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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