Sent in by Debbie J
Living in the heart of the south and going to school with people who live in the Bible Belt of Georgia has its ups and downs. The major up is that everyone is friendly. The major down is that they're only friendly until they ask THE question: "So, what church do you go to?"
I give a stock answer, "I don't go to church. I don't have the facilities to go at this point in time. I'll keep in touch, though." - which is, of course, a blatant lie.
The truth is, I was born in a little Spanish-speaking island called Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a big city, packed into a small island - but I digress. The highlight of my life in Puerto Rico is that I was a Jehovah's Witness. We'll start from the beginning ...
The earliest memory I have of the Kingdom Hall (the Jehovah's Witness church) is sitting in the back row, just my mother and I, behind a woman with four kids - two of which were to leave for college the upcoming year, the other two, my age (about five or six). The sermon ("talk") being given was about Judgment Day. It was a Sunday, so we were reading from our Watchtowers (little study booklets that everyone has), so there were pictures. I could read a little bit at this time - it was much easier with the elder reading right out of the Watchtower. I could follow along and make out the words.
But what really stuck out to me that day was the picture on the page. The sky was a terrifying shade of orange, the clouds a shade of gray. The sun was nowhere to be seen. As your eyes moved down the horizon, the sky gradually blurred into an angry shade of red. Fire and meteors rained from the sky. People were screaming in terror. The four horsemen were running from one of the horrifyingly gray clouds in the sky. There was a skeleton riding one of the horses that gave me nightmares for years. In the background were dead bodies aflame.
This was what a just God was going to do in the next few years. Any day now, this was going to happen. Any day now.
"Mom, is that really going to happen?" I asked in the car. The image burned through my thoughts like the fires burned through those dead bodies in the picture.
"Don't ask that. Only God knows."
"Does Jesus know?"
"Only God knows."
"Who's going to die?"
"The people who do not serve God."
"What if I know them, though?"
"You won't want to know them on Judgment Day. You might just die with them, if you are not careful."
I did not want to die on Judgment Day. Being the small child I was, I was under the impression that it would be the following day. I came home, went into my room, and cried.
I was thirteen when I realized something was wrong. We moved from PR to Georgia - the deep south - to be with my sister. Something had to be wrong, because I didn't like the new church. I didn't quite like the people; they were a little odd. Or was I not giving them a chance? These were God's people, after all. They were the sheep. Any one of these people could be a wolf in sheep's clothing, though. I was weary of all of them. I might burn on Judgment Day if I'm not careful.
I grew more and more distant from these people as the days went by. Something is wrong, I thought. I prayed to God for help. I told Him He was all I needed, and to just tell me what to do.
He didn't answer.
So I paid closer attention when the elders spoke.
" ... God answers those who have their hearts in the right place ... "
I have my heart in the right place, don't i?
" ... if your heart is in the right place, yet He does not answer, you are most certainly doing something wrong ... "
I stopped going to the church.
I decided they were wrong. I didn't know why, but they were wrong. Something in my head told me not to keep going.
And then, I spoke to a "real" Christian. The ones that Jehovah's Witnesses referred to as "one of the wolves in sheep's clothing." I always thought the JWs were the "real" Christians here. I guess I was wrong, right?
In a flash, I considered myself a Christian. I only talked to Christian people. I went on atheist forums and told them they were wrong and I was right, and they were going to burn in Hell. I knew God was talking to me. He spoke to me with his silence - his silence that said I was right, and to bask in the glory of it. He did not need to speak to me to "say" I was right and they were wrong.
Two months later, I was feeling doubtful again. I turned to my new friends for help. They said to pray. I received a letter in the mail that day from an organization, saying they felt compelled to "pray over" my household. I thought it was a sign from God.
Years later, I have a panic attack. I had just told someone to go to Hell, then he'd believe me when I said that God was real. I remembered that picture from my childhood days. The fires, the pure looks of terror in the faces of the poorly-drawn men, women, and children ... the four horsemen; the skeleton.
Do you know what a panic attack is? It's when you are laying in bed, and you don't know how or why, but you know that you're about to die. Suddenly, you can't breathe. You feel like you're drowning. You're choking. The tears burn cold on your face, and you realize you're crying too. Why is this happening? Lord, HELP ME! LORD! ... GOD, JESUS, ANYONE, I'M CALLING YOU... WHY WON'T YOU ANSWER? ...
I stopped. I could breathe a little bit. The thought came into my head like a slap in the face. "Debbie," the thought read, "Lord isn't answering, because he is imaginary. He doesn't exist, Debbie. You were wrong. They were wrong. Everyone was wrong. He's not there, Debbie."
The images swirled in my mind. ... All of my friends, my family, the family of my friends ... the cross I saw yesterday ... the dream I had two days ago ... the pictures from my years of Jehovah's Witness teachings ... the pamphlets from my dearest friends' church ... ... fires cut through the images in my mind ... and when the fires are gone, I wake up. I realized I had had a panic attack, and I had been sleeping on the floor in my bedroom. Who saw me, I wondered?
"Lord, why did you let that happen to me?"
There was no answer. I spent days waiting for an answer. The days turned to weeks. I became a shell of what I once was. There was no longer a point in living, no reason to keep going. My life's purpose was defeated. My other minor goals (like going to college) suddenly meant nothing. After fifty years it would all be gone, anyway.
I looked at everything differently. The world was so terribly lonely, and I felt so terribly small. The loneliness was so terribly overwhelming. I wanted to kill myself. I couldn't go on, I thought to myself. This is all a waste of time. Who cares about relationships, or food, or movies or parties or anything? This went on for weeks.
And then, one day, reality struck me. "What the hell are you doing, Debbie? This is real. God's not there; he was your imaginary friend, and all you did was grow up." ... My goals came back, but I looked at them in a different light. I don't have to worry about God interfering with my plans, telling me to be some evangelist or youth minister or anything else. I don't have to worry about church - I can just relax on Sundays, while everyone else goes to church. Ignorance is bliss.
I'm glad to be alive today. If I ever meet someone harboring a doubt about Christianity, I would feel extreme sorrow for him, as I always would have.
Only, this time, I wouldn't pray for him.
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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)