sent in by Frank Sims
I wish I could remember my very first experience with Christianity. I was raised Catholic, but shortly after my eleventh birthday my family slowly drifted from the church and its teachings. My mother was a proud believer, but my father oscillated from a believer to an agnostic. The general lifestyle of our household was mostly secular.
I’m going to tell you up front that I had a lot of doubts about Christianity – even as a young boy. I didn’t tell anyone; though my mom might have picked up on this when we occasionally would tangle in a theological discussion. The discussion, such as it was, usually ended with the statement that I should believe because anything else was simply inappropriate. I remember the day I engaged my Catholic fourth-grade teacher in a small debate about tenability of Adam and Eve and early creation. Since this was a Christian school it ended quietly with a note sent home to my mother. Upon leaving my home for the Navy at age seventeen, I continued my life without religion of any kind.
Married with Children
Many years after my honorable discharge, I met my future wife at the insurance company where I worked. Interestingly her background was Nazarene. She wasn’t practicing at the time and the only time we spoke of religion was when we were engage in a debate in which I found myself defending the Catholic faith. This debate eventually proved fruitless for me, as I was only defending the traditions for which I felt more comfortable. Before our son’s first birthday we were married in a Disciples of Christ church. We briefly continued our attendance after we were married, but soon found ourselves distracted with other secular matters. There was no demonstration of Christian faith in our family, no grace at meals, Biblical discussions, nor bedtime prayers. At different times my wife and I would speak of attending a church. My reasons were simple; I felt that there needed to be some moral anchor in our children’s’ lives. I know this may sound ridiculous coming from one who had reoccurring doubts, but I really didn’t understand all that Bible stuff; I just wanted my children to know the difference between right and wrong and I didn’t know of any other alternatives.
A Gamble with Faith!
A month after September 11th, 2001 - it happened. We received a flyer on our door that there was seminar at the town hall that better explained the prophecies of Bible and what was going on the world. This indeed was a time of confusion, we decided to attend. For a very small town there was an auspicious attendance. The seminar, hosted by a Seventh-Day Adventist Church, outlined some prophecies from the book of Daniel and Revelation. Little did I know that simple evening planted the seeds for a journey that I would take to this very day. My wife and I attended group Bible studies over the next several years. Yes, there were many times I questioned or even doubted what I was being taught. After two years of study, my understanding of the Bible was slowly growing, and though I had strong questions I somehow managed to keep my doubt in check.
One night in Bible study my pastor explained that he was going to publicly ask if anyone wanted to be baptized next week in church. He privately asked I would consider volunteering. After some brief conversation with my wife and other church members, I wanted to do the right thing and be baptized. So when he made his public announcement I stoop up in front of everyone. I was asked to come to the front of the church where I was dutifully smothered in hugs and praises. Let me tell you now my baptism was the beginning of the end of my faith.
At first, I grew weary of all the church dogma; I couldn’t eat unclean foods; I couldn’t have any secular activities on the Sabbath (including mowing the lawn); for crying out loud I couldn’t even dance! If someone else was in my position they might have considered exploring a different religion. I wanted to have a deeper exploration of my faith in general. I endlessly searched the Bible for anything that truly blossomed in unparalleled wisdom, or a display of overt scientific revelation that today's scientists would tout as a foundation of our natural world. I wondered if there would be one book, chapter, or verse that would compel me to surrender all my skepticism concerning the apparent magical, mystical, and sometimes savage nature of the Bible. Along with verses that encourage and inspired, were verses that contained threats, pointless rituals, and superstition.
I remember that I was horrified to learn that God instructed his people to kill Sabbath breakers. I was more saddened to learn they followed through with his lethal instructions. I appeared to be the only one who noticed any of this. No one in our Bible studies ever openly doubted or even questioned the killing of Sabbath breakers, Noah’s ark, the six literal days of Creation, Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babble, or anything else that seemed unbelievable to me. Whenever these Biblical stories entered group discussions, everyone would speculate on the details to somehow rationalize the absurd. They would often guess “Well, maybe it happened this way, or maybe it happened that way.” I wanted to blurt out, “Maybe it’s not even true!” No one would even consider the possibility on just one of these stories as being mythical. At some point I realized I was all alone in my doubt, even my wife was sold on all the “truths” of the Bible. The one truth for me was that I was not being honest with myself. That’s one truth I did not want to face, especially alone.
One day while driving home from church I told my wife that I had some doubts. I didn’t want to overstate it, but I thought she should know I was no longer mentally on board with certain beliefs. I remember saying “I can’t believe that God waved his magic wand and poof the world was made.” I also remember her startled and hurt reaction to this. I felt uncomfortable with these very private thoughts escaping from my lips. I didn’t say anything for a little while longer, but one day it popped out again. She was incredulous; she stated that she felt betrayed. This was the beginning of a long difficult part of our relationship. I didn’t care that we believed differently, but it was really important to her that we felt the same way. She wanted and needed my spiritual leadership in our family. She had felt that we were both on the same spiritual page, and now she she felt completely alone in trying to raise our children in a Christian environment. I knew I had felt differently for a long time, and I didn’t have the courage to say otherwise. When you have news that will break the heart of someone you love, you’ll find any excuse to delay the news for another day.
As time went on we had to deal with the reality of our differences. Even so, I noticed we spoke less and less about the subject. Our occasional discussions of religion would end with my wife feeling hurt or angry; this is the last thing I wanted.
I soon came to the realization that I too wasn’t comfortable with our different beliefs. Once again, I wasn’t being honest with myself. That is why I repeatedly questioned her unwavering faith; I wanted her to identify with me somehow. My constant questioning of her faith had the unintended result of pushing her away, rather than helping her understand me. As my honesty prevailed I realized I didn’t want to be alone in my beliefs any more than she wanted to be alone in her beliefs.
Believe it or not I still read the Bible and occasionally visit the church. But now I view the Bible with an open mind and allow for all possibilities, even those that many would deem heretical. While many Christians would consider this spiritual suicide, it is the only way in which I can view this book. I don't regret the experience even for a moment. In my youth I didn't know what I believed or why. After exploring the Bible and my conscience, I realize that my beliefs are a part of me, and there is no honest reason to reconcile them with anyone else's beliefs.
For many, the Bible is a true revelation from God. For me, it is an ancient collection of anecdotal testimonies and personal claims to divine inspiration. In my mind, that is my only possible assessment. I didn’t choose to believe this way, it chose me. A journey to honesty requires courage.
One Final Thought
I know many believers do not understand the thoughts and motives of those who remain skeptical of Biblical beliefs. I’m not skeptical because I want to live a guilt-free life of immorality. Furthermore, I’m not claiming to have all the answers. But one has to have some method of deciding what is true and what is probably not true. For some people this method may be following the teachings of ancient text. The rest of us will use the Scientific Method, where truth is the collection of verifiable human experiences and recorded scientific observations. From these collections we can form our own ideas, theories, and opinions. Yes, we may be wrong before we get it right. But with each wrong answer we have to opportunity to learn, and ultimately move one step closer to the right answer. Our understanding of reality grows with each new fact and observation. And though many people may continue to believe in invisible worlds and undetectable beings, we are learning that the truth is far more fascinating than anything we can possibly fabricate.
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)