At about age eight, I was taken with the grandeur of the Catholic church, signed on as an acolyte, took to dressing early on Sunday and heading down to watch the mysteries of the faith unfold at the early morning service. I was on to something new and important; something that was ancient and powerful to my senses. Enter Vatican II, guitar strumming nuns, adolescence and a move to the suburbs, and my attention went elsewhere.
At 18, as a private in the Army, I found a higher way in the evangelical faith. An emotion laden barracks room experience showed me that, while Catholicism had wandered from the truth and power of God, I was now onto it again, and I threw myself into the Bible study and new church experiences. My new life was in contrast to the day-to-day realities of the post-Vietnam Army, with its prolific drinking and drugs. God had called me out.
Of course, I was still a young man and ended up in a sexual relationship with a young woman. My faith induced the predictable kinds of guilt, and my way out was to marry so that I could avoid the wrath of God. With that unfortunate foundation, the marriage ended in less than two years, when my wife, a Methodist (read, "not really a believer"), left me to return to a life that she found more fulfilling.
After that I spent a brief period wandering spiritually, until God welcomed his prodigal son back. Convinced that my false start was due to a lack of commitment to Christ, I found increasingly fundamentalist churches, where I felt the level of commitment to the faith would lead me to that higher level of spirituality that I had failed to attain in my earlier attempts.
I met and married an evangelical, the daughter of career Baptist missionaries with a good Xian pedigree, and spent the next 18 years in cycles of spiritual growth and disappointment. Moving regularly through an Army career, I was able to try a wide range of Xian venues from small clapboard, old-tyme religion churches with the Bible as my guide to shiny megachurches with the latest in multi-media curriculum. Along the way, I also earned a BA in Political Science (emphasis in comparative studies), and an MA in Russian and East European Studies.
As my habit and skills in academic skepticism grew, so did my doubts about religion. I found my recourse in the apologetics. I made my way through the volumes of argument for the Church's authenticity, from Church Fathers to the Case for "You Name It." A preacher in NYC finally drew my attention, and for a time, I felt that I had found the man who could help me navigate the cognitive dissonance.
By this time, I had become a translator with a new habit of evaluating meaning. As my mentor, one of the grand old men of the translation industry taught me, there are always three levels in any act of writing: the text, the text between the lines, and the text beyond the lines. This is already a long story, so I'll cut to my revelation.
I finally came to see that Paul's religion was not consistent with that of the church; that the Gospels had been crafted to make a certain argument, and that the entire text was unified through what any professional translator would consider errors in translation. The text beyond the lines became clear. My studies in comparative politics, political propaganda and mass mobilization let me understand that Xianity was one of the most successful and adaptive systems of power ever conceived. I saw the people in the auditorium on Sunday, moved to tears, driven by guilt, and committed to disciplining their evil natures as the latest generation of victims of this thought controlling, self-perpetuating system.
I'm out. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a fiction. Is there some power active in the world beyond what we perceive? Are there dimensions of reality beyond the four that our senses have evolved to perceive and leverage? Maybe. There are ranges of light that I cannot see unaided, and there may well be energy states and other dimensions that affect our existence and make it easy to believe that there is "something more" out there. I'll remain agnostic in that regard, as I am no physicist and the instruments that can conclusively bring those speculative realities to my perception are not on the market yet.
My marriage of 18 years broke over the strain of my disbelief, but that's the extent of my perdition, no walk in the park, but hardly the "outer darkness." To the contrary, I am finally living in the light of reason. I am grateful to those who have shared their own stories of deconversion and the power of reason to liberate minds. I offer mine as my small contribution to that body of good sense.
The Bible is full of rhetorical nonsense, but here and there, one finds truth. Isaiah 5:20 is one of those:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
The Xian church is a house of woe; dark and twisted. There's no mistaking it.
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