Unhaunting 1: A Brief History of An Evangelical Life

By Candid Folly

I was born into an evangelical home of the American Baptist persuasion, which is all many folks need to know to get a picture of my childhood. My dad was a part-time minister, and my mother’s father a full-time one. From the day I was born until the day I left for college, I haunted a white stucco church in a blue collar town. I was an obnoxious student of religion, a precocious good kid. At the age of nine, I asked my father to baptize me, and from then on I performed well according to expectations. I was a dutiful member of Junior Church and Vacation Bible School. I was the only kid in the adult classes, studying obscure Bible passages and the Calvinist confession of faith of our colonial ancestors. As if my Jesus geek status weren’t already established, I became a junior counselor at one of the Bible camps I’d frequented. Lots of church ladies told me I ought to be a pastor when I grew up. Even then, I knew that’s not what I wanted, but I took the complement the way good kids take such things from old ladies.

There’s always a dark side, but it’s a little more subtle in my case than you might guess. I could’ve done without the indoctrination, but all together I haven’t wound up resenting my churchy youth as much I’d expected. Excepting victims of severe abuse, I think it’s hard for anyone to hate his childhood without hating a piece of himself. I could’ve done worse. One of my childhood friends had a mother that was a bit loony, but for myself I don’t recall any images of hell fire and brimstone, faith healings or home schooling in YEC. Yes, there were a couple odd incidents at Bible camp, such as when a counselor waved his hands in the air and shouted that angels and demons were locked in an invisible struggle around it, along with every inch of the universe. But I had loving parents and they weren’t the poison-drinking or snake-wrestling type. Hell, they were even skeptical of speaking in tongues; to some fundamentalists they might as well have been Episcopalians. And in the end, I reflect that forfeiting my religious training has made me more imaginative, inquisitive and skeptical than I might’ve been otherwise. I know bullshit when I see it.

The dark side is that church was a part of my anti-social tendencies. I had a hard time figuring people out, and I was afraid to make any social bonds outside my church. Sometimes I see my adolescent thoughts about friendship and romantic love floating in a na├»ve fantasy world that was one part Christianity, one part science fiction, and one part the delusion of my own overactive imagination. I was a Walter Mitty type, but with a Bible crooked under one arm. I used to wonder if I suffered from a mental disorder. Maybe it’s so, but I tend to think that I was like the man who learns to read when he’s twenty. When we are children, our minds are ripe for learning certain tasks that are much more difficult to acquire as adults. Maybe social skills are like reading. Christianity encouraged me to classify others according to its clunky and mechanical pseudo-psychology, and to appease my fears and desires with make believe. That doesn’t have the same effect on everyone, but it leaves a shy kid bewildered. Nonetheless, I’m learning and it’s cumulative. Call me a late bloomer.

Cutting to the chase, I remained a Christian through college, grad school, marriage and my early career. During those years, I went through all the stages. I doubted my faith, toyed with liberal churches, and returned to evangelicalism. As I learned more about science, I reinterpreted my view of Genesis to match. I read a lot of Richard Dawkins’ books and adopted theistic evolution. The rope of faith that bound my life together often frayed, sometimes to a few threads, but in that time it never snapped. I often managed to wrap it up again. Even so, each time it was never in quite the shape it had been in before, and I only became more confused. My parents and others involved with my rearing had wound that cable for me the first time. I never really figured out how to repeat the job on my own, in light of everything I was learning about the world.

In September of 2005, I thought a lot about leaving evangelical Christianity, and religion in general, for good. I struggled with this for several months, and in June or July of 2006 I followed through. From birth until then, I’d never been out of a church for more than a few weeks. But I haven’t gone back. My ship floundered before it sunk, and those last few sentences don’t even begin to describe the tribulation in all its particulars. But I won’t bore you with that now. Perhaps in future notes, I’ll return to this final chapter of my faith. For now, it will suffice to say that I’m one of the few people raised in evangelical Christianity, who embraced it well into adulthood, and then forsook it entirely.

I no longer adhere to any religious doctrine. In one of my future notes, I will discuss the lure and pitfalls of liberal Christianity. While it may work for some folks, I came to see it as a mirage, with the appearance of letting me have my cake and eat it too. Today, I identify with those people who might go by several names: skeptic, secular humanist, rationalist, Bright, or whatever. I don’t prefer any one of those names over another, but what I share in common with them is a commitment to the scientific ethic as the best foundation for knowledge and personal responsibility.

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great Post. Your deconversion is a sure argument against people that claim you must have had a bad experience to leave the church or you must be angry at god. No, you simply stopped and thought about all you've learned in both science and religion, weighed it and foun the religion to be hogwash, for want of a better term. I read on this site someone once posted that staes if more christians read their bibles, more of them would leave the faith. I reckon that to be true. I know the agony that you mentioned about leaving all you know behind. I went through a similar experience at about the same time you did. May / June of 2006. I am way happier and more content now after I kicked religion to the curb. I wish the same to you.

AndrewH said...

Great post! How did the deconverstion affect your marriage? I'd be curios for some more deatail on that.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post and looking forward to hearing more about you. Your deconversion shoots holes in many of the Christian beliefs. Too bad many won't get it. Take care and thanks again. Jim Earl

Anonymous said...

BTW, I too am interested in hearing about how your present state has affected your marriage.

Jim Earl

MaryJane said...

Well written and thought provoking, your story parallels many stories on this site. Thank you so much for sharing your deconversion as it does add credibility to the pain and inner struggles we often encounter on our way out the chapel door. And welcome, if you are a new visitor here.

RubySera Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RubySera Martin said...

"In one of my future notes, I will discuss the lure and pitfalls of liberal Christianity."

I am very interested in that note you are going to write. Below is the link to a thread I started some time ago "In Defense if Liberal Theology." If you care to comment on it I would be very happy. You might have to copy and paste it into the address bar because I don't know how to post live links on here.

http://www.ex-christian.net/index.
php?showtopic=15706&hl=liberal

Let's see if I can now post the entire address. It cut off the last part so I pasted it in two lines here and will try posting again.

RubySera Martin said...

I tried the link and it works if you do it right. You have to copy and paste the first line, then copy and paste the second line right next to it in your address bar. Be sure not to leave a space. I really hope you have time to check it out--or at least, to write your note about liberal Christianity.

Lance said...

Thanks for the post. I just want to agree with the others and encourage you to follow through with writing more. Don't worry, you won't bore us.

Joe said...

Thanks, Candid. I loved the metaphor of the cable, wrapped by your parents, that you never learned to tie for yourself. Sort of like some disinherited Victorian prince who has to learn to dress himself for the first time as an adult.

I've read theories about the duality of our minds (the creative child and the rational adult). I am partial to the theory that there is a healthy tension between these, with the former giving us imagination and far reaching vision, while the latter gives those visions form. Your post makes me think of the cost of inhibiting the child-brain with dogma and fixed, uncompromising models. I suspect that the balance can still be reestablished.

cheayee said...

Hmmm...what can I say?

All I can say is that your post is honest.

I did take a "vacation" from the Christian belief at one point in my life, but it has turned the other direction.

I do hope you will find what you are looking in life.

Crispy Critter said...

"The dark side is that church was a part of my anti-social tendencies. I had a hard time figuring people out, and I was afraid to make any social bonds outside my church."

I same thing happened to me. I had no friends, and certainly no girlfriends. I finally figured out this year why.
I am naturally attracted in general to people that are intelligent, creative and open.
(in other words, "worldly" people)

Take that attraction and contrast it with the old "do not yoke yourself unequally" thing and you end up with a person that cannot relate to anyone.
Thankfully now I am healing and have found it quite exiting to meet people and make new friends now that the "still small voice" is not whispering things in my head anymore lol

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