5/30/04                                                                                       View Comments

My Myth

sent in by BeMuseMe

I was born in the peak year of the baby boom way down south and half way west in BIG D near ground zero of the Military Industrial Republic of Texas. My father was a Constable On Patrol from exactly the day before I was born. He was just a big ole country boy off the farm in the big bad sinful city with his sweetly naive teen bride at his side.

I am sure I was in church by the time I was a week old. In those early years church amounted to playing with others kids. I was exposed to both the city life and country life. My grand parents on both sides were southern baptist and there I got that old time bible thumpin off key singing fire and brimstone style religion. While back in the city it was a bit more laid back liberal free wheeling just say no gimme a hug see ya in church? kinda show. It was just a part of my life that I payed little attention to. I was loved and the wonderous world was mine.

As I became more self aware and less secure the fear rose up inside me. To be fair it was the whole crazy world of the time not just the preaching that caused my fears. I remember the tension of the adults during the cuban missile crisis and the looks on their faces when JFK was asassinated, in my home town no less. I was made to duck and cover in A-bomb drills at school. My best friends mother told us that Captain Hook lived in the woods behind our houses in an effort to keep us close to home (it did not work). THE END IS NIGH...

Well about this time, I'd say 7 years old there I was in sunday school one sunny morn. The teacher was telling us about the wages of sin or some such thing. He passed around an honest to gawd-awful photo of a man in the electric chair just as the juice hit him. He told us that as bad as his punishment was hell would be a millions times worse and forever. After that it was on to the main service. I had sung the songs, and otherwise day dreamed through the hour or so but enough was enough and I was starting to squirm. As they started the invitational hymn I squirmed even more wanting to get out of there. My mother saw it and took it to be the spirit moving in me, which it was, just not the spirit she thought. It wasn't Jesus but rather my own little imp trying to jump nakid out of the monkey suit they had me in. She started questioning me and pressuring me to go down front and be saved. So I thought maybe I am bad and I would sure hate to fry forever, and up front I went. Confess this(not that I had much to confess), pray that, hugs and kisses, pat on the back, well done my good and faithful servant, warm fuzzies AH man I'm saved???

After that life went back to the same ol same ol. School five days a week, church at least once a week, cub scouts boy scouts, carefree summers, weekends on grandpas farm. It could have been a Norman Rockwell painting, but for the times, they were a changing. As I grew, questioned, and learned it started to become much more Dali-esque.

Vietnam was raging, John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus as the freaks sang Give Peace a Chance and the war for americas youth began. I had always been taught to think for myself, be truthful, and take reponsibility for your own actions. And now I was being told that rock and roll was evil, all those hippies who were against the war were godless communist, and I better watch out or the boogey man would kidnap my immortal soul. I was torn. All the adults I knew were good people if somewhat confused themselves but those hippies didn't seem so bad either. I saw the pictures of children burned by napalm and heard the nightly body counts over the dinner table. Then I saw the picture of a bhuddist monk setting himself on fire in protest. I thought he's not a christian but instead of harming others he is sacrifcing himself for a principle.I started to question the status quo. I wanted to know why if "Thou shall not kill" were we this great christian nation, in another land enforcing our will on another people. I asked if "All men are created equal" why do all the dark skinned people have to live over there across the tracks. And Why? Who Says? What for? etc. etc. etc. I asked at home, at school, at church. Answer-"Because I said so"!, "because it's always been that way"!!, because "Thus saith the lord"!!! on and on ad-infinitum. blah blah blah- set down and shut up.

So I did. I shut my mouth but kept my brain wide open. Adolescence passed with only the occassional run in with authority. And no, the rod was not spared at those times. I got good grades and did what my elders told me, at least while they were looking. Then puberty happened and my folks were too embaressed to talk to me about it. They gave me a book about sex with blank spaces for "your name here", but still could not answer my questions without blushing. So my church going parents got me a summer job with an old cowboy, at his stables on the edge of town. The idea was that I could see the whole cycle with the animals and talk to an adult who was not shy about sex. I think they got more than they bargained for. Here I was a kid from a close family where all the adults I knew stayed married getting my sex education from an old honky-tonker who had been married several times and all that summer had a live in girl friend. They were so free. He would pat her behind as she was bent over me with milk and cookies giving me a nice view down her dress. Then as he kidded me about the bulge in my pants she would give me a wry wink, as I flushed red. So by the end of the summer I was fully versed on human and animal sexuality or at least the what went where and such.

Now came the teen years and the parents made sure I became more involved at church. We were a church of a 500 people or so and had a full youth group. You know pizza fellowships, ball teams, and choir. About this time we got a new youth director. He was I must say not like any church man I had ever met. He was educated and getting more so all the time. He did not preach but instead teach always inviting open discussion. He never once made me feel bad for asking the tough questions, although I do think he caught hell sometimes from older members of the congregation. But for all the openess I do recall that when I wondered why our particular brand of religion was best I was given a book on comparative religion. Of course as it turned out the book was published by the Southern Baptist Convention and it was anything but fair and balanced. So I quit asking questions again.

We did musicals, which we took on the road in the summers. Served as councellors at church camp, and went on retreats. As time passed I became one of the older boys in a church full of cute girls. Me and a buddy played our guitars and sang modern christian music while the girls sighed in the front row. I was in heaven. So one night on weekend retreat I overcame my usual shyness and told one of the girls how much I liked her. She and I were the only ones who had not paired off and I felt kind of left out. Well she shot me down as she had a boyfriend at school. That night at prayer service I re-upped so to speak. I don't know what I was thinking. I think maybe I though if I just did everything right Jesus would hook me up with a beautiful angel. Thing was I wasn't thinking I was feeling sorry for myself and craving some special attention. This was when I was 17.

Now to be fair to my parents, from the time I was 16 I was free as long as I went to school and did my chores. I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, see whatever movies I chose, go off for the weekend with friends..."Just stay out of trouble"(dad) and "treat her like a lady"(mom). I basically stayed under their radar as my dad and older brother had knock down dragouts. Now remember dad was a god fearing law and order type while brother was a developing manic depressive with an IQ of 180. I just kept my mouth shut and did my time.

Big bro finished school and left for the marines. I did my last two years and the summer of my eighteenth year went with a friend to haul hay in kansas to make money for college and get away from home. That summer my little universe started to expand. I met a girl who was Christian Scientist and she had no concept of what I was talking about when I asked her if she had been saved. It was a real eye opener to find someone who was labeled christian but had an utterly different world view. I finished that summer with a romance under my belt and returned to Texas for the fall semester of college. Now against my fathers advice I went to a liberal arts school for a degree in fine arts. ( they rued the day) I was in for some more eye opening. There were people of all races, sexual orientations, nationalities, and creeds.
It was during these years with classes in anthropolgy, nude figure drawing, real comparative religion and such that doubt began to rise to the surface. I made it thru 2 1/2 years of university before finances and exhaustion caused me to drop out. Always figuring I would go back. Never did, oh well.

Now during the college years I had gotten a steady girlfriend who was still in high school. We came from simular backgrounds and her folks liked me so all was rosy. It was with her that I had my first sexual experiences. I was in love. I felt no guilt but looking back I realize that all though she liked it too it also scared her because of her age. So in the end I chased her away by wanting to get married too soon. I started dating around which I had never really done. I hooked up with old friends got a house and the party was on. For several years we tried better living through chemistry. Now I won't say I saw the face of god but I did take a good hard look at the inside of my psyche.

While still missing my first love I hooked up with a girl who gave me all the sex I wanted guilt free or so I thought. We did our thing for a time until old girl friend calls me up saying she is moving out of town and would I help her. Since I had made no promises to new girlfriend I said sure. We made the trip and as I started back I was informed that it was over between us. Back in town the other girl, though a bit miffed, took me back. Now I must say it was crazy times. It turns out (did not know this til years later) the girl I helped move was pregnant, not by me, and had left town to avoid a scandal. She returned months later looking for me but low and behold I had up and married the other because she was insecure having had a child out of wedlock(what a word) while going to a fundamentalist university, and the good little christian guy had deserted her. She had given the child up for adoption.

Soon I was to wonder why I couldn't just keep it in my pants. Why this need to be in love. Why couldn't I just have had sex with no love and committment involved. I dug in tried to be a good husband and both of us became more and more miserable. Needless to say the marriage did not last. As it turns out she was a major manic depressive with a mother who had been married five times. And guess what a lot of fundie influences going back generations. Her answer to any confrontation was run away. I was crushed. I felt like a failure as divorces just did not happen in my family. My family and friends gave me lots of support although the folks felt I should return to the fold and all would be well.

This is when I came out. I told them that I did not believe any more and that in fact I believed that the rigidity of their belief system was part of my problem. I was a young man who should have been out sowing my wild oats instead of looking for permanance just yet. I immediately got a mistress no strings attached and started exploring myself. That relationship did not last but neither of us thought it would.

That has been some years ago and sometimes I date sometimes I'm alone but I have a lot of good friends many of them women and my art is better than ever. Life is good. I enjoy skinny dipping in the creek, thrashing at the punk rock show, and catching the occassional buzz, all guilt free. I have studied all the worlds religions and philosophies at least in a cursory manner. I have no regrets and no fears.

Losing my father a couple of years ago was tough but no more so than it was for the believers in the family. He was an honest man who did what he thought was right. I blame no one for how my life has turned out but me. Those generations before me followed what they knew. Mom will always love me although she still tries to get me to go to church when I am visiting her. I generally go in the middle of the week and have some place else to be come sunday. The guilting does not work on me anymore. Older brother and his wife are committed atheist. Younger brother and his wife are christians but open enough to debate without getting upset and lil sister is a believer who isn't accepted by the church because she is gay.

I do think I might have had less troubles in life if I had been given the ethics without the hocus pocus. Here I am middle aged, finally with the guts to follow my dreams of working for myself come hell or highwater. And if Love comes along thats great but, I will do nothing anymore just because thats the way it's always been done. In many ways I am lucky. I have always had the capacity for great personal joy and wonderment. And damn it all people like me. Life has taught me much more compassion and tolerance than any of that religiosity ever did. My only worries these days are the right wing religious nuts in D.C. these days, but I do believe their days are numbered. I see a new day dawning when the Light Of Reason will illuminate the darkness of our world...ohm and AMEN!!!

Sex: 85% male
City: Bent-on Cow-n-treez
State: Ark-an-saw
Country: The God-all US of the red, white,black & bl-ooze
Became a Christian: Bred and born to it- 1st conversion experience 7 -2nd ce/or rededication 17
Ceased being a Christian: Actually I don't think I was ever really convinced of the veracity of the tales I was told.
Labels before: Southern Baptist
Labels now: Bho-dis-ta-va-da-tin' Boo-gee Boy-ing glub gliberty glee
Why I joined: 1st I needed to pee and go play 2nd time envy pride jealousy lust seeking attention
Why I left: Blinded by the light!!!
Email Address: bemuseme at tds.net

5/29/04                                                                                       View Comments

Got kicked out of Church!

sent in by Maureen Perez

I hope I'm on the right site for me. I was baptized Methodist, spent childhood in Pentecostal faith, converted to Catholic as an adult, and now I consider myself to be spiritual but anti-religious.

Back in the '70's when I was 12, my mom got interested in Astrology and joined a psychic circle. She occasionally took me with her and I enjoyed it alot. I started reading a lot of books...Edgar Cayce and others based on reincarnation, etc.

Every week my and my girlfriend would scan the bible for scriptures that disagreed with our Youth Group discussions. We enjoyed asking forbidden questions. We were both kicked out of church by the pastor because we "dared" to question the sincerity of some idiot evangelist named Katherine Kuhlman that the church believed was legit. The paper said she was being investigated for tax evasion, lived in a mansion, had a fleet of rolls royces, etc. I asked my teacher" how come you consider Katherine Kuhlman's words to come from God when she is being investigated for tax evasion and has all these material things but you accuse Edgar Cayce's healings and readings to be from the devil and he was not materialistic at all and lived a very virtuous life and considered his gifts to come from God, and lived a very humble life?"

After that class, the pastor took us aside and said "if you don't like what we teach then maybe you better go elsewhere?" What a jerk!!! So, we did. I continued my spiritual studies and eventually started attending Unity Church which is a very cool church. They are totally comfortable mingling traditional Christianity with metaphysical beliefs. Eventually I met my husband who was a Catholic and after going to some services, decided it was a much more tolerant religion than the Pentecostal church I was raised in, which condemned every branch of every religion except themselves. That's what I really hated about that church.

So, I converted to Catholicism. Then over the years I have resumed my spiritual studies and have decided that organized religion sucks, they are a bunch of intolerant hypocrites who interpret the Bible to suit their own prejudices and desires to control others.

I am much happier maintaining my relationship with the Divine by communicating directly with him/her instead of "paying church leaders to make the connection for me".

They are such idiots. Every time I hear a "Christian" spouting off...usually negatively against someone else, it reaffirms that my anti-religion choice is the correct one for me.

My beliefs now are definitely "New Age" based. I believe in reincarnation, in the feminine aspect of God as well as the male one, and believe the Bible to be a bunch of crap. God didn't write it...man did! I do believe in some of the historical scriptures but the rules and regs are BS, for the most part.

Anyhow this is my point of view...

Thx for allowing me to vent.



City: Antioch
State: CA
Country: USA
Became a Christian: birth
Ceased being a Christian: 40
Labels before: Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholic
Labels now: anti-organized religion
Why I joined: I was baptized...didn't know any better!
Why I left: organized religion is hypocritical and controlling , tries to control you
Email Address: moeim2 at aol.com

5/28/04                                                                                       View Comments

No Longer Part of the Vine

sent in by LostInTranslation

I actually left the church three years ago, but it is really only now that I am beginning to say that I am an ex-Christian.

I became saved at the end of my junior year at college. I had a traumatic break-up with my first boyfriend, and was comforted by my best friend, who over the past year had begun to hang out more and more with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. She prayed for me, her friends prayed for me. I was very moved by the experience. I also had very low self-esteem and experienced emotional neglect from my parents. I thought, “How could someone who doesn’t know me care that much to prayer for me, a stranger?” My heart, which was hardened by years of Catholic school, started to “soften”.

I began hanging out with her friends and began going to church with her. I saw the Jesus movie. I cried so much to the worship songs. People seemed so happy. Eventually I became saved one Sunday morning.

In retrospect, this particular group of young Christians was extremely legalistic. The group attended a non-denominational church, but later most attended Calvary Chapel. My friend confronted a girl because she was wearing a crystal cross (New Age!!) My friend told me that I shouldn’t be depressed now because I was a Christian. I always felt unworthy or unholy compared to the “elite” Christians of the group, the ones who seemed to really have a handle on their libidos, who wanted to be missionaries, etc.

I went away to get a masters degree and roomed with a Ph.D. student who professed to be a prophetess. Talk about legalistic and judgmental. I went to church with her (Mennonite) but then eventually began attending the Vineyard, because they had a "rocking" singles group.

My friend from college, who converted me, decided right after school to teach English-as-a-second-language in China. I was studying a performance art and definitely felt like a heathen in comparison. She was there for over a year, and eventually got engaged to a young man she met at the Calvary Chapel. She really did not contact me very much at all during her trip, but I do remember that her letters were filled with her praying to God and praising God constantly about anything. Even though I was a Christian, she was starting to nauseate me a bit.

At her wedding, the others in the group, many of them now married, were visibly turned off to learn that I sang at a Presbyterian Church (this was a job). There was also no dancing at the wedding, although my friend’s heathen mother insisted on a DJ so she could dance. Some of us did dance, but many others didn’t. I remember some of the middle-aged couples sitting on the sides with snide looks.

The Vineyard was a lot of fun because of the very active singles community and the worship. They were into “healing” people with emotional, etc. problems, so I went and received counseling there. There were some odd things that I observed, however: the men and women didn’t freely date each other. There were many men in their early 30s or older who never married, not that they didn’t want to, but they didn’t date either. Many were in dead end jobs and seemed to be “waiting on the Lord”. Many of the women were very frustrated with this. There seemed to be a fear of acknowledging one’s sexuality and sex appeal. None of the men ever complimented my appearance or flirted very much. It was as if it was a sin to be sexually attracted to a person. No one even wanted to tell other people about who they liked! Some of the other women also expressed the frustration of feeling that, because of these actions, they weren’t being affirmed as women. It was as if to be sexless was equal to godliness.

My prophetess roommate was the person who introduced me to the spiritual gifts. I, however, was never able to speak in tongues, shake, tremble, scream, etc. At the Vineyard, these were common sites, particularly at the prayer time at the end of a service or at a conference. I went up for prayer a few times, for emotional healing, and was moved by the affirming things that the pray-ers said to me. In retrospect, I couldn’t help but cry, but crying was the only outward expression that I could experience.

There was also some prophesying and people having visions. Once involved in a house group, I allowed myself to be open to “visions” or “pictures” during prayer. In retrospect, I know that just about anything can pop into someone’s head at any given moment. We would try to interpret it as a possible sign from God. If it came true, then we knew it was from God.

I started to hear more about the preaching of “courting” and the different levels of physical involvement, and their logical order of progression. I had first heard about “courting” from my friend in college. At first it seemed to make sense because it seemed like it would prevent heartache if things didn’t work out. How little did I know.

I met my ex-husband at this church. As with many of the engagements at the time, he proposed to me after just three months. We had decided to follow the courting model: no kissing, just handholding. At first I wanted to kiss him, but then he said we would be honoring God more by abstaining, and thus he would bless our marriage. For someone who was longing to fit in with the more “mature” Christians, this seemed appealing to me. We ended up postponing our engagement, because I said that I needed more time. This was very embarrassing to reveal to our small group, which was filled with men and women desperate to get married, and generally very uncomfortable with the dating process. When we got engaged again, I don’t think I was ready even then. We proceeded. My older friends told me, “As long as you are Christians, everything should work out!”

It was quite a blow to realize during marriage that my “desire” wouldn’t suddenly turn on. I had shut off my passionate nature for so long it was odd to suddenly launch into a full, sexual relationship. I remember trying to seduce my husband only to have him reject my advances as being “lustful”. I said, “But, we're married now!” Even in marriage my husband had a difficult time affirming my body, my looks, or expressing desire towards me.

A year and a half into out marriage I got accepted into an exciting program for which I would have to be away from home for three months. I knew he would visit often and that he would have the opportunity to stay with me for days at a time.

In this artistic atmosphere, I met many expressive people. I also found many men and women complimenting my appearance and alluding to my sex appeal, which I had never experienced before, at least to this degree. I was a little flabbergasted because I had thought that I was not that desirable. Good Christian men and women looked at character only.

One very handsome man flirted with me a bit, and I looked at it innocently at first. One trouble-making person, who knew my background, actually egged the both of us on. It was very high school-ish, but I secretly loved the attention. One night we kissed, that was all, and I realized that I married the wrong person. I also realized that the circumstances surrounding my engagement were completely unhealthy. I felt that I had completely missed the romance of true courtship. I told my husband, who was devastated. We went to counseling and trying to address our issues.

This experience changed me in other ways, too. After years of thinking I was superior to “non-Christians” around me, I was humbled. My judgementalism began to dissipate. For the first time I was able to relate to non-Christians as just human beings. It was a very freeing time, but just the beginning.

Almost two years later, my husband I separated, and I left him for another man. I am not proud of this, and I received unbelievable flack from the Christians who were still around. I didn’t even want to face anyone from my past. I lived with incredible shame, guilt and regret at the time. I think my ex-husband thinks I went into rebellion.

That relationship did not work out, but during my recovery from all of this, I read a book by Susan Jeffers called, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. She basically talked about taking responsibility for one’s actions. That there weren’t “wrong” or “right” choices, that every experience was a learning experience. As a Christian, I was always afraid, and suffered from a lot of anxiety (I even took medication for a couple of years). I was fearful of making the wrong choice, of God saying, “I told you so”. I mean, what if I wasn’t hearing God correctly? If only I were a better Christian, then maybe I could discern God’s voice better.

The book also discussed looking at the worst case scenario for any choice: asking, "Well, what if...?". The act of facing the thing that we dread most causes the fear to subside. "What we really fear is Fear". The next task is to logically think of ways to cope if the worst case scenario came true. Would it really be as horrible as it is imagined? The idea is to keep dissecting the fear until the outcome is no longer fearful.

My anxiety subsided a great deal during this period. I wondered why none of my Christian counselors or friends ever recommended this coping strategy. There was always this air of mystery, of having faith in God that everything will turn out OK, of being at the mercy of "Him". If things did not work out, what would that mean? That I'm not worthy? That it's my fault? That God is toying with me yet again? My mindset during my Christian days seemed to perpetuate my anxiety.

To this day, I cringe whenever I hear someone say that they’ll “pray about” any stupid decision in their lives.

The farther I get away from that church community, the sicker the whole experience resounds. I don’t have any friends left from that other life. I would have thought with all the closeness that I experienced and with all of my personal business that was shared during the house group meetings, that some one would try to contact me. But it’s just as well!

A friend whom I had known for ten years, who was a father-figure/mentor, stopped communicating with me when he found out that I moved in with my boyfriend. I’m almost embarrassed that I was so sucked into that world.

And just recently I stumbled upon your site, the first time I looked up “ex-Christian” on the Internet. I figured there must be more people like me. Boy, are there ever.

Sex: Female
City: Chicago
State: IL
Country: USA
Became a Christian: 20
Ceased being a Christian: 31
Labels before: Vineyard Christian Fellowship
Labels now: agnostic
Why I joined: to receive unconditional love, friendship, healing
Why I left: sick of hypocrites, sexual repression, judgementalism

5/24/04                                                                                       View Comments

Deprogramming

sent in by Kevin

I’ve been reading Marlene Winnell’s book “Leaving the Fold.” She makes a very good point, namely that the doctrine of original sin as taught by evangelicals/fundamentalists is a source of tremendous psychological harm. As a counseling intern, I could not agree more.

I had become a Christian at the age of 18 largely because of extreme psychological stress that I was experiencing in my life at the time. My parents had split up, I was living in a fifth wheel trailer while my dad was reliving a sort of second childhood, and my entry into active duty with the Air Force was on the horizon. My family life was at an all time low, and I now believe that I was searching for something to replace my family.

Too bad that the “Borg” came along!

I was taught by Calvary Chapel that I was inherently evil. I was worthless and that only by filling my sinful self with the love of Christ could I become whole. Once I did that, I was constantly reminded that my “flesh” was evil. I must constantly surrender myself to Christ so that the “old man” wouldn’t come back to haunt me.

Rather than being taught to face the pain in my life, I was taught to simply blame myself, and then denounce myself as hopeless. Surrender to Christ really meant “obey the collective mind of the congregation.” Subtle pressures were brought to bear upon me. Shame was liberally applied anytime my “thinking” started to get the better of me. Indeed, during many Bible studies I was “corrected in love” for having “immature” ideas about sex, the nature of God, the scriptures, whatever. This coercion was reframed as the “conviction of the Spirit” and thus the “collective mind” of fundamentalism became the “will of God” for me.

The more I abandoned myself to the collective, the more I lost myself and the more receptive I became to fundamentalist teaching. My attempts to please God were nothing more than attempts to assuage the profound source of shame that fundamentalism had placed within my soul. When the call to “go ye into all the world” rang forth from the pulpit, I felt I had no choice but to surrender to the mission field. My hypersensitive conscience would not allow me to even think about remaining in the States. I abandoned my Air Force career and attended Bible College.

My first two years of Bible college were the most destructive. I was encouraged to spend every waking moment recruiting others for the collective. I willingly accepted low paying positions so that I could have my days free to faithfully study and proclaim the gospel. At first I felt guilty about my actions. After all, I had specific technical skills that could easily earn me in excess of $40,000.00 per year if I would have been willing to pursue such an opportunity. I rationalized away my guilt (which I now recognize as my better judgment) by telling myself that “God would take care of me.” My pastor confirmed this by roaring from the pulpit that “If we would take care of God’s business, God would take care of ours.” I shudder when I remember this: I had three small children at home. I refused to allow my wife to accept food stamps, yet I dutifully paid my tithes and offerings, on many occasions leaving her less than $20.00 to buy two weeks worth of groceries.

My last two years of Bible College is where I began to think a little. The first incident that comes to mind is a run-in I had with the dean of men. For more than two years I was a faithful drone. I went street preaching, preached in the jail on weekends (in both English and Spanish, sometimes as many as three different services in the jail alone) I drove a bus, performed visitation for the Spanish church, and taught both Sunday school and preached.

One weekend I developed car trouble. I had a problem with my starter, and I absolutely had to get the thing fixed or I would not be able to get to work or church for that matter. For one Saturday I decided to work on my car instead of going “soulwinning.”

Of course when the dean of men read my activity report he called me into his office. He chastised me for my unfaithfulness. There was no mention of my spotless service to my “liege.”

And for the first time, I found myself getting very ANGRY with my Christian “leader.” When he told me I would receive 10 demerits I looked him in the face and said “Fine. Give them to me.” I then turned and walked out of his office.

At this point I began to realize that fundamentalism didn’t give a damn about my wellbeing or about my family. It wanted a mindless robot to do its bidding. It was perfectly content to shame me. I was a fully grown man with a family to support, a veteran with a ribbon for serving his country overseas. Yet he treated me as though I were some kind of child unable to think for himself.

At that moment, a small window opened in my mind, and I began to glimpse the light of reason for the first time in a very long time.

Though I did not realize it at the time, my journey toward becoming an atheist had begun . . . . .

After the incident with the dean of men at Bible college (please refer to “Deprogramming”) I settled back in to live the life of a drone.

During my third year of Bible College I began to adapt a little more of a cynical attitude toward the establishment. In particular, two courses of instruction stood in diametric opposition to one another: Advanced Greek and “The King James Issue.”

Yes, my college dedicated an entire semester to studying why the King James Bible was perfect and users of all other translations were either deceived or actively serving Satan.

I have always been adept at the study of languages. Two years of High School Spanish and then practice with friends made me fluent by the time I was about 24. I enjoyed the study of Koine Greek, and my friends thought I was crazy! Our instructor was extremely demanding and seemed at times to have a photographic memory. During our second year of Greek we were tasked with translating passages into English. The instructor carefully told us that we should not be concerned if our rendering did not exactly match the King James Version, as we were not trying to “improve on what God had already done.”

I had an advantage in that I could also compare my copy of the Textus Receptus to the Spanish “Reina-Valera.” I was intrigued with the fact that the Reina-Valera did not in every case match the King James in translation. In some instances I found it followed more modern translations of the Bible. In others, it followed readings peculiar to it and other Bibles, but I get ahead of myself.

I was concerned, so I shared my findings with other students. The reaction I got was mixed. All of them came to the conclusion that there was “no worthy translation of the Bible into Spanish.” The more amusing ones told me to just “preach from the King James and translate it into English.” One told me that “I was wasting my time thinking about such things and that the devil was distracting me from the business at hand.” My Greek instructor was perhaps the most ethical of them all: He took the Fifth Amendment, and simply stated that he knew nothing of the text underlying the Spanish Bible.

The individual who taught the class devoted to the King James Issue was a character in his own right. He selected books by Peter Ruckman to teach his position. The class consisted of daily rantings against modernism, women in pants, Pentecostals, and those who would dare read the New International Version. His lack of knowledge in Greek became embarrassing. I won’t bore you with the technical difficulties, but he made errors that anybody who has had even a cursory exposure to the language would not make. Of course, nobody from the more advanced Greek course dared lift a hand in question, as he would humiliate and lash out at anybody who looked like they might disagree with him.

The real jewel in his crown was his insistence that the King James was the last authority on earth today. He even stated that if a contradiction is found between the Textus Receptus and the King James Version that the King James corrects the Greek!!

At this point I was still a loyal follower of the King James Version. But I had questions. And nobody would answer them. Later while I was on the mission field I really struggled with this issue, and attempted to send an e-mail to my Greek professor. He had corresponded with me before, but would not answer my questions about the King James Issue. I always wondered why that was the case . . . . .

Interestingly, another instructor encouraged me to get to the bottom of the issue of the Spanish Bible and why it did not square with the King James. I was preparing for missionary service in Latin America, and he knew that I would have easier access to information about the Spanish Bible. On another occasion he told a class that “We should not be afraid of finding the truth, whatever it is.”

I don’t think he was bargaining on what I was about to uncover.


City: Yuma
State: AZ
Country: USA
Became a Christian: 18
Ceased being a Christian: about 36ish
Labels before: Calvary Chapel; Independent Baptist
Labels now: Atheist
Why I joined: read the post
Why I left: reason

5/23/04                                                                                       View Comments

My eyes were opened, my heart was opened, I was no longer Christian

sent in by Anonymous

I am not sure where to start this tale. Perhaps the best place to start should be around third grade. Although I went to a public elementary school, one night a week, I went to religious education at the local church. Many of my friends from school were there as well, so it wasn’t a very big deal. A few years of this, I was trying to stay home more and more. I would hide away, until it was too late to attend. The classes were taught my mean old church ladies (Dana Carvey’s impression was dead-on) and teenage boys from the local Catholic high school. We weren’t given bibles, instead we were given colored workbooks that paraphrased biblical stories (or so I thought) and showed pictures of Jesus and the apostles fishing, eating, having a good old time talking about their god. There were multiple choice questions at the end of each unit, such as:

Which best describes Jesus Christ?
A) Wonderful
B) Son of God
C) The path to true happiness
D) A mythological representation of one, if not many historical figures, deified solely on paper by extrapolating metaphors from the Torah, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Greek myth, and various other sources.

The correct answer is: A, B, and C. If you answered D, you are going to Hell.

After confirmation, we were given confirmation gifts from the church, bibles! Do you know what most people did with them? Nothing! Do you know what I did with mine? I read it. That’s right, one of the worst things you can do to assure yourself that you are following the message of Christ. Turns out Christ said absolutely nothing about abortion or same-sex marraige

It became very important to me at this point in my life to do good for others. I joined two community service organizations, one was through the church youth group and the other was through my high school. The church group met weekly, we talked a little, mostly playing basketball or watching movies. Once a month we helped with a charity church breakfast. Once a month we helped in a food drive. No one seemed all that interested when it came time to help. With the secular group, we were constantly doing food, clothing, and toy drives. We would volunteer at the Special Olympics, we would volunteer to spend a day picking up garbage. During one Thanksgiving food drive, one woman was so grateful, she said that no one had ever done anything like this for her, and that we were angels. I do not believe in angels, but I do believe that people are capable of a great amount of good if they choose to do so.

At this point my faith in MY church was waning. I was still a Christian technically. I never believed in creation, I understood that having children come into this world where there is no one able to care for them is not a moral thing to do, and the whole thing about god not liking homosexuals was a bunch of crap to begin with. However, what about the whole rising from the dead, taking away sins? That was still valid, right? So I found out a few things, which I will put into a nutshell for you.

1) Romans used crucifixion as means of torture, not an effective means of execution. According to Roman and other historical documents, it took at least three days for someone to die from crucifixion.

2) In the Philippines, there is a man who is literally crucified every Easter to show his devotion to his faith. There is surprisingly (or not surprisingly if you have taken an anatomy course), very little blood spilled.

3) The bible is plagiarized, but the sources were conveniently omitted. If you’ve browsed through this site, you can probably name some off of the top of your head.

4) People will invoke the name of a god to further their cause. The Hebrews, the Christians, the Muslims, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Celtics, Incas, Falliwells. Every culture believes god loves them best, that makes it ok to kill others until they believe what you want them to believe.

5) No one, absolutely no one on this Earth can possibly know what happens to you once your life functions cease.

So, that is an abridged version of my story. I was never involved in an oppressive church, I live in a relatively liberal area. I simply came to a logical conclusion about life by looking at the facts.

Everyone should.

5/12/04                                                                                       View Comments

Religious Exploration

sent in by Sarah

My Story: I am the middle child of nine and was born into a strict Southern Baptist family. I attended church three times weekly (Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night), attended summer "revival meetings" that seemed endless (only made worse by the horrible potluck dinners), and attended private school (on church grounds).

We were not allowed to watch TV, go to the movies (even if it was G rated - simply because someone who sees you go into the theater has no idea if you're going to the Disney movie or the R-rated thriller), drink, smoke, wear large jewelry, wear jeans or shorts (women), dance - you get the idea. My parents did cheat sometimes and we were allowed restricted TV privileges and every once in a while we went to the movies. I used to put blank tapes in my boom box, put the volume all the way down, and record hours of regular radio. I would go for walks or go horseback riding and listen to the evil rock music on my headphones.

We had a "six-inch rule". We were not allowed to be within closer than six inches of the opposite sex. They would literally pull out rulers and check. We had to have our skirts (or culottes *shudder*) knee length. They would make us kneel on the floor and if the hem didn't touch we would get in trouble. Funny, none of that helped me avoid being molested as a little girl. But that had to be my fault. We were told men weren't able to control their sexual urges so we had to dress modestly and behave modestly. If we didn't and something happened (like rape) it was our fault because we knowingly tempted men. WTF???

About the time I was twelve years old I started thinking for myself. I decided any God who loved me wouldn't be so damn mean and wouldn't restrict happiness. It couldn't really be a sin to listen to rock music!! I thought the whole thing was ridiculous so I decided to ask my mom about it. She smacked my mouth, as I recall, and said I was going to go to hell if I talked like that. Then I thought I could ask my pastor. I did. He said some things just had to be accepted on blind faith and shouldn't be questioned. He was also confident I was going straight to hell.

Towards the end of that summer I was in a terrible riding accident. I was thrown from my horse, kicked in the arm, and kicked in the back of the head. I was certain (thanks to years of reading medical journals for fun - mom is a nurse) I was going to die or at the very least need brain surgery and then I would just be royally screwed for a few years - possibly the rest of my life. Either way it was no good.

I didn't want to die. Of course, you're thinking, no one WANTS to die. The reason I didn't want to die wasn't the fear of going straight to hell (you thought it was though, didn't you?). I didn't want to die because I hadn't figured it out yet and the pathetic life I had up until that point was NOT going to be my whole life! Everyone around me thought I was on my way out...my pastor was even at the hospital praying over me. You want to scare a deeply religious twelve year old girl who's bleeding from the head in the emergency room? Send in her pastor. What were they *thinking*?!?

After I survived the accident (didn't even need surgery!), I conned my parents into sending me to Europe for three months the following summer. Travel really opens your eyes. You see so many things you never would (at least I wouldn't in my small mid-western home town). The summer abroad really changed my opinions and opened my mind to other possibilities. It also made travel a passion - so much so I even work in the travel industry today.

When I returned home I started exploring other religions. I also insisted on high school at a PUBLIC school (and surprisingly won that argument!). Eventually, I was even allowed to attend school dances - but not with a boy. My dress was still restricted but I did get jeans and shorts AND was allowed to wear them!

I bought books on Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, and Judaism. I converted to Buddhism for a while. My mother would come in my room and take all religious books and destory them. I just bought more. She hated the tarot cards I bought so I had to hide them. I was raped when I was sixteen by someone close to the family and after the horrible event he actually had the balls to call my mom and tell her he saw me with tarot cards (you see, he was a Christian too).

Eventually, I latched on to Wicca. Until....

I moved in with a Jewish family (I was the nanny) and a whole new world opened. I love Judaism. I was a practicing Jew for two years while I lived with them. Then I moved away and didn't know any Jewish people anymore and since I'd never converted didn't feel right going to Temple. I pretty much gave up on all religion for several years. I did go back to Wicca at some point and have never given up my love of tarot cards.

About a year ago I decided to convert to Judaism. I went to see the Rabbi to discuss this. At some point he said "kosher". Apparently, that's where my faith ended. I just don't see how God could care if I eat the crab or the chicken. I never went back.

My parents are far less strict now. After all their "trouble" with me they lightened up considerably. It was worth it then, if you ask me. They do still give me crap sometimes (my mother says I need to find a man in church and not at a bar) but overall they're actually human!

I hate Christianity for a variety of reasons. The first is the Bible. How could a sane person base her entire life on a book so incredibly OLD? Nevermind that - how about a book that's been translated a zillion times by men with ulterior motives (like, oh - a king)? Nevermind THAT - how about a book that was translated from languages like Hebrew - Hebrew has no vowels. None. Every single word could be many different words. Example: PN That is a Hebrew word. Translate that. It could be: PiN, PiNe, PuN, PeN, etc. How could you possibly know that what they translated was the correct word? Okay, forget even that. This book - the Bible - was put together from multiple sources of ancient writing. You know what "they" did? They read through it and chose only the books that they liked. Really. The rest they just left out because they were too ridiculous. How could Matthew be more ridiculous than the Gospel of Mary Magdalene? Do you know a Christian who has read the Apocrypha? I don't. But I've certainly read it.

If Christianity is a religion built on "love" why is there so much hate? When I watch the news and see battles between the Christian right and whomever is "wrong" - all the hate and judgement and nastiness is coming from the Christian side. I don't see the "wrong" side shouting about how everyone who doesn't agree with them is going to die and suffer for eternity.

Christians are supposed to let God judge. So why are there so many Christians judging everyone?? What difference does it make to YOU what I do? If you really believe what you say you believe let me answer to God myself and stay the hell out of my life! And the gay thing? ARGH! So WHAT if someone is gay? How is that ANY of your business? Are you GOD?

Here's a story for you - this is what Christianity does to you. My friend has a sister-in-law (we'll call her Jane) who is married to a youth minister (we'll call him Joe). While they were dating, Jane became pregnant. Now what in the world is a youth minister doing having pre-marital sex, right? Joe flipped out because he was worried about what the church family would say. Any decent person concerned with doing the right thing and being a good example would simply have confessed this to his church family, apologized (or whatever it is you do in that circumstance), and used it as an example of what can happen to you when you "sin". Did Joe do that? NO. You know what he did? He and Jane went to my friend and asked her and her husband to pay for an abortion so no one would ever know. That's exactly what happened too. Jane got an abortion and no one in the church ever knew. I think that's disgusting.

Here's a personal story - my brother Jason was planning his wedding. He had dated Jen for a couple of years. She was a single mother of two and her abusive, drug addicted boyfriend had ditched her. Jason and Jen lived together for a while before the wedding. Jason asked my brother Jon to be a groomsman.

Jon went from a cool pot smokin' ACDC listenin' hippie type into this psycho Christian guy. I don't know how it happened. He attended Hyles Anderson Christian College (cuh-razy rules at that school). He married a girl he met there. He now pastors his own (Baptist of course) church. He has done many things over the years in the name of God that I find disgusting. Like cleaning offices at night with his wife and baby in tow in order to make extra money because he made hardly anything as the church treasurer (this was before he got his own church). His wife was on WIC because they had so little money. She mowed lawns on the side to bring in extra cash. Jon has a TEACHING degree - high school math and high school PE. He could have at LEAST made enough to survive on a teaching salary but he felt God wanted him to work with the church.

Anyway, I'm getting off track and if any of you are still reading this I'm shocked.

Jon told Jason he would NOT stand up for him at his wedding. Said Jason and Jen had "lived in sin" and if he stood up with him he would be sending a message to his church family that it was okay to live in sin. He said he couldn't even ATTEND the wedding OR the reception (there would be drinking and dancing at the reception, see). My sister called Jon and ripped him to shreds (she's really good at that - don't get on her bad side) and Jon finally said he would attend the wedding but still wouldn't stand up with him and he would drop by the reception but wouldn't stay long.

What kind of God would want a man to do that to his brother??

Jon and I don't speak.

I am certainly NOT a Christian. As a comedienne once said: "when I hear 'Christian' I immediately think 'hmmm...not so smart.'"


City: Denver
State: CO
Country: US
Became a Christian: born into it
Ceased being a Christian: twelve
Labels before: Southern Baptist
Labels now: Spiritualist
Why I joined: had to - that was my life
Why I left: it's archaic and unnecessary

5/5/04                                                                                       View Comments

From seminary guy to heretic

sent in by Charles

This is a letter that I am sending to my Pastor.

Searching For Truth

Three months ago I was asked what I believed, but I did not get a chance to really answer you. I am writing this letter so I can fully describe the changes I have gone through. It is not enough to say that I am a struggling Christian, I need to share with you all the events this past year, which have shaped my views. I am a curious soul and have always been one. As a child I would take apart every mechanical toy I had to understand how things really worked. I have carried that pursuit with me throughout my life and not much has changed in that regard. My views have evolved more than once, and to some it may even appear as fickleness. Although it is better to change one’s mind then continue in the wrong path. My views and what I believe about Christianity has shifted much because of quarrels between Pastors and Theologians. I began as an Arminian and later became a Calvinist. The process of moving from one Theology to another was an extremely difficult time, and left me in the crosshairs of confusion. It was difficult but it helped me to understand the many sensitive issues that surrounded the topic of God. Studying Arminianism was like a toy that I was taking apart to see what was really there, and the same with Calvinism. I chose to be a Calvinist because it agreed with the scriptures unlike much of the Free-will theology. I felt like I had made a great leap into understanding God’s mind and His wonderful Love toward His Elect. It was a honor to know that God was revealing to me the truth that was being held back form others who were consumed with protecting man’s absolute freedom and enslaving God to their demands.

Before the great leap into the mind of God, things were much more simple. Simple, because I was much like a sheep, “simple minded at best”, and content with obeying whatever I was herald into believing. Then a seed of truth was revealed to me. My mind had a great awakening, and I was on the verge of thinking for myself. That seed of truth was not Christ, but Doubt. I started to question what I was being taught, even though I did not openly express my concerns. Like many other who have these questions but refuse to deal with them, I was doing my best to flee from the thoughts as well. I tried to memorize scripture to defeat my sinful flesh and to take captive every thought into the obedience to Christ. I struggled and suffered, and I knew the dangers of questioning. It can cause a person to walk away from Christ, to fall into sin. I was up in arms about this. I started a Bible Study with a friend from Church, and spent many hours praying. I was reading the Bible like it was a life support system and my only hope. I was so afraid of the poison of Doubt building up within me.
Then I notice what was causing the doubt, it was actually coming from reading the Bible. The doctrine of Predestination was destroying my faith in God. Calvinism, which is clearly taught in the Bible, had brought up many questions. Some questions were very emotional for me even to consider, but the drive for truth pushed for answers. The Bible states that God does everything for his Glory, even allowing people to go to Hell for all eternity. I had to ask myself, “what if my baby brother, or sisters are not elected unto heaven?” Could I honestly praise God for His abundant mercy, being fully aware of the pain He is now putting my family through and all for the praise of His Glory? If all is predestined for some final end and that is ultimately for God’s Glory, does that include Sin? Why would God allow sin to come into the world? Was God not in control? Why would God put the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Some want to say that it was a test to see what man would do, but doesn’t God already know all things. Can I really call God all loving after He puts the tree of Knowledge in the Garden so Adam and Eve will fall into sin? God told them to not eat of the Fruit, well, up to that point Adam and Eve had no knowledge of death, sin or punishment. They were like babies. They were clueless, but yet they are blamed for their ignorance. I know that you will say, have faith or that my view is some awful distortion of the truth. I am simply following what the Bible teaches. If God is in control of all things, including the actions of men, then Hitler was only being obedient to Jesus’ Will. The Bible states that man must have faith, and that comes by hearing the Word of God, but what about babies that do not have that chance to believe? How can God allow so many babies to be born, knowing that they would one day be in hell? Would it be more merciful to just not let them be born? Calvinism can answer these questions, but the end result is God being a monster who is crazy for Glory. Arminians would like to think they have answers, but they have to twist scripture to get their answers. Calvinism’s God could save everyone, but He does not want to do that. He wants billions of people to suffer in hell for His Glory. The Arminian’s God wants to save all people, but He can’t save anyone without their permission. He has to beg and pled you to come to Him. He is not allowed to just save people, He must be given that right. When I compare both of the theologies, I am left with neither one, because they both are full of holes and I am left with a god that is either more ruthless than Hitler or is weaker than a new born kitten. I don’t have to go into all the details about these topics, because you are already aware of them. I know that you are a Seminary Professor and you may have some answers for me, and if you do, that would be great. I just had to be honest about what I was feeling and how I now see Christianity.

Maybe going to seminary was not such a good idea after all. Attending classes there put me in the position to have to think for myself, because I surely could not get a straight answer out any of the professors. If you have answers for me, please fill free to write back.


Charles


City: Raleigh
State: North Carolina
Country: Wake
Became a Christian: I was 18 when I became a Christian.
Ceased being a Christian: Left Christianity at the age of 22, not enough yrs, must have never been saved in the first place.
Labels before: Southern Baptist, Calvinist, Sheep, Organic Robot
Labels now: Free, Agnostic, Deist....I'm not sure
Why I joined: God called me out of the darkeness and got saved.
Why I left: I found out God predestined me to hell, now I'm an apostate.
Email Address: jokewm2 at yahoo.com

5/4/04                                                                                       View Comments

no more charisma stuff for me

sent in by Bling_Bling

I grew up in the Pentecostal church. Every day, no joke, every day I drove to church my stomach would have nasty butterflies in it as I pulled up into the parking lot.
I never figured out why.

I endured put downs, ("your just a babe in Christ......".....or some stuff about,"one day you will speak in tongues" to the just plain ignoring) I cannot believe I let my self get drawn into these wackos. I must honestly say: They are in a cult. Yea it doesnt take ALL your money; but the end result is the same. The church led me not to hang out with family as much.

The charismatics are nuts.

Everything from mind control to those idiots who think non-Pentecostals are going to burn in hell. Do you folks know that Pentecostals officially believe that your not saved unless you speak in tongues ? Thats garbage. One pastor tried to make me recite some mumbo jumbo to fake it.

Am I upset ? Yes. AM I STILL BITTER ? YES. (give me 14 years or so to calm down) The youth pastor started dating my girlfriend as we were breaking up. Now they are married and happy and I got boned.

NO LONGER PENTECOSTAL......and I feel better.........much better.


I urge all people who feel the same way, and dont fit in with these Pentetesticles...... to really examine if these people edify them or not. If not, LEAVE and never return.

I hear similiar stories from all other charismatics too.



City: Toronto
Country: Canada
Became a Christian: 19
Ceased being a Christian: I still am somewhat
Labels before: Babes in Christ
Labels now: smarter and wiser
Why I joined: it seemed logical
Why I left: mind and mental manipulation of me drove me nuts

5/3/04                                                                                       View Comments

My Struggle with Faith

sent in by Marie

I grew up believing I was cursed because I didn't have faith. No matter how hard I tried to believe, no matter what I tried, my situation never improved. I envied those around me who could blindly put their faith in god. I wanted and needed someone or something to help me deal with my life.

My father, raised in a devout Catholic family, was a pedophile who made my life a living hell. I would tell people later that my father did not believe in god, he believed in hell. While he was engaged in his abuse he would often say he was going to hell anyhow, so he might as well have fun. My mother was not much better. British, and raised in the pseudo-catholic ambiance of the Anglican church, she was violent and given to jealous rages and psychotic breaks.

I needed faith to survive in that family, and trust me, I tried. I attended friends' churches and came away even more filled with shame, fear, and a profound sense of loneliness and depression. At various times it was pinned on me by well meaning and devout members of various Xian sects that it was actually my fault that my father lusted after me and my sisters the minute we were pushed out of our mother's womb. At no time did I ever want or ask for his molestation, but it seemed that to be a Good Christian(TM) woman, I would have to buy into this.

The harder I tried, the less it all made sense. If god was all knowing and all powerful, why had he put three innocent children into this violent and f-ed up family? And why was that my fault? By the time I was thirteen, I was ready to die. I hated life so much that I just wanted the pain to end and I didn't give a damn. Fine, God, when I arrive at the pearly gates, I'm going to at least say 'Fuck you!' before I'm tossed into the hell you knew ahead of time I was going to enter even before my pervert parents conceived me. If anything, hell might be an upgrade. At least I wouldn't be alone anymore, and at least the Good Christians(TM) would be in their gated heaven community on high where I would no longer have to receive their judgments.

We moved a lot to keep ahead of various school authorities. The minute my dad smelled trouble with social workers trying to question his daughters, he would just pick up and move to the next county and eventually another state. He found an ideal final place to plop down his dysfunctional family - a little redneck town in the middle of nowhere. My new high school class was now 42 - small and ignorant - just the way religion loves them. My biology teacher even taught creationism - lucky me. Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, they did. The good news is that it spurred me to read about biology, genetics, chemistry, and physics - books were my refuge.

The turning point, was actually when one of the many Xian sects kept showing up at the door and proselytizing. One of them said 'Have you read the good book?' and I thought - well, no, actually. I suppose in fairness, I should read it. So I did, cover to cover. Ironically, that was probably the worst advice a Xian could have given me. I read story after story of rape, child abuse, mutilation, cruelty, incest, genocide, and plunder. By the time I got to the New Testament I was numb with horror. The few good things in that book sounded hollow. Imagine my mother saying she's sorry, she won't do it again after beating me senseless for the umpteenth time. Yep, that's what God is like, too, and I wanted no part of it.

I gave up on the Xian god. My situation in life pretty much proved that a. he couldn't exist or b. if he did exist, I didn't want to know the SOB.

I was saved, it turned out, by an atheist - the mother of the one and only friend I ever made in that shit hole town. When I would hang out at their house, she would give me big loving hugs, accept me completely on my own merits, listen to me, and encourage me to think for myself and be creative. For the first time in my life, I knew the meaning of unconditional love. She literally saved my life. At the time, I had no idea what her beliefs were. I was just this starving, wounded little bird and she was there and did her best to help me until my wings were mended.

Shame and fear prevented me from telling her the awful truth about my family. I feared that if I breathed a word of what was happening, because she was a teacher, she was bound by law to report it. Every time I had spoken up, my father had picked up and moved. I needed her too much, she was my life line. Fortunately, neglect was also a big element of my family, so they didn't miss me when I spent a good part of my free time with my new family, my safe haven.

My new mom would later tell me she knew there was something wrong with my family and had hoped I would tell her about it so she could help. Some years later when I revealed what was going on, she tearfully vowed that she would have taken me away from them no matter what and I believe her. But the important part was, she was there and she loved me, and ironically, being an atheist, she exemplified the highest qualities of Christ in her actions and being.

I have been separated from my parents now since 1990. In the beginning, it was ugly. I essentially had to get a restraining order, change my name, and conceal my new location. My 'foster' mom faced death threats from my father and was accused of having a lesbian relationship with me (homophobia, the last weapon in the arsenal of utter scoundrels). She risked a lot as a school teacher in that small community by helping me escape. I fled with everything I could carry in my run down vehicle and sold it to pay for rent. My first Thanksgiving in freedom was spent in a rundown studio apartment with my younger sister trying to decide if we'd have ramen or macaroni and cheese. I was scared, I had no idea what was going to happen to me, but I was free. No more would I ever have to know the cruelty of abuse to my body or my mind without also having the power to walk away.

Ten years of therapy later, I'm a successfully self-employed woman who owns a house and three dogs. I have forgiven my parents and moved on, although for my own sanity, I limit my connection with them to cards, letters, and gifts on key holidays. I dabbled for a while with Wicca and Buddhism - I needed it to get through those years of recovery and manage PTSD. Still, though, I had problems with the idea that 'everything is as it's supposed to be'. It did wonders for my sense of inner peace at a time when I had none, but it was a thinly veiled form of victim blaming which is at the heart of all religions.

September 11th was the final straw. Suddenly everyone on every side knew what 'god' wanted. All I could see was cause and effect with no divine intervention at all. This was something straight from the darkest pit of human nature, and religion was just pouring gasoline onto an already blazing fire.

Here is what I believe now. I can do my part to make this world a better place through acts of kindness, mindfulness, and compassion or, a bad place, through utter apathy, ignorance, and neglect. I reject the idea that people deserve to be poor or to suffer, either by god or the phony creed of social Darwinism. I have never forgotten all the small and large acts of kindness others have performed on my behalf to get me where I am now, just as I know own my choices are powerful and liberating. I listen to my heart and act accordingly - just like my atheist foster mom taught me by her actions all those years ago.

Live and let live. Love and prosper.

City: seattle
State: wa
Country: usa
Became a Christian: born that way
Ceased being a Christian: mid twenties
Labels before: catholic, episcopalean, pagan
Labels now: free thinker
Why I joined: born that way
Why I left: I choose to live free of shame

5/1/04                                                                                       View Comments

A Walk with God

sent in by Cameron Riddle

There has been no point in my life at which I would have called myself an atheist, but a seriously devout interest in all things spiritual is something that has only affected me for the past eight years. This initial interest in spirituality turned into a period of intensive questioning of the nature of God. At the end of 1997, when I was fourteen, and at boarding school, I was invited to attend school Christian Fellowship by some mates of mine. This became the highlight of my week – tea, biscuits, and cake at Bob the rev’s house after a walk across the Bigside playing fields. One would get out of prep early to get there for 9:00pm, and it was a relaxing and friendly way to end Wednesday, away from the institutional austerity of the boarding house.

“Bob the Rev.” or alternatively, the Reverend Robert Marsden, the school chaplain, was a man of conservative religious views, and these I challenged with questions he would often fail to answer to any satisfactory standard: “We’ll come back to that one,” he’d say, and move on to another raised hand. We normally discussed biblical themes and moral issues, and I remember well the session on sex and fornication in which he could not tell me why God gave people sexual urges at a time when He didn’t want them to satisfy them. We all know that people in general start experiencing sexual desire at about age 13, but rightly, in the context of our society, only get married much later. This discrepancy has always been one of the many complications that our society has endured as a result of its defiance of nature. I now believe that the reason why religions have traditionally promoted chastity has nothing to do with God and everything to do with possessiveness of women in patriarchal societies.

Nonetheless, I quickly became very interested in Christianity; its contradictions, inconsistencies, impossibilities, and above all, the way it was believed in by so many people and yet just didn’t seem to work. Even when I was 14, I wondered how one man’s painful death lasting a few hours could pay the equivalent of what was owed for the sins of an uncountable number of millions of human beings, each single one of whom supposedly deserving of eternal perdition. Bob Marsden went in for the hard-line fundamental of Christianity quintessentially based on Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, not one.” Ie. All are guilty and deserve to be eternally separated from God. Bob the rev. was not a fire-and-brimstoner, but he did believe in some kind of eternal hell for those who failed to accept the salvation offered to them - and it was of course merely offered, not given. A group of Christian evangelists came to visit the school to run a Christian focus week in late 1997. They told me that God’s gift of salvation could be likened to your uncle buying you a mountain bike, but telling you it was still at the shop and all you had to do was pick it up. I forgot to object that this implied a limit either to God’s power, his love, or his mercy, all three of which, I was always told, were infinite: Why not bring the bike to the nephew to make sure he definitely gets it? Especially in view of the eternal consequences! Four principal things were clear: We were bad, salvation was free; we could get it if we chose it, and the consequences either way were eternal. To claim this “free” salvation, one had to live a sexually pure and sober life, devoid of hedonism, swearing, and other vices. It did not seem to me that this salvation was particularly free. Nor did it seem to make sense that my friends and I were just as much at risk of hell as Saddam Hussein or Joseph Stalin, on the grounds that we were all sinners in God’s sight anyway. The human race was plain bad. End of story. I once suggested to Bob that I might as well be a thoroughly evil person like Stalin and then suddenly mend my ways and go to heaven. He didn’t get it.

A year later at the end of 1998, I was very moved by the story of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The Christian allegory of the novel is obvious: Jean Valjean, a suffering sinner who has just completed nineteen years as a slave in the quarries for stealing bread, is taken into the home of a saintly bishop, the Bishop of Digne, but repays him by running away with his silver. When Valjean is caught and the Bishop is given the opportunity to see him returned to the hard labour from whence he came, he lies to the police, saying he gave him the silver as a present, so that Valjean does not have to go back to slavery. Valjean repays the bishop’s kindness by being a good man for the rest of his life. This story played a tremendous role in my formation as a Christian. I had been confirmed in mid-1998, but not until after pondering over this theme of free salvation and unconditional love for a while did I begin to truly love Jesus, the saviour not only of my own soul, but of those of all people. It is ironic, in retrospect, that it was a 19th Century French novel that brought me to Christ, and not his so-called word, the Bible, which had always just seemed incomprehensible and disturbing. Indeed I had begun to read the Bible when I was eight years old and had merely found it frightening and austere. For me, Christianity had been stripped of its dogmatic nonsense that never made any sense, and turned into a simple study in perfect forgiveness.

From around mid-1999 to mid-2001, I became more and more Christian. From mid-2000, I became more and more Christian in a particular kind of way. Studying the English Reformation, specifically Henry VIII, in May and June 2000, made me decide I was not Protestant, as I had been brought up, but Roman Catholic. This was a matter of the heart rather than a matter of practice. I never regularly attended a Catholic Church, or went to confession even once, but in my heart, that was what I was. Why?

Catholicism was vibrant, colourful, decorated, beautiful, and best of all, interestingly enough, Latino. My time in France had turned me into something of a Francophile, but by mid-2000 I was well into all things Latin, and Catholicism, at the end of the day, was the Latin religion. Protestantism by contrast was the religion of grey Northern Europe; austere, emotionless, and, I believed, rather stricter – I mean look at the Puritans. Catholics could live it up, celebrate, and be merry, as this was what their religion seemed to allow, even encourage. In my continued study of the English reformation in A-Level history, I passionately supported the counter-reformers. Mary I of England was a misjudged, misunderstood woman who by no means deserved to be called “bloody Mary.” Her Protestant sister Elizabeth, whose glorious reputation lives on, was cruel and often brutal; in many ways worse towards the Catholics she ruled over than Mary had been to her minority of Protestant subjects. I even speculated on how life in Britain would be better if the Spanish Armada had landed, envisaging a combination of Mass, processions, and partying.

The first months of 2001 were an explosion of religiosity. A school trip to Paris in February allowed me to spend a great deal of time in Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacré Coeur. When I later joined the MSN Community, UK Christians, I named myself Sacred Heart, not with the Sacred Heart of Jesus or Mary in mind, but merely as a translation of the name of the famous Parisian Basilica. During the Easter season I spent an abnormal amount of time in the St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral praying, and by the middle of the year I was burning candles for Mother Mary in my room. I continued to attend St. Mary’s, seeing High Anglicanism as a good compromise between the Roman Catholic faith I wished to join and the regular Anglican tradition of my family. In my obsession with all things Latin, closely linked to my faith, I became a dreamer, longing for an imaginary place; a remote Spanish or Italian village on a rocky mountain surrounded by virgin plains with the sea on the horizon and a starry sky above.

My final year of school also saw me become disgruntled and rebellious, and yet, strangely enough, this went well, rather than badly, with my religious faith at the time.

It was late 2001, after the September the 11th attacks, when things began to go wrong. During mid-September to early December of that year, I worked as a food runner in the restaurant Est Est Est on George Street to fund my forthcoming gap year in Peru. This was an exhausting and often-stressful job involving two return journeys by bicycle a day, half of which I had to do in the dark and all of which I had to do in the cold. I would emerge from the workplace on weekends only to receive abuse on the street from the Friday and Saturday night drunks. Pious as ever, I prayed constantly, not to get out of my own predicament of a barely tolerable temporary job, but rather for blessings on the suffering, food for the hungry, protection of my loved ones, and world peace. I wanted to be a saint, and even inwardly pledged to someday give up all excess of material comfort and dedicate my life to serving God and looking after the needy. This, of course, was not with the aim of receiving anything in particular in return, but my love for Jesus had to prove itself with self-denial and sacrifice. This ideology was not wholly good for me. I felt guilty for my material wealth, guilty for my continued sin, in spite of its minor and inevitable nature, and worst of all, genuinely afraid of Satan. This fear of a literal Satan, who would do everything possible to see me eternally damned, lost me hours of sleep. I never confessed it to anyone but suffered it particularly in the darkness of night. I held convictions during this period which I have since turned on their heads; pre-marital sex was a sin, any involvement in sorcery was a sin, swearing was a sin (I felt guilty whenever I was angry with anyone, let alone swore), drunkenness was a sin, and so on. I never succumbed to the belief that homosexuality was a sin, however. Indeed I was offended and disappointed to discover, on UK Christians, that it was such an issue. Indeed the discovery that this was such a prominent Christian doctrine was the beginning of the end of my orthodoxy.

September the 11th and its aftermath made me more aware of Islam, which I respectfully believed to be false due to the faith’s denial of Jesus as the Son of God. I got on very well with a French Arab I worked with called Kareem, and never tried to proselytise to him, despite my devout Christianity and his devout Islam (which seemed, admittedly, to conveniently exclude Koranic prohibitions regarding sex). Things went haywire when I was made more aware of Christian fundamentalism - the heart of darkness of my own religion. Fundamentalism was ugly, loathsome, bigoted, and arrogant, and came in the form of a guy called Mcleod who joined an MSN Group of which I was a member, UK Christians. UKC was going to be highly important in my Christian life. Mcleod called the Pope the “Antichrist,” and reminded us of Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate that gays could not be Christian. He furiously refuted my suggestion that catholic and Protestant Christians should see each other as brothers, saying that “RCs” were not Christians because they obeyed the Pope and not Jesus. His real reason for joining the group was to tell us that September 11th in the USA and flooding and foot-and-mouth disease in Britain were divine chastisements for our toleration of Catholicism, homosexuality, and assorted other sinful behaviour. I suggested that if God was so anti-Catholic, He might rather choose to chastise a Catholic country, to which there was no response. He also came out with the usual hypocrisy of how he didn’t hate Catholics - just their “system”. There were many fundamentalists like Mr. Mcleod still to come, but equally disturbing was my discovery of a Roman Catholic personal web site predicting the coming mass-chastisement of the west for our use of abortion and contraception, for our fornication, and of course, the favourite, homosexuality. According to this guy one shouldn’t “touch” one’s girlfriend/boyfriend before marriage, chew gum or be absent-minded during mass, be ignorant of Catholic doctrine, and it went on. In large letters, on his homepage, it said “BIN LADEN TO NUKE WASHINGTON IN 60 DAYS”. That was November 2001, 2 years ago. To my knowledge, no such thing has happened, but having looked at his web site recently, I see he continues to claim that his predictions are accurate. Most are founded on erroneous interpretations of Nostradamus and Revelation. He had an entry about a soul that had allegedly visited hell. I attempted to view this but it had been banned for breaking certain Internet rules. I do remember a certain quote from the site, however, along the lines of:

“Have you ever been burned in an accident? Well bear in mind that people who go to hell burn over and over and over again for the rest of eternity.”

He also had various passages, allegedly messages from Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Jesus complained at length that people were not paying enough attention to him after all he had suffered for them, that it hurt him every time they failed to attend mass, that he knew as he was crucified that for many people, his sacrifice was in vain, etc. Mary had similar emotional blackmail to deal out, including warnings of the coming chastisement from God. I never believed that any of the material really was from Jesus or Mary. One thing was for certain, however: if there were to be a chastisement of Europe involving an invasion by a non-Christian power, I would relish the opportunity to die for Jesus.

In December I had a brilliant month involving, amongst other things, a trip to Paris with a long-standing Christian friend of mine, Sam Partington. I’ve known Sam since I was five, and since then we’ve shared a spiritual zeal in some shape or form. We spent a lot of time in Notre Dame Cathedral again, by that time my personal favourite Cathedral in the world. The last night we were there we went to an organ recital. I placed a written prayer in a box, lit candles for saints, and prayed some more before heading out into the Latin Quarter. I took Christmas very seriously, viewing it as a celebration of the most important event ever to happen in the history of the human race: the birth of Christ. My religious zeal at the end of 2001, however was not as great as that of the previous Christmas, when I had just wanted to see a huge street party for the closest thing we had to the 2000th anniversary of his incarnation. I remember reading a post on UKC on Christmas Eve written by a Christian who disapproved of Harry Potter. This was another aspect of modern Christianity I found absurd – and worrying.

My six months in South America were very significant. A monumental step was to be taken in my Christian education with the discovery of one of the worst “Christian” organisations I can think of; the California-based evangelical literature producer, Chick Publications, named after its President, Jack.T.Chick. It was February 2002 when I happened upon a Baptist shop in Arequipa, Peru where, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a rack displaying pocket-sized comic tracts. I went over for a read; the reason being that I remember having been handed such a tract on Princes Street in Edinburgh six months earlier. The tract was called Bad Bob, and featured, as its protagonist, a huge, bearded Southern biker who went in for bad behaviour of all kinds from unprovoked violence to drug dealing. At the end of the tract, Bob is saved after the terrifying experience of surviving a jail fire, in which his cousin in the cell next door is burned to death. “God gave you a second chance, but your cousin will be in flames like that forever,” is how the Christian policeman puts it. By saying a prayer expressing his penitence, Bob is saved, and according to Chick, will go to heaven. After reading this tract, I had responded to God’s call by saying such a prayer myself. The result is that ironically, and inconveniently for him, by Jack Chick’s reckoning I am saved, and in theory ought to be a born again fundamentalist. For a full read of any of Jack Chick’s tracts, please visit the web site www.chick .com. It ought to be age-restricted, but isn’t, so anyone can look. It is Chick himself who does the mediocre artwork that goes into most of these booklets. The rather more impressive artwork in certain tracts is left up to a talented African American who receives little or no credit on Chick’s site, but frankly, whatever the quality of the artwork, Chick tracts are disgustingly awful. The following list may give some idea of what he is all about:

- John 14:6 says that Jesus is the way the truth, and the life. It follows from this that all religions other than Conservative Protestant Christianity lead to damnation. It is worthy of note that Liberal Protestants do not escape Chick’s wrath.
- Hell will be the eternal dwelling place of a good 99% of people who ever existed because of their failure to “accept Jesus as their saviour” (convert to evangelical Christianity).
- The Catholic Church is the great Whore of Revelation 17.
- The Pope is the Antichrist.
- The Vatican is a tool of Satan and is responsible for all the evil ever committed on the planet including Nazi Germany, Communism, the Ku Klux Klan, and the creation of all “false” religions, including Islam.
- Allah was based on the Pagan moon God of ancient Arabia and Islam remains a pagan religion. (Interesting how he knows this whilst the Muslims do not).
- Roman Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary is another of Satan’s tricks to have them unwittingly worshipping a demon. (Again, millions of Roman Catholics disagree with him, but he seems to know best).
- Rock music, Halloween, alcohol, the New Age, Freemasonry, sex, evolution, and Liberalism are all Satanic tools. The only thing that is not is the Bible, but even there you’d better get the correct version: nothing but the KJV will do.

The list could well continue. Jack chick has drawn cartoons in which Catholics, Buddhists, and Muslims are quite explicitly shown going to hell, sent there by Jesus himself. One of his favourite titles is Are Roman Catholics Christians? My simple response would be that they believe in, love, and seek to follow Jesus Christ, so the answer would be yes. Loving Jesus and being good is not enough for Chick, however, or for the ridiculous figure who passes for God in his cartoons; a gigantic, illuminated despot who sits on an unnecessarily large throne and spends his days judging people after they die. The God Chick has created is a highly dangerous, fanatical incorporation of all modern far right bigotry and bullying; homophobic, undeniably racist, he self-indulgently wallows in his own importance. Nothing could have been further from the Jesus I knew. The other side of Chick’s god, of course was the scourged and bleeding carcass hanging limply on the cross, a wonderful instrument of perverted emotional blackmail. His claims about other religions have been successfully refuted many times, but this does not stop him selling them, and making much money in so doing.

I spent many hours reflecting on Chick’s theology in all its brutal and bloody absurdity during my time in Peru. Even as I sat on a log drinking instant coffee on a sweaty night in the Amazon Rainforest with my guides Pancho, and Fultón, I pondered over Christianity. I met an evangelical jungle guide in the jungle-locked city of Iquitos called Carlos Grandez, one of the best jungle guides in the city. He came to my hostel room one morning to advertise his tour, and noticed the Bible on my desk. He had a friendly and pleasant manner, and picked it up with interest, turning to one of his favourite passages in the book of Isaiah. In a short conversation about his tour, he said that everything was included in the price except beer.
“…but because you’re a Christian you won’t be drinking beer,” he said with a slight chuckle. I told him I was unaware that Christians had to abstain from alcoholic beverages, and that the law as I perceived it forbade excessive, rather than any consumption.

“Oh, but if a brother who is weak in faith and alcohol tolerance were to see you drinking, he might well join in and end up sinning,” came the reply. In the end I did not go on his tour, not because of the beer issue, but because he was setting off too early. Carlos Grandez spent his life in one of the wonders of God’s creation; the Amazon Jungle, but the massive scale, amazing beauty, and intricate design of this environment still allowed him to believe that the God who created it was offended if you took one swig of lager too many. I never pondered, until a year later when I studied Albert Camus’s L’Etranger, on the contradiction between the natural world’s apparent indifference to man and the claim made by religion that a personal God had created it for man. The Amazon is an environment that perfectly embodies harsh beauty. The mosquitoes are an endless torment, the heat is a plague, and the dangers of snakes, spiders, stinging ants, and piranha are only too prevalent. Yet, this is the world God made for man; a world covered mainly by water, for man, who has no gills. These thoughts were to occur to me only later, when my piety had been conquered by rationality.

I spent the early stage of my time in Peru in a state of devout endurance, and I suffered from homesickness and depression once the initial thrill had worn off. I prayed and went to mass with my host family, the Requenas, and spent some time working at a home for abandoned children, the Casa Verde, where the poverty, compared to what I as a European was used to, was miserable to see. The Casa Verde, however, was to be converted into one of the most pleasing achievements of my gap year. At the suggestion of my brother Douglas, my old school in Edinburgh, Fettes College undertook a fundraising campaign for the Casa Verde. David, my other younger brother, was Head of School, and therefore in a position to help organise this. It yielded a number of thousands of pounds, all of which was sent out to Mr. Volker Nack, the German organiser of the Casa Verde, who received it with immense gratitude, and has now used it to improve the conditions for the former street children living there.
I had an unpleasant experience in February during the time I spent in Cusco with my friend from school, Rudran Kathiravel, in which I was led into what was essentially a brothel by a Peruvian stranger whose acquaintance we made on a city tour. I did not know the nature of the establishment until we were inside, but I escaped without getting dragged into any mischief. I distinctly remember looking, with relief and happiness up at the illuminated white statue of my Lord and master looking down from above the city, convinced that he must be most pleased with what I had done.

I spent the rest of my time in Peru travelling and teaching English in two main Arequipa schools, one of which was an Anglo-American school called Prescott, the other of which was a Roman Catholic school called Sagrados Corazones. I really loved the work, but SSCC, as it was called, was a particularly good laugh, and I made friends there with whom I still communicate. Working there increased my sympathy for Roman Catholicism, and I remember in particular the beautiful celebrations held for Easter in March and Corpus Christi in June, just before a strike, or “paro” turned the city of Arequipa into a war zone. Towards the very end of my time in Peru I went to Lima for a long weekend to visit a girl whom I had met with her 13 year-old cousin Carlos in the chapel in Jorge Chavez Airport in February. When we met I was praying fervently to God in that small but essential place of worship, to which I would love to return someday. She was keen to emigrate to Europe to study, but was stalled for lack of funds. Keen as I was to help her, I myself had only to enough to get by on, and was in no position to fork out hundreds of dollars. She made it to Barcelona to live with her mother in the end, however, and recently I went to visit her there. I was happy to at least be able to give moral support during the time I spent with her and her family in the poverty of outer Lima.

I returned from Peru overjoyed to have done something so worthwhile, and son after getting back, a revolution took place in my personal spirituality. The Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsh was a set of books I had heard of before but never read. I happened upon Book One and Friendship with God whilst on Princes Street with my friend James Henry, nicknamed “Veg.” I purchased both of them and promptly read Book One very quickly. It seemed to be telling me truths that I had known all along but had chosen to suppress. There was no reason to be afraid, because neither hell nor Satan had ever existed. God did not judge; there was no way He could be made angry, disappointed or harmed. Most earth shattering of all, there was no “right” and “wrong”. These were just imaginary extremes unique to each individual, institutionalised in the form of rules and laws which people would only break. The only authority was that of oneself and what one chose for oneself to be. It was a remarkable liberation. I was a free man. No longer did I have to feel guilty about anything, no longer could I feel I'd let God down, or was not living up to his standards.

My sympathy for Roman Catholicism in the face of Protestant fundamentalist bigotry was really just plain loyalty to my new Peruvian friends, and had little to do with religious fervour. I became increasingly angry at the incessant attacks made on the religion and its followers by Chick Publications, whose web site I still visited. Every time I looked I discovered another attack on the Pope, another insult to Catholic clergy, and more sickening condescension directed at followers themselves. I now had many Catholic friends in addition to the small Catholic contingent in my family, and the discovery of a belief system that said they were going to hell made things very personal. In August 2002 I entered an argument with the webmaster of The Jack Chick Museum of Fine Art. I find this web site disturbing for the way in which it excuses and justifies the activities of Chick’s publishing empire without actually being attached to it. Our debate concerned the book of Revelations and why, according to me, the Vatican could not be the Great Whore of Revelation 17. Apart from a large number of other factors, the Vatican is not built on seven hills, a factor that would be necessary for the interpretation to be valid. Monsterwax, the webmaster, was not going to accept that Chick’s interpretation was a lie. In retrospect, rather than attempt to argue that it was a lie, as I did, I might have had more success simply saying that since Chick was unable to prove its validity, maybe he shouldn’t be selling it, but he still does. Perhaps the worst aspect of Chick is his constant claim to only be informing people of their impending damnation because he “loves” them. However much he loves, he quite plainly loves his own beliefs rather more: Other people should change their customs in order to suit his theological convictions, not the other way round. He is at liberty to choose not to believe that they need to agree with him to be saved, but this he does not choose.

Over the months that followed I battered UK Christians, saying that there could not possibly be “only one way to heaven” due to the infinitely gross injustice this imposed on most of the world’s past, present, and future population. I became even more staunchly defensive of homosexual relationships, and quickly came around to seeing human sex and sexuality as something to be acted upon as love intended, not as religion intended. Religion had, after all, been guilty of heinous crimes, so why listen to it when it tried to rule any of your life, let alone your relationships? Moral issues were no longer complicated because there was no longer an obligation to find black and white where there was only grey. The incomprehensible technical workings of salvation no longer needed to be explained, as there was no salvation, for lack of anything to be saved from. Love was all there was and one was free to follow one’s heart.

Continuing to participate on Christian Internet discussion forums was not a mistake because it allowed me to learn more. I was threatened with damnation for condemning Jehovah’s violence in the Old Testament, and told my biblical knowledge was “abysmal” because I didn’t agree that all Bible prophecy had come true. I put up with having to read endless poor responses to what I had written which simply ran rings around the issue because the issue was unanswerable.
My discovery of the web site godhatesfags.com. introduced me to Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church. Hateful, homophobic, excessively right-wing and “Christian”, Fred ruins the funerals of deceased homosexuals and advocates the death penalty for sodomy. Little was new here, but I reflected on how disgustingly evil one could be whilst still calling oneself “Christian” and decided there was no limit. Phelps is an extreme case, despised even by some fundamentalists, but I still hold mainstream Christian teaching responsible for his views. Christianity, ironically, refuses to repent of its sins. Having inflicted suffering on homosexuals for centuries, still it tells them that their variation on love is “sinful”.

It was, of course, obvious by now, that as far as the variations on Christianity I had encountered were concerned, I was “hell-bound”. I was a heretic, a blasphemer, and an idolater. I had rejected the supposed one true God who loved me enough to save me if I humbly submitted to a hateful system of belief, or alternatively consign me to eternal torture if I did not. I turned instead to a false idol, albeit a false idol who showed love to everyone in the world, regardless of whether they were Catholic or Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish. This was a false idol that didn’t care whether you were straight or gay, so long as you did not harm others. The only morality was to love one’s neighbour, an ancient teaching shamelessly distorted by the world’s worst Christians. I had reached the point where even if the religious bigots were proven right, I would still go to hell sooner than accept that their beliefs were tolerable, simply because this is something I cannot do. Since I no longer believed in sin, a fundamental of Christianity, I found it increasingly difficult to call myself Christian.

In late 2002 I attended the evangelical Alpha Course once a week on Mondays, and unsurprisingly disagreed with all of it. I especially disliked the book Searching Issues by the evangelical Nicky Gumbel in which he attempts to persuade uncertain Christians that fornication, homosexuality, and New Age practices are indeed wrong. Obscure Old Testament verses about the death penalty for sorcery are supposed to mean people shouldn’t be doing yoga. Arguments designed to exploit your selfishness attempt to convince you that your wedding day will be better if you and the bride are still virgins. As for the whole gay thing, it’s just “not natural”

There is hope for Christianity. Today I place my faith in religious progressives such as Rev. Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. There are many more like these who will bring about a new and enlightened understanding of gays, sexual equality in the church and a decisive defeat of bigotry. As for me, if being a Christian is about wanting to do good unto others, then I am one still. If it is about exclusivism, fanaticism, and oppression then I am out.