Growing up, we were intimately familiar with the concept of “sin.” We knew the biggies—the ones we would never commit, but could gain a certain amount of satisfaction realizing we weren’t that bad:
4) Sex with farm animals.
There was the category of sins we didn’t want to do, but did anyway to avoid problems:
2) Cheat on a test.
And finally there were sins we wanted to do, but knew we shouldn’t:
1) Disobey our parents.
2) Not share our toys.
3) Go to Movie theaters.
4) Get to second base.
We were taught the reason we sinned is because…(and this is obvious)…sinning was fun. It was what our [sin] nature wanted to do. No one sinned because they had to, or did it reluctantly. We did it because it was such a temptation to do the thing our very being craved most at the moment.
We sinned because we liked it. (Not the big ones, of course. No one was allowed to enjoy those!)
We were also taught over and over how sin was a disappointment to God. Yes, our sins were covered by Jesus’ blood or atoned for or paid for by His death or _______ [insert appropriate Christian platitude] and we wouldn’t lose our salvation just because we didn’t clean our room when Mom asked us to. Yet every time we sinned—we were repeatedly informed—this hurt God. This bothered God. Jesus cried tears ‘cause we wanted to kiss before we were engaged.
Nobody wants to be a disappointment to their parents. We don’t want to hear the “Sigh” and see the long look on their face. This drives a stake of guilt right into the child’s heart. Even worse, we were disappointing God—the one who loved us, and died for us. Imagine how big His “sigh” would be, and how long His face could get!
And so we entered a cycle:
1) Be tempted by sin.
2) Say “no.”
3) Try not thinking about the sin.
4) Think about the sin.
5) Say “no” again.
6) Think about the sin.
7) Ask God to take away the temptation.
8) Think about the sin.
9) Remember the guilt you felt last time.
10) Say “no” again.
11) Remember the fun you had last time.
12) Justify doing it just this once.
14) Now the fun is over, feel terribly guilty!
15) Ask forgiveness for the sin.
16) Vow to never sin again.
17) Go back to step 1.
We lived in an almost constant state of wrestling between wanting to sin and not wanting to sin and feeling guilty about sinning and talking about the sins we shouldn’t commit and thinking about sin. This creates a bit of inner turmoil, as you can imagine.
Then we would look at non-believers. We understood their conscience had been suppressed. Muted in some way. They didn’t feel quite the same guilt as we did when we sinned. In fact, one of the mandatory, necessary steps in converting the non-believer was to make them recognize they were sinning! If they didn’t realize they were disobeying God; they would never see their need for God to save them from disappointing God.
We also understood that deep, deep down, they secretly knew there was a God. That there were higher morals they should be following. (See Romans 1 & 2.) What we needed to do was reach past that guilt-free sinful exterior and pull those feelings out, so they could see how bad they were.
In other words, we needed them to feel the same guilt and turmoil we did when it comes to sinning.
Realize we were not envious of the non-believer for their non-guilt feelings. Oh, no—we pitied them. They were going to eternal torment in hell; who envies that? They were angering the creator of the universe; who wants to be in that position? We were light; they were darkness. We were salt; they were tasteless. We were fruit; they were despair. Every good analogy (life, light, salt) we were; every bad analogy (death, darkness, eventual agony) they were.
We felt empathy with the non-believer. We fought with and desired to reduce those inner battles over sin; we assumed they did at one time as well. We simply figured they took the wrong route. We faced up to our demons, and (with God’s help) continued to war against the evil sin nature. They had succumbed to it by claiming there is no God. Or that there are no morals. Or believing in the wrong, namby-pamby type God.
This is why many believers tell us deconverts we stopped believing in God so we could sin; it makes perfectly logical sense to the believer. They want to stop the inner discomfort; they assume we do as well. They think not believing in God will do so; they presume this is the choice we made to suppress the internal feud. “Remove God from the picture and one no longer has to feel guilty about disappointing God,” is how they reason.
They think we are convinced in the theory of evolution because it gives us an excuse to sin. They think we find contradictions in the Bible to allow us to sin. They think we look for any excuse in the world to disbelieve Jesus walked on water so we can cheat on our taxes without the same feelings of guilt the believer has.
This is why telling these types of believers we deconverted because of evidence and reasoning is a waste of time. They have already transferred their own motivations and desires on us. They believe we think just like they do, and the only reason they can possibly see for giving up God is to sin.
I wonder if this is why atheist-to-Christian stories often include tales of sinning, but feeling terrible about it. This is exactly the stereotype many Christians have in their mind regarding non-believers. It fits perfectly. That the only reason we don’t believe is to avoid the inner conflict the believer so righteously engages when wrestling with sin.