sent in by Chad
Before I describe the details of my de-conversion, I’ll describe why I converted to Christianity in the first place.
My family background is marked by extreme dysfunction. The hippy sub-culture of drugs and rock-n-roll hijacked both my mother and father’s mind; so much so, I was conceived, carried to term, and birthed under the influence of weed and coke–my umbilical cord was a super-highway of drug trafficking. A dynamic duo of drug-dealing white trash; this constituted their career and the deleterious environment I was raised in–exposed to everything from vulgar language to domestic violence, which lead to placement in foster care for two years.
From the beginning of my childhood, consequently, recidivism consumed my father’s life and rendered him a classic deadbeatdad. And my mother, who was his co-defendant, received a sentence of probation, yet, she continued to live a life of crazy instability throughout the entirety of my adolescence. Needless to say, I was deprived of a nurturing family unit, and as a result of the neglect, forced to parent myself in terms of discipline, structure, emotional support, and even material provisions; a corollary of which was struggling to maintain independence or at least a slight quality of life between the ages of 15–19. Dilapidated apartments, numerous roommates, over worked/under paid jobs, Ramin Noodles/ Tuna Fish, and angry bill collectors defined this period of my life. I was in a state of desultory funk; a sense of meaning/purpose impossible to attain but so desperately desired. Thus, religion enters as my crutch.
“Oh God...I feel so down and out...I need your help...please forgive me...I need you...I commit my life to your will...just please help me find happiness...my life is nothing...I have nobody but you”
Not verbatim, but this was the approximate prayer I spewed, with tears streaming and hands raised while kneeling at a church alter after the “there is a whole in your heart that can only be filled by God” sermon. The type that exploits one’s misfortunes and vulnerabilities to manipulate conversion, portraying Christianity as the cure-all to depression or any personal problem and ultimate source of joy/fulfillment. At the age of twenty, I took the bate: hook, line, and sinker!
Christianity provided a therapeutic experience of family love through the church-community and authoritatively answered all of life’s nagging philosophical question (i.e. how did I get here, where am I going, who am I, why am I here), thereby invigorating me with a charge of divine meaning–a spiritual high. According to my “born again” perspective, God broke the spiritual curse inflicted upon me due to my family’s history of chronic sin and paganism. As a special beneficiary of His amazing Grace, God compensated me for the love and happiness that I so painfully lacked.
Now living with a church family to regain some financial footing, I developed an addiction–addicted to studying the Bible and a church-a-holic. I devoured every last chapter/verse cover to cover in conjunction with one or two commentaries corresponding to each book of the bible and attended every church service/function available. Reeking with the stench of a fanatical cult, I embarked on a evangelical crusade to save family, friends, and my community from the eternal flames of hell. Toting a big, black Bible dead center into college keg parties to proselytize, distributing Bibles and witnessing materials as gifts, aggressively recruiting for church enlistment, door-to-door Bible thumping, sending testimonial letters delineating how Jesus transformed my life, making insincere “hey how are you...I’ve been thinking about you” calls just to share my faith and cunningly secure a commitment to Christ, scheduling lunch dates and whatever other activities I knew would be appealing – my treat – in a calculating effort to procure another “fishing” opportunity, and even perching myself atop a monumental rock in the middle of city-square, at rush hour, to preach hell-fire and brimstone–there was no limit I would not push or boundary break to save their souls!
Within one year, this fundamentalist fervor eventually spawned a prophet mentality–the conviction that I was empowered with a distinct anointing to spread the Gospel. A “call” to the ministry. So I entered one of the most notoriously strict seminaries on the East Coast; it was an evangelical boot-camp for preachers, where the rule book was almost as thick and sacred as the bible itself. Swift punishment was enacted if my uniform was not pressed to perfection, if I did not keep a crystal-clear shave, if I was observed socializing with a female during an unauthorized time/place, if my dorm contained one ounce of dust or an item was not situated in it’s designated spot...etc...etc.....and etc!
On fire for Jesus and drunk with “born again” elation, I remained oblivious to how obnoxiously oppressive the environment was–the only element missing was the inquisition of infidels. However, I began to realize as such somewhat in my third and fully in my fourth via the catalyst of academic requirements. In addition to it’s ultra rigid infamy, Grace seminary sported an academic reputation for imposing the most exacting scholarly standards upon students, centering the majority of course curriculum solely upon the Bible rather than theological textbooks. The dogmatic doctrine of biblical inerrancy beget this emphasis, specifically the literalist notion that the Holy Spirit would provide the “correct” interpretation of scripture to those truly sanctified souls, not the mere teachings of men. Laser-intense Bible study and arduous research dominated my entire existence over four years–a Bible reading Energizer Bunny!
Similar to the process of rationalizations, justifications, and minimizations that one engages in to ameliorate the glaring flaws of a new sweetheart and postpone the inevitable within the initial stages of infatuation, I suppressed the awareness of obvious contradictions/absurdities encountered within my studies to maintain such a precious faith. All-powerful and All-loving–the sovereign creator of EVERYTHING directing the course of my life, ultimately, with my happiness and well-being in mind...not to mention a free ticket to eternal paradise instead of eternal torment. Life is a bitch, who wouldn’t desperately cling to what is basically a perfect security blanket or coping mechanism. But as knowledge of scripture progressed to profound levels, the fortress of denial I erected around my faith (i.e. God works in mysterious ways, His Intellect is higher than mine, and my favorite, you just gotta accept it by faith) began to crumble under the weight of simple logic. For instance, the age old problem of evil: if God possesses the power and desire to eliminate suffering and pain, why does it exist to such an astronomical extent? Insofar as He is omniscient, the free-will defense miserably fails. Also, the problem of Original Sin: how could the pure justice of God transfer the penalty of one man’s sin onto the rest of humanity. Insofar as paying the penalty for another’s wrongs is a consummate example of injustice, the genetic defense miserably fails. And many more inexplicable irrationalities ex-Christians are already familiar with.
More pointedly, the task of desperately clinging and protecting my fortress of denial generated an obsession with apologetics, which eventually became the primary cause of my de-conversion. Before conceding that the only reason to live, the only reason to get out of bed, the absolute truth was bogus, I waged a impassioned war against my growing doubts by delving into the works of Josh Mcdowel, Ravi Zacharias, Francis Shaeffer, and C.S Lewis...etc An apologists competence consists of his ability to cogently refute certain arguments opposing Christianity; doing so entails a deep understanding of these opposing positions. Rather than keeping my faith impervious, ironically, becoming a student of apologetics exposed it to acute skepticism; because the arguments therein introduced me to the “darkside”. Like Darth Vador, I deduced that the “darkside” was much more persuasive (i.e. the documentary hypothesis, Chaos theory, evolution/blind watch maker, textual and higher criticism, predated pagan-parallels to Christianity, and the third wave of Jesus scholarship that uncovered the New-T Jesus as largely mythical...etc). I realized then, that Christianity’s genius – the reason Christians substantively outweigh non-Christians besides mental apathy – is based upon a fail-safe, full-proof security system: whenever challenged by non/anti Christian philosophies from either curiosity or confrontation, it sounds the alarm of fear – fear of the Devil’s deception – and thus prevents a breach of the mind’s indoctrinated superstructure. Plainly stated, if more Christians could manage to surmount the fear of losing their religion and actually entertain their twinges of doubt, less Christians would exist. Funny, one would think that those people for whom it is vitally important to champion one single truth would also be those most likely to examine all the options, all perspectives, Christian or otherwise, to ascertain which seem best; but the exact opposite is the case. Fundamentalist faith seems to be rooted in an implicit or unconscious belief that religion is really fake, and that one must run from truth in fear. Faith becomes an excuse and synonym – even a sign of moral nobility – for refusing to fairly examine other-than-Christian ideas.
Christianity occupied a position of utter ascendency in my mind’s ideological realm, but atheism, armed with the devastating weapons of reason, executed a coo in the latter half of my senior year. Although haunted by the question of “what if your wrong” and racked with the fear of damnation, I resolved to pass through the door of apostasy and lock it behind me; thus, saving myself from committing intellectual suicide just to “keep the faith”. Yet, I reluctantly finished what I started; a theology degree is better than nothing. Hence the aphorism, “fake it till ya make it”. I indeed made it; boasting a 3.9 GPA and oratory excellence, I graduated as the valedictorian and was awarded the trophy for “Best Student Preacher”. Surrounded by an army of Christian faced gleaming with approbation, under the highly endorsed spotlight of theological erudition, among classmates who anointed me as their leader, and engulfed by the beaming pride of family/friends, I strolled down the graduation isle, ministerial degree, bible, and preacher’s trophy in hand, as a bonafide atheist.....and exuding relief. When the pomp and ceremony ceased, I began a 12 hour journey homebound, and a surge of ecstatic liberation overwhelmed every fiber of my being, which endured the following six months straight. No more scare-tactic sermons beating my brain into cognitive bankruptcy, no more strenuously restraining my intellect from entertaining opinions not biblically spoon-fed, no more hammering my emotions into “biblically correct” molds, no more subjugating my life to the abuse of ascetic prescriptions, no more relentlessly policing my thoughts/actions to bust the most trivial of sins, no more guilt trips pounding my will into submission regarding God’s plan, no more alienating myself from the world by objectifying it as a evangelical target, no more six day work weeks staring on Sunday, and no more masturbation phobia.....ahhhhhhhh......sweet, sweet freedom.
But freedom was not free.
Identical, in part, to the sad state of affairs the precipitated my conversion, again, I faced cold, hard reality, which does not provide a conveniently packaged and delivered source of meaning–the thrill of believing that a supreme being created you, and only you, to perform a important purpose. Objectively, on the contrary, life is inherently meaningless; that is, except for the meaning one attached to it subjectively. Furthermore, given the depressive implication of atheism, I deeply grieved over the human condition, especially in light of God’s nonexistence: Earth and humanity are nothing but insignificant whispers in the wind compared to the sheer magnitude of our universe. Each individual life, therefore, will never experience salvation–salvation from 70 measly years (if we are fortunate) of pain, suffering, and simply struggling to get bye on so many levels. Every religious notion of eternal bliss rendered false; just a glorified manifestation of man’s survival instinct or the wishful desperation of his will to live. Deceased loved ones forever lost but for mere memory; grand family-reunions in heaven only a consoling dream. To prevent a nervous breakdown due to tragic circumstances and supply a flow of constant strength when wrestling life’s hardships, people and even nations embrace the conviction that God orders events in concert with some greater plan–that life’s “evils” are somehow necessary to fulfill as such...NO! Conversely, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, blatantly defying any sort of worthwhile reason–just because. Injustice marks the cosmos; so the assertion that God will eventually institute a spiritual world of perfect moral/ethical justice, governed by a system of karmic rewards/punishments, is a well-intentioned fabrication to help the masses contend with the onslaught of injustice in the physical world, thereby sustaining their sanity and the peace. And mankind is doomed to extinction courtesy of the Sun’s inevitable snuff-out. If humans escape the Sun’s wrath by inhabiting other planets, they will still suffer extinction when the universe inevitably withers (predicated upon the elastic/fluctuation model anyway). In God’s absence, woe is the human condition!!!
Once this new euphoria of freedom slowly but surely waned, the negative corollaries of atheism became a psychological burden–particularly the existentialist project of developing my own sentiment of meaning, identity, intestinal fortitude, morality, and answers to those crucial, philosophical questions totally independent of religion’s crutch...of Christianity’s babying. For approximately two years then, I fought to recover from my religious addiction and establish intellectual, emotional, and ethical autonomy. Despite the fact that atheism’s pessimistic nature tempted me to relapse, I arrived at the conclusion that intellectual integrity/freedom – being honest with myself about what I really think/believe and pursing my own perception of truth wherever that may lead, even to a destination of perpetual uncertainty – is much more conducive to inner-peace than laboring to satisfy the Bible’s criteria of inner-peace: categorical conformity to chimera that necessitates a self-deceiving pretense of belief and deliberate or unconscious ignorance–to credulously espouse dubious tenets that mock mainline science, compounded by the onus of puritanical requirements. The very method promoted to attain inner-peace renders it unattainable, which paradoxically engenders inner-turmoil. Jesus hit the nail right on the head, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Was: charismatic, pentecostal, conservative
Now: atheist, agnostic, independent
email: cspanther1 at aol dot 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)