Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and former fundamentalist Christian turned fundamentalist atheist. She speaks about her deconversion from faith to atheism in her Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light (2010). She likes to speak on various topics, which include recovery from fundamentalism, religious intolerance, the psychology of belief, raising children without God, and other topics.
Tarico raises several issues that led her to abandon her faith. One major issue was the Bible and its alleged inerrancy. Tarico could not accept that the Bible was the inerrant, inspired word of God because of its errors and contradictions, as well as its incredible violence. She says that “it is easy to find quotes from the Bible that are either scientifically absurd or morally repugnant.” This sowed seeds of doubt,
“The gradual realization that my religion was laced with moral and rational contradictions and provably false claims ultimately made belief impossible for me. But that final break came only after years spent searching the scripture to bolster faith, witnessing to others, and even teaching Sunday school. Doubts and depression alternated with a sweet sense of God’s presence during worship. So, the implosion of faith left a profound sense of my own ability to be mistaken—an awe of how real things can feel when they are not. It left me permanently suspicious of simple answers and wary of groupthink. It tattooed a question onto the edge of my consciousness that never quite fades, no matter how bold my proclamations may sound: What if I’m wrong?”
Further, Tarico takes to task sexism. The irony she notices is that many Christians, including leaders, are blatantly sexist even though women make up most adherents of the faith: “Women are the church’s base constituency, but fortunately for atheists, this fact hasn’t caused conservative Christians to back off of sexism that is justified by – you got it – prooftexting from the Old and New Testaments.”
Then there is the hypocrisy of Christians as “those who call themselves the “righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.” Yet Christians often engage in “disgusting and immoral behavior”, especially priest abuse scandals that have done more to serve atheism than atheists themselves. She now sees religious belief as harmful: “If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it”.
Finally, science is better than religious belief. Not only does Tarico claim to have respect for the scientific method, but she also notices the blatant “nonsense” anti-scientific views of religious believers,
“One of my former youth group friends had his faith done in by a conversation with a Bible study leader who explained that dinosaur skeletons actually are the bones of the giants described in early books of the Bible. Uh huh. Christians have come up with dozens of squishier, less falsifiable ways to explain the geological record: The “days” in Genesis 1 were really “ages.” Or God created the world with the fossils already in place to test our faith. Or the biblical creation story is really sacred metaphor. But young-earth creationists who believe the world appeared in its present form 6,000-10,000 years ago are stuck. And since almost half of the American public believes some version of this young-earth story, there are ample opportunities for inquiring minds to trip across proto-scientific nonsense. “
Considerations of Tarico’s Deconversion
There is much one could say about Tarico’s deconversion.
What is a problem regarding the Bible for Tarico and that led her away from faith is not necessarily an issue for many informed believers who take their faith seriously. As we saw with the apologist Matt Slick’s daughter’s similar deconversion to atheism, inerrancy is a motivating factor and a cause of doubt. What inerrancy often results in is the decimation of faith 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, among Christians, the doctrine of inerrancy is controversial, much debated, and not accepted by all Christian apologists and theologians. A Christian might criticize Tarico for producing a false dichotomy: an inerrant Bible or the Bible is not the Word of God. There are many other options on the table (1).
Elsewhere it is difficult to put much weight on Tarico’s views on religion, which have been severely distorted by her fundamentalist atheism. For example, Tarico has beelined straight off the edge into the atheist conspiracy camp claiming Jesus did not exist as a historical figure. Me having read her argument for Jesus’ non-existence in the course of my research for this post, Tarico’s grasp of basic history and New Testament scholarship would fail any introductory course on the topic. If such an essay was produced by one of my students in my Religion Studies class, I would fail it for its inadequate research and engagement with scholarly views, false statements, and lack of familiarity with the topic the author is speaking about.
Such a radical position held by Tarico leads one to suspect that the trauma Christians caused her must run deep, as she seems to imply when she writes that “People who leave Evangelical Christianity often carry scars, either from their time in the walled community of believers or from their struggle to break free.”
There is a noticeable tendency for fundamentalist Christians who lose their faith to jump straight into fundamentalist atheism, as if no other worldview options exist. Tarico is an example of this, as is are other atheists like John Loftus, Dan Barker, Rachael Slick, and others. The pattern is often the same: the more staunch the former Christian was in his or her former faith, the more staunch the same individual will be when he or she converts to atheism.
Beyond these problems, Tarico’s deconversion testimony does invite important discussion. For example, many women feel alienated from their faith when they are excluded from positions of leadership in the Church. There is a large list of problems women have experienced in the Church ranging from blatant sexism to women’s subordination and oppression, to how this impacts the woman’s self-esteem and her relationship with God, and more. Tarico’s criticism of the Christian faith on this level should underscore the importance of the faithful needing to engage these topics.
Further, Tarico’s doubts about the Bible should urge more Christians to take seriously the topic of inerrancy. Christians need to be informed of views of the Bible that do not embrace inerrancy, especially since inerrancy has become such an obstacle for belief for so many.
- Merrick, J. et al. 2013. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Zondervan Academic.
Center for Inquiry. n.d. Valerie Tarico. Available.
Tarico, Valerie. 2012. 8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert to Agnosticism or Atheism. Available.
Tarico, Valerie. 2018. Why I’m Grateful to be a Former Evangelical. Available.