7/28/09                                                                                       View Comments

If it's a relationship, it sure is one-sided

Sent in by Not Sure Anymore

If you only know one side of the story, Do you...Image by ஐ★ღ§wêê†Båbίί®åєღ★ஐ via Flickr

I grew up as a Catholic in a Hispanic family, my mom was seriously into the church while my father just followed her along. As I grew up, I had questions about the bible, god, I didn't understand the trinity, why Jesus had to die and this sin that was committed years and years ago by two people…why was it my fault? There were never any answers or usually my mom would say, “You can’t read the bible because you don’t understand and you’re not close to god like a priest is, ask him and let him guide you.” (what?!) I did my first communion, my first confirmation, all of the catholic crap (sorry I believe that's what it is) I had to go through. I had crosses of every shape, color and different metals. I proudly fixed it on my chain and made sure it showed in all my pictures or when I went out, after all, I wanted everyone to know that “I believed”.

I struggled with the catholic views, god and my mother. I grew up with “Dale gracias a dios!” All the time which means “Give thanks to god” in Spanish. That was my mom’s reply to everything. Jump forward to when I was about 20. I went to mass by myself one day and felt nothing…nothing. I had never felt that way before. I felt empty and alone and I felt the dogmas and rules of the catholic views were unattainable and honestly, just made no sense. I didn’t leave religion behind at the time but I did leave the catholic church, I only went once or twice after that for family things. I started going to a non-denominational Christian church and I really though I had hit the right religion this time, although I still had a ton of questions which no one seemed to be able to answer but at least I was allowed to ask. Hell was still a possibility but this time, I had hit upon the right religion (what?!) so I was saved. It always felt like with the catholic church I had no chance, no matter how many times I confessed, said Hail Mary's or tithed. Personally I don’t understand how people don’t see the catholic religion as a hopeless religion, I never felt saved…ever…I was just told what to believe and I did, call it brainwashed or weak-minded, I did what I was told.

I was god’s biggest fan. I was totally into Christian music, I prayed for hours for my family, friends, “lost souls” who didn’t know Jesus or god, cried for them, tithed 10 or more percent, witnessed, etc. Except for going on missionary trips, I did pretty much everything else. I couldn’t wait for Sundays to go to church , sing, meet my friends, thank god for everything …the whole nine yards.

I honestly don’t remember when I started to have my doubts, it just happened. For those of you who don’t know much about the Christian religion, the bible is always saying to ask god for anything and it will be given to you, provided you prayed in his will…what is his will? Good question, I don't know it either, that was one of those questions no one could ever answer for me. Also I needed to have faith and trust god no matter what, even if he didn’t answer any of my questions and I would cry for hours, hoping for a response. For such a caring god, why wouldn’t he answer me? I did all that was expected of me. Also my pastor said all my answers were in the bible (really?) I don’t believe I ever found answer, no matter how many times I tried to make it fit.

I always found Jesus, crucifixion, dead for three days and back to life thing really confusing. At the time not so much because “my god” couldn’t do it but I just didn’t get it. As a simple minded, sinful human beings, how was I suppose to understand that part? I was always told, “Don’t worry if you don’t understand, just believe”.

The last three or four years have been an eye opener for me, for both good and bad. Religion is one of them. I actually started considering that maybe religion is not so good after all, although I was still a huge believer in god and Jesus. But I just feel the same way I did that day I went to church by myself when I was 20. Today I’m 42 and I just don’t feel anything when it comes to god or religion.

The Christian religion is big on a “relationship” with god, but it feels one sided. After all, for all of us who are in any kind of a relationship, who enjoys it when it’s only one sided? I sure don’t. That I think was my breaking point, the other part is where the bible says god won’t give you anymore than you can handle (WTF?) Easy for him, he’s god.

Am I scared? Very scared…after all, my whole life I’ve been told things are a certain way and to all of a sudden find out it’s not true, can really shakes a person to their core. Funny thing is once you “wake up” it’s hard to go back to sleep.

I admit I still say “god help me” or feel guilty for not praying but I get over it pretty quick. I don’t know I…I feel empty, but at least now I don’t feel like there is a god who ignores me.

Thanks for listening, sorry it was so long.

Christianity -- a bridge to nowhere

Sent in by Matt

So here is my story in short.

I was raised Catholic in the Midwest -- mostly going to church on holidays and random Sundays here and there. In high school some friends invited me to an Evangelical nationwide youth group called Young Life. I went, thought it was completely cheesy, but went again every now and there because the girls were cute and pretty sweet. One summer they talked me into the one week summer camp up in Minnesota and I decided to go, a little apprehensive about what they'd do to me. Aside from the weird spiritual AA type meetings each night before bed, it was actually a decent time. And, eventually, they broke down the gospel via the bridge diagram at the end of the week. Many kids "accepted Christ" then and there, but I held back. It was the first time I had heard The Message, and though it certainly made more sense than the random monk-type songs I heard at mass, I thought the idea of the vast majority of humans burning forever was a bit absurd. I figured there was probably a God, but I figured He was far beyond human comprehension and certainly didn't mysteriously write any books which would eventually be compiled through the vote of man. How could anyone ever buy such nonsense?

Well, fast forward a couple years and I'm at my first year of college in the dorms, having tons of fun and finally experiencing complete freedom. During my days of normal college life and the occasional drug adventure I continued to wonder if the gospel I heard was actually true. Looking back, this is probably due to the fact that I had an abnormal amount of Christian friends, and they would continually invite me to campus outreaches as I'd walk by eating mushrooms. So, one night after the first semester I decided to pray to an unknown God that he would reveal who he really is. And whoever that is, I would follow, even if he were Allah. I figured, as much fun as I was having, if there was a God, and I really knew who he was, I'd be a complete jackass not to follow him with the one life I had. So after saying the prayer, I assumed if I heard anything, it'd be along the lines of the Celestine Prophecy or something (I think I had just read it, as a girl into Witchcraft recommended it. Come to think of it, if I hadn't read it, I probably wouldn't have been thinking about spiritual things. Damn! If only I didn't pick up that book, all could be oh so different).

Well, after a week or so of making the prayer, I had a dream one night that I died, and after I died I was completely naked, and in a curled up position, and I was ascending upwards. I assumed it was Heaven, and suddenly, I froze midair, and felt a powerful message. The message came from God and God said, "Without Christ you can ascend no further." The voice was not audible, but came directly to my core. It was so powerful, I could not move, I was frozen in fear and awe. I immediately woke up after that and was totally freaked out. Once I recalled what happened, I came to the conclusion it must have been God. Surely, the human mind could not concoct such a powerful experience, right? On top of that, I had already at this time had a couple dreams, were some very specific things occurred and the next day they transpired. So naturally, I figured I was gifted or something. Since this day, its been a decade I believe, I've had all sorts of crazy random powerful dreams. Oh, the naivety.

Now what follows is a pretty typical story. A young man who is into woman, booze, and drugs sees the light and tries with all his might to "become a new creation." Even though the Bible says the Holy Spirit will do all the work, it seemed odd I was doing most of it. It was a struggle at first, but after a couple years I ditched it all and became the most fundamental, spirit-filled Christian you've even seen! In fact I was so dedicated and wanted to please God so much, I removed TV, the Internet, and "bad" music from my life for five years! After all, the Bible says you will have to account for every idle word on the day of judgment, and I didn't want to take any chances. Looking back, its a real shame about the Internet.

Considering I was never challenged on the Bible in reality, I may have bumped into somebody online. In addition to such crazy actions as this, I also read the Bible and prayed an average of two hours a day (read mostly New Testament of course, didn't receive too many "words from the Lord when reading the Old. I wonder why?)

So, how did I eventually see the light? Well, similar to the story of John Loftus, I witnessed and experienced a series of events over the course of a few years that brought me to a threshold. I knew without a shadow of doubt that either Christianity wasn't true, or modern Christianity was
completely off, and I may need to fly out to join Mother Teresa. The lame weren't being healed, all prophecy I witnessed was complete garble, my pastors wife slept with other men, the hundreds of people I loved destined to hell were not being saved after I prayed for them, and the girl I had to break up with because we were not "equally yoked"... Well, seven years later and I'm still in love with her. Good times!?

So, I decided to open the Bible again with objective eyes. I'll never forget it. I was in church one day listening to a sermon I'd heard a million times. I was not interested, so I decided to wander through Leviticus. I stumbled upon the rules regarding rape and was horrified to see a virgin who was raped must marry her rapist! Not sure how I missed this before, but as I read that, and looked around at the congregation, I knew it was all complete bullshit. Just like every other religion. Mere wishful thinking while ignoring the absurdities of your dogma. From there I went on to study further to give God a chance, and the more I read the more problems I found. First came the moral atrocities of rape, genocide, and slavery all commanded and/or sanctioned by the Lord. Then came the scientific errors of a flat earth, stars that are smaller than the sun, a moon that gives its own light, rain that resides higher in the heavens than the sun and a sun that revolves around the Earth. And, finally, yes finally, even meek and mild Jesus was uprooted. After reading the gospels horizontally instead of vertically I discovered it was literally impossible to give an accurate account of what occurred on the resurrection. If the only evidence God provides for this is the Bible, and the Bible is filled with contradictory accounts, than God can not be just in damning people to hell. He can still be a capricious God and damn them to hell, but a just and loving God he can not be. Therefore, the whole thing falls apart.

Now, approximately nine months after going through such a drastic change, I'm lonelier than I've ever been. All but a couple of my Christian friends have seemingly wrote me off in the same way I wrote off so many great friends from high school and college once I came to Christ. On top of that things have been strained with my wife, who remains a believer, so I've learned its best not to debate faith.

And yes, I'm still seemingly in love with the one I left many years ago because of God, and now we're both married to other people. Awesome!?!

I truly feel religion has destroyed my life. I wish more than anything I could go back to where I started and change everything, as I see no realistic way to pick up the pieces and live free from this constant regret that pulls me under.

7/22/09                                                                                       View Comments

Between two worlds and outside both

The Molokan.Image via Wikipedia

Sent in by rasputins love child

Brothers and sisters,

I have hesitated writing my testimonial as I'm afraid I will be identified by my family. I now feel the people here deserve to hear my story, especially after I have ruffled so many feathers. What you are about to read is a mere thumbnail as time and space don't allow me to fully disclose my past. I have never told anyone this story. You are the first.

I was born into a Russian religion called Molokan which means in Russian "Milk drinkers". My father was born in America but his heritage is 100% Russian. My mother, however, is not. She is a mixed race American of English, Italian, Cherokee and who knows how many other influences.

This was a major problem growing up as the Molokan religion, while they claim to be christian, clearly is different than your run-of-the-mill Christians. It is a closed religion. You couldn't join if you wanted. You wouldn't even be allowed inside the church. They worshiped god, not Jesus. They followed the Old Testament, not the new. Most Americans considered them Jews, but they clearly are not.

My family was banned from the church when I was a child because my father married out of the religion. It wasn't until I was about 6 or 7 that we were allowed back, but on strict terms. They dressed in traditional Russian shirts, slacks and wing tip shoes, go figure. The women wore traditional long dresses and shawls to cover their heads.

Because I am only half Russian I am called a ninashi which means "not of us". Church services were held only in the Russian language, which was taught to all children, except of course us ninashi. We were treated quite poorly. Other boys would mentally abuse me and the girls were downright tyrants to me. But this treatment was good compared to how the Americans treated me. More on that later.

Molokans come from all over the former USSR, and were primarily farmers and village workers, peasants if you will. Had no education and were peaceful people that refused to fight in wars. They keep to themselves and worship in private. Truly a tribal people.

The reason they called themselves Christians, as far as I know, is that they believed in the savior, but Jesus left no writings. Everything in the bible about Jesus is, at best, second or third hand information. Since Jesus was the son of god, he worshiped god. Thus, god is more important than Jesus. God laid down his rules in the old testament but Jesus never said a word in the bible, so in their view, people who followed the new testament were worshiping secondary authors at best such as john, not Jesus. Are their words to be taken the same as the saviors? Absolutely not!

This has always made sense to me but Christians just can't see it. The entire Christian faith, every denomination, are worshiping another mans perspective on Jesus. Jesus has not one word in the bible. So if you want to worship god you have to go back to the source, the old testament. Now, I am not saying I believe in any of this, I am saying I understand.

I was not welcome in the Russian church. To them if you are not 100% you are not any at all. This is far lower than being a "halfbreed", I was absolutely worthless. To them it's not if the glass is "half empty" or "half full", it's more like "if the glass is not full, it is empty".

I was told that Grigori Efimovich Novak, AKA Rasputin, was a distant uncle and they feared I was his second coming. They often called me little Rasputin, which means roughly "one of loose morals" in Russian. Hence my current moniker. WARNING: not much is known about Rasputin here in America and what you might read on Wikipedia or other sources is at least in part incorrect. They can't even get his name right! He helped bring down the Russian czarist kingdom which makes him a hero to me. During his time most all Russians were slaves. The word slave actually comes from the root word Slav or Slavic, A Russian!

As bad as this seems it paled in comparison to how I was treated by the Americans. They saw me as Russian, not American. Growing up as a Russian in America during the 1960's was downright shameful. I was beaten and abused on a regular (weekly sometimes daily) basis. I barely remember a time when I didn't have a black eye. On the rare occasion I was allowed to participate I was used as a scapegoat. I was the class punching bag and most every teacher supported this. The teachers were in many cases far more cruel than the kids. My father thought I was a sissy because I was always losing fights. I was always outnumbered and was rarely ever in a "fair" fight. I had nowhere to turn, no one to turn to and absolutely no hope for the future. I am amazed to this day that I survived. I have permanent injuries and disabilities from the beatings I took from the young Americans.

My mother was forced to dress and behave like a good little Russian wife. In other words, you sit over there and keep your mouth shut and do what the men tell you. Don't take off that shawl in public! Us children were not allowed to speak until we were spoken to. A rule I violated regularly with great pride and indignation. When visiting relatives, I spent much time standing on my knees in the corner facing the wall while my "relatives" would say "in my day they would throw rice down first, you have it good".

After years of mental but no physical abuse as Molokan men never hit their wives, that action was reserved for the children, she snapped. At the urging of neighborhood christians my mother sought the advice of a Christian lawyer. He told her a Christian woman cannot be with this man so she must get divorced. She did. That broke up the little bit of family I had. I must say at this point I always loved and respected my father and I never once saw him abuse my mother, in her own words he never laid a hand on her. I rarely saw him as he worked several jobs.

My mother, however, was not an angel. I don't want to say bad things of her but let's say the truth rarely flowed from her lips, when speaking of me. She lied to and disrespected my father. I had little respect for her.
When she took that step into American Christianity, I decided to investigate myself as I didn't think the Molokans were correct about their faith.

I was shocked and appalled how American christians acted and their beliefs truly had no basis in fact. I studied the bible with the apocrypha in much more detail than even the young minister wannabees. I just couldn't understand how they got all their crazy ideas. It simply wasn't backed by words in the bible. The reality is American christians totally disregard the old testament, up until they want to debate creationism that is, then cherry pick their favorite quotes in the new testament. American Christianity or bornagainism as I like to call it, is nothing more than fantasy.

For years I was a silent Christian, having nowhere to worship so my view of god was more of the father of the earth and it's creatures, not so much the evil people who inhabit the place. Eventually since no Christian denomination could live up to their hypocritical words I junked the whole idea. I then investigated every other religion I could find. Being disabled, alone and unable to work for the last fifteen years I had plenty of time to read and learn which is what I did. I studied everything from extreme Judaism to Jainism. Tribal religions of the world to the most disgusting of all, Islam.

I eventually came to the conclusion that the people of this earth have learned many things only to be veiled by the cloak of religious fanaticism. Then what's left gets burned.
No one has the answer because there isn't one
.
There is no god, there is no devil, there is only us and our prejudices.

Being stuck between two idiotic cultures has left me alone, disabled and impossible to understand. I'm on the outside looking in. No one knows the depth of my sorrow. I truly have a Russian heart, filled with sadness and song. Broken and bent but still beating to it's own rhythm. If anyone would have a reason to believe in heaven and hell it is me, but I do not.

Having said that, I would like to add I consider it a privilege to be living in America as the constitution and bill of rights are two of the best self governing documents ever. I only wish the people would spend more time understanding these great documents and less time with their religious mythologies.

It took great courage to put this in print and I hope none of my relatives ever see it. I feel both humbled and embarrassed. Please keep this post private, among us.


7/21/09                                                                                       View Comments

I Did Not Understand

by Shelby

Overview:

I will relate some life experiences that helped shape my conclusions about religion and the natural world around me. All personal anecdotes are factual to the best of my knowledge, taking into consideration that some events occurred nearly 50 years ago. My parents are still living and are fundamentalist Christians to this day. I love and respect them very much and understand that they raised me under a belief system that they sincerely thought to be true. There are all sorts of people in this world, good and bad, Christian and Atheist, and no one should be judged solely by their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Introduction:

Hello, I am 55 years old and an atheist. I was married to the same woman for over 33 years, lived in the same house for 12 years and my taxes are paid. My wife and I raised two sons who are both college graduates and doing well. The last 37 months of her life I was a full-time caregiver for a wife who was unfortunately diagnosed with an incurable, anaplastic astrocytoma (malignant brain tumor). After a three-year struggle, she passed away on May 5th, 2003 and I will miss her terribly. Taking my marriage vows seriously, I gave up my career and I considered it an honor to care for my wife. In the past three years I have lost virtually everything, my wife[1], my career, most of my net worth, my medical insurance, my freedom and most of my friends. When I die, according to the Christian belief system, I will head straight to HELL without any hope of intervention[2]. I will face an eternity of unspeakable pain and torture for simply not believing in a concept that is not backed by a single shred of evidence. Jeff Dahmer, who was convicted in Wisconsin of twelve 1st degree murders and was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life terms for these murders[3], accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and was baptized in prison. Jeff was subsequently murdered in prison and will go to HEAVEN for simply believing in these concepts. The fact that Jeff brutally murdered who knows how many young men, tortured them, slept with some of the corpses before chopping them up and either freezing or eating them, does not matter to the Christian cult. According to the doctrine of Christianity, Jeff goes to heaven, to be greeted with open arms by God, Jesus and all the heavenly hosts, a child of God. Can anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

The Early Years

I was born into a lower middle class family in the Southeastern United States. My father was involved in church work and worked as an Assistant Pastor and Educational Director at a Southern Baptist Church. Many of my earliest memories were of the church and church activities; these were an integral part of our lives. Like most youngsters, I depended on my parents for almost everything and, of course, completely believed their teachings and instruction regarding God, Jesus, Salvation and Heaven and Hell. Having virtually no exposure to any other line of thinking, this belief system became deeply ingrained and I never even considered the possibility that these beliefs might be in error. With this background it is needless to say that I was extremely concerned about avoiding going to Hell. Even at the tender age of 8 or 9, I clearly understood the Christian doctrine and knew that I needed to publicly profess my faith and acceptance of Jesus as my personal savior[4] and be baptized. My fear and trepidation was fueled by fire and brimstone sermons like Pay Day Someday[5] and the grim possibility that I might somehow die before making this profession. My parents did not pressure me at all to accept Jesus, but I kept waiting and waiting to hear the voice of Jesus telling me to let him into my heart. Without ever hearing the voice, I did it all on my own one emotional Sunday morning in 1957 and was subsequently baptized and my name written in the Book of the Lamb in Heaven[6]. I was now a Christian and no longer in danger of Hell. My profession of faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ was genuine and no one can say that it was not. Needless to say, my parents were elated and very proud of me. I was happy that I was saved and sincerely believed with all my being that Jesus was the Son of God and that he did die on the cross for my sins. It was my firm belief that because of this sacrifice, I would now never have to worry about Hell and that I would, as a born again and baptized Christian, now hear the voice of God and Jesus. I never did hear from God or Jesus. I did not understand.

Catholics in the neighborhood

In my pre-adolescent years I was quite sheltered and naive. I was of course aware that there were individuals who were not Christian and those who were members of different religions, but I had little interaction with those who did not believe as our family did. One exception was the two Catholic families on our street and each family had at least one boy, so there was interaction as playmates. My parents were quite modest and humble people and unlike some fundamentalist Christians, they did not condemn Catholics or their actions or beliefs. I have great respect for my parents as they were not hypocrites and sincere in their beliefs. Their position on Catholics or anyone else was that if you believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that he died on the cross for your sins, you were a Christian and you were bound for heaven, regardless of your denomination. This position is Biblically consistent and I also believed this way. Catholics were somewhat of an enigma to me because their views on what was acceptable behavior were different from the views of fundamentalist Southern Baptists. To put everything in a nutshell, they seemed to have a lot more fun than we Baptists did! It was perfectly acceptable for Catholic ADULTS to drink and smoke and I even observed my friend's father having a beer with one of the priests! You must realize that this was in the 1950s and I was a very sheltered child. My nine or ten year old brain was having a lot of trouble rationalizing the concept of drinking a beer being a pretty serious sin on one side of the street and quite OK on the other, being that we were both Christians. This was not a huge issue at the time and I did not realize the significance of such issues until much later. Still, I did not understand.

One Friday evening I was playing over at the other Catholic neighbor's house with my friend who was a year younger than I. We were quite poor[7] at that time as father had been out of work for nearly two years at age 50. The Catholic family was our next-door neighbor and it was obvious that they were much better financially off than we were, even WITH my father working. Hanging around a neighbor's house at mealtime was a no-no, but for some reason I was still around when the plates hit the table. Knowing a little about the Catholics I knew that they were not allowed to eat meat on Friday as a demonstration of personal sacrifice. My eyes bulged as I saw a huge platter of scrambled eggs, three or four varieties of cheese, giant biscuits with real butter and honey, and a few other NON MEAT "sacrifices" and I thought about my own meager supper. I did not understand.

Jesus did not appreciate or understand BASEBALL

In the middle and late 1950s the American entertainment landscape was much more parsimonious than it is today. Needless to say, there were no computers with Internet connections, Nintendo or other gaming platforms, or FM radio. Hanging around inside the house meant boredom and/or chores so entertainment was outside activity and that meant BASEBALL! We had a celebrity in the neighborhood that was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, so baseball was not merely a popular activity; it was virtually the only activity for the boys. I don't remember what the girls did, I know that we had not even discovered them yet, but we ate, drank and slept BASEBALL! Our cheeks bulged with Topps bubblegum, assuring cavities and root canals down the road, but we did not care about that. Those of us who were talented enough played on real teams with real uniforms in real leagues and at real baseball diamonds. I believed in a spiritual Heaven, but participating in this endeavor was the closest thing to Heaven I could imagine. I was required, of course, to play for the church team in the church league.

My Catholic friend sometimes attended my games and I often went with him when he watched his older brother play before he went to the Cardinals. After one of many victories we stopped at my Baptist Church for refreshments. My friend would not leave the car in spite of all my efforts to get him to join us. He instead chose to lie on the floorboard of the car so that he would be as invisible as possible. I did not know until later but his priests had instilled in him the fear of going to Hell if he dared darken the doors of a non-Catholic church. Thinking of this now makes me furious, but at the time I did not understand.

At the end of every regular season there was a city tournament in which the best of all leagues would participate for the city championship. As a general rule the church teams were more or less cannon fodder for the secular teams who were not restricted to church members for their roster. One magical year things were not status quo. Our church league team just happened to have the right combination of talent and a tremendous, dedicated coach who guided us to levels unheard of for a church team. I was at the peak of my game and led my team and the league in batting average and home runs.

At the end of every season, the church leagues had an honors banquet where the best of the best were honored. Our team was expected to sweep both team and individual honors as we finished undefeated against our fellow Baptist teams. Since I led the league in most individual hitting categories, I expected to pick up the M.V.P. award for the league. When this award was announced, the name of another player on my team was called, the son of a prominent Deacon in our church. There was no foul play, the Church League Officials had obviously copied his name instead of mine since he played behind me, i.e. he was my substitute, and rarely played. When he heard his name called, he was shocked and looked at me, not knowing what to do and knowing that the award was not meant for him. Big Daddy Deacon settled the matter. He told his son to go up and get HIS award. Everyone in our group realized what had happened and I did not say anything, not wanting to make a scene and it would have been improper for a 10-year-old to speak out against an important elder in the Church. I prayed that Jesus would correct this injustice. The Bible stated that God knew the number of hairs on every head, so surely God could help me. Nothing was ever done to correct this mistake. I did not understand.

Some of my fondest memories are of this team, our coach and my teammates. We breezed through our league and were ready to take on the "big boys" in the city tournament. We were happy and confident. We were happy to be playing and at the same time serving as witnesses for Jesus Christ and our church. We were confident that for the first time in anyone's memory, a church team had a shot at the city title. We did not win the city title. We were not defeated by a better team, but instead were forced to suffer a defeat because of a forfeit. It just happened that our next game in the tournament was scheduled on a Wednesday night. If you are a Baptist, Wednesday nights were reserved for the weekly prayer meeting service. Long story short, our pastor would not allow the team to play and the game went down in the record books as a defeat, 9-0, and our season was over.

We were crushed when we found out that we were not going to be allowed to play. I prayed as hard as I could for Jesus and God to intervene and soften the pastor's heart so that we could play. I tried to explain to God that our playing would be a great way to witness to individuals who were not Christians and I promised God that I would never miss another Wednesday night prayer service. I did not pray for us to win the game, just that we would have a chance. I was very disappointed that we were not allowed to play, but I was confident that God knew what was best. I just knew that for some reason God was not allowing us to play the game because of some important event that would take place at the prayer meeting, some spectacular miracle of important conversion. Most of the team attended the service and it was dry and uneventful. No miracles occurred and no one was saved. That night I prayed to God to give me understanding of why it was so important that we not play the game and what purpose our forfeit served. I tried to understand and to think like an adult, but in the end I behaved like a 10-year-old boy with a broken heart and cried myself to sleep. I did not understand.

Apathy and lowered expectations

During the next several years, our family was less involved in church matters and more involved in the material aspects of life. Some of the things that were so elusive during our years when my father was in church work were more available now. We still attended church on a regular basis, but our horizons broadened considerably and I was now seriously contemplating some of the "truths" that had been just automatically accepted during my younger years. I was then and still am today a very analytical-minded person and loved science, and at one time had considered being an atmospheric scientist. Even though quite a bit of the science that I learned conflicted with Biblical claims and "truths", I never entertained the idea that God might not exist or that my religious beliefs might be wrong. After some of the disappointments during my earlier years, I had reached somewhat of a truce with my religious beliefs and my expectations were more realistic. I more or less took the stance that there had to be a good, valid explanation for the conflicts between the Bible and science; I just did not know what all these explanations were. Being familiar with some Biblical apologetics and a more liberal view of Biblical inerrancy was sufficient for me to maintain my core religious beliefs through my college years and into my early years of marriage.

My wife and I were both believers but did not attend church on a regular basis until we were raising a family. I was what many would refer to as a lukewarm Christian at best. While my wife and I were raising a family and pursuing material things (my wife was a stay-at-home-mom), my father got back into church work again. At this point in my life, I had become quite uncomfortable with some of the religious beliefs that I had been raised to accept. Twentieth-century science was making great strides and the Biblical accounts and stories that I had so readily accepted in my youth were now taking on a surreal quality in my mind. One Nova special that I really enjoyed was one regarding the discovery and naming of the sub-atomic particles. The Hubble telescope opened up a universe that was vast and ancient almost beyond perception, but neither the quantum nor the cosmic revealed any signature of a god. My religious beliefs, however, were deeply entrenched and I still did not consider the possibility of God not existing or the story of salvation not being true. As scientific discoveries and works became more and more intriguing, I just shoved my questions and doubts to the back of my mind and refused to deal with them. Pressure was increasing from my parents and from my wife to start attending church again. My wife was not devoutly religious at all, but she was devoted to her family and there was the pressure to raise our children in a Christian atmosphere and with religious training. This meant becoming active in a Christian church. Naturally, we were always being invited by my parents to attend functions at their church. I was becoming more and more torn between my responsibilities to my family in bringing up my children in a church, and my deepening and troubling personal doubt that I was having about many religious issues. In the end, the church won out as I yielded to pressure and felt responsible to bring up my children the "right way" as I had been. We joined my parents' church.

GUILT plays a tremendous role in fundamentalist Christianity. I felt guilty and somewhat ashamed that I had turned out to be a rather poor Christian after being brought up as such a devout believer. I always felt that there was something wrong with ME for my doubts and misgivings about Christianity. I had always been told that you have to "walk with God", i.e. daily prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, etc. in order to be a REAL TRUE CHRISTIAN[8]. Well, I genuinely tried to be a better Christian and to become more informed about my beliefs and religion. I undertook what I suspect that few Christians undertake, I actually read the Bible with an open mind and did research on the origins of Christianity. I had a few misgivings when I started this "enlightenment", but I was in no way prepared for the absolute devastation to my long-held belief system that would ensue.

The emergence of personal computers, modems, and the proliferation of the Internet opened up a whole new world to me. I purchased my first PC in 1987 and immediately used it as a tool in my honest quest for the truth. Not only did I broaden my knowledge in science, specifically biology, cosmology and physics, I began to frequent Fidonet and Internet newsgroups where there was always a lively and educational debate ongoing between theists and atheists. A curious kibitzer at first and an active participant later, I was absolutely flabbergasted at ignorant, weak and downright intellectually dishonest arguments that were promoted by the theists. At this time, I still believed in the existence of God, but with each subsequent day my long-standing and firmly entrenched beliefs were melting like a late spring snow in the brilliant sunshine. I cannot pinpoint an exact time when the realization hit me, but for the first time I seriously considered the possibility that all of my religious beliefs were a huge lie, a sham, a worldwide hoax of enormous proportions. "How could so many people be so very wrong?" I constantly thought to myself. The evidence against, or more correctly, the lack of evidence to support belief in supernatural beings, continued to mount in favor of atheism. How could God be real, any more than a concept, when the message was so riddled with errancy and the messengers so feeble and weak? Shouldn't an omniscient and omnipotent God stand up to the harshest scrutiny? I did not understand.

The Final Realization

THERE IS NO "HEAVENLY FATHER". Human beings must protect the orphans and foundlings, or they will not be protected.[9]


I buried my wife of 33 years on May 7 of this year [2003]. My last three years were spent as a caregiver for her, as the surgery that saved her life left her a hopeless invalid. During these awful three years, the question of the non-existence of a god, a creator, became crystal clear. When faced with catastrophic events, people help other people. The saying of "Trust in Allah, but tie thy camel thyself" is practiced by most thinking and caring individuals. Except for the most extreme religious cults, theists and non-theists alike rely on their fellow man for help when catastrophe hits. Medical catastrophe can be particularly cruel and opens the door for what I found to be absolutely despicable behavior by some individuals under the guise of extending condolences.

Right after my wife's brain tumor was diagnosed, I had to call a fellow professional whom I had never met to cancel an appointment. I mentioned briefly why the cancellation was necessary and his immediate reply was "Where do you go to church?" I wasn't expecting this, but nonplussed, I told him that I did not attend church. His next reply was, "Well, maybe that is God's way of getting your attention". Furious, I told him that his remark was inappropriate and ended the phone call. He did get a nice letter from me a few days later.

The day before my wife came home from her devastating surgery, medical equipment was arriving for her convalescence. The man who was setting up the hospital bed and other equipment was a pleasant enough fellow but when he was finishing up, here it came again. "Where do you go to church?" he asked. I was furious, told him that it was none of his business and showed him the door. The next day I called the Medical Equipment House and asked to speak to the supervisor. I voiced my complaint to the supervisor and his reply was "Oh, but you have to understand, he's a Deacon in his church". I swallowed my fury, paused for a second and then asked the man for his name and address. He was quite surprised with the request and asked me why I needed that information. I then proceeded to tell him that I was a High Priestess in the Church of Satan and wanted to come over and talk to his wife and children about Satanism. There was only a slight pause and Mr. Supervisor assured me that Mr. Deacon would not be talking to me again about religion.

These opportunistic and/or extremely hateful remarks came from perfect strangers in the name of their religion. What sort of God that gave people incurable brain tumors to "get their attention" would be worthy of worship? Is it anyone else's business whether or not a perfect stranger goes to church? These sorts of incidents just personify the arrogance and narrow-minded attitude of fundamentalists. Some religious cultists use the misfortune of others to spew hatred, judgment and also to recruit.

THERE IS NO GOD TO ANSWER PRAYER. Human beings must hear and help human beings.

I found out through my ordeal that some individuals use the cop-out of "I will pray for you" in lieu of actual help[10]. "God will not give you a burden greater than you can bear" was another religious incantation that was uttered and is the epitome of absurdity. Does God have nothing better to do than to smite his creations with just enough to keep them from going over the edge? Why would anyone want to worship a god like this, not to mention the invalidity of the premise. It has been my observation that people jump off bridges and stick guns into their mouths every day. "Hands that help are better far than lips that pray"[11] is something that is readily evident if you are taking care of another individual who is helpless. "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" in Ebon Musings is a timely essay and echoes the words of America's most famous atheist.

THERE IS NO BENEFICENT OR MALEVOLENT INTENT IN NATURE. Life is a struggle against preventable and unpreventable evils. The cooperation of human beings is the only hope of the world[12].

Finally, there is always the question of "Why?" when tragedy strikes. Why is the life of a beautiful, intelligent woman wrecked and snuffed out in the prime of her life? This issue has been one of the most difficult for theists and has never been adequately addressed within the framework of theism. There are many attempts, but they all fail miserably when examined in context and without interjecting concepts that make the argument completely circular. I won't go into all of them here, but most revolve around some sort of Master Plan that God has and the inability of mere mortal man to understand the road map that God has drawn up. Again, why would anyone choose to worship a God that has such a bizarre and cruel plan? The concept that there is some wonderful plan and that there is a purpose for everything does not quite measure up for this non-believer. Atheists, of course, have no trouble at all with the nuances of the world and nature. The world can be a cruel place and bad things can happen without a cause, without an agenda or a purpose. People die before their time, tornadoes hit Baptist churches, children are molested and savagely murdered, and sometimes drunk drivers walk away without a scratch after killing a family. To assign a plan, a purpose or a higher meaning to tragic events is to look at them only through the narrow view of religious blinders, and with hindsight.

Clearly, for any objectively thinking person, things do not always work out for the best and there is not always a silver lining to every dark cloud. Platitudes of "she's in a better place now" are no comfort to me; even though my wife was a Christian, I know better. The only consolation to the fact that my wife is now in the ground is her not being able to know or care about anything. Oblivion follows death, there is evidence of nothing else, and there is plenty of evidence of the brain not responding well to even slight injury, not to mention the ultimate insult, death. Predictably, I have been categorized by some as hating God or blaming God because of my misfortune. Well, first things first, how does an atheist hate/blame something that does not exist? I have also been asked how I could possibly go through such an ordeal without relying on religious faith and gods. An atheist does not need crutches nor embrace unnecessary baggage. I knew that there would be no miracle cure, no supernatural intervention and conducted myself accordingly.

Throughout much of my life I looked to gods and religion to provide answers. When I was young and inexperienced, religion provided the answer to almost everything. As I grew in knowledge and life experience, gods provided fewer answers and more questions. Ultimately, the gods, the saviors and the religion that I once held so dear, have all been exposed for what they are, cruel hoaxes and illusions. Religion explains absolutely nothing at all; it is merely a belief system created by humans who could not come to grips with their own mortality and perpetuated by fear. I have thrown off the shackles of religious tyranny and hope that one day mankind will be able to do the same.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only
our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds[13].


...Now I understand.

Footnotes

[1] My wife was still alive when I started this essay this February, but a totally different person from the one before the surgery. I loved her deeply, but in a completely different way. The wife that I knew before the tragedy was gone.
[2] John 3:18-20
[3] It was actually at least 17 victims that Jeffrey killed and hacked up. We will never know the extent of his depravity.
[4] It is interesting to not that the term "personal savior" is not in the Bible ANYWHERE.
[5] Pay Day Someday was a famous sermon written and preached by Robert Greene Lee who was a long time pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The sermon is the very embodiment of hellfire and brimstone with people dying in fiery auto accidents (unsaved, of course), etc., with maximum use of pulpit pounding and voice inflection to illicit an emotional response and a conversion based on fear and intimidation.
[6] "Once saved, always saved" is a hotly debated topic among Christians and those who have subsequently rejected Christianity after once being saved. As with virtually every issue, the fundamentalist Christians twist and bend this thorny problem in order to maintain their claim of Biblical inerrancy. Technically, according to Christian doctrine, no one or nothing can separate a saved individual from God, because that would then make an individual or ideology more powerful than God. To get around this problem, the fundamentalists insist that if a person who is once saved subsequently rejects Christianity, then that person was never really saved in the first place. This, of course, is ridiculous, but these sort of bizarre mental gymnastics are used out of necessity or their religious doctrine would fall apart and become meaningless.
[7] I won't elaborate on why we were "poor" but my father resigned his position at the Baptist church after he was made a scapegoat over an incident involving the pastor and some other individuals. Things were not merely "tight" for us, we were poor. I vividly remember one Christmas when we had no tree, no gifts, nothing, but we never did without food.
[8] REAL TRUE CHRISTIAN is just another fundie wriggle and obfuscation when confronted with a televangelist or another prominent "Christian" who is caught lying, stealing, in a sexually embarrassing or even sexually criminal situation. These people automatically become "Not Real True Christians" because of their behavior, when in fact there is absolutely nothing Biblical about such a designation, made obviously at the whim of other "Real True Christians" who also might become "Not Real True Christians" if they themselves are caught lying, cheating, stealing, raping, etc.,etc. This fallacy is modeled after the "No True Scotsman" fallacy of logic.
[9] Statement by M. O'Hair.
[10] There were two wonderful Catholic women who helped me when they could. I cannot say that this is because they were Catholic, but there was not the pious attitude that I encountered from others who tried to use our misfortune for their own religious recruitment.
[11] Robert G. Ingersoll.
[12] op.cit., M. O'Hair.
[13] Anne Nicol Gaylor, President, Freedom From Religion Foundation.


7/16/09                                                                                       View Comments

Angry and disillusioned with the Christian cancer

By iwishihad2000feet

Boys' BrigadeImage via Wikipedia

Standard story: Born into a Christian family, raised a Christian.

Evidently, it didn't occur to my parents that my mind wasn't fully mature and I had no idea what the hell they were getting me into. It didn't occur to them to ask what I wanted -- they just presumed upon me that I naturally wanted to be a Christian too.

Oh, I knew my parents had good intentions. But that's just what's so sinister about it. When you're brainwashed into thinking that non-believers are headed for the great gas cooker down below, you'll certainly want to punch your son's ticket out A-bloody-SAP.

But, ironically, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. These "good intentions" are a significant part of how this virus/cancer spreads itself. Yes, you heard me. I used "virus" and "cancer," because Xtianity is a vile pestilence bent on propagating itself while destroying all forms of unbelief, peaceful or not.

I tell myself that I don't blame my parents for what they did. Yet, I can't help but feel angry and disillusioned for all the bullshit that was hammered into me from childhood. But in church and school, any form of questioning, of skepticism, was ruthlessly jumped on. Strangely, while I learned to suppress my doubts in public, they always kept stirring within.

I don't know whether I should come out and tell my parents. My mother is relatively easygoing in her faith -- she encouraged or at least accepted my questioning. My father is more conservative, but still tolerates my doubts. However, I wonder whether all that will change if they discover that I no longer believe. I do not know whether their love is contingent on my faith or lack thereof. I do not want to find out.

For a brief period in my primary school days, I lapsed into funnymentalism. I thought the world was made in 6 days, that I was the only one in class who knew that and that everyone had to be saved or they'd cook. I shudder to think of my insufferable arrogance in those days. I wonder how my teachers and classmates lived with it. If I could go back to those times, I'd slap myself bloody silly.

I joined a Christian uniform group (the infamous Boys' Brigade), in part because my parents thought it'd be good for me. Turned out it wasn't. Yes, I made good friends. But I also saw how ugly Christians are on the inside. The sense of entitlement, the subtle and overt bullying, the presumptuous arrogance, the sexism and so much more, bothered me constantly. When all this authoritarianism combined with the BB's regimented atmosphere, it created ugly results. I still hated how they tried to "reach out to" (read: harrass) non-believers within the organisation. Especially since everyone in my school had been *forced into uniformed groups, and some of them came to the BB. I tried to counsel restraint, but the "true believers" shot me down for being "lukewarm". The doubts grew louder.

In addition to the ugliness of Christians, I also saw how horrible *Christianity is. Too many things didn't add up. The "loving" god increasingly looked to me like an abusive, sadistic, megalomaniacal, and above all, evil creature. His supposed omnipotence contrasted with a world that looked like it was created by either an incompetent, or a devil, or both. Either way, god didn't look terribly loving. I also had no idea why the hell god wouldn't ensure or at least do something more about our salvation. God would know full well how many decent folks would reject his unwelcome "gift" based on the evidence they faced- and with extremely good reason. I couldn't see how he could send them to the cooker. I could not see why he'd make us jump through all these bloody hoops instead of just pulling us out of the fire himself. I could not see why he put a price on his "unconditional" love. I tried to rationalise it as "His mysterious ways". However, the more i looked at it, the more it looked like a rationalisation- a bunch of crock cooked up to justify a bunch of crock.

My doubts approached boiling point when I enlisted for national service. I wrote in my blog:

"'One of the things that helped me greatly was reading non-theistic material. I got a look at how the "other side" thinks, and I must say it wasn't what I expected. I thought atheists had no morals, but I was wrong.'

When i was going through a rough patch in the army [I was *bullied -- and chief among those creeps was a true-blue born again from an Xtian school, no less], i thought my religion might have the answers.

Looking back, I think I was wrong.

The irony: it wasn't just Christian friends who were there for me.

I had a die-hard atheist in my bunk. He was there for me. There were 2 Muslims too. They were there for me -- quite a few Buddhists and "Pagans" too -- all there for me.

Where was my Bible? What was my God doing? Why were my human, "condemned" friends so much closer and more loving than my dogma?

I could not stomach it when someone told me that they were going to burn. I still can't.

Does God give leeway for extenuating circumstances? What of those who never heard the Word? Those who had the bad luck to grow up in non-Christian homes? Those persecuted by the church (it strikes me how the church plays martyr so well, telling us to pray for suffering brethren, even while Christian atrocities in the Balkans and elsewhere are conveniently ignored)? Did they really deserve what was in store for them? Or were they just going to roast too?

I'd always thought non-believers could be decent people too, despite hearing otherwise in AC. But knowing something and actually experiencing it are totally different things.

I couldn't help but wonder whether evangelicals' relationships with others were real. I wondered what it would be like to bond with people only to push your worldview at them like a drug pusher pushes drugs. I didn't like the thought at all. It was then that I figured I should just leave them to be the good people they were, and to share this world peaceably with them. I wish we could all just do that.

I saw four babies being "welcomed" into the church community. Much as I thought the parents' and vicar's intentions were good, i couldn't avoid wondering which of them could wind up angry and disillusioned too."

I must say that i had a few Xtian friends who helped me, and I appreciated it very much. But i get the feeling they'd have been good people without their religion anyway. They seemed to act on principles of decency. The "born-again" bully, however, was very much the self-righteous fundie making a big hooha over his faith while being a totally evil prick.

Things came to a head when i had a conflict with a Xtian friend over sexism. He told me that we can't be "pick and choose" Christians. We had to accept the whole faith, or throw it out entirely. He didn't realise just how much he helped me along to throwing off my blinders and yoke. I realised that i had to throw the whole damn thing out. And i did.

One of my fundie friends had cancer when we were in secondary school. He recovered and praised God endlessly about it. I played along for his sake. Now he's relapsed. He's convinced that he's "healed" and that he just needs faith (instead of *real medical treatment) to recover. Yet he continually asks the "Lord", "how long"? The thought of his pain breaks my heart. The sight of him- gaunt, pale, sickly, sunken eyes, bald head hidden beneath a flimsy cap, scars from invasive medical procedures- hardens that heart against this bogus "faith". It disgusts me that the church has so thoroughly brainwashed him, yet will not be there for him when he discovers that it's all just bullshit and his false hopes go out the window. My broken heart has been hardened towards this Christianity, this evil cancer that afflicts so many of us in mind, body, and soul.

[PS- there is so much more about Xtians and Xtianity that just makes me want to scream. But that's another story.

However, that doesn't change the fact that I want to grab them and shake them and scream at them- anything to get them all to wake up before the Xtian cancer destroys them all.]


7/15/09                                                                                       View Comments

Out of God's Closet

by Stephen F. Uhl, Ph.D.

[MCCALL'S MAGAZINE, KIDS IN LINEN CLOSET]Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

On Mothers Day, 1967, my eight siblings and I circled the huge table at Mom's place. No one there knew my hypocrisy when I, the family priest, blessed that heavy table as requested. No one yet knew my secret.

Mom had given me a very early priestly vocation. My oldest brother would run the family farm, and I would be the family priest. Period.

Twelve years of seminary and almost nine years of priesthood went swimmingly--until one fateful morning in meditation I saw how St. Thomas Aquinas' "causality proof" failed. He concluded: 'Since an infinite regression of secondary causes is impossible, there must be an uncaused First Cause, God.'

Seeing how gratuitous his assumption was, my faith began to waver.

My agnosticism then grew during two challenging years. Debating if I should leave the priesthood, I feared I might be kidding myself when admitting I was agnostic; childhood imprintings die very hard! However, my totally desperate but conditional prayer when facing an unavoidable high-speed head-on collision convinced me I didn't really believe. While recuperating from that October accident, I headed for a responsible June exit.

I had fully intended to break the news at our Mothers Day gathering, but I just could not bring myself to shatter that day's joy. Next day, in the privacy of Mom's kitchen, I forced myself to tell her. What a shock! But she painfully accepted what she could not change. Later that week when I was leaving, she was carrying bed clothes from her storage to my car; laughing through her tears, she said "I thought I was finished setting my kids up in housekeeping."

That same week I told my siblings. Their reactions ranged from completely sympathetic understanding to shocked disbelief. My youngest brother asked, “How can you be a good, moral man if you don't believe in God or the Church?" My answer was, and is, simple: 'I follow my highest power, my reason, my conscience; this leads to the Golden Rule and keeps me true to my self and those around me.'

During two years teaching public school mathematics, I married a fellow teacher. Now I could afford to get the doctorate in psychology.

My psychology practice thrived; I enjoyed helping clients shuck guilt based on outdated beliefs and childhood superstitions. I enjoyed teaching the practical morality of a modified Golden Rule that the way to be happy is to help make others so without destroying oneself. Living this Golden Rule made me a better psychologist, contributed to a great marriage of almost 40 years, and produced outstanding neighbor relationships.

Discovery of cancer scared me; I promptly started an intimate family letter. Learning my cancer was not aggressive, I expanded that letter into the book, Out of God's Closet: This Priest Psychologist Chooses Friendly Atheism. The book shares my exciting journey and shows readers how this natural life becomes a reasoned, responsible thrill outside of God's musty closet.


http://www.outofgodscloset.com/


Staunch Catholic, father of nine, loses faith

Sent in by Stephen

A TRIBUTE TO A DEAR FRIEND. (KILKENNY, IRELAND)Image by Edward Dullard via Flickr

I’m an exChristain. I’m very pleased to have escaped from the lies of religion, but the price of freedom from religion has been a very, very expensive price for me to pay. I am 46 years old and for nearly all of those 46 years I was a Christian of the Roman Catholic variety.

I was born in Dublin, Ireland, but I grew up in Manchester, England. In the Republic of Ireland being Catholic is more than a religion; it is part of your national identity. Growing up in England where the majority of people are non-practicing Protestants, where religion is not very important, the Irish community was probably even more fervent than those back in Ireland. Being Catholic was natural and we went to Catholic schools and went to church every Sunday. Not to go to “Mass” would be a sin.

In my late teens I stopped going to church because my two older brothers stopped going and I didn’t want to be the odd one out. But within a few years I wanted a closer relationship with God, and I started to read the bible (New-Testament). I tried reading the Old Testament too, but I found it too awful to read. I made 3 attempts to read the OT, but each time I found all the god-ordered massacres too hard to stomach. I remember god giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, which included “though shalt not kill” then when Moses got down the mountain he found the people worshipping a golden calf. Then Moses killed those people. Now I was thinking “I thought god had said though shalt not kill ?” I couldn’t read this stuff. So I thought, well at least Jesus came along and put it all right. And Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and nice stuff like that. So I thought that was ok. I was in my early 20’s at this time and I was very much into “Peace” and my hero was Mahatma Ghandi. I truly believed in non-violence and admired also Martin Luther king.

In 1984, I went to the US for the first time, cycling from New York to Saint Louis. On the way, I stopped at Washington DC and in front of the Washington monument I met some “born again” Christians who started talking to me and who asked me if I was “born again”. I thought they were slightly mad. Especially when they told me that the Russians were the beast in the book of Revelation. They gave me some leaflets to read and as I wasn’t sure what denomination of Christian I wanted to be, I read it. It shocked me, it said that all I had to do to be saved was to accept Jesus Christ to be my personal Lord and Saviour and that was it; the job was done. I hated this, I didn’t know at the time that this was a major difference between Catholic and Protestant theology, but to me this was an abomination. According to this I could rape, murder, steal whatever, just as long as I’d accepted that JC was my saviour it was a done deal. I found this unbiblical. I thought of Mathew 25:40 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Of course as a catholic I wasn’t into learning the bible by numbers.

In 1987 I chose to be a Catholic as I felt that Catholics were more loving and caring than the Protestants that I’d met. They were also more down to earth. My experience with Protestants was mainly from the United States as the English Protestants were basically non-practising, and the few that I did meet in the UK were very similar to those I’d met in the US. They were distant from “normal” people and seem to think that dancing and having fun was a sin. They seemed (to me at least) more obsessed with “Jesus” than in loving their fellow man. So I became Roman Catholic by choice.

I got married in 1987, to a very religious Roman Catholic woman, I felt at the time that god had put her in my path and I believed that I’d become a more holy and spiritual person living with her. We planned as “good Catholics” to have a large family, and on our honeymoon we talked about having 6 children. We even chose 6 girls and 6 boys names, just in case we only had six of the same sex.

Something happened on our honeymoon that I will never forget, and it was to set the tone for our “sex lives” together. We’d been together for 2 years before we got married and we had had sexual intercourse about once a month, just after her periods, because we didn’t want to have a child outside of wedlock. I thought that once married then we’d be able to make love on a regular basis, but we never talked about this before marriage. Sex is a big taboo subject with Catholics of my generation. (I don’t know if it is the same with Protestants ?). Well, on our honeymoon I wanted to make love for the second time on that first night as husband and wife, and my wife said “no”, that a married woman was not her husband’s prostitute. Now this shocked me, and I tried to understand what she meant, so we talked about it, and she told me basically that we should have sexual intercourse only when both of us wanted it. Ok, I agreed to this. On our honeymoon of one week, we made love twice. This was not what I imagined. I thought we would spend the whole week in bed and make love three or four times a day. It was no longer a sin; we were allowed to do it. I never shared this with my wife, as I wanted to make her happy, so I tried to adjust to her desires… I can’t remember how many times she said “no” not tonight. How many times I rolled over in a bad mood because we weren’t going to make love. (Please bear with me; this story is relevant to how I lost my faith).

After 2 years of marriage I saw an advertisement for a magazine with a photo of Claudia Schifer, with a low cut dress -- it was so sexy. Every time I passed the shop I couldn’t help myself, I had to look at the photo. I was burning with desire. I then went into a shop and bought a soft-porn magazine with pictures of nude women. I then masturbated in secret for the next few days then when my sperm was all spent, I felt terribly guilty. I then burnt the magazine and prayed for God’s forgiveness, I couldn’t face the humility of confessing this sin to a priest. This then became a ritual. I’d abstain for a while then, I’d become obsessed with sex, I’d try to resist, and then give in to temptation. I’d think of Matthew 5:27 you have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.

In the mid-nineties I got a computer and internet access, and with this came easy access to porn. I soon became addicted. At this time I also became more religious and started a prayer group, praying the rosary every week, I stared going to confession on a regular basis and going to mass during the week as well as on Sundays. I started fasting, and our family holidays were pilgrimages. All this time I kept asking god for “chastity”. I so desired to be pure, but nothing happened. I began to become frightened, I thought that because I couldn’t control my desires, I couldn’t control my thoughts that this, my Achilles heal (my sexual desires) was going to be the cause of my down fall. I’d tried to be faithful to “God” and to his “Holy Catholic Church” yet, I could still end up going to hell because I couldn’t stop sinning.

As a catholic I believed that we were saved by faith and works, I’d even chose my profession in order to go to heaven, I was a nurse, and I chose this profession because of Mathew 25:40 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Yet I was constantly falling into a state of mortal sin.

Then the process began to me losing faith, and funnily enough a priest started the process, in confession he told me that my “lust” was probably due to “Libido”, that I had a bigger Libido than my wife. He told me not to worry about the masturbation problem. So this meant that it was OK to masturbate in certain circumstances? Despite what the church taught? So it was open to interpretation?

My wife and I had not used contraception because of the teachings of the church; and although I’d said to my wife that I thought 4 was enough children, (after the birth of our fourth I no longer wanted six, it was too much work) and although she then adopted the method “billings”, in which it is said to be more effective than “unnatural methods of contraception”. My wife was to tell me when it was OK (safe to have sex without conceiving), this would be about twice a month, yet despite, me each time (stupidly) trusting her to do it right we ended up having 9 children. I shouldn’t blame my wife for this but myself for being so stupid to believe in the teachings of the Catholic church (you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church).

I love my children very, very dearly but I didn’t chose to have 9 children but feel that god, the Catholic Church, my wife and myself forced this upon me.

Other things priests’ said also started me thinking. I’d long thought that Adam and Eve was just a story but one day a priest taught in his sermon that the story of the wise men coming from the east was probably just a story, and that it meant that Jesus was for the whole world, and rich and poor, Jews and non-Jews. But this was to have a profound affect on me. How was I to know which parts of the bible were true and which parts are fiction? Dan Brown's fictional story "The DaVinci Code" then helped me too. Although I knew this was fiction something he wrote struck a cord with me, I can’t quote him exactly but he said something like “the victorious get to write history”. So I began to think that I couldn’t really trust the bible, I didn’t know who wrote it.

Then one night, I was working at night and during my break I turned on the TV and saw a documentary called “who wrote the bible”, during this programme I heard experts telling me that the biblical kingdom of David never existed, I’d already heard a radio report that claimed that the exodus never actually happened and that there is no historical or archaeological evidence of the Hebrew people ever being slaves in Egypt. I wanted to know more -- thank god for the internet -- I saw a wonderful series of videos on YouTube entitled “Who Wrote the Bible”, it was just a part of this programme that I saw that night at work. So suddenly I realised that the O.T. was fiction. So where did this leave the N.T., that was built onto the O.T.

I started reading more and ordering books from the internet, I wanted to read from the experts. I was shocked to read that the N.T. canon wasn’t decided on until the 4th century and that the first books in the N.T were the letters of Paul, and I’d never really liked Paul. He said so much that I didn’t agree with, he was misogynist; he didn’t condemn slavery and seemed to say that people shouldn’t get married. I found his teaching often contradicted the gospels.

I read a few books that helped me be cured of Christianity and religion, the best being “The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity
" by Hyam Maccoby. I also read The God Delusion
and some others.

This discovery cost me my marriage, I couldn’t live denying my sexuality and I now live with a beautiful woman who enjoys making love and we enjoy life together without fearing hell.

Unfortunately, my children have taken the separation very badly and want to blame me for leaving. Even though I want to fully share my responsibility towards them and to share the custody. The eldest refuses to talk to me, the next one refuses to visit me, the third wants to kill me, yet I have always been a loving and caring father who has done a lot for and with his kids. But as Christians they judge me, and see me as a sinner who is to be avoided and the attitude of the older ones rubes off on the younger ones, meaning the only one that truly shows she loves me still is the youngest, thank god. I had 9, so at least one still loves me.

Thank you for reading this, I’m not a writer, but I think it is an interesting but sad story about my journey to freedom from religion. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t discovered the truth, then my family would still be together and I would still be beating myself up about being a man, with sexual needs and desires.

Stephen

7/12/09                                                                                       View Comments

Freedom at last!

By Finally Done

I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church, graduated from an *extremely* fundamentalist college, and for several years "served" in full-time fundamentalist Christian ministry as a missionary wife overseas and then as a small country church pastor's wife in the U.S. More recently, I was a regular Sunday School teacher and a columnist for a national fundamentalist Christian magazine -- and yet I never felt at peace, and I always had questions (apparently too many and too critical for anyone's listening pleasure).

For the last six years, while still "in" the church, I have been searching for real answers -- answers that make sense and satisfy me. I've read and read, books and articles from all perspectives, and I came very close to leaving my childhood faith behind me several times, but always I pulled back from fear of the consequences that had been pummeled into me my whole life. Every person I know well is a Christian (and 99% are fundamentalists), and I understood that leaving the "faith" would mean my entire life would be thrown into chaos. The biggest deterrent was worrying about what the upheaval would mean for my kids.

So I forced myself to keep trying to believe in this God I no longer respected -- a god who sanctioned polygamy, infanticide, genocide, and sexism in the Old Testament, a god who neglected (or was unable?) to interfere in the sufferings of this world he had created and called good, a god who arbitrarily answered a few prayers while ignoring multitudes of others...

I went to church with my husband and children on Sunday mornings, and I stayed quiet (for the most part) when I disagreed with things the pastor preached or my husband said. But I refused to join the "accountability and fellowship" groups at our church, and I stopped reading my Bible. I'm not sure how much longer this farce would have lasted as it was very stressful for me. My husband knew I had some "issues" to resolve, but he refused to admit they were serious. He insisted everything could be easily settled if only I would "submit" to his leadership, put myself under the guidance and discipline of the church, and stop my constant reading of others' heretical and deceptive viewpoints. He believed (still does) that I have a proud, feminist spirit and that is why I could not find joy and peace in my Saviour,Jesus Christ, and the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

Then, almost two years ago, my youngest child was stillborn just before his due date. No reason could be found, but I was told by many Christians that "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28) That was the turning point in my journey. In many ways, it opened my eyes to reality. The last 23 months have been filled with deep soul-searching, wrenching depression, more reading (this time no longer afraid, as the worst has already happened), and ultimately, a major decision that has finally brought me the peace and calm I have been seeking.

I am relieved and happy to say that I am now an EX-Christian, no longer tied to the superstitious, anti-intellectual, sexist, judgmental stakes of any religion. I realize I have many choices to make in the near future. Some things will be tricky as I have been enmeshed in this life for a long time. My husband will never give up his faith or "compromise" it in any way. My older children are real thinkers (they must have absorbed some of my skepticism over the years), and I'm not worried about them at all. But I do need to tread carefully in regards to my younger kids... and I will.

Yet even with that on my mind, nothing can stop this overwhelming sense of freedom from pervading every cell of my body. To finally see the light of reason... to finally be true to my inner knowledge and feelings... to finally be done with Christianity.

Freedom at last.

Irrespective of What You Think – My de-Conversion Story

altarboymodelImage by lincoln-log via Flickr

Sent in by Brian

I was raised Catholic though my parents were hardly devout. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why they brought us to church at all. I can only assume it was out of some kind of unspoken obligation to their parents. I received my first communion, was an altar boy and felt a certain degree of closeness toward God. At the very least I never questioned that He was real, even though I frequently got into trouble for acting out in Sunday school. My family attended church dutifully, if not faithfully, until I was confirmed in sixth grade, at which point we stopped going altogether.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because of overbearing parents who left a bad impression of my religion. Even though I was initially “forced” into the church, when I started going back at the age of seventeen, it was entirely my decision. An easy one at that. Fear of Hell drove me into the pews. That’s the one thing Catholics (and later, I would realize, all Christians) are really good at—putting the fear of eternal damnation into you, just in case God’s love wasn’t enough. But once I came back, I was in all the way. I went to confession, received communion and prayed my Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s every single night. I met with my priest on several occasions. He was a good and saintly man, and he comforted and encouraged me in my faith while at the same time challenging me to go deeper.

I will always view that summer before college as the time when my faith was at its strongest, its most unshakeable. I read the Catechism. I stopped cursing. I received communion every week (sometimes several times) and went to confession as often as possible. As the ultimate act of devotion for a seventeen-year-old boy, I even gave up masturbation once I read it was a “mortal sin.” I had zero doubt I was on the right path and I couldn’t believe there were people in this world who didn’t believe in God.

Despite going to an incredibly liberal college in an incredibly liberal city, my faith remained strong, though I did begin to compromise on certain “social issues”. I drank, I cursed, I had gay friends. The masturbation thing went out the window after six months, as eventually did the no sex before marriage thing. By the time I graduated, you could probably have labeled me as just a general “theist.” Though I still identified myself as Catholic and continued to attend mass every Sunday, my general outlook on religion was that it didn’t matter which god you had faith in, so long as you had faith in something.

Then I met a girl. Her dad was an Evangelical preacher. Curious, I went to his church and was blown away by the service. The preaching. The music. The people. When Catholic Mass is all you’ve ever known, going to a church where the songs are fast, where the sermon is engaging, and where the people look genuinely happy to be there, is like a breath of fresh air. Of course, mixed in with all that came a whiff of sourness, since, according to my new girlfriend’s father, Jesus was the only way to God. The only way to Heaven. All other ways, by default, led to Hell. Throw in a couple of comments about the evils of homosexuality and I suddenly wondered if all that music and clapping were just pretty dressings on something otherwise ugly.

And yet, something in the way my future father-in-law preached a personal relationship with Jesus rang true to my soul. In the Catholic Church of my youth, God and Jesus were impersonal figures, entities you approached with solemnity via a priest or a pre-written prayer. The idea of going to God with boldness, with songs of praise, with a prayer you made up on the spot seemed somehow more… real. More true. I still couldn’t stomach the idea that so many people would be going to Hell simply because they’d picked the “wrong god”. But I was willing to table that feeling for the moment in order to figure out if Jesus really was “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” A few months later, I came up for my first altar call and asked Jesus into my heart.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because the conviction of God made me run and hide in my own sin. When I became an Evangelical Christian, it was a conscious decision, something I did despite the parts that felt wrong. I recall having a conversation with a highly spiritual friend around this time who said I was becoming close-minded in my attitude toward religion. Even now, I tend to disagree. For the first time in my life my mind was opening to the possibility that maybe God really did only have one straight and narrow path. My friend said she refused to believe that any God would send people to Hell. To which I responded, “If God is an eternal and sovereign being, don’t you think He is who He is irrespective of what you think? Irrespective of whether or not you like it? Irrespective of whether or not it makes sense?”

I started reading the Bible for the first time in my life and the first thing I noticed was how wrong the Catholics had gotten it. Things like the divinity of Mary, the origin of the papacy, their theories concerning end times… none of it, as near as I could tell, was biblically based. The realizations were encouraging. Now that I was doing the work I could actually see results. At church I sang with feeling. I listened to sermons with rapt attention. When I prayed, I prayed with all my might. I spent a good deal of time online in Christian forums, asking questions and exploring my faith. A month before my wedding, I proved my commitment to Jesus by being baptized, and I looked forward to the day when the Holy Spirit Itself would baptize me, causing me to speak in tongues. I still had a hard time getting over the whole “Jesus or Hell” dogma, but I simply put faith in God and trusted that He would reveal the wisdom I needed when the time was right.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because I refused to seek God where He was. As irony would have it, it was the very act of seeking a deeper knowledge of Him that eventually led me away from the faith. As I read my Bible, I would make notes about things that struck me, things that spoke to me, and things that confused me. Especially things that confused me. A pious man of God gave his daughters to an angry mob to be raped? God encouraged Hebrew warriors to slaughter every man, woman and child, but keep the virgins for themselves? David had how many wives? How many whores? How many egregious sins? And yet he was a man after God’s own heart?

But the most damaging passage of all came from the Gospel of Luke, where the writer gives the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam. To Adam! The first man. It didn’t take a math whiz to realize there weren’t enough generations between Jesus and Adam to account for all of human history. I’d always assumed the Bible never really mentioned anything about the origins of humankind beyond the account in Genesis. I figured, if anything, it was just a bunch of vague fables and symbolic allegories that you could never really prove or refute. Yet here they were, providing us with a definitive timeline that even a seventh grade Western Civ student could identify as false.

I asked several “seasoned Christians” about the passage and they gave me some answers that weren’t really answers: “there’s a gap between Genesis 1 and 2… a day to the Lord is as a thousand years… we don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden.” And when I asked what I considered to be natural follow-up questions, they responded the way one might deal with a petulant child. They’d tell me with a huff that I just needed to have faith, or that questions of origins “had no bearing on salvation.” Which struck me as the worst kind of cop out. After all, if even one verse in the inerrant Word of God could be called into question, how could you trust any of it?

This happened a lot over the next few years. Especially with pastors and people who fancied themselves biblical scholars. If something confused me, I could get in perhaps three questions (four if they were really patient) before they’d throw up their hands, assume I was being willfully difficult and end the discussion by telling me to pray on it, or by recommending a book by a Christian author… which usually did no better a job of answering my question than they had.

Mind you, I was never the kind of person who needed every confusing thing spelled out in order to believe. I understood that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In a lot of cases, I found the questions to be kind of exciting. For instance, who were these “sons of God” who could supposedly impregnate human women? What did the prophecies really say about the timing of the Rapture? Why did Satan rebel against God in the first place? After all, no matter how much pride you have, nobody picks a fight unless they’re pretty sure they can win. Speculating on questions like these actually fueled my spiritual curiosity and encouraged me to dig deeper.

Still, it did bother me that the Bible disagreed externally with science and history. Evolution aside, the Old Testament writers certainly seemed to be saying the earth was flat and the sun arced around it. And wasn’t it worrisome that no contemporary writers even mentioned Jesus or any of the miracles that put Judea into such an uproar? How does raising Lazarus from the dead not catch the attention of at least one historian? For that matter, how did it not catch the attention of the other three gospel writers? Turns out, what bothered me most was how the Bible disagreed internally with itself. Explain it away however you want, the four Gospels do give differing accounts of the crucifixion. Follow the footnotes whenever Jesus fulfills a prophesy and you realize that, quite often, the prophetic verse had nothing to do in context with whatever Jesus did to fulfill it.

Those questions which “had no bearing on salvation” eventually gave way to questions that did. Because salvation, according to the brand of Christianity I was following, depended entirely on believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. But it’s hard to believe when the book you base your faith on seems like nothing more than a bunch of well-intentioned fairy tales… or worse, a pack of outright lies. Taken out of context, even the Adam and Eve story is little more than some Greek myth entitled, “How the Snake Lost its Legs.” Taken out of context, the story of Jonah sounds no less a kid’s fable than “Pinocchio.” If someone from another religion were to pass along a similar tale from their own holy book, we’d laugh that smug little Christian laugh and marvel at how blinded from the Truth they were.

The more I read the Bible, the more it pointed me toward one scary conclusion: my entire faith had been founded on bullshit. I tried desperately not to believe it. I tried to believe that these deeper nagging questions, the ones I didn’t dare ask out loud, were simply the work of the devil sowing seeds of doubt.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because I didn’t know the Word of God. I knew it. Certainly not as well as others who can (and do) quote Scripture at will. But I knew enough to recognize it was severely damaging my ability to believe. I gradually turned all spiritual attention toward prayer and first-person experience.

A lot of Christians will tell you “God isn’t a feeling.” You can’t depend on your human senses to reveal eternal Truth. Mind you, these are often the same people who fall on the floor, speak in tongues and claim their prayers have been answered simply because it “felt right.” But that’s beside the point. When God’s own instruction manual is pushing you farther and farther from the faith, all you can rely on is God Himself to bring you back. Call it a “feeling.” Call it an “experience.” Call it a “revelation.” All I knew was I needed something. Anything.

While I tended to look with annoyance and suspicion upon people who spoke in tongues and who worshiped Jesus with vocal abandon, the truth is I envied them. They really did believe they were experiencing something. I wanted a taste of that. I wanted it so badly. And so I prayed. I begged God to reveal Himself to me the way he had to them. The best I can say is I occasionally felt a pleasant kind of buzzing during times of prayer, a mild euphoria during worship. But these weren’t any different than the things I can feel while hiking to a vista, singing along at a rock concert or watching “Field of Dreams”.

My prayer mantra became a quote from the book of Mark: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” A man says this prayer after Jesus tells him he can heal his daughter, “if only he believes.” This had always struck me as an amazingly honest prayer. What’s the point, after all, in lying to the Creator of the universe who knows your innermost thoughts anyway? If I was having trouble believing, surely God already knew that. And if there was any prayer that He would answer, certainly that would be it. And so I prayed over and over again, “I believe in you as much as my human self is able, Lord Jesus. But please God, you have to help me the rest of the way because I don’t think I can do it anymore.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because I never tried to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I cannot convey how much I wanted exactly that. It always amazed me how my fellow Christians could have such an abundant prayer life, such a close friendship with God. I don’t know if they were hearing back from Him in a way that I was not, but for me, the one-way pseudo-dialog had finally became too heartbreaking to continue.

Praying wasn’t working. The Bible wasn’t working. Talking to other Christians had proved fruitless years ago because they kept shoving increasingly useless books in my face and telling me to “just have more faith.” I know they meant well, but none of them could realize I’d reached a point where I had nothing to base my faith on. If I couldn’t base it on the Bible and I couldn’t base it on personal experience, was I to base my faith on faith? But how was I to know I was basing my faith on the right faith? Through faith? None of them could see the circular logic in that. Does one believe in something because they have faith? Or do they believe in it because it’s the Truth? And how do they know it’s the Truth? Faith?

Besides discussion forums on the internet, the only person I could talk to about these matters was my wife. Because, quite frankly, she was the only Christian I knew who wouldn’t play mental gymnastics with theology. If something didn’t make sense, she would come right out and admit, “Yeah, I don’t get that either.” It felt good to actually discuss these things, knowing I wouldn’t get a huffy “just pray on it” after asking one question too many. At the same time, I envied her the way I envied all Christians who were able to believe without question… or to believe in the face of questions.

I don’t think even I realized how close to the edge of unbelief I was. I can remember praying for several atheist friends one day and begging God to fill them with the Holy Spirit so they’d believe. I’d stopped asking Him to bless me with the gift of tongues long ago. After almost eight years, it felt like that prayer had been answered with a definitive “no.” Instead, I prayed, “Lord, I will never not believe in You. So please, bless my friends with that gift so that they might believe in You too.” I honestly believed that no matter how many questions I had, my faith was at least strong enough to survive all out atheism. The reality of God simply seemed more logical than the alternative.

Two months later, I followed a link to the following de-conversion story and everything unraveled. My only experience with atheists to that point involved people for whom religion had always been a patently crazy idea. But here was the story of somebody like me. His upbringing had been far more fundamentalist than mine, but the turmoil he experienced realizing he was losing his faith was identical. Tears sprung to my eyes and my entire body went numb as realization washed over me. “This is my story.” It put into words all the intangible fears and questions that had plagued my Christian faith since I first asked Jesus into my heart. After that, it was only a matter of time.

Fear of Hell was the only thing that kept me hanging on. Funny thing is, even when my faith was at its strongest, Hell never made sense to me. Christians would always say that Hell had to exist because “our God is just God and He can’t allow sin into His presence.” But sending somebody to Hell (or even “allowing them to choose Hell” as some Christians like to spin it) would be akin to a parent letting their three-year-old run away from home… then beating the shit out of them nonstop for the rest of their life and calling it “justice”. It simply doesn’t make sense, especially for a God who’s supposed to love us as a father loves his children. After all, what are we in the grand scheme of eternity but little kids who don’t know any better? But, as I’d said to my friend years before, God is who He is irrespective of what we think or whether or not it makes sense. And if it turned out that He was, in fact, willing to torture me for all eternity simply because I’d picked the wrong answer, well, didn’t I owe it to myself to give faith one more chance?

I waited until everyone in the house had gone to sleep, then got down on my knees and pleaded with God to pull me back from the brink. I begged him to be the Abba, Daddy, Father He claimed to be in the Bible. Because no father who loves his children would let them walk into a pit of fire. No matter how rotten my son had acted, no matter how rebellious, no matter how much of a pain in the ass he’d been even moments before, I would drop everything to save him. I would tackle him if necessary, wrap him in a bear hug and say, “I don’t care how much you hate me. I love you too much to let you do this.” It seems only reasonable to expect my eternal Father—who supposedly loves me more than anyone else in the whole universe—to do the same.

Christians will say I was testing God by demanding a sign. “Do you ask your own parents to prove they love you?” they ask rhetorically. No I don’t, but I have no doubt that they do, because they’ve shown me my entire life. I don’t want a sign from my Dad. I want a friggin’ hug! A real conversation. I want Him to tell me He loves me… and not via a “letter” He wrote and xeroxed to all His other “kids” before we were born.

Kneeling on the floor that night I squeezed my hands together and prayed: “I love you, Lord. I want to believe in you more than anything. I want to believe you love me too. Please, please help me. You say that a father will not give his son a rock when he asks for a piece of bread. Please don’t give me silence when all I need is comfort.”

The only response was my own voice reflecting off the walls.

A few months later, I read the popular Christian fiction book THE SHACK. In one scene, the lead character watches his dead daughter playing in a field of flowers in Heaven. Standing there next to him, God assures the man that they’ll be together again someday. It’s such a simple yet beautiful scene, and I suddenly found tears rolling down my face as the realization hit: it’s never going to happen. If something horrible happens to me or my family, there will be no comfort in Heaven, no joyous reunion in the clouds, no loving Father to wipe the tears from our eyes. It was at that moment I knew, without a doubt, I was no longer a Christian. No longer a believer. At least not in a God who cared one way or the other about me. It was, perhaps, the most hollow feeling of my entire life.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because I wanted to. Losing faith broke my heart in ways I never thought possible. God had been such a constant throughout my life. He’d been a source of strength, comfort and hope. Knowing that all we see was just the prelude to something bigger and better encouraged and motivated me. I didn’t want to believe that this is all there was. I wanted to believe that once I was with my Father in Heaven, everything would be wonderful, amazing, perfect. But as I’d always known, as I’d always feared, God is who He is (or isn’t) irrespective of what I want.

Breaking the news to my wife wasn’t easy. But after the initial shock and kneejerk assumption that this would ruin our marriage and the lives of our children, she has been amazingly understanding, if not entirely empathetic. Not that I blame her. More than anything she feels genuinely sorry for me, for what I’ve lost. At the same time, I know she worries for my soul. I know because I used to worry the same way about friends and family who weren’t saved. Believing that your loved ones will be burned and tortured for all eternity, or even just believing you’ll never see them again after this life passes… it’s a gut-wrenching burden.

That’s why I don’t mind that she prays for me every day. Prays for me to come to my senses. Prays that God would reveal whatever it is I think I need in order to believe again. I’ve agreed to continue going to church and supporting our children’s Christian upbringing. At least for the time being. Our congregation doesn’t preach the kind of fire and brimstone you get at other churches. They don’t stand outside funeral homes chanting “God Hates Fags.” They’re refreshingly global with their missionary work, putting money into missions that do tangible good, as opposed to simply “spreading the message.” So I’m willing to play along at least until the kids are old enough to understand my decision and handle its emotional implications. Just like with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, I have no interest in robbing them of their belief in magic and imaginary friends before they’re ready.

I tell you this so you’ll know, despite no longer believing in God, I understand how important belief is in people’s lives. I’m not on a crusade to convert others out of the faith. Nor, on the other hand, will I stand idly by while faith-based initiatives running counter to my ideals get pushed through Congress. My morals, my responsibilities, my sense of right and wrong no longer arise out of fear of divine retribution, but out of my own desire to make this world a better place. As Richard Dawkins once said: “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” The same goes for Hell. As a Christian, I never had to fear the consequences of not being Muslim or not being Hindu, because I knew those beliefs to be false. Now I simply apply that mentality to the Hell of all religions, including the one I followed for thirty years.

Despite overcoming that mental hurdle, I know the road ahead won’t be easy. My de-conversion didn’t happen in a vacuum. I have a wife, children, family and friends. People I love very much. People who are going to worry themselves sick for as long as I walk “outside the light.” It’s not a matter of judgment or anger for them. They love and sincerely want the best for me, but it’s impossible not to feel a sense of dread when you believe someone so close to you will burn for all eternity. I will never fault them for that. If I thought it would do any good, I would pray comfort on their souls.

I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because I had no good models of Christian living. Quite the contrary, despite the occasional personality conflict, the Christians I have known—Catholics and Evangelicals alike—were decent, intelligent, patently not crazy people. In their daily lives, they embodied the very model of Christ-like behavior that everyone else should emulate. They gave me a bed to sleep in when I had no money. They invited me to dinner when I was far from home. More often than not, they were friendly and compassionate, even to people they knew to be sinners. Their passion for God was infectious rather than off-putting. If anything, they are the reason I stuck with it as long as I did. But a story’s truth cannot exist on the strength of its storytellers alone. And as much as I hate breaking the hearts of the people I love, I simply cannot bring myself to believe their fairy tale, however well-intentioned, any longer.