A Product of the South

sent in by Chris

I thought that I had posted this once before, but could never find it when I looked. So if this is a repeat, forgive me.

I was, unfortunately, born into a family with a very typical southern attitude toward religion. What might that attitude be? Well, in my experience, that attitude is that Christianity offers the only answers to the mysteries of life; we as humans are simply unable to understand those mysteries and should therefore simply accept Christianity without question, bathing in the opulent light and love of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Well, as Penn and Teller so eloquently put it on their Showtime program, “Humbug!” Again unfortunately, I was forced into this mindset at a very young age. I suppose you could say that my programming began at birth.

My mother and father were both born in the south, my mother in Florida, my father in Alabama. My mother’s family was also native to Alabama, and to top it off, came from one of the small towns in the “mountains” of northern Alabama. This seems to be the area to which the Pentecostal charismatics were banished in the early ‘20’s. So my mother’s family was of the tent revival Christian bent and my father’s was Catholic. They met while going to school in Panama City, FL, conceived me out of wedlock (gasp, the horrors) and immediately got married so as not to shame the families. My father joined the Navy, looking for some way to support his new family, and was subsequently stationed in Newport, RI. Of course mom and dad were completely incompatible and divorced by the time I was two. This left me knowing nothing of religion but what my mother taught me. She remarried, but the union was a nightmare for the both of us. It sent her careening into the unseen arms of several Jesus’ of varying denominations. I was towed along, apron strings wound tightly about my neck, on this slalom through the world of Christian faith.

I can’t really remember a time as a young child where I was not attending a church of one sort or another. I can remember there was even a stint with the Quakers while we lived in Rhode Island. Later my mother moved on to a Baptist congregation in Massachusetts. I was sent to Sunday school, children’s church, Royal Rangers, vacation bible school, and any other activities the church could come up with to pre-program the hungry little minds of their youth into docile, unquestioning parrots of their faith.

We moved back to Florida once my mother had finally had enough torture at the hands of her second husband. There she found her roots in the Assemblies of God where again I was forced into “Good Little Christian” programming. I went to the camps, wore the t-shirts, and attempted to pull others into our pit. We moved around several times, each time going from church to church, searching for one where my mother felt comfortable. As I reached my adolescent years, I began to question the veracity of it all. I suppose I’d just seen too many differences between the denominations and even among differing churches of the same denomination. I wondered if all were Christians, why was there so much division among them? Why was there so much squabbling and bickering over petty differences in doctrine? If God was really almighty and all powerful, couldn’t he make the truth known to all? And of course if I asked anyone in the church these questions, I’d receive stock answers or no answers and would be brushed off as a petulant youth, full of sedition and rebellious attitude. Of course nothing was further from the truth. I wanted to believe, but was at an age where I needed my questions answered truthfully and from the heart. I began to hate going to church, but I was forced to continue to go. I would sit in service in the back row, agitated and seething, counting the seconds until it was over. I was becoming the insubordinate youth these Christians had treated me as if I were. The funny thing was that church was the only place I acted like that.

Finally, something even snapped in my mother. She left the church and became a normal human being during my senior year in high school. I was exuberant. Once I graduated, I left home, joined the Navy and didn’t look back to the church for years. I proudly had them stamp NORELPREF on my dog tags. I wanted to be absolutely certain that everyone knew I was NOT a Christian. I lived a wild life, blowing every paycheck as I received it, and was the typical Christian example of a non-Christian.

Eventually, I began to settle down and started looking for answers again. I began dating a Catholic girl who was very devout, and I began searching there. I liked the Catholic faith well enough, but it was hard to get over some of the things my protestant upbringing had railed against regarding the Catholic Church. The whole transubstantiation thing, for example, raised a few alarms in both my religious and secular views. But I decided I could live with the things I didn’t quite understand for love. When that all fell through, I went back to partying and living the wild life.

I continued college and continued questioning Christianity and religion in general. I dated a “Christian” girl who essentially used me to get her ex-husband back. I was about to completely give up dating for a few years when I was told about a pretty young woman who worked with my cousin’s wife. I was told that she was a “good Christian girl” and my first response was, “Oh, that’s ALL I need.” However, I went ahead and met her, had a date, and then started seeing her. Our second date was to a revival at her church. I should have run screaming when the preacher called me out, but instead I went out in the aisle and was “slain in the spirit.” Actually I was pushed on the forehead until I lost my balance and it was either take a few steps back to regain it or fall over backwards. Since I knew what they WANTED, I fell over backward. I laid there on the ground with my eyes closed for a while wondering what in the hell I was doing, but I just went with it. The young lady and I dated for a few months. Then we got married. I spiraled back down into the bowels of Christianity, and became a God-fearing, bible-toting, creationism-believing, catholic-hating charismatic Pentecostal. I even got filled with the “Holy Spirit”…or so I liked to think at the time. I babbled a little nonsensical otherworldly language here and there, received messages straight from God, all that humbug. Boy it sounded convincing, but I can still do it now, and I know I most certainly am not filled with the “Holy Spirit.” So for a few years, I kept the pace, but eventually the unanswered questions resurfaced. I tried to talk to my wife about them but she would get angry and wouldn’t discuss it with me. I tried talking about it to our pastor who was a “Doctor” of Theology. He couldn’t give me anything other than the stock answers either. But I was a good little Christian and just accepted that “some things have to be taken on faith.” I spouted that garbage on message boards and in chat rooms and to friends and family. Then I ran out of faith. I told my wife that I was no longer a Christian. She didn’t take it well. I tried to go back to being a Christian a time or two, but I just couldn’t keep it up. I couldn’t reconcile the world around me with Christianity. My wife and I divorced although she would have stayed with me if I had stayed. For the most part she is a good woman, just sadly defrauded of her life by the southern Christian mentality that is so prevalent in Alabama.

So what am I now? Well, I’m definitely not a Christian. The Christians will say that this makes me an atheist because you can’t straddle the fence…you are either for god or against him. I’m not really an atheist. The atheists will say that this means I am still not letting go of the programming that was hammered in to me all my life and am therefore clinging to the possibility that God does exist. To both I say, “Humbug.” I believe that the atheist view is often as bad as the Christians. In my opinion, one who believes that there is no possibility of the existence of a higher power is no less a fool than one who unreservedly accepts that there is one. So I must simply proclaim that I do not and cannot know that a god exists or does not exist…I am without this knowledge…I am agnostic.

North Hollywood
Joined at 5
Left at 17 and 34
Was: Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Assembly and Church of God, Creationist, Lunatic
Now: Ex-Christian, Free Thinker (most of the time)
Converted: Too young to think for myself
De-converted: Religion is a crock
email: cjones_mcse at hotmail dot com

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