How I Lived a Lie: My Anti-Testimony

Sent in by Monk

I was raised in the Church of Christ. Both my mom and dad have attended the same church since before I was born, and my dad has actually been an elder (think bishop if elder makes no sense to you) there for over 20 years. It’s a family tradition, going there. Ever since I was a child, I hated going to church…not once in my life can I EVER remember wanting to go.

The bottom line: I never really believed, though I always pretended to. However, you can only live a lie for so long before it starts to eat you.

I finally succumbed to my family’s pressure to be baptized (a rite of passage in the Church of Christ) in March 2001 when I was 19 years old and a couple of months away from entering the Marine Corps reserves (since this was pre- 9/11, there wasn’t an over-riding fear that I might die in war…yet). For the next few years, I managed to balance my reserve commitments with college, and life generally went on as always. Going through the motions of being a Christian (praying, etc.) had made the boot camp experience much less traumatic, so religion and I declared a temporary truce.

Then in 2004, my unit was finally activated to go to Iraq. While there, I spent all my extra time thinking about my life, and religion once more took center stage. I used to stare at the desert and listen to the Muslim call to prayer, and I could actually see how this area of the world had been the cradle of so many world religions... so many lies. There was a magic to it all: the land, my thoughts, the calls. Indeed, it was not hard to imagine that a person could find what they deemed their own personal truth in that place. In fact, the seeds of what would become my own (atheist) truth grew there.

The more I thought, the more I realized that what I was feeling was not some innate religious power held by the land. Rather, I had come to love the desert itself. What little faith I had left began to erode with the sand. I came to see for the first time the ultimate source of religious belief: man's desire to explain the beauty and mystery of his natural environment. I did not feel the presence of any god... just the awe of standing in the cradle of civilization. It was a spiritual awakening, but certainly NOT religious. I felt alive for the first time.

What little faith I ever had died in Iraq... and so did one of my best friends, at the hands of an improvised explosive device. I resolved to live the life he'll never be able to experience.

When we came home, I switched my college major to history, partly because I wanted to learn more about what the secular world said about Christianity's origins. Outwardly, I remained a Christian, enduring countless hours of Sunday morning church services because I couldn’t bear to tell my friends and family how I felt. I love my parents, and I never wanted to hurt them. I knew the knowledge that I was an atheist would.

Boy, when you're right... you're right.

December of last year, I couldn't take the charade anymore, and I just stopped going to church (and haven't gone since). For two more months, I played off exhortations and questions, until one Sunday afternoon, I snapped and came clean. They were shocked, disappointed, hurt... afraid for my life and my "soul." Everything I had feared.

I began for the first time to outwardly show my atheist convictions. My parents played dirty for awhile, even stooping to using my dear 86-year-old grandmother (whom I possibly love more than anyone in the world) to try and guilt me back into church. I held my cool and tried to explain as well as I could why I felt the way I did. I didn't even make a dent. Now, they just mostly leave me alone about it except for the occasional exhortation to return.

I never will.

Christianity has never added up for me... not when I was a kid and certainly not when I became an adult. My choice to major in history helped provide me with the evidence and concrete reasoning I needed to fill in the gaps created by my intuition. I wish I could make my family fully understand that they are wasting their lives on a bedtime story, but I know I never will. You see, I lost one of my brothers to a car wreck when he was 18 (I was only 6 at the time, so I hardly remember). They are convinced they will see him again. They cannot contemplate otherwise.

I cannot shatter this illusion without shattering them in turn. Frankly, I haven’t the heart. I love them too much. I only hope that they never push me too hard…that they never really attack me and my beliefs. So much strife, fear, and doubt over something so ridiculous…it all makes me quite bitter.

This is longer than I meant for it to be, yet it is still very incomplete, and I don’t feel like I said everything I wanted to. I guess that could take a life time. I am grateful for this group and to the webmaster who founded it. I live in the South, the thick of the Bible Belt, and I am unashamed to admit that from time to time. I need all the help and encouragement I can get.

Thanks to you all.

—Monk

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15 comments:

AtheistToothFairy said...

> cannot shatter this illusion without shattering them in turn. Frankly, I haven’t the heart. I love them too much. I only hope that they never push me too hard…that they never really attack me and my beliefs.<

Monk,

I think it's a huge double edged sword of a problem, that you describe here. It's also one that I've faced myself in the past several years, thus, I have a few thoughts on the matter (g)

On one "hand", everything inside you wants to show them that you haven't gone insane. Insane that is, by rejecting their lifelong beliefs that they are sure you should also believe.

At times you probably contemplate proving to your family (and friends perhaps) once and for all, that your reasons for becoming an atheist are vastly more valid than their illogical reasons for continuing their blind faith they have in the unseen and unproven.

You might even work out the details in your mind about the steps of the very long process it would take to convince possibly just one of them that these beliefs have no basis in reality. You know it would be a long hard battle, but you think, if you could just win one of them over to your side, then perhaps the others would see it's not just you alone who think such forbidden thoughts.

Then you ponder; now having won over that one key person, there would now be two of you and you could double your efforts to show the truth to more of them and win perhaps a several of them over to our way of thinking.

Oh, but now we have that other darn "hand" to think about.
How come there are always TWO hands to deal with? (g)

What happens to the person(s) that you convert to our atheist way of thinking.
Obviously, their belief that is so deeply instilled in them about seeing dead relatives in the afterlife, will be taken away, as will their hope of their own eternal afterlife.
The long time hope they've held to see your deceased brother when they die would therefore also be gone.

Yes, in theory we could pursue this conversion with our family and close friends, and while a few of them would thank you for showing them the light of reality, many others who hold religion very close to their hearts would probably hate you in the end for taking away their 'blessed' beliefs.

I'm guessing the end result in the case of the 'few' you did manage to convert would be that they wouldn't despise you anymore for rejecting their personal god, but they might land up despising you for bursting their very fragile emotional bubbles they need to reside in to get through each day of their lives.

Speaking in general terms now, I'm not saying we should take a back seat in the public eye in educating everyone about reality, as that is something I think very much needs to happen.
However, when it comes to converting family and close friends yourself, one can find oneself going from that proverbial frying pan of being just the devil-stricken unbeliever, and right into the fire itself, for you are now the one who stole away their very own precious beliefs, which to some of them would be a far worse crime.
They might not thank you for the enlightenment, but instead land up hating you for bursting those bubbles they adore so much to hide within.

Most of us never wish to hurt the one's we love and care about, and if we suspect their character isn't nearly strong enough to handle the truth of reality, then I think it would be best to either leave them alone in their beliefs, or at least have someone far removed from the family do the convincing instead. This way if it turns our badly, they won't point the finger at you, as to being the one who bursted those bubbles.

AtheistToothFairy

Bloviator said...

Monk:

I can relate to your feelings here as they are quite similar to my own. I am now 50 and became tired of 'pretending' about god and christ this past year (guess I haven't really, truly bought into this shit since I was a young teen, but have been giving lip service ever since). Thing is, my wife is a true believer, and she has many family members who she hopes to see again. I can not and I WILL NOT burst that bubble for her. Some might feel it more loving to try and convince her, but I'm the one living this life and I can see the endless pain it will cause. I see that also with my brother. However, like you, I will never go back to such a belief system. Good luck to you.

Caleb said...

Thanks for your post Monk, and also thank you for your military service. All of my friends are Christian and very devout. I don't want to lose them so I constantly put-off telling them of my deconversion. But I see how my desire to speak my mind and tell others my thoughts has just slowly taken over. I have started sharing some very surface type things in myspace blogs. I've also recently told a couple of my closest friends. I think you were and are a few steps ahead in the game. One reason being the fact that you pretty much never bought the whole God thing even as a child who was force-fed it. And two, because you have come out about your new belief system to some of your family. I applaud you for these things! Keep posting!

SpaceMonk said...

Hi Monk, thanks for your story.
Funny how it took the 'foxhole' to turn you atheist. ;)
I'm glad you survived.

I have the same problems with my parents. I told them straight away, but the result was the same.
If I hadn't kept up contact with them things wouldn't have improved very much either though, so don't let them drift away by default. Things can get better ...as long as dinner conversation is kept away from religion. ;)

Audie said...

"What little faith I ever had died in Iraq... and so did one of my best friends, at the hands of an improvised explosive device."

I too lost what little faith I had left in Iraq...and a good friend also. And why? because the insurgent who planted the IED was convienced that his religion was the only right way to god, and he was willing to kill and die for it.

This is all religion is good for- causing human beings to kill each other.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Speaking of grandmothers, check out the semi-autobiographical novel, SAVING GRANDMA by Franky or Frank Schaeffer, son of the Evangelical apologist and author, Francis Schaeffer. The novel by Frank is the story of his father's efforts to save his mom (Frank's grandma) who lived with them. She was never much into religion. Funny some of the things she is portrayed as saying in the novel.

Francis Schaeffer's son also repudiated his father's Evangelicalism and Calvinism in several books, in favor of an older, more calm and traditional faith, Eastern Orthodoxy (that also leaves room for evolution).

Frank's latest book will be out in September, 2007:

Crazy for God: How I Helped Found the Religious Right and Ruin America

It looks like Frank's grandma helped "save" him from a life and theology like his father's.

SCOUT said...

monk,
i too hail from the deep-south where everything & everywhere is GAWD! GAWD! and more GAWD! i served my lord & savior for 35 years before i lost faith in faith.
i do pity you having to endure church of christ doctrine. i have some "coc" friends who have got to be the most spiritually ignorant, dogmatic, pharisaical lemmings i have ever run across.if their preacher tells them the sky is green; then by god, green it is.h
Here in west monroe, la. we have several church of christ churches who have split from one another because something as stupid as water baptism, hell, etc. christians can't even agree amongst
their own, thats why they are so dysfunctional & impotent in "ruling & reighning" for christ.
as far as your personal problem goes w/ friends & family; i can only hope they can love you for you, not what you do or do not ascribe to be or become. i never loved unconditionally until i left religion & left all the negative baggage i had accumalated w/ it. i.e. guilt, condemnation, hatred, etc..... now that i am free to be myself & think for myself, i find that being friendly & loving is quite easy.

J. C. Samuelson said...

Monk,

From one foxhole atheist to another, welcome! Your ex-timony is very compelling, and I'm very glad you made it through your deployment alive. The stark reality of war exposes in one of the worst possible ways our capability for brutality. The conviction that a god approves of or encourages us to harness that capability for its own glory is something that just turns my stomach.

I cannot shatter this illusion without shattering them in turn. Frankly, I haven’t the heart. I love them too much.

Beautifully put. This expresses the sentiments of many, I think. Biting your tongue for the sake of sparing your loved ones needless anguish speaks volumes about your character. It's truly disheartening that some parents - perhaps not yours, but some - choose to favor their beliefs over love and compassion for their children who express their non-belief. These same parents also think that somehow they are expressing their love by telling their children they're hellbound and deserving of eternal punishment. Religion is a pretty poor excuse for that kind of jaw-dropping callousness.

It's good to know your parents have relented somewhat, and maybe someday they'll come to appreciate your reasons for rejecting religious faith. Who knows? Maybe one or both of them have had doubts of their own, and you may be the catalyst that encourages a thorough self-examination of their beliefs! Not that they'd necessarily tell you that. ;)

Great post, Monk! Looking forward to more from you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments and support! I am continually humbled by the intelligence, kindness, and dignity displayed by the regulars of this site to newcomers. I also think that the restraint shown to trolls is to be commended. I've been around post-and-respond sites for several years, and this is certainly one of the kinder I've seen. Kudos!

Anonymous said...

I have just walked away from the church. For 48 years (since conception) I have accepted it all blindly. My husband turned away over 10 years ago and I have had to wait until my parents are no longer around in order to not hurt them with my decision.

jfraysse said...

Brother Monk: Sorry, I’m late in responding to your article but I really liked it and your comments to other posts have been both caring and insightful.

Living the “Bible Belt is a social problem at the very least and boy, that issue with your parents is a tough one, but I applaud your unwillingness to hurt them! So many ex-Christians are genuinely caring people. I have wrestled with the dogma that only things I did in “Jesus’ Name” counted as “good”. Baloney! In fact, the idea that only “Christians” could do anything “Good for God” was one of those last “straws” that caused my camel to rue me! Needless to say, I caused trouble in a lot of Bible Studies!

Good luck in your and new life and please keep sharing here as your other obligations permit.

Grace & Peace, John

Sean said...

You should all become Catholic brothers and sisters. In this church that is 2000 years old you have a vast library of intellectual stimilus, church tradition and teaching authority to help lead a soul to Jesus Christ. The problem is many people often encounter a simple bible alone concept without the tradition and teaching authority of the established Catholic Church. Read St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine to more modern intellectual writers such as G. K. Chesterton. Faith and reason brothers should go hand in hand. To abandon either faith or reason is madness. God bless you all! May the light of Christ lead you all to the truth! Peace!

DoesItFlow said...

Sean,

Have you read ANYTHING on this site??? Please, take a look around the room at your company before you begin to speak...

*Sigh*

Alright, NOW I'm going to sleep... Good night, all! :)

Peace...

- DoesItFlow

Astreja said...

Sean: "You should all become Catholic brothers and sisters."

You must be fucking kidding me. I refuse to worship in the church that burned my ancestors' neighbours alive in their houses in 11th-century Norway. When the RCC finally limps away into obscurity and bankruptcy, I'll be the one dancing in the street and toasting the event with a large horn of mead.

stronger now said...

Mead=honeywine. And yes, it's delicious.

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