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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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)