Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

To Believe or Not to Believe

33 Comments

Having perused a number of blogs of formerly devout Christians who have deconverted it is apparent that much research, thought, and agonizing went into the decision to believe or not to believe.   There are many aspects to consider – cosmology, evolution, the historicity of Jesus, the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible, and the list could go on.

Knowing that deconversion is a process, I’m sure there were a number of things that went into your decisions of whether to continue in your faith or not.  Having said that what I’d like to know is this:

Was there something that tipped the scales for you?  Was there an aha moment that finally pushed things over the edge to unbelief or agnosticism?  If there was, what was it?

If you decided to continue in faith, what was it that kept you from falling over that edge?

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33 thoughts on “To Believe or Not to Believe

  1. What tipped the scales for me was getting to know a wide variety of non-Christians and realizing that they were just as "good" as Christians. That is, I couldn't see any difference in how people from other groups behaved. There were good and bad eggs in both.The churches I had grown up in stressed how important it was to be a Christian and how wretched their lives would be if they weren't constrained by biblical morality. As odd as it may sound it was a great relief to realize that this wasn't true, that there's no correlation (from what I can see) between religious beliefs and how kind, merciful or generous someone is.

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  2. At the end of the day I came to the conclusion that the Bible was not what the church claimed it was. Without the Bible the house o cards came tumbling down.My deconversion has many facets but underneath it all is the simple truth that I no longer had faith.

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  3. The tipping point for me was when I actually took the time to start reading the Bible for myself. The God I found in Genesis was not the same one they spoke of in the Sunday pulpits. He was dark, twisted, and full of wrath. It was all downhill from there.Oddly enough, that's also what got me hooked on reading it. This was a side of God that wasn't perfect and nice. God wasn't all white in a pure black and white universe. Sure, He claimed to be, but that's just not how it plays out in the text.I was fascinated with God's character; a post-modern hero, often with more faults than perfections, struggling to do what He thinks is right, but isn't always the case. Minus some of the more boring parts, it's been one hell of a read! 😉

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  4. What has kept me from complete deconversion is a variety of reasons.First, smart, honest people both deconvert and stay within Christianity. It is not a decision to take lightly. Second, there seems to be an overarching purpose to my journey, and the coincidences along the way, that I cannot deny…and even if I am forever an agnostic, I feel passionate to tell my story in as kind a way as possible in hopes that Christians will be more compassionate towards deconverts and atheists. Third, the emotional process that has disrupted my faith and made God seem fiction has been rather peculiar in that it wasn't 100% intellectual. Thus, until my emotions stabilize, I give Christianity the benefit of the doubt. Given time, your perspective on life changes. Fourth, I still can't fathom atheistic evolution. And the reality is that there is no harm in choosing Christianity as long as you remain honest about your ambiguity over the truth of Christianity, and you stay far, far away from inerrantist and hell advocates (b/c then Christianity would be harmful to your emotional psyche). I know these reasons all seem like wishful thinking and somewhat incoherent. Being a scientists, I'd like my worldview to be less messy and more objective….but life is messy, so this is the best I have at the moment. I still feel like an outsider to Christianity…prayers seem like meditation. But I've made some local connections (finally) with Christians that have been where I am…so I remain hopeful, and have some new avenues for getting help, emotionally and intellectually.

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  5. I chose at a late age to be a Christian. I was already quite clear in my own mind that the bible was not God. I later learned that it was man's attempt to define man's encounter with the transcendent. Sometimes good, sometimes not. What I also understood, is that the human being has striven to understand God from the beginning of time. Every culture, every continent has provided us with multiple examples of the human desire for God and expression of what God is and seems to be for them. Since there is no scientific explanation that excludes God as first cause of all that is, I am forced to believe that God really exists. I am not the least troubled as some are I guess that "if the bible fails, the house of cards crumbles." It does not, because God cannot be contained in some book. That is a human way of seeing things, a way that makes "sense" to some. We must remember that we are in the image of God, not the other way around. It is enough for me, and the fact that much finer minds than my own have found all the philosophical reasons to believe that they need. To suggest that fine people exist outside of faith is fine. It is true. Why would they not? God is not religion, God is God. He requires no worship, no ritual. He offers us the choice of good and evil each moment. Many answer that call in the choice of good, just unknowing or even uncaring that they do God's desire fro us. What does it matter?

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  6. Sherry,You use the words Christian and God as if they are one and the same.The Christian God is defined by the Bible. to deny this is to deny Christianity. This has nothing to do with worshiping the Bible. The Christian faith has always been about the Bible, what the Bible teaches. Without the Bible Jesus does not exist, his atonement, resurrection, and all the other teachings of the Christian faith disappear.I fully understand why many people who claim Christianity want to distance themselves from the Bible. However, I think when people try and separate Christianity from the Bible all they are left with is some form of spirituality but definitely not Christianity.God and Christianity are not one and the same. The Bible itself has many gods. I am quite willing to allow for the small possibility that a God exists. However, I am quite certain the Christian God, the God of the Christian Bible does not exist.You say that God offers us the choice of good and evil each moment. How do determine what good and evil is? What is the objective standard for knowing what good and evil is?

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  7. There were many little ah ha moments, I'm not sure which one tipped the scales.What got me started was trying to read the bible in such a way so that women were respected. For example, I tried so hard to rationalize why women who gave birth to girls were unclean for twice as long. (Maybe they needed extra time to bond with their daughters in a culture where women married away from family?)I read about other cultures and the historical contexts. I read John Shelby Spong. I read Gretta Vosper. I read CommonSenseAthiest. They gave me the courage to read the bible for what it was. Once the bible was no longer inerrant, I found the stories about Jesus too contradictory and similar to other mythologies to have any holding power. I'm sure that Jesus was a real person. I'm just as sure that there was no virgin birth.Reading about other religions and near-death experiences was very eye-opening. I stayed in Christianity for a long time because I'd seen healings and prophesies come true. When I found out that those happened for people in other religions or no religion at all, the authority of my church lost its base.

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  8. First comment here. I like your blog. Came over here from Bruce's blog. My comment was ready made, as I recently made the same comment (less 1 sentence) over at Debunking Christianity:I became an atheist primarily by being called upon to lead a Sunday school class. This led me to observe more carefully what Scripture actually said. For instance, Jesus explaining to his close followers that he taught in parables in order that some undesirable might remain in the dark, Satan tempting Jesus by showing him all the kingdoms of the world from a high place (not possible on a spherical world), Jesus – who was divinely perfect – lying about going up to the feast in John 7 – there are of many more, but I became sensitive to them by virtue of leading a church classThis lead to increased awareness that science contradicts Genesis, that the response to my prayers was silence, that the doctrine of an original fall and redemptive sacrifice was incoherent, that Hell was monstrous, etc.There was never any 'life incident' or bad church experience to trigger anything. Faith simply evaporated in the light of evidence.exrelayman

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  9. Lydia,I've had that same experience. Having drilled into my skull for so long that without the Bible and God there was no standard for morality I thought most non-Christians were "heathens"!LOL But I've had quite a bit of dealings with non-Christians who, if asked, I would have said they were Christians because of their kindness and compassion. When I learned they weren't Christians or didn't identify as such I was shocked. They were actually nicer than most Christians I know. Bruce,That is my struggle at the moment. I'm trying to figure out what exactly the Bible is. It's obviously not all the church has claimed it to be. That does shake the faith considerably.Sherry,Thank you for your comments. I do have questions about some of them and will be doing some posts over the next few days to expand on those. I can appreciate your "first cause" position. I do understand a belief in a God of some form based on that. Prairie,I can very much relate to all you have written. I put up my little walls and operated inside my little world of Christianity and it's ideals and doctrines. Never did I venture outside of that. When I began hearing stories of people that were "miraculously healed" from other religions and even outside of religion I became curious. I, too, tried to rationalize all the the "hard" parts of oppression of women, slavery and genocide. exrelayman,Welcome! You can comment here anytime. Thank you for reading. I was called on to lead an adult couples Sunday School class from time to time. Many times as I taught I had to fight the cognitive dissonance between the literature and outline provided and my own rational thought.

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  10. LAC,Thank you for sharing. Life is messy, isn't it? There are smart people on both sides of the issue and everywhere in between. That only serves to make it more convoluted. I'm glad you've found a local group to connect with. I think that would be helpful for me as well, but I'm not sure how to go about finding one. I'm sure I'll stumble into it. I've continued going to Sunday School, but have avoided worship service because of the "turn or burn", inerrantist messages. People are beginning to ask questions I'm not prepared to answer. TWF,I agree a thorough reading of scripture, especially the OT, can really challenge your faith. I embarked on a mission to read through the OT and got very absorbed in it. There were many things that shocked me that I'd never seen before. The church tends to downplay the violent, dark, twisted parts. The story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 and 20 especially stick out in my mind. Twisted and dark it sounded like something I would hear on CNN. Nancy Grace would have a field day with that!

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  11. I think Scripture is one avenue that defines Christianity, but I also think we need to look at the overall tradition of the church. I mean it was the church that came to recognize and define the canon of the Scripture. People relied on oral tradition, and proclaimed "Jesus as Lord," before a word of the NT was ever penned.It does seem to me that "Jesus Christ as Lord" is the center of Christian faith, not a specific view of the Bible. I'm not disputing that most of our information in our time concerning Jesus does come from the NT, but not all.For instance, we have the writings of the church father, Polycarp, who states that he was a disciple of the apostle John. The church father, Iranaeus knew Polycarp, and also wrote of his connection with the apostles. My own view is much more fluid. As far as I'm concerned, we could toss out much of the Scripture, and still have a clear witness to Christian faith in just fragments of the gospels.To put this in another way, I don't think in all or nothing, black or white kind of terms. Because there maybe discrepencies in the Bible that we cannot currently resolve, matters that I can't fully understand, I would not automatically conclude that there is no God, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a hoax.Also, it does seem clear to me that parts of Scripture are very much culturally bound, and not best interpreted in a literal sense. I would base my opinion in this on things like overall context, the tradition of the church, and human reason..But, to me this doesn't make Scripture less important or valuable to inform my faith.It's just a different way, D'Ma of taking hold of Christian faith, and how this is all walked out in my life.Becky.

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  12. Mine was, more than anything else, the question of how Jesus' death on the Cross had anything to do with my sins. He died for our sins? Okay, sure, but what did that actually do? The most common analogy – the judge who finds his own child guilty, then pays the fine for him – didn't work for me. I can't see that as anything that I'd define as "justice".

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  13. For instance, we have the writings of the church father, Polycarp, who states that he was a disciple of the apostle John. The church father, Iranaeus knew Polycarp, and also wrote of his connection with the apostles.Please don't take this as smarmy or snarky, but I'm not sure that these church fathers would agree that we could throw out much of the scriptures. These same church fathers believed that remarriage after divorce was tantamount to adultery no matter the reason for the divorce. I'm not sure how to know which scriptures to throw out? I'll be posting more on this subject, though.

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  14. MM, The more I step away and look at this objectively, the less sense a lot of things make. Including that "justice".

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  15. Oh, D'Ma, I don't think you're being snarky.I was using hyperbole to make a point. For me, the essentials of Christian faith would be reflected in something like the Nicene Creed of the church, not in the inerrancy of the Scripture.But, I suppose people from different Christian traditions would disagree. What is that "hill to die on," so to speak, without which we lose the gospel? My view is pretty broad. But, everyone needs to be persuaded in their own mind.Becky.

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  16. Michael, that analogy never made sense to me either. Of course, the analogy isn't the same as the thing itself. It will be so interesting to discuss this with you.Becky.

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  17. Becky,And the teachings of the Nicene Creed came from WHERE? You confuse inerrancy with the fact that all Christian traditions to some degree or another believe the Bible is truth. To not believe the Bible, to some degree or another is truth, is to stop being a Christian.

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  18. Ultimately the apostolic witness..which is reflected both in the Scripture, and the tradition of the church.Bruce, what do you feel it means to be Christian? Suppose someone struggles with much of the teaching of Scripture, or at least questions many traditional and literal interpretations of the Bible, but totally confesses Jesus Christ as Savior, and Lord, have they stopped being Christian? On the other hand, what if someone assents to much, even most of the teaching of the Bible, recites a lot of correct sounding doctrine, but rejects the cross of Christ, are they more Christian than my first example?I would not consider someone more Christian simply because they claim to "believe the Bible." It's deeper than this for me.Could we be talking past each other? I'm certainly not trying to say Scripture isn't important in the life and faith of the church.Becky

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  19. Becky,The creed came from the bible because the bible contains the apostolic witness. They are one and the same. If they are not then please direct me to where I can read and investigate the apostolic witness.A Christian is what the bible says it is. The Bible defines the parameters of what is a Christian and what is not. How could one become a Christian without the bible? Where would they find the necessary information to know what the gospel was and what is that god requires of them?We are not talking past one another. I, as I always have, reject your attempt to have a meaningful Christianity without the bible. It can't be done. The bible above all other religions is a text based religion. It always has been, from the letter written by Paul to the bibles we use today.I have no problem with whatever religion you want to embrace. However if you are going to claim the Christian moniker you must take the baggage that comes with the name.

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  20. I meant Christianity above all other religions…Stupid iPad

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  21. For me it was several things, but mostly when I realized that the Bible was not inerrant and had mistakes I felt that I could no longer trust it. If it was wrong in some areas where was I supposed to believe it was right? That and the fact that I began to see that prayer does nothing. Begging on ones knees to save their and their family members souls and being ignored made me realized I was not being ignored, just not heard, for the simple fact no one was there listening.

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  22. Its a very long journey for me.It came from realising that my creationist beliefs were wrong and that the science of evolution and an old earth is correct. Once that settled in more and more things started to be questioned and before I knew it I was doubting the existance of God himself.The whole process has taken about 3 years for me and I never for a second thought it would lead me to being comfortable being an atheist. But here I am, happy and comfortable with it. The aha moment didn't come until right at the end when I realised where my doubts where headed and figured I may as well just accept and embrace the inevitable.The story is not over though as I have many good friends who are dedicated christians and the church social structure is something that I think has value. So, despite rejecting any concept of eternal life and salvation, I think I'll still be associated with churches for some time to come.

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  23. @theagnosticswife:These are a couple of the things that fuel my doubt as well. I believed the entire Bible was divine truth regardless of genre. Plus, to be perfectly honest, no matter what I've prayed for there have been way more unanswered prayers than seemingly answered prayers. If you are praying every day for 365 days, usually more than once per day, the law of averages says that some of the things we pray for are going to be answered. Does that make is divine intervention? Highly suspect me thinks.=====================================================@limey:More fuel to my doubt. As you know I was also a creationist. Having researched even a little evolutionary theory, I feel like such a moron for having argued so vehemently about things I had absolutely no knowledge of. I have perused your blog a bit. You are in a precarious situation not having "come out" to your wife. A delicate situation to be sure. I see your point about the social structure of the church having value, but I'm having difficulty enjoying the "teaching and preaching" at the moment. I have a constant dialogue playing in my head with questions as to what's being preached and taught and not being able to ask aloud.

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  24. @D'MaI think it might have been very different for me if I had not been such a fervent creationist previously. I know very well that evolution is not a barrier to faith. Here in the UK creationism is a much smaller issue than it is where you are and I was by a long way in the minority.Since so much of what I believed was nailed to the fundamentalism of the Genesis account my faith was pretty much doomed once I realised that was false. I also think that that was why I clung to it so tightly, I knew it was the foundation of my faith and I knew if it went I'd not have much left.Re 'coming out' yes its a delicate situation and one I am still struggling with. On one hand I know I need to be honest, on the other I don't want to cause the upset that I know will follow. Listening to a sermon when you no longer believe is interesting. I find I get very picky about little things I would normally shrug off. Singing the songs is also strange. I know so many of them so well I can't help but join in, but they no longer provoke any emotional response, which is a little weird. In a way I still like to sing the songs, I tend to view it as an enjoyable 'sing song'. I can't use the word enjoy when it comes to the teaching and preaching though.

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  25. limey,As displayed by the schizophrenic topics of this blog I have many issues related to my faith which cause my doubt, not the least of which were my faith being built mostly on the belief in a literal six-day creation, that Adam and Eve were real, the fall of man being the reason we all sin and need a savior, etc.I still like to sing the songs, too. I find myself singing them in my car on my drive to and from work. I wake up in the morning relatively often with a tune in my head. This morning's was "I Stand Amazed in the Presence of Jesus the Nazarene".

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  26. limey said, "So, despite rejecting any concept of eternal life and salvation, I think I'll still be associated with churches for some time to come."Offhand, I don't see anything wrong with that in itself. Oh, there are possible issues involving honesty, integrity, and personal comfort – but those are going to depend very much on the particular church and the people involved, and wouldn't be any of my business. So basically, if it works for you, I say go for it!It's certainly no less reasonable than any number of other things that people do for companionship and enjoyment… golf, for example.

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  27. @Michael Mock,I totally agree. To each his own I say. I still attend myself, just not as regularly as I once did. Though I honestly haven't made a decision as to where I stand yet, there are times I'm a bit uncomfortable. I think that's mostly because of how seriously I took my beliefs and faith to begin with. As strange as it may sound I think it would be easier to "enjoy" the preaching and teaching aspect if I were more sure of where I stand. I could see it for what it is, be that spiritual or intellectual.

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  28. @Michael Mock,I totally agree. To each his own I say. I still attend myself, just not as regularly as I once did. Though I honestly haven't made a decision as to where I stand yet, there are times I'm a bit uncomfortable. I think that's mostly because of how seriously I took my beliefs and faith to begin with. As strange as it may sound I think it would be easier to "enjoy" the preaching and teaching aspect if I were more sure of where I stand. I could see it for what it is, be that spiritual or intellectual.

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  29. @D'MaI think it might have been very different for me if I had not been such a fervent creationist previously. I know very well that evolution is not a barrier to faith. Here in the UK creationism is a much smaller issue than it is where you are and I was by a long way in the minority.Since so much of what I believed was nailed to the fundamentalism of the Genesis account my faith was pretty much doomed once I realised that was false. I also think that that was why I clung to it so tightly, I knew it was the foundation of my faith and I knew if it went I'd not have much left.Re 'coming out' yes its a delicate situation and one I am still struggling with. On one hand I know I need to be honest, on the other I don't want to cause the upset that I know will follow. Listening to a sermon when you no longer believe is interesting. I find I get very picky about little things I would normally shrug off. Singing the songs is also strange. I know so many of them so well I can't help but join in, but they no longer provoke any emotional response, which is a little weird. In a way I still like to sing the songs, I tend to view it as an enjoyable 'sing song'. I can't use the word enjoy when it comes to the teaching and preaching though.

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  30. Lydia,I've had that same experience. Having drilled into my skull for so long that without the Bible and God there was no standard for morality I thought most non-Christians were "heathens"!LOL But I've had quite a bit of dealings with non-Christians who, if asked, I would have said they were Christians because of their kindness and compassion. When I learned they weren't Christians or didn't identify as such I was shocked. They were actually nicer than most Christians I know. Bruce,That is my struggle at the moment. I'm trying to figure out what exactly the Bible is. It's obviously not all the church has claimed it to be. That does shake the faith considerably.Sherry,Thank you for your comments. I do have questions about some of them and will be doing some posts over the next few days to expand on those. I can appreciate your "first cause" position. I do understand a belief in a God of some form based on that. Prairie,I can very much relate to all you have written. I put up my little walls and operated inside my little world of Christianity and it's ideals and doctrines. Never did I venture outside of that. When I began hearing stories of people that were "miraculously healed" from other religions and even outside of religion I became curious. I, too, tried to rationalize all the the "hard" parts of oppression of women, slavery and genocide. exrelayman,Welcome! You can comment here anytime. Thank you for reading. I was called on to lead an adult couples Sunday School class from time to time. Many times as I taught I had to fight the cognitive dissonance between the literature and outline provided and my own rational thought.

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  31. There were many little ah ha moments, I'm not sure which one tipped the scales.What got me started was trying to read the bible in such a way so that women were respected. For example, I tried so hard to rationalize why women who gave birth to girls were unclean for twice as long. (Maybe they needed extra time to bond with their daughters in a culture where women married away from family?)I read about other cultures and the historical contexts. I read John Shelby Spong. I read Gretta Vosper. I read CommonSenseAthiest. They gave me the courage to read the bible for what it was. Once the bible was no longer inerrant, I found the stories about Jesus too contradictory and similar to other mythologies to have any holding power. I'm sure that Jesus was a real person. I'm just as sure that there was no virgin birth.Reading about other religions and near-death experiences was very eye-opening. I stayed in Christianity for a long time because I'd seen healings and prophesies come true. When I found out that those happened for people in other religions or no religion at all, the authority of my church lost its base.

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  32. I chose at a late age to be a Christian. I was already quite clear in my own mind that the bible was not God. I later learned that it was man's attempt to define man's encounter with the transcendent. Sometimes good, sometimes not. What I also understood, is that the human being has striven to understand God from the beginning of time. Every culture, every continent has provided us with multiple examples of the human desire for God and expression of what God is and seems to be for them. Since there is no scientific explanation that excludes God as first cause of all that is, I am forced to believe that God really exists. I am not the least troubled as some are I guess that "if the bible fails, the house of cards crumbles." It does not, because God cannot be contained in some book. That is a human way of seeing things, a way that makes "sense" to some. We must remember that we are in the image of God, not the other way around. It is enough for me, and the fact that much finer minds than my own have found all the philosophical reasons to believe that they need. To suggest that fine people exist outside of faith is fine. It is true. Why would they not? God is not religion, God is God. He requires no worship, no ritual. He offers us the choice of good and evil each moment. Many answer that call in the choice of good, just unknowing or even uncaring that they do God's desire fro us. What does it matter?

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  33. What tipped the scales for me was getting to know a wide variety of non-Christians and realizing that they were just as "good" as Christians. That is, I couldn't see any difference in how people from other groups behaved. There were good and bad eggs in both.The churches I had grown up in stressed how important it was to be a Christian and how wretched their lives would be if they weren't constrained by biblical morality. As odd as it may sound it was a great relief to realize that this wasn't true, that there's no correlation (from what I can see) between religious beliefs and how kind, merciful or generous someone is.

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