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.

Corona
CA
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

22 comments:

SB said...

Kevin, I did make it all the way to the end of your post. Well written and well said.

Just RIck said...

I too made it to the end of your post and was sorry to see it end. Well written.

Bentley said...

Very well written and interesting, Thank you! Ben

Albert said...

Very nice post indeed! I suspect there are many people sitting in church who don't believe much of it anymore.

GoneNsane said...

Just before I deconverted my pastor too told me she didn't believe in much of what Christianity says about God. She said she only stayed so that she could help change the system from the inside.

It gives a person hope to hear how many Christians don't really believe in it. Maybe one day soon everyone will have the courage to stand up against such harmful teachings and the world will be a better place.

Anonymous said...

If more people were honest they would read the bible for what it says instead of making excuses for what it does say. You are fortunate to have 'figured it out' while you are young. I think the main things that keep unbelievers in churches are the 'side benefits' such as community support in the form of anything from the most mundane to big dollars. I can think of several community examples of people involved in churches who get thousands to millions in support of various projects that are business related and who do dishonest things while wearing their religion on their sleeves. Just recently in the news there is a story of a Korean church called Petra Presbyterian who actually moved into a building where the zoning did not permit churches. They went ahead, bought the building and tried to sue the city when they knew from the outset that it was not zoned for churches. When the case was reviewed, the Judge cited that they were in the wrong and the city was right since they had other areas zoned for churches. Why did they buy a property in a non-church zoned area? Simple, the Judge concluded that they planned it that way with the full intention so they could sue and get more money to the tune of a few million-all in the name of religion.

Don't forget, the key motivations of religion, big religion and religious bodies is power and money. Where these are involved, you can bet on plenty of people who are really unbelievers playing their 'part' so they can get more power and money, plain and simple.

My great grandmother who was from 'the old country' of Italy said it so well:'Church is where many of the bad people go.'

Anonymous said...

If more people were honest they would read the bible for what it says instead of making excuses for what it does say. You are fortunate to have 'figured it out' while you are young. I think the main things that keep unbelievers in churches are the 'side benefits' such as community support in the form of anything from the most mundane to big dollars. I can think of several community examples of people involved in churches who get thousands to millions in support of various projects that are business related and who do dishonest things while wearing their religion on their sleeves. Just recently in the news there is a story of a Korean church called Petra Presbyterian who actually moved into a building where the zoning did not permit churches. They went ahead, bought the building and tried to sue the city when they knew from the outset that it was not zoned for churches. When the case was reviewed, the Judge cited that they were in the wrong and the city was right since they had other areas zoned for churches. Why did they buy a property in a non-church zoned area? Simple, the Judge concluded that they planned it that way with the full intention so they could sue and get more money to the tune of a few million-all in the name of religion.

Don't forget, the key motivations of religion, big religion and religious bodies is power and money. Where these are involved, you can bet on plenty of people who are really unbelievers playing their 'part' so they can get more power and money, plain and simple.

My great grandmother who was from 'the old country' of Italy said it so well:'Church is where many of the bad people go' and I agree, where else can a person with the worst pedigree claim they fervently believe and get the doors opened to them in terms of membership and effectively seek out power and money? I have known of a few with heavy criminal records do so, it is the perfect 'opportunity' for the ex-con who is intelligent and ready to turn over a 'new leaf.'

Anonymous said...

YOU'RE GOING TO BURN IN HELL FOREVER AND EVER!!!

lol, just kidding. Yes I read the whole thing and can relate. my mother and father are "perfect christians" and my wifes dad is a pastor. we were married for 5 or 6 years before I told here I thought the whole process was shit. she agreed and we started comparing notes. we had went to church for years as a married couple and seen the poor congregation paying for the pastors new house,cars,and suits. his suits alone were worth more than the average persons car. I'm disgusted with the whole process of organized religion. I still believe in a higher power but I don't believe in christianity. I think if someone wants to believe thats fine but most of them do not feel the same way. I find it hard to say "I'm agnostic" or anything other than a christian. My parents would die thinking I was going to hell and my children were doomed. who wants that shit on the concious? anyhow christians are about the creepiest people on the planet. its a religion based on everyone trying to tell each other whats right and wrong all while they are making their own sins.

well written and after reading it I wish there was more.

slingshot said...

Great post. I wonder how many christians also disbelieve and won't admit it. I'm sure there must be quite a few. Perhaps one day they will be honest and admit it.

Dave8 said...

Kevin, awesome post. I go to my wifes' church when we visit our hometown, and of course end up at an Independent Baptist Church, where her entire family goes. I typically sit in the back pew, and listen to her uncle preacher. Most times he looks directly at me trying to get me to come up to the alter and confess my sins, and its all I can do, to prevent myself from laughing.

He's a great guy, trying to get people to stay right in society, the only way he knows how, living in a national forest, without a highschool education.

My neighbors admitted they aren't really religious, but pawned the religion thing off as a moral structure that is already established. Although, I think that's a cop out as a parent, I have to admit, its the easy way out of having to explain or "reason" to children. I think children get taught early in life, not to reason, but to just accept life as it is, because their parents weren't able to teach or understand reason.

Well, its great to see that you aren't tied to a religious cult. Just as you suggested that there are many non-believers in church, but continue to go based on perception, there are people who place their names in a military database with their religious preference. I'd suggest that there are a lot of people with religious titles, that aren't really religious, but have to keep up the pretenses required for advanced rank. In my religious preference it reads: "No Religious Preference". Take care...

Not Blinded by Bullshit said...

Very good post, lots to make one think, pretend xstains who dont have the balls to come clean!!
I can also tell a story or two about so-called "pastors." It amazes me no end how an uneducated social drop-out can suddenly become a self-appointed, taking the moral high-ground preacher??
A so-called leader of the people.One such case in point is an "in-law" (maybe "outlaw" would be more apt).We attend on the very odd occasion, just to be "nice". This preacher is a fat,ugly, slug that has managed to worm his way into gullible folks minds to such a degree that he lives off his congregation like a parasite. Now I must mention that this is a small, poor, hill-billy town with a population of a few hundred. But this has not stopped him in organising himself a number of superb creature comforts. He stuffs his face with food all week, and comes up with his Sunday sermon as he floats his great blubber carcass in his jacuzzi spa bath. On Sunday mornings he prances about at the pulpit, laying down the law, spewing forth the most incredible shit, sweating and puffing as he "speaks in tongues" and making out he's got this direct hotline to god. Then the "interpretation" of the "speaking" is done by none other than his drunken son, who has his leg bandaged on account of a fall he took while tanked motherless. I sit there and think that if THIS f*ckup is a messenger of an ALMIGHTY god, then I want none of it!!Later on that day, as he once again rams food down his gullet, he tries to engage us in conversation, knowing full well we're not into his xtain shit, he mouths off about how evolution is a bunch of crap, just to pick a fight. Needless to say he got a verbal kick in the teeth that kept him out of our way the rest of the time.

Albert said...

It amazes me in the above post how the minister can continue in his job even though he doesn't believe in any of the basic tenets of Christianity. His reasons come off as self serving rationalizations. Then again maybe he doesn't have any other marketable job skills. Either way I think his behaviour is deceitful and in some ways I see him as more dishonest than a minister who does believe in Christianity.

Ian said...

That was an awesome post Kevin. Very thought provoking and interesting to read. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Kevin said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Not Blinded by Bullshit
It is true that religion can give a lot of power to people who otherwise would never have any. You don't have to be good at anything. You just have to know how to spew out the right kind of nonsense.

Albert
My friend said his cousin is a very sincere guy. He believes in God and doing good works and the like. He enjoys counseling people with troubled marriages or helping troubled kids and believes he is a positive influence.

Of course, there are other ways he could help people who need it but I guess this is something he trained for. He's in his early thirties. Give him ten or more years and I think he'll get tired of pretending to believe something he doesn't.

xrayman said...

Not Blinded By Bullhsit said,

"This preacher is a fat, ugly, slug that has managed to worm his way into gullible folks minds to such a degree that he lives off his congregation like a parasite."

That is one of the funniest yet disturbing things I have ever read about the Christian money machine. You have a wonderful economy with words my friend.

I car pool to work with a guy who thinks I am completely full of shit for not believing in the God/Jesus complex, yet is wise enough to realize that organized religion is all about momey. About the time this Christian guy would give a nickel to any organized religious group local or other, Hell would be frozen solid. If only all Christians could think like my coworker and put these "PARASITES" out of business.

xrayman said...

I almost think if I owned a local business in my little town, especially in the service trades, I could almost consider faking religion. I'd make sure I attended the church with the largest congregation in town. I notice on Sundays when you drive by churches at the conclusion of services, you will notice local businessmen in their Sunday best hanging around outside for all to see. What a place to hob knob for clientel. People in our town will even adverstise as being a Christian business. Also advertising in church bulletins is good for the bottom line.

freedy said...

Kevin,..."Is'nt a young person who dies young at an advantage because he's had less time to sin?"
I often pondered this one.What if a young person dies before they can repent and receive "the savior"?,...is that fair? Hell No!
I did'nt get "saved" until 23,what if I had died of a drug overdose at 22? Your questions are great,.. thank-you for posting.

John Fensworth said...

That's one of the best testimonies I have read. And I totally agree with you. I don't know why you would want to live forever. Death surely is preferable. Anyway, thanks for giving us all a great read!

muttmutt1978 said...

I dont think like you or believe as you do that because one belief is wrong all the others are. eveyrones different. however i do think that the religions of Islam and christianity are more harmful than productive to society. Hinduism needs some changes, less chavanism and a few dogmatic changes, however i notice that christians and muslims can be bad, but so can the closed minded atheist. not all athiests are closed minded mind you. i honestly beleive that the religious structure of christianity and islam is set up to make murderers liars and child molesters.

J. C. Samuelson said...

Kevin,

Thanks for the very interesting read! You're a very perceptive person and obviously thoughtful.

Your discourse with the Christian over morality is one I've had myself at different times. At work there's a guy who basically accused me of being immoral for not having faith in God. To illustrate the offensiveness of that kind of statement, I accused him of using God as an excuse to avoid accountability, since I was absolutely certain he and I had committed any number of the same sorts of "sins." We sparred like that for about two hours before he actually started to realize the same thing - that God isn't required to be moral.

In the end he simply asked me if I was angry at God. I said no, I simply don't view God the same way you do.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to read. Very honest and meaningful. I hope others find the strength you did and move forward spiritually.

Anonymous said...

I'm more of a Bnai Noach myself. I figure that G-d gave us the inclination to do both good and evil (aka; we're designed that way from the get go). We have the 'choice', good or bad, take your pick, but we all know which is right for every situation. Take Adam and Eve for example and hiding what they did. It was a choice. Same thing with Cain. So, I figure, if you do good, good will come (weather it be from G-d or not).

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