A testimonial by Franciscan Monkey
This is probably on the long side, but I’d like to present some details of my journey from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism.
My early religious upbringing was in a United Methodist church in New England. The church was small, and had more of a social atmosphere than religious. There was no serious Bible study going on, at least as far as I could tell at my young age, and most of the sermons centered on doing good to others in a rather general sense. There was no talk of hell. There was no talk of salvation, or of a need for salvation. Jesus, while he was considered the Son of God, came to earth primarily to show us God’s love, and to encourage us to love one another. The “Good Samaritan” story was one of the most popular.
My parents divorced when I was four and, as was typical for that time, my mother received full custody of my younger brother and me. My mother was remarried when I was nine, to a truly wonderful man who also turned out to be a great father.
My parents visited a program put on by a local Christian private school that the children of one of my mother’s friends attended, and both were impressed. They enrolled my brother and me into the school when I was in sixth grade.
Both the school and the church that sponsored it were quite fundamentalist in their beliefs and practices. The Bible was the inerrant Word of God, and the King James Version was the only true Word of God in English. The stories and characters in it were all literal, including Satan, Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the Exodus, Goliath, etc. They believed in a six-day creation which occurred about 6000 years ago. Jesus was the Son of God who came to save everyone from sin and Hell, if they’d only put their faith in him. Jesus was the only way to Heaven. No further works were required to get into Heaven, although you could obtain crowns by what you did here on earth. Baptism was not a requirement for salvation, but was commanded by Scripture to show the world that you were a follower of Christ. Their dispensation was pre-tribulation, pre-millennial. The Rapture would occur sometime shortly before the Tribulation began. Most believed that the Rapture could happen at anytime, and probably would within the next few years.
Drinking, smoking, drugs, rock music, dancing, going to the movies, and premarital physical contact of any sort with the opposite sex were strictly forbidden. Men and boys were to have short hair, women and girls were to have long hair. It was considered a sin for women to wear pants. Our pastor’s wife even went so far as to wear custom-made quilted culottes when we went on a youth group ski trip.
Every school day started with prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible. We had chapel or Bible class everyday. Chapel would usually be a sermon from the church pastor or a visiting evangelist or missionary. It was during one of these chapels that I trusted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I certainly didn’t wasn’t to go to Hell, I wanted to go to Heaven and be with Jesus and God forever.
Looking back, I can see the marketing that went into selling Christianity. A successful product fulfills a need. If no true need exists, then a perceived need is created. What need could be greater than avoiding burning for all eternity? “You didn’t know you were heading for Hell? Well, let me tell you, you are, just look at what the Bible says about it. The cost? That’s the great part! Nothing! It’s a free gift!” (or so it seems). Music heightens the mood, a tactic most retailers use. Emotions are played upon by the use of heartbreaking or terrifying stories. Peer pressure to conform is great. The potential convert is “asked for the sale.” The sales decision is pushed to be made right then (“If you were to die tonight…,” “Only one more stanza of ‘Just As I Am’!”). However, if the decision isn’t made right then, they offer easy future “purchasing” ability (“Please, if you did not accept Christ tonight, it’s not too late. See one of our deacons after the service, or call the church office at anytime.”). Harold Hill would be proud.
Thus started my Christian walk. Life started revolving around God, the church, and school. Church three times a week - Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Awana and youth group activities. Door-to-door soul-winning on Saturday mornings. I read the Bible daily, and prayed several times a day. Even if I was eating just a candy bar, I’d stop and give thanks for the food. I wanted to please God as much as I could. I tried to keep my thoughts pure. I tried to follow God’s Word to the best of my ability. I felt guilty every time I thought I had let God down. When at times it seemed that God was not answering prayers, I gave Him the benefit of the doubt, thinking that it was either some fault of my own, or that “God works in mysterious ways.”
I attended that school through my sophomore year of high school, and attended a public school my junior and senior years for the better academics.
When it came around time to decide where to go to college, I applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I was nominated by my congresswoman to both West Point and the Air Force Academy, but didn’t pursue the AF further as one of my eyes was slightly worse than 20/20 at the time, and you needed uncorrected 20/20 to become a pilot. During the physical screening process for West Point, the doctors noticed that I had an irregular heartbeat. They gave me a series of cardiograms, but by the time they figured out that it wasn’t anything to be concerned with, it was too late to make the upcoming school year. I don’t know if I would have been accepted anyway, though.
That left me in a quandary. I wasn’t sure what college to attend. I looked at some secular schools, such as Rensselaer Polytechnic, Tulane, and others. The Christian school I had attended pushed three Christian colleges in particular: Maranatha Baptist Bible College, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones University. I eventually settled on BJU, thinking that God was leading me there.
BJU was more of the same old stuff that I experienced in church and the Christian school. Lots of Bible study, preaching, and an emphasis on God in all classes. I was involved in a few “extension ministries” during my time there, such as preaching at convalescent homes or witnessing to kids at activities we’d set up.
I also joined the Marine Reserves during those years, going to boot camp in the summer after my freshman year. I was activated and sent to Saudi Arabia for the Persian Gulf War, and my time in the Marines spanned more than eight years, including active and reserve time.
My best friend to this day was in my same platoon. He was Mormon, and the first Mormon that I had ever talked to at length. Of course, I witnessed to him, and tried to convert him to Christianity, and he tried to convert me to Mormonism (although not nearly as aggressively as I did). He gave me some Mormon material, which, on the surface, looked very convincing. It didn’t take much research, however, to find the problems with the Mormon beliefs. I presented my findings to my friend, who rejected the information after listening to me. I was flabbergasted. How could someone actually believe this stuff, especially in light of the evidence against it? It was apparent that from an objective point of view, the apologetics he offered lacked substance and were designed to keep those that already believed in the Mormon religion, and wanted to continue believing, secure in their beliefs. It would be many years later before I realized that that is what I was doing with my own faith.
While at BJU, I met my wonderful wife, who attended a different Christian college. We were married in 1992 and lived in South Carolina for a while before moving to Florida. Once in Florida, we started attending another independent Baptist KJVO church, very similar to my old church. I was the youth director there for about two years while the church was in between full-time youth pastors. Starting in 1998 or so, I became heavily involved in Christian apologetics. Online, I would debate atheists, Mormons, liberal Christians and others about the Christian faith. I would spend a lot of time at tektonics.org (which I used to support financially) and carm.org. I bought several apologetic books, looking to be able to prove the truth of the central tenets of Christianity. Although I was in no way questioning my own faith, I was increasingly frustrated by the lack of solid evidence. I knew that everything the Bible said was true, but I just couldn’t find enough evidence to convince the skeptic.
In 2000, we left the Baptist church, and started attending a Calvary Chapel, a “non-denominational” Christian church. The people there seemed to have a passion for Christ, the lost, helping others, and the study of Scripture, something that many of the independent Baptist churches I had attended over the years seemed to lack.
In addition to going to church, I was constantly involved in various Bible studies. With a few other guys, I started a men’s group that met every other week. Over the course of several months we would study various Bible topics, or work our way through particular books of the Bible. I was the teacher of the group for two of the years.
In this men’s group, we were starting a study on the Gospel of John. The pastor of Calvary Chapel was starting an exposition through the Gospel of Matthew that would last several months. I thought that it'd be a good time to do a comparative study of all the gospels on my own.
It didn't take long at all before I was running into contradictions amongst the accounts, not to mention all the misquotes of OT prophecies, particularly in Matthew. Now, I had come across most of them in the past, as I had been involved in Christian apologetics for a number of years, and knew the "answers" to these problems (and even used them in debates with non-Christians), but when I looked at all of them as a whole, it was getting increasingly difficult to believe in the veracity of the scriptures. They two textual difficulties that really bothered me the most were the "He shall be called a Nazarene" prophecy in Mt. 2:23, and the cursing of the fig tree accounts in Mt. 21 and Mk. 11.
At this point I decided to see if the faith that I had been a part of since I was 11 was true. I also wanted to embark on this truth-finding mission as objectively as possible, although I was hoping to prove the Bible right. I prayed that God would show me His truth. I read the Bible. I went to anti-Christian sites, and the pro-Christian sites that attempted to answer the objections. I talked to pastors and former pastors. I bought several books from both sides, in addition to the Christian books I had already owned.
After much study I had come to the conclusion that the Bible contained far too many contradictions, anachronisms, historical and scientific mistakes, and illogical events that could not be reasonably explained for it to be the Word of God.
Where did that leave me? The Bible is essential to Christianity. If it isn’t true, Christianity isn’t true. As a result, I could no longer believe in the core precepts of the faith. I was reticent to dismiss my prior beliefs and leave the Christian lifestyle that I had been a part of for 25 years, particularly since my step-father had died just a few months beforehand, but I’d rather know the truth than believe in what I wanted to be the truth.
As you may well imagine, this was quite shocking at first, since I had basically lived my life as if the mighty Creator of the universe and I had a personal relationship.
After that initial shock, a little less than three years ago, my life has not really changed a whole lot. The good things and bad things still happen to me, just as they did before, only I no longer attribute everything good as coming from God, and everything bad as coming from either Satan or God's testing. My situation is a whole lot easier than those of many others who have de-converted due to my wife de-converting shortly after I did, after looking at the evidence I showed her.
I did not go through any “fear of hell” flashbacks as many who have posted here have unfortunately been burdened with. Although I no longer have a hope of everlasting life in heaven, at least I don’t have to worry about the majority of humankind eternally roasting in flames.
My wife and I have “come out” to several friends and relatives, although not to my mother, my mother-in-law, or father-in-law. Responses thus far have been mixed. Most have shunned us to varying degrees, and, of course, we have become the object of many a well-intentioned but utterly useless prayer. There have been several attempts to bring us back into the fold, and a handful of minor debates about the veracity of the Bible and Christianity, most ending rather poorly for the believers.
My mother-in-law, who does not know that we are atheists, does know that we have not been attending church for quite some time, and has been on the warpath to get us back into the pews. I am worried about her mental stability when it comes to religion. A few years ago, when one of her sons became “back-slidden” and started living with his girlfriend, she confronted him and threw a vase at him as he sat across the table from her. Fortunately for him, it hit the table first and shattered, so he was not seriously injured. She also made many statements to the effect that there was no point in living any more if her children turned out like he did. I fear that she would be suicidal if she found out the whole truth about my wife and me.
The more removed I become from my previous beliefs, the more shocked I am that I actually believed them, and the more disgusted I am with the supposed actions of God and his followers as portrayed in the “Good” Book. How could I have been both so gullible as to believe in such fairy tales and so blind to the atrocities described in the Bible?
It’s funny, now that I know that the Bible was not the product of some deity, but rather was written by humans who often had conflicting agendas, it makes so much more sense. There is no need to employ tortured, twisted reasoning to make contradictions disappear. For example, the conflict between James and Paul as exemplified in Jas. 2:21-23 and Gal. 4:2-3 can be seen as just that, a conflict, as opposed to both being part of a “harmonious” Gospel.
Realizing that there is no god makes me more amazed at the wonders of the universe. I find evolution fascinating, when I once thought that the teaching of evolution was part of some Satanic conspiracy to conceal God’s truth. I am thankful to the scientists who work so hard to discover the intricacies of our world in an attempt to make it a better place for all of us. It’s exciting to have a hope for the future of humankind that doesn’t have to follow God’s awful blueprint as described in the book of Revelations.
With no omnipotent entity watching over me, “answering” my prayers, the responsibility falls on me to make the most of my life and provide for my family.