12/28/08                                                                                       View Comments

Once you know something, you can't un-know it

Sent in by SharonThe Deluge, Gustave Doré, 1832-1883. From the ...Image via Wikipedia

My journey out of fundamentalist Christianity began with an in depth study of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch). I asked myself a simple question "what if the Pentateuch was written by men for men? Could I give a thoughtful explanation for why Moses (or other writers of the Pentateuch) would create such stories. (Remember these stories were written during a time when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness - permanent camping!)

Space does not permit me to give the in-depth analysis here so I will just give the recap:

For ease of discussion I will refer to Moses as the writer of the Pentateuch, recognizing that there were probably several writers.

The Creation Story:

Why did Moses need a creation story? This is simple, he had competition. The first thing Moses had to establish was that his god was bigger better stronger and more powerful than all of the other gods. In ancient cultures everything that men could not control and did not understand (weather, sickness, infertility, the seasons, day, night, etc.) was controlled by gods. The gods were bigger than life men who lived in the "firmament" ie sky. You had to work very hard to keep the gods happy because if they weren't happy, you would have drought, or sickness, or infertility. So most of life consisted of doing things to keep the gods happy. Moses had to establish right off the bat that his god had created everything! so his god controlled everything! So keeping his god happy was the top priority!

By the way, Moses never said his god was the only god, he said his was the best god, the greatest god, kind of like my favorite sports team is the greatest, the "only one".

The Adam and Eve story:

Why did Moses need this story? For a couple of reasons. First of all Moses needed to establish in the minds of the people that women are inferior to men. The Adam and eve story does this nicely. Remember Moses is meeting with the men to give directions THEY MUST FOLLOW. These same men have to go home and tell the wife "here is what we are going to do". Women have a nasty habit of asking things like "why" and "how does that benefit me and my kids?" So Moses needed a construct that would allow men to believe that there own wives could not be trusted, after all look what happened to Adam when he listened to his wife. In addition he needed the women to believe that the men knew what was best for them, that they could not trust there own instincts.

I had to admit that the foundation of fundamentalist Christianity, and fundamentalist religion in general, was flawed and not trustworthy. The Adam and Eve story served another purpose. In Egypt there were two things the women had they did not have in the wilderness: birth control, and pain medication. Yes in Egypt archaeological digs have shown both, albeit primitive by todays standards, but better than nothing! So the Adam and Eve story (and the Creation story) conveniently COMMAND men to have as much sex as they can talk their wives into (be fruitful and multiply) and then leave the women with no recourse when it comes to the pain of childbirth, because it is God's will, i.e., the curse on Eve as a result of The Fall.

The Noah story:

What purpose does this story serve? I don't have the space to give a detailed accounting of any of these stories, remember I am only hitting the highlights with the main question being "how does this story benefit Moses?"

So how did Moses and his relatives benefit from this story? It served a two-fold purpose. First it established that his god could wipe out the entire world! His god sent a flood! I think the Noah story has some element of truth, insofar as ancient cultures experienced natural disasters just as modern cultures do today (i.e., Katrina). In ancient cultures all such disasters were explained as occurring because the gods were not happy. Moses just said that the flood everyone had heard about was caused by HIS god, the biggest, baddest, to be feared, and to be worked for god in the pantheon of gods of that day.

This story also served another purpose. Food. Specifically the food Moses and his relatives ate every single day, (including on the Sabbath day). One of the first things Moses did when they got out into the wilderness was to set up his own personal barbecue pit, i.e., the Tabernacle. Yes, contrary to popular belief the animals that were slaughtered at the tabernacle were not completely burned up, they were eaten by Moses and his relatives Aaron and Aaron's sons (not daughters!). Leviticus gives detailed instructions on how this food was to be prepared, by whom it was to be prepared, and who was allowed to eat it. Everywhere the word "burnt" is used substitute the word "cooked". Remember these are ancient people barbecuing while camping, they have no way of knowing when food is done cooking, plus they have no way of controlling the fire. As fat drips on the fire guess what you get? flare ups of flame that burn the food, hence "burnt offerings". I will quote one scripture from Leviticus 6:26:
"The priest that offereth it for sin SHALL EAT IT: in the holy place shall IT BE EATEN,..." (emphasis is mine). Lev.6:29 "All the MALES among the priests SHALL EAT THEREOF:..." (emphasis mine).

So let's get this straight. Moses and his top generals (i.e., his brother Aaron, and Aaron's sons) get to eat fresh barbecued meat everyday. There are plenty of "sins" for which it is necessary to bring your BEST lamb, calf, bull, etc. to Moses and his relatives for their daily steak, (remember the priests are eating the best cuts of meat), while the "common" people are eating seeds! Remember the "manna from heaven"? If you read closely this "bread" is made by the people at home out of seeds that they have to go out each day and gather. While at the same time they are taking their best meat to Moses and his priests to eat! Sounds like a good deal for Moses, et. al.

So back to the Noah story. A careful reading shows that Noah took MORE of the "clean" animals. What was a "clean" animal? A "clean" animal was an animal you could eat! Hence the first thing Noah did after the flood, was to set up an altar (everywhere that word is used in the OT substitute the word "barbecue pit"), and ate a real meal!

So the Noah story also establishes what food is acceptable to Moses's god. Only the freshest (less than a year old lamb), with no sign of sickness or injury (no "blemishes"), and only food from your own flocks and herds (don't be bringing me no squirrel to eat!) Get the idea?

Now I have covered three of the most well known and debated stories in the Pentateuch. By asking a simple question "did Moses benefit from these stories, and is so, how?" I was quickly able to ascertain that the "Holy Book" was written by men for the benefit of those men. It was a short leap to go from there to asking the same question about the well known stories in the New Testament. Did Jesus walk on the water? What about the virgin birth? A few simple Internet searches and lo and behold, ancient cultures have always had deities that were born of a virgin!

One by one I began to pick apart each story, easily! Until I finally had to admit this book was written by men and no more "inspired by the Holy Ghost" than say Shakespeare.

I loved this book. It was a sad day when I had to set this book down, and admit that it was written by ancient people for ancient people.

And so I had to admit that the foundation of fundamentalist Christianity, and fundamentalist religion in general, was flawed and not trustworthy.

It's an odd thing. Once you know something, you can't un-know it. Which is why I think religions work so hard to keep their people from being exposed to other points of view. Because once you see things from another point of view, you can't un-see it.




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The Christian salvation message is the downright stupidest thing to listen to

Marble Jesus StatueImage of Jesus via FlickrSent in by fisheroffish

Oh Boy, where to start?

I was raised in a very hypocritical Christian family. My father had a particularly mean spirited approach to religion and Church, and I can remember hating Sunday mornings. My family attended church regularly up until 10 years and attended sporadically after that. I was "saved" at the age of 6. I remember witnessing to kids in school about Christ.

After my family quit attending church regularly I drifted from the practice of faith and really didn't think of God much until I became deathly ill while on vacation in Russia in my 20s. Alone and in agony, I called out to God for help and somehow I stumbled from a dirty and pathetic hospital out onto the streets, chanced upon a bus station which ran to the airport, and hopped a flight home to the US. Five weeks later I made a recovery with the help of a modern and clean US hospital.

At the end of this ordeal, I had lost 50lbs from an already thin, athletic frame. I credited my recovery to help from God and his guardian angels. This is where I recommitted my life to Christ, sought a Christian wife, got involved in a church, lead a Bible study, and even lead some poor fools to Christ.

This wasn't good enough for me though. I wanted more. I wanted to know God, to see his face, to love him completely with all my being. And this was the beginning of the end of my faith.

My first task was to read the Bible through fully from start to end. After the first reading I was amazed at God, but still a little confused about some things like the book of Job, where God entertains a little wager with the devil (How is that possible?), and where Isaiah says that the messiah would return in 40 years, Jesus appeared 490 years later, and the Jews are still looking for his appearance. So I read it again. During, this time I also read the Koran to try to understand why the Muslim world hates us so (the Koran is even more screwed than the Bible). This brought up more questions, but I still believed that the bible should be interpreted literally, and was amazed at God. I read the book "Practice of the Presence of God" and tried to follow its recommendations, which I might add was a total waste of time. So now on to my third reading, here is where I began to struggle. Not from the readings, but from the observance of pain and injustice in the world.

For instance, 25,000 children die from the effects of malnutrition in the world every day. A question popped up in my head, "How could a loving, merciful God let this happen?" To further bring this tragedy home, I theorized that many of these children come from Christian families. I pictured many thousands of mothers and fathers praying for a scrap of food or sip of milk for their dying child. God would not answer that day, today, or tomorrow. My mind reeled, "God would not refuse to hear and answer their prayers, there must be another answer: Ah, God can't hear. Why? Because he is not real." This sent my Christian brain into crisis mode. I turned to the Bible for answers, there were none. I turned to the assistant pastor of the Church; he could not help but insisted I must have faith.

Two years later I am a confirmed atheist, I believe not in Gods or Devils, Demons or Angels. I revel now in the immense richness and fullness of the natural world. I am repulsed at the "narrow-mindedness" of nearly all the religions of the world. I now see that for people of average or greater intelligence that reading the Bible is a road to loosing faith. If you truly try to understand the God of the Bible by reading and not by just listening to your preacher, you will find a God of contradictions, a jealous, unmerciful, cruel God, who demands your love and obedience and threatens eternal pain and misery if you don't.

Pssst. Never fear! He isn't real! I don't have to think that God is someone watching me all the time and I can catch fish, not because of God's blessing, but by a combination of skill and chance.

My troubles are not over however, as I still have a very Christian wife (who has not read the entire Bible) and an extended Christian-bigoted family. I see myself as a lone outpost for reason. Every time I question a statement of faith from my wife, it sends her into tears. I know she is thinking that I am going to hell, or that I will corrupt our children's minds. I have been encouraging her to read the Bible for herself, but it will be a hard struggle for her as it was for me. I am afraid of being shunned by my parents and have not told them yet. I still attend Church to show my wife that I love and support her, but don't know how much longer I can listen to this dribble.

The salvation message has to be the downright stupidest thing to listen to for the never before Christians, it is amazing that I was ever saved in the first place. I think it was only due to the thorough brain washing I received as a child.

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12/27/08                                                                                       View Comments

The more I learned of other myths and the history of Christianity, the less I could convince myself that God existed

{{Potd/2008-05-29 (en)}}Image via WikipediaBy Andrea

People do strange things when they "Find Jesus." Suddenly, your best friend won't talk to you anymore, or your punk loving drummer quits the band. They can't do anything on Sundays, and they won't hang out with you at the pool hall.

I didn't find Jesus; I was born with him. Losing faith is both terrifying and simple at the same time. First you follow the routine. I was baptized as an infant, into the Catholic Church, and from then until I was about ten I went to church nearly every Sunday morning.

As a child, you believe what your parents tell you, they say that the world is round, so it is round. They say that God is real, and that He loves you, and so He is and He does. They tell you that Santa exists, and will bring presents if you are good, and keep your room clean. You keep your room clean, and are a good girl, and on Christmas you find presents under the tree signed From Santa. If you had any question about the existence of God, the presence of Santa reassures you.

You dress up in your favorite dress, wear your pretty shoes, you take your mom's hand, and you sit in the pews. You are told to sit still, and you go to Sunday School in the middle of Mass, because you and the other ten-year-olds can't sit still, and the priests know it.

Many people do this for the rest of their lives. They wake up early on Sunday mornings, put on their nice clothes, and go to church. My regular attendance stopped around the age of 10 or 12. I was due to go through conformation that year, the Catholic way of re-affirming that you believe in God, and He wasn't just forced upon you, because you really didn't have any say in the matter at your baptism.

My mom got a job that required her to work on weekends a lot, and Dad already had a sporadic work schedule. Even without these changes, I may not have gone through conformation. Everything that I needed the word "believe" to define had been proved fictional. Magic, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus. Could I truly kid myself into believing that God wouldn't be next?

Paralleling the disappearance of all things magical in my belief system was a deep-set interest in folklore and fairy tales that eventually led me to mythology. Somewhere between reading A Treasury of Classical Mythology cover to cover and discovering an entire section in the library devoted to the myths of other cultures, I came to the realization that these stories had once been held as hard facts. There were people as devoted to the worship of Zeus and Aphrodite as any modern evangelical Christian is devoted to his god.

Humans had been sacrificed in the name of some South American Gods; animals had been sacrificed to most European Gods. Fasts, and prayers, and wars had happened in the name of ancient divinities that most people today are not even aware of. Had there been any repercussions? What made the Christian, Hebrew, Islamic, or Hindi gods any more powerful, likely, or real than the ancient forgotten divine?

Still, these Gods had been forgotten; passed over as the impossible beliefs of ignorant pagan man. If the god of Christians is the one true God, does that mean that millions of people have been damned because they had no concept of monotheism?

Aztecs believed that their gods needed help fighting the night. They sacrificed people to feed their gods, and give them the strength to fight off the night. If they didn't feed their gods, the Aztecs believed that the world would end. It has been hundreds of years since the last sacrifice to the Aztec's Gods, and the sun still rises every day.

In a thousand more years, there will be another religion, and the current ideals of gods will be put under the category of "mythology." The religion of the Norse also fell in the path of Christianity. Their nature oriented belief and heaven of drinking and fighting died not by Ragnaok, the Norse version of Armageddon, but by conversion.

The Celts, the Greek, the Romans and the Inca each had belief systems that lasted hundreds or thousands of years, yet are shrugged off today by people as ‘myth.’ While judging these as fiction people read their own holy books filled with stories of creation and morals pulled straight from the myths that they disbelieve. If these religions didn't last, and nothing happened when they disappeared, what makes us believe that modern religions are any different?

I don't believe that modern religion is any different. It is here, and it comforts some people and scares others into conformity. In a thousand more years, there will be another religion, and the current ideals of gods will be put under the category of "mythology."

How does this belief influence my life? I am just about the same as anyone else my age. I am a little bit more careful about who I discuss religion with, because for some reason most people are more comfortable around other people with a similar faith.

Between the ages of 12 and 15 I suffered through the stages of grief that I find inevitably follow the loss of any great force in one's life. I denied the feeling that something wasn't right, and that God could not exist; but the more I learned of other myths and even the history of Christianity, the less I could convince myself that God existed. In the process of losing faith I did more research on a variety of different beliefs than most other people my age. Growing up with something to believe in makes losing that safety net hard to do.

Then I went to anger, as one will. Hating the con that I had been sucked into, the fact that I had wasted so many useless hours at Church, and reading the most boring, violent, bigoted work of fiction ever to be written. Following on the heels of anger was depression, a state that was not helped by the fact that my sister would burst into tears when I mentioned that I no longer believed in God.

Finally I made it to acceptance, and my belief that this is it, when I die, game over, there is nothing more, makes me want to get the most out of life. I spend my time with people that I love, because there is no point in wasting time with superficial people, learning things that are interesting, doing things that are fun, reading books that draw me in, and sleeping in on Sundays.

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12/24/08                                                                                       View Comments

A Brief Instruction Guide

Criticism of atheismSupreme Impiety, Atheist and Charlatan
by Barthélemy Aneau (1552) via Wikipedia
...for destroying someone's faith.

By Josh

In 2006 I was an evangelical Christian ready to go out into the world and "Live for Christ" as its called. In two short years, my religious views would continue moving left until I became what I am today, which is... well... I am not sure. For simplicity, we'll call me an atheist. Any god I can see myself believing in would not be much of a god at all. I'd like to tell how this happened.

During my senior year of high school, I had left my mother's Lutheran church to go to the church my friends went to: a conservative evangelical Missionary church that had a youth group, a rock band, and pastors that seemed to care about the youth in their church. All of these things I felt were lacking in the church I grew up in. After all, how could anyone expect me to worship God without music played on guitars? The church was fun and my friends went there. It was the first time I actually looked forward to attending church on Sunday mornings.

Everything was great. I thought I finally had my faith on track. Each Sunday after the service I walked out the front doors with an emotional high I had never felt before. But soon guilt began to plague me. The warm feelings faded when they were no longer "new" and I assumed I was to blame. I obviously must not be spending enough time with God, or I must be sinning too much, or I must be relying too much on myself and not on God, or I need to read the Bible more, and so on, and so on. The guilt piled up. So I began to realize that the two churches I had attended regularly during my life were much the same.

At some point during this time I decided to attend Huntington University--a conservative evangelical Christian private college in the Midwest. (Yep.) It was expensive, but the payoff would be the "Christian atmosphere", I told myself.

Ha.

It is possible that the things I saw (and continue to see) at Huntington are the result of simply being immersed in a particular culture. It is easy to pick on certain issues with Christianity when it is concentrated all around you. There were a handful of people there that represented the worst in Christianity: Judgmental. Self-righteous. Hypocritical. I remember I met a girl who accused my roommate's father -- whom she had never met -- of being a "bad pastor" because he listened to secular music such as U2! Really? IT'S U2! I could catalog the abuses the school and some of its students have caused me, but that is beyond the point of this particular article, and thinking about such things puts me in a bad mood.

I obviously wanted to separate myself from the more self-righteous Christians there. I began to think about various issues found in Christianity and form reasoned, Bible-based opinions about them. I supported rights for homosexuals and became pro-choice. Some people might wonder how I can call my opinions "Bible-based," but these beliefs are much closer to the teachings of Christ than the alternative views as long as you lay down your biases before opening the Bible. (Well, the New Testament anyway.)

The more I learned about Christianity (in required "Christian" classes and from discussions with friends), I found more and more issues. The obvious paradoxes in God's "omni-" adjectives, the problem of evil, and the condemnation of most of the world's people needed explanations. I became a very inclusive open theist. I went to the point where only the extremely bad people in the world were heading to hell, whether or not they were "Christians." This allowed me to forget, for a while at least, the guilt Christianity brings.

Months later I had a crisis of faith. I made a chart of the things I said I believed in, things like "Going to church is good," "Reading the Bible is important," "Sharing my faith is important," "I need faith to get me through difficult times," etc. In a second column I check marked the beliefs I actually acted upon. On a list of about ten things, I think I checked maybe one or two. I didn't tell this to anyone.

A day or so later a friend and I were working on brief one-page autobiographies (a required element of our student teaching applications). We both had written these a year or so before but they needed revision and editing. She asked me for advice on what paragraphs she should delete to get under the one-page maximum. I said I wasn't sure, and then she asked me if it would be a good idea to take out the paragraph she wrote about the importance of her faith (the "Jesus paragraph" as she called it) I said I didn't know. (A lot of help I was!) She asked me if I had kept my Jesus paragraph. I took another look and realized there had never been a "Jesus paragraph" in my autobiography at all! It never even crossed my mind! Apparently, Jesus was not very important in my life. That's when I realized I had been living without Christ for quite a while, and had been doing just fine. I no longer needed God, or religion. Finally, I could shed the burden of Christianity -- guilt, being associated with intolerance and self-righteousness, having to try and reconcile my faith with science, and so on.

I encourage anyone reading this to take a look at their beliefs. If they are causing you guilt or other problems, get rid of them. Life is too short.

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12/23/08                                                                                       View Comments

I don't NEED to believe in anything anymore

Let the Storm BeginImage by Storm Crypt via FlickrSent in by PrincessJo

Well, where do I come from? A world of Jesus, submission to men, God and parents, homeschooling and home churches. A world that would prove to be full of abuse, manipulation and illusions created by crazy men.

My family was part of a conservative world which many mainstream Christians like to dismiss or ignore. We were part of the homeschooling fanatics; and many of our friends were right into "God plans your family": and there was always a sense of us vs. them (the "world").

I was very involved in all it growing up, right up to my mid teens. I could quote Bible verses like no tomorrow. I was very self righteous, and thought I had it all figured out. I truly believed that we as Christians were destined for heaven and the worldly for hell. How wrong was I?

That world that I thought was so fantastic? Well it wasn't. It was a world created by men who had agendas. And sadly many of those agendas included daughters and abuse. I was lucky compared to many: I had it bad, but not as bad as many others. And there were many others. 90% of my peers growing up experienced some form of abuse.

After all of it came out in my mid-teens I was truly at a loose end: I didn't know what to believe. I clung to the old beliefs for a long time, trying to deny the reality. I kept up a facade of belief, going to church, following the bible: being the perfect Christian.

It was only when I hit uni that things started to change. I started having gay people as friends and realised that they weren't as evil as my parents had made them. That in fact, they were less judgmental than many people I had known in the Christian Church. I found that everything I had been warned away from I now enjoyed and loved: non-Christian music for example, or a good party.

And then there was my partner, whom I lived with. The guilt kicked in, helped along amply by my mother, who by this time had divorced my father, but still chose to cling to the old ways. We survived as a couple, just, but we did it: and are getting married now 3 years later: in a registry office, not a church.

My spiritual journey took a little longer. I find the 'church' as an organisation abhorrent now. After all, a Baptist church helped keep many abuses perpetrated by one man hidden for nearly three years until outside forces took hold and did something.

It took me longer again to let go of "God". In fact, I think you could argue I still haven't let go of the idea of an "ultimate being". Yes, I no longer believe in an Abrahamic God. Yes, I no longer believe in the Bible as the book to end all books, as the ultimate truth (I love some of the stories etc, but many just leave me appalled). But there is still a part of me who clings to vague idea of an ultimate being. And I am ok with that. I don't NEED to believe in anything anymore. I get to choose my own belief system, my own morals.

And ultimately, I think that has made me a better person. I don't feel so guilty anymore, even though there are times when the old ways call.

I am me. Not God's child. Not a sinner. Not loved by Jesus (hell he doesn't even know I exist: he has been dead for quite a while now). I am not going to hell. I am a person and I have a life without fear of an ultimate being who likes to crush and destroy people.



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12/22/08                                                                                       View Comments

Outside Christianity is a whole new world of discovery and endless possibility

Typical view of the Doubtful Sound.Typical scenery in the "Doubtful Sounds"
of New Zealand, via Wikipedia
Sent in by Josh

Hello everyone, I'd like to share my own de-conversion story, in the hopes that it might encourage others who may have their own doubts.

To say I grew up in a Christian home is an understatement. My parents were missionaries, believing the Bible as the literal Word of God. I accepted Christ at age 4. We lived overseas on the island of Guam and then the country of Sri Lanka, all the while my parents believing they were doing the Lord's work.

We moved to Raleigh, North Carolina as I entered high school. I involved myself heavily in youth ministry at our church. I remember thinking how great it would be to live in a country surrounded by other Christians, as opposed to the third world, Buddha worshiping country that Sri Lanka was.

Looking back, my high school time was the hardest on our family. My father's missionary salary no longer supported the high cost of living, and my mother had to find a job. Our family spent little time together, and I remember several times going to church alone because my parents were just too exhausted from working.

After high school, I attended Word of Life Bible Institute in New York to make sure my faith was strong before I entered college. The whole year was spent studying the Bible, doing missions work and sitting in Bible classes. I came back from that time 'on fire' for Christ. Or so I thought.

I attended my old church and became a youth leader. Missions trips, camps, bible studies, small groups, teaching, I did it all. I also went to school full time and worked. It didn't matter that I was exhausted all the time, I was serving Christ. I didn't question it.

However, as you can probably guess, I began to feel empty, burnt out and used. I would give and give and give to the ministry and all the church would do was ask for more. "The fields are ripe but the workers are few." I must have heard that line a thousand times, in and out of church.

I began to skip a Sunday here and there, for it was the only time off I had from work and school. Going back the Sunday after skipping, I would often get a guilt treatment of "Where were you last Sunday? We needed you," instead of "we missed you last week, I hope every thing is OK."

Well, at the time, I rationalized that it was some sort of 'sin' to miss church, and that other members were right in confronting me about it. This inevitably led to more guilt, however.

As weeks went by, I spent more time with people who didn't judge how I spent my time or how much I gave to the church; basically my non-Christian friends. They never thought less of me for sleeping in on Sundays, they seemed genuinely concerned if I hadn't seen them in a while, and they didn't mind if I occasionally could make it to a movie or party with them. Basically, my non-Christian friends were more loving and caring than my Christian ones.

From there, I began to question my involvement in church and what I was actually getting out of it. It wasn't a long jump from there to asking "Is Christianity really the truth?"

I began to read a variety of non-Christian books and authors that argued against Christianity, to see maybe if I could disprove my doubts. I still attended church on a fairly regular basis, thinking that I shouldn't turn my back just yet on a faith that had been with me my whole life.

For me, the final nail in the coffin actually came in the form of three nails, all within a short time of each other.

The first nail was Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus." This book cast doubt on the inspiration of scripture by pointing out that none of the original copies of the texts had been preserved, so what makes us think it was inspired by God to begin with?

The second nail came in the form of looking into the creation/evolution debate. For years I believed the creation story, but as I read more and more about evolution and its role in life, my beliefs dissolved away. For what had appeared to be complex and perfectly formed life turned out to be not so complex and rife with imperfections the more I studied biology. Authors like Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould, people I would refer to in spitting disgust, now brought to me wonderful words of enlightenment.

The third and final nail came in the form of an unanswered prayer. One guilt-ridden Sunday I made the decision to stop going to church altogether. I would wait three weeks to see if anyone noticed. I prayed to God that if He was listening, and if He was real, that someone from my church would contact me. A phone call, an email, even a chance meeting somewhere would convince me to go back. Heck, even a Christian bumper sticker might work. I prayed long and hard that my doubts were wrong, that God really existed, and that Jesus Christ was just waiting for me to ask for Him to reveal Himself to me.

Guess what? The God of the Universe, the Savior of Mankind, the Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent Creator of the World was silent. Silent! No calls, no emails, no chance meetings, no bumper stickers! Nothing! Three weeks of silence! I had been on missions trips, taught Sunday school, given my testimony, helped with summer camps, winter camps and even led others to Christ, and I couldn't even get a five-second email fired off to me saying "Hey, where ya been?"

At that point, I felt like a great burden had lifted. I no longer felt guilty about missing church, I no longer cared about lustful thoughts, greedy desires or the fact that I actually wanted to spend some of my time doing things I liked, instead of 'serving' God.

From there, its been two years, and I have not looked back. When I told my parents (they lived in another state now) they were disappointed, but still loved me. My dad still prays that I come out of this 'spiritual valley' but for me its like walking through a door and closing it behind me.

When I was deep in the faith, preachers and pastors often used the act of coming to Jesus Christ being like setting a prisoner free from a cage of sin. I say that leaving Christianity behind was like stepping out of the confining, narrow bars of faith into a whole new world of discovery and endless possibility.



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12/21/08                                                                                       View Comments

I whispered to myself: "There is no god"

Description unavailableImage by cengiz.uskuplu via FlickrSent in by Lukeprog

Ah, the life of a pastor’s kid!

I grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota – a town of 5,000 people and 22 Christian churches (at the time). My father was (and still is) pastor of a small, non-denominational church. My mother volunteered to support overseas missionaries around the world.

I went to church, Bible study, and other church functions every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creation science. I played in worship bands and maintained the church’s technology. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the atheists over there about Jesus.

I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by Him to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.

At age 19 I got depressed, probably because I did nothing but work at Wal-Mart, download music, and watch internet porn. But one day I saw a leaf twirling in the wind and it was so beautiful – like the twirling plastic bag in the movie American Beauty. I had an epiphany. I realized that everything in nature was a gift from God to me. Grass, lakes, trees, sunsets – all these were gifts of beauty from my Savior to me. I thought of this every time I saw something beautiful, and God lifted me out of my depression.

I read Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, a manual for how to fall in love with God so that following his ways is not a burden, but a natural and painless product of loving God. My dad and I read lots of this Christian self-help stuff. We shared our latest discoveries with each other and debated theology.

I moved to Minneapolis for college and was attracted to a Christian group led by Mark van Steenwyk. Mark’s small group of well-educated Jesus-followers were postmodern, “missional” Christians: they thought loving and serving others in the way of Jesus was more important than doctrinal truth. That resonated with me, and we lived it out with the poor immigrants of Minneapolis.

The seeds of doubt

By this time I had little interest in church structure or petty doctrinal disputes. I just wanted to be like Jesus. So I decided I should try to find out who Jesus actually was. I began to study the Historical Jesus.

What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?

These revelations scared me. It was not what I had wanted to learn. But now I had to know the truth. I studied the Historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, the Bible, theology, and the philosophy of religion. Almost everything I read – even the books written by conservative Christians – gave me more reason to doubt, not less.

I started to panic. I felt like my best friend – my source of purpose and happiness and comfort – was dying. And worse, I was killing him. If only I could have faith! If only I could unlearn all these things and just believe. I cried out with the words from Mark 9:24, “Lord, help my unbelief!”

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to believe what I knew wasn’t true. On January 11, 2008, I whispered to myself: “There is no God.”

The next day I emailed my buddy Mark:

I didn’t want to bother you, but I’m lost and despairing and I could really use your help, if you can give it.

I made a historical study of Jesus, which led me to a study of the Bible, historical and philosophical arguments for and against God, atheist arguments, etc. It has destroyed my faith. I think there is almost certainly not a God…

I’m fucking miserable… I told my parents and they sobbed for 30 minutes. Can you help me?

As always, Mark responded with love and honesty. But he didn’t give me any reasons to believe. He said he believed mostly for the “aesthetics of belief” and his “somewhat mystical experiences of Christ.” He wrote, “In a way, I am a Christian because I want to be one, and the logic flows from there.”

I also wrote a defiant email to an atheist radio show host to whom I’d been listening, Matt Dillahunty:

I was coming from a lifetime high of surrendering… my life to Jesus, releasing myself from all cares and worries, and filling myself and others with love. Then I began an investigation of the historical Jesus… and since then I’ve been absolutely miserable. I do not think I am strong enough to be an atheist. Or brave enough. I have a broken leg, and my life is much better with a crutch… I’m going to seek genuine experience with God, to commune with God, and to reinforce my faith. I am going to avoid solid atheist arguments, because they are too compelling and cause for despair. I do not WANT to live in an empty, cold, ultimately purposeless universe in which I am worthless and inherently alone.

I hope that I find a real, true God in my journey of blind faith. I do not need to convince you of that God, since you seem satisfied as an atheist. But I need to convince myself of that God.

Matt responded to my every sentence with care, understanding, and reason. But I still tried to hang onto my faith. For a while I read nothing but Christian authors. Even the smartest ones just made lots of noise about “the mystery of God.” They used big words so that it sounded like they were saying something precise and convincing.

My dad told me I had been led astray because I was arrogant to think I could get to truth by studying. Humbled and encouraged, I started a new quest to find God. I wrote on my blog:

I’ve been humbled. I was “doing discipleship” in my own strength, because I thought I was smart enough and disciplined enough. [Now] having surrendered my prideful and independent ways to him, I can see how my weakness is God’s strength.

I’ve repented. I was deceived because I did not let the Spirit lead me into truth. Now I ask for God’s guidance in all quests for knowledge and wisdom.

I feel like I’ve been born again, again.

It didn’t last. Every time I reached out for some reason – any reason – to believe, God simply wasn’t there. I tried to believe despite the evidence, but I couldn’t believe a lie. Not anymore.

No matter how much I missed him, I couldn’t bring Jesus back to life.

Later…

I don’t recall how it happened, but eventually I found out that I could be more happy and moral without God than I ever was with him. I “came out” as an atheist to my family, friends, and church. They were surprised, but they still loved me. They were much more concerned when two elders of my church decided they were Catholic. I bonded with them briefly because the three of us were suddenly outcasts.

I had stubbornly resisted my deconversion, but these days I am excited to accept reality, no matter what it is. I remember when I finally realized the problems inherent to my precious Libertarianism. I was not dismayed or resistant; I was thrilled.

This comfort with truth unleashed my curiosity about Christianity and religion in full force. In my studies I uncovered lots of false facts and dishonest arguments from Christians and atheists. Each discovery only deepened my hunger for knowledge, but also my realization that humans know very little, and with little certainty.

Looking back

Looking back, I feel lucky that I left God for purely rational reasons instead of emotional ones. Indeed, all my emotions were pushing the other way.

But that’s probably not the norm. I bet most atheists today have lost their faith for irrational, emotional reasons – or else they were raised as atheists. When I went to the premiere of Bill Maher’s Religulous – one of the few blatantly atheist films released in America – almost the entire crowd was gay. I remember thinking they were probably atheists because the church rejected them, not because they knew the logical fallacies of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

In many ways I regret my Christian upbringing. So much time and energy wasted on an invisible friend. So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.

But mostly I’m glad this is my story. Now I know what it’s like to be a true believer. I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart. I know what’s it like to experience his presence.

I know what it’s like to isolate one part of my life from reason or evidence, and I know what it’s like to think that is a virtue. I know what it’s like to earnestly seek the truth but still be totally deluded.

I know what it’s like to think that what I believe, or what my loving pastor says, or what my ancient book says, is more true than what reason and evidence say. I know what it’s like to think faith is a strength, not a gullible weakness.

I know what it’s like to be confused by the Trinity, the failure of prayers, or Biblical contradictions but to genuinely embrace them as the mystery of God. I know what it’s like to believe God is so far beyond human reason that we can’t understand him, but at the same time to fiercely believe I know the details of how he wants us to behave.

That was my experience for 22 years, and I am grateful for it. Now I can approach believers with true understanding.





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12/16/08                                                                                       View Comments

Christianity didn't offer me any deeper answers

Sun raysImage by fmc.nikon.d40 via FlickrSent in by David S

First of all, welcome to my testimonial. I hope you will find it a refreshing view of what caused this average Joe to find God, walk with Him for a few years, and ultimately reject all religious beliefs in Gods.

I must warn you... Due to the fact that I was raised by two college professors who spent a lot of their careers writing, I tend to be a bit verbose in my story telling. I think you will, however, find this post worth your time, and I would love feedback. As an ex-Christian, it is refreshing to find that there are other people just like yourself.

Okay, let's get started.

Interestingly enough, I was raised by two parents of 'conflicting' religions. My father is Jewish and escaped from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in the 1940s, and my mother was a member a small Christian sect. Neither of my parents pursued their religious beliefs while I was in my youth, so the thought of going to church for worship on Sundays never even entered my mind.

I was, however, provided a good upbringing. I was raised to respect authority (my parents, in this case), to do well in school (C's were frowned upon and cause for grounding), to learn the value of hard work and the income that came with it (my parents and I would negotiate once a year for a 50-cent increase in my weekly wage for chores around the home). The belief in some 'higher entity' as the Lord of my life never entered my school of thought. So, in other words, for almost the first twenty years of my life, to me the belief in God wasn't even something I considered on a daily basis.

Looking back, even my parents would agree, I was a pretty easy child to raise. When the biggest rebellion a son brings against his father is his choosing of the Washington Redskins to combat his father's Dallas Cowboys, well, there you have it...

In college, I got involved with a Christian-based publishing company who published the Bibles for the soldiers during the Civil War. During seven often grueling summers, I would literally sell books 'door to door.' I would meet these 'Christian' families that were extremely nice to me and often would provide me with a place to live and they often purchased my books. I didn't have an understanding of Christianity at this time, but an impression had been made. Skipping ahead to 1999 (I am now 30), I was in a sales job in central Florida. I am in a sales presentation with a family the morning that JFK Jr.'s plane crashed and everyone aboard is presumed dead. One of my customers looks me straight in the face and asks "If I were to die today, do I know where I would spend eternity?" Like most non-Christians, I stated that of course, I guess I would go to heaven; that I am a good person, I give some time and money to local charities, etc.

Of course, the Christian reply is that only those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior get to spend eternity with Jesus and well you know the rest... At that moment, I bowed my head, the family prayed for me, and that would be the day I became 'saved.'

Like most 'saved' individuals, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Wow, the Creator of the Universe wants a relationship with me?! Six billion people in the world and He wants a one-on-one relationship with me?

Looking back on it, I now see the ridiculousness of it all, especially with a book that has so many loopholes. But at the time I joined a local church so that I could continue my walk with the Lord. I even had the opportunity to meet Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the Washington Redskins, a big time Christian enthusiast. It was all so clear to me now that God had formulated this incredible plan to bring me to him. Rick Warren of the 'Purpose Driven Life' would tell me through his writings that I could deduce that before the world had been formed that God had planned for me to like the Washington Redskins during Joe Gibb's tenure; that he had planned for me to meet all these Christian families during my book selling years; that he had wanted me to be sitting down with this one particular family that would bring me to Christ as we watched the horrors of the JFK Jr. disaster... it was all so clear now. God was in control of my life because I had given my life to Christ! Hallelujah!

I even met my wife at church and I am married to her today. She believes in the Bible, as she puts it, 'Hook, line and sinker,' and generally lives her life as a fine human being that puts all her hopes and prayers in Christ. I do not literally believe Jonah spent three days inside the belly of a whale and I do not personally believe in a fallen angel who seems to exist forever (Satan) that God continuously allows to persuade to the dark side; so I had some concerns but enough to sway my belief that I had found Christ and vice versa.

My wife and I practiced abstinence before marriage, we did the Bible study thing, we attended church regularly. In fact, I remember attending one service twice I enjoyed it so much! I couldn't get enough of God! I read the Left Behind series; I volunteered at a Christian homeless ministry; etc. (By the way, I generally regret none of these things in my personal Christian experience). I met some nice people, got to hear some good music, and was generally along for the ride. However, the Christian Illusion was about to the turn to the Christian Delusion.

So how the heck do I take a 360-degree turn and become a flat out non-believer/atheist and am now thoroughly disturbed by the brainwashing that religion perpetrates on people? And I mean, perpetrates.

There was not one single event that caused me to turn my back on Christianity, rather, a culmination of personal experiences that told me that what I had come to believe in the last eight years was really nothing more than an outdated religious mythology that hadn't advanced in any way in the last two millenia would undoubtedly continue to pump the same dogmatic beliefs into the next generation and the next one after that if we allow it to.

Believe it or not, one of the first cracks in my religious faith was the reading of the "DaVinci Code" novel! Who knew Dan Brown was Satan in disguise? Read the book and about half way through, there is a 20 page section that begs some questions as one of the main characters explains the painting.

At our church, our pastor would always open service with "We have gathered here today to worship God for who He is and what He has done." This went one for years. I would think to myself, "Great, I get to hear what God has done in the last week since I was last attended service. It's a big world, and I am told that I worship a mighty God, so I thought to myself that He must have done some mighty TANGIBLE things in the last seven days! Let me listen...

Maybe He supernaturally removed cancer from the face of the Earth? No, I still know people with cancer. No, we humans still must millions of dollars to cure this disease when this omnipotent being could give us the answer in less than second.
Well, maybe God supernaturally removed a few horrible dictators in this world since I was last in church? No, North Korea, Somalia, Iran are all proof that God is practicing a policy of laissez-faire (that means, 'hands off' for those of you who do not know French) and is not removing extremely dangerous dictators from office. He is waiting for us to do this at our expense.

Maybe this week God supernaturally provided food for five million starving Africans just like He did thousands of years ago before his Sermon on the Mount when he provided an abundance of fish and wine? No, people are still starving by the millions across the world, and what's this in mail? A letter from a Christian relief organization telling me that God would like me to provide the money to help this effort? Hmmm, that's strange. God is the one with the omnipotent power; why does he ask so much from his mortal human beings?

Well, maybe He waved his right hand this past week and supernaturally prevented forest fires, mud slides, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and countless deaths and rampant financial destruction in the world? Wrong again. What is this? Another Christian relief letter asking if I can spare more money for these poor victims? You get the idea.

Wow, I thought to myself, Jesus must have taken this week off, just like he did last week, and the week before, and the week before that. In other words, in my daily week I saw no evidence for the kind of supernatural experiences explained in the Bible. For someone who is supposed to be involved in our daily lives, He doesn't appear to be that involved. For someone who parted the Red Sea, how come I see no evidence of these kind of supernatural events in my lifetime? Has he taken the last few thousand years off on sabbatical? Where is His Wonder Working Power?

On this particular Sunday, the message is the "God has a plan for your life" speech. This is the speech I imagine the pastors pull out of the drawer when they haven't had time to prepare anything else. This has been an extremely popular speech in the last few years with the economic boom and the rise of the prosperity Gospel furthered by Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, etc. I have noticed less of this speech the last few months with the declining economy. I guess God's plans have changed. Now the theme of the moment appears to be that God wants us to draw closer to Him during these troubled times, and that we have gotten away from God and focused on greed, etc. It is interesting to note how God has changed over the last few years in relation to the economy? I know quite a few Christians who are not out of work who were singing the praises of the Lord just a few short years ago. Now, despite their numerous prayers they can barely make ends meet. Interesting...

But anyway, I am digressing. On this particular morning, my wife and I are seated next to a young girl in her early twenties. According to my wife, this young girl loves Jesus with all her heart, she was the valedictorian of her high school; she had 'everything going for her.' Just one problem... and it's a whopper!

After high school, she was involved in a terrible car accident due the negligence of a drunk driver and was left in a wheelchair, paralyzed, unable to speak, in need of a respirator to breath, etc. A terrible tragedy, and I dislike having to use this poor woman as an example, but as the pastor's words flowed over my ears that "If you trust God, he will make your paths straight" I was suddenly hit with the mother of all contradictions... "Really? Like this poor young woman?

I asked my wife if she could see a contradiction between what what we consistently hearing in Church and the reality of this poor girl's situation. She replied, "No, you don't know the number of people that came to Christ because of that car accident and how God is using her." Frankly, I was appalled. God was using this woman? This was God's plan for her? Personally, I would rather be resting in peace in my grave if that was presented as an alternative. But the interesting thing I wish to point out was the incredible difference in the thought process between my wife and I; between one who still had the ability to question what the Church and a 2000-year-old book written by a bunch of prophets told him to believe and one who had lost that ability long ago.

I saw a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided except for man's negligence; my wife saw an opportunity for God to spread His word and advance his Kingdom. I have noticed this line of reasoning among a lot of the Christians who blog on this website; no matter how terrible the tragedy, God is in Control, and will use the tragedy for good. It's a Bible verse, although I do not recall which one.

The Holocaust? Most Christians probably don't even know much about it, let alone have visited a Holocaust memorial. But even so don't worry, God used it for good. It was really his plan to have the Jews, often known as 'the apple of his eye' almost completely exterminated because of the advancement of Hitler's fanaticism. That is why He didn't lift a finger to help them.

9/11? Once again, God used it for good. He knew that even though thousands of innocent people here in God's country would be murdered at the hands of religious group that do not even acknowledge his son Jesus as their savior; he was fine in allowing that, because the world over, people would seek solace in Him, as attendance spiked in national churches for months after this tragedy. Only God knows how many people committed their life to Him to further advance his Kingdom, but whatever the amount, it outweighs all the horror and loss of the Tuesday morning.
I could give even more examples where Christians are slaughtered, but at this point, the college educated brain in my woke up! A human life has just been extinguished, there is major heartache but there is a silver lining, because it's all part of a part of a puzzle that God is putting together, or as my wife says, "You can't understand it unless you are looking at it from God's perspective, 20,000 feet up."

Wow! Talk about excluding God's culpability for any human tragedy.
In my opinion, this thought process exists because the brainwashing of religion dumbs down the average individual so that they have lost all ability to think rationally for themselves; this has been discussed ad nausuem, so I wish not to elaborate on this. But it puts in my opinion, a sad twist on the real world that we live and die in.

Anyway, the cracks in Christianity started to appear and were becoming much larger to me. I remember a Bible Study I went to where one of the participants stated out loud that she believed "God was in control of her finances." I had just come back from a Holocaust museum and was appalled that this person thought God cared more about the dollars in her wallet than the lives of 6 million people of Jesus's religion who lived 70 years ago. I found out the people in our Bible study knew virtually nothing of the Crusades, of the mass tortures that the Christian church perpetrated on society, and of course, knew less about the Bible when it came time to discussions on slavery, women, rape, slaughter, etc. All they knew about was the Christian basics tenets taught them.

Another thorn in my belief system was the death of Sean Taylor, a player for the Washington Redskins in 2007. Here was a man, the best I understood who had turned his life around, had started to attend the team chapel, I presume found Jesus and due to a series of unfortunate events beginning with all things a leg injury, is shot in his home. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't God have wanted this guy to live? Why didn't God save him?" All the questions again, no satisfiable answers. But when Joe Gibbs who I long revered as one the grandest Christians of them all and who I once had stated had been influential in my belief in Christ, stated that "God must have needed a safety in Heaven," I about threw up. "That's it, I get it. God is putting together an Football All-Star Team in Heaven! Let's see he's got Sean Taylor at safety, Walter Payton at running back, Derrick Thomas at defensive end, etc." Now it all made sense!

The final death roe to any clinging belief in Jesus and Christianity was of all things, a trip the birthplace of religion, Israel, which I must say, is a beautiful country!

I visited Yad Vassam (The Holocaust memorial, mostly in part to gain a greater understanding of the world my father as a young child escaped from) To see the horrors that one set of people perpetrated on another because they were the scapegoats, the "Jesus Killers" was extremely unsettling. It is widely believed that Hitler stated aloud that by exterminating the Jews, he was doing God's work. I have watched numerous specials on him in the meantime and failed attempts on his life only strengthened his conviction that God was on his side. We of course, as humans want to believe differently? I thought to myself "Wouldn't a omniscient God have known that when His Son died that the Jews would be blamed and wouldn't he have possessed the foresight to know the terrible consequence of this in the early 1940s?" I guess not..

In Jerusalem, our tour party visited the Western Wall (Holy Jewish site), we could see the Golden Dome on the Rock (Holy Muslim site) and we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and walked along the Via Doloroso,where Christ is believe to have made his final walk with the crucifix.

At the Western Wall I watched an Orthodox Jew rock back and forth in prayer, and the thought immediately went though my mind, "Are you praying to the God that let 6 million of your ancestors perish? I wouldn't expect too much...the odds are that your prayers are not going to be answered."

After visiting the Christian church, I was talking to a colleague outside when our voices were drowned out by the loudspeaker blaring the Muslim prayers, "Allah Ackbar! Allah Ackbar!" I thought to myself this is what those poor passengers on the 9/11 flights heard when their captors took over their planes. In a period of 30 minutes, I had just been exposed to three competing religions, none of which seem to have any more rational evidence than the other to believe what they believe. That exact moment was where I concluded beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God didn't create man; it was man who created God. It was merely a question of which one you were raised to believe in either by your parents or by the culture you lived in. If I had been born to a Muslim family in Afghanistan, I can guarantee you I would worship Allah, believe in 72 virgins, get on the carpet three times a day and face Mecca, and would not know Christ as my Savior, etc. Who knows? Growing up in that kind of society, I might have become a martyr for Allah. Children are born with a blank slate; they become merely a reflection of the world and environment closest to them.

It was at this exact moment I realized that my journey through Christianity wasn't because of any thing as grandiose as God's plan, but was merely a matter of circumstances, coincidences and the culture I am exposed to daily that play out for billions of people all over the world every day of the week. My beliefs in Christ and eternal life were no more grounded in reality than a devout Muslims beliefs that if he dies a martyr he will spend eternity with 72 brown eyed virgins. Just because we are raised to believe this dogma by people who were raised to believe this dogma by people who were raised to believe this dogma does not make it so. We are all just human beings who wake up each day, eat, shit, fart, pee, and need food, water, enjoy sex, etc. I see no reason to believe that based on something that we have no control over such as our culture, our race, or our belief system, that any of us, when we pass away, go to any place special.

After I returned from Israel, I had my 'faith in crisis' conference with my assistant pastor. I explained the numerous reasons for my doubts about not just the claims of Christianity, but all religions, and did he have any answers? Alas, he did not offer me anything satisfying in terms of a response, but did he however, respect my views and I am very thankful for that. I did not leave that meeting feeling less of a person because of a different belief system. Most of my close Christian friends, even though we get into our 'verbal religious sparring matches' as I call them, respect one another and still enjoy spending time with one another. We do not however do Bible Study.

To further my current views, I have read several books on Atheism and found them enlightening; written by intelligent people. I find myself reading them from time to time for a refresher. I never once thought to myself that the Devil was trying to pull me away from God, or that I would spend eternity cooking for reading them and rejecting a belief in a Holy Spirit. I felt a relief as the world really started to come back into focus, just like it had before religion. If anyone has ever been to a Bible study, asked the leader of the study a difficult question, and was told, "Well, you can never really know what God is up to. You just have to trust him and cannot question Him, because he is God, the Creator of All" answer unsatisfying, then these type of books are for you. By the way, I always loved it when they leader gave that response in a Bible study, and continued it with, "Shall we read another verse so we can gain a better understanding of our Lord and Savior?" You just told me His way are not understandable!

There are several good videos on YouTube.com, mainly about false healing prophets (none of whom I will name here). Go to YouTube and search "question of miracles." It's a six part story that HBO produced and it is both sad, enlightening, but further cements that if there is a God, he is not answering prayers as we are constantly told to believe.

Personally, I would like to see these religious frauds (and not all religious organizations are swindlers) who makes millions of tax-free dollars promising the 'blessings of the Lord' will rain down on them if the believer just will 'sow their seed' (i.e. send the pastor money) be shut down. Is it any wonder so many people are turned off by organized religion? The Christians I know always say that those people are false prophets; how the heck am I supposed to know the real ones? Am I supposed to wait for a voice from Heaven to bellow "I am God And I approve this Pastor?" These phonies are stealing people's money and as a friend of mine states, "They are selling the greatest product ever invented, because they never have to deliver."

There are so many hurt people in this world that the belief that the Creator of the Universe loves them gives them a hope for brighter future that they are willing to give their last remaining nickel to hold onto it. It always ends the same; bankrupt, with no answered prayers. Somebody told me it's because those people put their hope in the pastor, not God. Then in the next sentence, this person will inform me that God uses people to further his Kingdom. I do not know why this person cannot see the contradiction in their thought process. If God allows so many of these phonies to operate without some supernatural lightning bolts coming out of the sky picking them off one by one,(This way all the false prophets can be identified) is it any wonder that the Atheist movement is growing in America? It really is hilarious the excuses Christians make for the constant inaction of their God.

So, did my experience in Christianity change me? In short, I still find myself the same person I was before religion ever touched my life. If people want to believe in it, that is there choice. I however will never voluntarily step foot in a church again on my accord. I find that life around me is too great to be constantly bombarded with 2000 year old scripture from a book written by people who did not have a great concept of the world around them. The Bible in no way furthers my knowledge of the world around me.

The book on my life is still under construction. I am like most people, I enjoy life: I also enjoy my work, my pets, playing golf, exercising, spending time with my wife. But I know that I alone am the master of my fate, the captain of my ship, not some invisible, undetectable entity who although apparently quiet talkative thousands of years never seemed to want to answer those deeper questions for me. So I as I take that daily journey that puts me one step closer to non-existence again some day, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience life. It's that simple.

Thanks for reading. I welcome any comments.

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12/15/08                                                                                       View Comments

I'm finally living my life

A gold-hued scene in which Tom (Jackman) faces...Thomas on his knees before Isabel
in the film The Fountain via Wikipedia
Sent in by Krystle

This may seem kind of scattered but I'm writing straight from the heart so to speak. So here's a rough summery of my Christian/ex-Christian journey and some things about me.

I was raised by a Roman Catholic mother and an Atheist but now "Born Again" father (though I seriously doubt he is born again). My parents separated when I was three and divorced when I was four, and I was raised predominantly by my mom until I was fifteen. During that time I was brought to church every Sunday, and for all the Catholic holidays. From kindergarten until grade seven I went to Catholic schools.

Growing up I wanted to believe in Jesus and Bible-god, but I couldn't. I remember spacing out a lot during masses. I remember going to Christian youth camps and having a great time with the other kids. Winning candy for memorizing the most psalm versus in my group. I never really believed in any of what they preached.

I remember I really did try to be a good Christian and believe what I was being told to believe. I remember at the age of ten when my first series of depression kicked in. I remember when I started to read an actual bible not just the children one. I read the whole thing through, and was disgusted at what I found there. I remember at twelve when my dad went from hardcore atheist to born again for my step-mother. When he started going to those evangelical churches. I remember being freaked out by those who were "speaking in tongues." I hated how most of those preachers treated me because I refused to fall under their brainwashing and believe.

I remember at the age of thirteen and fourteen all those times my own depression and emotions was used against me so I could be "born again." I was born again five times that year, and it was around that time when my mom stopped going to church. I tried really hard to be born again, but when those initial positive emotions faded away back to depression, I found myself back in disbelief.

At the age of fifteen I moved in with my dad for six months. After not going to church for a while and being an agnostic I was forced to go to church every Sunday at a church called "The Fountain." I didn't fit in there, and it was stressful for me there. I was the only non-believer and it was a small church. Constantly hearing all those sermons about hell, and how all unbelievers were hell-bound had an effect on me. My father put a lot of pressure for me to be born again. With the pressures from the church, the tense home life, and my own crippling depression, I started to drink, smoke pot and cigarettes, skip school, and pretty much self-destruct. Since I was hell-bound, I didn't matter, because I was going to burn in hell anyway. That's what I was told basically.

A week after my sixteenth birthday I finally left my dad's house, and I had nowhere left to go. My father was very emotionally abusive and controlling towards me and my step-mother. So, I went to a women's shelter until I could figure out what I needed to do. Since I was in a shelter, I couldn't do any drugs or alcohol, and I did try not to... with a few relapses. Also during that time I got into an abusive relationship. Even though I was in a women's shelter, I felt like I deserved the abuse from my then-boyfriend. I also started having memories of the sex abuse from when I was three/four years old until I was seven by one of my mother's old boyfriend's sons. For the longest time a lot of my life was one big blur, I barely had any memories. Now a lot of them were starting to reappear. My first flashbacks were the worst and I had to go through them sober. I hated it.

After I finished and surprisingly passed grade ten, my maternal grandmother took me in. Since than I had to work on staying sober, staying in school, and dealing with my memories, the flashbacks, and the panic attacks. The hardest emotions were the guilt and the fear of hell. To relax I started to meditate to keep myself calm. I started doing research in other faiths and non-faiths, and when I looked at Wicca/Neo-Paganisim I found myself so to speak. Wicca has helped me find the strength within myself to survive and to deal with everything that has been thrown at me. I haven't had a fear of hell moment in almost three years.

At seventeen my depressions stopped. I still have my good days and bad days, but the sadness is only temporary.

At eighteen I graduated from high school, and started working.

Now at nineteen I'm still working, live on my own, and am planning to go back to school for counseling/psychology. I specifically want to work in a crisis center. I am also a writer, and writing has helped me cope. I plan to publish books of poetry and novels. I want to help the victims so they can become survivors also.

I am still dealing with the sex abuse and the abuse from my ex-boyfriend. I have forgiven my father, and I do love him even though our relationship has been troubled. I have been drug-free and smoke-free for three years now, though I still have a drink every now and then. I am not proud of everything I have done in my life, but I am proud of who I am.

I am survivor and I'm finally living my life.

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12/11/08                                                                                       View Comments

How silly it all is!

Boodleheimer on the coverImage via WikipediaSent in by Jacolyn

It has been one whole year now since I officially became an ex-Christian. It has been an interesting journey! I think it's funny how once you start looking at Christianity from the outside, you really see just how ridiculous it is! It's so obvious to me now how silly all religion is in general.

In the past year I think I have been through the following "phases":
  1. Non-belief in Bible-god, but still holding onto belief in some "higher power"
  2. Agnostic
  3. Atheist

When I think about it honestly, I now would have to call myself an atheist. While my "wishful thinking" side would like to think there is something "out there" watching over us, my rational side sees zero evidence for it.

Recently someone on this site said something like "It's funny how the invisible and the non-existent look exactly the same"... Well that pretty much sums it up for me! If you can't see it, can't hear it, can't touch it, can't smell it, can't taste it and can't experience the effects of it than it's a pretty safe bet that it doesn't exist!

I think it's funny that in some sermons Bible-god is likened to a loving father!! That's a joke. If there really was such a thing as an all powerful, all loving god, then we would know about it! There would be no disputes. You don't see any children fighting amongst their siblings about whether or not their parents exist!

What you also don't see is a loving father who lives in another country to his children who has never met them or spoken to them but wrote them a confusing letter before they were born. A letter that basically says that he loves them but if they don't believe in him and love him and worship him then he is going to torture them eternally...

I think it's funny that in some sermons Bible-god is likened to a loving father!! That's a joke.

If there is a god, we shouldn't be punished for not believing in him/it/her...

So many of my friends are still Christians, and they have devoted their entire lives to Jesus...what a waste to live every moment for a non-existent being...And they think they are doing something very important...

It's so obvious to me now how silly it all is!

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12/9/08                                                                                       View Comments

One sentence from God and I could be the most committed Christian God could want

Sent in by Jasen

Every cloud has a silver liningImage via FlickrChildhood

My parents raised me Christian. To be specific, most of the time I was attending a Church of the Nazarene three times a week. The CotN is a fairly conservative church in the Wesleyan holiness tradition and as such has an Arminian theology. In practice though, its supposed uniquenesses are swallowed by general American Evangelicalism.

As a young child, church was largely an experience I enjoyed. Watching stories played out on the felt board, signing such classic songs as Father Abraham, and potlucks were are fun activities. From my time at home with the Picture Bible, Bible stories on records, and the Psalty tapes, I was something of a star pupil in Sunday School. At the age of eight, I went to altar at a service to accept Jesus as my personal savior and to give my life wholly to God.

By the age of 13, I had read the Bible from cover to cover twice and my view of church began to change. My devotion to Christianity was stronger than ever, but I started to grow disenchanted with church. I noticed that I knew more about the Bible than my teachers, and in fact, more than the vast majority of the church. I considered that youth group was a waste of time as the poor teachers had to spend most of their time keeping the kids in line, and what they did manage to teach I had learned long ago. I stopped going to Wednesday night youth group for a few years.

Not much else changed during my teen-aged years. I remained a model church kid, showing up every Sunday morning (and every Sunday night). I didn't drink or smoke, go to parties, or engage in sexual activities. This wasn't any great effort on my part; I had no desire to do the first two, and my social awkwardness made prospects for the last two exceedingly dim (I shudder to think what would have happened to me social-skills wise if I hadn't gone to public schools my whole pre-college education).

University


After high school, I went off to a non-denominational Christian University about three hours from home. It's noted for it's aviation and engineering programs (each perhaps the best that any Christian university has to offer). I went to study computer science.

At first the university had a great, positive effect on my belief. It was refreshing to be around other knowledgeable Christians my age, and socially I thrived in dorm life. There was also the student lead prayer and praise on Sunday nights. My church had sung praise music, but it was '70s-'80s celebration style. This was turn of the millennium emotional praise style. It hit me like a drug.

University wasn't all good for my faith however. I knew about Calvinism of course, but I was shocked to see just how man believed it. I did not enjoy the required chapels (pretty much the university's way to show that they where a "true Christian" university). I noticed a lot of hypocrisy on the part of the school administration. The school president was all about the money -- he once bragged in chapel how he secured a $5 million donation from a guy when the poor chap was on his deathbed.

Back home, for my first summer break from university, I talked the church board into starting a class for college-age people. My idea was that me and a couple others would take turns teaching, but I ended up being stuck with all the teaching. I also did this my second summer home. It wasn't much of a success, as I was not that good of a teacher, and I couldn't get much discussion out of the attendees like I was counting on.

Anyways, back at university probably the first major problems with my faith crept up. Computer Science wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be, and I was pretty sure I didn't want to be a computer programmer. Of course, I wanted to do whatever it was that God wanted me to do. I prayed for guidance, but none was forthcoming. I had prayed before, but it was normally stuff like, "Please be with Mom, and help me get through this, etc.," and not anything where I really expected a specific response.

Gradually, I began to not feel the connection with God while praying that I had felt before. Prayer and praise begun to lose whatever it had for me, and I seldom got the experience from it I used to. It was during this time that I was diagnosed with depression by a professionally done, voluntary survey sponsored by the university. I just wrote it off.

The first semester of my senior year saw a changing point for my faith. (I was still majoring in Computer Science since God hadn't told me to do anything different). It came in my Christian Apologetics course I took as part of earning my Biblical Studies minor. We studied the rational "proofs" for Christianity, and looking at them somewhat objectively, I found them weak -- surprisingly weak -- even amazingly weak.

I had kind of just assumed that the bases of the Christian religion were logically proved, but it was clear that they were not. I had to reject the Christian rationalism of my philosophy and religion professors, and I became I fideist. That is, believing that faith alone is the way to know God, and that things like reason, tradition, and experience could not proof God. It's basically summed up by Billy Graham's statement, "I know God exists because I talked with him this morning." Given where I was at with "talking with God" you might have expected that to be the end of my faith...

Grad Years

Not having any direction from God, I decided to go to graduate school; this was probably a way to delay real life more than anything. I studied education and history, with the idea being that I would teach at a community college. The school was a Baptist (general convention of Texas, not Southern Baptist) university within commuting distance of home. I didn't specifically look for a Christian school to go to, but it was the only one close by with this major.

I still held the Bible in high regard, but I was discarding the idea that it was inerrant. In the first place, the doctrine of inerrancy (as believed by most fundamentalists and evangelicals) only applies to the original manuscripts -- which of course we don't have. Even if we can reproduce them with 99% accuracy, that's simply not good enough -- it meant the Bible I could read was not inerrant, and therefore the inerrancy doctrine, even if true, was useless. If I couldn't trust it all, what could I trust?

Anyways, I could no longer hold to the doctrine of inerrancy at all. This was because of my study of history (not for the university, but study I did for myself). That the Israel of the time could have an 800,000-man army -- impossible. That the number of Hebrews in the exodus was as large as the Bible says -- impossible. That the exodus left absolutely no archaeological evidence -- very worrisome.

I did not accept "macro-evolution," but it was obvious to me that we had an old earth -- even from just historical studies I knew that the earth had to be older that a literal reading of the Bible could account for. I never resolved this issue, as the Christian attempts to reconcile the Bible to an old earth are unconvincing, or espouse a type of Christianity not worth believing.

It was during this time that I first heard about what is termed the "Emerging Church." It's a bit complicated to explain here, but you can look it up on Wikipedia if you want. It sounded like a breath of fresh air compared to other Christian groups, and in fact, it was. I read a lot by emerging authors such as Brian McLaren, Scot McKnight, and Erwin McManus.

My prayers continued unanswered, and I was praying less and less.

Real World

I graduated with my master's degree in education and history, but wasn't able to get a community college teaching position like I wanted. Let's just say that the admissions people and my faculty advisor had mislead me as to how easy this would be.

A Christian friend who knew I was having some spiritual problems gave me a new Bible. This Bible was laid out in chronological order (or as close as they could get to it). The format caused there to be repeat passages. Actually, only nearly repeat passages. If you can read a Bible like this and still believe inerrancy, you err… have a lot of faith.

I started to attend an emerging type church in the big city that I drove 50 minutes to get to. At first, it was absolutely great, but I eventually became disappointed that it wasn't really much different. At the bottom it was the same Christianity, even if it was done by "cool" people who weren't separating from the world, had a more generous view of Orthodoxy, and had a genuine concern for the poor. My view of the Bible began to slip further, to the point where all I could say of it was that it was people's recordings of their faith journey.

I read a very interesting history of Christianity (written by a Christian), and found it very discouraging. The diversity of early Christianity on even the absolutely basic doctrines was very disappointing. It looked like the Church went wrong immediately -- there never was a faith once for all delivered to the saints. And there were way too many disagreements afterwards that still exist today -- disagreements on issues that would affect your salvation. Why didn't God step up and sort things out?

I got a job substitute teaching for the local high school. It didn't go too well. It takes a special type of person to maintain discipline in today's school system, and I am not that person.

God still wasn't talking to me. I read a book about how we are supposed to know God's will, unlike what I had been taught, it suggested that God didn't give people guidance on what to do very often -- that we were to rely on the Bible and upon our reason and common sense. The authors made a good biblical case for this, but I noticed that this was one of the doctrines I was being drawn to that would work just as well in practice if God didn't actually exist.

Having some desperation to rekindle my faith, I turned to "spiritual formation" authors such as Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I prayed, I fasted, I mediated, I practiced solitude and simplicity, and I memorized large chunks of scripture. The similarity to brain washing of this process did not escape me. But still, nothing.

De-Conversion

The turning point for me came when I read "A Guide to Understanding the Bible" by Harry Emerson Fosdick (an old liberal Christian). He lays out the view of how on numerous key issues the Bible develops significantly in theology from Genesis to Revelation.

I was familiar with ideas similar to this; some Christians use this to explain away certain things in the Old Testament. But what is more plausible, that God could only bring a group's morality and theology up to a certain point -- or that it was men who were developing things without God? Fosdick made a convincing case that it was men.

With still no word from God, it was at this point that I realized I didn't really believe. My depression, which had been gradually getting worse, reached borderline suicidal status. I finally went to a doctor about it, and was given medication for it, which has helped.

I played around with deism and agnostic theism for a few weeks, but I could not honestly hold to one of those. I finally admitted to myself that I was an agnostic atheist.

That was about seven months ago. My depression now is almost completely gone, to the point that I suspect that it was my belief crisis that was causing my depression and not anything that the medicine has fixed.

It wasn't church or any specific Christians that put me off Christianity, I haven't been hurt by the church. The Nazarenes I know are very nice people. If they are a little uptight to perhaps be your close friends, they would still make great neighbors. The people I met at the emerging type church are easily among the finest people I know. Christians in general, though still have things like a high divorce rate and religious motivated murders. I accept that as a group, Christians aren't worse than anyone, but they aren't better either. What is reality more consistent with: Christianity or Atheism? If Christianity is true, and Christians have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, then there really should be a noticeable difference between Christians and others.

I still have some struggles though. As an agnostic atheist, I find it hard to be motivated. As a Christian, I knew the "real" story of the universe. I was trying to be a part of God's plan, I had supernatural motivation, and I wanted to work with eternal purposes in mind. After so many years of that, I probably find it difficult to be motivated by "mere" earthly matters. Socially, I've been cut off from most of my friends. Churches are great for socializing, especially those for whom that is not the easiest thing. Atheists don't belong.

And unlike many atheists, I really do wish there was something to religion. One word form God, and I would be the most committed theist there is. One sentence from God and I could be the most committed Christian God could want. But still, nothing.

(Not that I expect there to be or am trying anymore).

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