The question I get asked the most is: what was the one thing that made you became an atheist? Answering this question now is as hard as it was when I originally became an atheist. I do want to explain my process, but it’s very long and comes with a large smattering of antecedents and tangential clarifications, so bear with me.
If I had to pick one reason why I’m an atheist, this quotation from The Chronicles of Narnia would be the simplest way I can think of to explain it:
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
I used to be like Lucy. The idea of a ‘big’ God, infinitely omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, has always been very important to me. As I grew—spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, temporally—I always found that God was bigger than I had previously realized.
I’m a visual person, so here is the illustration that I see in my head: I see my mental conception of the universe as a box, whose boundaries are constantly expanding. Sometimes the size of the box remains static for awhile; usually, it grows at a slow to moderate pace. Sometimes certain things make my box suddenly increase exponentially in size: having an artistic epiphany, working on an agonizingly painful quantum physics project, living on my own in a big city for the first time, taking Jerry Root’s Christian Education class at Wheaton.
Always, always, my box was completely filled by God. Every time my box grew, my conception of God grew along with it, seamlessly. Often, it was God who grew first, pushing the sides of the box outwards. I never had to work to make God big enough for my box. He was always there, infinitely big.
Then, during my junior year at Wheaton, several things happened in quick succession that made my box double in size. It was fantastic, until I realized that God didn’t quite fill it. I realized that I could see the edge of God, and that scared me. So I threw myself even more deeply into my faith. Contrary to slowly sliding away from faith, I found that there was a very fine line between earnest, committed, conservative Christianity and radical atheism. It’s hard to describe what my faith looked like at this stage. I desperately wanted to stay a Christian. I desperately wanted God to fill my box. But he didn’t, and still my box was growing.
In my view there is absolutely no place for a God who is less than infinite, but I didn’t know what to do now that the only God I knew was a small God. Then, for the first time, I heard someone else voice my belief: that no God at all was preferable to a small God. I threw God out of my box and began looking out with new eyes, and my box immediately increased logarithmically in size.
My love of analogy tends to get lost in itself while complicating the obvious, so I’ll try to follow this up with an actual explanation sometime.