The straw that broke the camels back

Sent in by Neil S

I was a fundamentalist Christian for 27 years. I became "born again" after joining the Air Force in 1979. I remember reading a bible I had bought and for the first time read what the New Testament said about salvation. I realized that I was a great sinner and needed help. I was upset with the way my life was going and saw no way out. I was in my barracks by myself reading the bible when I came across the passage "If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved". I bowed my head and repeated this to God and put my trust in him. I felt great release and love flowed into my heart. I started to go to church, go out with Christian friends, sing and witness in the park and of course read my bible day and night. For a year I was on cloud nine but then I was sent to an Air Force base in England. At RAF Lakenheath (a nuclear bomber base) I was charged with guarding the various weapons we had and prepare for nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It was an exciting time for me since I truly believed that the Rapture would happen any day and was not worried at all about the world situation. In fact the worse it got, the better I felt. Remember, this was the time of President Reagan who was dancing toe to toe with the Russians.

But during this time began to notice that my spiritual life was leveling out. I found it harder and harder to keep my body from sinning. I struggled with thoughts of sin and battled everyday with unclean thoughts. I was going to a Full Gospel Charismatic Church that believed in all the fruits of the Spirit. I remember being asked which of the spiritual gifts God had given me, and I answered that I didn't know. That got me to thinking as to why I didn't have this gift. It was probably because of my sins. But while realizing my worthlessness I also started to notice things going on in the church which started me thinking. I remember watching the healing services and seeing the same people go up week after week with the same complaints. Never did I see someone healed of a major illness, it was always a back problems or cold. We had a guy who was completely paralyzed and in a wheelchair and even though he was prayed over week after week he never did get up. When Kenneth Copeland (the TV preacher) came to England, he even prayed over this man but he still wasn't healed. How could this be? I read in books how this Kenneth Copeland had healed people with cancer and many major illnesses. So why couldn't he heal this man? Oh yes, I remember now, the standard answer given to sick Christians. "You were not healed because of some hidden sin.”

I also began to see what power does to people. The pastor was only part time but he wanted to be full time and bullied the members of the church to pay him a full time salary. Anyone who opposed him was belittled in front of others until they changed their minds. He then took a firm hand in the church and began to attempt to control the lives of his flock. I was finally forced to leave. I was shaken by my experience but my faith in God was still strong.

I returned to the United States, still in the Air Force and went to another Full Gospel Church at my new assignment in South Dakota. I was beginning to see problems with the bible. I saw that there were some very real contradictions that couldn't be explained but I just let it go, believing that God had a reason for everything in the bible. One thing that really bothered me was the violence that God used in the Old Testament against various nations. I just couldn't understand how God could order Israel to kill entire cities, including women and small children. I imagined them being lined up for execution, the woman holding onto their children who were crying and then getting a sword run through both of them. It didn't make sense to me at all and I was very upset at this. I imagined myself an Israelite soldier being ordered to kill children. "Would I do it?" I thought. If I didn't I would be disobeying God and would be killed and sent to hell. That thought put terror in my mind and I quickly thought of different things.

The idea of the end times also bothered me. How come Christ hadn't come back yet after 2000 years? I read many books on the subject and was told not to worry, that Christ would come back when it was time. But then I saw how the prophecies being uttered in church were wrong. They were all saying that Christ would be coming very soon. This was supposed to be God Himself telling the church members that the end was soon. But it never came.

I also questioned the idea of an eternal hell. Again I thought how could God send someone to a lake of fire forever and ever? How about all these people in the world who never heard of Jesus? Were they doomed? The Church was telling me that they were and that God was justified in sending them to hell and in fact one day we would all rejoice at the justice of God for sending those people there. That also made me think that God was being cruel to wait so long for the end of the world. How many people had been born the past 2000 years? Billions probably, and most were going to have to go to hell and be tormented forever. Wouldn't it be more merciful for God to have returned after 10 or 20 years after the death of Christ? But by waiting so long He has condemned these billions. I began to wonder if I truly wanted to follow a God who could so cruelly torture people for ever who didn’t even get a chance to hear the Gospel. I know that the bible justifies itself with the verse in Romans 9:21 which says “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?” So that gives God the justification to torture His creation if he chooses? As a bible believing Christian for many years I would have answered that as “yes” and thought nothing of it. But is that the kind of God I wish to worship? Is God so cruel that he must hurt and torture people who have never heard of Him?

Another big problem was Church history. The problem was that it was very bloody. From almost the very outset the Church was set with problems that I figured wouldn't have happened if God was truly leading. Then as time went on when the Church took over the Roman Empire and turned it into an Empire of horror. It's hard to imagine a loving God in charge of such a mess. The death and destruction caused by the Church was mind boggling. The entire 2000 years since Christ was filled with violence, hatred, greed and powerful Christians doing bad things to others. People with different opinions were called heretics and hounded out of the cities. When the Empire finally fell and the Church was the only law, things really got out of hand. I don't know how many people were killed in the name of Christ, but it was not a few.

The other part about the Church which ties in with Church history is what Christians act like now. I saw very little love in the Church. I saw greed and people seeking power and money. I saw various churches that didn't care one lick about their members except how they could continue to contribute money to the Church. I was amazed that I never found a man or woman that I could say truly lived the life I envisioned a Christian should live. It seemed that the Church as a whole was even worse than the general public. Divorce was rampant, various sexual sins were all the rage and money was the new god. I saw pastor after pastor fall in various sins.

The straw that broke the camels back for me was Rev Ted Haggard. I didn't know much about him except that he was very big in the Church. When he fell like he did I finally said to myself "THAT IS ENOUGH!" I didn't know what to do or what alternatives I had. I was tired of all this, so I then did the unthinkable. I began to read articles critical of the bible and saw that my past concerns were also the concerns of others. I started reading books about how the bible was written and the various problems with the resurrection accounts. My eyes seemed to be open for the first time. I saw the problems with creation science and began reading books on evolution for the first time with fresh eyes. I felt like I had been in prison for many years and that my learning was very far behind. I loaded up with science books and read many articles questioning the bible. I read testimonies of former Christians who believed exactly like I did and saw that they truly believed the bible at the time but had the same questions that I did. I then promised myself that I would examine the evidence fully and then decide if the bible is truly the Word of God. If it is, then it must be fully followed without question. If not then it is to be cast away.

I read every book I could on how the bible was put together, problems in the bible and about the men who decided what would go into the New Testament. I wasn’t impressed at all. For the first time I saw how flawed the bible was, especially the New Testament. I read about the different Christian groups vying for top position, each with their own Gospels and Epistles, until finally one of them succeeded and eventually took over the Roman Empire and which is alive and kicking today. I also read pro-Christian books including Josh McDowell’s “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” I was not impressed with their points of view and saw large holes in their arguments. I read various websites and went onto Christian forums that defended the bible and was actually struck with the condescending attitudes of the Christians over people who questioned the bible. Their questions were answered like they were answering a naughty child and their contempt was not hidden. But the answers they gave didn’t actually answer the question. When asked for further explanations, the standard answer was: “it was answered for you. Why are you being rebellious?” This attitude and the way they answered didn’t do much to help their cause in my eyes. It also struck me as to how vicious Christians could be when challenged. Where was the love? The understanding? The patience? I found that Christians as a whole were not “patient and kind,” but “mean and spiteful.”

I gathered all my information and studied it and chewed it over for several weeks. Then I went for a walk and had a long talk with God. I explained my concerns, my questions and asked why the bible was so full of vile and distasteful things such as various atrocities by God fearing men and such evil laws such as slavery? My all time “favorite” law was in Deuteronomy 22:28 which says that a man who rapes a woman using force, he must marry her. God said this? He sure did. Can you imagine if the bible was followed to the letter today? Anyway, I continued my talk with God and after laying out my case I asked him with all of my heart to help me. I told Him that if He is real, please answer my prayer and give me insight into the bible and why it seemed so flawed. I suppose a Christian telling this story would then say that God answered his prayer and he then turned with all of his heart back to God. With me there was silence. Cold, hard silence. I waited a day or so and still felt nothing. At that point I went to my computer and wrote out a statement which said:

"As of this date,December 31, 2006, I now hold the following beliefs:

1. I do not believe the bible is the word of God.

2. I do not believe in the God of the bible.

3. I am no longer a Christian of any kind. "

I then signed it and that was that. I was no longer a Christian. For a brief few minutes I thought that maybe something bad would happen to me, that maybe God was really there and would either punish or reveal himself to me. Nothing happened. An hour or so past and I was still alive. I then started my new life and begin to read. I read like I never did before. I read more books on bible manuscripts, science and various other topics. I soon began to feel a great weight lift off my shoulders. The guilt that I had carried around for 27 years suddenly went away. I no longer woke up with fear in my heart. I felt so relaxed and happy! I found my morals stayed the same. I didn’t feel like going out and killing someone or stealing candy from babies. I felt the same except without the guilt. As I felt myself grow stronger and stronger in my new way of life I began to feel so foolish. Why had it taken me so long to leave the Christian faith?

So, how am I today? Very well thank you. I have not turned back. I have never, and I mean never, have felt any type of guilt whatsoever in leaving Christianity. You would think that if God was really there he would have worked on my heart by giving me great supernatural fear. But there is nothing except peace. I actually feel more compassionate with the world. I can see that God isn’t going to return and fix everything like the environment so we must do it. We are responsible for what we do to this earth and our fellow man. If we want changes, we must do it and not wait for some Deity to do it for us.

My name is Neil. I am an Atheist.

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