One of the lucky ones

Sent in by Keith P.

I grew up in fundamentalist Christian circles in the 1970s and 1980s. Raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, my parents had been friends with the Rev. Jerry Falwell early in his career, when he was still just an ambitious local minister, but they eventually left the Independent Baptist denomination Falwell was associated with and converted to Orthodox Presbyterianism (Calvinism). As a kid, I attended the Calvinist church with my family every week, while attending private Christian schools run by the Baptists. Early on, I noticed the doctrinal discrepancies between the two on such matters as free will vs. predestination, eschatology and other things. Obviously, both points of view couldn't be right, yet both groups claimed to possess the absolute truth on everything. At least some of them were wrong some of the time. I began to wonder what else they might be wrong about.

I first began have serious doubts about Christianity during my final two years at the Christian high school, my freshman and sophomore years, after which I would happily transfer to the much more relaxed and intellectually open environment of the local public high school. I began to notice the mediocre personalities fundamentalism attracted. If these are God's people, I thought, why does God pick such dullards to be his messengers?

During my time at the Christian school, I was exposed to missionaries and traveling evangelists from a number of prominent fundamentalist institutions, such as Bob Jones University. I began to regard the hysterical, cult-like demeanor of these people as distasteful and offensive. They seemed obsessed with hating homosexuals, liberals, secular humanists, communists, Catholics, pornographers, rock musicians, drug users and other outgroups. I decided I wanted nothing to do with this particular brand of Christianity.

After transfering to public school, I continued to attend the Calvinist church. The pastor was an adherent of R. J. Rushdooney's Christian Reconstructionism. While the atmosphere of this church was far more toned down and somber than that of the fundamentalists, the belligerent, hostile, threatening rhetoric was the same. The final straw was when the pastor delivered a sermon gleefully celebrating the death of Libyan civilians, including children, during the 1986 American air assualt on that nation. He clearly reveled in the death and destruction of these infidels. I was nineteen years old at the time, and I decided I would never attend church again and, at age forty, I never have.

I began to develop a burning hatred for the right-wing Christians, whom I had come to refer to with the derogatory term of "Jesus Freaks". I also began to explore my own religious views more thoroughly and extensively. The first small step away from fundamentalism and theocratic Calvinism was to read some of the writings of mainstream clergymen like Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Dr. Robert Schuller. But these mainline Protestants seemed long on inspirational hype and short on intellectual substance.

I then began to study Church history and read of the abominations and tyrannies perpetrated by the Christian religion throughout history. I studied other religious perspectives like Buddhism, Hinduism and the then-nascent "New Age" religions. I failed to be impressed with any of these. Finally, I came across the works of leading freethinkers like Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, H.L. Mencken, Thomas Paine and Ludwig von Feurbach along with leading contemporary critics of Christianity like Daniel Barker, George H. Smith, Edmund D. Dohen and Edward Babinski. When I would compare the works of these thinkers with those of the Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and William Craig Lane, I came to see the arguments of the apologists as so shallow, weak, contradictory and muddled that I became an atheist.

Ulimately, there is no argument for Christianity other than appeals to pure faith. Any thinking person should consider such appeals to be repulsive groupthink and anti-intellectualism. When confronting Christians with such matters as the inconsistencies and absurdities in the biblical texts or in particular Christian doctrines, I have found the unfailing response to be one of blind appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks.

I have no desire to convert Christians to my own skeptical position. I am content to allow others to proceed with their God-delusions. After all, it's their loss. How much can one appreciate life when one must constantly be preoccupied with whether or not one is truly saved, whether one's friends and loved ones will be saved, whether this or that thought or action will violate any of the labyrinth of rules Christians set for themselves? How happy can one be, going through life with an all-seeing Big Brother looking over one's shoulder, ready to punish this or that infraction? What's so great about the Christian promise of "eternal life" anyway, given that the biblical depiction of heaven resembles nothing quite so much as an eternal church service?

My attitude towards my former fellow Christians today ranges from contempt for their ignorance and arrogance to pity for the misery they have inflicted on themselves. When I observe the large numbers of people who spend their entire lives absorbed in such nonsense, my appreciation for the fact that I found my way out of that mess by the time I was in my early twenties becomes overwhelming. I was one of the lucky ones.

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