I began to listen to what I knew inside instead of what the authorities told me I should know.
My experience with Christianity started when I was very young, perhaps five or six years old. My father made the decision to attend a Reformed Baptist church. He came from a Catholic background, and had been turned off of religion for quite a long time. I think this new church attracted him because the pastor was a stern authoritarian, and the pattern of sitting under him and, in turn, transferring the anger, sternness, and rules to his family appealed to his nature. The strongest memory I have of this church was sitting in the pews in extreme terror because the pastor often shouted during sermons. Such fury was overwhelming to my shy, sensitive psyche. The bullying had begun.
When I was eight, we moved and started attended a church that felt the need to continually entertain us and provide us with incentives to keep coming such as contests and special events. Even amongst the frivolity, I found myself feeling frightened and confused because what was supposed to be so simple, the salvation message, was anything but that. I wasn't sure I got it right. I accepted, believed, and confessed my little soul senseless, but I always had the gnawing feeling it wasn't taking. I wasn't transformed into the good little girl Christianity insisted I should become. Why didn't it work? This was the dirty little secret I had to hide: I remained human.
My father decided to leave this church because they were Arminian. He decided that this belief system was evil. He began bringing us to a Calvinist church where the elect handful of five families gathered together to declare that they were the only saved souls in this region of the country. Calvinism is a funny belief; people get stuck on it like a broken record. The entire sermons revolved around Calvinism. Sunday school lessons were patterned on the five points. Conferences were held each year on this lousy doctrine. They saw nothing else in the Bible. Just Calvinism, their ugly little god. Once I reached high school, I began to severely question and criticize this monotonous idiocy. Even so, it was hard to turn away completely. I didn't want to become the evil apostate the church warned me about. I felt my questioning was the result of a sinful heart, not the natural outgrowth of some basic intelligence and honesty. I wasn't ready to consider that possibility. That realization would come years later.
I couldn't trust myself because I swallow the total depravity garbage hook, line, and sinker. Education, ideas, facts, learning, books and thinking for ourselves were sins because all beliefs were from a depraved source except for what was taught by their interpretation of the Bible. This teaching worked well in keeping us in line. Bullies like that.
It was amazing how thickheaded I remained. I noticed that all the men in the church were extremely angry, cruel, and, well, walked around like they had pine cones up their butts. And yet, I saw them as being saints. I was terrified of their disapproval. I saw myself as wicked because I questioned things, I really didn't enjoy praying to the monster god of the Calvinists, and I found the Bible to be full of hateful passages that I could never come to accept.
Once I was in college, I just rebelled. I began to be everything I was told not to be. I did drugs and began reading the delightfully wicked writers the church warned me about. I loved the new ideas, but secretly felt they would betray me in the end. I suspected I would someday head back to the church because I could not trust the new ideas, my new thoughts and experiences, and the new understand that was growing within my about another type of God. I had the sense of what I called Something More, a truth that didn't need to bully, a truth that could bare exposure to facts, ideas, and experience, and a truth that I would embrace. Because I found myself floundering and unable to find the strength to live out my realizations, I eventually turned my back on the Something More. I went back to the church. The bullies had won.
I went right back into the stern fundamentalist churches I had so despised. This time I hoped to find acceptance. I hoped I could live out the Christian faith and become the saint I thought God wanted me to be. It seemed so simple. I just had to accept the churches authority and get my beliefs right. Somehow I had to stuff myself through their hoop. Even though I saw obvious errors and inconsistencies in the Bible, I had to pretend that I didn't. Even though, the sexism was utterly contemptible, I had to pretend I accept my place. Even though, I still secretly enjoyed the wonderful atheistic writers out there, I read the church recommended books with the same attention, if not the same passion.
But it wasn't simple. Our psyche can only take our phoniness so long. Eventually something broke inside me. I would go to church and feel this profound emptiness. A little voice inside kept saying, this isn't me. I would try to hush it, but it wouldn't be silenced. Madness would seize me after the services; a wild irrationality would thwart my attempts at sainthood and docility. I found I could no longer attend church, and yet, I still could not let go of Christianity. I still said I believed. I still dare not admit I knew something else inside.
So for years, I just ignored religion. I was paralyzed by the fact I knew I could no longer believe, and yet, I could not believe anything new either. I just got on with my life the best I could by pretending my spirituality just didn't exist. Now and then, when I began to voice doubts about Christianity and new ideas that were in their nascent form, my angry fundamentalist husband would berate me without mercy. "How dare I?" the bullies raged inside and outside my head.
But one day, I dared. I read Emerson's wonderful essay called "Self-reliance". In this essay, he speaks the elegant and simple truth: We can trust what we know inside. No one can tell us what that truth is. We can only tell ourselves. We can trust our reason, our experiences, our thoughts, and our ideas. No outside authority is needed.
Intellectually the bullies were defeated. The arguments against Christianity are strong and probable unnecessary. Christians themselves, or as I call them based on my observations of their morality, Caligulans, are the best witness against their beliefs. The anger, hatred, intolerance, inability to love, judgemental-ism, and stupidity I have witnessed throughout my life in the Caligulans had been appalling. Why I didn't see this from the beginning is astounding, but the fact that I see it now, after years of their bullying, shows that there is hope for the truth.
Emotionality I am still fighting the bullies. A low self-esteem and connections with Christians in my life are the legacies that remain. I am determined they won't win in this area either. The simple fact is what I have always seen as bullies are just small, pathetic creatures who refuse to open their eyes and see what is real. It is sad that I was held in their power for so many years, but in the years to come, I hope to continue the process of discovering that which is so much better than what they offered.
I still call it Something More: Whatever is true; whatever is real; Whatever is it that I know inside. No more phoniness; no more pretending; and no more silence. All of us that have been through the process of escaping the authorities to find our own truths have something very real, creative, and powerful to tell the world. The truth seems hidden behind the bullies in our lives, but it is only waiting for the time we are ready to see with new eyes what we always knew deep inside.
age I joined: 5 or 6
age I left: 30s
where I've been: Reformed Baptist, Calvinist, fundamentalists, the only ones who got it right
what I am now: I have no religious affiliation. I am interested in Jungian psychology and I do still believe in God.
why I joined: Fear
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)