus and St. Paul even entertained the idea, really makes it hard for me to believe them to be
anything more than men caught up in the religious ideas of their time. I honestly
cannot believe that anyone, not even God, has the right to send people to hell or even
allow people to believe in it with such conviction. I do not think I will ever believe
that the butchering guards at Dachau, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Auschwitz and the
like were actually perfect and that what they did to Jews, gypsies and homosexuals is
justice which I will someday have revealed to me as right. Neither do I think that I
will ever believe that a God who lets this happen (and natural disasters) is perfect and
I will realise when I meet him that "all will be well" and it is right that people go to
hell. How more offensive and ignorant can a religion be?! Far too many people
believe in hell. It is a dreadful and dark thing that makes people believe in holy
damnation. The fact that Jesus, as depicted in the gospels, believed in hell is to me
such a serious religious problem that it was one of the things that finally broke up my
Christianity. What was going on in this book! As a liberally natured Christian I had
never really believed in the existence of hell, or at least I shied away from hell
thoughts, as it did not fit with my idea of a loving God. Rather I thought all this hell
talk must mean something else. But the problem was that there was so much of it in
the NT and the fact that God seemed to allow the doctrine to be so popular within the
church did bother me very much, as did the fact that if Jesus & St. Paul etc. really
didn't believe in literal hell then the fact that they didn't make it abundantly
transparent that they meant something else was just utterly culpable irresponsibility to
me, so abhorrent is the merest sniff of that doctrine and so dreadful the consequences
of Christians believing it down the ages. 
This was the last straw. I had already found so much in philosophy,
psychology , history ,
biblical criticism and comparative religion that
raised such serious questions for religious beliefs that eventually
the bubble had to burst. Like suddenly seeing the solution to a
mathematical problem that has so far been intractable and is now
totally clear, I realised that Christianity and my feelings were all
the results of messy human history, sociology and our psychological
tangle with all its desire, hopes and fears. I didn't choose to
suddenly believe this. It was just inescapable. I had allowed myself to ask if Christianity made more sense, and was at least equally rich if it was not of God, and overwhelmingly this was what I found. Neither did Christianity seem truly good. I summed it up at the time by saying that religion is "human and natural, not
divine and supernatural."
At first I was upset, but then I became amazed at the fact that this
gigantic edifice of Christianity, with all the enormous cathedrals,
music, books, missionaries, martyrs, people giving lives to prayer,
(crusades, inquisitions), etc. were based on a misunderstanding of the
world!! The enormity of this was incredible to me. I felt that I must
let everybody know, especially as I was in a position to talk about it
since I had known what it was like from the inside. I decided to do
some research and read in every spare moment due to this incredible
interest in what was going on!  I read more
Bertrand Russell, William
James "Varieties of religious experience" (fascinating!), Tolstoy's
"Confessions", more history and Psychology, existentialism
Nietzsche, Jung, Don Cupitt, even theology, working my way through the
city library, and buying heaps of books. Later I discovered Thomas
Paine, T.H. Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane and Robert Ingersol.
Due to my total change of world view I also had some very weird
experiences that were not like anything I had expected. I was struck
enormously by what I called "existential shock." I was completely
amazed at the mere fact of existence. Not in a "wow that's impressive"
manner but in a feeling that I only had religious words for. It was
being struck by the amazing "sacrament" of life - or the utter shock
and opportunity of existence over its alternative. It was totally
numinous and an almost disturbing feeling that existence is the case.
I felt transformed, awed, excited - the whole world seemed more
special than can ever be said. Life was far more poignant without
Christianity than it had ever been with it. I was not expecting this
to happen to me. I thought these experiences were what converted
people to religion, not what you got when you left! I soon found two
books by Marghanita Laski describing such experiences felt by others,
again from all creeds and none. I have since found friends who have
similar perceptions. They are not unlike some of the poems by Thomas
Traherne (e.g. "Wonder")
or the experiences described by Huxley in the
"Doors of perception". These experiences happen to the religious, the
nonreligious and the drugged!  All these experiences were human, and
all the more amazing for it.
All the problems and clutter associated with religion disappeared of
course, though I won't pretend it was easy explaining my new position
to my Christian friends. (Some still don't know). Just as others have
reported in ex-tian stories, when I told my Christian friends they
were only interested in finding out where I had gone wrong. The chance
that I had honestly discovered something was not admitted as a
possibility. Apparently I caused a stir and comments like "Jesus
predicted that some would fall by the wayside". How's that for love
and understanding from people you thought you where sharing deep
things with before? I even had one of them trying to justify hell to
me about six years after my deconversion. What can you say to that? 
I have found now a far wider understanding of the world as I no longer
rationalise all my thoughts in notebooks into a "Christian"
interpretation of the world around me without having the grace or
charity to find out what the facts were and to think unhindered about
what is going on. That is also why I prefer to call myself a
"freethinker", as that is how I feel I am. An "atheist" has negative
connotations and it seems absurd to define oneself by relation to
something that doesn't exist.
The greatest benefit I discovered was the disappearance of a spiritual
barrier for me between people. When I had strong religion, my feeling
was that if someone did not know God, then they where "not yet fully
human" (though I did the best to not think this, it was there). A
"non-Christian" was "spiritually misguided" and it was impossible to
properly relate to or feel for such a person. I was in a "spiritually
superior state". Now I see Christians just as people but with a
mistaken belief, just like I may disagree with someone's politics, in
that it doesn't mean I am in a different relationship to God (or
Jesus) than them! There is a big difference between disagreeing with
someone and thinking your relationship with a deity is different.
I now see us all as vulnerable human beings full of hopes and fears
and psychological tangle. The relief from religious problems and the
fresh perception of a world I had hardly seen before, and the real
ability to accept people deep down has made me very happy. For me
there came a feeling of all people and nature being
in the same boat together, a feeling deep down of "brotherliness" and
most of all a sense of complete understanding and acceptance of
life. From all this came great compassion for our messy human
situation and remarkable connection with a world that I
finally felt I understood. None of this is what I had expected to find
and I was completely shocked to find so much spiritual love outside of
religion. (Karen Armstrong points out that nontheistic Buddhists
describe belief in God as "unskilful," as it can actually harm the
spiritual life of a person).
Does someone want to convert me back? What can I say! Who should
respond to anything as deep as "God" through fear of what God might do
to them, or not give them if they don't believe it? Christianity,
taken completely seriously, is a travesty of what we can be. What is
most primordial for a Christian? Is it love and truth, or is it
Christianity? If a Christian researched enough to find a conflict
between love and truth versus the beliefs of Christianity which way
should that person go?
I had been taught that you can only love God if you love your
neighbour. It is ironic that I found I could only love my neighbour if
I didn't love God.
A reasonable addendum to my deconversion story is related in my feedback to Richard T.
Some of my personal thoughts on central Christian issues.
Enormous problems with the doctrine of the atonement are discussed in the following:
- Thoughts on
This is part of
Gentle Godlessness - "A Compassionate Introduction to Atheism" by Paul O'Brian.
The injustice of Hell by Emery Lee.
I have included some other cruel things said by Jesus that alarmed me in
For clarification of my thoughts on hell whilst a Christian see this email exchange and this one, especially here.
To find out what I thought of "an old Christian acquaintance trying to justify hell to me
about six years after my deconversion" see The shallowness of the deepest thing.
- Very good philosophy links are:-
The philosophers magazine online
Internet encyclopedia of
The Stanford encyclopedia of
- An introduction to
of religion. There is another promising looking site
- Discussion of the historical examination of Christianity is available at many places on the
The search for the historical Jesus is a very good starting point. The main resources I have found have been put
here at the end of this ongoing discussion about the resurrection.
- For information about some of the books mentioned see here.
The Realm of Existentialism
- Transcript of an account of a religious trip during a LSD experience.
Thomas Traherne's poem
Marghanita Laski's writings on ecstatic experiences.
My commentary on Why God won't go
Leaving Christianity contents |