A free look at the beginning of my autobiography, Atheist Miracles. Just a heads up: there won’t be any more samples released. Book is now available!
Chapter 1: Last Days of Faith
Most days now, I forget that I was once a Christian. Not just any Christian, but a strong believer, often frustrated that other Christians around me didn’t take their faith as seriously as I did. God was my rock. My faith kept me strong. I relied on it for everything, from my moral code to my ability to cope with difficult circumstances. Before my faith was destroyed forever, it grew first, and it grew because of a friend named Mitch, who I’d one day call my best friend and brother.
Before Mitch, my most treasured friend was Kelly. She and I first met and became friends in 2002, when I was eleven and she was ten. I could have intellectual conversations with her about any subject, which I enjoyed, even when we didn’t agree. Whenever we competed in video games, or in anything, she was usually superior in skill and strategy. I think she became an atheist before me. I always saw her as being smarter than me, and that was in part because she was the first of us to figure out religion is nonsense. While I was still going through childish phases, like wishing I had superpowers, or generally being insecure with myself, Kelly was already past those phases. To summarize, I always respected Kelly immensely. Yes, we did attempt to ‘date’ at some point, like most (straight) close friends of opposite genders eventually think about, and we quickly realized we were not meant to have that kind of relationship.
Mitch came along in 2006. That was an interesting year for me. I was fifteen. In summer, I had left the United States for the first time on a mission trip to Mexico. Our church drove that year, in two vans, and Kelly and I competed to see whose van would cross the border first. She even beat me at that.
I first met Mitch in October, while hanging out with a mutual friend named Kyle. After that, I started seeing Mitch at church and youth group regularly. I didn’t think much of him, except that he seemed like a fun guy. He looked massive enough to bench-press a car, and yet he was kind and funny. I thought he was gay, which I believed was a grievous sin at the time, but I never voiced this assumption about him. Not for many years, anyway. Mitch was funny, good at the youth group games, and up-to-date on all things pop culture. Outside of church, I think Kyle brought him along to hang out with us a few times for the rest of that year.
The first time Mitch ever stood out to me as a person was in February of the following year, during an event called the 30-Hour Famine. This event went as such: Those who chose to participate will fast for 30 hours in order to at least somewhat feel what it’s like to starve, all for the purpose of sympathizing with starving people all around the world. I joined the event every year, and in 2007, Mitch did as well.
As per usual, our youth group went to a larger church that was hosting the event for all the local churches. During the drive there, in one of the two church vans, I was having a conversation with Kelly and a couple other kids about the risk of meteorites striking Earth. A very Christian topic. At one point I mentioned the fact that dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite sixty-five million years ago. That was when Mitch, who was sitting in the row ahead of me, turned around and, scowling, said that dinosaurs didn’t die out millions of years ago …, because the earth itself isn’t that old. I asked him why he thought that, and he said the Bible doesn’t support an old earth. Then, I asked him what he thought wiped out the dinosaurs, and he said, “It was the Great Flood, of course.”
Wow. Never thought of it that way, I thought. Honestly, I hadn’t ever given the entire subject very much thought. At the time, I both accepted the scientific consensus of the beginning of the universe, and believed the Biblical account. Ignorant and stupid, I realize in hindsight. So, I asked Mitch to elaborate more on how the Bible could explain things like fossils and tectonic plates, and he proceeded to explain, without hardly any need to stop and think about it. I admired that immensely. Mitch really is a strong Christian, I thought. It’s a wonder the girls of our youth group aren’t ogling over him. Oh wait…
He made me feel like I’ve been a lazy Christian my entire life, because I never studied how the Bible could be literally true before. I honestly didn’t, and still don’t, have any idea why.
When we arrived at the church for the Famine, I don’t remember who I sat with, except that Mitch wasn’t one of them. Here’s what I do remember, though: The candles. A large set of candles were set up on the stage for the entire service, virtually ignored, until the end. Throughout the service, they reminded us of the statistic that a child dies every three seconds of starvation. They lit every candle, and once every three seconds, extinguished one. I believe they had enough candles for about ten minutes, and we sang hymns during it. Seeing the candles being extinguished really brought that statistic to life for me. When about half of them were extinguished, when the sanctuary was lit from the candles so brightly and then it started to go so dark, it began to affect me emotionally.
Unable to maintain composure, I had to leave. I went to the nearest bathroom in the hall. Before I got to the door, I saw Mitch walking out, his eyes red, and his cheeks soaked in tears. In his hands he had paper towels. I walked up to him. “Hurts you too, huh?” I said. Then…, we just started crying together right there in the hall, in open view of anyone walking by, but I didn’t care. Since the statistic we were told was strictly about children, I told Mitch about the image that came to mind. I told him that I pictured a mother who lived in a small, poor village having to bury her little boy, without a gravestone or a ceremony. We were out there until the service adjourned.
Kelly came out a little before all the others, with our friend Steven (who was virtually obsessed with her). When she saw Mitch and I crying, she almost degradingly asked, “Why are you crying?”
“The candles,” I said. “The candles just made it so real to me.”
“Seriously?” said Kelly. “It’s not that sad.”
Throughout the five years I had known Kelly at the time, she had said and done some things that made me question what really goes on in her mind. Nothing made me question her more than at that very moment.
I learned a lot about a friend I had already known for years that night, but more importantly, I learned something immense about Mitch as well. He wasn’t just some cool guy at church, and he wasn’t just knowledgeable on Christian teachings, he also had a good heart. I barely knew him at the time, and yet still managed to get me to open up about my emotions, when normally I conceal them.
While I don’t remember the exact day in February this took place, I consider that night to be the true beginning of my friendship with Mitch. As for Kelly, I still loved her like a sister, but started to doubt her character that night as well.
After the Famine, I asked Mitch if we could hang out so that he could show me how he knows so much about Christian science.
Not long after the Famine weekend, I came over to Mitch’s house (technically his parents’ house) for the first time. I believe this was also the first time I met his parents. He and his father pulled out a whole collection of creationist videos, most of which were by Kent Hovind (and if you don’t already know who that is, it’s probably better to keep it that way). Then, we watched about three videos, only one of which was not by Hovind.
As a Christian, I found those videos to be empowering. I had always been a believer, for as long as I could remember just being alive, but now I had a reason to ignore all my doubts. Or, so I thought at the time. After that day, whenever I questioned anything about my faith, I ignored it, because I was certain there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for it, even if I didn’t know it yet. It was like my faith went from mere belief to certainty. It was a newfound inner peace.
I was reading my Bible frequently, praying somewhat often…
In summer 2007, it was my second mission trip to Mexico, but Mitch’s first. Mitch’s parents invited me to spend the night at their house so that they could drive us to the airport early in the morning. I was bummed that the youth group was flying instead of driving. I loved road trips, and the one from the previous year was my favorite ever.
The plane landed in San Diego, then we rented vans to drive over the border. We stayed on an American family’s property somewhere south of Tijuana, situated on a hill that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Since Mitch still wasn’t very familiar with most people in the youth group, and I was rather antisocial, he and I spent most of the trip just talking to each other. At the end of most work days, building the house or ministering to the community, the group would just relax in the tiny house we stayed in. If I didn’t feel like socializing with anyone, I’d walk out to the shed on the edge of the property and try to write the sci-fi story I was working on. (A story I still haven’t finished to this day.)
One day, Mitch and I were talking outside in front of the house – I don’t remember what about – and one of our leaders, Allison, took a photo of us. We didn’t know about the photo until after the trip, and it turned out to be a great picture; one that we still admire to this day. If you are reading the paperback of this book, that photo is the back cover image.
Our pastors gave everyone in the group their own blank notebook, for the purpose of writing each other letters of support. I took the time to do that for everyone I actually had a positive opinion of, and Mitch was one, of course. I remember writing in his notebook about how thankful I was that God brought him into my life, and that because of him my faith was stronger than it had ever been. He modestly rejected the compliment, giving credit to God by saying God simply works through him.
Don’t forget: we were teens at the time. Mexico trip aside, my friendship with Mitch had a rough start, and 2007 was the worst year of it.
See, we met through a mutual friend named Kyle. The two knew each other by attending the same high school, which I did not attend. Kyle was an unbearable drama queen. At first, Mitch and I (and our other mutual friends) liked Kyle because he was just a fun guy. Kyle started his Era of Stupid Drama in February 2007, when he told one of our mutual church friends about how he used to be a thief. For all the rest of 2007, Kyle caused drama with all of his friends, and they usually revolved around his obsession with girls. He and I seriously clashed for the first time when I invited all of my friends to go see Spider-Man 3 in theaters (which I offered to pay for), but I uninvited Kyle because I didn’t trust him to be around Amy, another one of my close friends at the time.
Overall, 2007 was a dark, miserable year for me, and I’d attribute 70% of the reason for that to Kyle. When I told Mitch I’d be writing a book about our nearly-twelve years of friendship, he jokingly asked me to have Kyle be ‘the villain’ of the story. The other 30% of the reason 2007 sucked is a combination of not knowing myself all that well (I was sixteen, after all), some drama with Amy that didn’t relate to Kyle, my first girlfriend Lisa started treating me poorly, and a couple of deaths in my adoptive family. I was also still very insecure and actually a little needy during this time, which didn’t help any of the above.
Because of these things, my friendship with Mitch nearly ended before it even started. It survived, though. I suppose I can thank things like our mission trip to Mexico, and having many conversations about creationism for that.
Later, I would reject my faith altogether. There’s a sad truth about that. Something I don’t think I’ve ever told Mitch, and he might have to learn this for the first time reading this book:
It was because he motivated me to look more into science, and the Bible, that I became an atheist…