Being a missionary showed me light

By No Longer Afraid ~

Indian broochImage by exfordy via Flickr
I was raised in Kansas City, MO by my Charismatic Christian parents. I got "saved" when I was five years old, as do most children born into a Christian home. My mother homeschooled my seven siblings, and I and most of our friends were those from our church, raised in the same way as I.

We attended a non-denominational Christian church in Kansas City in which we practiced extreme Christianity. Worship services were more like raves, with people dancing in the aisles and speaking in tongues, having what seemed to be seizures on the floor. The documentary "Jesus Camp" reminds me of our sermons. We were "warriors for Christ." The church also sent some of it's members on mission trips, primarily in Mexico.

I submitted to all of this. My life goal at that time was to get married, have kids and serve the Lord. I was a typical teenage "Jesus Freak."

When I was 14, the church announced that they were looking for the right people to go on a mission trip to New Delhi, India. I felt that I needed to go. Another contributing factor to my wanting to go to India was that my best friend was also going and I did not want to be away from him. I raised money all summer; mowed lawns, sold Gold-C books, babysat, collected donations, etc.

So here I was, 14 years old on an airplane to India. The goal of our mission, as quoted by our team leader, was to "scout the land" and plant "house churches." We met many amazing Indian natives. We dressed in their native clothing and lived among them in a small village in New Delhi. The problem was, many of them practiced Hindu and Buddhism. We prayed over their "evil ways" and asked Jesus to come into their land and show them the light. I was completely for our cause. I prayed along and even cried for these "evil worshipers."

At the time we were in India, there was a religious holiday called Diwali, which we got the opportunity to experience. We saw the dedication these people had to their faith and how their religion is such a big part of their culture.

When I returned to the states, my 5-year-old sister became very ill. Because of my parents belief that God is the "Great Physician," my sister died on January 9th, 2004. (Google "Victory Halbert.") My parents were under investigation and my siblings and I were put into foster homes. We spent a total of about 3 years moving from foster home to group home and finally were returned to my father, who was now divorced from my mother. My father was depressed and drank a lot and pretty much let me do whatever I wanted.

Coming from the type of home I was raised in, being thrust into the secular world came as a shock to me. One day I was being home schooled by my mother, the next I was forced to go to public school in one of the worst districts in the state of MO.

I rebelled against everything I knew. I skipped school frequently, which led to me dropping out, partied with my new high school friends and eventually moved in with my boyfriend, who I met at school, when I was 17. Soon after, I got pregnant. I moved on with my life and let go of everything that was holding me back. My boyfriend and I got an apartment together and got engaged. In 2008, we had another baby and finally got married when I was 19 and he was 21. We moved into a new house and I ran a daycare out of our home and he, having a college degree, had a great job and we were financially secure.

My husband came from a Baptist background. He claimed to be a Christian, as did I, but we both struggled with our beliefs. Being young and not knowing what to do with that, we never really talked about religion.

I struggled with guilt about my trip to India. I started to realize what I was really doing there; preaching the word of God. Remembering how committed those Indians were to their faith, I realized that I had infiltrated their culture with my beliefs, which now don't even make sense to me. I read the Bible and tried to make sense of it, but I just couldn't. I greatly questioned the Christian religion and felt awkward talking about it with my husband, as I didn't know how he would react, being that he was Baptist.

Eventually it came out that he questioned the Bible and Christianity as well. I was relieved, but we still didn't know what to do about it.

In the summer of 2009, my father, who had radically denounced Christianity and somewhat "gone off the deep end" in his obsession with conspiracy theories and constant talk of religious dogmas, invited us to go on a camping trip in Mclouth, Kansas for a celebration called "Laid Back Labor Day." We were hesitant, as it was a Pagan Christians we were always taught that Pagans were "devil worshipers" and witches. We ended up going and it changed out lives. We now call ourselves Pagans, although we don't really practice anything, but are open to magic and mysticism and in love with nature.

I am no longer afraid of going to hell and being condemned by god. I realize now that NO ONE is right. How can any one religion be right? I think that religion is more so a matter of culture, I realize that now, especially because of my trip to India. The Indians are not evil just because the worship a god of a different name or because they have not accepted Jesus into their hearts. I know that now. I am free.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this story is. I think it is more of an affirmation of who I am than it is a testimony. I just know that I am happy now and that I am lucky to have my husband to share in my beliefs and realizations of our past as christians. I am glad that I can come here and share my story without being told that I am going to hell (which I am told a lot, even though I do not believe in hell anymore!)

I was not scared into my beliefs. As a Christian, I obeyed for that very reason: fear. I didn't want to be condemned by god to hell, and I tried to live my life according to the bible solely because I wanted to go to heaven. I have a lot to say about the bible, but I won't go into that here.

I must admit that I DO still struggle with fear because of Christianity. I sometimes find myself thinking "what if I'm wrong...what if there is a hell and I'm headed there?" Then I have to shake myself and remind myself that hell was invented by the christians in order to make a perfect world.

Any thoughts on this? I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading.

Leaving the Church

By Kenneth S. (via Carl S.)

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic C...Image by sarowen via Flickr

I was raised in a Catholic family, and went to a Catholic school for almost eight years. In my last year I had an older nun, Sister Raymond, around 65 years-old, who did not like me because I used to ask her things that she could not explain. At the time I was following the crowd and dressed and acted the way I thought was popular (wrong). The nuns used to pull my hair and punish me because I had a DA (duck’s ass) haircut and wore pegged pants.

I told my mother, “I have to get out of that school,” but she said, “You have to go to Catholic school.”

Anyway, the next week, I was wrestling with a friend outside the church’s side door, and I pushed his head through it (stained glass). Guess who was right inside? Sister Raymond!

The next week I was in public school. WOW! All the girls had breasts and nice legs, and were friendly. I didn’t know that life could be so free, where I could think and act as I pleased without sinning.

Anyhow, after experiencing a pretty good life for a few years, when I was seventeen years-old I left home (due to circumstances beyond my control - another story). I joined the navy.

When I got out, I was ready to settle down. I had a girlfriend who wanted to get married in a Catholic Church, so she went to classes and converted. When we went to get married, she was baptized by the same priest who baptized me 22 years earlier. Everything went good.

Nine months later, we had a baby girl (very good). About a year later, we were having marital problems, so we went to see our priest. We were talking to him and the first thing he asked was, “Are you practicing birth control?” And I said “Yes.” He responded, “I or the church can do nothing to help you.” I said, “Take your goddamn church and shove it.” Never been back.

I was de-converted by the Bible

By Sylvester

Bible with Cross ShadowImage by knowhimonline via Flickr

I converted to Christianity when I was 17, without knowing much about the bible and the religion.

I began attending church regularly when I was 18 and soon was all "on fire" for Jesus. I "served" all I could, spent all my time in church and soon was promoted to become an "area" leader, in charge of about a 100 youths.

I began to doubt when I was 22, after 4 years in church.

I questioned the rules ands regulations of my ex-church. Rules like prohibiting girls to wear "tight" fitting clothes, prohibiting colouring of hair, and compulsory attendance for service and cellgroup. Of course after a while, I brushed it aside. I prayed and thought that god would take those doubts away.

A year ago, my doubts were still not going away. In fact, things became worse. I began reading the bible thoroughly, hoping to find an answer for my doubts.

But the more I read the bible, the more I was appalled at the contents. I couldn't believe that there were errors, inconsistencies and many scientific errors in it. I was also horrified that "god" actually commanded the deaths of so many innocent people (babies, women, children) in the bible just because they were his enemies.

I approached my leaders regarding the bible and of course, in all Christian fashion, they told me that I was questioning too much and gave me ridiculous answers such as "God had to kill them because they were sinful".

I also began arguing with my pastors about the church's rules and restrictions. Of course I was immediately labeled as "wayward" and "unsubmissive".

Finally in 2009 February, I decided enough was enough. There were enough reasons for me to leave the religion.

AND so I left church and Christianity, and today I am so much happier.

Taking the Red Pill

By BillRPJ

I fell in love with Jesus when I was 12 years old. On the back wall of the baptistery of the Chemung Baptist Church, there was a life-size picture of Jesus as a shepherd, a crook in one hand, cradling a soft, little lamb in the other. As I looked at the face of Jesus, I felt that his eyes were gazing right into my soul — kind eyes, eyes of love. I can recall the picture of Jesus like it was yesterday.

When I turned 12, my father decided that I needed religion so I was sent off to Vacation Bible School in the summer of ’72. I was enraptured by the story of how he came to earth as a baby born of a virgin, did miracles to prove that he was God, died for my sins so that I could be forgiven, and rose again to make a way so that I could go to live with him in heaven forevermore. The VBS teacher said that all I needed to do in order to go to heaven someday was to tell Jesus that I was a sinner, that I was sorry for my sins, and ask him to come into my heart to live. Of course, being in a Baptist church I was also warned about the consequences if I refused to believe in Jesus, namely, going to hell. But it was the love of Jesus that drew me and I responded to that love by becoming a Christian. Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that Christianity does its best to try to get a hold of children before they have developed critical thinking skills. If it can do this, then it puts them in its "Matrix" before they even know what truth and reality is. For a child or young person, truth most often comes, not from the consideration and study of evidence, but from an authority figure, often a parent or a priest. "Because I said so," was often my father's reply as to why I should do a thing. And "because the Bible says so" is the Christian mantra (although it needs to be pointed out that Christians are very much cherry-pickers when it comes to the parts of the Bible they believe or act on). I accepted this "blue pill" because it was handed to me by people I trusted and it promised me a blissful afterlife.

Things at home were rather rocky. As far back as I can remember, my parents were always fighting with one another over something and I can remember thinking that they were the ones who really needed to go to church. Growing up in the farming countryside of upstate New York, I spent a lot of time exploring the woods and nature around me. There were plenty of times that I took my Bible with me up into my tree-house and just spent time reading the scriptures, learning everything I could about God and Jesus and their plan for my life. As I read about God being a deliverer, a protector, a rock, and about Jesus being a savior, I prayed that God would also deliver me from the child abuse that I sometimes experienced and that he would heal my parent’s marriage. But despite my prayers, things continued to get worse. I began to struggle with the efficacy of prayer. Despite all the promises in the Bible that God hears and answers our prayers, my prayers for the wholeness of my family were not answered. I'm not talking about God forcefully violating what is called human "free will", but if God is omniscient, then he would certainly know exactly how to reach everyone of us, what would "throw our switch", so-to-speak.

In ’75, my parents divorced. I suppose that this could be seen as one way that God answered my prayers, but it still hurt nonetheless. My mother started attending a Pentecostal church and “found Jesus.” We were both “on fire” for Jesus. I took my Bible to school with me throughout my high school years and witnessed to anyone I felt God was leading me to.

After high school, I went to a Bible college and then came back home and married a Christian girl I met in high school. We both came from rocky home backgrounds but felt like we could make it because we were, after all, Christians with God on our side. So we married and I decided to go into the Army to get electronics training in order to provide for my family. Despite the fact that we were both Christians, our marriage was a struggle. We both came from broken homes where problems had been dealt with, not by the hard work of communication and compromise, but with holding grudges and getting divorces. So neither of us was really equipped to work out our problems and all the going to church and praying that we did just didn’t seem to help. After five years of marriage, we divorced – the unforgivable sin in modern Christianity (despite the fact that over 50% of Southern Baptists have been divorced and remarried). Due to the fact that I was still in the service, she got custody of our two children. I was decimated. After all, despite many things in my past and in my life that may have been stacked against me, didn’t God have “a wonderful plan” for me? Didn’t Jesus come to give me an abundant life? I was disillusioned – with myself, my life, and my religion. So I stopped going to church as I tried to recover from the shambles that my life was in.

Probably the most important thing that I learned from this period of my life is that guilt is the main tool used by Christians to keep people within the Christian Matrix. That and threats of hell. Couple guilt and hell together, and people will stay within this paradigm for life. Christianity told me I was guilty because of what Adam and Eve did, guilty for sins I committed, guilty for the sins of not doing what I should have done, and guilty for killing Jesus. I was told that I was to blame for the problems in my life. This is one of the problems that can drive someone in Christianity nuts – it is never really God’s fault if something goes wrong. If things go right, God is thanked and given full credit, but failure is always attributed to personal sin or to original sin or to the devil or to a sinful world. Disappointments and hurts in life are never blamed on the God that is said to be “in control” and who is running this universe according to his divine plan. God always seems to be blameless where human suffering is concerned. I didn’t dare think this way back then; I just felt that the failure was mainly on my part because I was, after all, a sinful human being. Church reinforced that notion to me every Sunday.

I eventually found some healing through an older Christian who counseled me. He assured me that God could and would forgive my sin and restore me if I sincerely repented. This, of course, is the “formula” for staying in fellowship with God in Christianity: a constant cycle of sin, repentance, and restoration. This is how Christians “keep their slate clean” before God. They intuitively know that they can’t stop sinning, so the best they can do is to try to stay forgiven. Ironically, their relationship with God doesn’t really stop the sinning, it only forgives it afterward. But I did find some healing through this Christian’s counseling. His beliefs in God’s ability to restore were tested when I began to show an interest in his daughter. I knew she was special from the moment I met her and she was very accepting of me and even of my two children. We began dating and married almost a year later.

My wife and I became very involved in our local churches, both Southern Baptist and then Bible Churches. But I slowly began to grow a little agitated with the kind of Christianity that I was involved with. Maybe because of my past, coming from a poor, broken family, going through brokenness myself, I felt like Christians ought to be doing more to help the poor and broken instead of just sitting in pews singing, “I’ll Fly Away.” I began to wonder, “Why is Christianity so focused on leaving this world instead of on changing it for the better?” I wondered why Christians weren’t doing more to follow Jesus’ teachings about helping the poor, setting captives free, healing the sick and broken, and living out the Sermon on the Mount. I felt that Christianity was almost entirely focused on only “personal” issues – personal sins, personal forgiveness, leaving this world for a personal heaven where we would get personally rewarded. After all, didn’t “the Lord’s Prayer” mention God’s will be done on earth? Because the Christianity I knew was so eager to leave earth, it wasn’t concerned whether the earth was destroyed through war or misuse. For every song we sang that emphasized “This is My Father’s World”, we sang nine others that emphasized “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A’Passin’ Through.” And I found that most of the songs and sermons I heard were not about what God could do through us here for the sake of others but only about what Jesus has done for us personally in order to take us to heaven later. I began to see that despite claims to the contrary, Christianity is a very self-centered religion, that it is all about what God or Jesus does for us with very little about what we could do for others.

The “coupe de grace” came for me in this form of Christianity when one day during church service, my wife and I were called out of the service to come tend our 4-year-old son who was in Children’s Church. When we got there, he was in the hall, crying hysterically. Between sobs, he repeated, “Daddy, why would Jesus burn me? Why?” I assured him that Jesus loved him and would never burn him but he was simply too scared to really listen to what I was saying. My wife took him out to the car and I went into the Children’s Church room to see what had happened. The teacher had shown the kids an artist’s rendition of a man engulfed in flames, his arms raised to heaven, his face contorted with agony, crying out to heaven with a plea for mercy that would never be heard. She told the kids that this is what would happen to them if they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. I reminded her that Jesus never once threatened children with hell but she insisted that she did not want God holding the blood of these children on her hands.

I was struggling myself at this time with the question of how a good and loving God could sentence people that he supposedly loves to eternal torment for finite sin, a question that no Christian that I have ever met has given me a convincing answer to. But I knew for sure that it was inappropriate to foist this doctrine upon young children and asked one of the church elders if a teacher should be allowed to expose children to this “side” of the “good news.” His response was that truth should be taught to all and that, no surprise here, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s probably also the seed of many a psychotic break. We left that church shortly after that.

I was also struggling with Paul’s writings during this time. Paul wanted women to be quiet in church, to never have any authority over men, to never teach men anything. Paul supports slavery in his writings. Paul thinks that government officials rule by “divine right.” And Paul puts forth this offensive doctrine that everyone is born into this world as an evil human being, deserving, not God’s love, but his wrath and destruction in hell. According to Paul, even babies are “born sinners” and will go to hell if they have not believed Paul’s gospel about believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the “good news” to the world?

I discovered in my youth that being a Christian was no guarantee that life would go well. The Bible itself is contradictory on this subject. Sometimes it says that the faithful will be blessed, sometimes it says that the wicked will prosper. But the evangelical call to faith certainly entails a promise of a redeemed, wonderful life. No evangelist says, "Come to Jesus and see how messed up your life will become." The truth of the matter is that life is simply messy, Christian or not. We and our world are complicated and despite Christianity's claims, there are no magic bullets.

I also think it is important to note how contradictory the Bible is about the nature of God and of what he supposedly desires for mankind. Now, I'm no longer in the Christian Matrix so I no longer believe in God, but it is interesting how the scriptures have a verse or a concept for saying almost anything about God that we might want to believe. Christians are very much cherry-pickers about which verses of the Bible and which concepts of God they hold to. So the crisis in my faith really began, not because I wasn't reading my Bible and praying, but because I was. The more I read my Bible, the more I saw how contradictory and nonsensical it was. And the more I prayed, the more I felt I was hitting a glass ceiling. Christians are really good at counting the hits and ignoring the misses. I began seeing the ugly side of Christianity - the constant guilt, the fear of good works, the desire to escape the world, the constant harping on hell, and the adherence to ancient superstitions - and it was too much to ignore.

Overall, I think most of my problems were simply what was going on in my own heart and mind. The more I studied the Bible, the more contradictions I found there and the more I saw things in the scriptures that I felt were immoral or unethical. Things like God killing women and children in the flood. Things like God commanding the Israelites to kill their enemies, including women and children. Things like God testing people (remember Job) when he is supposedly omniscient. Things like God wanting his people to show their devotion to him by mutilating their sexual organs. Things like the notion that blood can somehow remove sin. Things like God sending evil spirits. Things like God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then destroying him for having a hard heart. Things like God commanding genocide. I couldn’t help but wonder, this is the God that so loved the world?

Some would argue that this is the God of the Old Testament and that Jesus came to show us a different view of God, a “New Testament” God, a kinder, gentler God. But the God that Jesus describes, while maybe not calling for God’s people to kill their enemies, steps things up by warning people of everlasting torment. In the OT, if you sinned against God, you were just killed for your sin. In the NT, if you sin against God or Jesus, you suffer unending torture.

And, to top it all off, I’ve never been comfortable with all of Jesus’ teachings either. After all, according to the gospels:

  • He said that he didn't come to bring peace to the earth, but to bring a sword.
  • He said we should to hate our families.
  • He said that we shouldn’t marry or have children.
  • He never denounced slavery; instead he advocated that some slaves should be beaten harder than others.
  • He supported physical mutilation – cutting off your hand/ foot and gouging out your eye.
  • He said that the poor would always be with us.
  • He said that marrying divorced women is forbidden.
  • He forbade planning for the future.
  • He forbade having sexual urges.
  • He forbade stopping thieves or physical attackers.

I took the red pill... Jan 7th 2010 [007/365]Image by Jonathan L D Bennett via Flickr
It began to dawn on me that despite Christianity’s claims, the Bible is not a perfect book and Jesus was not a perfect person. The Bible is simply a record of what ancient peoples thought about God, the world, and their place and purpose within it. And Jesus was just as human as all the rest of us. Christianity wasn’t even the religion that Jesus practiced. It’s the religion centered on worshipping him. But I have to wonder, has this religion, taken as a whole, brought more harm or good to this world? Are Christians necessarily better people than anyone else? I think not. It was Christians who burnt women as witches (with biblical sanction). It was Christians who burnt scholars for translating the Bible into English. It was Christians who stood against women’s rights (with biblical sanction). It was Christians who stood against the abolition of slavery in this country (with biblical sanction) and who donned the robes of the KKK. It was Christians who stood against the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. It was Christians who wanted us to go to war with Iraq and destroy that country in retribution for 9-11. And for any Christian to deny these things proves that they either don’t know their history or they simply chose to ignore it.

The Christianity I have known is, for the most part, a personal religion about how to get one’s personal sins forgiven so that one can gain personal rewards in a personal heaven in the future. It doesn’t seem to be much about how to compassionately change our world for the better for the sake of others here and now and for humanity’s future. Truth be told, if heaven is simply standing or kneeling before God's throne for all eternity, repeatedly telling God how great he is, that just doesn't sound like much of a "purpose-driven afterlife" to me. People that constantly need to be told how great they are have some serious self-worth and self-image problems, no matter how divine they might claim to be.

So I have little use for Christianity. I don’t believe it makes our world or human beings better. People are people, Christian or not. It’s not that we are all sinners; it’s that we aren’t yet mature human beings. I want to be a better person, to be a more mature, well-rounded individual. I don't think that the way forward is into an ancient, superstitious religion. Instead, I face the hard work of rebuilding my life based upon what I - not the Bible, not Jesus, not the church - think is worthy of my time and labor. That notion is very freeing to me. I've left Christianity. After 32 years in the religion, I grew tired of the nonsense, of the constant guilt, of the pressure to conform, of the lack of convincing evidence, and of the notion that Iron Age religion and worldviews are "timeless truths" that should never be challenged by science, logic, or progressive morality. I don't want to waste whatever life I have left in a religion that, all things considered, doesn't make it's followers or the world a better place. People (and all life) are precious. So is our world. We don’t yet know if we are the only intelligent life in the universe. This shouldn’t make us proud, it should make us wonder that we are here to explore, enjoy, and value existence. And that is what I want to do.

Whenever I think of religion, I think of the military

By 0pen ur Mind

Undescribable SacrificeImage by Toni Travels via Flickr

I grew up in a Christian home, loving, never to question authority, always bring it to God and you will be blessed. If I wasn’t, well... God was testing me. Growing up it never crossed my mind that there was something else to believe in. I was the good girl who had the truth on her lips. God is good, how can he not be? Not until college did I expand my mind and fully open it. It’s a brief overpass of my history, but a lot of you know exactly how my “upbringing” went. It wasn’t until I met my future husband that everything finally made sense.

Back up to my high school years... I went to church, gave my life to Jesus Christ, gave 10%, hung out with Christians, but also wasn’t afraid to have secular friends either. Although I still felt that I was right and they were wrong for drinking beer. Towards my college years, I became more liberal. I got a few tattoos, had boyfriends but was still a virgin because I promised God I would painfully do it. I had in my mind like a lot of young Christians who “are saving themselves” that sex was something magical and every time you would have it (with your spouse) it was going to be AMAZING, therefore it was worth the wait. Ohhh deary, how naive I was. Don’t get me wrong, sex is wonderful, especially with someone you love. But let’s be realistic about it. You have to work at it, treat it with respect and as a normal part of a relationship with another person and with yourself.

Going away to college I felt that I was closer to God than ever. I was reading the scripture, praying, doing what I had to do to get into Heaven. I was single, independent and loving it! I didn’t see the problem with drinking socially, I rarely got stupid drunk, and I wanted to show the non-believers that not all Christians are squares. And with a fling romance I lost my virginity. I was still a Christian, but took pleasure in worldly things. I detested those Christians who were holier than thou. I was a loving person who would share that love without boundaries. I was so sure in my walk with God that there was not a single doubt of another way to live. Never say never.

I felt obligation towards God to bring non-believers to the light and truth, but I wasn’t going to force them, as so many have done in the past. But my questioning was just another doubt, so I locked it away, far away.

This whole time I was justifying my beliefs. I would use the Bible to say, that they would drink wine—or, the men back then had no weddings or paperwork, it was plain and simple—he saw, he took for his wife, and then he got her pregnant. Then he took another wife and possibly a maidservant. I felt that my way of living had much more meaning than that. I still believed in God whole-heartedly, I wanted to please Him, and I couldn’t wait to get to Heaven. And all those questions that non-believers or soul searchers had about God or the Bible--I couldn’t answer. We are taught to be okay with not knowing. God is full of mystery and He is doing things we couldn’t fathom. I wasn’t threatened by their questions, because I knew what I believed. Little did I know, they tell you that to keep you dumb. Not make up your mind on your own.

After college I met a man. He was kind, self-confident, helped others in need, smart, etc. I knew that he wasn’t a Christian and I was fine with that, he seemed more to me a Christian than a lot of people at my church. I always had the mind set that he would turn to Christ. He was willing to talk about God and religion if I wanted to. He never imposed his beliefs on me, and he never complained when I would wake up early and go to church. I always tried to get him to come with me, but he just smiled and made a lighting bolt sound as if he would be struck as soon as he entered the doors.

It wasn’t until then when I started to realize that you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person. Wow, it dawned on me that what if this whole time, I was believing in something fictional. Whoa, that’s a lot to handle since NEVER before I had thought of anything but what I was taught as a child and teenager. So yes, I had been brainwashed. Living with a veil over my eyes this whole time. Well needless to say, I did my research (a lot) and was completely amazed at how things didn’t make sense. I had started to form my own answers with my own opinions for the first time in my life and not somebody else’s. Seeing both sides of the story is key to forming your own beliefs. Not only seeing, but without judgment as well. I mean, it was obvious—the Bible was bias and contradicting. Where are the stories from the Egyptians? Or anybody else for that matter? I wanted to make up my mind in seeing everyone’s opinion. Not just take my Mother’s and Pastor’s word that they were sinning. Hence, God wiped them out. Never hearing their side of the story?? What??

I tried to take it in strides, but this was INCREDIBLE! Then I look over at my now husband and asked him, “Why didn’t you shake me and tell me I was wasting my time.” He answers me in the most simple of forms: I have never been judgmental of other people beliefs nor do I ever want to influence or question anyone’s beliefs.
“That was why I never believed in god and didn’t agree with religion,” he said.

So I’ve been living in the clear for almost a year now. I’ve never been so happy to be okay with my choices and not have to justify them. At first, I was all about arguing my points and trying to let my still Christian friends and family see another side to the story. It’s no use; their god will always win. Either he is testing you or blessing you. By no means should you question him either. So I stopped arguing, because if they’re proven wrong (which they are; many of you have helped me with polishing my history knowledge), then you don’t have to prove yourself. Prove it, give me proof that there’s a heaven. You simply cannot. Besides, if we’re trying to say we’re right, we’re doing the very thing that religion does and why we hate it so. Our actions speak louder than words.

It’s simple; god said after Noah and his family came out of the ark, that “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” If every man is evil, then how can you believe in something that man wrote? For so much of the Bible--I was always justifying and saying that I don’t really believe that part of it. That’s being selective and lying to yourself. Either believe whole-heartedly in it or against it.

A while back I read about someone being a Christian but not always agreeing with what they do or what the church does. My question to them is, do you believe everything that god did? Killing Aaron’s two sons while they were making a sacrifice unto him. But they lit the fire before he said to, so he killed them. We all have plenty more where that came from.

Whenever I think of religion, I think of the military. What does the military do? It breaks you down mentally as well as physically, it brainwashes you to believe and do as you’re told without question, and who do you answer to and listen to? Your commanding officer (your pastor); and even higher than that, your government (god), It’s a scary thought. Nobody should own you and you should feel no obligation to something you were born into.

Accentuate the Positive -- Ignore the Negative

By J

ImmyImage by asparagus_hunter via Flickr

My ex-relationship with Christianity is perhaps unique, in that my family attended an Evangelical church, but one whose pastor was nonetheless pretty progressive or diplomatic in his views. (i.e. he rarely mentioned hell, End Times, or even sin in his sermons. It was just "love" and "the Good News.")

But the Sunday School classes (6th grade specifically) were taught by less diplomatic people. They were volunteers which basically meant two things: they obviously were passionate about what they were doing to do it for free, and they had no worries about money or church attendance, so they didn't need to be uplifting or popular in what they said.

So as my parents listened in the main church building about how God is love and sin is forgiven and nicety after sugar-coated nicety (as, I've come to learn since, this is pretty much their entire view of Christianity... they are not fundamentalists, thank goodness) I was in another building in Sunday School, listening to fundamentalist lunatic volunteer "teachers" spouting off about the End Times, God's wrath, Hell, and forcing us to sit through the Left Behind movies. I'm 19 now, and this was right after 9/11, so we also got tons of sermons about how 9/11 was a sign of the End Times and that it proves what worshiping "false" gods leads to.

So for many years I internalized this (I was only 11 after all) believing all of it was true. I lay awake at night worrying that if I drifted off to sleep, my family would be raptured overnight and I'd wake up alone in the "Great Tribulation." (My ironic belief being that if I were awake when the "Rapture" occurred, I'd at least be able to argue with Jesus that I was a "real" Christian and perhaps convince him to take me along after all)

After 6th grade, junior high and high school @ church were fine because, once again, they catered to the students' desires to fit in, find "family," be accepted, etc. So it was very candy-coated, love-centered, and progressive (or as progressive as a Baptist church can get).

I believed in a very vague Christianity throughout high school as a result, never questioning it and at the same time rarely thinking about it or letting it affect anything in my life. I went to church without complaint and didn't mind because I never listened anyway, and I liked to go out to eat afterward.

After reading Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, I am now fully an atheist. Luckily my family has been pretty supportive though they are still Christian and don't know I'm an atheist, just that I am no longer Christian. For a brief period I had a Muslim girlfriend (the relationship soured because... YOU GOT IT! I wouldn't convert to Islam) but my family accepted her and did not tell me they had a problem with the fact she was Muslim. My mother even told me, "She's a keeper." And this had a severe effect on me. On one hand, my mother believed that this woman would spend eternity in agonizing fiery torture (simply for not believing in something) and on the other hand she liked her and said that she'd be a good wife for me, even. This really showed me the divided-ness of a religious mind. The reason they can go on believing in a God of "love" is because unless confronted with questions about Hell, etc. They don't think about it much. They focus on the good feeling they have at church or while praying, and the "message of hope" and almost entirely ignore the sinister parts of their faith.

Atheist Churchgoers Anonymous?

By Vyckie @ No Longer Quivering

I've skipped church four Sundays in a row now and I'm feeling slightly guilty. It's freezing-ass cold here in Nebraska, and I just have been too lazy to scoop the driveway and drag myself and my children out in sub-zero temps. Considering that I stopped believing in God over two years ago, it seems rather weird that I still spend my Sunday mornings attending the local Salvation Army worship services. So why don't I just quit going?

I didn't leave Christianity because of any failure of the people. For the most part, I found the Christians I knew to be sincere, generous and supportive. Misguided and unrealistic, maybe - but hey, that was me too.

It was the Bible and Christian doctrine which I finally recognized as ridiculous and even abusive. Through the years, I had become more and more fundamentalist in my beliefs and practices. My diligent study of the scriptures led me to adopt the strict gender roles and patriarchal family model of the Quiverfull movement as God's perfect will for godly men and women. I accepted all the pregnancies which the Lord chose to bless me with, homeschooled my children and "dared to shelter" them from ungodly influences of the world, and for over a decade I obediently submitted to the "head" of our home: my controllling and abusive husband.

It was a stressful and unsustainable lifestyle which led to near breakdown for me - and a suicide attempt for my oldest daughter.

When I first deconverted, I continued to go to church because the pastor had been especially supportive during the ugly custody battle when I filed for divorce.

About six months after the divorce, the pastor was transferred and the church got a new husband / wife team ~ Salvation Army officers, Xavier and Heather. I had decided to continue going to church through the summer so that the kids could go to the camps (sports, music, and adventure camps) for free. But I decided to be upfront with Heather and let her know right away that I don't believe in Christianity anymore. (I knew I had to say something before they tried to recruit me to teach the kids' Sunday School - wouldn't that be a hoot!)

At first, she didn't believe that I really don't believe - but we really hit it off and became friends fairly quickly. We go out for coffee or lunch together at least once a week. We've been doing this for about a year and a half now and it didn't take long for me to say what I had to say about my unbelief and her to say what she had to say - and now it doesn't really come up much in our conversation. Not that we're avoiding it - just that we've kind of moved past that and just enjoy our friendship. We have a lot in common and so there's always plenty to talk about.

Heather is the sort of Christian whom, in my fundie days, I'd have considered a shallow, "feel good" believer. She loves Jesus and is committed to serving Him, yes - but she is not a fundamentalist and doesn't take every word of the Bible literally.

I asked Heather once what it means to her that, as Paul says, the man is the head of the home. Does that mean Xavier gets to make the final decision whenever you two can’t come to an agreement on a particular issue? “No,” she responded. She paused to think about it for a minute, and then told me, “I guess I don’t really know what it means.” I appreciate her honesty.

I also appreciate that as Salvation Army officers, my pastors are truly the "roll-up-their-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done" type of Christians. If they must say a prayer as they distribute, food, clothing, school supplies, etc. to the needy - so be it. If they give a little Bible study as they're opening up the mobile canteen - that does not offend me. Lt. Xavier will soon be leaving for Haiti to assist in doing what the Salvation Army does in emergency situations. Better he does that, than waste time writing up a sermon to explain all the whys and wherefores of the disaster as it relates to God and the Bible.

At first, continuing to go to church was sort of a confirmation for me that I really didn't believe any of it any more. All at once, it all seemed so crazy to me that I thought, "I must have misunderstood what they are teaching. Surely, no-one really believes this?" So I'd go to church and listen carefully, and sure enough - that's exactly what they're teaching. It helped me to feel confident that what I don't believe isn't just a straw man - some wacko God that only I believed in while other Christians have a more "balanced" view of the bible, Jesus, etc.

So initially church was still interesting enough - but now I'm to the point that it is literally physically and mentally painful for me to make it through the morning service. I can't "in good conscience" participate - which makes it a frustrating and awkward experience. The words to the songs are sick and mortifying. Praise and worship used to be my favorite thing because I love music, and praise just comes so easily for me. So I want to sing and dance - but I don't want to sing about what a worm I am or how thankful I am for Jesus' shed blood, etc. A lot of the Salvation Army songs include "battle" language which makes me cringe. So that's something to be endured. Prayer time is tricky too. They take prayer requests from the congregation and I never raise my hand. When it's time to pray, I don't bow my head or close my eyes.

Anyway, I'm still going to church because that's where my social life is (mostly). I love the people there - and I really like Heather. There's always lunch in the "Sally Ann" soup kitchen after church and that's when I have a truly fun and enjoyable time visiting with all my down-on-their-luck friends. There are also other activities that we do together which the children and I like: picnics, movie night, etc. It is getting more uncomfortable for me all the time. Xavier is certain that this is because I'm feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit - which is truthfully, horseshit.

Lately though, I've been thinking that there's another reason why I still go to church and might continue for some time to come. As an ex-Christian, I sometimes feel like the lame, half-witted child which a nice respectable family might want to tuck quietly away in a distant care facility to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain how their well-bred DNA could result in such a deformed, mutated offspring.

On my No Longer Quivering blog, I have been fairly vocal about the family-destroying Quiverfull teachings - which, I maintain, is nothing more than basic Christian doctrine lived out to its logical conclusions. And it often seems to me that Christians would prefer that I would just quietly disappear - stay home on Sundays and pretend that it was all a bad dream.

But I haven't gone away. Which means they still have to think about me - have to explain me.

They see me, they know me - I am a real person - same as them.

For their part, Xavier and Heather have been thoughtful and gracious. Despite my "defects" of divorce, loss of faith, etc., they still claim me and do not dismiss my experience by arguing that I was never really a True Christian. They are careful that in their teachings, they do not promulgate the patriarchal set-up which has devastated countless marital relationships through the centuries (mine included) - even if it means they have to ignore or torturously "reinterpert" the bible verses which historically have been used to support such sexism.

Conversely, remaining in close contact with practicing Christians helps me to remember that they do what they're doing for all the same reasons that used to motivate me too: a sincere heart and genuine desire to love the Lord and to love their neighbors. This keeps me from building up a caricature of "Christian people" in my own mind whom I must fight against and expose as deluded and hypocritical.

I see them, I know them - they are real people - same as me.

So when I write or speak about the evils of Christian fundamentalism and biblical literalism, I'm talking about words, ideas, beliefs, thoughts which affect and influence the flesh-and-blood people who listen to these abstractions and take them to heart. The people themselves - they're just like me; eager to know the truth and to do right.

Does this make sense? Or am I, in true fundamentalist fashion, twisting my brain in knots in an effort to justify something obviously and utterly ridiculous? Perhaps what I need is an Atheist Churchgoers' 12-Step recovery group:

Hi. My name is Vyckie. I am an atheist and I go to church.

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