Image by fmc.nikon.d40 via FlickrSent in by David S
First of all, welcome to my testimonial. I hope you will find it a refreshing view of what caused this average Joe to find God, walk with Him for a few years, and ultimately reject all religious beliefs in Gods.
I must warn you... Due to the fact that I was raised by two college professors who spent a lot of their careers writing, I tend to be a bit verbose in my story telling. I think you will, however, find this post worth your time, and I would love feedback. As an ex-Christian, it is refreshing to find that there are other people just like yourself.
Okay, let's get started.
Interestingly enough, I was raised by two parents of 'conflicting' religions. My father is Jewish and escaped from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in the 1940s, and my mother was a member a small Christian sect. Neither of my parents pursued their religious beliefs while I was in my youth, so the thought of going to church for worship on Sundays never even entered my mind.
I was, however, provided a good upbringing. I was raised to respect authority (my parents, in this case), to do well in school (C's were frowned upon and cause for grounding), to learn the value of hard work and the income that came with it (my parents and I would negotiate once a year for a 50-cent increase in my weekly wage for chores around the home). The belief in some 'higher entity' as the Lord of my life never entered my school of thought. So, in other words, for almost the first twenty years of my life, to me the belief in God wasn't even something I considered on a daily basis.
Looking back, even my parents would agree, I was a pretty easy child to raise. When the biggest rebellion a son brings against his father is his choosing of the Washington Redskins to combat his father's Dallas Cowboys, well, there you have it...
In college, I got involved with a Christian-based publishing company who published the Bibles for the soldiers during the Civil War. During seven often grueling summers, I would literally sell books 'door to door.' I would meet these 'Christian' families that were extremely nice to me and often would provide me with a place to live and they often purchased my books. I didn't have an understanding of Christianity at this time, but an impression had been made. Skipping ahead to 1999 (I am now 30), I was in a sales job in central Florida. I am in a sales presentation with a family the morning that JFK Jr.'s plane crashed and everyone aboard is presumed dead. One of my customers looks me straight in the face and asks "If I were to die today, do I know where I would spend eternity?" Like most non-Christians, I stated that of course, I guess I would go to heaven; that I am a good person, I give some time and money to local charities, etc.
Of course, the Christian reply is that only those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior get to spend eternity with Jesus and well you know the rest... At that moment, I bowed my head, the family prayed for me, and that would be the day I became 'saved.'
Like most 'saved' individuals, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Wow, the Creator of the Universe wants a relationship with me?! Six billion people in the world and He wants a one-on-one relationship with me?
Looking back on it, I now see the ridiculousness of it all, especially with a book that has so many loopholes. But at the time I joined a local church so that I could continue my walk with the Lord. I even had the opportunity to meet Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the Washington Redskins, a big time Christian enthusiast. It was all so clear to me now that God had formulated this incredible plan to bring me to him. Rick Warren of the 'Purpose Driven Life' would tell me through his writings that I could deduce that before the world had been formed that God had planned for me to like the Washington Redskins during Joe Gibb's tenure; that he had planned for me to meet all these Christian families during my book selling years; that he had wanted me to be sitting down with this one particular family that would bring me to Christ as we watched the horrors of the JFK Jr. disaster... it was all so clear now. God was in control of my life because I had given my life to Christ! Hallelujah!
I even met my wife at church and I am married to her today. She believes in the Bible, as she puts it, 'Hook, line and sinker,' and generally lives her life as a fine human being that puts all her hopes and prayers in Christ. I do not literally believe Jonah spent three days inside the belly of a whale and I do not personally believe in a fallen angel who seems to exist forever (Satan) that God continuously allows to persuade to the dark side; so I had some concerns but enough to sway my belief that I had found Christ and vice versa.
My wife and I practiced abstinence before marriage, we did the Bible study thing, we attended church regularly. In fact, I remember attending one service twice I enjoyed it so much! I couldn't get enough of God! I read the Left Behind series; I volunteered at a Christian homeless ministry; etc. (By the way, I generally regret none of these things in my personal Christian experience). I met some nice people, got to hear some good music, and was generally along for the ride. However, the Christian Illusion was about to the turn to the Christian Delusion.
So how the heck do I take a 360-degree turn and become a flat out non-believer/atheist and am now thoroughly disturbed by the brainwashing that religion perpetrates on people? And I mean, perpetrates.
There was not one single event that caused me to turn my back on Christianity, rather, a culmination of personal experiences that told me that what I had come to believe in the last eight years was really nothing more than an outdated religious mythology that hadn't advanced in any way in the last two millenia would undoubtedly continue to pump the same dogmatic beliefs into the next generation and the next one after that if we allow it to.
Believe it or not, one of the first cracks in my religious faith was the reading of the "DaVinci Code" novel! Who knew Dan Brown was Satan in disguise? Read the book and about half way through, there is a 20 page section that begs some questions as one of the main characters explains the painting.
At our church, our pastor would always open service with "We have gathered here today to worship God for who He is and what He has done." This went one for years. I would think to myself, "Great, I get to hear what God has done in the last week since I was last attended service. It's a big world, and I am told that I worship a mighty God, so I thought to myself that He must have done some mighty TANGIBLE things in the last seven days! Let me listen...
Maybe He supernaturally removed cancer from the face of the Earth? No, I still know people with cancer. No, we humans still must millions of dollars to cure this disease when this omnipotent being could give us the answer in less than second.
Well, maybe God supernaturally removed a few horrible dictators in this world since I was last in church? No, North Korea, Somalia, Iran are all proof that God is practicing a policy of laissez-faire (that means, 'hands off' for those of you who do not know French) and is not removing extremely dangerous dictators from office. He is waiting for us to do this at our expense.
Maybe this week God supernaturally provided food for five million starving Africans just like He did thousands of years ago before his Sermon on the Mount when he provided an abundance of fish and wine? No, people are still starving by the millions across the world, and what's this in mail? A letter from a Christian relief organization telling me that God would like me to provide the money to help this effort? Hmmm, that's strange. God is the one with the omnipotent power; why does he ask so much from his mortal human beings?
Well, maybe He waved his right hand this past week and supernaturally prevented forest fires, mud slides, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and countless deaths and rampant financial destruction in the world? Wrong again. What is this? Another Christian relief letter asking if I can spare more money for these poor victims? You get the idea.
Wow, I thought to myself, Jesus must have taken this week off, just like he did last week, and the week before, and the week before that. In other words, in my daily week I saw no evidence for the kind of supernatural experiences explained in the Bible. For someone who is supposed to be involved in our daily lives, He doesn't appear to be that involved. For someone who parted the Red Sea, how come I see no evidence of these kind of supernatural events in my lifetime? Has he taken the last few thousand years off on sabbatical? Where is His Wonder Working Power?
On this particular Sunday, the message is the "God has a plan for your life" speech. This is the speech I imagine the pastors pull out of the drawer when they haven't had time to prepare anything else. This has been an extremely popular speech in the last few years with the economic boom and the rise of the prosperity Gospel furthered by Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, etc. I have noticed less of this speech the last few months with the declining economy. I guess God's plans have changed. Now the theme of the moment appears to be that God wants us to draw closer to Him during these troubled times, and that we have gotten away from God and focused on greed, etc. It is interesting to note how God has changed over the last few years in relation to the economy? I know quite a few Christians who are not out of work who were singing the praises of the Lord just a few short years ago. Now, despite their numerous prayers they can barely make ends meet. Interesting...
But anyway, I am digressing. On this particular morning, my wife and I are seated next to a young girl in her early twenties. According to my wife, this young girl loves Jesus with all her heart, she was the valedictorian of her high school; she had 'everything going for her.' Just one problem... and it's a whopper!
After high school, she was involved in a terrible car accident due the negligence of a drunk driver and was left in a wheelchair, paralyzed, unable to speak, in need of a respirator to breath, etc. A terrible tragedy, and I dislike having to use this poor woman as an example, but as the pastor's words flowed over my ears that "If you trust God, he will make your paths straight" I was suddenly hit with the mother of all contradictions... "Really? Like this poor young woman?
I asked my wife if she could see a contradiction between what what we consistently hearing in Church and the reality of this poor girl's situation. She replied, "No, you don't know the number of people that came to Christ because of that car accident and how God is using her." Frankly, I was appalled. God was using this woman? This was God's plan for her? Personally, I would rather be resting in peace in my grave if that was presented as an alternative. But the interesting thing I wish to point out was the incredible difference in the thought process between my wife and I; between one who still had the ability to question what the Church and a 2000-year-old book written by a bunch of prophets told him to believe and one who had lost that ability long ago.
I saw a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided except for man's negligence; my wife saw an opportunity for God to spread His word and advance his Kingdom. I have noticed this line of reasoning among a lot of the Christians who blog on this website; no matter how terrible the tragedy, God is in Control, and will use the tragedy for good. It's a Bible verse, although I do not recall which one.
The Holocaust? Most Christians probably don't even know much about it, let alone have visited a Holocaust memorial. But even so don't worry, God used it for good. It was really his plan to have the Jews, often known as 'the apple of his eye' almost completely exterminated because of the advancement of Hitler's fanaticism. That is why He didn't lift a finger to help them.
9/11? Once again, God used it for good. He knew that even though thousands of innocent people here in God's country would be murdered at the hands of religious group that do not even acknowledge his son Jesus as their savior; he was fine in allowing that, because the world over, people would seek solace in Him, as attendance spiked in national churches for months after this tragedy. Only God knows how many people committed their life to Him to further advance his Kingdom, but whatever the amount, it outweighs all the horror and loss of the Tuesday morning.
I could give even more examples where Christians are slaughtered, but at this point, the college educated brain in my woke up! A human life has just been extinguished, there is major heartache but there is a silver lining, because it's all part of a part of a puzzle that God is putting together, or as my wife says, "You can't understand it unless you are looking at it from God's perspective, 20,000 feet up."
Wow! Talk about excluding God's culpability for any human tragedy.
In my opinion, this thought process exists because the brainwashing of religion dumbs down the average individual so that they have lost all ability to think rationally for themselves; this has been discussed ad nausuem, so I wish not to elaborate on this. But it puts in my opinion, a sad twist on the real world that we live and die in.
Anyway, the cracks in Christianity started to appear and were becoming much larger to me. I remember a Bible Study I went to where one of the participants stated out loud that she believed "God was in control of her finances." I had just come back from a Holocaust museum and was appalled that this person thought God cared more about the dollars in her wallet than the lives of 6 million people of Jesus's religion who lived 70 years ago. I found out the people in our Bible study knew virtually nothing of the Crusades, of the mass tortures that the Christian church perpetrated on society, and of course, knew less about the Bible when it came time to discussions on slavery, women, rape, slaughter, etc. All they knew about was the Christian basics tenets taught them.
Another thorn in my belief system was the death of Sean Taylor, a player for the Washington Redskins in 2007. Here was a man, the best I understood who had turned his life around, had started to attend the team chapel, I presume found Jesus and due to a series of unfortunate events beginning with all things a leg injury, is shot in his home. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't God have wanted this guy to live? Why didn't God save him?" All the questions again, no satisfiable answers. But when Joe Gibbs who I long revered as one the grandest Christians of them all and who I once had stated had been influential in my belief in Christ, stated that "God must have needed a safety in Heaven," I about threw up. "That's it, I get it. God is putting together an Football All-Star Team in Heaven! Let's see he's got Sean Taylor at safety, Walter Payton at running back, Derrick Thomas at defensive end, etc." Now it all made sense!
The final death roe to any clinging belief in Jesus and Christianity was of all things, a trip the birthplace of religion, Israel, which I must say, is a beautiful country!
I visited Yad Vassam (The Holocaust memorial, mostly in part to gain a greater understanding of the world my father as a young child escaped from) To see the horrors that one set of people perpetrated on another because they were the scapegoats, the "Jesus Killers" was extremely unsettling. It is widely believed that Hitler stated aloud that by exterminating the Jews, he was doing God's work. I have watched numerous specials on him in the meantime and failed attempts on his life only strengthened his conviction that God was on his side. We of course, as humans want to believe differently? I thought to myself "Wouldn't a omniscient God have known that when His Son died that the Jews would be blamed and wouldn't he have possessed the foresight to know the terrible consequence of this in the early 1940s?" I guess not..
In Jerusalem, our tour party visited the Western Wall (Holy Jewish site), we could see the Golden Dome on the Rock (Holy Muslim site) and we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and walked along the Via Doloroso,where Christ is believe to have made his final walk with the crucifix.
At the Western Wall I watched an Orthodox Jew rock back and forth in prayer, and the thought immediately went though my mind, "Are you praying to the God that let 6 million of your ancestors perish? I wouldn't expect too much...the odds are that your prayers are not going to be answered."
After visiting the Christian church, I was talking to a colleague outside when our voices were drowned out by the loudspeaker blaring the Muslim prayers, "Allah Ackbar! Allah Ackbar!" I thought to myself this is what those poor passengers on the 9/11 flights heard when their captors took over their planes. In a period of 30 minutes, I had just been exposed to three competing religions, none of which seem to have any more rational evidence than the other to believe what they believe. That exact moment was where I concluded beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God didn't create man; it was man who created God. It was merely a question of which one you were raised to believe in either by your parents or by the culture you lived in. If I had been born to a Muslim family in Afghanistan, I can guarantee you I would worship Allah, believe in 72 virgins, get on the carpet three times a day and face Mecca, and would not know Christ as my Savior, etc. Who knows? Growing up in that kind of society, I might have become a martyr for Allah. Children are born with a blank slate; they become merely a reflection of the world and environment closest to them.
It was at this exact moment I realized that my journey through Christianity wasn't because of any thing as grandiose as God's plan, but was merely a matter of circumstances, coincidences and the culture I am exposed to daily that play out for billions of people all over the world every day of the week. My beliefs in Christ and eternal life were no more grounded in reality than a devout Muslims beliefs that if he dies a martyr he will spend eternity with 72 brown eyed virgins. Just because we are raised to believe this dogma by people who were raised to believe this dogma by people who were raised to believe this dogma does not make it so. We are all just human beings who wake up each day, eat, shit, fart, pee, and need food, water, enjoy sex, etc. I see no reason to believe that based on something that we have no control over such as our culture, our race, or our belief system, that any of us, when we pass away, go to any place special.
After I returned from Israel, I had my 'faith in crisis' conference with my assistant pastor. I explained the numerous reasons for my doubts about not just the claims of Christianity, but all religions, and did he have any answers? Alas, he did not offer me anything satisfying in terms of a response, but did he however, respect my views and I am very thankful for that. I did not leave that meeting feeling less of a person because of a different belief system. Most of my close Christian friends, even though we get into our 'verbal religious sparring matches' as I call them, respect one another and still enjoy spending time with one another. We do not however do Bible Study.
To further my current views, I have read several books on Atheism and found them enlightening; written by intelligent people. I find myself reading them from time to time for a refresher. I never once thought to myself that the Devil was trying to pull me away from God, or that I would spend eternity cooking for reading them and rejecting a belief in a Holy Spirit. I felt a relief as the world really started to come back into focus, just like it had before religion. If anyone has ever been to a Bible study, asked the leader of the study a difficult question, and was told, "Well, you can never really know what God is up to. You just have to trust him and cannot question Him, because he is God, the Creator of All" answer unsatisfying, then these type of books are for you. By the way, I always loved it when they leader gave that response in a Bible study, and continued it with, "Shall we read another verse so we can gain a better understanding of our Lord and Savior?" You just told me His way are not understandable!
There are several good videos on YouTube.com, mainly about false healing prophets (none of whom I will name here). Go to YouTube and search "question of miracles." It's a six part story that HBO produced and it is both sad, enlightening, but further cements that if there is a God, he is not answering prayers as we are constantly told to believe.
Personally, I would like to see these religious frauds (and not all religious organizations are swindlers) who makes millions of tax-free dollars promising the 'blessings of the Lord' will rain down on them if the believer just will 'sow their seed' (i.e. send the pastor money) be shut down. Is it any wonder so many people are turned off by organized religion? The Christians I know always say that those people are false prophets; how the heck am I supposed to know the real ones? Am I supposed to wait for a voice from Heaven to bellow "I am God And I approve this Pastor?" These phonies are stealing people's money and as a friend of mine states, "They are selling the greatest product ever invented, because they never have to deliver."
There are so many hurt people in this world that the belief that the Creator of the Universe loves them gives them a hope for brighter future that they are willing to give their last remaining nickel to hold onto it. It always ends the same; bankrupt, with no answered prayers. Somebody told me it's because those people put their hope in the pastor, not God. Then in the next sentence, this person will inform me that God uses people to further his Kingdom. I do not know why this person cannot see the contradiction in their thought process. If God allows so many of these phonies to operate without some supernatural lightning bolts coming out of the sky picking them off one by one,(This way all the false prophets can be identified) is it any wonder that the Atheist movement is growing in America? It really is hilarious the excuses Christians make for the constant inaction of their God.
So, did my experience in Christianity change me? In short, I still find myself the same person I was before religion ever touched my life. If people want to believe in it, that is there choice. I however will never voluntarily step foot in a church again on my accord. I find that life around me is too great to be constantly bombarded with 2000 year old scripture from a book written by people who did not have a great concept of the world around them. The Bible in no way furthers my knowledge of the world around me.
The book on my life is still under construction. I am like most people, I enjoy life: I also enjoy my work, my pets, playing golf, exercising, spending time with my wife. But I know that I alone am the master of my fate, the captain of my ship, not some invisible, undetectable entity who although apparently quiet talkative thousands of years never seemed to want to answer those deeper questions for me. So I as I take that daily journey that puts me one step closer to non-existence again some day, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience life. It's that simple.
Thanks for reading. I welcome any comments.