2/25/06                                                                                       View Comments

My Son

sent in by J.H. Milivojevic

if my mother loved me so much

then why did she lie to me so much

why did she try to make me believe in magic

why did she try to make me believe in life after death

why did try to make me believe that god hears me when I tell a lie

why did she try to make me believe that we will all be together again after we die



do you believe in magic

have you ever believed in magic

haven’t you always appreciated good sleight of hand

haven’t you always appreciated a good demonstration of defiance of the laws of nature?

a coin disappears into thin air

a rabbit appears out of nowhere

Jesus dies a horrible agonizing death – then comes back to life

[god knows why…who would want to come back to such torture?]

eventually my mother explained to me about the tooth fairy

then later about santa claus

but she has continued to hang on to the magic of jesus

what a dirty joke



now she’s old and scared because she suspects she really will be punished for all the really bad stuff she did during her life – it just seems too easy to get off simply by believing in the magic.

let’s see….

she hurt my dad by flirting and sleeping around while married to him

she had those two kids by another man, but she made my dad put his name on the birth certificate – twice!

she emotionally abandoned me when she fell in love with that guy

and she did even worse with poor little Patti

she never would stand up for Mary when dad attacked her and put her down so bad



she did all that bad stuff and yet they’ve been telling her all her life that she will be forgiven simply by believing that jesus is the true son of god

but what about dressing the wounds?

what about addressing the injuries?

What about apologizing?

What about acknowledging those hurts?

this might be the very, very worst crime that christianity is guilty of


Norman
Oklahoma
USA
Joined: 11
Left: 12
Was: southern baptist
Now: atheist
Converted under: parental guidance
De-converted becuase of: clear thinking
email: jaquine at ou.edu

Beyond the Fear and Guilt - A Secular Life

sent in by Ken

I began to have doubts about god, heaven and hell when I was in my early 20's. I met a liberal, critical thinker who presented ne w ideas to me at my first office job. He challenged some of the dogma and beliefs I had since childhood. His name was Larry.

For a number of years I began to stay away from church and rarely attended. By the time I moved out from my parents house, I had altogether stopped going to church.

I got a subscription to Playboy magazine. Along with the hot babes, I discovered that you could actually read the articles. Many of them were about George H.W. Bush, the Republicans, and Fundamentalist activities. I decided that I was a Liberal. I joined the ACLU. I stopped believing in god.

Years later I discovered Skeptic magazine and Michael Shermer. The Biblical Flood story always peplexed me, and was the main reason I didn't believe the bible anymore. Skeptic re-inforced these doubts and led me to many other books skeptical and critical of the bible. Tim Callahan, Randall Helms, Shelby Spong, Carl Sagan were some of the many authors I discovered.

I am now 46 and call myself a Bright. I feel at ease with myself and my life. I don't suffer the guilt or the fear that I see in my xtian friends. I don't pick fights and flame wars so much, but I will not stand for someone trying to put words in my mouth or attempts to force religion on me.

It must be a difficult thing for many to give up the false hope of Christianity. I know many intelligent people that understand the arguments. I wonder how many of them are closet Brights.

Chattanooga
TN
US
5
24
Was: Presbyterian, Methodist
Now: a Bright
Joined because: I had no choice. It was forced upon me as a child
Left because: I grew up and learned to think critically.

2/20/06                                                                                       View Comments

My story...

sent in by Mike

Cross post from "Breaking the Bad News.."

I wish I'd run across this site about 4 months ago!

My parents were involved in the Methodist church when I was young. I went through the confirmation thing and all, but to me it was just words and I never really bought into it. After I was about 13 - 14 we just stopped going to church. Nothing was said, just stopped. I think my parents became agnostic/athiest at that time, though they just recently made if very clear.

I'm much older (42) and married to a YEC, BAC. My wife was a Baptist when we met and I, being blindly in lust and love, did the whole baptism, decleration of faith. I really wanted to believe....

However, since that time (about 17 years ago). I "drifted" too and from trying to be "religious". I had many objections and was never comfortable with religion. Something just seemed "wrong".... My wife, on the other hand, went the other direction and is full force fundy everything is evil, end is near, gotta save all the souls kinda B.S.

Then, about 6 months ago I stumbled across the Flying Spaghetti Monster site. I laughed my arse off, and my eyes started to open.

I attend a fundy charismatic church with my wife and kids here in Austin. One day, during the "alter call", this lady comes over, crying and the whole bit, and says "Mike, don't you want what they have??". Meaning the folks with the arms in the air and swaying and chanting. Inside the answer was instant. "NO!, you'll are nuts!". However, I politely dodged the question and gave vague answers. My wife is sitting next to me and said something about "God was telling to ask you the same thing..."

At that point I made a decision. I would do my "due diligence" and let the facts speack for themselves. Lets just say the house of cards came tumbling down. I quit pretending to like church, or to pray. I told my wife in using "Rip the BandAid" method, she took it OK. Then I came home with some books from Michael Shermer, Carl Sagan and few others. That's when poop hit the fan. She wouldn't speak to me for about a day. I actually thought we were headed for rapid divorce. I did almost tell her the two main reasons for my decision was looking at her beliefs now vs. when we met and the current church we attend. I think I did the right thing by erring to caution.

Things have calmed down now, but it's a very sore subject and I know I'm on everybody's prayer list

I don't know how I would break the news differently, there isn't a good way.

Being "out" wow... I feel better now than I have in years!

The problem is all of our (read "her") friends are die hard fundy's. Blaahhh

Sorry to unload on you guys in my first post, but to be honest, I got no one to talk about this....

Thanks for reading...

2/18/06                                                                                       View Comments

Letting It All Go

by DH

After wandering through Baptist, Pentecostal and Episcopal churches – on the way to a career as a minister – this man walks away from Christianity

I have to smile each time I see one of those bumper stickers that says, “No Jesus, no peace; Know Jesus, know peace.” The premise behind this clever play on words is that the driver of that automobile has perfect peace because he/she has accepted Jesus as “personal savior” and people who have not, or those, like me, who once embraced Jesus but have subsequently rejected him, are crawling through life in turmoil, torment and indescribable unhappiness.

As others have observed, most Christians find it unsettling to think that there are “former Christians,” people such as me who were completely converted, born again, filled with the spirit – people who had all this but, after sober reflection, walked away from it. We must be unhappy, they say. Perhaps we were not “genuine” Christians in the first place; had we been deceived by Satan?

My own de-conversion was not hasty nor undertaken without a lot of study and thought as this essay will show. For years I felt as does the driver of the car with the bumper sticker – I was sure I had “the peace that passeth all understanding.” I recall standing hundreds of times in church singing “Just As I Am Without One Plea” as the pastor urged the “unsaved” to come forward and accept Christ. Only then would they know true peace. The transformation would be immediate, we were told; we would feel the “burden” of sin lifted from us. The joy of the lord would come upon us as we were made whole by the washing of his blood. We would be given the tools of victory over sin, thanks to the holy spirit.

Yes, I felt for years that I had that blessed peace but, fortunately, I came to realize that it was not a genuine peace; it was a transitory feeling based upon self-delusion – and the Christian “walk,” as any former Christian will tell you, is fraught with uncertainty and a sense of sadness (one example – Christian workers are often proud to tell how they “agonize” in prayer for the “lost”). When I finally said “good-bye” to Christianity, THEN I felt at peace! I felt liberated, set free, then the burden of all the “dos and dont’s” along with the neurotic mind-set that kept looking for sinfulness in everything went away. No longer was I mentally casting about, frantically trying to learn if I was “doing the Lord’s will.” It was liberating to walk away, but I’m sure Christians can easily dismiss my relief (that has lasted four decades now) as the influence of a “lying demon” or, at best, a bit of mental trickery. My only response to these comments is, “How can you be so arrogant to assume you know how I feel? How can you justify projecting your concepts upon my life experience?”

With the hope of helping someone else, I’m happy to provide details about my religious experiences – a path that nearly found me living in the rectory. Many readers will no doubt recognize parallels with their own lives.

I was raised in a good home in a smaller Oregon town. My parents were not especially happily married but they stuck it out together for more than 60 years. I was the youngest child with siblings who had grown up and left home by the time I was beginning school. My father, while a church-goer when courting my mother, had for years refused to attend church. He was very interested in science and I suspect his decision to stay away from the pew was based upon some inner knowing that what he would hear there didn’t really mesh with the way things were in nature. Given our family environment, he was smart enough, though, not to talk much about it – he only encouraged us kids to study hard, go to college, and learn all we could about the world. But his moral inclinations and way of life were very much in the pattern of how he was conditioned – while not being called “Christian,” his way of life was, nevertheless, identical with that of my mother’s.

Mom was a died-in-the-wool Conservative Baptist (that’s both the name of the denomination and an apt description of their theology). She had met Dad, I was told, at a revival meeting conducted by the Rev. Dr. Charles S. Price, a protégée of Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the Churches of the Foursquare Gospel. (See my friend’s beautifully sensitive biography of this early troubled Pentecostal evangelist: Least of All Saints: The Story of Aimee Semple McPherson by Robert Bahr; Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1979.) Price conducted revival meetings in my hometown for many months, several years perhaps, as the crowds kept coming (the meetings graduated from a tent to a huge, permanent wooden “tabernacle” built by volunteers). My folks eventually married and gravitated to a non-denominational church and, later on, Mom returned to the church setting she was most acclimated to, the Baptist faith. She made sure us kids attended Sunday school, sat still for the main service and we usually returned for Sunday night services and Wednesday evening prayer meetings. Ours was a large, active church and in junior high and high school I became involved with the youth group. That experience brought me many friends and it was a good time, despite the religious teachings. In all my years of close association with various churches I encountered predominantly good people who were sincere in their faith.

As I was growing up, though, there was a pressure to “become saved.” Although I was fully known and accepted in the church, there was an unspoken attitude by others that made me feel guilty because I hadn’t “gone forward” to receive Christ as my savior. In other words, I was treated well, but others weren’t sure if I was a “real Christian” because they hadn’t seen me make that trip down the aisle and that, of course, must be followed by baptism (total immersion – nothing less would do). I was sensing the unspoken pressure and it was causing me to feel guilty – that feeling, we were told, was the Lord “convicting us of our sin.”

Our next door neighbor was a spiritualist; I knew this from overhearing conversations at home. One of my friends in school once handed me a copy of Fate magazine. Each month it contained amazing stories about psychic phenomena and I believe it is still being issued.. I asked our neighbor about all these topics and she eagerly shared what she knew, all of which was far from what I’d been told in Sunday school. I continued to read with an open mind.

Then I became introduced to the amazing Little Blue Books published by E. Haldeman-Julius. (I was probably in junior high school at the time all this was going on, in the late 1950s.) I began collecting these little booklets and some of them contained pretty amazing stuff that made me ask myself some serious questions. There were essays by Robert G. Ingersoll, the legendary 19th century lawyer, orator and agnostic; others by Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair and other freethinkers.

While in the eighth grade my older sister, who was then in a Christian college, gave me paperback copies of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, holy books of Hinduism, along with Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. These would eventually open up great vistas for me.

So, when I made the decision in church one night after an especially emotional service to “go forward” and accept Christ as my personal savior, I was indeed acting on a sincere understanding that this was something I needed and wanted to do. I had believed what I’d heard in church – I was a sinner who needed redemption. However, I wasn’t making that decision in a vacuum; I had already been exposed to some other ideas.

As I made my decision and rendered my prayer of submission, clouds did lift. Looking back, I’m certain that sense of relief and joy was probably prompted by the fact that I’d finally accomplished something I’d been prepared to do but had been putting off. Also, by walking forward I was in the public limelight; everyone in that huge crowd was proud of me and joyful that I’d, finally, fully joined the ranks of the redeemed. That realization no doubt contributed to my inner joy.

From that point my assimilation into Conservative Baptist church and devotional life proceeded rapidly. I was elected president of the Baptist Youth group at our church, organized a church library (which is to this day one of the largest church libraries in the area), attended regional youth events and made the decision to aim for a career as a minister. I visited our church’s impressive seminary in Portland and got ready for the necessary undergraduate work.

At this time I also began seriously reading the Bible. Of course I’d heard all the familiar stories from my earliest days onward but I was told, and I accepted, that Bible reading was an important part of the Christian life. Years later I found that my approach to reading the “good” book was far different from that pursued by most Christians – I read the whole thing! Not just once, but several times (I’ve been through the whole book verse by verse at least seven times, much of the New Testament in both English and Greek versions). It’s a funny thing about many serious atheists – many of them have a better working knowledge of the Bible than do most Christians!

As I read the Bible I also began asking some serious questions about what I was discovering. For instance, what about all those laws in the Pentateuch – there were, of course, the Ten Commandments (actually a couple of versions of them and more than ten, one of which my church directly violated, the one setting aside the Sabbath as the day of worship... their excuse for using Sunday doesn’t hold water!). But aside from that there are the multitude of other commandments that nobody but the most orthodox of Jews pay any attention to – my favorite one, appealing to my newly awakened teenage sexuality, concerned menstruating women and the fact that because they were “unclean” they had to live outside the community until they were over their period and received absolution from the priest. That just didn’t seem quite right to me. There were hundreds of others that made absolutely no sense to me, even when I tried to look at them in their historical context (see Ex. 20-23 & Lev. 20). All the needless bloodshed in the Old Testament bothered me a lot, too. I found numerous inconsistencies and troubling statements in the New Testament as well. In summary, I was beginning to realize that the Bible wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; this realization came from my independent study and no other source. Years later I was to learn that much of what I was discovering had been written down in many books that are condemned by Christians, one of the best being The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by C. Dennis McKinsey (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995). The Bible, upon close reading, was not appearing to be the infallible “word of God.”

I decided to ask some respected Christians about a few of my questions. Our Sunday School teachers, I found, were barely-thinking people with only a thin, transparent film of understanding. They mouthed the stock answers when they had them or dismissed questions out of hand. I asked our pastor and my good friends who owned the local Christian book store – devout Christians and knowledgeable, members of another evangelical church. But answers were often not satisfactory. I later learned that those I talked with were expressing answers prepared by conservative theologians and taught to seminary students in a required class called “Apologetics.” In other words, this coursework attempts to find answers (or “apologies”) to the many contradictions and inconsistencies that I was discovering in the Bible. In my high school days I often found those so-called answers unsatisfactory and incomplete – usually the logic was stretched to a point that it was as unbelievable as was the Aesop-like story in the Old Testament explaining the origin of different languages (the Tower of Babel).

My bookstore friends were asked one day, for example, about the doctrine of sanctification. I had learned that their church, springing from the Holiness tradition, taught full and instantaneous sanctification while my church tended to believe in gradual or progressive sanctification. I asked these kind folks if there was a book that laid out the pros and cons of each doctrine. They said, “no.” Nor could they recommend a source book that compared Calvinist and Arminian doctrines of salvation. Apparently us evangelicals weren’t supposed to do serious thinking on these weighty matters.

One Sunday evening speaker at our church made a tremendous impression on me. His sermon – actually it was more of a lecture on church history – fascinated me and afterwards I went up to talk with him. He had a bunch of booklets from our denomination’s home office that were for sale and one I looked at with interest concerned the history of the Baptist movement. This minister showed me on the back cover a flow chart that started with Jesus and proceeded with an unbroken line through the early church to the Anabaptists and on to other groups, ending with, believe it or not, the Conservative Baptist Church. There was, this clergyman explained, clear historical evidence that the teachings put forth in my local church had been alive and preached throughout the ages in their present-day form. Incredulous, I asked if, in fact, our Baptist movement had emerged from the old Roman Catholic Church, much as the Lutherans had. “No,” he said. “We have direct linage back to Jesus himself.” I guess this is the Protestant version of “apostolic succession” and that night at church I had to restrain my laughter. I knew his thesis was awfully flawed and I was dumbfounded that he had the gall to preach such obvious falsehoods.

Late in my high school years there was some sort of a flap in our church concerning our minister (something that is quite common in evangelical churches). I was working one evening in the church library and in the fellowship hall next door much of the congregation was holding a meeting about this pastor. I liked the fellow and respected him. He was smart, articulate, delivered good sermons and his son was one of my best friends. I’d been in their home a lot. As it turned out, the congregation either asked for his resignation or fired him, I can’t recall which. He hadn’t taught any heretical doctrines; there was just a bunch of people in the church who didn’t like him and wanted him out. As it turned out, the pastor left, the trouble-makers stormed off anyway to form their own church on the other side of town, the pastor had a nervous breakdown and withdrew entirely from the ministry. It was a tragic turn of affairs that caused me a great deal of sadness.

We teenagers were told repeatedly to be wary of sinfulness. Jesus was coming soon and how would we feel if we were doing something sinful the moment he appeared for us in the clouds? What if we were in a movie theater? Or playing cards?? Dancing??? Or, heavens!, masturbating???? Yes, we were saved and that salvation couldn’t be taken from us, but we could still SIN.

Puberty and dealing with sexuality is an extremely difficult time for any teenager and I certainly wasn’t immune to these conflicts, new desires and emotions. Evangelical Christianity in my teenage days was ill prepared to provide any helpful advice. My father had told me that masturbation was the cause of all mental illness and that those who played with themselves ended up in insane asylums. What a horrible thing to learn! After struggling with this news for months and months I finally decided that my fate must be sealed – asylum here I cum! At least I’d be enjoying myself on the trip to the state hospital! At church the message was not much different. We were provided feeble alternatives to school dances and other secular venues where boys and girls could meet and have a good time. But there was always the unspoken message that we were to avoid the “ways of the world.” Things that were too much fun (like orgasms and even dancing) were sinful and off limits. Everything that had a positive ring to it was suspect because, after all, we were humans and as such were grounded in a sinful nature. Satan was the lord of this world and we had to keep our guard up continuously. Today I ask, is this what is promised by the bumper sticker, “Know Jesus, know peace”? I fail to see much peace in this mindset.

After our pastor was dismissed, an older man took over as interim pastor. He and his wife were wonderful and he was doing a grand job. Those people who were left in the congregation liked him and offered him the job as full-time pastor. There was a sticking point with the denomination, however. Fred had ordination from a full-gospel fellowship and no formal seminary training. He would have to be “examined” by a board of ministers from the Conservative Baptist denomination to see if he was qualified to receive ordination by them. This was required before he could take the job. I sat through the two days of grilling and found it to be a nit-picking exercise of the first order. His application for ordination was refused and our parish had to look elsewhere for someone to fill the pulpit. Everyone was disappointed, including me.

I had been accepted to attend Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, the following fall. Whitworth was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and everyone in the church was concerned that I’d be corrupted with “liberal” thinking. A Baptist minister gave me a copy of Gresham Machen’s 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism. Machen had led a number of congregations in a major split of the Presbyterian denomination. Ironically, his New Testament Greek textbook was the one used in my classes at Whitworth!

My four years at Whitworth were a roller-coaster ride intellectually and spiritually. During my first week there I met another freshman, Dan, who eventually ended up in the Presbyterian ministry (albeit in their most fundamentalist wing) and who became a close friend who went through many of these transitions with me. I had been instructed to seek out a “Bible believing Baptist church” and attend it regularly as a safeguard against the “modernism” and “liberalism” of the Presbyterians (Presbyterians were viewed with suspicion by us Baptists – most of them probably weren’t “real” Christians because they had not been “born again” – they were, rather, just “playing church” – AND they practiced infant baptism, something the Baptists strongly objected to). I followed the instructions from home and began attending a Baptist church; but it just wasn’t the same as what I was used to so I tried the campus Presbyterian service once or twice. It was boring!

Then one day that first fall, while standing in line at the college cafeteria, Dan and I were engaged in conversation with a couple of upper classmen who, they said, attended a small, exciting congregation. Quite a few Whitworth students went there; would we like to try it out? Sure, why not! We arranged for them to give us a lift the following Sunday.

We had been forewarned that the Church of the Rock of Ages at Spofford and Post avenues was a barn of a building outside but that the worshipers there were wonderful. And the pastor, the Rev. C.A. Brown, was amazing. All of this proved true.

Dan and I learned that first morning that this church was unlike anything we had ever experienced. Although it didn’t label itself as such, this independent congregation would have many of the earmarks of those fundamentalist charismatic churches (aka “Pentecostal”) lumped together as “full gospel” churches. Worship was very spontaneous; there were times during the services, especially when there was congregational singing, that the ecstasy and joy was thick. We would sing praises spontaneously and individually but the mixture of all this was gloriously harmonic and uplifting. Our hands were in the air, tears of joy streaming down our faces and hearts racing. Occasionally there was speaking in tongues but, more often than not, there was prophecy from either Pastor Brown or one of the others in the church. This congregation took Eph. 4:11 literally – there were supposed to be apostles in each congregation today, not just in Bible times. Also, there were supposed to be prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This was ordained by the Bible.

Prophecy was often general in content (it was tape recorded, transcribed and mimeographed – I still have much of it) but occasionally there were specific “words of knowledge” imparted to one of us in the congregation. These personalized prophetic messages often contained detailed instruction or information. It was always appropriate, I observed; nobody was ever told to do something that was not for their own good. Occasionally these “words of the Lord” were pronouncements from Him as to who had been selected as a future leader in the church – both the local church and the Church worldwide. After attending only a few times, I was singled out for one of these “words of knowledge” from Pastor Brown.

This man was a giant of a man, both in body and personality. He stood over six and one-half feet tall and had the physique of a body builder. Handsome with his thick, wavy silver-gray hair and mustache (he was perhaps in his upper 50s or early 60s at this time), he had an infectious smile and boisterous laugh. I have never heard a more powerful preacher from any pulpit anywhere, before or since (I was told once he had been one of the top officials in the Assembly of God denomination back in Missouri before he acted on his belief that the denomination had gone down too many wrong paths and struck out on his own, first starting a church in Great Falls, Montana, then this one in Spokane). On the day I received my word from the Lord, Pastor Brown came down from the platform, walked over to the benches where all of us Whitworth kids always sat, and strode toward me in his spit-polished size 16 shoes, placed his massive hand on my forehead and said, “Thus sayeth the Lord....” I had been set aside by God Almighty as a prophet in the church, he continued; a prophet in training, perhaps, but an instrument of the Lord nonetheless.

Each Sunday morning and evening as well as Friday evenings were dedicated to the “work.” Friday nights were our favorite times as the college group always got together at the pastor’s lovely home near the college for a time of fellowship, singing and study. Pastor Brown always seemed to have just the right message and they were not superficial at all; we were being treated to some pretty deep stuff and we knew it. Sometimes the message was delivered by the church’s associate minister, Pastor Harding. Besides us Whitworth kids, there were a few others who came to these groups from time to time. Years later when my second wife and I were recalling those years we discovered that she had been to a couple of those Friday evening meetings when I was there. I was a freshman or sophomore in college while she was a high school girl. I vaguely remember being introduced to her. After our worship and study Mrs. Brown always had refreshments ready and we enjoyed a rollicking good time visiting.

This sudden turn in church affiliation caused me to change my career outlook entirely. The Church of the Rock of Ages (now known as Rock of Ages Christian Fellowship) was not part of any denomination so there were no seminaries and no clear-cut career path toward the ministry. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing; I couldn’t find any career guide-books for prophets!

Although Pastor Brown didn’t preach much, as many Pentecostal ministers do, about the benefits of receiving the “second blessing,” the “baptism of the Holy Spirt accompanied by the gift of speaking in tongues,” it was generally understood by us college kids that this was something to be desired. We had been shown the scriptural basis for it. But we were educated folks and going to a wild revival meeting to get the gift of tongues wouldn’t fit in with our self-concept that well. At this time, in the early 1960s, there was a movement afoot in the Episcopal Church, a more sedate acceptance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that had begun under the preaching of the Rev. Dennis Bennett in Van Nuys, California. One day we learned that Bennett would be in Spokane, speaking at an Episcopal church one evening. The opportunity would be available afterwards for Rev. Bennett to lay hands on us “seekers” so we could receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and the accompanying gift of tongues. A carload of us drove out to that church and, sure enough, after the orderly service, the invitation was given to come forward for prayer and laying on of hands. All of us Whitworth kids responded and that night at an Episcopal altar rail I was washed by a flood of spiritual joy and began babbling in tongues – very quietly but distinctly. There was no doubt; I’d been baptized by the Spirit and equipped with new spiritual tools just as it was promised in the book of Acts.

Between my freshman and sophomore years I worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon as a fire lookout. It was an incredibly lonely assignment and I found it difficult but I continued to read my Bible, pray, and I was able at night on my mountain-top to tune in 50,000-watt gospel radio stations from Mexico that broadcast revival meetings nonstop. Tent evangelist and healer A.A. Allen was my favorite.

Returning to Whitworth the next fall I was exhilarated to get back into the social atmosphere that the college provided and, most particularly, to return to the “R of A” as we code-named the church. The old group was there, of course, with some drops and adds. Dan and I had become dorm roommates.

It wasn’t too many months, though, until something happened. From this distance I can’t put my finger on what it was that caused me to loose interest in the church and all the activities and teachings; I suspect it was a combination of things. I was having some relationship difficulties with a girl I was madly in love with (who also attended the church); I was having problems with my chosen major in college (English) and made a switch to a field I enjoyed much more (journalism); I was battling depression (I determined much later); and Dan and I weren’t getting along as well as I thought two Christians should (he had been singled out by a word of prophecy as well and, unlike me, he stuck with it). All of these things plus a whole lot more – like my growing skepticism about the validity of the Bible and Christianity – combined to discourage me and I stopped attending R of A meetings altogether. Frankly, I missed the fellowship a lot but I was being “rebellious” and stayed away. I recall riding my bicycle past Pastor Brown’s home a couple of times on Friday evenings, hearing faint sounds of singing. Those were very sad moments as I was missing the closeness of that group. But I had changed and needed to move on. Just as Dad’s information about masturbation was woefully wrong, so, too, what I’d been hearing all my life in church was being shown, bit by bit, to be inaccurate as well.

Despite my discouragement, my interest in religion didn’t wane, however. I continued my study of both Christianity in all its denominational forms and its teachings as well as non-Christian religions. One book on Christian origins from the Whitworth library shattered my remaining trust in the Biblical account and the understanding I gained from it has been expanded and strengthened by countless other books since. The Religion of the Occident, a massive volume by Martin A. Larson, started me down a road of scholarly investigation that continues four decades later. (I read the original 1959 edition published by the Philosophical Library. It was later reprinted by Littlefield, Adams & Co. as one of the titles in their Students Outline Series and later reissued, I think, under the title of Story of Christian Origins.) Larson confirmed my suspicions that what I’d heard about the early church from the pastor with the Baptist flow chart was entirely bunk. In recent years I’ve decided that the historical record as updated over the past decade or two shows pretty conclusively that the person we label “Jesus” probably never existed but was, instead, a creation of Paul. Later gospel writers got confused between this creation of Paul’s and an earlier, actual person, the Teacher of Righteousness, who began the Jewish sect known as the Essenes.

During my junior year in college I decided to get back into the church game again, though. I began attending nearby St. David’s Episcopal Church, thinking this denomination’s reputation, demeanor and career path would be more to my liking. It was. The rector was a “spirit-filled” man (a friend of Fr. Dennis Bennett’s) who I respected greatly and it wasn’t long before I completed necessary classes to qualify for confirmation and membership at St. David’s. That winter I was also selected to go cross country by train with a group of students to an international Christian student gathering at Ohio University, sponsored by the National Council of Churches. I believe there were 4,000 of us there over Christmas break. The week-long event introduced me to the civil rights struggle and confronted me with the reality that slavery and its long-lasting effects had been perpetrated by good Christian folks and justified by passages from the Bible.

In addition to my work at St. David’s, I began attending student meetings on Sunday evenings at the gloriously-beautiful Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane. I was selected to help conduct evensong services in that massive gothic cathedral and the art, sound and beauty of the services and surroundings impressed me greatly. Even now, whenever I return to Spokane on business, I usually find myself stopping at St. John’s in order to soak up this beauty once again.

I applied to the Diocese of Spokane for postulant status and after consultations with the bishop I was accepted. The cathedral’s dean, the Rev. Richard Coombs, encouraged me to consider applying to his alma mater, the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts (now Episcopal Divinity School, adjoining the campus of Harvard University). I applied, was accepted after a rigorous process that included interviews with psychiatrists and several clergymen who were on the seminary’s board of directors. I was assured that necessary financial obligations would be taken care of for me. However, my mother and members of her church (I had withdrawn my membership) were dismayed. There could only be two or three things worse than my heading toward a career as an Episcopalian priest – being sucked off into some cult, becoming a Unitarian minister or, gasp!, turning to Romanism (the Roman Catholic Church). Actually, most Baptists don’t see much difference between the Roman and Episcopalian churches.

What the folks back home didn’t know was that I had already rejected much of their social teaching and most of their theology. I smoked (Baptists then didn’t think one could be saved and smoke at the same time – I subsequently quit for health reasons), I enjoyed a beer now and then (more often than that, actually), and I even danced. (Which reminds me of the joke – “Do you know why Baptist couples never have intercourse in the standing position? Because it may lead to dancing!”) Besides this, I was thoroughly enjoying my sexuality through masturbation and occasional “flings” with friends. But my understanding of the Episcopal way was that most of these things, in moderation, were a normal part of life that should not hinder my spiritual development too much. There was NO way I would ever consider going back to the Baptist outlook. My foray into the full gospel at R of A had convinced me that the Baptist church was even more boring and misguided than the Presbyterian. Their Baptist dogmatism, based as it was on false and selective interpretations of scripture and their strange outlook, was repugnant to me by this time. The high-pitched tone of the Pentecostals didn’t appeal to me either; its circus atmosphere was fun but they shared some of the myopia of the Baptists along with a whole lot of other baggage they had created for themselves. Episcopalianism seemed a good alternative. I appreciated the rich artistic beauty of its churches, the dignified approach to worship complete with beautiful music and chant. Plus, that church encouraged the scholarship that already captivated me – Baptists and Pentecostals generally disparaged higher learning.

As captivated as I was with scholarship, I was also growing weary of study and wanted to “get on with life.” I graduated in 1966 and, as I did each summer, returned to Oregon to work with the Forest Service – that is, after a graduation gift I gave myself – a trip to see my sister in San Diego. While there I learned about a new federal government program that sent college graduates through a master’s program to prepare them for teaching in public schools. This intrigued me and I visited with a neighbor of my sister’s who was in the new program. I decided to apply and see what developed. After all, I already had my seminary locked in, perhaps I would have that plus another option to choose from.

One factor that caused me to look seriously at this new alternative was a fresh girlfriend I’d met just before graduation. We had “hit it off” and talk of marriage had come up. I didn’t know how I could juggle that with seminary. As it turned out, I was accepted into the program at San Diego State, I got married in September, and I didn’t go to seminary.

Just before graduation in Spokane I had asked to visit with the good dean at the cathedral. We had a long talk wherein I expressed doubts about many of the cardinal teachings of Christianity including the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth and those other statements we had to say in the Creed each Sunday morning during the Eucharistic service. I will never forget the dean’s response because it blew me away. While I can’t quote the exact words, a very close paraphrase would be, “Don’t worry about those doubts. Almost all of us in the clergy doubt those things, too.” That summer while struggling with the choice between seminary or San Diego State I thought often of this conversation. I had to ask myself, “Even though it is apparently commonplace for clergy to doubt or deny the cardinal teachings of the Church, by virtue of their employment they are clearly bound to keep it pretty much to themselves and not tell their parishioners. How could I do that? How could I, knowing the truth that scholarship supports, go through the motions of leading worship and reciting the creed that I didn’t believe?” I finally decided that I did not want to set myself up in a position where I would have to live a life of hypocrisy. I would not live in the rectory after all and I was relieved with that choice. I have attended perhaps only half a dozen Episcopal services since my college graduation in 1966 and long ago considered myself divorced from that church, and all churches really.

Years later I read a book by a prominent Episcopal bishop that clearly shows how things have changed over my lifetime. Why Christianity Must Change or Die by retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong makes a strong case for abandoning dogmatic adherence to most of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 1998). Last year I told a friend of mine, a retired Episcopalian priest who is a fan of Spongs, that I agreed with most of what Spong says in his several books but that I didn’t think he had gone far enough. I suspect that the security of his pension may prevent that!

I grew up with a term that describes Christians who revert to their former sinful ways – they are called “back-sliders.” I suppose that in the eyes of my former Baptist and Pentecostal friends I was a “back-slider” slipping to my eternal death in the Episcopal Church. But I also made a couple of back-sliding moves back toward Pentecostalism during graduate school and over several years after that. Please recall the prophetic selection at the Rock of Ages Church that called me to the ministry of a prophet. One summer break in college I was staying for several days with an aunt and uncle in Portland. I had heard that there was a Church of Christ minister there who had received the baptism of the spirit (this experience is contrary to Church of Christ teachings). While in Portland I called him and he offered to pick me up that evening to attend a prayer group meeting in the home of one of his congregants. I had never met this man nor had he ever heard of me. I told him nothing of prophecies made about me in Spokane. During the prayer meeting, however, this minister was “moved” by the spirit and began to prophesy. Among the messages he delivered on behalf of the “Lord” was one directed specifically to me. I had been called to be a “prophet of the Lord,” he channeled.

While living in San Diego I had a similar experience. I found an ad in the newspaper for special services at a church I’d never heard of, being conducted by a visiting evangelist. There were some “code words” in the ad that tipped me off about this church – it would be much like the R of A church in Spokane (I believe the phrase was “A church of the living word” or something similar). I was right. When my wife and I showed up we spoke to no one and sat in the back pew. The service droned on and on and my wife finally decided to go out to the car and take a nap. I remained awhile longer, however. Finally the sermon was over and this visiting minister, who I had never heard of before this night, began to utter “words of knowledge” to several in the audience. He pointed at me and repeated, to my amazement, the same words I’d heard in Portland and Spokane: “You have been called to be a prophet of the Lord.” The coincidences are striking. While I firmly believe there is no supernatural influence in this coincidence, I am at a loss to explain the mechanisms that allowed them to occur. While my current and longstanding secular humanist perspective agrees that there is absolutely no valid evidence for a supernatural realm, I remain open to the possibility that there may be as-yet undiscovered mechanisms such as telepathy that appear much like supernatural agencies at work. Recent theories in quantum physics postulate a whole lot of things that might account for much of what humankind has long held to be supernatural. Time will tell. Some years ago we attended a seance where the “spirit” speaking through the medium revealed some things about my wife and me (even using proper names) that nobody in the room had any knowledge of (we hadn’t spoken a word to anybody there and everyone was a total stranger to us). Mysteries remain in this world of ours and it is exciting to contemplate them without the encumbrance of pre-conceived notions imposed upon us by religious dogma.

Anyway, we back-slid to Pentecostalism on this occasion in San Diego. Upon moving back to eastern Washington the following year we began attending services again at the Rock of Ages church, in the beautiful new structure they continue to occupy. Pastor Brown was out of the picture as he was gravely ill with Parkinsons, a disease that would take him before long (their belief in spiritual healing didn’t work in his case). The church simply wasn’t the same and I could not get “with it.” To do so would be to deceive myself. We drifted away again.

That first marriage ended in divorce. Fifteen or 20 years prior my oldest sister had divorced her husband and it was a scandal in my family. My parents were dismayed and hoped that none of their friends or, especially, anyone in Mom’s church, would get wind of it. In the intervening years attitudes toward divorce changed greatly in the church. It was much more common and those in the evangelical church, including clergy, had to deal with it from a practical point of view. Other things had changed as well. No longer were the women in the local Assembly of God Church in my home town prohibited from wearing makeup, jewelry or cutting their hair despite clear passages in the New Testament. The days were near when the Pentecostal face of cake-makeup Tammy Fae Bakker would appear on television and those Biblical prohibitions would be completely out the window. I doubt that you could get many ministers in these denominations to talk freely about how times, teachings and ways of life have changed within evangelical Christianity over just the past 50 years. To me these patterns have been healthy but they also point to a root inconsistency within the movement that essentially belies claims of supernatural guidance or even self-assertions that the movement is attempting to follow infallible scripture.

In my younger years I came across some writings by teachers, heavily influenced by Far Eastern ideas, that are lumped together under the broad term “New Thought.” From these teachings (those of Charles Fillmore, founder of Unity School of Christianity; Earnest Holmes, founder of the Churches of Religious Science; and my personal favorite, A.K. Mozumdar, an Indian transplant) came today’s “pop psychology” and “self-help” movements. Norman Vincent Peale and even the infamous Pentecostal/Methodist healing evangelist Oral Roberts borrowed heavily from New Thought to formulate their positive spin on traditional Christian teaching. The Rev. Robert Schuller’s TV ministry also tapped into the resources of New Thought.

After leaving Christianity for good in the late 1960s, following my brief return to the Rock of Ages Church, I spent awhile with the Unitarians and with organized Humanism. Then I delved more deeply into New Thought. Yes, that work employs some of the buzz words of Christianity but the doctrine is MUCH different. It is a positive expression of our intrinsic self worth and a road map to better living through better patterns of thinking. (By way of contrast, about 15 years ago my wife attended a Mother’s Day tea with my now-deceased mother at her Baptist Church. The event’s speaker was a woman who railed against efforts of schools and others to raise the “self-esteem” of children. After all, they are sinners in need of the blood of Christ – to make them think otherwise might thwart their chances to be saved! Mom was thrilled with the presentation; my wife was disgusted.) Off and on over the years I have dabbled with this New Thought teaching and find that it is, in most respects, a rewarding way to deal with our world. I’ve also done a great deal of reading in Eastern religion and I’m aligned with several freethought (atheist or agnostic) organizations. An open mind is a refreshing one.

In closing I’ll recount an experience during my senior year in college. As I have said, I was active at St. David’s Episcopal Church but I’d heard about a church downtown, Bethel Temple, led by Dr. Alexander Schiffner. He had a nationwide radio broadcast and his teaching was known as “Anglo-Saxon Israelism,” the idea that Anglo-Saxons are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel and, therefore, the chosen people of God. Curious, I called this pastor and made an appointment to visit with him. He was kind and attentive, freely sharing of his ideas. He seemed to have everything wrapped up in an understandable package.

On my way back to campus I had to drive right past St. David’s. I saw Fr. Knight’s car in the lot, so I pulled in unannounced. He was happy to see me. I told him where I’d been and what I’d learned. He, too, was kind and attentive. After I made the statement that the other minister seemed to have all the answers and was secure and happy in that, Fr. Knight sat back, thought, and then said something very wise. “It is far better to feel somewhat unsettled while keeping an open mind than it is to close your mind by believing in something that is entirely false.”

While not expressive of the typical Christian outlook, that statement is, by far, the most meaningful and lasting thing I brought away from my experience with Christianity.

2/14/06                                                                                       View Comments

Losing my religion

sent in by Todd

This is my first time ever writing into a forum of this nature. Believe me, I never thought-just a few years ago-that I would ever question the faith that I have, essentially, been weened on.

I'm in my mid 20's and for the first time I am, openly, challenging and becoming disillusioned with my religious beliefs.

Grant it, I still believe in an omniscient supreme being. For personal reasons having faith does help me. However, I am not sure that I believe in the judeo Christian god anymore.

The more I read, study, rationalize, and reason the more the religion of my youth(and ignorance)is slipping through my fingers.

I guess a little bit about myself is in order.

I grew was born and raised in Houston, Texas. As far back as I can remember I was in the Baptist church, every single Sunday. When I was a small child I used to think the gray haired minister shouting down from the pulpit was god.

Anyway, as a child it just seemed the natural thing to do. Everyone was in church and involved in some way shape or form. It was definitely a good place for me to take a nap as a small child. Other than that I really had no interest. It was just the thing to do(even my alcoholic father went to church)...

My mother is a very spiritual woman(something I respect about her, immensely), and she never shoved religion and church down my throat. Infact, she gave me the choice of whether or not I wanted to attend church. However, the church was still very much apart of my life where I was raised up.

When I got to my teens I went through the obligatory teen angst B.S. and etc. I was really depressed back then. Part of it had to do with the fact that I'm gay. Back then I tried my best to repress my sexual feelings and deny that I even had them. Growing up I was taught that it was wrong and an abomination before god.

My older brother even told me that he would be the first person to put a rifle to my head if I ever became a homosexual. So, needless to say, gay people are frowned upon by the good "christians' where I'm from...

Anyway, my depression deepened and culminated into a suicide attempt. Fortunately, It did not happen...

I started looking for a way, any way, that would stop me from being depressed. I had just graduated highschool(which was a living hell), and looking for somewhere to fit in.

Soon, my mother started intervening with the bible and telling me that I should accept Jesus into my life. I was offended by that. I was so indoctorinated with religion that I thought I was a bad person for not being "saved" already. infact, kids in church got baptized regularly just so their parents would be happy(and so they could play in the water)...

Anyway, I started reading the bible and I really believed everything it said. I also believed that if I prayed hard enough my homosexuality would cease and desist.

Ironically, the next few days we had a family get together and my brother asked me whether or not I was "ready when the trumpet blows..."

I said, "Why? I think I am a good person. I will goto heaven..." I mean why would I goto hell? At that point it felt like I was in a living hell...

Then he said, "It has nothing to do with how good you are! If you don't accept Jesus you will die and goto hell..." And he said it with this look of satisfaction and glee...

Anyway, I got scared. I started reading the bible and praying more and more. I was on a spiritual binge. That very Sunday I decided that I would get saved so I could goto heaven.

I made an announcement to the church that I believed(and I truly did), and at that point I was "saved." I often wonder if I was a deaf mute would I still be saved, seeing as I would not have been able to confess my belief with my mouth?

Well, after I was confirmed and joined church I felt this new sense of happiness. I always attributed it to the Holy Spirit coming into me...But now I wonder whether or not it was because I finally found somewhere that I felt I belong?

As time went on I was heavily active in church. I joined ministries, and even an adult bible class. I felt really proud of myself because I was 19-years-old and enrolled in a course full of people over 30.

By this point I was in that, "New overly evangelical phase." The one where you are so high on the love of Christ that you feel the need to share it with everyone? I cringe when I think of that period in hindsight. I was, literally, one of those people testifying to people and telling them to accept Jesus or there would be no going to heaven. Even my mother was telling me I was a bit over the top...

I didn't care. Plus, church allowed me to not focus so much on my homosexuality(even though it was still an issue).

Anyway, approximately two years later my whole Christian idealism came tumbling down. To make a long story short, my pastor, it turns out, was having an affair with my then 13-year-old niece. My older brother set up a video camera and caught them, in the act, in my brother's(not the brother who told me I was going to hell...My oldest one) house. Needless to say there was this huge controversy that tore the church apart. My Ex-Pastor is now a registered sex offender...But that doesn't matter. He has a new church with lots of members from the old one. Apparently child molestation doesn't matter to some folks...

Furthermore, around that time, I was being mentored by a co-pastor. I really and truly respected this man. He was like a surrogate father to me. I wanted to be like him...But when the controversy happened he abandoned me when I needed him the most. I haven't seen him since, but I don't really care to...

After all of that I felt lost, like I had nowhere to go. So automatically I ran to the first church that one of my christian college friends told me about. I got into the groove again, so to speak.

Well, by this time I was really starting to get BORED out of my mind with church. At first I thought it was satan trying to steer me towards the path of unrighteousness...I tried praying about it and getting past that entire doubt stage. I couldn't help it. I did not care for the pastor nor the congregation. Everyone was so stuck up and putting on heirs...It was pathetic.

And it was one Sunday where the pastor stood up before the congregation and told us to shun a church member. Apparently the woman left her husband(who--I soon found out--was beating the hell out of her and cheating on her), kids in tow and refused to reconcile with him. The Pastor said that if the husband wants to reconcile then the wife is a sinner for turning her back on him. He went onto say that if we see her we should not talk to her OR even acknowledge her existence. My mouth fell open and hit the floor. There was no way in hell I was going to do that.

That was the last time I darkened that door step, nearly two years ago...

Now, this past year(after the infamous presidential election)I have been really having doubts and ambivalence towards my beliefs.

My entire life I was taught that the bible was the true and literal word of god. I wasn't supposed to question anything, just believe everything. That has been my entire life.

However, after finally acknowledging and embracing my homosexuality I have had to face the fact that my religion does not accept me as I believe that the creator made me...

Who is to say that the god of the bible is the right god? There are religions all over the world. So are they all going to hell just because they are not into Christianity?

If god hates my sexuality so much then WHY am I like this?

I tried prayer, supression, repression, and EX-GAY conversion therapy which didn't work. This is a natural part of what I am...

Furthermore, all of the contradictions in the bible have been rubbing me the wrong way completely.

If God is so perfect and infallible then why couldn't he give us ONE religion and ONE clear cut path to the stair way to heaven?

The bible is like reading a great piece of literature that got sent through a paper shredder. True, it is a good read but so much does not make sense. It doesn't compute...

Furthermore, I often wonder whether or not self acceptance and self love helped me with my issues of self esteem. For the first time in my life I feel like a complete and whole person, just being who I am...Why would that be a sin?

Why should I have to struggle to hold back something that is inside me?

Well, like I said, I still believe in A god...But I am wondering if I am completely disinterested in organized religion...

The arrogance of believing that ONLY people of a certain faith and lifestyle are going to heaven sickens me.

Also they are using christian love as a means to keep gay people from having all the same civil liberties. I am a young black American, and I remember not too long ago when my people were held back because "It was ordained by god and the bible."

The bible was written by men. I could just as easily write my own scriptures and make them a bible...

And if heaven is this amusement park of a place then why do we as human beings leave it and come to Earth? Don't get me wrong I believe in an Afterlife, BUT, I don't see anything wrong with having a beautiful life on Earth either...

Well, I am at the point where I feel myself pulling away...But I am so afraid of going to hell. I know it sounds derranged, but my religious upbringing is so much apart of me that I feel two parts of myself battling each other. I guess I am having a hard time no longer being in my comfort zone. It is almost like I've been blind for a long time and now I see differently...

Why would a just and loving god punish me for who I am?

Sorry for being so longwinded, but this is what I have been going through.


Texas
USA
I'm still in the process of figuring out if I am truly deconverting
Was: Southern Baptist and non denominational
Now: Spiritual but not religious...
Converted because: Because my brother told me I would miss the rapture and burn in hell.
De-converted because: Too many contradictions and unanswered questions in the bible.

2/12/06                                                                                       View Comments

My road to reason

sent in by Rob from the Netherlands

I was born and raised in Suriname (South America). My father was an inactive Catholic who experimented with different kinds of spirituality (or so he told me) and my mother was Lutherian. I have one brother who I grew up with (I have 2 more half sisters and a half brother, but I wasn't raised with them). We grew up as Catholics, went to church every Sunday but at home we weren't very active w.r.t. religion. We also went to Catholic primary and secondary schools. While in primary school (up to the age of 11) I accepted the gospel like hook, line and sinker. Still, it was during this time that the first act which would drive me away from Christianity occurred. At age 10 (1972) I got myself a kids book about astronomy and space travel. The sheer beauty of the Universe got a hold on me then and never again left me to this day. I remember most fondly that that book described Halley's comet and that it would return in 1986. I promised myself I would see it and I did :)

While growing up as a teenager I stopped believing in the creation myth, but I considered it a means to an end. In my opinion back then, if Mozes would have told the ancient Jews of evolution and the size of the Universe, he would be stoned to death. I still considered myself a Christian without actually considering what that meant. I was as dead a Catholic as my father was. My mother still went to the Lutherian church but religion wasn't really a topic of discussion at home. Aside from her Christianty she was (is) also a firm believer in astrology and loads of cultural based superstitions. I never really bought those, but as a young teen I did believe in astrology. If my mom said it's true it should be, shouldn't it? After I studied more astronomy as an older teen I disregarded astrology as anything viable. By the end of my teen years my parents went into a very ugly divorce and they are still not on speaking terms after appr. 25 years. I kinda flunked school in this period but I still managed to get into a bachelor-level study (4 years) to become a police lieutenant. This is the second event to drive my current opinion about Chritianity. The study included large amounts of penal law, and two of the most basic principles of penal law happen to be the principles of proportionality (punishments should match the crime) and "subsidiarity" (is that the correct English word? I.e. you cannot punish someone for someone else's crimes). In my opinion both are violated by Christianity.

During my police study I met my wife to be. She was (still is) a reformed Christian who came from a pretty conservative Christian family. After knowing her for four years I married her. We married in a reformed Christian church but we agreed to have our (then future) children to be baptised Catholic. The reason for that was that in those days there was IMO a pretty big quality gap between Catholic and non-Catholic schools and I didn't mind which Christian believe system they would be thought as long as they would get one. Still religion didn't play a big role in our lives, apart from the occasional church visits on Christmas or for baptism of my first son. One aspect of religion that I had very strong feelings about back then was that I refused every culture-religious act to be used on me or my family. For example, there was this blue stuff that was used in laundry for giving white clothes a "whiter" appeal. In (negro) culture-believes one should apply this stuff visibly on the forehead of babies to keep envy away. When my mother (ethnic mixed but mostly negro) wanted to apply this to my son I freaked out and I think she got the message regarding where I stood on the subject.

In 1990 I had to flee my home country for political reasons, leaving my pregnant wife and 1.5 year old child behind. I wouldn't see them again for 14 months. After short stays in French Guyana, the U.S. and Canada, I received a visa for the Netherlands and that's where I still am today. Many years passed and my considerations regrding Christianity didn't change. I was still the dead Catholic calling himself a Christian etc. What did change is that in the meantime my brother became a born-again Christian. At first he didn't know where he fitted in, but by now he found his homebase at the Baptist church. I don't really know what drove him, but it wasnt some life-changing event that might bring some people to hold on to Christianity. He slowly grew into it. By now he is a full blown reborn Baptist creationist. Though I personally think he deludes himself, I respect his opinions and I think he respects mine. He would like to talk about his religious convictions. This would make me start to think about the subject a little. I didn't really know the bible back then (I still don't actually) but it seemed clear to me that the creation myth was persented in the bible as a historical fact. Since this was in direct contradiction with what I knew of astronomy, I considered the bible wrong on that account and I started to wonder what else the bible was wrong about. I slowly started drifting away from what I used to believe regarding Christianity and I became something between a deist and an agnostic. I still considered it more likely than not that there should be some "driving force" that kept Nature and the universe from going haywire.

About a year ago I was apporached by a few "strongly reformed" Christians (in dutch "gereformeerden" which is a lot more fundie than the reformed Christians which is in dutch "hervormd"). These guys were passing out flyers and I started discussing Christianity with them. I laid out my argument why I considered myself an agnostic and stressed that I knew a bit (hobby-wise) about astronomy but little about evolution. Their arguments were of very mediocre quality and only capable of strengthening the belive of someone who was already convinced of Christianity, not for someone who isn't conviced at all. Still the word of one of the Christians present struck a nerve. He said quite literally: "You claim to know little to nothing of the evolution theory, still you defend it". The guy was right! I had to know more. It was the trigger to start digging on the internet. I discovered sites like TalkOrigins and the Secular Web. I also read much from the Skeptics Annotated Bible and a few articles from the Institute for Creation Research who IMO sometimes at least try to be a bit honest (see e.g. Danny Faulker's "The current state of creation astronomy"). Well, in high school I wasn't very interrested in Biology. During the Computer Science study that I once started I was confronted with elements of evolution in a seminar of Bioinformatics and in classes on Genetic Programming. But it wasn't until reading Chris Colby's "Introduction to Evolutionary Biology" (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-intro-to-biology.html) and something as simple as the april 2005 "post of the month" at talk.origins that I was really swept away with the beauty of evolution. A simple conclusion I came to is: if a chimp is a type of an ape, as is a gorilla and an orangutan, then so is man. The chimp has more genetic similariies with humans than it has with the orangutan. For me, this placed the position of humanity in a completely different scope. We are *not* special.

Like I said, I also stumbled upon the Skeptics Annotated Bible (http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/) and I learned things about the bible that I really didn't know, e.g. Numbers 31, 2 Kings 2:23-24 and Psalm 137:9 (why didn't Boney M finish the psalm in their song?). I must say I was and still am quite horrified by reading this. Take note that as I child I received quite an anti-islamic upbringing. I read personally the following verse from the Quran: "As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise." (Sura 5:38). I thought to myself, what terribly cruel religion will want to put something like this in their holy scripture? At least Christianity states: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). I was unpleasantly surprised to read of the terrible cruelties in the holy scripture of the religion that I considered just and loving (sort of) for most of my life.

So currently I came to the conclusion that I have a few major hurdles with Christianity, hurdles that I doubt I will ever overcome. First and foremost are the violations of proportionality in the teaching of eternal damnation. Granted, a few Christians believe in annihilation of the damned and if this would be the case I would have a lot less of an issue with it, but a punishment that would last eternal, however light the punishment, is disproportional to whatever temporal sin someone would have commited. Secondly I have issues with the "omnimax" features that are attributed to the Christian God. An omniscient being who creates object of which it foreknows that those beings will act against some rule and punishes those beings for it, is not omnibenevolent. I read a nice discussion between two Philosophers (Dr. Bradley and Dr. Craigh) regarding the compatibility of human free will and devine foreknowledge, and I side with Dr. Bradley that they are not. Thirdly, the more I read about scientific explanations of natural processes that were formerly only explicable by devine intervention, the more I see the unlikeliness of the existence of a God. It seems humans are very eager to want to explain everything and where they fail to do so the invent this unprovable entity to fit the gaps. I find the world around me to make a lot more sense without a God than with one. Lastly there are these specific issues I have with Christianity, some of which I didn't know to exist previously. I already explained the cruelties in the bible, but there's also the many inconsitencies in the bible and the monotheistic nature of the devine trinity. This just doesn't make sense. I read a response on this in "Answering the Atheist" (at lookingintojesus.net) where they compared Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit to be distinct entities but all God to person A, B and C to be differen persons but all being human. This still makes no sense because we don't claim that persons A, B and C are "one human".

Where do I stand now? I would still consider myself an agnost but an atheistic one. I don't think that the existence of a God can be proven or disproven but I see no need for any God. My wife knows that I have lost my faith but still has many difficulties accepting it. She still hangs on to her faith and the fact that her father passed away last year seems to have a lot to do with that. Personally I don't mind that even if she would become a strong believer, as long as we respect each others position. She did request that I "do not influence" our children and I made that promise. If they once decide that the Christian doctrine is not where they are happy they will come to the same conclusion as I did. I think this road should be a personal one. My parents and brother know how I feel and especially my father, the former dead Catholic who is now very involved in the Catholic church, has great difficulties accepting my views. For my in-laws I am still in the closet. They are a lot more conservaive so coming out, especially to my mother-in-law might do more harm than good. They always knew that I did not hold conservative views and that is sufficient for the mean time.

I am very happy to have found this forum. I find that there are many more people that share my views and that strengthens me in it. One thing that caught my attention in this formun but also on iidb.org is that there are many people who were devout Christians and knew the Christian arguments inside and out and still fell out of it, accepting all consequences and social pressure that comes along with that (with Joe Holman's story being a stunning example) while the stories of devout atheists (people who know the arguments against religion) who fall into Christianity are very rare even though the consequences of that road are minimal. Thank you all for sharing your stories, they are very supporting.

2/4/06                                                                                       View Comments

Just shake your head and nod

sent in by John

I grew up in a strick Catholic household. The pressures to live the Christian life are so powerful it's actually amazing that some of us come to the realization and reject it. I can remember times in my life where I was scared about going to hell. I remember feeling so alone during those times. I recall thinking, "I don't deserve to go to hell. What have I done to deserve it?"

Getting past those emotions, the emotions that are central to the stability and survival of the church, I decided to actually study the stuff. When I really looked at the Bible objectively, it all made sense. The Bible is clever and deceiving to the average person. Christians are taught early on that the synopic gospels are simply 3 different perspectives. However, Time tables can overlap, historical figures can overlap, details and inconsistencies become hard to detect, and if you are looking to confirm your faith, those discrepencies will not appear. It's amazing how many people can read over those details, and then claim the bible is free from any error. I found so many weird differences between Matthew and Luke for instance.

Although I don't believe in Christianity anymore, I still enjoy learning about the Bible. For a while my goal was to find as many discrepencies as possible so when a Christian would come up to me I would totally crush him scripture wise. But I learned religion doesn't work like that. People aren't going to believe you. Most people aren't going to think for themselves. Emotions, culture, ignorance, or whatever reason people have for their beliefs will remain unshake. Many Christians are the sheep that follow their shepherds. Instead of caring about what they believe, we need to pray that their leaders have good intentions. When any Christian comes up to me, I shake my head and nod. I don't argue. I don't get upset. I don't try to instill what I believe onto them, even though they might be doing that exact same thing. I don't really care. I just pray that they can live out their lives peacefully. For some people, Christianity is the only hope. It gives people a place to call home.

I think i'm like everyone else. I hope there is God. I hope that this place isn't the last. It just happens I can't accept Christianity (or any other world religion for that matter). But what I can say probably has it's roots in my old faith. We need to give up all the material shit in our lives and protect and defend what's fair. Televangelists that rob old people of their money and hope, Priests that molest boys for their own sick pleasure, cult groups that make their followers drink coolaid cyanide, and all sorts of other crimes are being committed. These are the shephards for some people!! Shake your head and nod to a benevolent Christian when they come up to you next. Somehow we have to find a way to ensure they're in safe hands.

The importance of evidence

sent in by Joshua

Some friends of mine have posted on this site and asked that I do the same. So, here is my story.

I grew up in Kansas. Christianity and church were a big part of my life. From the time I was very young I enjoyed church, Sunday school, singing hymns, and reading my children's Bible. When I went to college, I immediately joined a Bible study group and had an instant group of close friends. I felt that the people around me were good honest and hard working people. Christians like me wanted nothing more than strong marriages, well behaved children, good neighborhoods and good schools. I never had any bad experiences or anything like that. Yes, there were scandals from time to time, sexual and otherwise, which we good church folk loved to gossip about but overall my experiences were good ones.

After graduating I got a job in Los Angeles. I was a little nervous about leaving a Christian paradise to move to a sinful city but the offer was too good to refuse. The first thing I did after moving was seek out a church. Once again I instantly had new friends in a strange new place.

In LA, for the first time, I came in close contact with people of other religions, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, even a Zoroastrian. These people believed just as strongly in their respective religions as I believed in mine. I realised we couldn't all be right.

I also came in contact with atheists, agnostics and the just plain nonreligious. My next door neighbor to the left was a Wiccan. The neighbors to the right were a gay couple raising an adopted child. One was a stay at home parent. My boss was an agnostic. All of these people were good people, just like the folks back home. They all wanted the same things. Happy marriages, good kids, safe schools, and so on. They were all kind and helpful to me. The Wiccan neighbor took me grocery shopping every weekend, while I saved for a good car (you don't want to drive a crappy car on LA's freeways). Every morning, the gay neighbor drove me to a bus stop two miles away, so I wouldn't have to change buses, even though it was out of his way. My boss was always happy and friendly. He treated all his subordinates with the utmost respect.

I was forced to reevaluate my views on everything. Gays weren't evil and immoral. People didn't reject God or religion, just so they could behave immorally. They sincerely and honestly didn't believe. People of others faiths sincerely and honestly believed that their religion was true.

I started to seriously question my faith. How could I really know that Jesus was my savior. Where was the evidence to back up this belief? The Bible? Where was the evidence that the Bible was true? I realised that Jesus may have been a savior, or a madman, or a liar, or a figure who was mythologized by grieving followers. I have no way of knowing.

Faith is believing in something you can never know to be true. You choose to believe it but you have no evidence to back up that belief. The Muslim believes Muhammad was a prophet. Maybe he was. Or maybe he was a madman or a liar. Maybe Ganesh or Ahura Mazda is the real god. Maybe David Koresh was the real messiah. How can I know what is true and what isn't true without evidence?

I continued to go to church for a couple of months after losing my faith. I enjoyed the fellowship and the ritual. I had friends there. But I couldn't help looking around at all these people who claim to "know" the unknowable. I stopped going to church. I decided that from now on any belief I held had to be based on evidence of some kind.

When people ask me my religion I tell them I have none because I only believe what I can prove. Of course, I've heard a few stories from individuals who have had powerful spiritual or supernatural experiences that convinced them that God is real and their religion is true. The most recent story I heard was from a Muslim revert. Of course, the Muslim's supernatural experience reveals the truth of Islam, the Christian's the truth of Christianity, the Hindu's the truth of Hinduism and so on.

Religious belief is not rational or logical. It is often more powerful than reason or logic. You can point out contradictions in scripture, historical inaccuracies, OT prophecies that turned out to be wrong, violence and perversion in the Bible and so on. It doesn't matter. The desire to believe is stronger than the evidence against belief.

I truly feel sorry for religious people. People tithe, practice celibacy, wear burkhas, fast, and so on all out of belief in something they can never know is true. Generally, they believe because that's what their parents taught them, and their parents taught them, and so on. You can't convince them that it is not rational to expend so much time, energy and money on the unknowable.

I teach my children, 8 and 6, to be skeptical, to question everything. I teach them that a lot of people make claims that are not true and they try to deceive the gullible for their own gain. I tell them not to fall for deceptions and to think for themselves. Even though my life was good as a person of faith, it is better now that I am an openminded free thinker.

LA
CA
How old were you when you became a christian? Born into it
How old were you when you ceased being a christian? 24

Total Believer to Total Bullshit (now with less calories)

sent in by Joey JoeJoe Shabadoo

Well, it's been a long road and I imagine it will only get longer. All of this started when I was very young and as far back as I can remember my parents took me to the local Lutheran Church every Sunday (Missouri Synod - very traditional). The only way of not going was to be deathly ill. I don't remember ever being thrilled about going to church except to play with a couple kids that also went there. Going to church on Sunday morning was so ingrained into me that to not go just felt weird and strange. As I reached school age I was put into a private school that was pretty much run by Southern Baptists. So at that point religious instruction was an everyday thing (except on Saturday of course). My home life wasn't great but I have to say I miss those days (anyone remember Tom & Jerry cartoons, those were awesome, it was great to be young and innocent).

When I reached the middle school years the religious stuff started getting heavy. I had Bible class every day at that private school I was still going to and our teachers tried to not only instruct us in Protestant doctrine but also turn us into little loyal Republicans. At the time my mom voted Democrat and that didn't mean much to me but when I mentioned it one day there was an uproar at school. I made a note to never mention politics again. It was during this period (middle school and early high school) where I would say the most damage was done. The damage I'm referring to was to my critical thinking skills. All logic and reason were twisted beyond belief and sometimes I feel very angry that someone didn't help me. I know that would have been difficult at the time especially since I was steeped in a religious environment almost everyday. Even today I have some animosity towards my father because I feel he failed me as a parent to provide me with the critical thinking skills that are necessary to discern fact from bullshit.

Somewhere around 14 or 15 I became a very committed Christian and there was even a brief moment where you might say I had a religious experience. Not only did I believe everything about the gospel but I also bought the whole creationism bit too. I truly believed that 200 years of geological investigation were in error and that I was right. My faith was such that it didn't bother me a bit that I didn't know a thing about geology because I was sure I was right! I even believed that Catholics weren't real Christians and that they were going to hell. At this point, my faith was pretty much fundamentalist Southern Baptist which I'm sure you all know is almost beyond description (to someone not steeped in it).

After graduating from high school and spending some time in college off and on, I slowly became a little less religious and was more accepting of non-fundamentalist people. I started attending a covenant church and to this day I was never quite sure what they believed, but it was a friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I lapsed back into a very fundamentalist church again which unsettled me since sometimes they would preach things that I thought was bullshit (for example, babies, less than 1 year old, can go to hell). Somehow, what little critical thinking skills that were left slowly crept forward again and I started to think!!! I would formulate arguments in my head for both sides and run through the consequences. Some of these internal debates were again unsettling so I decided to research some of these things. I began to look into how the Bible was put together, who was involved in selecting the books, what manuscripts do we have today, etc. Over the course of a year or so I pretty much came to the conclusion that a lot of stuff in Christianity is bullshit and the rest consists of grand claims that are untestable. Also, in terms of form and function, Christianity is very similar to many other religions and the psychology of belief is pretty much the same for all religions. I am now an agnostic and hold the opinion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As far as I can tell, there are no deities and no grand plan for the universe. So I have decided to create my own purpose for my existence and hopefully contribute at least a little bit to our knowledge of the universe.

I just remembered what the trigger was that brought my critical thinking skills back into use. I was at the library and I read something by Richard Feynman and it was different than anything I could recall reading and it really got my neurons working again. Its a shame I didn't discover his writings earlier.

How old were you when you became a christian? 15
How old were you when you ceased being a christian? 24
What churches or organizations or labels have applied to you? Baptist
What labels, if any, would you apply to yourself now? Agnostic
Why did you become a christian? Really believed it was true
Why did you de-convert? the light of reason plus research

2/2/06                                                                                       View Comments

Returning to Sanity

sent in by Daniel M

I was raised in a Southern Baptist church in the heart of the Bible belt--SW Virginia, Appalachian Mountains. At 12, I did what I had always been taught I ought to do, which was "repent of my sins and accept Jesus as my savior". I was a somewhat precocious child, though, and always skeptical of Noah's Ark, Creationism, and always curious why so many people were not Xians. During my early teenage years, I was a voracious reader, and mostly enjoyed non-Christian material--fiction and science. I was exposed, through my ever-growing library, to a world of ideas which challenged my worldview. At 16, I had already developed pretty deep doubts about god's existence and attributes. When my father got cancer (a devout Xian) I lost all faith in the idea of a personal god. Unfortunately, I was also quite immature and emotionally unstable, and I started using pretty hard drugs during this time of intense confusion and pain.

To get "clean", a court and my parents decided a Xian rehab named "Teen Challenge" was the best answer for me. After 14 months there, this young, confused, hurting person came out a devout Xian again. I had stability in what I believed, and the evidence for god's existence was the "change" that god wrought in me. After all, I was drug free!! Nevermind that I was seriously programmed, and that during that 14 months there was absolutely no way I could've gotten drugs had I wanted to. Nevermind that my problem was a mental and philosophical crisis rooted in confusion and disillusionment, and not the drugs themselves. Nevermind that deep down, I never bought into the creationism because I already knew enough about science and reason to reject a literal reading of Genesis. I was 19, and fresh out of Christian boot-camp/rehab.

After slowly regressing over the period of years to a moderate Xian, I found I finally had the courage to acquire books that would help me to resolve some inner doubts and conflicts. After all, if the Bible was true, if God existed, I had nothing to fear by reading books about the history of the Bible, right?

A few years after beginning this spiritual quest, here I sit. Is it because I chose to believe lies, or because I finally exposed the ones I already believed?

I am now without god, so effectively and for all practical intents an atheist. However, I hesitate to use the label around most people because I still live in the south, am married to a Xian, and I cannot defend the intellectual position of god's nonexistence, and don't really care to argue with Xians anymore. I went through the phase of months and months of intense debate forum activity, but finally have come to a place of semi-ataraxia. I think losing religion was similar to a religious experience at first for me. It has been difficult at times, but in retrospect, I am profoundly grateful to be free of so much confusion and fear and irrationality.

Thanks to any and all who cared to read, and I hope you find the peace of mind that I have.