sent in by ApostateLiberalEvilDoer
Like many other Jesus-bots, I was labeled a misfit at an early age. First, I was abused emotionally and physically. I suspect this was because I refused to be the obedient little soldier my alcoholic mother expected me to be. My brother was the family favorite; consequently, the blame for all of the family’s problems was assigned to me. My family thought I was a worthless, lazy misfit and wouldn’t let me forget it for a minute.
School wasn’t much better. I was above average intelligence and prone to non-mainstream obsessive interests. My peers quickly labeled me with all the usual statuses: freak, weirdo, gay, etc. I understood that the Social Darwinism of the school system was engineered to destroy kids like me. For this reason, I spent my first 18 years on the margins of social life, and the only advice that teachers and counselors had for me was “Laugh it off until you get to college, everything will be different. You’ll Fit In™.”
In short, I was prime zombie material.
Thus, I began college with a shitload of baggage from my abuse and no clue as to just how I was to Fit In. I still had few friends, and dating? Forget it. I soon found that the same alpha males were in control of college life, albeit much more politely. So there I was in college, in California, in the middle of the mid-70s sexual revolution, and I felt like the only guy in the place who wasn’t getting any! Here was another factor that made me a favorite target for the then-popular Jesus movement. People who don't have sex are attracted to groups that tell you you can't anyway.
One day I sat alone on campus, watching the Sexual Revolution pass me by. That was my first mistake. These people are all over a solitary college student like critics on Ben Affleck. It wasn’t the fourth week of my freshman year before I was approached by two men, one college-age guy who introduced himself as “Brent,” and a thirtysomething man who looked middle-aged. “John” was his name and he seemed to be training Brent for something.
“Can we sit down?”
My first thought was, “Are they gay?” But no, these guys had the fashion sense of a couple of Amish hit men. I was curious about what they wanted. After polite talk about classes and homework, they asked me the Real Question. “So how are you getting along in college? Are you lonely? Do you wonder about the meaning of life? Wouldn’t you like to be in a family that never lets you down?”
Yada yada yada.
Any other day, I’d have smiled and nodded, then politely declined. But today they had me at a low point, and they seemed to know it. For reasons I wasn’t quite sure I understood, I found myself saying the Sinner’s Prayer® with them, and wondering just why I was such a sinner anyway. After all, what I was worried about at the time, was that for a normal 17-year-old, in The O.C. in the 70s, I hadn’t done enough sinning.
It took John five years to get me inside a church, but I went to “bible study” regularly, where I made a lot of new friends and even got a couple of dates. John really is a decent guy despite his total cultural cluelessness, and for a while it seemed like I really had found the loving family I’d been promised. And my life improved, too. I left college for a career in broadcasting, and along came my first girlfriend! I was too deceived to chalk this up to the fact that the years from 17 to 21 are dog years, emotionally speaking. I thought God must have blessed me. Ironically, I was doing a lot more sinning now than I had done prior to my salvation, but I kept my lives compartmented away from each other.
Even so, I thought myself very Christian. I happily discussed scriptural minutiae with my fellow zombies. I listened intently to group members’ prayer needs and showed emotion at all the right times (If I have to hear one more “Oh yes, amen, Lord,” I will throw up). I was up on all the latest “Christian rock,” which deep down I knew didn’t sound as good as the real thing. We laughed and hugged and sang, vying with one another for who had the most “joy of the Lord.” We opened gallons of sparkling apple juice (“Christian champagne”) for each other’s birthday parties. I chatted up the cute single women in the group, with indifferent success.
Even so, what I knew about science and society, stayed with me. I secretly questioned the Great Truths we were learning. But any expression of doubt is frowned on by evangelical Christians—I kept it to myself. After all, if someone has a “faith crisis,” that could be a challenge to the entire belief system of the whole group…we can’t have that so shut up and sing! Most of all, we feared being “back in the world.” We had been completely socialized to believe that any kind of life outside of Christian circles was dull, unloving and miserable—possibly even dangerous, since all that sin had to lead to STDs, alcohol poisoning, and *gasp* R-rated movies! And well, since most of us had few friends outside the group, we didn’t have much opportunity to test that hypothesis.
So, in the middle of all my questions, I brutally suppressed critical thinking.
About this time, John felt it was time to start molding me into a little recruiter. During one of our talks, he informed me gravely that Brent (who had moved to San José some years before) was “back in the world”—for the born-again, a fate worse than disco. Even worse, Brent was divorced and living the carefree hippie life. Never mind that it was 1981 and all the hippies were now investment bankers or Republican activists…John was always a little off in his cultural references.
This intensified my questioning, but more importantly I found that I envied Brent.
My response to all this questioning was to put it further out of my mind. Within a couple of years I was working in Christian radio with all the rest of the loser ex-DJs, happily toting my bible to work each day while wearing my Ramones gear on weekends. The propaganda told me my next step was to hook up with an uber-Christian female—something I did with alacrity.
The woman in question turned out to be from a fire-breathing Pentecostal family. I had never actually met any superstitious people before, and now I knew a house full of them! Their approach to Christianity was about as subtle as Romanian Merlot. For example, I never could convince them that earthquakes were caused by tectonic movement, not “the devil.” And let’s say they were always more than a little upset that I never took part in their practice of smearing “blessed” olive oil to protect their rooms, their attempts to raise recently dead relatives, and their periodic book burnings to remove “evil” influences from their home.
Yes. They burned books. And CDs. And inked pretty, scantily-clad models out of magazine ads.
All the same, I felt this was where I was “supposed” to be. Here I was, formerly a person of very little responsibility, now acting as on-call handyman for a large unemployed family *and* assisting in parenting my lady friend’s three special-needs children! I had no time for myself, and any ego I ever expressed was brutally put down. I thought: “This must be true Christianity! I now have the Heart of a Servant™.”
All of this begged the question: servant, or sucker? Or something else?
Now, my lady friend also had her Achilles heel—we lived “in sin” for several years, unbeknownst to either of our groups. But my partner’s beliefs stirred those old questions in me. I heard them speak in tongues—it sounded to me like made-up gibberish. I saw preachers trip little old ladies to make sure they were properly “slain in the Spirit.” And I heard well-meaning though ignorant people lament their “sin” after some evangelist blamed them for their own illnesses and poverty—poverty that I’m sure was not helped by the money I saw them heap onto Jaguar-driving evangelists. In short, I questioned the authoritarian structure and the lack of thought in fundamentalism. Needless to say, though I put up a good front I had very little “joy of the Lord.”
Whatever that is.
Another area of question that came up about this time was in the arena of my political beliefs and social values. I have always been a liberal. To me, the liberal values of tolerance, compassion and improving the quality of life for everyone, just make sense. This includes acceptance of sexuality, and equality for men and women. But starting in the 80s, my leaders began to preach a political party line to go with all those spiritual truths. I was even told that to be a good Christian I must also become a good right-wing conservative, and that right soon. My support of gender equality and universal health care showed that I was “in sin.” Was spirituality really tied to a political belief that didn’t exist until the 19th Century?
Fundamentalists are fond of saying that their world view changes lives. Well, mine certainly changed at this point. Prior to my conversion, I’d been a shy, socially awkward, though reasonably normative teenager. By the time I hit the big three-zero, I was a person of highly questionable character. I had lied, stolen, been an accessory to fraud, committed assault, and acted in thoughtless ways that hurt people. Now, I know what you’re going to say. You will tell me that “I was never in the fold,” or “true faith means God will change your life.” Trouble with that reasoning is, I thought he was changing my life. I really couldn’t see the person I’d become, because I was surrounded by people acting in the same ways. And they all thought “Jesus was changing their lives.”
As my relationship with my partner was ending, I had also returned to college intent on finishing my long-delayed degree (that’s part of why she ended the relationship). Ideas are bad for blind faith; that’s why fundamentalist Christians are discouraged from thinking too much. I began to read again, and learned many things that I had forgotten. I read about the fossil record—just how does that fit into a literal Bible view? I read that humanity shares as much as 99% of its DNA with the chimpanzee. God testing our faith? I read about Darwin and the finches of the Galapagos. And the final nail in the coffin of my blind faith: I read myths of other cultures, most of which bore more than a passing resemblance to the Jesus story. I saw (re-saw) that the Christian story is but a part of the great web of human thought, and though it may contain beauty and wisdom, there is beauty and wisdom to be had elsewhere also.
I knew what I had to do. And I didn’t like it.
Reluctantly, dragging my feet, but knowing I was doing the right thing, I ventured back into the world. I stopped going to church, and since it was one of those eleventy-zillion member megachurches, no one noticed. I re-established connections with a couple of people I’d known before I surrendered reason. They remarked how much more relaxed and healthy I seemed. And yes, I did make a sort of goodbye call to my old friend John. Marriage and politics had divided his group some years before. John always was forgetful, and he had to ask me several times what I’d been doing. But he reminded me that the One True Church™ was always there for me.
Sometimes it’s still scary. Sometimes I miss my friends, and the sense of connection we had. It would be really nice if there was a “Lord” who looked out for us. But I don’t miss the mindless acceptance of everything we were told, or the narrow, black-white view of the world. I was determined to face my fate, and…my life has never been better. After feeling very holy in a number of indifferent jobs, I’ve now completed a Master’s degree. I do what I love, teaching community college. And the woman I married on New Year’s Day, 2001, is like me: an unrepentant liberal who questions everything. We have good days and bad days, but we know we are the makers of our own days.
OK, time to review what we’ve learned. (I’m a teacher, so sue me).
What to Do When Approached by Fundamentalist People While in College
1. The best defense is prevention. Try to avoid being contacted at all:
a. Travel in groups; they love a lonely freshman.
b. If they approach you while walking, find your center. Pick a spot on the horizon, look straight ahead and don’t acknowledge their presence. That would only encourage them. Hold your invisible sword and walk to your goal.
c. How to spot them:
i. Be on the lookout for men wearing dress shirts and slacks but no tie. Matching belt and shoes is also a dead giveaway.
ii. Females are somewhat more difficult; they blend in better. But watch for pairs of women who don’t seem quite comfortable with their surroundings. Outdated 80s hair is also a clue.
iii. Avoid pairs of people toting book-sized leather cases.
2. If approached, remain calm. They are as scared of you as you are of them, but they can use your fear against you.
3. Don’t shout at them or insult them or be a smart-ass. They live for this; they call it “persecution” and they’re programmed to expect it.
4. Be polite and controlled, but be firm. When they start asking you about the “meaning of life,” tell them thank you, but you will find it for yourself.
5. Blend with their attack, but be insistent.
a. When they tell you about your sin and need for salvation, point out that sin is a construct, differently defined in different cultures. Ask them if there is any evidence for this concept outside of the Bible. That should at least give them the urge to think.
b. When they give you their “testimony,” remember this is college! You have the right to ask for empirical research to back up their statement. Testimonials are not evidence.
c. They will tell you to “close your mind and listen with your heart.” Bad, just bad, really really bad idea! Closing the mind and making decisions with your emotions will set you on the zombie road. Listen with your mind and test what they have to say. Society is messed up enough from people listening with their hearts. Listen with your heart long enough, and soon you’ll believe Iraq planned 9/11, Satan sends messages through backward masking, and Elvis is alive onboard a UFO. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness).
d. Take control. When they start to “interview” you for the position of Christian, you interview them. Ask them how much time the job requires. Are there any days off? How about fringe benefits?
Do I regret my years as an extra in “Night of the Living Evangelicals?” Sometimes. It was a lot of my life. I postponed college, career and real adulthood in the pursuit of something I thought solid, that melted into air. I’m still paying the bill. But I've found that there is life once you put down your cross, and it's not empty, dull or dangerous. I teach. I practice martial arts. I love cooking and good wine. I write fiction that I'll never sell, but it's very therapeutic. My outlook now is so much better, I’m doing so much and thinking so freely, that I can’t help but think I have my best years ahead of me.
Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bill & Ted Country, CA
How old were you when you became a christian? 17
How old were you when you ceased being a christian? 37
What churches or organizations or labels have applied to you? Calvary Chapel, Seventh-day Adventist
What labels, if any, would you apply to yourself now? Human
Why did you become a christian? Lonely and searching
Why did you de-convert? Found out I'd been deceived
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)