By James M. Wilhelm
When I was a fundamentalist Christian it was the devil I couldn’t get out of my mind. Over thirty years later, as I finally give up Christianity, it’s that Jesus character I can’t get out of my mind. Jesus was supposed to save me from evil. Now, who will save me from Jesus? If you want to believe in evil then evil will be real to you. If you want to believe in a savior then Jesus will be real to you. Therefore, I have concluded it’s all in your mind. There is no eternal struggle except that which you chose to believe or allow in your thoughts. Christians will go through all kinds of mental gymnastics setting up the forces of good against evil, self-righteously using the Bible as their guide but in the end the Bible has no supernatural power to do anything except maybe take your money and make you feel guilty. I’ve decided to no longer let that happen. It took many long hard years to get to this point.
In the end, when all the books are closed and you shut your mouth and sit quietly in a chair and quit defending what you believe or don’t believe, you find reality. Generally, Christians can’t do that. They’re too intent on defending their position, quoting the bible, praying for your lost soul, casting out the devil and other mental gyrations to let reality be a part of their Christian experience. Praying, by the way, now seems more like whining and usually accomplishes nothing except maybe to make you look pious in front of your Christian friends. I no longer pray and feel pretty good about it.
After years of studying, searching, pondering and believing I’ve concluded that Christianity is nothing more than an acceptable form of superstition. Not unlike the belief that if you walk under a ladder or break a mirror you will be subject to bad luck. In the Christian form of superstition the mirror is replaced with the need to be saved from evil and the antidote or remedy is to accept the savior otherwise, risk an eternity in hell or, in the case of breaking a mirror, seven years of bad luck. They’re both the same and both ridiculous and I don’t want to be identified with either. Like the Roseanne Cash song says – “ I don’t want your tired religion, I’m not someone you need to save.” That about sums it up for me now.
I have a problem standing up for myself and when I do there is usually this underlying feeling that maybe I’m wrong or maybe I’ll offend this person. This has never really stopped me but it always seems to undermine my convictions especially in front of people who I intellectually know are not at the same level. It causes a certain insecurity and I’ve dealt with it all my life. In my quieter moments daily conversations and confrontations replay in my head causing endless unseen torment. The realization that Christianity is essentially invalid has, in an unexpected way, helped me cope with this better. This reinforces my understanding that religion is essentially cultural and has deep roots inside all of our motivations. I don’t want to get into a semantic argument about religion vs. a belief in God, as I’m really tired of all those discussions. They go nowhere.
I know more about the Bible than most people and for personal reasons I found myself studying it and researching it far more than I should have. This has caused much pain. Christianity works best when it is applied superficially and that the “peace beyond all understanding” is only attainable that way. To go deeper makes one miserable and judgmental or causes you to intellectualize the whole thing to the point where it becomes useless. The Catholics have turned this into an art form. The typical Christian timeline starts with an energetic, although superficial understanding of Christianity, and along the path you realize it’s not working well so you turn it into an intellectual pursuit and stay in that safe zone until you die or get honest. Most purveyors of the faith unconsciously know this but can’t acknowledge it because it’s painful on many fronts. It’s easier to stay in the intellectual zone rather than be honest. Besides, there’s a lifetime of Bible verses to support your position so why let honesty get in your way? The world is full of theologians, scholars and ministers stuck in the intellectual zone who would rather not jeopardize their status with a little honesty. Using the Bible to prove the Bible seems ridiculous to me now so I’ve decided to give the whole thing up and I feel better for it - really. Having no absolutes is absolutely OK with me.
An interesting footnote in history concerns Mother Theresa. A Catholic nun, recently deceased, she attempted to save the lost and dying in the streets of Calcutta, India with much fanfare. Turns out, she died with virtually no personal belief in Christianity. In very private letters, which she did not want made public, disclosed this to the church’s hierarchy. She had big-time reservations concerning God/Jesus for most of her adult life. But, went on to save the lost anyway because she didn’t have the guts to move on with her life. Besides, people put her saintliness so high on a pedestal she would rather live a lie than admit she might have been wrong about her faith. Don’t get me wrong. Helping people is OK and commendable and a human thing to do. Doing it under the pretense of saving lost souls doesn’t work and must have been pretty depressing. But, as expected, the Catholic Church quickly put their spin on it calling her spiritually void period something “all great saintly people go through”. Then started proceedings to move her into the saintly realm. Her “spiritually void” period lasted for 50 odd years. So much for honesty.
The arguments Christians make to those of us who have moved on usually start by questioning your previous commitment. How do you respond to that? I guess they should know since God is no longer on your side. I lost that one. Another ploy is to start quoting the Bible as if you haven’t heard every verse concerning the lost - over and over. I loose that one too. The final and most insulting stage is the “I’m going to pray for you” stage. Realizing some do have a sincere but misguided interest in your soul but knowing most wish you a lifetime in hell since you are no longer in the club. I usually tell them I appreciate the thought. To them this is final confirmation of my eternally lost soul.
There is no way of knowing but I would venture to say that I’ve heard or read every major Christian sermon know to man on every possible subject from the most simple to the most intellectual. I have pondered, thought and agonized over many of them. I really don’t need another. I’ve had a lifetime of them, in fact, several lifetimes. At this point I start to imagine what a world without religion would be like. Think about it. The implications are staggering since every major conflict has religion at its root. It took years just to get to the point where I would even entertain such a thought. What is striking to me now is the arrogance some people with religion have. Usually proportional to how deep you chose to go or how many people follow your every word. I now view the more prominent Christian personalities completely different than before. The confidence and surety the have is amazing and very compelling. No wonder people will drop their common sense at the door and drink the Kool-Aid.
To me one of the most damaging things about Christianity and probably all other religions is the worldview you develop. Even now, as I no longer want to be identified with Christianity, certain aspects of it still haunt me. It colors every area of your life depending on how serious you are or were about your beliefs. As a practicing believer it gives you a smugness that only you and your group have the truth. All others are suspect. Usually there’s an interrogation period when a newcomer happens to cross your path and you blow it as you set up the you against me defense system. A great way to meet new people. The worldview that is equally bad is the thought that there’s a battle going on all around and your mind happens to be the battlefield. The war of good against evil is going on – right in your head! This delusion makes for some real distortion and most never return. One part that doesn’t seem to get answered adequately is that if Jesus finished the work on the cross then why is it still going on in my head? You can spend a lot of time on that one. It goes nowhere. Believing that God, angels, demons, Satan, etc are reading your mind sets the stage for real problems. Don’t believe me? How about people who strap bombs to their belt and step on a bus? They’re not doing it to get to the other side of town. Pretty powerful stuff. The Middle East is full of people with a distorted worldview caused by religion.
Through the proliferation of media and information available the world is slowly discovering that there are no real heroes and there never were. In a sense, any one of us could be a hero when we stand up for what is right. And, each of us have things we’re not proud of. We are all alike. That is life. We create supernatural Gods and earthly heroes because we want the comfort of knowing that there might be something greater out there. The Bible is just another book about Gods and heroes created by man. I know that s hard for many to accept. It was hard for me. But you don’t have to go far to find information that previously wasn’t easily available to the average person. The Internet as well as many recent books by reputable authors contains volumes of information slowly uncovering historical errors, inconsistencies and genuine real problems with the Bible as fact. The very existence of Jesus is questionable considering the indisputable fact no contemporary documents mention of him during his presumed lifetime. Don’t believe it? Check it out for yourself. I no longer feel the need to prove anything. If you’re like most Christians you don’t want to find out anyway. It’s too painful. Funny, you’ll believe the Bible completely and on faith but you’re afraid to even consider an indisputable historical fact that might disprove what you believe. See, you’re going believe want you want regardless of reality. Besides the Bible says it’s the truth that’s all you need. No need to go further. Like I mentioned previously - to use the Bible to prove the Bible is an exercise in futility.
I dropped a lifetime of religious beliefs because I’ve come to the point where I know it simply doesn’t work; it’s not a valid way of thinking. To continue would be insanity. The issue is truly settled for me. There’s no turning back. No one is reading my thoughts; no spiritual battle is going on accept that which I personally allow. This conclusion doesn’t solve anything necessarily but it allows one the freedom to start thinking for your self. This is the starting point
To be honest, life is hard, very hard in many cases. I don’t know any thoughtful person that doesn’t what to believe in something greater than our selves. I know of thoughtless people who would kill you in a second if they could get away with it. This comes with being human. I don’t have an answer but I do know that neither Christianity nor any other religion is going to save anybody. There are good people and there are bad people. I don’t have to love or even like everyone. That is absolutely unrealistic. I don’t have to forgive everyone because that is unrealistic also. I know these thoughts aren’t new and I don’t really care. The point is it’s over for me and I’ll never turn back.
Do I think there might be a God. Yes, common sense tells me that all things seem to have a beginning or starting point. Do I think the God of the Bible exists. No. If a God exists do I think he needs or wants me to worship him. No, not anymore than I want my children to worship me. It makes no sense and is silly.
Is there an afterlife? I want to think so. Do I have proof? Absolutely not. People have clinically died on the operating table or during bad car crashes and claim to have left their physical bodies. They have even seen and heard things that would seem impossible if you were dead. Doctors have documented hundreds of cases like this and no one has really explained it adequately. I have talked to people who have some pretty compelling experiences about such things. Does it give me hope? Yes, it does.
The best thing about not being a Christian any longer is the freedom to explore, in a healthy sense, what I really believe or don’t believe. I can walk out the door feeling that I don’t have to view the world in any specific way colored by any religious views. I don’t have to judge people according to Bible standards. I can like or dislike a person based on who or what I think they are. I can feel what I want and think what I want to knowing that God is not judging me. And, I don’t have to justify anything.
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)