Supreme Impiety, Atheist and Charlatan
by Barthélemy Aneau (1552) via Wikipedia...for destroying someone's faith.
In 2006 I was an evangelical Christian ready to go out into the world and "Live for Christ" as its called. In two short years, my religious views would continue moving left until I became what I am today, which is... well... I am not sure. For simplicity, we'll call me an atheist. Any god I can see myself believing in would not be much of a god at all. I'd like to tell how this happened.
During my senior year of high school, I had left my mother's Lutheran church to go to the church my friends went to: a conservative evangelical Missionary church that had a youth group, a rock band, and pastors that seemed to care about the youth in their church. All of these things I felt were lacking in the church I grew up in. After all, how could anyone expect me to worship God without music played on guitars? The church was fun and my friends went there. It was the first time I actually looked forward to attending church on Sunday mornings.
Everything was great. I thought I finally had my faith on track. Each Sunday after the service I walked out the front doors with an emotional high I had never felt before. But soon guilt began to plague me. The warm feelings faded when they were no longer "new" and I assumed I was to blame. I obviously must not be spending enough time with God, or I must be sinning too much, or I must be relying too much on myself and not on God, or I need to read the Bible more, and so on, and so on. The guilt piled up. So I began to realize that the two churches I had attended regularly during my life were much the same.
At some point during this time I decided to attend Huntington University--a conservative evangelical Christian private college in the Midwest. (Yep.) It was expensive, but the payoff would be the "Christian atmosphere", I told myself.
It is possible that the things I saw (and continue to see) at Huntington are the result of simply being immersed in a particular culture. It is easy to pick on certain issues with Christianity when it is concentrated all around you. There were a handful of people there that represented the worst in Christianity: Judgmental. Self-righteous. Hypocritical. I remember I met a girl who accused my roommate's father -- whom she had never met -- of being a "bad pastor" because he listened to secular music such as U2! Really? IT'S U2! I could catalog the abuses the school and some of its students have caused me, but that is beyond the point of this particular article, and thinking about such things puts me in a bad mood.
I obviously wanted to separate myself from the more self-righteous Christians there. I began to think about various issues found in Christianity and form reasoned, Bible-based opinions about them. I supported rights for homosexuals and became pro-choice. Some people might wonder how I can call my opinions "Bible-based," but these beliefs are much closer to the teachings of Christ than the alternative views as long as you lay down your biases before opening the Bible. (Well, the New Testament anyway.)
The more I learned about Christianity (in required "Christian" classes and from discussions with friends), I found more and more issues. The obvious paradoxes in God's "omni-" adjectives, the problem of evil, and the condemnation of most of the world's people needed explanations. I became a very inclusive open theist. I went to the point where only the extremely bad people in the world were heading to hell, whether or not they were "Christians." This allowed me to forget, for a while at least, the guilt Christianity brings.
Months later I had a crisis of faith. I made a chart of the things I said I believed in, things like "Going to church is good," "Reading the Bible is important," "Sharing my faith is important," "I need faith to get me through difficult times," etc. In a second column I check marked the beliefs I actually acted upon. On a list of about ten things, I think I checked maybe one or two. I didn't tell this to anyone.
A day or so later a friend and I were working on brief one-page autobiographies (a required element of our student teaching applications). We both had written these a year or so before but they needed revision and editing. She asked me for advice on what paragraphs she should delete to get under the one-page maximum. I said I wasn't sure, and then she asked me if it would be a good idea to take out the paragraph she wrote about the importance of her faith (the "Jesus paragraph" as she called it) I said I didn't know. (A lot of help I was!) She asked me if I had kept my Jesus paragraph. I took another look and realized there had never been a "Jesus paragraph" in my autobiography at all! It never even crossed my mind! Apparently, Jesus was not very important in my life. That's when I realized I had been living without Christ for quite a while, and had been doing just fine. I no longer needed God, or religion. Finally, I could shed the burden of Christianity -- guilt, being associated with intolerance and self-righteousness, having to try and reconcile my faith with science, and so on.
I encourage anyone reading this to take a look at their beliefs. If they are causing you guilt or other problems, get rid of them. Life is too short.
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)