sent in by Cabin Fever
My story probably isn't as exciting as a lot of others I've read here. And I guess that makes me the lucky one! You see, I never really was a fundie, just a fundie "wannabe" for a while. I was raised American Baptist, which is a rather liberal denomination as far as Baptists go. I don't recall anyone there ever talking about the need to be "saved", or threatening us with Hell if we didn't believe the right way. In fact, our pastor quoted existentialists like Paul Tillich about as much as he quoted scripture in his sermons. Baptism at age 10 or 11 was more of a "rite of passage", rather than some huge, life-changing event. Anyway, I did all the usual church stuff - Sunday school, choir, youth group, & poured coffee at more church suppers than I care to remember! In all, it was a pretty secure, comfortable, "safe" place to be. (Then again, it was about all I'd ever known.) And living in a rural area made church even more the center of our lives.
Keep in mind, this was back in the early '70's. Jesus freaks were the new "in" crowd. (Does anybody remember the "Scott Ross Show" on the radio Sunday nights?) And the Christian Broadcasting Network owned a chain of FM stations in our area at that time. I got hooked on shows like "Power Time" and "The 700 Club". This was a different brand of Christianity than I'd grown up with! These people seemed to have something (that "fire" or "spirit" or whatever) that was lacking in my American Baptist church, and I wanted it, too! Then someone told me about Hal Lindsey's book "The Late, Great Planet Earth". After reading that non-stop, I was convinced that the Rapture and the Great Tribulation were right around the corner, and I sure didn't want to be left behind! (I'd never heard American Baptists talk about this stuff, either!)
I went off to college in 1973, and this introverted farm kid suddenly found himself on a campus of over 15,000 students, most of them from much more urban areas. Talk about culture shock! It was pretty overwhelming, and I was feeling rather insecure among so many people from diverse backgrounds, religions and such. Right away I started attending services at the college chapel, which helped bring back some of that sense of security I'd had growing up. Somehow though, it still wasn't enough. Then I saw a notice in the student newspaper about Campus Bible Fellowship. I started attending their meetings, and thoght I'd found exactly what I was looking for. These were Baptists, but much more fundamental than the American Baptists. (And also more critical of other denominations, and critical of other college Christian groups like Campus Crusade and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. They also didn't think much of the chapel services on campus - too liberal and ecumenical. This stand-offish attitude did bother me just a bit, but I was still convinced that CBF was the right place for me.)
All this time, I was so convinced that I was finally following the "right faith". Somehow though, I still felt like a spectator, not really a "player". Still lacking that "fire" that these other folks had. At an overnight retreat one weekend, I confided to the CBF pastor that even though I truly believed, I still felt something was lacking, and that I wanted a "closer walk with God". He told me that my problem was that I'd been attending the wrong church up until now, that I'd never really been "saved", wasn't truly a Christian. And so, convinced that he was right, I prayed the "sinner's prayer" with him, and suddenly felt...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING (other than a great deal of peer pressure.) No lightning bolts, no fireworks, the earth didn't shake, none of that. But worst of all, I didn't feel that sense of inner peace that I'd been promised. What a letdown! (I didn't tell anyone about this right then. Didn't want to spoil the "moment" for everyone else at the retreat. Pretty sad, huh?)
I remember getting sick to my stomach when I got back to campus that night. I've never felt as confused and alone as I did right then. Don't think I slept at all. My new-found "salvation" just didn't seem real to me. But how could all these other CBF people be wrong? Maybe my "sinner's prayer" wasn't sincere enough?! The next morning I went to Sunday services at the pastor's church a few miles from campus. I remember being called down in front and introduced to the congregation as a "new soul for Christ". I smiled my best smile, all the while knowing I was just going through the motions, and that it was all a big lie. That afternoon, I finally admitted to the pastor that this wasn't working for me, that I didn't feel "saved" or anything close to it. He wanted me to say "the prayer" again. (As if once wasn't enough?? I declined.)
The pastor tried several times after that to get me back to CBF, but I just couldn't see any point. He'd always leave me with the usual condescending "We'll be praying for you." (Yeah, whatever...Go nuts!) When I'd run into CBF members on campus, some were genuinely interested in how I was doing, others shunned me like I was some unwashed heathen! Oh well...
Somehow, life went on after all this happened. I never really resolved all the questions I had, I just quit dealing with religion altogether. (Couldn't stay with fundie-ism, but couldn't go back to the old beliefs, either.) Joined a fraternity, had a good time, graduated with honors, and found work in my chosen field. I've had my share of ups and downs since then, but overall, life's been OK. (I do confess to having watched the PTL Club, Jimmy Swaggart and Robert Tilton now and then, just for laughs!)
This all happened over 30 years ago. So why am I here on this website now, after all this time?
Fast forward to 1996. Finally found the woman of my dreams and got married at age 40, despite the fact that she was a rather devout United Methodist. That really didn't bother me - we were alike in so many other ways. Thank God she wasn't a fundie! (Oops, bad choice of words!) I even went to church with her now and then, if only because I enjoyed her company (and still do - I love her dearly). But about two years ago, she dropped a bombshell on me - she said she believed she'd been called by God to become a minister. I don't doubt her sincerity at all - but I sure can't relate to what she's doing, either. It's brought back a lot of those old doubts I swept under the rug so long ago. I started wondering again if there's something wrong with me - why doesn't Christianity seem real to me?
I haven't been to church with her in over a year, because I just don't feel like I belong there. I don't care to be a hypocrite, either. I wish I could find a good reason to go with her, but I just got so tired of sitting there in the pew, beating my head against the wall. (To my wife's credit, she's never pressured me to go with her, much as she wishes I would.) So now, when she's at church, choir practice, St. Ignatius exercises, or meeting with her spiritual director, I'm usually out hiking, snowshoeing or otherwise enjoying nature (one thing I can relate to anymore!) Either that, or I'm logged onto this website, reading your testimonies and discussions, and realizing that I'm not alone! And for that, you folks have been a great help.
Hope I haven't bored you all to death with this ramble. I don't claim to have any answers, just wanted to let you know where I'm coming from. I'm sure this story's gonna take a few more twists and turns. I'll keep in touch!
Ceased being a Christian: 18
Labels before: American Baptist
Labels now: Agnostic, married to a Methodist
Why I joined: born into it
Why I left: it never felt real
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)