It’s important that I note a couple of things about my family and myself because it says a lot of how I came to freethought. The first is that though my mother is very much into the Lord, she is the one who ultimately gave me the gift of skepticism. She has never believed in palm readers, fortune tellers or anything of the sort and always obliged me the opportunity to research what it is that I believe in before I chose it.
She has never forced me nor my siblings to accept anything that we didn’t wish to accept. She never browbeat me with a bible and scripture; it was just a silent way of life for us. She does believe that churchgoers are on the high end of moral values and encourages Sunday worship and works in the church as a way of life. She is a BIG BELIEVER IN THIS! (I can understand that) I don’t think that she would be all of that surprised to hear where I am right now. Hurt, but not surprised. They expect anything from me.
The second thing is that I have been and always will be a very moral and law-abiding citizen. I think our obligations are to treat others, as we want to be treated and treat ourselves as if this life is all we have. I think you should be able to do whatever you want as long as if no one is getting hurt, but you also don’t need to do things to yourself that are in the manner of destroying yourself. This life may be all you have.
Thirdly, I’ve always been capable of being friends with anyone regardless of race, age, religion or sexual preference. People gravitate towards me because of my compassionate nature. I was a very lonely and troubled teenager who struggled with rejection and abuse and I don’t like to see people alienated because they’re who they are. When people pass judgement on others before they take the opportunity to know them, that bothers me greatly and I find that unacceptable as a mode of behavior for myself. I do believe that people are the beneficiaries or the pain-bearers of their actions. Fourth, I’ve never been afraid to learn new things, I thrive on that. I refuse to allow a shroud of mystery to cover my eyes. If it interest me, I feel I have the right to investigate and if something is solid, it should be able to withstand the test of investigation.
COMING INTO MY OWN WAY.
This is the story of how I was born into Christ and my journey towards freethought. This is not a hate story for I have no ill will towards organized religion. This is not to make fun of anyone else's beliefs nor is it to validate my opinion. It’s just how I made the journey from a believer to a skeptic. I was once very troubled by this transformation, but now I have no shame in it. I’m calm with it and I’m finding that the new peace that I have (the ability to think without limitations or shame) was worth the journey. For those who may read this, I hope that you find a piece of yourself in me and I hope that those who may wish to judge will use the same open heart that you ask of one to accept what you believe and read what I’m saying without prejudice.
I was born in an industrialized town in East Alabama to parents of who are active in Baptist works. My mother has always been a worker in the church and my father was the lead singer of one the most popular Gospel groups in the Southeast. I began to go to Sunday school and church since the day I was born and being a voracious reader and a very intense investigator, I loved to devour all of the Sunday school lessons that was set out for me week to week. Every time the church issued one of those new Sunday school books (the ones that the kids could color and with the little lessons applied to life written with emphasis to the elementary school age youngster) I would have read the entire book ten or eleven times before their was a class emphasis on it. My book of Bible stories was read so many times that I literally wore the cover off of it. My childhood centered on the church. I attended Vacation Bible School, all of the picnics, I participated in all of the holiday programs, joined the choir, and I was a member of the Crusaders and was a Junior Usher for the entire time I attended the church of my youth.
The church also served as my major hub of social interaction. My best friends went there and being that I was a very shy child, the small size and warm environment was less intimidating than grammar school. Being a highly intelligent child, I oft times was a very lonely one because I didn’t fit in with my peers at school. At church, there was plenty of older people for me to converse with and I felt more at peace amongst my elders than I did dealing with kick-ball and tic tac toe amongst my chronological peers. The friends I had at church were misfits too and it gave us a place to come together without the crush of the other kids around us. We could be ourselves and we could sneak out of the church during sermons and swap notes on our two loves: video games and comic books. I looked forward to these meetings because we didn’t get to see each other often because we all went to different schools.
WHERE IT ALL TRULY BEGAN
A few weeks after I’d graduated from high school, I was on a plane to San Antonio headed to Lackland AFB for basic training. It was a relief to finally escape from the confines of my small town and I had big dreams of making something better of myself in the world. My true goal was to accumulate musical equipment and to create demos and to get myself signed to a record deal. I’ve always been a huge fan of jazz and hip-hop records and was proficient enough with the piano at this point in time to (I thought) get in some people’s ear. My first assignment to Denver, Colorado proved to be an eye opening one. I met a guy from Hawaii who was as heavily into music as I. Even though he dug a different style, we connected on that level and I was as open to checking out his vibe as he was mine. He took me out to different clubs where I learned about mosh pits, punk rock and all kinds of other art forms I never saw in Alabama up close. I learned to hang glide, ski, played in a ska type band, did a few rock demos, went hiking, did my first road trip, dated different types of people, became attached to ethnic foods (Mozambique, Greek, Jewish), saw my first true concerts, dyed my hair blue, visited a nudist colony, went to a hippie/bikers convention in a town so small that it didn’t have a post office (but the hippie convention was off the chain and I met some of the craziest and nicest people in the world there), did my first live show and got my electronics degree. Not bad for nine months in the life of a short black guy from Alabama. I was hungry to taste the world and was happy to find that there were plenty of people around willing to accommodate me. Along the way, I made several friends that I still count as some of my closest today.
While I was in Colorado, I ran into my first hardcore fundamentalist church. One of my instructors invited me out this chapel and seeing that I grew up in the church and hadn’t found one, I accepted his invitation. It was the first church I had ever seen with a female pastor (she was stunningly beautiful, I couldn’t believe that she was a pastor) and also the first church I had ever been in that I witnessed people speaking in tongues. I was used to church services lasting about a couple of hours at the max and concluding shortly after noon. They stayed on for hours and hours on in. They also confused me when the entire congregation would begin to speak in tongues all at once. I was the only one in the room who wasn’t. My mother’s skeptical nature had been planted in me well; I couldn’t get into it. I began to go out of my way to avoid this instructor because, frankly, I thought the whole thing wasn’t authentic.
I eventually found a church that was befitting of my attitude at the time. It was an interdenominational congregation with an emphasis on a music ministry. It never seemed to be much preaching, but there was a whole lot of celebration for Christ and everyone from blacks, whites, Asians and homosexuals were welcome (and encouraged) to attend. It was the first time I had seen a church like that (a big change from my home church in Alabama) and I was delighted to be in an environment that encouraged so much tolerance. I was too naive to know at the time just how much Biblical text had to be ignored to make the church feasible. I had always grown up with the idea that the church was the center of love and would accept anyone and everyone in the world, despite the differences. I can thank my mother for never pushing an agenda on me as a child for allowing me to keep an open mind. She never said the world was a bad place, she let me find out on my own. She never told me not to have this or that idea and my naivete gave me a friendly place to live in my mind for a while.
A quick flashback: When I gave my life to Christ at the age of twelve, I truly had no idea of what I was really doing. I only joined at that time because someone I had a crush on had joined and I didn’t want to join alone. My introverted life as a teen hardly ever put me face to face with any situation that would have tested my knowledge of my chosen path or the strength of my faith, that wouldn’t come until my adult years. My sexual abuse didn’t qualify as a test because by the time I turned fourteen; the memory was so suppressed that if it wasn’t for a lingering body injury, I could have continued my mental charade that it never happened.
I left Denver and ended up in New York State. This is where I truly wanted to be and this is the place where I can truly say that my life (for better or worse) began. Being that I was into music, New York was like the answers to a young man’s prayers. I was sure that if I could just get my music into the right hands, I could emulate the star status of the many artists that I looked up to. I purchased my first car (a 1981 Ford Escort for $200.00 cash) that had no floorboard (winter salt rusted it through) and burned so much oil that I had to keep a case in the backseat for any road trip over two hundred miles. I would spend all week making tapes of my beats and of me singing and other cats rapping (perfecting my studio and production technique) and journey all over the Northeast either selling my tapes, giving them away or trying to convince someone I felt was of some importance to listen to them. I was still young and naive enough NOT to know that I was breaking protocols (I didn’t know it wasn’t cool to pull up into a radio station at 1:00 in the morning and start banging on the door for the DJ just because I had a demo tape). I was hungry enough that I didn’t mind sleeping in my car in a parking lot in a strange city hundreds of miles from home in order to go and do what I felt had to be done. This was an exciting time for me. Every week I pulled into a new city with the heart to be large and a back seat full of dubbed cassettes. Hip-hop was my soundtrack every step of the way and it seemed that every week, there was a new classic being played on the radio. No one wanted to go with me (most of my fellowmen thought that I was crazy, it would be a while before I found someone willing to roll with me, but it was fine because I was always kind of a loner and it just felt so good to be free on the highway and hustling my way to a dream. Besides, I was never alone for long, my personality had went through a metamorphosis in Colorado meaning I was very outgoing now. This coupled along with my openly friendly nature and my willingness to accept almost anything once means that I was always able to make new friends no matter where I went. So I was usually able to go back to several towns over and over again and I kept crazy long distance phone bills throughout the week keeping in touch with all of them. I only had one serious girlfriend during that time, but I definitely didn’t have any problems with women. I just had a lot of trust issues to deal with and plus I was so into my music, I didn’t really need to have anyone around long-term. I found all the pain-free love I could stand within the beat. I won’t play Puritan and say that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that I had before me, but I was always very careful to protect myself and whomever I was with. Music opened a lot of doors of life up to me and I will always cherish the memories of my road trips. But, during my travels I saw the worse that man could do, but I also witnessed and was the recipient of the best that men could do. I went everywhere all the way from Montreal to Toronto to Richmond, VA and onto Wilkes Barre, PA. I was driving a raggedy car that could break on me at anytime with little money with no way to communicate to anyone should trouble arise and no one to help if I needed it: I was a happy kid and it was great to be alive!
I was out in the world living and I was proud to be doing it. I will skip much of the details of the tragedies (saw a good friend die, had something very valuable to me stolen before my eyes and was powerless to stop it and afraid to report it, had to face up to the lingering effects of my long term sexual abuse, being bipolar, losing all of my money and winding up homeless, almost being killed by a person who was supposed to have been a friend of a friend because he had too much to drink (rode around for three hours with a 357 aimed at my head because some nut in my backseat said he felt like killing him a n**ger tonight. He eventually caught a case for attempted murder a year later), harboring a runaway out of my ignorance of the situation, finding out that a business situation that I was in had caused me to go to broke for nothing and not having any legal paperwork to prove my end of the case, walking away from a very good job for one that collapsed in less than a month with no place to go, an emergency room run for internal bleeding, significant weight gain because of depression, blah, blah, blah) in detail. I will say that for every bad there was twice as much good and I still had faith in the power of prayer. I have never had any ill feelings towards God and I never was the type to ask “Why Me?” I always figured (like other good Christians) that all the bad things was merely a test.
I feel honored that inside of those same four years I would meet several people who would serve to keep my faith in the greatness of humanity alive.
There was John who lived in my apartment complex who was taking a year off from his job to complete his masters degree. He was a true intellectual (and he reminded me of a very eccentric Santa Claus). He was constantly engaging me in exercises of the mind and was always handing me literature designed to deepen my pool of mental options. He was the first freethinker that I’ve ever met. I loved him like a father figure and was sorry to see him leave.
There was Torry whom to many seem to be a drunk, but was actually a wealth of knowledge when it came to intricacies of human nature. He was the first to introduce me to several real life Native Americans (Oniedas). He was a full-blooded Indian and proud to be. He and his daughter (one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met inside and out) was always encouraging me to research my African roots and emphasizing the importance of claiming your culture while cooperating with others.
There was Jeff whom was the first homosexual that I have ever befriended. There would be others, but he was the one who put the human face on it for me. He made me realize that this was not some immoral, hedonistic cult, but human beings that lived and loved the same as I did.
There was Spazz who introduced me to Noam Chomsky and the pleasures of Manhattan, New York. For a kid coming from a small town, you couldn’t ask for a more insane tour guide up and down the streets of NYC. I won’t share the saucier details, but surmise it to say that isn’t too much anyone could show or tell me that would surprise me. He was also a freethinker and his outlook on life would influence me in years to come to look into myself.
There was Melissa who would serve as one of the best friends I could ever have and my first true head-over-heels love. She was my angel when I didn’t want one and she saw everything that I was doing that would cause me harm to myself. She was the first to turn me on to the possibility that I could be someone by working for myself. I lost touch with her, but I would love to talk to her now just to say thanks for all the great memories.
There was Rev. Al Benjamin; he was the same age as I was. He had quit school, to become an associate pastor of a small mixed congregation church. This is the one I became part of. It was witnessing his faith and spiritual strength in one of his trials that made me believe that I wanted to do the same. His girlfriend was of a difference race than he and her parents didn’t approve of him. He wanted to marry her, but he wanted to do it the right way. She was all the way in Washington State. He’s in New York State. After much prayer, he readied his raggedy pickup truck and drove all the way across the U.S. to pick her up and to ask her reluctant parents for her hand in marriage. We were all cheering for him. This list could go on and on, but I will end it by saying that I am used to the diversity of others. I have hung out with criminals and saints alike, I have loved them good, bad and ugly. Most of all, I felt that God loved them all as well. I carried this feeling in my heart that God’s love was so universal that I could bring many of them together if I had an opportunity.
To skip down, I ended up back in Alabama broke and brokenhearted after a lot of my deals had gone bad. I was always questioning why everything fell apart and why a life so promising was taking such a bad turn. Plus the shock of returning to the cultural quicksand of the Southeast versus the diversity of New York was like falling into a frozen lake. I had all of these new ideas and there wasn’t an avenue to act out on them and no place to exercise my new state of mind. I tried to return to the church I had grown up in, but it didn’t feel right anymore. It seemed to feel so exclusive and kinda small. I felt that God was for everyone and having come back home less naive than when I left, I began to see my home church as being part of the problem of separatism. This really bothered me a great deal. I began to church jump, much to my mother’s annoyance. She wished that I would find one and settle down, but I was looking for something different. Al’s church had encouraged every member of the audience to express themselves; there was no established protocol for church services. The emphasis was on Christ, but the message was a Christ of inclusion. The Spanish sang in Spanish sometimes, the Africans brought ethnic percussion, I was able to perform songs I wrote just the way I wanted to without fear of the old guard casting me out and people from every walk of life sat side by side and hand and hand. I wanted that as well. I felt that this was what church is supposed to be about.
I found a church that was similar to it and began to attend services. I told a friend of mine about it and he pulled his King James out on me to show how this church was an evil temple unto Satan. He was referring to the church’s very relaxed policy towards homosexual couples and how we were endorsing an "abomination to God". He continued to hit me over the head with several verses, especially when I told him of the female pastors that we listened to. Ephesians became his weapon of choice on that note. I began to realize that there were other layers to the Bible and if I was considering pursuing the Gospels as a vocation, perhaps I needed to read more.
What started as an honest effort to educate myself in God’s policy turned into an exercise in surprise. The stories that I read in the Old Testament were eye opening. The New Testament was filled with errors. The worse part is that when I asked questions about the flaws, it usually led to explanations that were contrived or incomplete. I can’t know God’s mind was a popular answer. A lot of people spoke of God’s nature (see my argument on that in my closing statements). Most of all, I was having a major problem with the concept of freewill as it relates to an omniscient/omnipotent God. I was also troubled by the concept of Original Sin. Most of all, the questions that I couldn’t stop from coming was beginning to make me question my faith and I all I received from those I turned to for help was criticism and ridicule. All I was doing was applying the same thought process to the Bible that I put to all else in my life.
This started a chain reaction of me reading history books on the Bible, checking out different philosophies and writings for and against organized religion. I was very frightened to read the books that were against because this deep-rooted guilt inside of me told me it was wrong to seek out material that could shake your faith. I decided, later, that every researcher needs some post of comparison and I had spent all of my immersed in the good side without realizing that there may be an opinion on the other end worth hearing. If it held water, then I would have to go with reason and logic. I had always learned that if something was worth knowing, it should be able to withstand the test of research. I also realized the theological sciences are the only sciences that one is expected to use faith as the chief indicator of its existence. We expect more proof of mathematics than we do of theology. What finally broke me down was after a church service, I returned home and on a humbug logged onto a Yahoo Christian Chat room and followed the argument between a Muslim and a Christian. By now I’ve studied the history of both and I have knowledge that both are flawed and I doubt that they’re divinely inspired. I watched them go line for line and verse for verse and realized that both parties was equally dedicated to their cause! Everyone who has faith is dedicated to his or her beliefs, so if all was created by one...who is correct? I began to realize that if I had been born in another place, I would have been of another belief. Would I be punished in hell because my parents didn’t have the good sense to have sired me somewhere there was a sole allegiance to a Christian God? Is God going to send most of Asia to hell because he forgot to spread his gospel there? All of the scripture quoting in the world became irrelevant when I realized that the bigger issues didn’t play out clearly.
When I began to realize that I was losing my faith, I fought it as much as I could. I tried to unlearn what I had been opened to and my guilt began to cause me to believe that nothing but bad was destined to happen to me now. I was sure in the back of my mind that there was still a hell and I was going there. I would wake up in the morning crying and screaming and with this hollow feeling my chest, I felt I was losing my mind and my soul. I was in fear that good Christians could read my treason on my face and would talk about me and would make me a target in order to return me to the fold. The mere act of driving by a church created deep feelings of fear and the worse part is that I wasn’t sure that I could exercise my option to pray. I didn’t know if I believed in it anymore. But inside I was sure where my heart and head was headed and I began to embrace my skepticism with a crushing hug. I kept it to myself, but found myself going on line to do battle in chat rooms with Christians to exercise my new muscle.
For a while, I became a zealot for my new agnostic thoughts. It was a very insecure point, because I was still in the state of mind of one foot in and one foot out. Now that I’ve had a chance to simmer down, I realize the true gift of it all. My mind is clear, I can believe what I want or believe nothing. I’m free to investigate as I choose and to draw my own conclusion. Part of me has a belief in A GOD (perhaps), but I feel that the text that is outlined to me demands more research and I have the right to read and to learn what I choose to learn. It’s a good place to be because I feel as if I have my mind to myself. I don’t have that feeling that I’m constantly being monitored and I feel more at ease in the world around me. The realization that this may be the only life I have is encouraging me to want to do good for the right reasons (to make life on earth better) as opposed to trying to prepare for the other side that may never be. To get an idea of how I feel now about the role of church, You will need to check out my writing "From where I look"..
FROM WHERE I LOOK
I’m a skeptic and I admit it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think their might or might not be a God, it’s just that all is unproved. Faith isn’t enough for me anymore. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to blow up the world or start doing acting in ill ways. If this life is all that I have, then I have to live it as if there is nothing on the other side waiting on me. Right now, I’m looking back on the role of the church and where it all fits into this. Do I think the church is still necessary? I see it with a slow Yes and a maybe not. I guess it depends on the church and the person. The church that I grew up in was (or so it seemed at the time) a safe place to go and fill up on spiritual strength in order to face the week that lied ahead, a place to keep up with friends and a place to bond with others in Christ in a positive setting. For the lost, hurt and those who feel that they’re not living their lives in a proper fashion (I’m hesitant to say the word sin), it’s a place where they can purge their minds of guilt and start over again with the hope that they can get it right this time. I’ve seen many people turn to Christ again and again and I’ve seen people find the discipline in the church to put their lives on a positive track. What could possibly be wrong with that?
I guess my problem is that of Original Sin and the idea that every action can flip-flop you from hell to heaven. It’s that constant feeling that no matter how much in Christ you are, the stirring insecurity that you have that it may not be enough. It’s that lingering guilt that clouds your ability to think clearly. Its the contradictions that place you in the position of having to distance yourself away from others because they do not believe the same as you. It’s the constant contradictions within the scriptures that can be explained and translated a hundred different ways and that seem to do nothing but harbor confusion for most and provide avenues for anyone to further whatever agenda they have, good or bad.
The rosy picture that we paint of church is a true one, but so is the undermining impact. I’ve seen several decent relationships began and dissolved because of differences of faith. I’ve seen families united and disintegrated because of scripture. I’ve seen those who have gained strength from their faith and the words of the Lord and I’ve witnessed many who have lost their mind from their faith and the words of the Lord. I’ve seen many that could credit the Church from their uprising and many that have the church to blame for their downfall.
What I’ve seen over and over again is the church be whatever the person wants it or need it to be without any type of guidelines or reason to be other than faith. As long as you don’t ask questions and believe that it is what you want it to be...there is some degree of happiness, even if it’s punctuated by the guilt pangs of every thing you do is a disgrace unto the Lord.
For someone who is lonesome and feel ill at ease with themselves, the gift to redemption and the idea that you have a friend whom will understand and always be there for you is a hard carrot not to grab. This side of the Gospel recruits from despair and plants hope that the worse in us can be better people. It allows someone to look at themselves and to say that whatever flaw they may have, that it’s not their fault because they’re "born with sin in them already". Because they’re born with this illness, the only hope they have is call on Jesus. The lack of proof works out here because with no proof, you only have the limits of your imagination on how powerful and large God can be for you. God can be anything that you want him to be for you and there will be no way to dispute that it is he working through you. Is it real? It’s as real as your mind and heart says it is.
My problem again is that mankind has benefited so much from the advances provided by math and science. We demand a rigorous explanation for everything else in our lives, because we know that, mostly, only trust that which can bear the brunt of investigation. We don’t like mystery and we like to be spoon-fed answers. We demand something close of perfection. If a child brings home a math book with 1+1=2 on page one, 1+1=3 on page two and 1+1=4 on page three, we would return that book to the school in a hurry and demand that the child be given a straight and unquestionable answer. Yet we expect to confused by the divine word of God and accept it with the tone that it’s a mystery that will be explained to us later.
"Well", some may ask, "you don’t believe in the power of spirituality?” Yes I do. I have seen the power of spirituality demonstrated a million times when it came to changing peoples live and hearts. I have even been a party to it. My problem here is that I’ve seen a LOT OF DIFFERENT interpretations of spirituality work. If I could limit it only to a Christian experience, I may have a case to say it’s the only way. I lived in New York long enough to see the metamorphosis many times over of the Nation Of Islam. I watched the worse in men turn to Allah. I’ve seen several Hindu friends turn to their chants in order to persevere through death and heartbreak. I watched Zen Buddhist go to a point of great peace through their beliefs. The movie "What’s Love Got To Do With It?” was a big commercial for the virtues of Zen Buddhism. I know a fellow who lives by Dianetics and he has lived a healthy and prosperous life as for the last five years. I’ve seen a lot of levels of the game and not one doesn’t use faith as one of its major building blocks. They all have history and they all are validated by some type of literature that they consider to be it’s chief source of knowledge and the roots of their empowerment. I won’t get into the "who’s right and who’s wrong" battle because that’s been the source of wars for years. I will say that for every shiny happy aspect that we present today (especially Christianity), there is an equally disturbing darkside. Christianity has just as much of a bloody and twisted history as every other theology it seeks to discredit. The same goes for everyone else. No one can point fingers, no can claim any indisputable proof and faith is the only area that they all agree on.
In closing I would like to say that my quest continues in learning who I am. Where this will lead me to, I do not know. I do know that the moment that you take your mind back, it’s important that you don’t stop learning and it’s imperative that you do the things that are good for your body and mind. Thinking for yourself is not arrogant nor is it selfish. There is nothing wrong with exploring ideas on this earth. It would be considerably insane not to. Remember that many of the great things you enjoy in your life are because of the courage of other thinkers to think outside of the conformity of others Dan to act on their thoughts. If you’re reading this, you’re already taking the first step towards thinking for yourself. Remember that adopting a freethought way of thinking isn’t turning your back on any idea, it’s accepting the possibility that their may be others.
I apologize for being out of contact. I've been doing a lot of writing, reading and thinking lately. I'm finding the process of deprogramming to be a very bittersweet situation. At times it brings me joy and the possibility of living my life with clear thoughts is damn near an aphrodisiac. The downside is that letting go of old ways of thinking is proving to me more difficult than I could have ever imagined. No one will ever tell me that it's easier to to be a secular thinker, I've come to find that it is totally untrue. To have doubts about the idea of a life-controlling diety is to put yourself outside of the mainstream and you will suffer consequences for daring break those lines of conformity. I have read much of your site and I don't find anything that I have to say as anything special, several people stories here are far more intellectual and inspirational. The catharsis from being able to articulate my triumph and struggle is what I truly seek. I hope you enjoy and can use several of my writings, I would love to converse with you for a moment. I've been reaching out to various groups that deal in the same situation and it helps to find that there are others who have traveled the same road that I am just beginning my walk upon. I hope that I can, one day, be as strong as you and reach that point of absolution within myself. My deconversion seems like it is going to be a long, sometimes painful, but very interesting process and I am glad your site is there as a source of encouragement. Thanx.
THE RAMBLINGS OF SOMEONE IN THE MIDST OF A DECONVERSION
I got another job this week. I didn't pray for it so I guess I can't consider it a blessing. If I hadn't got it there would have been a serious internal battle within my mind between my old thinking and reasoning. My reasoning would have told me that there was many a time when I was strong in my old beliefs that I was without a job and money. All of my prayers (and all the prayers of others) wasn't enough for me to find employment until a four month drought had passed. My old way of thinking told me that I my faith was being tested to see if I would crack under the hardship of doing without (you're hard pressed to find a true believer who actually disavows their faith in times of trouble. Most of them accept it as a challenge to "grow in Christ". The only people I've known to disavow their faith in times of trouble returned to it, later, as a source of strength because it was a emotional refutation done without any application of logic and reasoning. A purely emotional refutation leaves a lot of opportunity to return to the fold, a refutation built on logic and reasoning creates barriers that are far more difficult to overcome if one should decide to reconsider the prison of organized religion.) Later on, I was confused over rather I was being tested or, perhaps, I was being punished for some crime that I didn't know of.
My mother accelerated that thought by asking me the question "what have you been doing to deserve all of this?" I didn't know. I was in the church so I begin to think that, maybe, it was because I wasn't tithing that I was being punished. Perhaps it was because I owned a few adult films that my blessings were being kept from me. I went home and threw them away. (for the record, I've thrown away a lot of adult films. I would buy one and then feel immense quilt for my immoral behavior. The first bad thing (it could be as minute as my television showing me a faded picture or a power flicker. All were signs of divine intervention. Moral conscience in a theistic light is a very bizarre thing.) to happen to me was evidence that I was being singled out for retribution for watching consenting adults engage in sexual intercourse. (I would keep a tape for less than a week before it would find its way to the garbage can.) Perhaps it was because I wasn't witnessing strong enough. People all around me was re-committing themselves to God and I was beginning to think that perhaps that is what I needed to do in order to get my life on track. So I began to repent (once again) for my sins. I picked up my bible and began an earnest reading that would change my life. It certainly was not in the way I planned it to change.
Mark Twain mentions the concept in his "Letters From Earth" of being able to logically recognize the fallibility of the theistic beliefs, but how strong the emotional ties to the ridiculous can be. Especially when times are looking rough. You're taught to praise God in good times and to turn to him in the worst times. (I shall now refer to God as it because I don't think we should assign gender to the concept of God. It would mean that he has a penis or a vagina and what would God need with either of those two weapons of reproduction?) God, despite the fact that he knows my problems already and already knows exactly how they're going to turn out in the end, is going to hear my prayer and grant my wish (it says so in the bible, "ask and I shall receive"). He will do all of this while remaining omnipotent, omniscient and despite the fact that he doesn't change his mind (he only repents a little). The emotional side of me wants to believe that my prayers are being heard and granted. The logical side of me knows that the very rules that are built into this God makes it impossible for him to change his course because he already knows what he is going to do before he does it. So it doesn't what I do because that's all I was going to be able to do anyway. (the more you think on it, the issue of freewill becomes increasingly ludicrous, requiring good Christians to dream up all kinds of ways to make it work. All of the excuses that I have ever heard was cancelled out my the omni-dilemma. My favorite is "he could know what you are going to do, but he chooses not to." So what you just said is that even though I know that you are about to stab me with that butcher knife, because I've already seen ahead in time 24 hours, and I know that it's definitely what you're going to do, because I've already seen it, my choosing not to know you're about to stab me is going to change the outcome. Even if it was possible for me to be omniscient, but to not know what you're about to do, which means that I would know that I was choosing not to know what you're about to do; you mean to tell me that there's a possibility that it won't happen now? If choosing not to know can allow to changes in a future that's known, then the future wasn't known to begin with. Which means that if this is the rules, then I'm just a pawn in some cruel God petty games. My suffering is for this God's enjoyment (I forgot that the OT is no longer in effect).
You know if the Bible was rewritten the way that many are trying to write it, it would eliminate a great deal of the OT and keep only the parts of the NT that pulled on the heartstrings. I still don't see how one can get past the issue of freewill. You can't trash the concept of the omni-God without destroying the very foundation upon which people worship. But I see things now that I didn't recognize before. At the last church service I attended, I began to recognize how seductive the service really is and how integral the music is to the delivery of souls to Christ. I should have known this before considering that I, once, was a piano player for two different chapels. The music is seductively lulling at times (hymns), powerful as a tool of "yes, you can make it" inspiration (mass choir songs) and exclamation points for a minister at the peak of his message (just listen to what the people on the keys are doing when the preacher gets to the highlights of his ministry). Observing a church service with a skeptical eye means that I see all of the opportunities to find a spiritual spark within oneself. The act of closing your eyes is enough to bring one a subtle type of inner peace, even if it's only in silence. You combine with a serious meditation and chanting of words and you can understand the power of prayer and how it leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling. The same goes for yoga (even my mother, from whom I inherited all of my skepticism but it's still a believer in the church, loves yoga. She says it makes her feel like she's floating.) Xtian prayer is not the only thing that can give you the warm feelings, but it's the only thing that can grant you blessings...or not. (right now I'm in the middle of my logical thoughts and I can base my thoughts on reason rather than emotion.)
Every once in a while, when I'm in need of some company to converse with on my new beliefs (or lack of), I log onto Yahoo and head straight to a room based on religious debate. Unlike many other rooms online, it's always jumping and it's always full of just the type of people I need to help me along my rambling journey towards a new way of thinking. When I first logged on to the room, I used to go and battle the theists within. I find that I was wasting hours of valuable time going around in circles with believers who either had never read the Bible or was so knowledgeable in verse that we ended up in a drawn out battle of contextual meanings. I learned to abandon the battle by scripture and to cut straight to ideas that challenged logic (such as freewill). These are harder for theists to rationalize without sounding silly and it takes the idea of using the bible to prove the bible out of commission ( a quick note on that: I, now, understand that the only way it's ever effective to use the bible to prove the bible is if the person you're quoting too thinks that it is the absolute truth as well. Most theists do this and believe that it's effective because they can't concieve of someone as believing that the bible is not a divine work of a God, but a error filled, choppy and sometimes vulgar book written by earthlings.) I've stopped doing the battle thing now. I try and seek out other agnostics and atheists online because of in need of some feeling of community. I feel very lonely now. I can't relate to most of my family and friends in the same way that I could before and I can tell where the wedge between me and them is getting bigger and bigger. I'm not ready to tell them why. In my mind, I know that I'm placing distance between them and myself in preparation for the day that I finally come out of the closet. I'm seeking to lessen the emotional impact on myself. I don't think they will disown me, but right now I'm still too shaky in my new thoughts to venture out yet. I'm still wrestling with the emotional bondage of my Xtianity.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)