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8/17/05                                                                                       View Comments

I eventually got smart

sent in by Max

I was delighted to find a place where so many share experiences like mine. Despite any implications of my chosen screen name, I m a woman in my late 40 s, married, no kids, professional. Here's my story.

I was brought up Baptist (American, not Southern), and I was a very good one - went to church every Sunday, prayed several times a day, studied the Bible diligently. The latter was eventually instrumental in my loss of faith.

In retrospect, there were problems early on. When I was six, I became obsessed with the fear of going to hell. My dad loved "good fire and brimstone" preachers, and listened to them on the radio daily, spilling forth their warnings of eternal damnation. On top of that, my Sunday school teacher taught, "A lot of people think they're saved, but they're not, because people lie to themselves." Great, I could be on the road to unspeakable, eternal suffering, and I couldn't know. I cried myself to sleep every night, not just for myself, but for the whole rest of humanity that was at risk of this terrible fate. The solution must be prayer. My goodnight prayers became longer and longer as I struggled to make sure I didn't leave anyone out. But then, why should this wonderful protection be available to only people I know? I tried to pray for everyone on earth. I finally had to just begin ending my prayers with "... and God bless anyone I forgot." Eventually, I was trying so hard to cover all the bases that one might have guessed that an attorney was writing my prayers.

I was a teenager in the latter part of the Viet Nam era, a time when "Good Christians" supported the wholesome goodness of war, and clucked at the inherent evilness of long hair on men (a clear abomination to God). Occasionally, they would detect some vague discrepancy between "war is good" and "thou shalt not kill." But they would quickly rationalize this away, claiming that God didn't really mean 'kill,' he meant 'murder.' Every sermon on any topic somehow wrapped back around to condemn hairstyles. Jesus' long hair was dismissed as a technical problem - he didn't have the equipment for a proper haircut, but if there'd been a barbershop around, you can bet he'd have had a buzz cut.

Also around that point in time, the church was fending off the women s movement, and the satanic threat of equal pay for equal work. There was much emphasis placed on the necessity of women being subservient, busying themselves with good, wholesome activities around the home. This teaching really seemed to be at odds with the other popular lesson given to teens be a good steward of the talents the lord has given you. But somehow, if you were female, it was apparently predefined that your talents should be nurturing, cooking, singing in the choir, etc., and not math, science, or a good head for business. As my natural abilities tend toward the latter, I wrestled with the impossibility of complying with both sets of instructions.

As I studied the bible through my teen years, the more I read, the more I realized that it didn't really say what the church claimed it said. For one thing, the four gospels didn't even seem to tell the same story. Supposed passages of prophesy looked more like expressive poetry, and didn't do a good job of describing anything that actually happened. Revelations, the supposed road map to the future, was unintelligible and certainly never mentioned the Communists. (The radio preachers said Revelations clearly laid out the Communist's destiny to overthrow the US and put the Antichrist in power.) Jesus seemed to be a pacifist, a real turn-the-other-cheek guy, not someone who was really into killing people. In the face of all of this, I maintained my faith to avoid eternal damnation.

As the years passed, I was never able to escape the feelings of guilt and fear. No matter how I tried, I could never be as pure as I was supposed to be. I consciously evaluated my every move on a right-to-wrong scale, though I knew this would eventually drive me insane. And, of course, Jesus could come back at any minute, and if you were in the middle of a sin at that moment, you d never have a chance to be forgiven for it.

I finally had to break the chains at 30, when my first marriage ended in divorce and I could not otherwise escape the feelings of guilt and obligation. In the end, the biggest thing I could not accept was the notion that a just, loving God would cast innumerable souls into eternal damnation just because they were born into different cultures, or because they looked at the evidence available to them and came to a different conclusion. He loves you so much that he will send you to eternal punishment if you don't love him back. God is apparently a lot like a stalker.

I'm an atheist these days, but in a society where most people think freedom of religion refers to your right to be either Protestant or Catholic, and if you don't worship God you must worship Satan, I can't admit it. If someone asks, I usually mumble something about being brought up Baptist, and no one seems to notice that I didn't answer the question. It s nice to find a group where people can talk freely about their lack of belief.

Oh, and BTW, as a web programmer, I must say this is an awesome site technically! Great depth of linking, nice tools for posting, AOK!

Joined: Pretty much since birth
Left: 30 or so
Was: Baptist
Now: Athiest
Converted: To avoid hell, of course
De-converted: The whole thing just didn't make sense.
email: deblist at theneonweb dot com