Don't listen to your head. Listen to your heart

Sent in by Colin E

I was raised in a home where my parents called themselves Christian: we were members of a protestant church, but I do not think that any of us took religion too seriously. Us children were sent to Sunday School every week to get proper religious instruction, but my parents never tried to encourage me or my sister to dedicate our "lives to the Lord". Moreover, being a white South African child in the heyday of Apartheid, with the church I attended openly supporting the Apartheid government, my parents did tell me to take whatever that church teaches with a pinch of salt: they certainly were not supporters of that regime, but all white South Africans in the '70s had to keep up appearances, or face at best ostracism, or at worst criminal prosecution.

This all changed when I turned 15: my sister was invited to a charismatic/fundamentalist church service, and I tagged along, mostly because I was promised that it was a good place to meet girls - and I was not disappointed on that score. What I did not expect was the message: it was a powerful message to begin with, delivered by an extremely charismatic speaker. The message was that there is a god who so loved the earth...need I go on? It seems that everyone on this site has heard that song sung a million times. Also, this fundy church did not support apartheid, strange as it may seem.

All the religious instruction that came before seemed to fall into place. I thought I had found truth: truth in the sense that everything in the Bible is true, and meant to be taken literally. All of a sudden, things changed. I now intended to dedicate my life to the Lord, become a minister/pastor, prepare my body and soul for the Rapture etc etc. It was at this point that my schoolwork started suffering: why work hard on any secular ambitions when the good Lord may decide any day now to just whisk his chosen away to have an eternal party in Heaven? What a lovely excuse for mediocrity.

All through the next three years I did my best to be a good fundamentalist Christian. I managed to offend a lot of other Christians (of the non-fundy variety), not realising that I had become a self-righteous prick, thinking that I was doing the Lord's work, and therefore could not possibly be wrong. But deep down, I suspected that my faith was not what it should be.

One fundy principle is that when one asks, one SHALL receive. I was asking, but I cannot say that I was always receiving. Instead of realising at that point that maybe everything in the good Book is not true, I blamed my own imperfect faith for my non-receipt of what I was asking. This only made me act more fundy than a South-Alabama Republican preacher-man. But a small part of me thought that there were some small cracks appearing in the powerful message that I received when I was 15 years old.

I started questioning - but very carefully. I was afraid of offending the spiritual giants that I associated with every Sunday.

I started reading - any kind of Christian literature that I could get my hands on. I cannot claim to be as well read as the webmaster, but I came close. My problem was that I was prepared to reason from Christianity, but I was not prepared to reason about Christianity. The reason for this was simply that Hell did not sound like a good place, and I did not want to go there.

I also had long religious disputes with my father. He never bought into the whole fundy thing, even though he called himself a Christian. This too made me think: my father is a very well educated man, and an extremely logical thinker. All the best arguments that I managed to learn from my reading of Christian literature (and fundy literature by such notables as Kenneth Copeland and Mike Warnke) could not sway him - my father seemed to have no trouble puncturing my windy pomposity with needle-sharp logic. I had, and still have, a lot of intellectual respect for my father, even though he is now almost 80 years old. I had to start thinking: if even I, whom I would have liked to think was guided by the Holy Spirit in my discussions with my father (yes, I used to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit before every debate I had with him, and I thought I could feel said Holy Spirit infuse me with eloquence) could not sway him, perhaps there was something wrong with my message?

Having decided that the rapture may not happen anytime soon, I finally paid a bit more attention to my academic pursuits, and went to university, studying law. Back then (in 1988), it was compulsory in South Africa to achieve a certain proficiency in Latin as part of legal studies. I found that I excelled in the Latin language, and changed to Latin as my non-legal major. And if one wanted to do a postgraduate degree in Latin (something I started to consider at this time) one had to study Attic Greek as well - which I was happy to do. This is also the original language of the New Testament: in time, I was able to read the New Testament in the language it was written. Oh boy.

The fundy church I attended was fond of explaining concepts of their particular brand of Christianity in terms of Attic Greek. For example, they taught that the Greek word for non-physical love (agape) was a word coined (by God) especially for the purpose - that it was a God kind of love. WRONG! They also claimed that the Greek word for life (zoe) had Christian connotations. WRONG again! I had to ask myself: were the followers of the God of Truth actually lying? Nothing new about that, the history of the Catholic Church is full of examples of this, but these Catholic bashing fundys as well? Is this possible?

I first tried to tell myself that they were honestly mistaken. The councilors at church could not give me a logical explanation for this - their arguments ran along the lines that they were not scholars of dead languages, but men (and women) strong of faith, and perhaps I misunderstood the Attic Greek language? After all, nobody speaks it anymore, so perhaps Paul meant it the way the church teaches it? You will not believe how much this dismissal of my seemingly insignificant objection bothered me. Those who claim to represent a God of truth, justice, love and apple pie cannot explain a simple linguistic nuance, guided as they are in all things by the Holy Spirit?

For the first time, I really started listening to the altar call at the end of every service on Sunday nights: don't listen to your head, the pastor said. Listen to your heart. He said this every single Sunday, and I never realised that he was asking me to switch off my brain - and I willingly did so!

I was still a little afraid of going to Hell, so I kept trying to hold on to my rapidly diminishing faith. What finally swung it for me was a work of fiction. The book is called Voyage, by Steven Baxter. I do not know if the story he relates in this book is true, being written as it is in a what-if novel, but I think it is worth repeating:

After their landing on the moon and subsequent successful return to Earth, one of the astronauts (it was not Armstrong, and I cannot remember if it was Aldrin or Collins) went on a world tour, giving lectures, making speeches etc. His travels took him to Nepal, where he addressed a class full of schoolchildren. The schoolchildren kept asking him whom he met on the moon, who was there. He kept giving the same answer: he met no-one there, no-one lives there. The kids seemed puzzled by his answer.

When he finished, he left the classroom, but remained just outside the door - long enough to hear their teacher tell the children: "You must not believe him, he is wrong." He could not understand why she would tell the children this - after all, the moon mission was well publicised - so he asked around. He found out that the religion of those children taught that one ascends to the moon after death, hence their questions to him about whom he met there - they actually thought that he would answer that he met their dearly departed family members and acquaintances there.

My Christian friends smugly told me that there was a religion that did not stand up to the scientific test. I was not so smug: my religion (Christianity) also did not stand up to this test. Moreover, my religion came from the same source (old men who wandered the desert/mountains, catching too much sun and writing down their hallucinations). The good part is that it eventually cured me of my fear of Hell: if the Bible is fiction, then so is Hell.

I find that I cannot blame Christians for misleading me - I was only too happy to be misled. Moreover, most Christians truly believe they are doing the right thing in seeking converts and saving souls. One can only hope that they will switch on their brains at some point - and I mean that quite literally. We cannot force them to open their eyes and see the truth - one only needs to browse this site to see how true that is. While I fully understand the anger on these pages, my advice is to let go of it and I know it is not easy. It took me about 5 years to let go of that anger. But once you do let go, you realise exactly how full your life can be without any God to spoil it for you.

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Comments

Chucky Jesus said…
Interesting story about the astronaut. Congrats on shaking off the yoke of irrational belief!
Richard said…
Its fascinating to me in reading deconversion stories just what experiences it is that proves pivotal. I, too, noticed "small" discrepancies and curiosities early on in my religious phase that eventually snowballed into very big deals. My experience was somewhat similar to yours, in a few ways at least. When you argued with your father about Christianity, and he was unmoved, it made you doubt your message, rather than chalking it up to his being blinded by sin. So, in effect, you blamed the message rather than the hearer. Fundies ususally go about it the other way. Their message is true, they think. Therefore, their arguments *must* be good. Therefore, if their message is not believed, then there can be no fault in their arguments. And there is a ready explanation for what *is* wrong -- the sin in the hearer! Its a perfect way to get past the otherwise strange fact that they have an infallible message from the Creator himself, and an
supernaturally perfect Book (and obviously so!)-- but not universal adherence. My experience was similar in this respect. When I noticed that I never felt as warm and goey inside as evangelicals taught me anyone living "in Christ" would be -- i.e., when I remained depressed and unhappy -- I (eventually) was able to blame the message, rather than my alleged failure to "really" live it. I wonder what it is that makes some of us willing, on some level, to doubt the message, rather than ourselves? Anyway, congratulations!
fjell said…
Good article, and good point by Richard. The war between the fallible message and the fallible hearer seems to kick off all too often in religious debate. But – as I often like to point out – “As soon as you pick religion as the touchstone of reality, then we have to start discussing how one can demonstrate the correctness of one religion over another when different religions disagree.” -Wilson Heydt

fjell
Brock said…
Great post, and richard's comments are right on.

I read Mike Warnke's book on his satanic days way back when. I remember thinking how unlikely it all seemed. Imagine my lack of surprise when i discovered about a year ago, via the Internet, that the whole story was make believe, and that Warnke's life since then has been filled with questionable stuff, even though he is still a popular Christian comedian (I have rouble with the idea of a Christian comedian. Most of the jokes I know about Christianity Christians would consider pretty blasphemous). Farrell Till has said that he expects the Internet to be a major factor in the eventual death of Christianity. This experience makes me think he may be right.
freethinker05 said…
Nice post Richard, and to brock; i hope to shout Ferrel Till's perdictions come true. Peace, Roger A/A
Deborah K said…
Hi, Colin,
You have expressed so succinctly almost my whole experience as well - I was a Missionary kid in Johannesburg throughout the apartheid era as well! So my parents, church and social life were all wrapped in the fundy/evangelical environment.
I also had many doubts, but since I thought my parents/ministers knew more than me, I tagged along with their irrational explanations, also with the fear that if hell is really true, then I don't want to go there. I honestly and sincerely tried to feel the way everyone described in their testimonies - but I just never felt inside like it seemed everyone else was feeling.

A bad experience with a deacon who judged me so severely for not attending Sunday School for a few weeks was the beginning of my journey to shake off the bondage (isn't that ironic, since Christianity is supposed to make you free!!).

It's still fresh and tender to me to openly express my doubts and uncertainties, but it is so refreshing. Of course, I have not told my parents/siblings (all missionaries) how I am feeling - because I figure they don't need to know.

It is also refreshing to hear of others who were so engrossed in the atmosphere of strict, fundamental, evangelical rules/regulations and teachings, that they also are turning away.

Still confused, but am hanging in there ...
Maury said…
This "south African child" story seems stangely similar to another testimony I read over at Raving Atheists about three years ago.

Frankly, I don't believe it.

Whatever.
.:webmaster:. said…
Really, Maury. I'd love to have some documentation of that, if it's true.

Care to pony up?
Dave, not the WM said…
Maury,

It's quite amusing to me that a Christian would criticize a story as possibly being recycled, given that the entire Christian religion is based on recycled myths.
Joe said…
This whole discussion of myths made me wonder why Snopes.com doesn't deal with some of the ancient urban legends that have been passing around for a long time. I checked and there's nothing there that deals fundamentally with the legend of this god/Jesus confabulation.

Time to saunter over there and pose the question.
freedy said…
Fundies might say all those destined for moon-heaven are actually at sun-hell.

*Religion is so full of shit!
eel_shepherd said…
Colin wrote, in the topic post:
"...It was at this point that my schoolwork started suffering: why work hard on any secular ambitions when the good Lord may decide any day now to just whisk his chosen away to have an eternal party in Heaven? What a lovely excuse for mediocrity..."

You got that right. By far the worst spelling, grammar and sentence structure, as well as the inability to put together a string of sentences into a cogent line of argument, can be found among the hard-bitten fundie ROM-heads who drop in, deliver a drive-by blessing, warning (or, often, both at the same time), and then high tail it outta here.

As above, so below.
freethinker05 said…
Great idea Joe, think I'll visit there myself, and ask a few questions; Matter of fact, if most christians, and muslims wants to preach about their god, then, we non-believers and believers deserve to know the truth, and the right religion, plus the true denomanation church of christians. Anyone have the true religion? Peace, Roger
Jamie said…
"Farrell Till has said that he expects the Internet to be a major factor in the eventual death of Christianity."

This is something that I've certainly been thinking since my deconversion. Google certainly aided and abetted by deconversion.
AtheistToothFairy said…
Jamie wrote:
"Farrell Till has said that he expects the Internet to be a major factor in the eventual death of Christianity."
--
Jamie,

I couldn't agree more that it has had a huge impact on one's ability to easily check-things-out about religion.
I've had this thought many times in the past few years, just knowing the wealth of information one can find for free out there.
Before the internet, one had to put in far more effort, at such places as book stores and libraries in order to find answers to questions.

While I think this searching ability will pull some to our side, one still has to go out and actually look for answers, in order to find them.
Of course, one needs to form the doubting questions first, and as we've seen here, so many refuse to allow such questions form in their god-brains.

Sometimes even a mountain of evidence won't change the mind of a stubborn believer.
As someone famous once said, "Don't confuse me with the facts"
For the fundies we see, this quote sure is applicable !!


AtheistToothFairy
Jozi Kid said…
Hi Colin,
Good on you, you thought your way out of the quagmire.
Being from JHB I can certainly vouch for your story.
I have in-laws who are missionaries in Mozambique, bible college in Xia Xia no less, and they're not alone.I often wonder what the attraction is in going to a war ravaged country and teaching people the bible. These folk have way bigger problems like poverty, malaria, famine. Many have lost limbs from landmines and desperatley eke out an existance. I fail to see how crusty old abrahamic texts can ease their plight, yet missionaries flock there en masse, go figure.
Bronwyn said…
I agree that the internet could have a great affect on the death of Christianity. But I worry that because of the internet, it will keep Christianity going. I read that religions, over time, seem to find their own end. Major religions in the past seem to last around 2 thousand years. That would mean that Christianity should be on it's way out. I wonder if, because of the technology we have and the communication through the internet that it will cause it to go on longer than it normally would.

What do you guys think?
Bill said…
All I can say is that the internet is responsible for me tossing God belief in the trash can. I must give amazon.com an honorable mention for having such a vast array of atheist reading material not available in stores.

I think youtube has taken the message to a new level.

I think there is a fighting chance that the internet will be the major catalyst that brings down the Christian religion. Ahhhh shit, who are we kidding? Christianiy will only die with the demise of mankind.

xrayman
Jim Arvo said…
xrayman said "I think there is a fighting chance that the internet will be the major catalyst that brings down the Christian religion."

I agree! Religions, for the most part, can only thrive when they control the flow of "spiritual" information. Christianity, in particular, works best when its followers believe that it is unique and well-attested by history. Ten minutes on the internet can begin to poke hole in both of those misconceptions. Also, it is critical to Christianity that it remain insulated from apostates, which is next-to-impossibe now because of the internet.

xrayman continued "Ahhhh shit, who are we kidding? Christianiy will only die with the demise of mankind."

Unfortunately, I agree with that too! Religion has been a huge part of human culture for all of recorded history, and Christianity has been one of the most pervasive. As a meme, it's hard to come up with a better one (except, perhaps, for the "Happy Birthday" song). I can't imagine that it will ever go away completely--at least not for another thousand years. But there may be a day in the not-too-distant future when Christianity ceases to be a powerful political instrument (as has happened in Europe) and when non-believers can be completely candid with no fear of stigma (again, I cite Europe). It *can* happen, and in optimistic moods I suspect that it *will* happen. If such a change occurs, I'm sure we'll have the internet to thank.

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