Learning to think for myself

sent in by Marty Mets

I was raised from birth within the Evangelical Lutheran tradition. My childhood church also had a private school, and I attended there from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was somewhere on that campus six days a week, for at least half of the day, many times for much longer. I once made a conservative estimate that I spent at least 20,000 hours being indoctrinated into the Lutheran brand of Christianity. A quick glance at my report cards will show I got A’s in every one of my religion classes, and I was confirmed right on schedule when I was fifteen years old. That ceremony was the last time I went to church “willingly”. There was of course a spattering of Christmas Eve or Easter services to appease my mother, but I had basically figured out that Christianity was a sham during my second year of confirmation classes. I had never intended to come to this conclusion however and in fact I desired the very opposite.

Throughout my whole childhood, I secretly felt that most all of the traditions and rituals of the church were silly. The funny robes, the rituals involved with the sacraments, the chanting. The very idea of worshiping someone or something also seemed connected to primitive and outdated attitudes of royalty and monarchies to me, even as a child. I did not want to feel these things though, and I longed to be more pious like those I saw around me. I prayed to God every night to please show me that he exists, to please help me understand his will. Nothing but silence was returned to me. I invited Jesus into my heart and life so many times I cannot even fathom a guess to the number. Every time doubt would enter my mind, I would think, “Get behind me Satan!” Not only did it not work; it made absolutely no difference in the inner thoughts of my mind. Many Christians tell me that their personal experiences with God are proof that he exists. Well, I have personal experiences of the absence of God, even though I tried very hard to find him, so doesn’t that validate my position just as well?

I would also get grounded a lot as a kid. I wasn’t a bad or mischievous child; most of my offenses were coming home late or poor math grades. When I was grounded, the only thing I was allowed to do was read. In sixth grade I got grounded for a month, and quickly ran out of reading material, so I pulled the bible off the shelf and decided to read it from cover to cover as if it were a novel. Today I think that this is the single most important decision I ever made as a kid, because it changed my view of the bible and forced me to rethink everything I had been told up to that point. I was only 12, but I still was reading things that I found appalling and knew to be wrong and unfair. I was amazed at how women were treated and how death is so readily handed out to anyone without a second thought on it. I had been formally educated in a Christian environment for over seven years by this time, and I was discovering stories and commandments that I had never been taught before. It was almost as if I was reading a set of scriptures from some other religion other than my own. I had a million questions for my teachers in school, and couldn’t wait for my in-depth Confirmation classes that were by this time only a year away.

But no one in my church or school had any answers for me; at least nothing that I would consider an answer. Not even the local Bishop that taught some of my Confirmation classes had any adequate answers for me; most all of his “answers” just fueled more questions. This is when I first started to wonder if there were any solutions to the problems I was discovering in the first place. Being told that since Eve deceived Adam, women belong in a submissive position in society, and I shouldn’t listen so much to “modern feminism” just never sat well with me, yet I still was not willing to think that it was all just a Big Lie yet.

The straw that finally broke my back was when I was exiting the church after the completion of my Confirmation ceremony. There, right by the front door to the church, was my instructor with a large box in his arms. When I approached him, he looked in and pulled out a smaller box with my full name on it. It was a box of 52 envelopes of a kind I was quite familiar with; my parents had some of their own. They were offering envelopes. At that point it all became clear to me. The whole reason I was put through 2 years of religious training was not to “become an adult” in the church, like I had been told, but to become another schmuck that will blindly give them 10 percent of my income, so they don’t have to get a real job. Another piece of the puzzle was put in place, and at that very instant I became an Agnostic.

But I never stopped reading, and never lost my interest in religion, particularly Christianity. As I got older, I turned to more scientific subjects and neglected religion for a little bit, but after I finished school and began my career, religion came back to the front of my thinking. I bought books whose subjects were the very questions I was asking in church and Sunday school. I read them with zeal and then bought more.

But now things were different. I was by this time educated in the scientific method, and had been taught critical thinking and problem solving skills. I knew how to form a hypothesis, and then go about to prove or disprove it. I knew that one should never take only one side of a story, no matter where it came from, but strive to discover as many ways of looking at something as you can come up with, then compile your theory. These skills are important to discovering your inner spirit, as well as uncovering the truth about the world around you.

My search for the Divine consisted of both Christian apologetics and secular biblical and general scientific research. What I soon discovered was that the apologetic arguments were weak and unconvincing, relying only on faith, conjecture, and the bible, and answering very few of my questions. The half-baked answers I had been told during my upbringing were the very same things that were written within the books I was now reading. They gave plenty of reasons and explanations why Christians should believe what they do, but they never gave me an adequate rationale as to why I should regard the bible as authoritative in any way. They never bothered to discuss the horrid parts of the bible, never attempted to explain away the politically incorrect views it taught us were “lofty moral codes”. Never gave me a single reason to think that the stories in the bible were actual history while the stories of the Greeks and Romans were nothing but myth.

The secular scholarship did not answer many of my questions either, but it did discuss them in an educated and logical manner, as well as examining the “bigger picture”; such as any political motivations that were behind certain books or laws found in the bible. Also discussed in the secular books was the current archeology being conducted in the Holy Lands and how so little of their findings actually meshed with what the bible tells us.

Christian apologetics have a single motivating factor: to get you to believe what their doctrine says, no matter what. To me, as a young adult, the bias of the apologetics was obvious, and since I was reading secular studies concurrently, I was able to expose many contradictions and misrepresentations of the Christians (Creation Science is a perfect example) with relative ease. Likewise, since by now I had read the bible cover to cover twice, I knew that many justifications used by apologists were not to be found in the bible at all (the doctrine of the Trinity, for example) and were complete fabrications of the church!

10 years after I left the church, my grandmother died. We had her memorial service at my old church, and this was the first time I had been within a church’s walls in a very long time. The pastor stood up there talking about how my mom is grieving for her loss, yet my grandmother was in heaven meeting her other daughter for the first time (my mother had a twin that died 2 hours after birth). I had completely forgotten about this twin of my mother’s, and almost as soon as the words left the pastors mouth I had changed from an Agnostic to an Atheist. The emotional support that the church provides became so obvious to me I was surprised I never saw it before that moment. I think sometimes it takes coming back after many years in order to see how crazy the whole thing is.

My grandmother used to be a Catholic, but converted to Lutheranism to marry my grandfather. She was condemned to hell by her Priest for leaving Catholicism, and I wanted so bad to bring this fact up to the pastor as we were leaving the church. I kept my mouth shut though, out of respect for my mother. But the fact still remains that she was told by one church she would be going to hell, and told by another that she would go to heaven. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the church that condemned her was the one losing her business, and tried to scare her back. The church that let her into heaven was the one she had given money to for 20 some-odd years.

Religion never really affected me much after that until September 11, 2001. As I sat there watching the news reports and talking to a friend in New York, I realized that this ironically may be a good thing for the country, because it will show Americans what happens when you blindly accept a religious doctrine without fully thinking out its implications. Instead, America turned the “lesson” into a “my god can beat up your god” shouting match. All those people really did die in vain, America learned nothing.

I think the lessons from 9/11 should be obvious to everyone, but they are not. Religion divides, it does not unite. It generates love for followers, and intense hate for outsiders. Homosexuals, followers of other religions, or even other brands of xtianity are marginalized and despised for nothing more than thinking differently. Religion may have had an evolutionary benefit to our species in the past, but today, when we can destroy all life on earth with the push of a button, religion is very dangerous. Crusades and “holy” wars, as atrocious as they were, have the potential to cause much more harm today than at any other point in our history. We have to wake up and realize this.

Lighthouse Point
Joined at birth
Left around 14
Was: Evangelical Lutheran
Now: Atheist
Converted because: I was a child that didn't know any better
De-converted because: I actually read the bible and learned to think for myself
email: black3759 at bellsouth dot net

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