Ex-Christians in the Pews

sent in by Kevin

I don't want to mention which faith I belonged to or where I come from because believers might say my loss of faith was the result of practicing the wrong religion, so I would prefer they remain in the dark. Let me start by saying I didn't choose to be an Ex-Christian. It just happened. I tried to stop it but I couldn't. I tried hard to fight off the doubts and questions but I wasn't able.

My faith started to unravel when I was 16. Like all Christians, I committed my share of sins and like all Christians I prayed for forgiveness and knew my belief in Jesus would save me from myself.

I had a good friend whose good Christian father left for another woman and a good Christian judge didn't require him to pay much in alimony or child support. As a result, my friend's mother was always struggling financially. One day, she left two hundred dollars in twenties in the kitchen to pay a debt to someone. My friend stole the money and then helped his frantic mother search the house for it later.

I was horrified when my friend told me this. I said aren't you worried that you'll go to Hell. He shook his head and said there was no way he would go to Hell for this. He admitted what he had done was really bad and then proceeded to tell me that there was a line you had to cross before you would be sent to Hell. Even though this was bad there was no way he had crossed that line, and that the good he does far outweighs any bad.

I lay awake that night thinking about this metaphorical line. How did God determine who went to Heaven and who went to Hell? Could one extra lie in your lifetime be the difference between an eternity of bliss or an eternity of torment? If so, wasn't a person who died young at an advantage because they had less time to sin? Maybe, God uses a Judgment Point Average (JPA). Each sin has a number of points associated with it. He adds up these points and then divides by the number of sins. Again, however, one point could be the difference between Heaven and Hell. This just didn't seem fair.

Anyway, over time, more questions came up. Take Hitler for example. Everyone assumes he's in Hell. But if Hitler was born into a close knit Iowa farm family he would never have started a war that killed millions. Plus, Hitler repeatedly claimed that he was doing the Lord's work, especially when it came to the annihilation of the Jews. If Hitler sincerely and truly believed he was doing what God expected of him was it fair for God to condemn him to Hell? Was it fair for God to punish people when he put them into circumstances that made them what they are? Isn't someone who came from an impoverished abusive household more likely to commit awful sins? And since God created everything, then he must have also created evil. I tried hard to fight off these thoughts. I repeatedly prayed for guidance. I'm sure none of you will be shocked to hear that I didn't get any.

I read the New Testament for help but it was like I was reading it for the first time. The Jesus I loved seemed kind of troubled and angry (the cursing of the out of season fig tree and sell your shirt and buy a sword being examples). I questioned why he had to get baptized. Was this some kind of initiation ceremony? Was Jesus a part of a Jewish cult? Was he a member of an anti-roman revolutionary group? Were the repeated mentions of the Kingdom of God and you must follow me to enter really code words for some secretive group Jesus belonged to? After all, Jesus lived in an oppressive society where dissent was brutally suppressed. Or was he a mentally disturbed man who believed he was the messiah? Today we rightly put people who think they are messiahs or who hear voices or see burning bushes that don't actually burn, into institutions but if they made their claims hundreds or thousands of years ago then they are considered to be demigods (Jesus) or prophets (Moses, Muhammad).

A while later, I read that scientists believe that there are millions of planets in the universe that have intelligent life. Again I thought about this. If the scientists are wrong then why did God create such an unbelievably vast universe if he was only going to populate one small planet? Wouldn't that be overkill? On the other hand, if he created life on other planets, did he repeatedly send himself to be tortured and murdered on each one?

Despite all my questions, I dutifully went to church every Sunday as well as to Bible study. When I went to college I joined a Christian organization. I continued to date my devout Christian girlfriend. No one would ever have believed what was going on in my head all this time. One Sunday, I was sitting in church listening to all this sermonizing and singing and I admitted it to myself for the first time. I'm no longer a Christian. I looked around at all these deluded people who either believed this because they never really thought about it or who did question but whose desire to believe was stronger than their doubts. I was 21.

After graduation my girlfriend mentioned the M word, so I told her the truth. Chaos ensued. My parent's were heart broken. My "friends" tried to change my mind. One guy who spent his last two years of college living with an older women, while his parents spent thousands on a dorm room he didn't use, told me I no longer believed just because I could now live an immoral life. The people who I believed were my faithful friends abandoned me. They couldn't just say "we'll have to agree to disagree on this." They wanted nothing to do with me. I had an old school friend who had moved to California. I called him up and asked him if I could move in with him, while I got myself established. He said yes.

The day before I left my aunt approached me. She is one of those women with boundless energy. She is a Sunday school teacher and an organizer of church fundraisers. She told me that she had been an agnostic for about a decade. I was stunned. She told me that she was afraid she would lose her husband and all her friends if anyone found out and that I was lucky I found out while I was still young. When I told my friend in California what had happened to me (two months later for fear of rejection), he revealed to me that he became an atheist at 9 or 10, around the time he realized Santa wasn't real. He said it took a few years for him to figure out whether the adults actually believed all this "religion stuff" or whether they were just trying to scare the sh*t out of the kids to keep us in line.

When my wife and I bought our house we unknowingly moved across the street from an older evangelical couple. They held a Bible study at their house every Wednesday evening. One day, I was talking with the husband and religion came up. I nervously told him I was a former Christian. He looked all around him and then sheepishly told me he was an agnostic. He explained that his daughter (an only child) married an agnostic former Muslim and no longer believed. He and his wife were heart broken. He turned to the Bible for solace. He had never actually read it cover to cover. When he did he said he was horrified at the violence and sexual perversion he encountered. He never even allowed his daughter to watch PG 13 movies but he let her have multiple copies of this x-rated book in her room. He read the Bible multiple times, he read apologetics, and books critical of the Bible. After two years of intense study, he was an admitted agnostic. He told me he is too old to build a new social network or remarry because he knows he would be rejected by wife and friends, so he pretends to be something he isn't. Plus, he laughingly told me he is the most qualified person to lead a Bible study because he said he is probably the only person in his church who has read it.

Here's a story that is even odder. A friend of mine became an atheist in his teens. He went on to marry his devout childhood sweetheart and remained active in church. Two kids later he broke down and told his wife the truth and said he couldn't stand pretending any more. Well, she had been put on bed rest during her first pregnancy. She decided to spend her time reading the Bible. She was also horrified especially at the verse where God ordered that rape victims be stoned to death if they don't scream for help. She had been raped as a teenager and did not scream for help out of fear. So, here was this couple, both pretending to believe for the sake of the other. She now labels herself spiritual but not religious.

But the oddest story is from another friend of mine. When he started doubting the truth of Christianity he went to his cousin, a pastor, for guidance. His cousin told him he had studied Christianity long and hard and knew it inside out and he said he knows with certainty it isn't true. My stunned friend asked him why he was a pastor. His cousin replied that he enjoys it, loves helping people and believes he is a positive influence on the young people in the church.

We have religious freedom on a macro level in this country but not always on a micro level. There are probably millions of closeted ex-believers in this country who are afraid to reveal themselves for whatever reason. Jon Meacham, the author of the wonderful book "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation", recently appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Matthews asked Meacham if the U.S. ever had an atheist president. Meacham, without hesitation, said yes. Of course, these atheist presidents, whoever they were, would never have been elected if they had been honest.

As for the issue of morality, a Christian I spoke to recently told me I couldn't be moral without God in my life. I believe this idea is as offensive to the believer as it is to the nonbeliever. I asked this man if he was a good father and husband. He said yes. I then asked him if he is a good father and husband only because he believes it will help him get to Heaven. He didn't respond. I then told him that if he is only a good spouse and parent because he wants to get to Heaven then his motives are not pure and he is not truly good. I got a confused expression and no response. I then asked him if he ever murdered anyone. He said no. I asked him if avoiding Hell was the only reason he had not killed anyone. He said no. After further discussion he conceded that religion was not a necessary precursor to morality.

I know that all religions are man-made frauds that depend on fear to perpetuate themselves. I don't believe in any gods but I do believe in a spiritual world and an afterlife. Not that I really have any desire to live for eternity. It actually seems really boring to me. Death and nothingness seem far preferable to living forever. But I have had premonitions many times that I can't explain away. Well, if you made it all the way to the end of this long ramble, thanks.

How old were you when you became a christian? 0
How old were you when you ceased being a christian? 21
What churches or organizations or labels have applied to you? Rather not say

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