“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” 1 Corinthians 13:11-12.
When Christian acquaintances learn that I am a former fundamentalist that became an atheist, their shocked response is, “What horrible trauma did you suffer at the hands of some evil person to cause you to lose your faith?” This is expressed with an expression of a combination of fascination and horror, as if they were looking at a poisonous snake.
But the only horrible thing that happened to me was a liberal education. Of course, the most horrible thing that could happen from a Christian fundamentalist's standpoint.
But, I should start at the beginning of my story. My parents were moderate Christians. They occasionally attended church and never indoctrinated me with the hellfire and brimstone peddled by fundamentalists.
When I was in Kindergarten, a classmate invited me to his house to play with some of his other friends. Before we left his house, his mother gathered us all in a circle and told us she was going to tell us a story. She showed us some colored construction paper, a black sheet, a red sheet, and a white sheet.
She told us that the black sheet represented our hearts and souls, which were black with original sin. The red sheet represented the blood of Jesus which would wash our hearts and souls and turn them as white as the third sheet. And if we didn't accept Jesus and be washed in his blood, we would go to hell and burn forever and ever after we died.
Even at the age of five, I thought she must be out of her mind. Wash myself in blood or burn forever. Yeeecch! Let me out of here! I left her house as soon as possible and never went back.
When I was in the third grade, I stayed in a small town with my grandparents for several months. She took me to a moderate christian church every Sunday. It was mostly boring, but not so bad. There were several children there my age that I could play with.
A traveling revival preacher came to town one week and my grandmother took me to one of their meetings. While the preacher was preaching, the congregation was yelling and screaming. It was scary. I thought, “These people must be caraaazy!” We escaped unscathed and never went back.
Just before I started high school a proselytizing family offered to transport me every Sunday to their Baptist church. It wasn’t so bad, until a family in the church testified to the congregation about their wonderful blessings from the lord. The father had been fired from his job, their house had burnt down, they had totaled their car and several family members went in the hospital with serious injuries, the father had contracted a serious illness that required a long expensive stay in the hospital. As a result, they were broke and homeless. But, praise the lord for all his blessings, they were all still alive and together. I thought, “They must be carazzzy!” After their testimony, I didn’t return.
But, like they say, “Fourth time’s a charm.” At the beginning of my high school years, I was invited to attend a Southern Baptist church only a couple of blocks from my home.
This was a brand new congregation having been founded the way many Southern Baptist congregations are founded, i.e. one group in a previous congregation had a falling out with another group, so one group stomped out of the old church and started a new one.
Southern Baptist theology has a plan of salvation which begins with the absolute statement that all have sinned and are destined for hell, unless….(But wait, I must give fair warning to anyone who has not heard this plan, that they may be in danger of being saved. If you feel you might be in danger, please skip the next few paragraphs. I refuse to be held responsible for the possibility of your salvation and your total loss of reason.).... unless they follow the Southern Baptist plan of salvation as presented in the Southern Baptist tracts and quoted from my Scofield bible. For that plan see http://www.chick.com/information/general/salvation.asp
For me, it began with a hellfire and brimstone sermon, and preying. Preying on my guilt and fear engendered by the sermon. I was scared sh*tless. Then the congregation sang a hymn featuring fountains and rivers of blood from Jesus. Sinners like me were invited to come to the front of the church, confess that you are a sinner and accept Jesus into your heart. Naturally I didn’t what to burn in hell for eternity, so slouched to the front of the church and confessed my imaginary sins. Then presto change-o, I was a saved and born again as a Christian. No matter what a Christian does after that he goes to heaven (unless he blasphemes the holy spirit. There’s always a catch, isn’t there? Maybe that’s catch-22) .
Afterwards came the dunking (baptism) up to my chest in ice cold water. A sweet, shapely young woman about my age was being baptized at the same time. I couldn’t help but notice the white robe clinging to her body as she emerged from the water. Oops, just saved and lustfully sinning again in my mind again already.
But I soon charged ahead in my new life, never noticing that I still only had one navel. I joined church groups witnessing to the unsaved. I diligently searched the scriptures and memorized the plan of salvation. Every Saturday night I boarded the bus to attend Youth for Christ rallies. I even memorized large portions of the bible and participated in YFC bible quiz contests.
YFC was growing at that time and building a new headquarters. I volunteered my time in the summer and help to build their new office. My reward was a free lunch each day. During the construction one of the other helpers a little bit above me dropped a hammer on my head. Perhaps I should have perceived that as the beginning of my enlightenment.
I continued to build strength in the lord, attending Sunday morning church services, Sunday evening services, Wednesday prayer meetings, YFC on Saturday nights, YFC club at high school, all the while praying and witnessing constantly. I even preached a sermon at a church service. Being a Southern Baptist meant no card playing, no dancing, and above all No Sex; doing or even thinking.
In spite of being shy around women and having a repressed demeanor, my hormones were raging as much as any other normal teen. So I had to spend lots of time in prayer and church activities in an attempt to repress my urges and fantasies. As a result, my social life in high school was totally destroyed.
Enough of that dreary story. After graduation, I enrolled at the University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. There I joined the small Baptist Student Union group and resumed the proselytizing and church activities that I had participated in at home. I am proud to say now that I never converted a single person in college. Those college students were a resistant bunch.
A funny thing happened on my way to my liberal arts degree. I was required to take a Humanities course called “Western Civilization.” In it I had to read the work of several eighteenth century philosophers from the “Age of Reason”. It was a flunk-out course and most students hated it, but I loved it. The scales fell from my eyes. At the end of the two-semester course (sophomore year), I was a full blown atheist. A little education is a dangerous thing.
I didn’t tell any of my friends at church or the Baptist Student Union. They were the only friends I had at the time. In my senior year, I was elected president of the small group. I had to fake the prayers and praising the lord on many occasions. I may hold the record as the only atheist that has been elected president of a Baptist Student Union at any college in the world.
Over the decades since then, with the growth of aggressive religious fundamentalism in the world, I have become more militant and public in my atheistic stance. There are many more stories and details I could tell, being branded as an immoral person by co-workers merely because I am an atheist, being thrown out of a Toastmasters group because all of my speeches were criticisms of religion; but this testimony is getting pretty long, so I’ll save those stories for another time and place.
I feel fortunate that I wasted only six years of my life in a Christian delusional state, even though it ruined my high school years. I sympathize and empathize with those of you who have wasted more years. But, I gained valuable knowledge during that time that will inoculate me against future delusions. And it gave me a deeper understanding of the fundamentalist mindset. To all ex-christians and want-to-be's I say, hang in there in spite of the trials and good luck.
You can see one of the speeches that helped get me thrown out of Toastmasters on the Internet at www.godsfavoritecolor.com or on the Youtube Comedy section under the title “God’s Favorite Color.” I plan to add more to my website, but I don’t have a lot of time now, so progress will be slow.