If anyone reading has ever driven down Interstate 70 from Wichita, Kansas to Denver, Colorado, then you will know how completely uninteresting the drive can be. The fields of Kansas are beautiful but it is very challenging to drive in a straight line for hundreds of miles. During this drive, I obviously had some time to kill, so I started thinking about how I came to be a practicing Catholic.
After a few hours and multiple Dr. Peppers, I realized that I did not really understand what it meant to believe in a personal God until I was a junior in college. At that point, I had been practicing Catholicism for four years. Yet, I still did not really understand that God was personal and working within the world. Before my conversion, I was a deist. I realized that I had not even considered if I believed that God was a personal God. It is even safe to say that I’d had my doubts about Catholicism while practicing. This is how I came to see that God was a personal God. This is how I became a Theist.
A fun fact about me: since I was little, I always cared about what was true. I frequently kept asking why something worked the way it did. Why was it so wrong for me to lie? Why can I not see God? Why do I have to show up at church every Sunday? Why could I only eat three cookies instead of seventeen? As I got older, this curiosity became greater. I argued with my high school theology teachers on anything I disagreed with until I was blue in the face.
Through one of my favorite high school teachers, I was introduced to philosophy and history. I had him as a teacher for World History; during this course, we read about Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. He fed us the prime sources for each of these in chunks we could handle at that young and impressionable age. As I read more and more, I fell in love with learning about religion and philosophy.
Where I Started
The more familiar I became with philosophy, history, and theology the more I developed my understanding of who and what God is. At the time, I called myself an atheist more out of ignorance than thinking it was true. It was not that I thought that God did not exist; it was that he was not the fun-loving God my religion teachers made him out to be!
This is what is usually called Deism. I believed that a god (lower-cased because he is not personal) existed. This god existed as the manufacturer of the universe but nothing more and our reason and observation were sufficient to lead us to a reasonable belief in a god. I had noticed and experienced much evil and suffering in the world. I noticed what seemed like unneeded violence in the world. Domestic abuse, murdering of children, rape, and many other heart-wrenching events we tend to read in the newspapers made it hard for me to believe in a personal God.
The problem of evil, as it is popularly called, is not an argument against the existence of God. It is an argument against a quality that is attributed to God. If you believe that God is not good, though, then you would necessarily have to reject the god of Christian theists (all Christians are theists) and therefore reject Christianity. The problem of evil then is more of an argument against revealed religions than God Himself.
The three qualities Christian theists give to God are that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. I believed that it would be reasonable for a god to be all-powerful and all-knowing, but I was not convinced he was all-good. In fact, if he were not all-powerful or all-knowing then he would not be god. A popular definition of good is decreasing suffering and either increasing or maintaining pleasure. God did not seem to do either! This is where I began rejecting Christianity.
Becoming a Deist
As stated previously, that problem did not make me an atheist. In studying mathematics, physics, biology, English, and philosophy I saw that there was order that could not come from random chance. Saying that the natural world is ordered by random chance because one cannot explain how it is ordered does not disprove god’s existence. I was not convinced of atheism. I saw that something, not someone, had to order this universe.
Even though I saw this ordering of the universe, it did not convince me of the Christian God. Rather, as I worked my way through the problem of evil I realized that I could not concede that God was good. God being good is an essential attribute that Christians claim God has. Therefore, I needed to start questioning the religion itself since it held a claim that did not seem logical. This led me to St. Paul who says:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection for the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14,17).
Once I realized that the Christian faith is completely based upon the resurrection of Christ, I realized that I needed to see if he actually rose from the dead. There was plenty of evidence suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. We have the consensus that has his name there. My issue with the resurrection was that if we could not show it happened, since the absence of disproof is not proof, we have no reason to believe it happened. I most especially did not find the Gospels reliable evidence either.
As I read more and more I realized that I could no longer follow the Christian teachings. This is why I became a deist. I argued with my teachers and believed as Antony Flew did, that “the burden of proof lies on the theistic proposition” (Antony Flew, The Presumption of Atheism, 4).
As a side note, formal deism is much more detailed than I have given an account for. Deism has an intricate system of thought that would need multiple articles on their own to unfold. I did not associate with the religion of Deism but the thought of deism.
Conclusion to Part I
While this is not a full record of my thoughts at the time, this is a basic overview of what I believed before my reversion. In Part II, I will work through the problem of the resurrection.