Sent in by Scott D
After reading "exchristian" for quite some time now. I think it's time to submit my own story.
I was born into a non religious family consisting of an older sister and my Mother who seemed to use churches when it suited her for company. My Father left when I was three but from what I here of him I don't think God was high on his list of priorities. My first real experience with Christianity came about after I was expelled from the state school system for being somewhat of a disruptive menace at the age of ten. Some friends of my mother came to the rescue and managed to persuade a local Seventh Day Adventist primary school to accept me. The catch was that I had to also attend their church. Being a somewhat messed up child already (by this stage I had already lived through a few years of watching my drunk step dad beating my mother on a weekly basis), I must have stood out to the youth paster as a perfect candidate for his special brand of attention. After careful grooming and gradual introduction into His form of pastoral care for a few years I was ripe to completely go off the rails.
By fourteen I was hanging out on the city streets throwing myself with reckless abandon into a criminal lifestyle. I was stealing cars breaking into businesses, getting hooked on speed and heroin, pretty much any drug offered. It all gave me something I was desperate for by that stage, a sense of belonging and being better than the idiots living a humdrum life and to get back at the world that so far had not treated me too kindly. Of course I wasn't particularly careful about anything I was doing as soon enough I started serving short custodial sentences at youth detention centers. This continued till I was getting close to the eighteen mark and about to graduate to adult prison and the adult court system -- a thought that terrified me. My Sister who had become a full blown born again holy roller had managed to convince the youth court to sentence me to a Christian rehabilitation camp called Teen Challenge. To me it just meant that I wouldn't be sitting in a cell so I gladly accepted. Unfortunately I didn't realize that they had their own cell ready for me. One that would take me years to escape from.
From the minute I was there the indoctrination started. At first I didn't really care one way or the other, I just thought of it as 'their thing.' I was here because it's better than jail. It soon became hard to ignore the constant bombardment. Plus, did I really want to continue living this way. The games would be over soon, adult prison and adult sentences. I noticed those that did give in to the pressure seemed to really find something; the smiles on their faces seemed to glow. I felt my resolve to not give in to the wackos giving in. So, in a last ditch effort I tried to escape. Now this meant over a 40-mile walk in the middle of winter. I got as far as a main road when it all became just to much effort, so when I can to a phone booth in a small village, I rang teen challenge up and they came and picked me up. The next Sunday night at church I gave in and answered an altar call at the Assemblies of God that the camp attended. After saying the sinners prayer, I felt a peace and warmth I had never experienced before.
From that moment on I became the perfect success story for the group: on fire for the Lord and cutting of all contact with all my old friends (definitely for the best). After returning home once my sentence was finished, I started attending my sisters Foursquare Church, hungry to live my life for the Lord. Unfortunately, not many people at the church were my age or could relate to me in the slightest.
Not long after I bumped into some old crime friends, and to my amazement they had become Christians too. They invited me to visit their church, a local Potters House. From the moment I entered the doors, I was in love. Amazing services, old friends, so many people my age from similar backgrounds, all on fire for the lord as much as I was. I straight away swapped churches. I received many warnings from people at my own church about legalism and authoritarianism but it fell on deaf ears. I took on the mold of the church with vigor, moving in with others from the church.
Having always been an avid reader and intellectually curious, I was always a bit concerned with some things I saw and heard. But I just compartmentalized it and lead a secret intellectual life. Reading all the theology I could (something frowned upon in Potters House). Over the years my theology matured and developed into a traditionally Reformed view of Christianity. As you can imagine this was setting me on course for a confrontation with the 'headship' of Potters House. I had already stopped speaking in tongues, seeing it as purely psychological. As much as a Reformed outlook is so incompatible with such an over-the-top pentecostal church like the Potters House. I still felt they at least they were on fire for God. Over time I started to see the result of all this endless zeal: burn out, destroyed people, broken children. I decided I had to leave. I left with my wife who had always had a hard time conforming to the idea that a mindless pastor should run our lives mentality. After we left all our friends at the church cut us off. As far as they were concerned, anyone who would want to leave for another church could not possibly be saved. People from the church would go into my wife's work to tell her to leave me and return to God. It was a horribly hard time for both of us; we both felt so lonely having so many friends turn their backs on us. And the boredom, it was so intense. Potters House is like a drug of endless activity and pride. It was hard to come down from. Through it all I never wavered in my faith in God.
We started attending an evangelical Presbyterian church and I decided to start attending seminary. This was a BIG mistake: textual criticism, the history of the formation of the Bible, church history, the mind-boggling way the New Testament writers interpreted the old to their favor. Even though it was taught through evangelical eyes, it open my eyes to so many of the problems in the Bible. At the same time, my step brother was studying philosophy and cultural studies. He was up to his doctorate, and I couldn't get enough of reading everything he recommended. I had always said that the truth has nothing to hide, so I never shied away from reading various views. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, I just couldn't escape the fact that everything I believed in was just that: a belief. The concept of belief, knowledge, how do we know what we think we know, what is belief anyway, why does Christianity in one sentence say "we believe" and then by slight of hand, the next minute, assume absolute knowledge. Is this not deceptive?. I remember the moment I realized that I no longer believed; it was almost like an epiphany. Their was a tinge of sadness, anger that so much had been lost in my life for superstition, also a feeling of such freedom like the first time in spring when the sun has strength enough to warm your face. No doubt many around me have put down my de-conversion to all the abuse at the hand of a youth pastor or the treatment from Potters House upon leaving. The truth is, none of those things touched my faith. It was simply knowledge: knowledge of the Bible and knowledge about the true nature of belief and faith, and how we all work from assumed "a priori memes" that often have no real basis other that cultural imprints.
Could I have ever believed I would become an ex-Christian? No. An atheist? Never. Could I ever go back to Christianity? Not on your life.
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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)