I used to be religious. I came from a relatively conservative Afrikaans family, and I was raised on NG Church weddings and dreary services. I never considered myself to be a fully devout christian, just like the many children who go through the motions of a routine that they can’t really care too much about. That changed when I saw Kent Hovind’s videos on creationism.
Creationism, in a diminutive nutshell, says
God created the Earth 6,000 odd years ago;
there was an ice layer in the core of the earth, and another above the atmosphere, which created a perpetual aurora borealis, and refracted UV rays so that radiation (which ages us) never touched the Earth, rendering living creatures immortal;
the air pressure and oxygen concentration was so intense that lizards, insects and flora grew to enormous proportions, and humans and other mammals grew to be a lot bigger than they currently do;
large fruit provided excellent nutrition, everything was vegetarian;
the great flood from the bible happened when a meteorite broke through the ice layer, sending huge chunks of ice to the earth, and heating the rest up until it turned into a forty-day global rainstorm, which turned the world from mostly land mass to mostly water;
the sun’s UV rays, and background radiation came through to us, the oxygen content of the world dropped, and people lost immortality; and
we gradually shrunk in size and our lifespans shortened, from Methuselah to modern humans.
I was a teenager; these notions appealed, in an extremely potent sense, to my love for fantastical ideas. Suddenly, the world became porous and allowed me to fill its holes with imagination in a way that actually seemed real. I mostly treated it like any fantasy, as a fun theoretical that you explore until you’re bored. After high-school, I was existentially lost and, at my cousin’s suggestion, I enrolled in a year for Christ, which is when I really paid attention to Creationism again. During that year, 2008, I spent six days a week in church, I intensely studied the bible with a fervour that I hadn’t ever had as a child learning Ephesians off by heart. I learned about the sciences of creationism, the unseen world around us, the pitfalls of animistic/secular religion, and how we are spiritually assaulted, daily.
I lived by the philosophy to ‘think like you don’t believe, and believe like you don’t think’. I aggressively challenged other Christians on their motives in pontificating, or their factual flaws in debating. I told them that their viewing evolutionism with derision was dangerous, and that they weren’t even trying to understand the people they spoke to. I would heatedly tell them that if they couldn’t get their facts straight when we were discussing evolution, then they’d be jokes when an atheist talked to them. I committed to not drink, go out to any club, smoke, do drugs, or become sexually or romantically involved for the year. I managed to keep to all but one of those. I grew a strong bond with the other 80-something students in my class – we travelled the country, hiked mountains, and did survival camps. We suffered together, and we truly loved one another. It was a wonderful sense of community the likes of which I’d never experienced before or since. The flip side is that I became much more isolated from my older friends. Since I never went out anymore, I distanced from them, to the point where they thought that I might have joined a cult. Some of them still believe that I did and, despite my fond memories, I sometimes wonder myself. Some of the things that had seemed so normal back then become disconcerting through time, such as a girl who actually did fast for forty days; or a friend whose mother taught his little brother to set fire to troll dolls because they were caricatures of demons with residual demonic force in them.
In time, we scattered, some of my classmates married some of my other classmates, some went abroad, most of us are sprinkled over South Africa now. I believed that wherever I went, it would be my purpose to spread the light of what I’d learned to those around me. I spent a year teaching, and, being celibate, I dated a few very frustrated girls. Eventually I ended up in university, studying journalism. Some of the older notes I used to post on Facebook are still filled with christian sentiments. I loved religious philosophy and turning meaningful experiences into metaphors that other people could relate to. Some of the friends I made would become very irritated with me, saying that I was too smart to believe that kind of nonsense. They’d argue with me over facts and the ridiculousness of a young earth theory, and I’d answer or, failing that, read up and figure out what the answer was. University being university, I was exposed to massive amounts of new opinions, both academically and socially. I devoured Kant, Hegel, Hume, Nietzsche, Aquinas, and many more. Time attrited faith. Eventually I was left with a dogmatic idea that I only defended out of habit.
One night, around my second or third, a friend and I spoke about it in his car. He stopped arguing facts in that moment and asked me whether I didn’t think that the idea of creationism would be offensive to a creator? Say God would create the context of physics, time, and light, and set this framework up into the most intricate domino set imaginable. He’d nudge the first one, and the big bang would crash out. A crescendo of light and force would shoot out, and swirl around itself, energy would meet gravity and shape into stars and nebulae. Stars would swirl into existence and then send out massive pulses before they would crush into themselves with unimaginable pressure, to become black holes. This would keep happening until supermassive black holes would have whole galaxies waltzing around them. And somewhere in between all that, one star, among the trillions, would be at exactly the right distance from a planet for water to thaw, and for life to sprout. The dominoes would keep falling in their elaborate pattern as fish turned to lizard turned to primate turned to us. And then, we would be the final God’s crowning achievement. We would be the apex of God’s symphony, so special for the length of the buildup we needed.
Creationism argues “No. Forget 99.9’% of that, God just made the world as it is, the stars are just there just ‘because’, and that’s all there is to it.” Is that not fundamentally insulting to what would be the greatest artist, engineer and designer ever? I realised that it was. On a more honest note, I realised that I might have subscribed to the belief because of its implications for my religion. I was scared of what evolution’s truth might say about the truth of the pentateuch.
Nail in the coffin.
It hit me that though I believed in the factual accuracy of creationism (I don’t anymore), I never accepted it for any logical reason. I loved the idea for the poetry of it, and when that glamour was dispelled by one simple conversation, I saw it for what it was. Nonsense. The dominoes began falling for me too. It drew a beeline through everything I’d believed for years. With the rug of a solid belief ripped away I began questioning everything in a much more real sense – ‘think like you don’t believe. Period.’ I realised that too often religious thinking will challenge science by saying that it keeps updating its information about the age of the Earth, universe, evolutionary trail to us, etc. How could we trust it when it would always change its tune. The thing is that science has the humility to answer a question by saying ‘I don’t know, yet’. To claim that the answer is already there, and that it is absolute, is dogmatic, and it stifles progress. There are atheists who do this same kind of thing. They claim science as infallible, and become dogmatic about its findings. That’s just as wrong. The potential problem for both ends is simply pride.
Pride is also what anchors many people in a faith they don’t practise. The hardest thing about deconversion isn’t the act itself – that happens for most people without them even realising. The hard part is admitting it to yourself; it’s terrifying to think that what you once held as a conviction is meaningless, nothingness. That you’d been taken in by the power of an institution and had wool pulled over your eyes. It makes you question everything else you think. There is also the worry that deconversion might actually be the one unforgivable sin – blasphemy against the holy ghost.