How Facebook Made Me an Atheist
“I love the God that gave you to me.”
That’s the wedding vow I tearfully delivered to my wife. We didn’t get married in a church (too expensive), but as regular church attendees, earnest believers, and leaders of our church group, we were certainly “in the church.”
Four months after we got married, we were “out of the church.”
It started with Facebook.
In the fall after our summer wedding, as my business ramped up and needed to reach more people, I began to establish a stronger Facebook presence. I went from 400 friends to over 4,000, and I interacted with nearly everyone. I expanded my social network like never before. As I scrolled through my newsfeed, a question began to nag at me.
How can misinformation spread so easily?
I watched thousands of viewpoints careen across Facebook, and I wondered how the more ludicrous (from my perspective) views could ever be formed — let alone be shared and re-shared without question. Fresh on Facebook, I was spending too much time posting Snopes links on the stories my new friends shared that were blatantly untrue and handily debunked.
This quote from Winston Churchill was also shared by one of my friends, and it struck a chord with me:
Facebook taught me that perspectives can be contagious. But perspectives aren’t truth. In fact, this perspective from Winston Churchill that’s been shared hundreds of thousands of times and that I “liked” (in Facebook parlance) isn’t even a quote from Churchill. He never said it. And yet if you Google it, you’ll see his dour expression behind these words more than once.
I realized that humans want to believe.
I am the type of human that wants to believe things happen for a reason, that justice will come in the long run, that my life has a greater calling.
And Facebook showed me that many of my fellow humans feel the same way. The reason X happened is because of God, Big Pharma, Government, Illuminati, Reptilian Overlords, or all of the above. Stuff “doesn’t just happen.” Everything is under someone’s control. The face I saw in my breakfast toast this morning really was The Lord Of The Universe. My stars are aligned. It was a sign. It was meant to be.
And once I realized I’m just as fallible as the next, liking things that confirm my beliefs, sharing things that echo my perspective, I understood how lies really do get halfway around the world while the truth remains pantless. No, it’s not the fault of the Bilderbergs suppressing us or Chemtrails dumbing us down; it’s evolutionary. It’s human.
For the first time in history, Facebook was able to provide us with a direct stream into what everyone around us thinks and believes.
And we believe some crazy things.
So, where did that leave me and my beliefs? How was I to know I wasn’t “one of the crazies”?
I was raised by loving parents who wanted me to be moral, just, honest, and compassionate. They were raised Christian. They raised me Christian.
This seemed right. And at the very least (e.g. Pascal’s wager), it’s better than not believing and then suffering eternal hellfire, right?
In tandem, I was raised to believe the earth was 6,000–10,000 years old, that we really did consume the body and blood of Christ at Communion, and that the Anti-Christ will rise from the seven hills of Rome.
But why? Why did I believe these things? I believed them so much that I incorporated them into a sacred promise to my wife on our wedding day. Was I truly one of God’s children? Or was I simply a good student all my life who believed what he was told? (Much as my parents and teachers listened and did as they were told.)
In this crisis of faith, I decided to do what all Christians are told to do: read my Bible (the one given to me on my confirmation day, with my name embossed on the cover, and inscribed with a poem from my mother).
Now, starting from scratch, the first question I had was whether to take the Bible literally or metaphorically. If you are a literalist, fine — you trust the Word of God is inerrant. If you are a metaphorist, your faith may be “on sand.” For example, which parts do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively? Earth created in six days? Talking snake? The dead rising? Unfortunately for metaphorists, the Bible is quite clear these things must be accepted, and that if you are “lukewarm” on the subject, He will spit you out. So literalism — trusting that the Word of God is all you need — is really the only logically defensible position for a religion that repeatedly claims as much.
The problem is that Biblical literalism flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about the universe.
And this is where my crisis brought me. I realized that what was literally in the Bible was patently untrue. I read the Bible. It explicitly tells me the earth was created in six days, day and night equaling one day. It tells me God destroyed the earth in an epic, worldwide flood. It tells me the earth stopped rotating for one day to help one army defeat another. If I truly believed these things, then laws in the observable universe tested time and again by science and physics would prove untrue — an untenable position.
I didn’t have a solid introduction to science at my creationist Christian elementary school. I was told evolution was “just a theory.” Thankfully, decades later in the social media zeitgeist, I’ve been exposed to many different perspectives, some of them actually scientifically sound.
It was discovering the skeptic community online that made me feel at peace. I no longer had to reconcile my faith and science. I could leave my faith behind (though slowly, since it’s taken me three years to write this). I learned skeptics and atheists weren’t Anti-Christs without morals. They were by and large good people with rational, scientific, and just perspectives. And if they didn’t have answers for some things, they didn’t cover it up with talk of God and miracles. They didn’t require faith that suspended belief in the rational, physical universe.
I’d like to end this with a simple outline of the path I took moving from the Bible to science. I’m not trying to convince anyone of my perspective (that’s unlikely to happen), but perhaps I can help lost souls who find themselves at the same irrational intersection of science and Christianity, looking for a way along two roads that never meet.
Potholer54 — A respected science journalist with a surprisingly large YouTube following and clear, concise videos on complex topics. He answered my questions regarding evolution and the universe.
43Alley — Funny, yet compassionate, he shares his stories so you don’t feel as if you are alone. My favorite atheist voice.
NonStampCollector — His name is taken from the idea that saying “atheism is a religion” is like saying “not collecting stamps is a hobby.” If you’re up for some challenging wit and some laughs on the subject, nothing is sacred.
And for an incredible personal testimony and reasoned approach, I recommend the book “Godless” by Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher turned atheist, and now co-president (with his wife whom he met on Oprah!) of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Finally, read the Bible start to finish. (Assuming you don’t become an atheist before finishing — I had to put it down when a guy chopped up his recently-raped concubine and mailed her body parts all over the country. This was just after I read about Jephthah a couple chapters back.)
If you’re conflicted like I was, there’s a long way to go down this rabbit hole. But I think the above is a fine start. I spent years of my life reading the Bible, apologists, and skeptics before throwing Occam’s Razor at the whole thing and realizing the simplest answer is most likely true. I needn’t be an apologist for a belief that 1.) was arbitrarily assigned to me at birth and 2.) threatened me with hellfire if I turned away.
If this story shows up in your Facebook newsfeed and doesn’t confirm your beliefs or echo your perspective, that’s okay. That’s what the newsfeed is good for. I still follow Ken Ham. And now I approach each point of view I come across with skepticism and rigor rather than faith and face-value acceptance. Before liking or sharing something, perhaps I’ll Google it and look for reputable sources, or find a logical opposing point of view and read that as well. All the world’s knowledge is just a click away — no need to take at face value what I’m “fed.”
Thinking critically like this has led me to topple a few other personal sacred cows over the years. Together, my wife and I went vegan, support GMOs and vaccines, and vote Libertarian. Of course, your mileage may vary.
So please don’t pray for me. I’m more at peace than ever, now that I can live in a world that makes sense.
With thanks to medium.com.