Sent in by Mike Schultheiss
Gather around, everyone. I've a story to tell, one I've been burning to tell for the past few years. You see, like the lot of you I used to be a Christian: for fifteen and a half long years. I accepted-Jesus-Christ-as-my-personal-lord-and-savior when I was about four and a half (yes, I know, it was a VERY grown-up decision for little Mike Schultheiss--actually it was Michael in those days--to make after the presentation in his Sunday School class, complete with posters of a gentle, bearded Jesus with European features) until I was almost twenty.
Yes, I've told this story before, to many people and sometimes online, but never have I laid it out like this. And now, I think it's time. You see, I've been an atheist for over three years now and I really need to get it off my chest. So that part of my motivation's personal, I'll admit. Christianity scarred and psychologically abused me in more ways than I can begin to convey and it's high fucking time I aired my full experience with this anti-human cult of god-fellatio and death to the entire world.
But there's another reason. My case was fairly extreme, perhaps, but there are a lot of people out there, on this very website in fact, whom I hope to reach with my testimony. I want to convey to those of you who are like me suffering with the after-affects of religious abuse my deepest empathy from a shared suffering, and the hope of comfort as well. And I want to demonstrate, once and for all, that robust religious indoctrination of children IS, UNEQUIVOCALLY, CHILD ABUSE. Religion rapes minds and marks bodies but its greatest victims are the innocent and impressionable youngsters taught at a young age to close their minds to all but a narrow and impoverished view of the world.
So gather 'round my fire, friends, and I include any lurking Christian trolls as well. Come close and hear my story...
On the seventh day god rested, and there was Sunday School. Some of my earliest memories are of church. And I mean earliest... I have snapshots of memory extending back as far as when I was two years old. Church was the place we went on that day of the week and that was it. But then one fateful Sunday the Gospel message was presented, and I was lead to understand that the whole REASON behind church had to do with this Jesus figure that we'd been led to reverence, and that his death and resurrection was somehow to do with atoning for our sins and the Sky Daddy would only be appeased if we "asked Jesus into our hearts" so we could go to heaven. Something like that. I'm a little fuzzy on the details: that was nineteen years ago, and I was four and a half. I became "born again" soon after.
To say that I was brought up Christian would be an understatement. I was STEEPED in Christianity: I still remember the illustrated Children's Bibles my parents supplied us with--"us" being myself and my younger sister (she's about two and a half years younger than me--one of my earliest memories is seeing her in the hospital, newborn, for the first time). Later, they always made sure I had a copy of the Bible. I think we mostly used the NIV in those days.
I should clear something up right now. While I'm still embittered at Christianity I've forgiven my parents. They made mistakes but they were only human. They had their own issues, particularly being two first-generation Born-Agains and really not that well suited to each other (the divorce is still in the works--they're much better off now), but they did the best they could and I love them for it.
Moving on, then: growing up I was homeschooled. So, I learned the Bible at home--we studied it as a family and I was required to read it and pray on my own--and at church. We attended a Baptist church which on the whole wasn't too bad (for a Baptist church--I still have fond memories, somehow) after the move from Santa Barbara, my and my sister's birthplace. We moved a couple of times, finally to the boondocks of Grass Valley, a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills. My brother was born soon after (he's six years younger).
Growing up I didn't get a lot of social interaction--my parents recognize this in retrospect as a mistake on their part, but to be fair I was something of an introverted, introspective child--and unsurprisingly, I quickly got an overdose of Christianity. I learned that god watched everything I did and thought--and as a young boy I was both imaginative and rather sensitive and insecure, so this didn't sit well. I did get a lot of time in the outdoors, developing a love of nature that has stayed with me.
In my childhood, god was the author of all calamity and self-doubt and loathing. When I reached puberty I soon found myself at war with my very flesh, tormented by a nascent sexuality that refused to stay buried as I had been taught it must. I contend that nothing has greater scarred or warped me, and in the absence of normalizing relations with my peers this imbalance became greater and greater. To those of you who do not understand count yourself blessed if you have never known what it is like to feel that an invisible being watches and judges your every "impure" thought. This notion, that sexual desires, urges and fantasies are somehow evil or displeasing to an invisible and all-knowing creator, is one of the biggest reasons for my hatred of Christianity in particular. It is pure, evil psychological terrorism. I grew up depressed, with abysmally low self-esteem. Part of it I now know stemmed from my undiagnosed Bipolar Type II disorder, but much of it can be traced to these doctrines.
My family switched churches when I was about eleven, actually before the worst of it started. Our new church, Calvary Chapel of Grass Valley, which I do not hesitate to name and willingly defame, I readily describe as Salvation Enterprises(TM), Inc. The senior pastor was domineering and manipulative but very skillful at keeping one from realizing it. The youth pastor I have far more charitable memories of: he is now the senior pastor (last I heard) and while uneducated in the main, in the fashion of evangelical pastors, he was nonetheless of an open heart and I remember him well for it.
Suffice it to say that Calvary Chapel was not all bad--I did make friends and I did have good experiences. But as time went on my crisis of identity and self-doubt mounted, spurred by my sense of inherent sinfulness. And ironically, the seeds of my escape from mental slavery were sown.
I was never athletic and, recluse that I had been by habit, I knew not the first thing about girls. Hence I began to find refuge in reading books. I read... hell, I'm not sure even now what all I read. I got into sci-fi, I remember this. H.G. Wells, later Arthur C. Clarke. And in tenth grade I left homeschooling behind for the world of my new private CHRISTIAN high school.
Yes, the indoctrination goes on. Same shit, different arsehole. Uncharitable, I know. The school I do have fond memories of, interspersed with my weightier, deeper critiques. The school is across an intersection and a few blocks down from the church: it's Forest Lake Christian School. Google it. If you're in the area you probably know it already.
Here I received a full-blown education in the evangelical American Christian worldview. I should add a (TM) sign after that: there were chapel days (every Wednesday), mandatory Bible classes, evolution was derided and creationism taught along with the absurd notion of America's being founded as a Christian nation.
How on Earth my niggling doubts ever surfaced to gasp for air I don't know. But I was bright: oh, how I was bright! I learned fast, cut through most of the material like a knife through warm butter. That's not bragging, it's the truth. And somehow, somewhere, my rational mind began to question.
Something just didn't add up, it was telling me. I see that now. I WASN'T happy: I had suffered from the delusion (I forgot this part) since just before I went to my high school that "god" had called me to the ministry--the LAST place I wanted to go! Of course. But the fucker ever had it in for me.
When I was almost eighteen we left our church. It had become the personal soapbox for the senior pastor to preach his "Bad Dog, But There's Hope" message while he pulled a six figure salary. My family never really settled into a new one and after high school it just felt really WEIRD somehow. I can't describe it--it was surreal. It was that part of my mind that refused to accept the mumbo-jumbo to Sky-Daddy, Jesus Christ Superstar and the Spook. The fantasy I liked was that in the fantasy novels I was reading: see, I've been into fiction for a while. I was writing on and off in those days, too, actually for quite some time.
That summer church attendance petered off and fell out the window. I was working, my family went on vacation for a while, and none of the churches we tried really "fit."
Enter fall. Enter COMMUNITY COLLEGE. And the doubts flooded in like... like meltwater in the spring. I attended Sierra College, which I am proud to say provided me with an excellent education far out of proportion with its provincial status. I learned about the cultures of the world, my interest, soon deciding to major in anthropology.
Everything I had been taught, about the Bible and the laughable fundy fantasy view of history, eroded like sand swept from a dune. I knew enough of history even in my Forest Lake days to convince me that the historical "Providence" they saw in every nook and cranny of history was bullshit. But that still left the Bible, believe it or not. And I couldn't write all the "inconvenient truths" about evolution, biblical history etc. and the "inconvenient questions" about Christianity bedevil the back corners of my mind anymore.
What kind of a god would favor one religion, practiced in the main by WHITE Europeans over the course of the past two thousand years, over all others? What of Muslims, Jews, what of every other member of every other religion? A simple question, but at the time a very profound one. And the old dogmas and creeds were hollow straws in the wind. What of evolution?
I learned. I absorbed new knowledge about the depth and breadth of the human experience like a sponge. I churned through courses on Art History and Anthropology and devoured books on the history of religions in particular. And the worldview my Christian upbringing and Forest Lake Christian School had tried so hard to instill and cultivate in me came undone. It was messy, it was arduous, but it was marvelous at the same time! Biblical literalism eroded gradually over the months of 2004, every new discovery or insight sending me into a further tailspin.
My mother was somewhat taken aback by my sudden onset of doubt and questions. It was difficult for her to understand, and still is, but at first it was hardest. My father took it in stride. Times were hard for our family as my father had recently become self-employed. In the midst of this I found myself undergoing a Renaissance, with all the turbulence and tumult of the historical one.
By late 2004 marvelously little was left of my Christianity. I grappled then with the core beliefs of Christianity itself: Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross and the meaning of hell. The very notion disturbed me, not because I feared to go there so much as I feared for others. My bible devotions had become meaningless, rote and sporadic and I soon stopped them altogether, almost embarrassed I was still doing something so childish.
And then came the backlash from my classmates, that winter of 2004. Many of them had gone away to the safe little insular worlds of Christian private COLLEGES, there to be further inculcated with the Christian delusion and safely inoculated from reality. And they greeted my skepticism, now open and full-blown, with a mixture of incredulity, disbelief and even hostility. I faced 2005 more set against Christian culture than ever before: while they gathered at a classmate's house to pray in the New Year I went to a rather more worldly celebration that involved alcohol.
In 2005 the journey of bondage came to one kind of end: around February (as a matter of fact around Valentine's Day) I finally woke up. I realized I no longer talked, thought, acted or seemed like a Christian. So why BE one? Why not go all the way?
And I did, and it was the sweetest, most liberating thing ever. I think it must be like what a foal feels, coming to its shaky, knobbly-kneed, ridiculously long legs for the first time and learning to run. It took a few months and a flirtation with "pantheism" before I was ready to call myself an atheist.
The three years since have been some of the hardest ever, and small-minded Christians would be inclined to think that I have brought them upon myself for rejecting "god": I have had misfortunes, personal breakdowns and dysfunctions. But I have also had triumphs and successes. Out of the crucible of the past three years I have emerged in many ways a man, no longer the youth cowed by the superstitions of the ancients. I love my life, I no longer hate it as I did for a not inconsiderable period while a Christian. I graduated in June from U.C. Davis with a B.A. in Anthropology and am set to enter the School of Education this month.
It has come full circle. I will be a teacher: I can feel the fire in my blood, in my very bones. I yearn for the battle ahead, the quest to make learning about history, always my favorite subject, fun and exciting to middle and high school students the way it was for me. And I have discovered my other calling: I am now a writer. Already I have had one story published (a science fiction story about evolution and social issues, imagine that!), and the sequel accepted. I'm now writing the novel that I hope will help to define my career. And I love it. Life for me is no longer about the caprices and whims of a wrathful and jealous deity, it's about my passions, my quest to enjoy life while making myself better and helping others. I truly believe that no greater purpose can be had. This life is a cup running over without need for an afterlife.
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)