sent in by Dan Lovette (ForbiddenTruth)
"For we were little Christian children and early learned the value of forbidden fruit."
- Mark Twain
For some reason, the above quote really resonates with me. Growing up in a strict homeschooling Christian household with church as my main -- woefully inadequate -- social outlet, I always liked the forbidden things more than those that were officially endorsed. So clearly, I differ with American Christianity as to what is really important in life. Why does God want us bowing to, praying to, and worshipping him all the time? Wouldn't he rather have us enjoy the world he created for us, and enjoy our fellow human beings? To be hyper-religious is to miss the point of life. I believe religion should make our lives better; to spend a life in service of religion makes no sense to me, and could never make me happy.
However, I understand that many people have powerful religious experiences, and their religion really does make them happy, and gives them a structure of meaning for their life. That's fine with me; however I'm sure I'm not alone in failing to find satisfaction in religion. I could never find meaning or fulfillment for my life in seeking to connect with God. I must look to the wider sphere of life and simply content myself with it, rather than with some great love for Christ, as the church would have us do. I love people and I love this beautiful planet, and that is where my love has been shifting to for some time.
I became a humanist around ten years ago; before that I was suicidal. Yes, that's right, a ten-year-old suicider. I never actually attempted suicide, but I thought and talked about it. From the Christian beliefs about heaven and hell, I concluded it would be better to die and go to heaven that to live in this fallen world, and I sincerely wanted to die. When I learned that most people are going to hell no matter what I do, I concluded that life was pointless. That sense of pointlessness has stayed with me ever since. So you see how Christianity could never be a source of meaning for me; in fact it drained meaning from my concept of life! But I grew from that initial utter pointlessness and discovered that I had a deep love for people and nature. I wanted the best for all people, regardless of whether God agreed with me. And as soon as I learned of the term humanist, I knew that it described me.
The Christian faith is so narrow, and it asks us to live narrow lives. But life isn't narrow to me, it's broad and full of good things to enjoy. Why would God create such a broad world and give us broad minds if he really wanted us to live narrow lives?
How does the Bible teach a narrow view of life? Very briefly: In I John (e.g. 2:15), we're taught not to love the world. And we all know Jesus said to love God with everything you've got. I was never to clear on how we're supposed to "love" God... until I discovered that it's explained in John 14:15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Anyway, to repeat, the Bible says: don't love the world, love God, and the way to love God by keeping his commandments. That's it. That's the main Christian structure of meaning for life. Seem a little narrow to you? Yeah, thought so. Like I said before, I always felt like all the other stuff that the Bible doesn't mention is much more fulfilling.
(Side note: I know Jesus said we're supposed to love our fellow men too. But how does the Bible say we should do this? I was always taught that it was by a) sharing the Gospel with them, and b) giving money to the poor. But who is going to spend their whole lives doing those two things? And does that mean everything else I do isn't meaningful? If my life is to be totally given to God, sold out for him, how can I find meaning for my life in things he doesn't prescribe?)
I just want to be honest here, and I hope my honesty isn't too stark, or the account too melodramatic. But then again that's just the way I talk about things that I care about. I share the story of my “spiritual journey” below, but I can summarize it right here. I chafed against my religion for so long that finally my faith died a natural death. I left Christianity, not out of rebellion against God, but because my faith simply died.
I have believed in Jesus for most of my life thus far, but I've never really had anything that I could honestly call a spiritual life. When I tried to pray, I usually felt like I was talking to the ceiling, but I perservered in my faith anyway in order to avoid hell. You see, I had a strong fear of hell taught to me from a young age. This fear dug in, and when I was eight I prayed to be saved so I wouldn't go to hell. Thirteen years later, I was still a Christian mainly because I still had that same fear. I tried to convince myself that I believed because I loved God, but it was really because I feared him. I knew that I had to love him to be saved from eternal fire, so I lied to myself and kept trying to get that love to sprout in my heart, but it never did! I was also living in sin, a rather mild one, but habitual, for the last say, six years. Thus I had constant guilt also doing a number on my mind. Joy of life? Peace? Yeah, right! How about a steamy dish of soul-sucking depression, served up on a near-daily basis? Over the last few years my Christian faith gradually became a prison to me, from which I longed to escape to the wider world and live by my own moral standards.
I knew that I had no real intellectual basis for believing, only this irrational fear of hell. Thus, for fear of derailing my faith I refused to take any religion or philosophy courses in college. However, in one of my low moments I did manage to go to the URL LosingMyReligion.com, because that was how I felt at the time. What I found there were not arguments against the truth of the Christian faith per se, but objections to the content of Christian doctrines. Many topics were covered, including church doctrine on homosexuality. I already felt for the plight of the many poor souls born gay and denied by St. Paul the right to romantic love, but the site helped to highlight the issue as one of the biggest weaknesses of today's church.
There were other objections that hit the mark as well, but the one that really struck to the heart of me was their position on hell. The doctrine of hell says that God will torture billions of people for eternity, but when you see it from God's point of view, you'll see that it's actually a GOOD thing. Their objection went something like,
"I could never see that as a good thing, no matter who's perspective I'm looking through, and no matter how nice of an afterlife I might get. If something is fundamentally wrong, it's wrong no matter who does it, deity or not. Don't let Christianity dictate to you that "God is good because God is good because the Bible said so, and the Bible is God's word because the Bible says so." If the God described in the Bible is not good, then he's not good, even if he did create everything. We can't give up our right to judge whether God is good! If we did, how would we know if we were serving an evil god? He could do anything he wanted, and we would still believe it was good, just because he said so."
I'll continue the argument myself: How could God do anything worse than hell? Reformed Christian doctrine states that everyone's going to hell unless God picks them to be saved. I cannot think of anything more evil than inflicting eternal punishment on someone who had no opportunity to avoid it. That, my friends, is the face of evil, I firmly believe it. But they didn't take the argument that far, and back then neither did I. Instead, I kept my objections at bay with wishful thinking, saying that surely God must give everyone a choice. (Which makes no sense anyway; if God really gave everyone a choice of whether to go to hell or not, everyone would be Christians! You'd have to be crazy to actually choose to go to hell!) Regardless, my mind had been freed just enough that I could now objectively judge whether God was good. Part of the control that Christianity had over my mind had been broken.
Years later, this spring I came to the beginning of the end of my faith; I just didn't know it yet. It started when I realized that God had promised to deliver me from my sin, but he never had! It had been my responsibility all along, when all the while it was supposed to be him transforming me! But of course if I did get better, he would get all the credit. What about when I got worse? All my fault! You never saw him lift a finger to help me then, no matter how hard I prayed! I concluded that I should no longer look to God to help me solve my problems; I would have to do it myself. I was fully aware that this course of action is implicitly forbidden to all Christians, but I had to do it. The old path had led me nowhere, so I had to see where this new path would lead!
Unfortunately, as I walked along this new path the sin still didn't get better; in fact it got worse. But instead of retracing my steps, I realized that personally I didn't care whether I did this sin or not. It wasn't hurting me or anyone else, being a sin of the mind. It was, and still is, a natural part of who I am, just like homosexuality is for those gays the church is always yammering on about. I had no choice in the way I was made up, that was God's problem. I began to accept myself for who I was, taking another turn away from the Christian path.
Finally, after beginning to taking responsibility for my life and accept myself, one night the last remnants of my fear of hell unexpectedly crumbled away, leaving me free from my religious prison. It was the most beautiful feeling I had felt in years. I remember thinking, “It's over. At long last, I'm out of my prison!Finally, I have the freedom I craved! I can start a new life, one that's completely my own!”
My evolution was real, but after one short week my resolve faded away and I sought comfort in my old beliefs, unable to cope with the possibility of an angry God. But after weeks of struggling, I realized it could never work for me. The irrational fear had died, and the possibility of that angry God awaiting me was very remote, enough so that it could be dismissed. Thus I left for good about five weeks after my first exodus. It still feels amazing to write those words. The thrill of true freedom is still real. Freedom of the mind, freedom of actions, and best of all, freedom from telling myself and others that I love an evil God.
Became a Christian: 8
Ceased being a Christian: 21
Labels before: Reformed, Fundamentalist
Labels now: Atheist
Why I joined: Fear of hell
Why I left: God was evil but he expected me to be perfect
Email Address: dan_lovette at hotmail.com
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)