New Yorker

I was an Atheist, and Rob Bell talked about it.

"At one point, a man got up and identified himself as an atheist who had come to doubt atheism itself. Bell gave him a spiritual diagnosis, and no prescription at all. 'Something within you has a longing,' he said. 'You have a bucket–I call that the God bucket. And I wouldn't go much further than that."

Here we are in the beautiful little room looking over the Pacific. Rob Bell is presiding over a group of about 50, mostly pastors. I’m here because I’m friends with some of the nerds that make Rob’s web stuff happen. They know I’ve read a lot of Rob’s work, and I think a lot of him. What they don’t know is I’ve become an atheist, and I’m mainly here to listen to someone who is good at writing, speaking and inspiring people. Those are three things I am really interested in. Rob has been talking about what it takes to be a leader, and the costs leaders pay for their service. The topic shifts to the New Atheism movement, and Rob starts to explain the problems he sees with Atheism. To my ears, his words sound exhaustingly similar to what very conservative Christians say about atheists and it discourages me. I guess this God thing isn’t going to work out after all…

The quote at the beginning of this post is from a profile of Rob Bell in the November 26, 2012 edition of the New Yorker. I know the story behind that quote because I am the man who stood up. You see I am that atheist. This little fraction of a paragraph, nestled among an expansive look at the ministry and work of Rob Bell represents the spiritual crescendo of my life. It is in that moment I returned to God after a secret exile. I am sharing my story now because I believe that someone who reads this may need it. Perhaps you are struggling with doubt, and you fear the rejection of those you love the most. Maybe you feel like you have to choose between God and reason. You may have heard there is no way back to belief after becoming an atheist. I hope my story will show you that it is never too late, that God is always there for us.

My life was a lie for many months. My faith left me after a lifetime of Christian belief and church attendance. It is a very strange feeling to pretend all the time. Every word has to be scrutinized before it is uttered. You are always at risk of revealing your true thoughts and feelings, with the risk of alienating yourself from your community. Such is the plight of the formerly religious atheist.

Unbelief is growing. I’m talking about secularism, spiritualism, the “nones,” and the most infamous of all is atheism. Counted together, those people groups represent that fastest growing “faith” in the world. The Internet represents an unprecedented historical opportunity for people who do not believe. The worldwide community of skeptics can communicate now, and they can do so without censorship or persecution. As a result, the weaknesses of theology and scripture are dissected, recorded and indexed by search engines. Anyone with a little Google skill and a curious mind can discover really powerful questions and contradictions in seconds. With a little more searching, online communities designed to support and comfort those falling out of faith are discovered. A truism appears: once people become atheists, they don't return to the faith. I know this is unfathomable to most of my Christian friends, but let me assure you this truism has merit. Although I have returned to the faith, my belief is nothing like it was before. The road back home is very steep indeed.

I grew up in church. My parents were very active in a Baptist church. We were the kind of family who could be counted on any time the doors were open and the lights were on. At the age of seven I asked my Mom to lead me to Christ after our bedtime prayer. For my youth, I delighted in relating to God. Prayer was an activity I relished–I talked to God all the time. My conviction that He listened was unshakeable. I was a socially awkward child, given to flights of imagination too odd for my peers to enjoy. I also tend to be obtuse when it comes to social norms, and although the adult Mike has learned to treat this as an advantage, the child Michael never fit in. Often, God was my only company. He was the one I could count on to accept me.

I had a brain for technology in grade school. I learned to program before I learned to write in cursive. I was given extra time on computer because of my aptitude. Technology is born from engineering, and engineering from science. My technical focus fostered in me a great passion for science, and before I hit my teens I began to struggle to reconcile what I read in the Old Testament with the scientific view of geology, biology and astronomy. My Sunday School teachers found themselves peppered by questions that were perhaps more than they expected, but God was good. A beloved teacher gave me a book on Creation Science and my mind soaked up the text like a sponge. I became a passionate creationist and would privately debate my science teachers.

God and I remained close. Counterculture became vogue in high school, and I found myself embraced by my peers for the first time. I didn’t really know how to handle the easy manner by which others embraced me. My friends were a diverse and eclectic bunch. Some of my friends were new age mystics, others were Muslims, Buddhists or Hindu. More than a few of my friends were self-identified agnostics or atheists, and their stories made me the most uncomfortable. I tried to be a witness, but I often responded as a zealot, convinced of the perfection of my argument via Creation Science. My failure as a witness was compounded by a failure to live up to the standards I proclaimed vital. In short, I broke my own definition of sin frequently. Guilt was my constant companion.

Eventually, I married a good Baptist girl and played in a Christian band. I started teaching Sunday School and became a Deacon. I became a compassionate fundamentalist, and an old-Earth Creationist. I also tended to legalism. It was good. I was utterly convinced that I was living exactly as God wanted me to live and that I understood God very well. There were few topics I couldn’t explain away skillfully. I felt so close to God. Even better, people at my office respected me for my faith and sought me out on spiritual matters. My efforts at evangelism improved.

It’s funny how God puts people in your life. God knew the next chapter in my story before I did, and he began to prepare the way for me. Little did I know I was at the top of a roller coaster, and the next drop was steep.

My parents got divorced, and my world shattered. I hate to use such strong terms, even more so knowing that my parents will read this. But the fact was, suddenly everything I knew seemed fake. If my parents could get divorced after 25 years of marriage, what else that I faced with certainty could also fail? I felt silly too. After all, my parents provided a stable, loving environment for me all the way from birth to adulthood. It was my parents who were a safe harbor when the other kids at school were especially hurtful. My mom lead me to Christ and showed me what it was like to pray without ceasing. My dad showed me how to be a dad, and a man of God. He was a Deacon, and more than once has served as the Minister of Music for a congregation. The stability of their relationship was something I took for granted, and now it was gone.

Some people shy away from church in a crisis, but I rush in. I was at the church office within 24 hours of learning my parents’ relationship had fractured. I was self aware enough to know what was at stake. Although I was in denial then, anger would come soon enough. I had no desire to hate my father. A minister friend gave me a book called To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller, and this book was a life raft.

 I tended to stick to parts of scripture that edified me, and reinforced my conception of who God was. After reading To Own a Dragon I moved onto Blue Like Jazz. The direct and open way Donald discussed his experience with God was moving, and helped open my eyes to some of the ways I lied to myself about what I knew about God. Another friend introduced me to Rob Bell and Velvet Elvis–and I quickly realized I was a brick wall kind of Christian. If you haven’t read Velvet Elvis, let me explain. I had reached a point where my theology was very rigid, and if the precepts of my understanding of God were challenged I stood to see my faith collapse. My understanding of God was a series of connected theological claims, stacked atop one another. If any one was challenged, they all fell together, much like a brick wall.

Reconciling science and the Bible is a much easier task when you take Genesis as poetry. I started to approach the Bible as the writings of people who had encountered the Living God. The Bible was the story of God at work with mankind, culminating with Jesus. Of course, Genesis fell short of modern science, how on Earth could a sheep herder in 5,000 BC understand what God revealed to him about the act of creation? Every departure from science, every apparent contradiction was easily explained as men’s interference with Divine Revelation. God seemed realer, more certain to me than ever before. Every question, every exploration of scripture brought me closer to God.

Why pray if God is all knowing? Prayer connects us to God, and the act of praying causes us to search His Will. Why does evil and suffering exist if God is all-powerful? God loves us and gives us the ability to reject him. When we reject God, the only possibility is evil and suffering. Why do bad things happen to people who follow God? Suffering produces character and provides context for beauty, after all Christ himself suffered terribly.

This openness and freedom afforded by a figurative interpretation of scripture made me bold indeed. I’m a nerd and nerds use the Internet a lot. On the Internet, atheists have found a forum where they can communicate and share openly without fear of persecution for perhaps the first time in human history. I started to engage the communities as a theologically liberal Christian. I had no need to defend God, but merely to show love and acceptance. I was well liked and received. To my surprise, no one tried to confront me or belittle my faith. The respect I showed to others was returned in kind. Atheists were mostly nice, reasonable people who responded kindly to respectful Believers. Not all believers were respectful. Some Christians appeared with the zeal of Crusaders. They’d start a thread and passionately attack the tenets of science, and reject the claims of famous atheist thinkers. The atheists would push back, and with questions that burned my mind.

There were hundreds, even thousands of questions about God, Biblical morality, and theology I was utterly unprepared to read. Here are a few that kept me up at night:

  • You Christians say that every person has an immortal soul that begins at conception. You say that any person who fails to accept Jesus spends eternity in Hell–a place of absolute torment. Some of you also claim the only avenue of escape for this verdict is someone who dies before they have the capacity to understand the message of salvation, “The Age of Accountability.” If you believe in these things, don’t you have a moral obligation to kill people before they reach the age of accountability? That’s the only way to eliminate the change of eternal damnation.
  • If you are a Christian who doesn’t believe in the Age of Accountability, how do you handle the fact that approximately 50% of births end in miscarriage. If life begins at conception, your belief is that 50% of humanity is doomed to eternal torment without being born?
  • You say the Bible is the word of God and Christ is the Son of God. The Bible is riddled with self contradictions and factual errors. If Jesus is the only way to be reconciled with God, wouldn’t an all powerful Being have a better way to communicate this to us? Why is the ultimate message of all time left to such an unremarkable conveyance?
  • If God is just, why was a three day punishment and exile of an Immortal (Jesus) suitable sacrifice for sin? After all, sin usually mandates eternal punishment for all eternity. Why was three days for Jesus an acceptable substitute for all mankind in Hell for eternity?

I started to add theology to my reading list. The answers offered in Christian apologetics were frighteningly weak and vague on all these points. I started to read the writings of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Penn Jillette, and other prominent atheists. The naturalist worldview was incredibly compelling. It was logically consistent, and pointed to physical evidence for its claims. It also made no claims of infallibility, inevitability, or providence. Atheists readily admit they could be wrong about anything, and their recourse was to base their beliefs on what could be proven.

Throughout this process I never stopped praying to God. I told Him I wanted to know Him completely, and I wanted to devote my life to His service. I never stopped reading the Bible. One day I was praying and I realized I didn’t believe I was talking to anyone.

I said aloud, “You aren’t even real. I’m sitting here talking to myself,”

and the floor fell out from under me. I plunged into an immediate existential crisis. If there is no God, what plan is there for creation? What reason is there to be a moral person? What is the point of life? How will I ever see the ones I’ve loved and lost to death? Why are we here? WHY ARE WE HERE?!?!

I was scared to tell anyone. I was afraid first that I may cause others to stumble, and second that I would be rejected by my friends and family. I tell you from the bottom of my heart I could have never imagined such fear before I felt it. Imagine for a moment you don't believe in God or the afterlife. What's left? This life. What makes up this life? Connections to other people. To lose the people in my life would be to lose everything.

Luckily, it got better. I prayed when I felt like it, letting God-Or-Whatever know that I would happily return to belief if some evidence were offered. I found some comfort in secular humanism. There may be no God, but that just means our life is what we make it. I committed myself to leaving the world a better place than I found it. My church life improved. I saw faith as something to offer comfort and inspiration to people, and I taught from the Bible with passion.

I’m not a great actor, and Jenny saw through me. One night we were talking and somehow it came out that I was an atheist. She didn’t take it well. She started trying to correct my thinking, but she had no tenet to base belief on that I didn’t have a counter for. With a heavy heart, I took apart every reason my beloved wife gave me to believe in God. That was a bad night.

Jenny felt outmatched, so she confided in my Mom. Mom and I talked one night until the early morning hours with similar results. I felt like a heel. I took no joy in rejecting their explanations for God, but I couldn’t just believe in something without a reason. There is a problem with Faith.

If Faith is the only reason we have to believe something, we can believe anything. By Faith I can believe in Allah or Buddha. If it is Faith that tells me the Bible is real, then how can I discount the Faith of one who trusts the Koran? Even Paul points beyond faith to the evidence of God’s plan: the Resurrection of Christ. Why do we trust that Christ rose from the dead, and deny that Joseph Smith read the Book of Mormon from Golden Tablets?

My experience with my wife and mother confirmed one of my worst fears: my deconstruction of belief was comprehensive.

About that time I was getting comfortable with atheism and secular humanism as my world view, a close friend emailed me to let me know Rob Bell was going to have a very small gathering to talk about faith and creativity. I work in a creative industry, and at this time in my life creative fatigue was my constant companion. I was always terrified that my most recent idea would be my last. Rob has authored several books and has delivered many creative sermons. He appears to have a bottomless fount of creativity from the outside perspective. I wanted to know how he did it. So, I booked a flight and made plans to stay in California. My wife and mom were excited about the idea of me spending a couple of days in the company of pastors, so it was easy to gather support for the trip at home.

On the day I booked my flight, one of my coworkers let me know that NASA’s Dryden Fight Research Center was inviting bloggers out for an outreach event. I have a great passion for astronomy and space exploration, so I applied immediately. I was amazed to discover that I was selected to attend, and that the gathering was happening just two days before I would be in Laguna. Dryden was also within driving distance of Laguna Beach. I chuckled at the coincidence, the opportunity to evaluate a famous center of scientific research and a famous gathering of preachers with a single flight.

I left Tallahassee an atheist, at peace with my unbelief. I was secure in my knowledge that God was either not there or his presence was unknowable to us. My only concern was what I should do with that knowledge.

If I failed to keep my secret, I suspect I would have been removed from any place of service in the church, and my family would be whispered about in tragic tones: "There goes poor Jenny, her husband is an atheist."


On Friday, I went to NASA. The Dryden Flight Research Center had its first event where members of the public were allowed "through the fence." At Dryden, I learned about what mankind is doing on the very cutting edge of engineering. Ways to make commuter jets travel faster than sound, or how to make sure planes don't run into the ground under pilot control anymore. I also saw the first machines that propelled us faster than sound and beyond, and held pieces of the spaceships we've built that have left the earth.

Over the weekend I connected with dear friends who once called Tallahassee home, but now lived spread across the country. It seemed a mere quirk of timing that they could all be with me on this pivotal weekend.

On Monday, two friends humored me and went to a showing of Blue Like Jazz. This is a movie, made from Donald Miller's famous post-modernist book about the Christian experience. It was fun, and funny especially when I saw my goofy face on the big screen, along side my lovely bride. Thanks to this movie, my Bacon Number is 2.

The film was made via a Kickstarter campaign, and I contributed what I could. In a show off gratitude, the filmmakers put me in the movie as an extra. This consisted of Jenny and I sitting in the front row of a church for hours doing the same thing over and over. I had no idea how confusing it was to make a movie, and that the people in the movie don't have a lot of context to go on. You just perform these little moments in an order that makes sense for the production and has nothing to do with the flow of the story.

That means I knew Don would storm out of the church in anger, but I didn't know why. It turns out Don is angry because of a change the movie made from the book. In the film, Don's mom is sleeping with Don's mentor: the youth pastor. Don puts two and two together and achieves a state of pure fury.

The tears started. The rest of the film is about Don running away from God because of his sense of betrayal. The moral failure of his mother and his mentor made him doubt everything he knew. At this moment I realized how close my search for Real Truth came to my own parents’ divorce.

How could God allow this to happen? How dare He? Who exactly does He think He is? What right does He have to allow this to happen if He has the power to stop it? Here was this little thread in my Sweater of Faith that I began to pull. Why does God allow rape in the Congo? Why is the Bible so full of factual contradictions? Why were the gospels written so long after Jesus was gone? What about all those other deities that were like him, but before him? Christ is not the first to claim being born of a virgin, or to be resurrected after three days. I pulled and pulled until my faith was gone, and nothing was left in me but what I could prove.

Until Blue Like Jazz (The Movie), I didn't know why I was searching. I wept for the rest of the film and Don ran farther and farther away from God. Then I wept more as I saw him restored, but in a radically different way. Don couldn't return to his fundamentalism, but in its place was a greater mystery and questions that can't be answered. It was a new and, for him, stronger faith.

I wanted that. And sitting in a little movie theater in Irvine, California a tiny spark of Belief started in my heart. It was fragile, and I was afraid to say much for fear it would go back out. My friends were understanding, and left me to my silence while offering occasional words of encouragement. These two people, acting as the hands of God.

Tuesday, it was time to meet Rob Bell. My original intent for the trip was to learn about inspiration and creativity from a well-known writer and speaker. Now, carrying this tiny little spark of belief, I was instead a seeker in the presence of a prophet. Fifty people, mostly pastors, sat in a room to talk about how we do what we do, whatever that is.

It was good. I learned a lot about how to create, and some ways to relate the scriptures to people in an accessible way. Rob even covered some secular academic work that was new to me about the way people learn and relate to each other. I felt my time was well spent.

Then Rob talked about New Atheism. He made some statements that offended me. He said atheists can't tell you why something is beautiful or why they love their wives. Having been an atheist, I could very much do both and do it in scientific terms. He made a joke that Evolution was great for telling you why you don’t have a tail, but terrible at telling you why you find that interesting. The hits kept on coming, to the delight of the group. Science can’t locate you in your elbow. Consciousness can’t be explained as the sum of physical parts. Science is great at hierarchy, but it can’t respond to holism. For that we need God.

My conservative Christian friends don’t like Rob Bell. From my perspective as an atheist, this supposedly open thinker was serving up the same lukewarm tripe that all Christians use to assuage their anxiety about those who look at the same information they have and decide there is no God. I expected more from the author of Love Wins.

I was filled with despair. I was in a room with some of the most open minds in Christianity, and I was hearing the same trite truisms that I had heard everywhere else. My little spark began to go out, and I prepared myself to say goodbye to God forever.

But this little voice in my head said "Remember what Rob said when we started? He said that if something didn't sit well with you to speak up, and the whole group would rewind with you." Even as that thought entered my mind I didn't want to speak up. Years of Southern social conditioning taught me you shouldn't make a fuss, and you should not be disrespectful. I wanted to say something, but I was in the grip of terror.

Then I realized this was it. This was a moment that would only come once. When would I again have the opportunity to address Rob Bell and 50 great Christian leaders on the intersection of theology and culture? Never. If this moment slips away, it is gone.

I spoke up. I don’t know exactly what I said. I have some people’s notes from the event, and I have my recollection. From that let me offer you this dramatic recreation:

“Umm, Rob? You said that if anything didn’t sit well with us, then we should speak up, and we could rewind. I have to prevail on you to follow through on that. I’m a Southern Baptist who is also a closet atheist. I teach Sunday School, and I’m active in church, but I also don’t believe that God is real. I haven’t told anyone but my wife and my mom because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s belief. You have said a lot about atheism in the last few minutes, and I think you missed the mark. You say that New Atheism is a form of faith because it believes that mankind can answer all the unanswerable questions. That’s not true. In fact, most educated atheists will tell you there appears to be some hard limits on human knowledge. We don’t have even a theoretical basis by which we can probe what happened in the very first instants of the Big Bang or anything before that. In fact, the edge of the observable Universe is moving away from us at the speed of light. I was just at NASA on Friday, and I had some great conversations with rocket scientists and astrophysicists. There is a belief among some of them that the time of religion is drawing to a close, and that the hostility religious people express toward them is fear. I believe we are reaching a time when science will crash the gates of the church, and it will tell people it has better answers and a better way to view morality–simply because it is intellectually honest. So, Rob, how can a person like me, who knows what I know about how the Universe came to be, ever believe in any God?”

The room was very quiet. Tension sparkled in the air. And Rob said "Thank you for sharing and for being honest." Everyone present affirmed his words. All these pastors and believers had broken hearts for me at that moment. No one wanted to talk about anything but my struggle. No one cared what they had flown across the country for. I became their calling.

And then Rob said “Something in you has a longing. I might not overanalyze it. You have a longing that doesn’t have a category. Your mind is seriously dialed-in. You are used to mastering things by categorizing them, but here is this bucket that doesn’t fit in your categories. Maybe you should take those questions and put them in that bucket, and call that bucket God. Don’t define it more than that. It sounds like there is this thing in your life that can’t be mastered. You’re not standing over it, it’s doing something to you that’s different. You have inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning, but this thing is ‘abductive’–it kidnaps you. It is real, but you can’t get to it through the standard ways you know. 

I think that’s beautiful, that even as you didn’t believe you couldn’t share that because you love others. That sounds sacred and holy to me.

The more I think about it, what an odd step of faith you have taken, ‘I was at NASA on Friday, today I came out with my closet atheism.’ God is moving in you.

If that's all you can do, I want to tell you that it’s enough, and there is room in the Faith for you. I want you to know that God says 'This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.'"

And my spark exploded. In that moment God washed over me like the waves of the Pacific.

And then a woman named Sarah stood, and she talked about the importance of a simple faith and sometimes just letting go of questions. I said "Have you been talking to my wife?" and there was a lot of laughter.

And we moved on. And I participated as one who believes. Even though I know that what Rob explained is called Worship of the Gap by Richard Dawkins–this idea that God exists beyond the veil of what we know. Something magical happened in that moment. I held to it.

We talked about more stuff and Carlton Cuse from LOST came for a visit to talk about creativity.

Then we slept. Then we came back and talked another full day. Then we all had dinner. Then Rob called us back down for communion.

My cynicism returned. Here we've been talking about some really amazing, cutting edge stuff about the nature of God and belief and culture and now we're doing the bread and wine thing. Youth groups do this to cap off church camp.

But Rob talked about communion. He talked about how it is about making everyday things Holy. A loaf of bread. A shared glass of wine. It reminds us that the resurrection lives in every moment. Then he told us if we didn't know what to pray during this time, that God simply show us what our own Eucharist was. That we ask how we can be broken and poured out for others.

So I prayed. I felt something, but I don't know what. I cried a little.

Then I walked up to Rob, who started to cry as I approached and he said "This is the body of Christ, broken for you. This is the blood of Christ spilled for you." For this to work, Rob has to hand me the piece of bread and I have to take it. In that moment, God told me I had to accept it. I literally had to accept Christ's sacrifice.

I did. My quiet tears turned to sobs as I left the room. I started to write a letter to God, but I couldn’t see the paper through my tears. A very sweet pastor just sat with me while I cried, offering comfort. Another said “Welcome back” as he passed by. I never even noticed Rob leave.

Walking back to my hotel room, I decided I wanted to pray. My roommate was sleeping, so I walked out to the Pacific and stood on the shore. I looked out into a great darkness, able only to make out the waves. Here was a powerful force of nature, barely seen. This seemed right.

So I prayed:

God, I know so little about you.

I have so many questions. About life, about suffering.

I wonder why the universe seems to have no need for you.

I can’t understand why the Bible is your best attempt to tell us about you.

I wonder why you bless me when so many suffer–

Why children in Africa are starving right now, and women are being raped.

I have lots of questions, and I have to keep asking them.

Asking them keeps me aware that something must be done.

I don't know what I believe, but I know that I believe.

And I know that tonight I accepted the gift of Christ.

At the moment I said Christ, a wave rushed up the shore, crested the peak, and washed over my feet. I took a picture of the spot the next morning, and you could see where the sea invaded the beach in a circle around me. Here, after giving up, I found the sign I was looking for. I cried and cried and thanked God for talking to me again. I told Him I missed talking to him, and no matter what happened I never wanted to stop talking. I never wanted to be without His presence as long as I live.

You see, just as he did in the upper room before giving his life, here again did Christ wash the feet of his follower.

A miracle.

The Spot On The Beach

The Spot On The Beach

I’d love to say “And they all lived happily ever after,” but life is not a fairy tale. The fact of the matter is, I am a man of almost no formal theology. There is no doctrine supporting my belief. I have started to build on the weakest fence around my understanding of God–a barely there defense against my own doubt and deconstruction. This has a very unfortunate side effect: it makes people really uncomfortable.

My journey through atheism has left me feeling that many of the ways we Christians view morality is woefully insufficient. We can become preoccupied about discussions of what doctrine is sound while missing the constant, enduring suffering of our fellow man. When I speak up about these issues, people are hurt and offended. Hurting them hurts me.

My friend and mentor helped me understand what’s happening to me. He told me a story about a friend of his who died. She had complications following medical treatments and her heart and breathing stopped for several minutes. Her heart started back up when they were ready to pronounce her dead. She was alive again.

But she was not the same. Her recovery was very difficult. At first she couldn’t do anything. She had to learn to move her arms again, and to sit up. She had to learn to walk, and bathe herself, and eat on her own. She had to start over at life.

My faith was on the table, and I was ready to call it. Now, I am learning what it means to follow Jesus all again. I am learning what it means to believe. I take great joy in saying I believe in God. Something that simple I can’t take for granted. I delight in God more than I ever have, even though I now lack the language to tell you who or what God is. God and I are talking about that a lot.

Let me end this post with a message just for you:

To the believer, resolute and certain in your standing with God I tell you: do not take it for granted. Also, be prepared, rationalism, trans-rationalism and other movements are creating more and more doubt. The Internet is accelerating it. You will encounter more people every year who understand the Bible and find its answers inadequate. It is time for you to prepare for hard questions.

To the believer who doubts, or the atheists who doubts: be honest with yourself. Find people you can trust and confide in them. Do not let fear isolate you. Reach out. If you have no one, contact me. I will listen.

To the atheists, understand that for many faith in God is the only way they can function in the world. Understand the power of your questions and arguments. The Church has mistreated you terribly, but take the high road. You can be an incredible force for encouraging intellectual honesty, but you have to keep enough of a dialog open for that to work.

To everyone: we are going to have to share this planet and our culture for the foreseeable future. Faith is not on the verge of collapse, and unbelief is growing. Somehow we have to learn to function together.

May we be up to the challenge.