James McGrath recently asked what it would take for you – assuming that you are a Christian – to lose your faith. Of course, being McGrath, the hypothetical situation involved a TARDIS.

I thought it might be a nice opportunity for me to share a few of my thoughts – sans Doctor – on the subject.

Why I stopped calling myself a Christian

I was never especially attached to Christianity. I believed in God because it had been presented to me as a basic fact of the universe – like that gravity’s strength is proportional to mass, or that France is a country in Europe, or that The Crystal Skull is a terrible movie. Everyone I knew (or knew about) believed in God, so it never occurred to me to question that.

But at the same time, I knew a lot about other faiths. I grew up travelling, so I spent a fair bit of my childhood around people who believe different things about the divine – particularly Muslims. I also loved learning about mythology (the first book that I remember owning for my very own was an Edith Hamilton Mythology), so I knew that the divine could be approached in many different – and clearly conflicting – ways.

In college, I started to get a little more personal with religion. Rather than simply learning about religions, I wanted to figure out what I believed. I was a Christian, of course, since I’d always been, but how could I say that my faith was True while another’s was false? Sure, I had experienced the numinous, and I had the testimonies of many sincere-sounding Christians, but I also had the testimonies of many sincere-sounding Muslims, and Hindus, and Wiccans… I had no basis to judge one side’s narratives as more true than another’s.

So I leaned towards a sort of deism. The way I described it at the time was that there was a moon – which was the divine – and many hands pointing towards it – which were all the religions. The problem is that many people get bogged looking at the hands and don’t look at the divine that they all point to. In essence, religions are humanity’s many ways of expressing God.

At the same time, I was taking several electives in Psychology in which I learned about how the brain functions. The idea that head trauma can turn an individual into a very different person led me to question the existence of an eternal soul. The idea that you can stimulate feelings like the numinous with electrodes made me question my own experiences of it.

Now, as then, I do believe that religious experiences are real. I just don’t believe that they are interpreted correctly by the people undergoing them. It’s like sleep paralysis and all the mythology that’s surrounded that utterly un-supernatural experience over the millennia.

At around the same time, atheism hit the mainstream media and, for the first time, I learned that not believing in God(s) at all was an option. Rather than struggling to find a believe system that didn’t violate my understanding of other religions or of psychology, I could simply believe that the divine is a function of minds – something natural.

Could I believe again?

I’ve given some thought as to what could convince me that I am wrong. At first, I thought that a direct revelation would be a good start, but the more I considered it, the more I realized that I would be unable to distinguish a real revelation from a non-divine experience like a hallucination.

This was made even more clear to me in the days after my son was born when I was completely exhausted and sleep deprived. I had already begun my Bible-reading project some months before so, when I started hallucinating, many of the hallucinations had a religious flavour. I knew, of course, that what I was experiencing was merely due to my exhaustion, but I could easily have interpreted them as religious experiences instead. In fact, I probably would have if, at that time, I still believed.

What about meeting God? Well, how could I distinguish between an actual God and a technologically advanced alien calling itself God? How can I be certain that a being is actually supernatural?

Barring a change great enough that I would hope my friends and family would seek medical treatment, I do not think that any evidence could ever convince me of the existence of God. I am open to the possibility of the divine, of course, but I cannot think of any kind of evidence that would lead me back to belief.

When I see a piece of “sufficiently advanced technology,” my thought is to figure out how it works. I no longer consider supernatural explanations.

I realize that it sounds rather un-skeptical, but that’s where I stand.