Tomatoes and The Hunt for Truth: How I Became a Freethinker

Lana Hobbs blogs at Lana Hobbs the Brave, where she wrote an absolutely stunning series on her fight to overcome the stigma of talking about mental illness. Lana describes herself as a “post-Christian” — which is interesting, because somedays I describe myself in the same way. There is something about growing up in the fundamentalist circus act that is the Religious Right that makes Christianity taste bitter. When you separate from that world, whether you separate to find the “real” Jesus or decide religion of any sort just isn’t for you, there is often this need to keep Christianity at arm’s length. There is also this fascinating sense of community, an intersectional sense of community, emerging from the ashes of our childhood fundamentalism. We are all putting our pieces back together, in public and on blogs, so we are learning together how to respect one another’s journeys. Lana’s voice is important to consider in that process and so I am happy to share with you her journey away from Christianity and towards Freethought. I don’t know what I think about Freethought, but I do know this: that I’m just “trying to love and hunting for truth,” just like Lana says she is. And we could all use more love and truth in our world.


This summer, as I was picking tomatoes in my garden, I wondered to myself, “How did tomatoes become tomatoes?” Once upon a time I would have said, “Well, God made them, and then men developed them through breeding.”

But this summer, I didn’t believe in God.

I think about life apart from the doctrine I was taught. I change my mind when confronted with facts and logic that merit consideration. This year, I became a Freethinker. A Freethinker is “one who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation.”

So instead of telling myself “God made tomatoes,” I wondered, what animals ate them? How did they become tomatoes before they were bred by humans? What were early tomatoes like? What were their ancestor plants?

My childhood wonder was coming back, replacing the certainty of “God did it.”

I grew up with utter certainty. The Bible was God’s perfect word. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so I could go to Heaven instead of Hell. God was good and perfect and wanted me to be perfect also.

I always loved the story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven because of the utter certainty it represented. The Lord was God and Baal was not, because when the servants of Baal prayed, nothing happened, but when Elijah prayed God sent fire to consume the offering. Clarity, blessed clarity. And the Bible said it so it must be true, therefore God was the one true God over all others.

But as I grew, I began to notice problems. Things like, how can a good God send the majority of the people who have ever lived to Hell for sins they apparently couldn’t help due to being born with a sin nature? How is that just?

And questions like, if God made the earth exactly like the Bible says he did, then why does evolution seem so very true and have so much science to back it up?

And if God is always the same, why don’t we have wonders and miracles like Elijah did?

And if people were filled with the Holy Spirit, why were people often nastier in the church than out of it?

And oh so many more questions; mostly I wondered, “Is God really loving?”

Of course, I always strove to find the biblical answers to these questions. I fought, I struggled, I read book after book, trying to reconcile my faith and my doubts, trying to believe that God is good. I read Disappointment with God. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Crazy Love. Love Wins. A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I left my sometimes-toxic church, and during my break, which I meant to be temporary, I devoted myself to studying finding answers to my questions, until I had a faith I could live with, a faith I knew was real.

I had to save the faith because the faith was my life. As the disciples said, as my dad reminded me to say to Jesus anytime I thought I saw problems in Scripture, “You have the words of life, where else could I go.”

I was sometimes accused of wrestling with questions too big for my mind.

I think people can genuinely wrestle with these questions and remain Christian — I am not trying to talk anyone out of faith, just telling my story. And for me it eventually became too many questions; I struggled to justify my faith in God and the Bible.

But then came the deathblow question. I asked myself: “What would make me believe this if I hadn’t been taught it as truth from childhood — what would convince me this was true over Buddhism or Judaism or Islam?”

And I had no answer.

I know the hope of the gospel convinces a lot of people, but for me it wasn’t enough to believe it was real. After months of hunting for the answer to that question, during the most severe and debilitating depression of my life — in which my faith crisis certainly played a role — I decided to take a break from the search for truth in Christianity. If Christianity was Truth and I was hunting for Truth, I would find it. If the Bible was right and all of nature pointed to God, then I figured I should be able to find Jesus without Bible scholars telling me what to believe about the Bible.

I had finally reached the point where I wanted truth above wanting to keep my childhood beliefs.

I believe it was at that moment that I became a Freethinker, when I decided to set aside all preconceptions and dogma and hunt for truth. Only I still sort of thought it might lead me back to the Bible. It hasn’t.

Once I decided to stop trying with all my might to believe the Bible, I figured I should go ahead and start reading about other beliefs. I started with one little book about atheism: Why I Am Not A Christian by Richard Carrier.

And suddenly, I had changed my mind completely.

An interesting thing happens when you leave your faith and become a Freethinker:

Some of your friends get selective amnesia.

They forget how well you argued for the Bible, how much you loved it and how well you knew it. They forget how on fire you were. They forget all the service you did for the God you loved.

Suddenly you become The Other. The Unsaved. The Immoral. They use the same old arguments to try to convince you back that you once used to convert people.They lament that your children won’t have godly parents. They post trite conversion stories on your Facebook wall.

You become a project, where you used to be a friend. This hurts.

I didn’t suddenly forget the Bible. I know it quite well, thank you.

I don’t need to hear the Gospel. I know it, I just don’t believe it.

I’m not out to make you lose your faith, I just don’t want you to push my old faith back on me; it doesn’t fit me any more.

I don’t hate Christianity, although I hate when it causes injustice, hatred, and pain.

I’m not in favor of outlawing religion, although I will defend the separation of church and state.

I’m not against you talking about your faith with my children, although I won’t let you scare them into a decision with talk of Hell.

By the way, I do parent my children with love and I do have morals. I just don’t get them from an ancient book. I may have changed a lot since questioning my faith and becoming a Freethinker, but really I haven’t changed as much as you might think.

I’m still just a person, trying to love and hunting for truth.

Published by R.L. Stollar

R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.

11 thoughts on “Tomatoes and The Hunt for Truth: How I Became a Freethinker

  1. Reblogged this on Lana Hobbs the Brave and commented:
    People always wanna know how I became an agnostic Freethinker, whether they are atheist friends asking how i escaped or Christian friends asking what the heck happened to me.
    R.L. Stollar asked me to guest post about being a Freethinker.
    This is my story. Or at least, a shortened, manageable version of it.

    P.S. when I mention that some friends have selective amnesia, I neglected to mention that other friends still love me just the same. To those friends I say: Thanks.

  2. I’m happy for you, Lana! You may have lost your old friends, but you have gained a community, a community who knows what’s it’s like to leave fundamentalism, and can be there for you, with no judgement.

    I wish you the best. 🙂

  3. Alice – Wife, unschooling mom, exChristian, hopeful romantic, dead inside. I'm not a bartender but I played one 6 days a week. Many vices but hopefully a few virtues.
    Alice says:

    Oh my, even though I wasn’t brought up in fundamentalism, I know exactly what you are going through and all the questions you had were the same as mine.

  4. While I didn’t reach the same conclusion, I understand all of the feelings and all of the emotions. I had to put religion aside for a whle and be willing to be wrong too. It hurt. It’s hard. Ryan’s insight about being “post Christian” is profound. There will always be in some sense a connection to the past even when we reject it.

  5. Chris Jeub – Monument, Colorado – I'm president of Training Minds, an organization that trains young people to "think, speak and persuade," primarily for academic debate competition but for greater purposes beyond. I also have a blog where I encourage others to aim high toward those ambitions they're called. I own a publishing company, Monument Publishing, that prints the curriculum and sourcebooks for debate, as well as personal books that I've written with my dear wife, Wendy. Here's the jaw dropper: Wendy and I have 16 children. We've written books, been on TV, and built a small platform on "love in the house." Most seriously, I love God and love the life He has lead me to, and I desire to help others discover His love and the freedom He provides.
    Chris Jeub says:

    Wow, this is a powerful article. I identify in many ways. To tell you the truth, I like Ryan’s intro the best.

  6. Great stuff. I am impressed. It really does not matter what beliefs you hold at a particular point in time, as long as they are fair and generally treat others well We experience God (or whatever you want to call it that we are all looking for) in the journey of discovery and sharing ourselves. Not in a particular belief or name we call It. I chose to call it God and have no doubt it is what is behind what others call God. At least if their’s is an admirable God.

    I wrote the following as the obnoxious psychobabbler, which I certainly can be.

    I want to re-iterate that I do not think what I wrote in my post titled, God – The Greatest Whole, is inconsistent with most of today’s major religions, or at least not more inconsistent than they are with themselves. I am not at all trying to convince anyone to leave their own religion.

    For me though I need to see, hear, feel, or experience God here and now in today’s world. I simply cannot believe strongly in what did or did not happen thousands of years ago. I cannot and then I get worried about the fact I cannot, and if then I can fit in with this group, and it keeps me from others and therefore God. If this was the only way I might still try it, and I did stick with it a long time, thinking it was the only way.

    Then I finally got desperate enough and found God in today’s world. At that point being in a religion that said they were the only way to God, just seemed wrong or inauthentic or against what I had found that was so real and wonderful. Again though, I am not suggesting others leave their religion or that religions are wrong or bad. Certainly, if you feel your religion is keeping you from finding God here and now, like it was for me, then find a place you do find God here and now and pursue that. If your religion is helping, by all means stick with that and maybe augment it some if you feel that is wise or prudent.

    Above all, be honest with yourself. By this I mean listen to what is coming from deep down inside yourself and have the courage to follow it. You cannot do it alone though. Find a person or group that is not threatened by what you may find. This is harder than it may first seem. For most religions common beliefs are what hold them together, and it feels like a wide open search is off limits or against the rules. This is somewhat true, but most permit real exploration or at least you can find a person or two that will allow it. Of course depending upon what you find deep down within yourself, you may have to move on to be true to yourself. Actually, this is also the only way to be true to God.

    Hopefully, you will not have to get as desperate as I did. I remember vividly being pissed off that I had a child because it meant suicide was not an option. I was in bad enough shape that I could convince myself that everyone else in my life would end up being better off without me, and I did not want to be here anymore. But I could not convince myself that my son would ever get over it, and I could not do that to him. At the same time I was completely convinced that whether I was clean and sober for many years or numbing out with drugs and alcohol that I was going to keep screwing up and hurting those I cared about, which then meant I could not live with myself.

    That is what it took for me to be willing to try the desperate Hail Mary of being true to myself and following what I found deep down within myself. At the time I was our church’s leader for faith forming relationships, and about a year into a self imposed discernment period before planning to go to seminary and become a pastor. I knew that my favorite thing and the thing I wanted and needed most was to spend time with myself and others in the places that we connect to each other and God. So being a pastor seemed like the thing for me. However, after a year of talking to a lot of people about it and trying to find the denomination I might fit into, or at least not feel like I was fighting myself to fit in or fighting others to adopt my beliefs, I realized this was not possible for me.

    I needed to be free to follow whatever I found deep within myself and share that with others, whether that was consistent or inconsistent with accepted doctrine for a particular denomination or religion. Time spent trying to fit myself into any particular beliefs was rejecting the best evidence I had of what God had made and was, which was me and my connections to him. Time spent trying to get others to adopt my views or beliefs was rejecting that sacred place in them where those beliefs reside, as well as in a round about way the same place within me. Most people never do the wide open search because they are deathly afraid of what they will find out about themselves or God, basically that they are just rotten at the core or that God is not really a God of love or because it threatens their important relationships. The first 2 are never true, the 3rd can be, and it is almost impossible without some support and mentors who you feel will be with you no matter what you find.

    Fortunately, I have found that if I am connecting to that place within myself that connects with things beyond myself, I am connecting to God. I have even found that I am connecting to the eternal because I am connecting to everything that has shaped me or my world from the past and everything my actions have even the tiniest influence on in the future. Most people seem to prefer God to be a little more mysterious than this. I do not have a big preference other than I like and need to experience my Creator and Provider. To do that I have to realize God is everywhere, ready and willing to be experienced. Then, I have to remove the things within me that block me from being ready, willing, and able to experience that Great Reality that is God.

  7. Brannan Sirratt – Helping professionals and creatives shape narrative-driven non-fiction that will move their audience, leave a legacy, and change the world.
    Brannan says:

    I love seeing strength and confidence emerging in you. Truly.

  8. My sister in law shared your link with me after telling her I was an Omnist. Raised loosely Catholic, submerged myself into Non – Denomination churches in my twenties, back to Catholicism in my thirties; I one day realized that every faith and religion has a piece of the puzzle. I am content to believe that when I die the answers will come.

  9. Donna, you might be interested in a prior writing of mine on my google blog titled, Obnoxious Psychobabble and Blasphemy. The title of the writing is God – The Greatest Whole.

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