Matt Slick is a Christian apologist and the founder of The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). CARM identifies as “a conservative Christian Ministry” that wants to equip Christians to defend the faith and reach the “lost” for Jesus (1). The ministry was founded in 1995 and purports to be “one of the oldest and largest Christian Apologetics sites on the internet”.
Importantly, for the context of Rachael Slick’s (Matt’s daughter) deconversion and commitment to atheism, CARM affirms biblical inerrancy stating that the “Bible is the Word of God, and its original manuscripts are free from all errors and contradictions”. We will notice that biblical inerrancy played a role in Rachael’s rejection of the Christian faith.
Rachael was born in 1992 and speaks about how she grew up in a very devout, religious home (2). She recalls seeing the used and worn “gigantic old Bible” of her father around the house. Rachael had theology drummed into her from a very young age and recalls how her dad would make her debate him on various issues when she was just five years old. Matt would demand technical accuracy from Rachael in these debates.
Her father would often speak at churches on matters of apologetics and she would attend. He would often boast to others in the audience about how much theology his daughter knew and then use her as a benchmark to motivate others (and, by inference, suggesting that most Christians knew less theology than a five-year-old girl). Rachael recalls how her father would often stop his car on the side of the street to debate Mormon missionaries and that eventually missionaries would stop visiting the Slick household.
One perceives the stringent fundamentalism in Rachael’s upbringing in her homeschooling. For example, her environment was strict and her textbook taught against the theory of evolution. As creationists often do, Rachael was taught the “dangers” of evolutionary theory. This is the position of CARM that “does not affirm macro-evolution”, namely the account of “the formation of life on earth from a single cell that evolved via natural selection over millions of years into the species all over the earth”.
By the time Rachael went to college she was well-versed in theology and arguments (3). She attended philosophy and religion classes, and would often raise her hands “at every opportunity” and sprout “off well-practiced arguments”. She would often talk with her philosophy professor after class about God.
But it was a question about morality and the Bible that caused Rachael to doubt her faith. In a conversation with an individual named Alex, Rachael asked,
“If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?”
Alex could provide no answer and neither could Rachael. She came to believe that “there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.” That is when the total transition happened,
“I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.”
“Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.”
“I was no longer a Christian. That thought was a punch to the gut, a wave of nausea and terror. Who was I, now, when all this had gone away? What did I know? What did I have to cling to? Where was my comfort? I didn’t know it, but I was free.”
Coming from the very religious background she did, Rachael’s rejection of the Christian faith received a reaction from others,
“I am fairly certain I broke my mother’s heart. Many people accused me of simply going through a rebellious stage and that I would come around soon. Countless people prayed for me. I don’t know how my dad reacted to my deconversion; I haven’t spoken to him since I left home.”
She also received hundreds of both accusatory and supportive emails. Motivating her to engage with others were the “desperate” letters, – “the ones from people who lost their faith and felt like they’d also lost everything else.” Rachael claims to have “love for those caught in religion, and I want to help show them that there is goodness without God.” She is “interested in the psychology behind religion, what compels someone to remain religious, and the nature of mental process required to believe in something so incongruent with reality.”
What was Rachael’s father’s, Matt’s, reaction to his daughter’s rejection of the faith and embrace of atheism?
One must remember that atheism, along with secular humanism and Mormonism, is one of the worldviews CARM identifies as its ideological enemy. And indeed Rachael’s embrace of atheism must have felt like a slap in the face. At the very least, it caused Matt distress and heartache. In a post to his critics, Matt explains,
“As a Christian apologist, I sometimes come under attack from all sorts of people in various religious and non-religious contexts. They use whatever they can to insult and mock the Christian faith. In light of this, one of my daughters, Rachael who abandoned the Christian faith many years ago, became an atheist. Since then, she has moved towards theism, per our last conversation. As a result of her not being a Christian, unbelievers will sometimes bring her up and try to use her against me and the Christian faith. Usually, it is atheists who do this, and many of them have been quite hateful in their mockery. But, to be fair, some atheists have been very compassionate and have avoided resorting to using a daughter against her father” (4).
Matt’s pain over the “loss” of his daughter is further apparent,
“Have any of you ever suffered the real loss of children both physically and spiritually? Have any of you buried a child? Have any of you watched another child slip away into spiritual darkness and tried to prevent it, only to encounter failure? Have you ever wondered what you could have done differently? Have you played over and over in your mind a long list of your failures and dragged your own soul through the pain of remembrance regularly? Have you? I have.”
What Explains Rachael’s Rejection of the Faith?
There are likely several factors behind Rachael’s rejection of the Christian faith that extends beyond merely the single doubt she expressed to her friend Alex.
Perhaps Rachael’s father exposed her at too young an age to theology. It is indeed unusual for children at the age of five to be debating their fathers on matters of theology, as well as having theological arguments and positions drummed into their young minds. This could have a damaging impact on the development of a child.
Inerrancy was likely another issue. Rachael had it drummed into her that the Bible is either fully inerrant or must be false and not the Word of God. This view is problematic for many because it produces a scenario in which if just one error is discovered in the Bible (historical, scientific, or ethical), then the whole edifice collapses into a smoldering heap. In reality, the doctrine of inerrancy is controversial, much debated, and not accepted by all Christian apologists and theologians. A Christian might criticize Rachael (and Matt) for producing a false dichotomy: an inerrant Bible or the Bible is not the Word of God.
Rachael also seems to have jumped ship from religion into atheism. She now finds religion unreasonable or, in her own words, “something so incongruent with reality”. But one can see theists pushing her on this position. Why, for instance, did she jump from Christianity into full-blown atheism? Was she duped by the (false?) dichotomy that the only two options in the world are Christianity and atheism? What about other worldviews (like agnosticism) or religions and forms of spirituality? One might wonder if there are other reasons, perhaps emotional and psychological ones, reaching back into her childhood that caused her to reject the faith. One senses a strong emotional reaction to religion, notably the fundamentalist religion Rachael was brought up with, in some of her Tweets,