Sent in by Andrew P
Just to give a little background, when I was born, my parents both attended a Lutheran church. My father's parents were devout Finnish Apostolic Lutherans. His mother considered drinking, smoking, dancing, card playing, any gambling, and all forms of non-hymnal music to be sins. Obviously, being in the 1960's, my father rebelled against this, but had to keep it quiet from her. My mother had been raised Pentecostal, before going Lutheran at age 17. The night before she was baptized a Lutheran, her father said to her "One day you will find the Pentecostal church is the ONLY right church."
Fast forward fourteen years. This is where I come into the picture. My parents were married and attending a Lutheran church in Iowa. I was born in April, baptized in July, and officially declared a Christian by everyone. Of course at two months of age, it's a little hard to make any sort of statement of faith, so I'm not sure I can truly call myself an ex-Christian.
Soon after, we moved to Ohio and started attending a Finnish Apostolic Lutheran church. The minister, during a Christmas Eve children's sermon actually told all the children that there is no Santa Claus, that he is just a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. Several families left the church after that, but we stayed, as I was only about two and a half years old and didn't understand much more than eating, walking, and pooping.
It didn't take me long to start questioning Christianity, as the whole thing just made little sense. A big guy in the sky watching everything we do? Where? Why can't I see him? When I was five years old, I actually told my mom that I didn't think Jesus Christ ever truly existed. Her only warning to me was not to tell that to my Sunday school teachers, and certainly don't tell my grandmother.
After Sunday school went from the fun stories, games, and crafts dealing with Biblical teachings, and actually turned to the more hardcore coverage of the Bible and quoting from it in classes, that's when I had enough. The minister retired, and in the ensuing commotion in trying to find a new minister to take his place, my family decided to leave. For about a year, we chose not to attend a church, then moving on to the Unitarian Universalist church near us. My mother and I began attending, soon followed by my father. He left not long after. He was employed at a nuclear power plant as an electrical engineer, and when a church member made a comment in opposition to nuclear power, he took it to be an attack against him. He called the church "nothing but a front for a left-wing political organization" and chose to stop attending.
The Unitarian Universalist church was an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. I learned I wasn't the only one who questioned the idea of the divinity of Jesus or the existence of a God. I was exposed to many beliefs, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, while also briefly covering Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. At about this time, my father entered alcohol rehab, then treatment for depression. Not long after, he was attending Lutheran services again.
My parents began to grow further apart. My mom was a pagan, emerging from the "broom closet" after being a quietly-practicing Wiccan and pagan since she was 19. My father jumped on the Rush Limbaugh bandwagon and got more heavily involved with the Lutherans. Both parents believed in their own form of a God, and here I was, stuck in the middle.
I couldn't accept the divinity of Christ. I couldn't even accept the existence of a God. It all just went against all science and logic. After some particularly hellacious elementary and middle school years, I finally made my decision. I couldn't possibly believe in a God. I tried to go back numerous times, but every prayer went unanswered. All I asked for was some stability in my life and some inner peace. And I got nothing.
Throughout high school, I continued attending the UU church with my mom, and my opinions on any sort of church soured greatly. Several members of the church wanted to start a "CUUPS" group-- Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. According to the minister, the board of trustees would not approve funding for it. Each time it was brought up for a vote, it never passed for one reason or another-- not enough funding, we didn't need it, it just doesn't have enough support. Most of the time, it was blamed on the board's chairman. The minister was a very polarizing figure. Many families chose to leave the church. When my mom ran into one family at a bookstore and asked why they weren't attending, they said "We'll be back once she leaves," referring to the minister. This past year, she left. It was also stated by several members of the board that she was the one who opposed the CUUPS group, not members of the board. She admitted halfway through her time with us that she was a "Christian Unitarian Universalist." While I was not in opposition to this, I did opposed the treatment that the humanist and pagan UU's received from her. This was my first glimpse into the truth that you can remove religion from politics, but you'll never remove politics from religion.
I didn't last much longer as a UU. Before one of the national elections, I opted to support a third party while most of the church supported the Democratic candidate. I was actually told by a fellow choir member "You know, my father once told me not to waste my vote on a third party because they'll never win. You should just vote for the lesser of two evils." My response was "By supporting the lesser of two evils, it's still supporting evil. And who's to say I don't believe the Republican is the lesser evil?" After being called a racist this past year by a fellow UU (just because I don't like European hockey I'm a racist?), I have chosen to end all association with the Unitarian Universalist Church, and organized religion as a whole.
I had another shaping experience in college. After my freshman year, my mom decided to divorce my dad. I knew about it because she told me in July, but I couldn't tell him. She wanted to do it, and she wasn't going to until October. I had to live with this on my mind, weighing me down for three months. In that time, from the stress, I lost 30 pounds. I repeatedly got into fights with former friends. And when I went back to college in August, a once-close friend of mine never wanted to speak to me again.
And then I discovered Buddhism. Finally, a religion that had structure while not requiring the absurd belief in a big guy in the sky who we can't see, but will reward us if we do as he tells us! For once in my life, I was finally finding peace. I could deal with my problems while not letting them completely bog me down. I found for once in my life that there is good in everything if you just look for it and that there is no use in doing anything if it doesn't make you happy.
It can be hard at times to stay perfectly with all the tenets of Buddhism. I'm only human after all. But being a good Buddhist is so much easier than being a "good Christian." There are too many theories on what makes a good Christian, and all are too different. To be a good Buddhist, you basically only need to strive for happiness while not harming others. It's so much easier and makes so much more sense. And after all, as the Buddha once said, "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
Currently, I live in Wichita Falls, TX, home to one of the largest Baptist congregations in the state, if not in all of the country. I am certainly a minority here as a Buddhist atheist, and possibly the only one here, but I am a much happier person in my beliefs now than I was in the Christian beliefs that dominated my upbringing. And didn't the Buddha teach that one should seek only happiness?
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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)