sent in by Kevin Smith
First of all, let me say how much I have enjoyed this website, and how encouraging it is to hear from others out there who have sacrificed the spirit of superstition at the alter of reason. I would especially like to thank this website for introducing me to the works of Thomas Paine. Secondly, writing this is part of a very difficult process for me. Working through these religous issues has not been easy, it has conjured up painful memories and forced me to relive them. One episode of the Sopranos said it best, Tony's psychiatrist likened the purging of painful memories to giving birth, Tony replied "no, it's definately like taking a shit". Well, anyway, maybe it's a good idea to start "In the beginning...".
Like many of you, my childhood was spent in a fundamentalist charismatic home. At the age of five, my parents left a mainstream Baptist church (ok, they were kicked out) and joined the home church movement. They went from being normal, likeable people, to bible-thumping, tongues-speaking, faith-healing, Jesus freaks. In a nutshell, they became intolerant and intolerable. My world was turned upside down, all of a sudden there were strange people in my face, casting out my demons, and imploring the holy spirit it knock me out (keep in mind, I was only five when it started). Stories were told of black-hooded, faceless demons visiting people in the night, which had the result of plaguing me with nightmares and insomnia to this very day (I'm 37). The feelings they told me I should have were just not there, in fact I was just scared to death. Since they could not break through to me, they dismissed me as not accepting the holy spirit. I really wanted to please my parents, and I wanted to feel what they said I should feel, so it left me wondering what was wrong with me. My parents had great ambitions to be spiritual leaders, and they did not appreciate me holding them back.
It wasn't long before my school teachers started calling to ask why there were dark bags under my eyes, and what was with my morbid attitude. They wanted to know why I thought Christmas was a demonic holiday and why I was saying Santa was just Satan with the letters rearranged. Some of the kids were upset and crying because I was telling them Santa didn't exist, and that they were going to hell for believing in him. So my parents told them to put me out in the hallway by myself during parties, movies, or anything else they deemed demonic. By the end of the third grade my parents gave up on exercising the demons from the public school and decided to put me into a fundamentalist Baptist school. Those of you who are familiar with fundamentalism, knows that one fundamentalist group does not mix well with another. At school, I was constantly singled out and told how my parents were demon possessed and were riding the bullet train to hell. At home, my parents had a equally disturbing retort, they said my teachers were rapture rejects and would soon learn the meaning of weeping and nashing of teeth. So once again, I found myself pushed to the outside, and held up to constant ridicule. I'm not sure where the brotherly love was in all this, but it didn't appear to be high on the priority list.
There were, however, strong similarities between the two evangelical groups. Children were not highly esteemed (especially in the charismatic group), self-worth was equated with the sin of pride, life was meant for humiliation and suffering, and NEVER trust your own thoughts or intuition. They both taught any knowledge, outside of bible "knowledge", was a satanic trap. They called it carnal knowledge. Yes, to most of us the word carnal has a sexual implication (ooh, la, la!), but they preferred an older meaning which meant anything worldly, which is anything except the bible. So basically, nothing and nobody in this world is to be trusted because it all merely exists to lure us into eternal damnation. You better watch your ass, because if you believe the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, your soul would be as worthless as week old sushi.
By the time my teenage years rolled around, the home church had been moved to my home. So between home and school, I had been totally immersed in a world of absolutes, fanaticism, and superstition. It may seem impossible for someone in such a position to ever escape the emotional prison that had been built for them. But, there was a "saving grace" for me, and that was my grandparents. Most of our family didn't admit being related to us, and sure as hell never visted, but there were a few who took the time to make me feel worthwhile and let me see that there were alternatives to what I was being taught. My trusted peers had filled my brain with bullshit, but one man's bullshit is another man's fertilizer, and the seeds that were planted in my mind by my grandparents were well fertilized.
Like a lot of kids who feel like nothing they do is good enough, I started rejecting any and all input from my authority figures. I was saved, I prayed and read my bibly daily. But, it had become too tiring to sort through all the conflicting dogma that was being force fed to me. I put my trust fully in jesus that he would guide me through the darkness and lead me to the light. The college years (well, a year and a half) came with a bang. I was like a spring that had been completely compressed then suddenly let go. My baptist education had not prepared me to be an engineer, and I soon gave up on college (ok, flunked out). On my last day at college, I knew I wouldn't be coming back, and I felt like a complete and utter failure. I closed myself in my dorm room closet and began to pray for guidance, and immediately an idea came in my head to join the military. Thank you jesus!
Now, ironically, as anti-authority as I had become, the Army was just what I needed. All my life, my parents and teachers had rejected me, now the military told me that I was worthwhile and they were happy to have me. This gave my faith in jesus a second wind. At first, this was all great, but there was the war and killing thing that wasn't as glamorous as the movies had led me to believe. This is where the first serious cracks in my faith began. There was sort of a mindlessness about it that reminded me of the religon I had know in my early years. The attitude that you should just do what you are told and let the leaders worry about whether it was right or wrong, was beginning to grate my sensibilities. Where was personal resposibitlity? What about personal freedom? Could I stand in front of god on judgement day and explain that I had killed people just because Bush Sr. had told me to?
Ok, the Army wasn't right for me after all, but it did give me a sense of confidence and a personal drive. I hadn't quite learned how to think for myself yet, I just knew that what I was being told about jesus was not giving me a sense of comfort and well-being. College was not so bad the second time around, and I was successful in my studies. But, most importantly, something was changing inside of me, I was beginning to trust my instincts, and I was learning how to apply an honest critical analysis to many problems. Many hours were spent discussing god and religon with my fellow students, and I was starting to discover that the principles of christianity did not stand up to reason. And so my path to becoming a freethinker began.
I would honestly like to say that I had some epiphany and the light just turned on, but it wasn't so. Growing away from god was a slow and painful experience, but I wanted truth and was determined to find it. I had to learn that it wasn't as important for others to love me, as it was for me to love myself. Slowly, I stopped praying as it was obvious that nobody was listening, and that was no fault of mine. I became friends with agnostics and athiests, and realized they were not nihilists, but very decent, intelligent people. As a matter of fact, in most cases, they were more enlightened and happy than the religous people I had know.
Today, my parents have cooled down somewhat, and even apologized for some things, but they still put religon above family and friends. They do not communicate with me very often, and basically ignore my three children. They do not send presents or cards at birthdays, and do not acknowledge my wonderful wife (who is also recovering from religous addiction). From their occasional e-mails it's obvious that they are harboring incredible guilt for the way they treated me, and they just don't know how to make ammends. But, it only makes my mission that much clearer: love and adore my children with every ounce of energy I can muster, and maybe one day they will grow to be loving, moral people who will not rely on imaginary friends for guidance but will have enough confidence to find the power to be happy within their selves.
How old were you when you became a christian? too early to remember
How old were you when you ceased being a christian? 30
What churches or organizations or labels have applied to you? charismatic
What labels, if any, would you apply to yourself now? agnostic
Why did you become a christian? it was the only thing I knew
Why did you de-convert? logic / reason / couldn't handle the emotional burden
email: y2kevins at yahoo 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)