sent in by Matthew
I am not sure where to start. I have never been creative at writing, but I will try my best. The first time I remember learning about Christianity was in a Southern Baptist church when I was about 7 or 8 years old. And I also went to my mom's friend's church (which was charismatic). They would talk about things that I could not possibly understand such as "Israelites" or "Canaanites", etc. But, when I started going to Sunday School at the Southern baptist church, they would teach me generalized things about Jesus. You know, the colorful drawings of Jesus healing someone or preaching to people. They never showed the negative side of Jesus (that wouldn't help their indoctrination process). They didn't tell me the major doctrines of Christianity (Jesus is God almighty, the trinity, the rapture, etc). They just told me that Jesus was a unique person who lived and he died for me. That was the concept I had (which was enough). It was just enough to make my rather peaceful nature embrace sympathy for Jesus. This was the first step to my conversion. Then when I was about 8 years old, I was deeply affected by Christianity in a way only a pervert could know. We had next door neighbors who were a single mom, a son and daughter. The mom worked during the summertime, so the kids were left alone all day. My mom was supposed to be keeping a eye on us all. Anyway, I would go over to their house and we would play. And one time, the boy (about 12 years old) wanted to play a game, where we would play with each others private parts. I didn't think it was wrong or anything, so I began to do it. Then it got more intense as summer passed. We were in the basement one time, and I remember, we had anal intercourse (I was the assee, he was the poker). It kind of felt good, but I didn't know what it was. Then, one time, were were all naked (including his sister) and either his mom or my mom found us doing it. Then it stopped abruptly. My mom took me and my brother to counseling at the YMCA. We had to describe what happened and everything. The reason I say this was part of my growth as a Christian is, that this boy who molested me went to CATHOLIC school. And the only reason I can guess he molested me was because a priest did it to him.
The next step was when my mother changed churches. I was 11 years old, and she began attending a large Assembly of God church. It was about 5 times bigger than the church we had been at before. And I saw something I never saw before. I saw people lifting up their hands when they would sing songs. I didn't understand why they did it, it seemed weird. Then when I turned 12, I was old enough to join the youth group (even though I was still in 6th grade). I went to the Youth group on Wednesday nights and the 2nd time I went, the pastor offered people to accept Jesus in their heart. I went up front, and received Jesus. A few weeks later, I was baptized in front of the church. Soon after my conversion, I was encouraged to preach the gospel to kids at school. I felt guilty like I wasn't ever doing enough for the bible-god. So, I got some Christian t-shirts to wear to school. And rightfully, kids made fun of me. I had started to read the bible, but not a whole lot. I just believed in Jesus that I was taught at church. A loving, compassionate Jesus. Then, I forget when, I started to get taught the doctrine of hell. They told me Jesus died to save me from hell (but I never realized that God created hell in the first place).
As I was involved in church, it became my life. I tried to be friends with the kids in the youth group and we would hang out at church and go out to eat afterward. But, I felt left out when they would not invite me to places they invited other kids to. I realized, it was a Christianized version of high school. There were times when I wanted to be popular, so I would try to get involved in helping with the Wednesday night services. I really was a sincere, loving Christian kid. I turned the other cheek when the kids at school would make fun of me for wearing Jesus t-shirts. At the time, I felt this proved I was really a good Christian, since the bible says I would be persecuted for Jesus. However, the persecution was self-inflicted (the kids would not have mocked me if I had not worn the Jesus shirts). I think that is what most Christians do. They create a situation in which they realize they will be mocked, and do it anyway (and it further confirms their belief of persecution). It was also when I started realizing that a loving God who creates hell for most people to go to cannot be all loving.
Anyway, I had always been bullied in school (even before Christianity). I had a few school friends, but nothing that lasted. I was a strange kid. But, I began to feel more rejected by these "loving" Christians I had learned to trust. They seemed to look down on me if I didn't do what they wanted. We would all go to Youth crusades and camps and get emotional fixes of "the Spirit". They really pushed speaking in tongues on me. I thought tongues were proof of my commitment to Jesus. Anyway, after enduring the suffering of rejection in the youth group, I eventually got tired of going to church and seeing these kids who hurt me. And I began to get tired of believing in God, yet I still did. I couldn't take the bullies at my public school.
So, in the middle of 9th grade, I transferred to a Christian school called Bible Baptist. They were a fundamentalist Christian school. The kids were basically Christians for appearances. They were worse-behaved than the kids at public school. They made fun of me worse than the kids at public school I think. It made me even more hateful of Christianity. And the teachers were no better. Legalists to the nth degree. For example, you couldn't have a beard in school. You had to be clean shaven. You couldn't have long hair, unless it was combed back. Basically, it was a cookie cutter school. Creating religious robots. Now, I was a charismatic kid, in a fundamentalist school. They often times made fun of charismatics and I became tired of them. I began to get depressed, because I felt like I had no hope in life. I hated God, I hated my school, I hated the kids who made my life hell. I only made 1 friend there.
Anyway, I stopped caring about the bible, and pretty much began listening to secular music (which is a no no in Christianity). Anyway, near the end of 10th grade, I forgot to shave a couple days, and my facial hair grew pretty fast. So, the vice principal who also was a teacher put me in the suspension room. He told me I could not attend class until I shaved. I told him I would do it the next day, but he said it was no good. He left the room and went to get me a razor. I started to panic and paced around. He came in while I was walking around. He asked me why I got up and I started cursing at him. I told him he let the other kids get away with horrible things, but such a pathetic rule as not shaving I could not get away with. I told him what I thought about him. I then stormed out of school and drove home. I was told I could not return to school and was expelled. Some of my teachers felt bad for me, so they let me pass, so I wouldn't have to repeat 10th grade.
And so, I went back to my old public school. But, something changed. My younger brother (2 years younger) began hanging out with the very kids who bullied me before. At first I was bothered by it. But, then they accepted me because of my brother. I almost became a bully from this merger. They were known as the burnouts (smoked weed all the time). I partied with them, but wasn't really into it. They were cool with me not smoking weed. I felt more acceptance from these "heathen" people than I had ever felt from Christians. Anyway, I really didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. Then, I spent the next year just cruising by.
Then, the next summer, we moved to another town. So, my senior year was going to a much bigger school with complete strangers. I would hang out with a few people during lunch, but never developed any friendships. But, it was during this time, I started going back to church. My pastor was very good friends with Grant Jeffreys, who was a bible prophecy teacher. He was nationally known by many Christians. Anyway, he was speaking at the church for 3 days, so I decided to go. He was a very well spoken person. I bought his book "Prince of Darkness" which was the same old dispensational stuff (proof prophecy is coming to pass). I believed it, and this convinced me that God was real and I began to explore Christianity again. My memory is fuzzy on many of these experiences, so they might be out of order, but to the best of my memory.
After high school, I didn't go to graduation, but one day, I had a horrible panic attack and outburst. I broke my car door by kicking it really hard. My parents sent me to a hospital for about a week. It was basically group therapy for mental people. While I was there, my old youth pastor stopped by to talk to me. He convinced me that "God is there for you". By this time, he was promoted in the Assembly of God denomination, and ran the entire youth program for Pennsylvania and Delaware. He ran the youth camps they had. He asked me if I wanted to go, and I said sure. So, I went there and hung out with other kids from all over the state. And the emotional bullshit that went with the evangelist service. I got "spiritual" all over again. Then the pastor asked me if I wanted to earn a few bucks by staying at camp and working in the kitchen. I said no problem. I moved my shit to the staff cabin. It wasn't too bad, but hard work though.
Anyway, after this time, I started to go back to my old church. But this time, it was the young adults group. It was basically a youth group for adults. I met a few chums who were "spiritual". One of them was insane with legalism. He said "let's go driving and see where the spirit leads us". We ended up going to this obscure Christian bookstore. This was one of the only stores which sold Jack Chick publications. They were owned by a fundamentalist, KJV only church. I rented a video there about new age bible versions. This began my journey into fundamentalism. I also bought some books which had eye appeal. One of them was written by Texe Marrs. After I read it, I wanted to read more (because it seemed to be exciting and unique). I began to believe what Texe Marrs said. I also got all the chick tracts and comic books. I was in fundy heaven! Anyway, I wasn't formally at any church, although I went searching. I kind of enjoyed being a "loner". Like the whole world vs. me.
I began to listen to a new show on the radio called "The prophecy club". It was a radio show where they had a commentary by the owner of the club and then they would play audio of their meetings. They were based in Kansas, but would have different Christian speakers travel all over the country and meet at convention centers (hotels). They had these every month. One meeting was about 40 miles from where I lived. So, I began to attend there. I met some people I knew from church or from other places I knew. It was a conspiracists' fantasy land. They had tons of videos and books on several subjects. I wanted to get involved, so I volunteered to help sell videos and books. It also kept me from paying the cover charge to go. I also borrowed the videos they sold and made my own copies. It was more of Disneyland for me, than a spiritual growth seminar. They claimed to be preaching the "gospel" of Jesus using bible prophecy, but nobody ever "converted" to Christianity from it. But, they were making plenty of money ($25 for a 2 hour video).
After a few months, I started seeing the hypocrisy of this movement. They were about making money. And as a Christian, trying to be humble and honest, i could not participate anymore. While I was involved with the Prophecy Club, I began to attend a Jewish Messianic church. I really had an interesting experience. They went to church on Saturdays. It was in a converted house. Maximum attendance was probably 30-40 people. They would usually have bread after service and sometimes have a luncheon. I remember feeling welcome and realized they were more family oriented. Even though almost everything they preached was bullshit. They were an interesting breed. They were basically disobeying the law of Moses by worshiping Jesus (they were just evangelicals in a wanna be Jewish church). Most of them were "non Jews" and even the rabbi was a non-Jew. And even in this small group, there was dissension. One of the regulars was very confrontational over the dumbest things. He would argue for 2 hours over how he believed the new testament was written entirely in Hebrew. Yet, he gave no proof of course.
It was after I left this group that I kind of took a break. I began to catch up with my school chums from private school. They were still living in the area, and we all went bowling every Tuesday night when the bowling center had a special price. We all had fun. The one friend (who I had remained close to) was still a church going fundamentalist. The other guy was not really a Christian anymore, but they weren't really into religion. My close friend was very political (pro life republican). He showed his "Christian compassion" by being a racist and mocking poor people on welfare. It was only recently that I stopped talking with him (about 2 years ago) because he was just so political (and as a Christian I couldn't stand the hypocrisy). So, about 2001, I began to chat online in Christian rooms. I began to do research on Christianity and to find the "true" beliefs using the bible. I had met some 7th day adventists who convinced me that Dispensationalism was false (the belief in the rapture) and they had scripture to back it up. I noticed that people would almost kill each other over disagreements over bible prophecy (pre trib versus post trib). It almost seemed like they enjoyed arguing. It is tempting to have conflict and feel like you win a conversation. I did my fair share as well. I had this pride thing going.
I began to see that the bible taught that God is sovereign and that is when I began to embrace Calvinism. It was at this point that I began to change my loving attitude. I began to hate people (like I did after being hurt in Christianity). I justified it because I thought God hated people too. I treated other people like garbage. But, I realized I had no right to brag. I was being a hypocrite. I then started to learn about the doctrine of hell (www.what-the-hell-is-hell.com) It was a Christian universalist website. And then I went to its sister website which was www.tentmaker.org. It was run by a very nice person named Gary Amirault. I felt welcome and not judged for disagreeing. They really had a lot of tidbits I was not aware of. They said Jesus was the Savior of the world (and that means what it says). That God would universally save everyone. I think it was a way to make an excuse for the lack of compassion in the bible and the lack of a perfect world. However, they were very loving toward me (unlike most Christians I had met). This convinced me that there was something good about it. This was my last stop prior to leaving Christianity.
But, for some reason, I couldn't explain the evil things in this world if God was going to save everyone anyway. I mean, if God is going to force people to change into saints in the future, why make them go through all these horrible things in the first place? Then I realized, that people make the bible say whatever they want. The free willers have proof for their beliefs, the Calvinists have proof for their beliefs and the universalists do as well. That is because the bible is so contradictory, you can justify any belief with it. I then realized, it wasn't all those denominations and theologies that were wrong, it was the source they all used...the bible. The bible was the problem, not those who read it.
It was then, that I realized I was deceived. It was so simple, so how could I have missed it? I had to let go of my "friend" which I called Jesus. Christians tell me "see that proves Jesus is real and you left him". Actually, it was similar to what happened in the movies Castaway and A Beautiful Mind. In Castaway, Tom Hanks' character is isolated on an island for 4 years. He finds a volleyball and draws a face on it. He begins to talk to this volleyball since he was isolated. Then after a few years, he thinks the volleyball is talking back to him. After he attempts to get off the island, he brings his friend "Wilson" the volleyball with him. He continues to talk to Wilson and while out in the ocean, Wilson falls off the raft and floats away. Tom Hanks tries to rescue Wilson, and he can't because the volleyball is too far away. He says "I'm sorry Wilson". Then, he lays on the raft and cries like a baby because his "Friend" was gone. Another example is in a Beautiful Mind, John Nash talks with 3 people, and then finds out they are figments of his imagination (due to schizophrenia). He learns to let go of them, even though they seem real to him, he ignores them. That doesn't mean they were real, it means his brain is convincing him they were real, when they were not.
My point is, that for a few weeks, I felt like Tom Hanks did when losing his friend Wilson. But even Wilson was a real object (a volleyball). That doesn't mean Wilson was a real person, it was invented by the imagination of Tom Hanks. But, to him, it felt like he was losing a friend. That is what it felt like to me to "lose" Jesus. But, then I asked myself, "what kind of friend (Jesus) would threaten me to burn in hell for not believing in him?". So, I then realized I shouldn't feel bad about letting go. I was letting go of depression, misery, frustration, hate, and superstitions. I have gained much more in 4 months of atheism, than in my 18 years as a Christian. I realize that I am the person I am because of those bad experiences, so I would not wish to have changed them. I can only focus on here and now and the future.
I'm still going through bouts of depression (not nearly as much though). The depression usually goes away after a good cry. I just look at the good things in my life and that gives me strength to keep trying. I am content with my life. I am thinking of ways to make a difference and leave the world a better place than when I first found it. I'm still figuring it out. But, the pieces of the puzzle continue to come in.
Joined at 12
Left at 29
Was: Assembly of God, Southern Baptist, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Messianic
Converted because: Emotional reasons
De-converted because: Rationalization
email: brad_religion at yahoo dot com
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)