My father was an avid outdoorsman and our camping and fishing trips introduced me to the natural world at a very young age. Both my father and I actually have the same undergraduate degree, though obtained at different universities. He introduced me to the natural world, though I can’t articulate what it was exactly that fascinated me about the wildlife we would often encounter. Box turtles, snakes, lizards, animals as such—they were so different than the typical American robin or white-tailed deer we’d often see. These adolescent experiences eventually facilitated a larger urge to pursue the science of it all.
I don’t remember the actual day I claimed to be an atheist. Though I do vividly remember the day the seed was planted. My father and I used to do things outside a lot. One afternoon we were behind the house, possibly doing something in the shed. My father was walking back into the house and stepped on a daddy long-leg, spider. I asked him, “Do spiders go to heaven?” “No, they don’t.” he responded. I don’t believe I pushed him further after that. I contemplated his answer I was given for quite some time. “What separates me? What separates me from something else, like a dog? Just because I’m human, I’m special? Aren’t I, in a way, an animal too?” These thoughts would eventually grow into more unanswered questions, compounding on themselves.
Atheism is like walking through a dark tunnel with your own candle.
I never sought help with these questions for some reason. Maybe because I was scared. I had been raised in a Catholic home, and no one seemed to ask similar questions as I, or even think about it the same way. When I attempted to bring the conversation up, it was often shrugged off. By the sixth grade I was an atheist. I couldn’t accept that a metaphysical and omnipotent being could exist. I couldn’t wrap my head around how that could be possible in the natural world. If I had no evidence that God existed, then, by my logic he did not exist. He couldn’t exist.
The Desire to Believe
Now, I was a full-blown atheist by high school, but I recognized the application of religion. I knew that the teachings of Christianity were morally sound, I just couldn’t see God, even if I wanted to. Thank God I still viewed the Christian values as “good” even as an atheist. I believe that if I didn’t continue to view them as such I would have been completely lost, and spiral down into nihilism. Because I still held those morals taught in Christianity highly, I started to attend a weekly Bible study at my apartment during my undergraduate. I knew that these values were good and decided that it couldn’t hurt to pursue them and surround myself with people who do also. I knew that the teachings of Christianity just worked when playing the game of life. I would attend these studies quite regularly. I remember feeling envious multiple times, almost jealous, of the people that did believe. They seemed so sure. They didn’t worry. They had meaning. I wanted that so bad, and it hurt to know that my brain wasn’t letting me believe. I wanted to believe, but how dare I say I believe if I merely emotionally believe and not logically? Is that actually believing in something? I didn’t think so.
I graduated from The University of Tennessee, still an atheist. I was in a relationship at that time, so I wasn’t thinking about this internal spiritual debate; it masked it in a way. Once that relationship ended, the debate rose within me again and my logical and emotional counterparts began to toil with each other. When I wasn’t working, I would investigate many arguments and philosophical ideologies in the form of audiobooks or lectures. Jordan B. Peterson’s book, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos which I listened to when driving, references Judeo-Christianity multiple times. His arguments were captivating. I started listening to his biblical lectures where he articulates the stories of the Old Testament and their application to life quite brilliantly. I couldn’t believe how much the Bible actual applied to life, how in-depth it was pertaining to human psychology and philosophy. It was hard to believe it was a just a fairy tale story.
Through many days of trying to figure this out, it dawned on me that I could not do it by myself. I had to go to the source and seek answers from actual people. I needed someone who could duel with my points, argue for theirs, and prove to me that God exists (via evidence) and the resurrection of Jesus Christ did happen in the natural world. I wanted to submit to God, but I knew it had to be done logically and emotionally. If I only emotionally believed in God, do I really believe? How could I claim it? It would be a lie, right?
So, one morning I decided I would walk into church, and just sit there to listen to the sermon. That isn’t exactly what happened. At all. I parked my car and walked through the doors of the church. The entrance to the auditorium was to my left, next to the door I just walked through, so I didn’t run into anyone before I found a seat. I actually didn’t talk to anyone before I sat down, and sort of slipped in unnoticed. I found an empty pew and chose it.
I sat. In a few minutes, I literally started bawling my eyes out and shaking uncontrollably. I got myself together for a few seconds. Nope. The emotional (dare I say painful) eruption kept flowing. I didn’t know why I was reacting this way. I honestly still can’t realize the reason I did. Maybe years of nihilism and meaninglessness finally coming to the surface? Or, maybe the pain of knowing that I wanted to be one with God, but could not? At this moment of writing this, I predict it may have been a combination of both.
An older woman and her husband sat down next to me. The woman gently grabs my arm, and asks, “Will you come to the back with my husband and I?” It took me a few minutes to stand up, though I made it into the back room with those two. They sat me down and asked me if I would talk to them. Keep in mind, I actually hadn’t said a word yet within this interaction, they just saw some 20-something man in the pew who was absolutely broken. When I could finally speak the only thing I said was, “I don’t want to be an atheist!” I’m absolutely certain that was the most true statement I could say. Carla and Jerry, whom I am still very close with, would eventually take me in as their own.
I got myself together and was able to walk back into the auditorium with them and listen to the sermon. After worship, we went out to eat and I explained that I was a graduate student at Texas Tech, my background in wildlife science, and was well-versed in herpetology and ecology. I explained how tired I was being an atheist for this long, and how bad it was hurting me that I could not connect logically with God, though emotionally I already was.
Getting the Tough Questions Answered
In a week’s time, they introduced me to an extremely intelligent dermatologist named Brent. We planned to have a discussion on why I could not accept the possibility of a God. When I tell you this man knew what he was talking about, I mean that. We talked about thermodynamics, the cosmological argument, the problem that “the things that make proteins are made up of proteins themselves,” particle wave theory, and moral relativism. He destroyed every point I had in my head on a reason why a God could not exist. Brent’s faith in God is so strong he often says, “If the Bible is not true, I will go looking for the other God. There is no way there is not one.” That was a powerful statement that struck a chord in me. “If someone of this level of intellect was convinced, then certainly there is enough evidence,” I thought to myself after our discussion.
I wrestled with Brent’s arguments in my head for about three weeks. It came to be that I was convinced by the evidence. My teaching in evolution was strong. It pushed back. “Evolution is highly supported, and we are highly evolved creatures… Isn’t it rational to think that a species (us) created God for the purpose to mediate our species for the betterment of our creation? To pass ourselves on? Can’t science explain everything?” I often thought. Maybe morality and God were creations of a highly sophisticated species meant to mediate our societies. Something like that. I always supposed that science and Christianity were often at odds.
I then began reading the New Testament and grew attached to Matthew 7:7-8: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. I decided that I needed to go to church, by myself, and ask God to help me realize him. “You’ve never actually asked God himself if he was real. If you are an atheist, why are you so scared to ask God, whom you believe is false, that he is real? Shouldn’t that be easy for you? Are you scared of the truth? Are you REALLY an atheist, Charles?” These were the thoughts in my mind all day.
On this day, I was cutting up some brisket in the kitchen (I do this often, I like to buy big pieces of meat and cut them into “steaks.” Graduate school budget, you know). I was listening to a Peterson lecture, as I normally do with these 20-30 minute timeframes. At the end of the video/lecture the audience claps for him. The video ends, but there’s about two minutes left of what I thought was “dead space,” and I decided to let it play through because YouTube will just load up another video for you to watch and listen to. It plays through, and a scene comes on where he walks over to the podium, looks at his material, and literally recited Matthew 7:7-8. Word for word. He then speaks for about a minute on it and the video ends. It was almost comical when I realized what had just happened. Did that really just happen? What?
“Alright. I have to go see now.”
The Wednesday after I went back to the auditorium at church before the 7:00 PM bible study, I opened my Bible that Jerry and Carla had given me, to Matthew 7:7-8, walked up to the altar, and begged God to help me understand him, and that I didn’t want to be an atheist anymore. I wanted to know him.
“Please help me understand, you know how my head works. Please just show me.” I kept pleading to him for help.
Now, I had come up with a plan to test if I actually wasn’t an atheist. During this time at the altar, after I had got myself back together, I vocally said to myself, “I believe in God.” I had this tactic in mind because I wanted to love God with my heart and mind. In order for me authentically submit my life to Christ it had to be real. I refused to do it otherwise.
“Okay, I don’t feel that sense of lying. I’m not lying.” You know, when you lie to someone, you can feel that you are. I didn’t feel that when I said that I believed. Then I tried, “Charles is an atheist, I am an atheist.” Okay, that was a lie. I am lying there, I thought to myself. This was the litmus test I used in order to confirm my submission to God, I can’t think of any other way to rationalize this. I was not an atheist, because telling myself I was an atheist sparked that feeling inside of that indicated I was lying and saying that I believed did not.
On November 6, 2019 I was baptized at the Green Lawn Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas. It was that day that I openly rejected my former ideology of atheism, finally submitting to the Lord. I’ll never forget that day—a burning of dead wood, you could say. That night, I gave my life to Christ. I cried my eyes out after I came up out of the water. Mike Wilson, who baptized me, said “I love you, we all love you.” The only way I can describe that feeling is like making it back home after a really long trip. It feels so good to make it back home.
So, what’s it like as a new Christian? Here’s an analogy that I use—Atheism is like walking through a dark tunnel with your own candle. You can see around you, but you don’t know which way to walk. Either way is dark. You’re still lost in the tunnel. Giving your life to Christ is being in the same tunnel, but you see a little light at one side of the tunnel. You know which way to stumble towards.