A FOOL FOR CHRIST
When I was 17 and naive, the Christians came knocking upon the door of my mind, persuading me to join the ship of fools for Christ. I thought we were embarking upon an upward journey to the city where the streets are paved with gold. Reality dictated otherwise. My journey did an about face when I realized the streets are paved with pyrite, or fool's gold!
I sacrificed my personal goals and aspirations to serve Christ, but the bait-and-switch tactics of conservative-evangelical Christianity and the New Testament showed they were primarily concerned with mind control and self-sacrifice for the church.
I set out to be a good Christian. But wait. All the talk about Christians being morally superior because they are forgiven, and becoming better people, was obviously untrue. It took years for my Bible-pickled mind to learn this lesson.
Christian morality is but a smokescreen covering faith. Faith is believing in spite of what is real. Faith displaces reality with New Testament fantasy. Believe and be saved; fail to believe and become condemned to hell.
The convoluted result of faith is best seen while considering this: A mass murderer or serial killer will be forgiven and gets a free pass to heaven, while a morally upright, kind unbeliever (or any non-Christian) is condemned solely for lack of faith. God so loves us to death!
Faith belittles morality by placing itself (i.e. religious belief) above how we should treat each other (i.e. morality). The person who approves of this cruel injustice exposes his own deflated empathy-one divisive effect of New Testament mind control.
What made me finally start thinking
Image by ::: Billie / PartsnPieces ::: via FlickrI was born in New Orleans Louisiana as a Catholic. I attended Catholic School until I was in the third grade when my parents decided to move to a rural area 1.5 hours north of the city. Though not that far away, the difference in religious belief was staggering. I had entered the Bible Belt.
There were no Catholic churches near my new home and all the friends i had met were southern baptist who's families were heavy into church. I was nine years old and wanted to do what my friends did, so I asked my mom if I could start going to church with my friends. I suppose my mom thought that some church was better than no church, so she was fine with it. Again, I was a kid. I had no idea what the differences between Catholics and Baptists were. I assumed we all just believed in God and Jesus... the basics, so I never claimed to not be a Catholic. Well, this did not sit well with the adults in the church and many of them regularly told me that I was going to hell because I was Catholic. They pressed me to be "saved" and pushed me to do so many many times. I never did because it just felt icky. the whole thing felt icky. I went to enjoy time with my friends. I didn't want to be like the adults of the church. They were hateful people, racist, and very judgmental. Sure they were kind to one another, but the second someone different was around or brought up, the bigotry ran wild. Most of them were not well educated and I could see this as a child. Why would I want to be like hateful ignorant people? I decided to stop going to church.
Later in high school I started dating a girl who was a Baptist. She was very open minded and smart. We were very close. She was also the niece of a fundamental baptist preacher and her parents had raised her to be a non-questioning believer (though i always knew she questioned on her own.) She went to church with her family weekly. Her uncle ran a small church outside of town. I was surprised when i finally attended church with her that most of the congregation (a small one at that) were very.... economically challenged... individuals and families. I had never seen this many struggling families in one place. Most of the churches in town were full of expensive outfits and popular "mainstream" local gossip of the town's "elite." The children were dirty, so were a lot of the adults for this matter. They were delightful people who were happy to be alive and worship god, but at the same time, they were obviously dealt a bad hand. I felt sorry for them. My girlfriend's uncle did a wonderful job of reaching these people and gave his best effort to do so, and though i had many problems with his teachings, I would never dare question the one bright spot in many of these people's lives.
Later I asked my friend about the origins of the little church and I was shocked by her response. Apparently all the members of the church attended the larger Baptist church in town. Her uncle was an active member and was an experienced preacher. At some point the leaders of the church approached my friends uncle and offered him X amount of dollars to start his own church. He was flattered by the opportunity and accepted immediately. They then proceeded to throw on a the stipulations. They would fund the building of the new church only if he would recruit the poorer members who currently attended the church. They didn't want the "peasants" clouding their cosmopolitan social circles.... He still accepted and did what they asked.
I was so shocked by the story that it was the final straw to my hold on religion. Religion instantly became a horrible thing to me. It had proved time and time again to bring more bad to the world than good.
I am a proud agnostic atheist and feel religion is the primary cause for most of the hatred and pain in the world. Good is innate in most of us and we can easily find it if we think for ourselves. We do not need other people or a god to tell us to treat one another fairly and justly.
I would never try and take someone's religion from them, but I will not hide my views neither. I will openly speak negatively of "religious" people who are obvious bigots and are not leading their lives in the man they worship so much supposedly did. I feel I see a beauty in the world and in humanity that can never be seen if you are viewing the world through a religion mask. I can appreciate the wonders of this life. The religious ring will miss the beauty provided for them here because of a completely hopeful beauty in the next.
Why I left the Christian faith
Image via WikipediaI’ve not been a Christian now for over 20 years, since 1988. Church was not a very important part of my childhood, as my parents stopped going to church (they were Methodist) when I was about 4 years old. My mother in particular was rather cynical about organized religions, believing they were only in it for the money. Still, I was somewhat fascinated with Christianity as I grew up and kept reading the bible. I became enthralled with the stories of heaven, eternity, and biblical prophecies, and truly wanted to do what was right and good. By the time I was a teenager, I had accepted Jesus and Christianity and started going to different Protestant churches with friends. However, the seeds of doubt and skepticism started growing when I was in high school.
The more I read the bible, the more I began to question what it said. One sticking point for me involved passages from Romans 13, stating we must submit ourselves to the governing authorities, because God established all authorities, and that rulers hold no terror for those who do right. Oh really? Even rulers like Hilter, Pol Pot, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible, Richard III, Cesare Borgia, Idi Amin, Nero, and so on? I loved to study history and knew all about evil rulers, so this biblical teaching seemed insane or morally wrong if taken literally. Still, I accepted this as referring to authority in general, to maintain social order.
I also never understood the need for the sacrifice of Jesus. I was taught that if I simply accepted Jesus as my lord and savior I would be forgiven for all my sins and the sinful nature I was born with and rewarded with eternal life. I didn’t think I was that bad, but whatever. Well, if I could be forgiven so easily, then why did Jesus have to suffer and die? How did his one death pay the price for everyone’s sins? If God knew nothing else would suffice, why wasn’t Jesus sacrificed at the time of “the Fall of Man” for Adam and Eve? And if my sins could be so easily forgotten, were they really that bad to begin with? So bad that if I didn’t accept this so called gift of salvation by believing, I deserved damnation for all eternity? So many questions, but it all seemed strangely morally disturbing and outrageous. And I also never felt quite comfortable with the reasons given to explain why an almighty and all loving god couldn’t or wouldn’t stop or prevent all sorts of evil from happening in the first place. Still, I kept telling myself that God knew better.
I listened to some preachers say that, because of original sin, we deserved any evil that we suffer. This seemed unfair, cruel, and far from loving. And furthermore they taught that our goodness was not good enough to get us into heaven if we don’t believe; only faith will do, no matter how evil we’ve been. Again, it shows that my religious orientation was Protestant. So a lot of goodness from non-Christians means nothing, but a tiny bit of sincere faith from a serial killer before he or she dies (even when the choice to believe is made under duress with the threat of hell) is enough to do the trick? This sounded like a terrible game with absurd rules! And why was believing so important anyway? After all, God, who supposedly loves us, will send us to hell for not believing but is unwilling to reveal Himself to everyone like He did to Paul to get us to believe? These moral scales God was using seemed terribly unbalanced. Still, who was I to question the very word and preferences of God?
Besides the plan of salvation and the need for the crucifixion not making sense to me, I never quite understood the need for the resurrection of Jesus to demonstrate a victory over death when we all supposedly have an eternal soul whether we are saved or damned. And for those souls who have gone to Heaven, I never could make sense of why they would need to come back to Earth at some point to be resurrected. Still, I believed God knew what He was doing.
The dreadful actions of God in both the old and new testaments bothered me too, whether it was God commending Abraham for being ready and willing to murder his son Isaac for Him, killing the first born of Egypt, slaughtering whole cultures in Canaan, threatening to send mere non-believers to hell, or wiping out over a third of humanity in Revelations. God sounded more like an angry prudish tyrant or a cruel mafia don. Still, I felt God was God, and ultimately deserved to do whatever He did or would do.
It also didn’t help when I studied how the bible itself was composed, and that some churches accepted and rejected certain books and passages as divine scripture. Was this the Word of God or wasn’t it? Why was it so easy to be interpreted by so many different denominations over the centuries? And why did so many translations seem different, even on little matters? And again, why didn’t God just reveal Himself to everyone all the time?
I had so many questions and rarely received any satisfying answers when I was confident enough to ask. Still, though confused by all of this, I remained faithful and simply believed that other Christians understood better than I did.
I didn’t stay active in a church during my college years, but was inspired to question my religious beliefs in a philosophy and reasoning class. Simple methods and concepts of critical thinking that were taught in the class resonated in my brain, allowing me to challenge or question the very ideas I had accepted on faith or taken for granted for years. Instead of accepting religious scripture or any supernatural claim as true and fascinating, I began to look upon them with greater skepticism and suspicion and found them to be quite lacking as anything trustworthy, logical, or real. The bible became a work that seemed to be more inaccurate and contradictory the more I read it, and nothing more special than Greek mythology, except perhaps for some of it’s moral instructions. All of the questions I had about the bible and Christianity seemed to make sense when I concluded Christianity was false. Jesus just became another mere mortal and teacher at best with a great deal of magical legends wrapped around him by his followers, just as Saint Nicholas eventually became known as a jolly joyful magical elf who lives at the North Pole and brings presents to good girls and boys the world over on a merry single night each year.
Critical thinking gave me an epiphany, opening my eyes and allowing me to confidently see the world with a naturalistic and skeptically cautious outlook. Naturalism, which seems to be continually confirmed by science, made great sense to me, far more sense than any supernatural claims ever had. It finally seemed obvious to me that all the talk of divine miracles, supernatural events, spirits, angels, demons, hell, and even heaven were nothing more than imaginary tales and fictional ideas designed to make people obey, behave, and feel good, hopeful, and scared.
Furthermore, being exposed to different ideas, information, and opinions clearly showed me that Christianity (especially the version I was familiar with) was not the only game in town or the only way to play it. The classes I took in Philosophy, Comparative Religion, Anthropology, Earth Science, Astronomy, Human Sexuality, and Biology all seemed to contradict many ideas that the bible seemed to assert as true or original. The enlightenment that came with my higher education also made it very clear to me why “belief” is one of the most valued and essential parts of Christianity, as it helps to keep people loyal to the faith despite whatever they learn, and it makes them feel bad when they question the faith or consider not believing. Of course, it’s also a handy reason to convert others and increase the numbers of the faithful.
So time went by for me being an ex-Christian.
After four years of being a naturalist and an agnostic, I came to wonder if I had been too harsh and too quick to come to such a definite dismissal of Christianity. I came to wonder that maybe it was possible that it could be true, that God and heaven could exist. I have to admit that emotionally at the time I still desired to survive death and make it to someplace like heaven. As it turned out, I allowed myself to be persuaded by a girlfriend to give it another chance and dive back in, this time with a more liberal interpretation of the bible. I felt that perhaps the meaning behind the language was what was most important, that message being the value of love and forgiveness and living a “wholesome” life. I truly devoted myself to accepting the bible not as the only word of God but as one of many holy scriptures that was greatly inspired by God and worth living by.
I continued to live as a Christian for three years, even praying to Jesus, but the more I read the bible the more I realized it’s advice and teachings often made little sense. At times it seemed very unhealthy and reckless and inspired prejudice. And any part of it that seemed healthy and helpful certainly wasn’t something you would ONLY find taught and adhered to by Christians or any kind of theist. The whole plan of salvation still kept bothering me as something disturbing that didn’t seem to make any sense, whether it was professed by a fundamentalist, evangelical, or liberal Christian. And I had to admit that prayer was not changing my life one way or another, but served more as wishful thinking. Without Jesus being either a moral master worth following or God incarnate who is somehow necessary for salvation or able to improve my life or anyone else’s, my reasons for remaining a Christian were gone.
But at least my girlfriend stayed and became my wife, even though we disagreed religiously.
Even if I wanted to believe in a higher power or an afterlife, I knew this didn’t mean I had to only accept the narrow beliefs of Christianity. But I also came to believe that this life can be very fulfilling, whether a god or afterlife exists or not. The four gospels and letters of the new testament no longer persuaded me at all with their supernatural tales, warnings, and promises. Why should I let this collection of magical stories and questionable moral edicts decide or influence how I should live my life? Obviously many non-believers around the world led moral, productive, happy lives based on responsibility and loving kindness, as well at least as most Christians. The more I read and learned and thought, the more I was moved, intellectually and emotionally, to once again give up the Christian faith and embrace my agnosticism. My dedication to ~ and bondage in ~ Christianity was over for good. Since making that final decision back in 1988, I’ve gone on to truly enjoy my life free of religion, with neither shame nor fear nor regret.
But I truly respect anyone who has decided to be or stay a Christian, provided they show the same respect to me and others in return. That’s their choice and their life, and I happily accept the kindness behind their well wishes of “God bless you” and even “Jesus loves you.” But I do take offense when they insist I must believe as they do, that it’s wrong for me to share or bring up my disbelief, or that I’m lost, confused, foolish, selfish, untrustworthy, immoral, intolerant, hostile, or destined for hell simply because I reject Christianity. I’m happy to proclaim that I’m an ex-Christian when asked, whether they like it or not, because we all have the right to our own beliefs and finding our own way. Live and let live.
It’s also such a great comfort these days to see a growing community of former Christians and non-theists, and readily available information, publications, and groups that support those who are moving away from (or have already let go of) Christianity. It’s still a struggle for many of us, but it’s wonderful to find others waiting to help us once we’ve completed our journey.
Questioning my reality
Image by eylon via FlickrI was born into a strict Christian family that followed a cult-like version of Christianity that was similar to the Seventh-day Adventists, called the Worldwide Church of God. There was a heavy emphasis on the Old Testament and so my brother and I grew up in a pretty sheltered life, attending the church-ran elementary school. We didn't know better, as it was all we knew. Sure the occasional childhood 'why?' popped up, but there was always a bullshit answer that, coupled with the reassurance of our parents and our whole social bubble, there never was a reason to truly question the teachings. Besides, the bible said we were right and everyone else was going to burn in the lake of fire while we enjoyed eternal life. Man, what a sham. Eventually, in my rebellious teens I finally waved the bullshit flag when the church began to question a few of its prior teachings. I saw a crack in the facade of Christianity and began to feel real anger. I was told I had the devil in me and everyone tried to bring me back in the fold. It only pushed me further away.
Eventually I helped convince my parents and we stopped attending the church. It was a brave new world. We each had our problems coping. My mother had difficulty finding new friends, and my father became an alcoholic and gambling addict. I continued to have difficulty containing my rage. I saw a counselor my freshman year of college. He was full of bullshit as well. Psychobabble bullshit.
Over time we've successfully adapted. My mother found friends at work as she dropped her behavior aversions. My father stopped gambling and has slowed his drinking. I joined the military, attended pilot training, fought in Iraq, and once again find myself questioning my reality. The ability to question strongly held paradigms is one of the best things I've taken away from my experience.
It saddens me that people constantly need some sort of reinforcing structure to shape their world. When you consider the enormity of our universe and all of the possibilities therein, it seems like such a damned waste to drastically limit ourselves with obsolete religions. I'm no longer mad. I'm saddened for our collective loss, but that's just the way it is. One thing's for sure, life is certainly more interesting now that the blinders are off!
Image by ericarhiannon via FlickrMy family was never really very religious when I was growing up. My father would randomly take me and my two siblings to church, but he beat my mother so it's not like he was instilled with values. When my mom left him, we moved far away and she never made us go to church at all. My father's side of the family is very Christian and whenever we visited him in the summer we were made to go to Sunday school and church service. When I started making friends after moving to a new state, some were church-going. I would tag along with them. Eventually, I started going to one Methodist church in particular. Mostly because my friends did too. I then became baptized as a Methodist.
When you're younger, they never really talk about all the very important issues in the Bible that we encounter now in our everyday modern world. They just tell you Jesus loves you and that Ggod loves everyone and yada, yada. When I started getting older, I asked a lot of questions and wanted some answers, but always got the runaround. Also, when I was a preteen and teenager I was very overweight, and I think that because I was accepted as a person in the church, because I believed in the same things and had friends that liked me because I believed the same things, that it provided me with instant support. I was shy and didn't actually have many friends who I hung out with in school.
When I moved away for college, I began to really read the Bible. I still was going to church and attending retreats and helping out at a local Christian radio station. But, the things I was reading just did not seem very right to me. Who was God to say who could love whom? Why did the Christians not believe in evolution, and how is it even possible that God just spoke and all the animals ever known to man were there, ready for the world? More things really irked me, and I can say that was when I started to just not believe in these things anymore. I started to hang out with friends that had more different and open views of the world. Going to art college also let me explore other religions of the world and what other people had to say. I made friends with people that were gay or lesbian and did not believe that these people were evil in any way just because of whom they love. They are all nice people, having the same human imperfections as any heterosexual would have. I also lost A LOT of weight and no longer really leaned on that crutch of the church friends. They looked at me strangely when I questioned things and even became hostile towards me. They were all hypocrites, being my friends because I had believed in their god. They did not like me for me. It turned out that they were not true friends. Some of them were, and I still hang out or talk with them, but that's because they are pretty open about people having different views, and it was maybe two or three of them.
I moved back to my hometown and I occasionally see someone I went to church with when I was younger. They ask me why I don't go or ask me to go. I can't really explain an epiphany or waking up to the real world to them in passing, I just say "Well, nice to see you." and that's that. If they don't want to talk to me and understand that I have other things that important to me in life, then that is their own narrow view and I'm sure they can go on with their life and still be happy.
I consider myself to be agnostic now. I kind of like the Wiccan or Pagan views. I just like to think that we are just put on this earth to live life to the fullest. We don't need a text to tell us what is right and wrong and what can make us happy. Sure there are morals that are instilled within us, and there are things people do in the world that are not very nice. But to base your life on the fear of a god and to live your life around the fact of if he will accept you when you die just seems like a waste of time to me. If there is a god, or a higher being, I'm sure this being isn't worried about if you lied this morning or if Tom and Henry are getting married. We only get one human life, we need to live it to the max. We need to love and be loved. And we need to use our brains and study the world around us to draw conclusions about where we came from and how animals and plants got here, not some 2,000-year-old fairytale written by a bunch of guys.
Image by Ennor (unwell-resting) via FlickrI've always been a rational person. Educated in math and science, you wouldn't find the likes of me writhing around in a church and speaking in tongues. But yet I believed.
I believed because that is what I, and most all of us here in the Bible Belt, were told from the minute we are born. I believed because all my family, friends, and relatives believed. I believed because all you hear in this culture is that the great deceptive power of evil plants seeds of doubt in your mind, and to not have faith is to deny the source of all love.
Church is community, friendship, charity....
Yes the Bible has some bronze age brutality - but those immoral atheists are just cherry picking the bad and ignoring the good, aren't they. Aren't they?
Perhaps I should read that book - that would make me feel better and inspire me. OK old testament maybe not the best place to start - I'll focus on the new, which absolves the old, doesn't it. Doesn't it?
9-11 pierces my slumber like a shrill alarm. The will of God to kill thousands of people - if only they would be Christian - Christians would never do anything like that, would they. Would they? It is because of the gays and the liberals? What?!? OK, fundamentalists are just twisting the message of love.
I then develop an interest in biology, start studying it formally. Evolution is beyond question, must be Gods plan. Why are those Kent Hovind (is he out of jail yet) people covering up the science. A true Christian would never lie, would they. Would they?
Seems to be some intelligent apologists out there, lets hear what they have to say. Logic 101. What constitutes a valid argument. Pascals wager. Problem of evil. God of gaps....
Red pill...gasp... choke... what? Where am I? What are all these twisted logic tubes hooked into me?
Well now just look at me - I seem to have popped out of the Christian matrix.
Its so sunny out here! The world is full of wonder and has so much to be discovered! I have more unconditional love in me than I ever had! I can do the right thing just because its the right thing to do! I haven't eaten my young!
Goodbye Jesus old friend, when you are ready to come down off that cross, I will welcome you with open arms into the loving kingdom of rationality.
Just don't preach to me or I will give you a copy of "The God Delusion" and lock you in a sauna for all eternity. Because I love you.
From hardcore Jesus freak to atheist
Image by mattlemmon via FlickrI wasn't just a Christian. I was a hardcore, Bible-thumping, tongue-speaking, over the top extreme Christian that other Christians wish they were like. I believed God literally talked to me. I believed God had a "mission" for my life. And I was ready to do anything, no matter what the consequences.
Well fast forward several years and traveling several countries to do God's endless work, and I burn out spectacularly. Christian ministries and organizations used me up until I had nothing left to give and then some. Finally like Icarus I burnt my wings and hit the ground hard.
I found that not only was God clearly uncaring to all my work and efforts for Him but chances are He wasn't even watching, or was and didn't care. There were no rewards for my work as I was promised. God wasn't there for me when I had nothing left. There were no answers, and the answers I'd give others when others were in pain just didn't work. God wasn't listening or indeed doing a damn thing. And fellow Christians told me that if my life had been thrown into the spin cycle, clearly I must have done something wrong, clearly I screwed up somewhere, or God was punishing me for some unknown sin or failing, or just for not loving Him enough, who knows.... after all we are talking about a deity that will throw you into hell for eternity if you don't choose to love Him back, right?
But clearly I was wrong about everything, because nothing I had been taught and believed made any sense whatsoever. It just didn't add up, like trying to put 2 and 2 together to make 5. Add the numbers as many times as you like but you won't get 5. That's what life became: an impossibility. Based on everything I was taught and believed about God, Christianity, church, the Bible, life, love, sin, right and wrong... it just. Didn't. Make. Sense.
Then finally I realized that the reason nothing made sense anymore was because clearly there is no God. That was the simplest, clearest, most obvious answer out of all the possibile conclusions. The contradictions and implausible, weak arguments and ridiculously flawed conclusions that consist of Christianity and any religion, they had been piling up in the back of my head all my life and I stubbornly ignored the facts and the obvious logic. This is already aside from the mountain of self-contradictions present in the Bible, and the oceans of additional contradictions in our various interpretations of it, something I had a hard time reconciling all through my life reading and studying it; trying to explain away to others (when I didn't know myself) why every church and sect cherry-pick the verses that suits their taste, why there's a verse to directly contradict every other verse; a myriad of scriptures directly refuting the established doctrine of every church denomination on earth, from the most orthodox Catholics to the wildest Pentecostals and everything in between. Let alone the simple lack of logic and common sense in the very basic story so far that even a child could point out in a matter of minutes of considering it.
Ultimately I realized I believed in God for the same reasons I used to believe in Santa Claus. Santa rewards you when you've been good but gives you a lump of coal when you've been bad. There's no evidence of his existence either, and the entire mythology of Santa is incredibly dubious, implausible, ridiculous and fantastic at best (traveling down the chimneys of every household in the entire world in one Christmas eve night? I'm pretty sure that violates the laws of Physics as well as common sense). The only difference is that children stop believing in Santa past a certain age. Ultimately there is literally no difference between God and Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, zombies, goblins, unicorns, etc. etc.
Bad things didn't happen because I did something wrong and God was punishing (sorry, "chastizing") me; good things weren't rewards (or in Christianese, "fruits") of good or right behavior. Wealth wasn't a sign of blessing, neither was poverty a mark of holiness. Things weren't "destined" to happen. God didn't have a will or plan for anyone's life. Guilt wasn't punishment from God or condemnation from the devil, just consequences of actions you don't feel good about later. Repenting of sin wasn't making me more holy; it was making me stupid and causing me not to learn from my mistakes and change on my own but rather depend on some external spiritual force to be a better person. Neither beauty nor tragedy required an explanation; neither did our existence itself. There's no meaning other than what we make. And we need neither God or Hell to motivate us to be good; we know why we should be good people already.
Becoming an atheist freed me of more pain and emotional baggage and confusion and frustraion than I have time to list. My journals documenting my struggles trying to figure it all out all the years gone by, they could fill a library. And once I considered that maybe the whole darn thing was all in my head, all that mental wrestling was over. And things are clearer and clearer everyday.
Life isn't significantly easier, but now I take responsibility for my own actions. When I see injustice or suffering, I don't go home and pray about it and assume God will take care of it; I realize I have a personal responsibility to make my part of this planet better within my own tiny resources. If anything becoming an atheist makes you care far more about others and the world around you, because you realize this is all there is. God's not going to save anyone, we're going to have to save ourselves and each other, to loosely quote a certain German band. If you want meaning, consider the quote: "no single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood."
Sometimes the most obvious, simple answer really is correct.
I don't believe in god/s because the idea of god - an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent god that's directly and intimately involved in our everyday affairs and decides where we spend our afterlife - simply doesn't make any sense.
Everything over the past years started swirling in my mind
Image by Funky64 via FlickrMy struggle with Christianity began in the third grade when I attended a Christian private school in the city (my parents were working class, and I would ultimately move to public school with the birth of my second sibling, when funding private school was not longer an option). The curriculum novels (i.e. propaganda) described glorious close relationships with God, and I tried hard to develop such a relationship. However, when I prayed most devotedly, nothing happened. It didn't help that I found services sleep-inducing and boring; it also annoyed me that I felt required to donate portions of my meager allowance to the offering plate, which they passed around Sunday school, which I felt I could use on toys. "Jesus will touch your heart in his own time," the preacher would scream over the pews. I worried that he must not have touched my heart; if he didn't soon, I would go to hell! Hell! Hell!
Fast forward to my high school years in the country (my family moved to escape city crime).
My father was quite a religious man, in the sense that he read his Bible daily and tried to emulate Jesus (or at least the ideal thereof) by practicing kindness and tolerance. Coming from an extremely liberal family up from the urban north, a family by divorce and alcoholism in his youth, he spent most of his life fending for himself; I believe he had turned to Jesus for answers while keeping the unique insight of liberal parents. Like most Christians with an actual sense of respect for humankind, he practiced apologetics in reconciling, through abstract interpretation, outdated, violent, ridiculous verses in the Bible.
He didn't attend church on an even semi-regular basis, or participate in mandatory church-centric living, however, which is the only sign of godliness in rural areas.
Meanwhile, I began dating a very respectful young man from my high school whom I will call Rob. Later I would I learn that Rob's father, whom I will call Joe, had severely physically and emotionally abused Rob and his mother, Sue, throughout Rob's childhood, although at least the physical poundings had stopped by the time I met Rob. In her distress, Sue had taken to abusing sleeping and pain pills.
Joe was a diehard fundamentalist Christian attending a cultlike church I will call Mountain Side Baptist Church. Joe preached on occasion at that church, and often abroad at other churches member to the Southern Baptist Association (or something like that). Neither Rob nor Sue particularly enjoyed the church's vicious caste system, which consisted of two castes: an inner circle of extremists and the unsuspecting members whom were the source of fierce gossip for the superiors. However, I attended this church with Rob to keep him company; his parents required him to attend it on pain of heavy emotional abuse.
For those requiring proof of the absurdity of this church's philosophy, let me provide some examples.
1) A diabetic woman aged 45 became pregnant (I know, you would think a married couple of that age would know how to use a condom). Both she and the baby were at severe risk of death because the mother is physically unfit to carry or birth the child. Rather than pursue an abortion to save at least the mother's life, she has, unsurprisingly, announced her decision to become a martyr in the name of a couple mindless embryonic cells. The fate of mother and child are still 'in the hands of God'.
2) All alcohol is evil. Along with other local churches, they purchased an ad in a local newspaper denouncing the community wine festival, a controlled environment event which celebrated the history and culture of the area while stimulating the community's poor economy. They believe (quite falsely) that any positive references to alcohol in the Bible actually refer to unfermented grape juice.
3) The pastor believes his church, to the exclusion of others, pleases God. All other churches lead souls astray. He has warned departing members of the consequences on their souls. Of course, considering that he receives the entire offering at preaching, one wonders whether he worries low attendance would hurt souls or his wallet.
4) Women must not hold any authority within the church. Women cannot preach. Vaginas impede one's ability to understand the 'Word'; penises are the antennae through which God communicates with man.
5) All music but gospel is composed by the devil. Even contemporary Christian music is evil.
6) The preacher held a meeting with the deacons to humiliate a young girl whom he claimed had uncrossed her legs while sitting on the front pew as she reached to play with an unruly toddler. He said the resulting view distracted him. He actually admitted this to the deacons and they did not call the cops. I knew the girl always wore at least knee length skirts. Secret meetings of this sort happened frequently, with various underlings from the lower caste their subject.
7) Interracial relationships are ungodly because whites are superior (I learned of this little jewel recently). A black man came to church with a white woman. The preacher threatened to resign.
8) All translation of the Bible except the KJV were created by 'evil homosexuals'. Even though it is only a translation itself, the KJV actually came from God's own mystical hand.
Joe became an ordained preacher one month, which, for the revered position of saving souls, required little more than being a heterosexual male and deciding you wanted to preach. Joe, a high school drop out, could read; however, while one would never trust a doctor with less than a decade of expertise to deal with your body, the Christians would trust illiterate wife-beaters to treat their 'immortal souls'.
Anyway, Joe accepted a full-time preaching position at a different church, Stone Creek Baptist Church, which included a stipend of $500 weekly for the time-consuming work of calling people out on their sins. Joe mysteriously left his position. I pressed Rob for the reason. Finally, I learned that Stone Creek, a faltering church whose remaining regulars consisted primarily of elder women, allowed females to run the church's financial matters. Of course, this collided with Joe's fundamental belief that female hands tainted God's holy money, so he had no choice, as a good Christian man, but to leave the heathen place.
One day, Joe caught Sue popping painkillers and confronted her. Sue made an escape attempt. Of course, Joe is the classic abuser, completely defendant on the victim to affirm his self-esteem. Rob finally convinced Sue to return. That night, Joe cornered Rob and accused him of causing his mother to take pills. The preacher later called Rob to repeat Joe's accusation, blaming the child for the dysfunctional relationship of the parents.
However, the final blows from this demented religion came when a heart attack unexpectedly took my gentle father's life one night. Let me reiterate that my father, though a follower, thankfully stayed away from these cultlike churches. He drank beer, listened to rock and roll, and loved all people. He defended me against naysayers when I made teenage mistakes. He encouraged me to chase my dreams.
To save expenses, we cremated my father and had the funeral at the church, which didn't charge for the room like some funeral homes. I had spent many hours creating a slide show of my father; the background was a classic rock song he and I had loved and seen in concert together. I also created the pamphlets they give out at funerals; the inner right page had pictures of his favorite items on it, including a small icon of his favorite brand of alcohol.
The church censored my music with a stupid gospel song, completely ruining the climatic effect I had worked hard to create. They made me mark out the pictures of the alcohol. If I did not meet these demands, they said, they would not allow the DVD or pamphlets to enter the building. With the funeral fast approaching and my emotional state far from rational, I agreed to their demands. Needless to say, I stopped attending the church soon after the funeral.
The church members never called to check up on my family, although they had surrounded Joe upon news of Sue's addiction. They still had time to gossip about the cremation, which they considered ungodly. Joe continued to emotionally abuse Rob, blaming him for Sue's addiction and threatening to hurt him if Sue ever left again. I could not understand how such an abusive, vulgar man deserved life in the eyes of God when my tender, loving father deserved death. How cruel God could be!
I remembered staring at my father's body on the back of the ambulance as paramedics thumped his chest. Joe reminded me that Sue's pain was worse than mine (although I had not requested a comparison) and warned me that I had better not take Rob or people's sympathies away from her.
I remembered my father telling me of his dream to become a preacher. "Why don't you?" I asked. Tears welled up in his eyes. "I'm too sinful, too imperfect to teach others," he said. I was thankful he never became one; he didn't match up with the arrogant, righteous, you-owe-me attitude of preachers. He didn't know that the joy he felt for humanity was entirely un-Christian.
Age eighteen arrived along with high school graduation. Joe and I fled to college out of state, finally free of the cultlike abuse of the church and his deranged father. Secular college education began opening our eyes to a scientific, humanistic world where being human was not an evil thing, but a beautiful thing.
I worried, the old cries from the altar of hell ringing in my head. I faltered. I began reading the Bible and other religious, hoping to find something, anything. The Bible offered more than something: violence, intolerance, judgments. Why did the church condone that Joe beat and raped his family? The verses were there approving it. Why was it okay to disparage minorities? The verses were there approving it. Even the creation story popped out to me as ridiculous. Why the hell did God let the demon into his so-called garden of 'paradise' in the form of a talking snake, which simply panders to mankind's ancient fear of serpents? Why were females conveniently created from males as subhumans of sorts? The crucifixion was absurd. Why did God have to kill himself to appease himself? More importantly, if he loves us, why did he send us to hell?
For a construct that wanted to explain everything in the universe and assuage human fears, religion posed more problems to me than it answered. Everything over the past years started swirling in my mind.
I watched as fundamentalist poured outrage over recent homosexual marriage laws. I could not figure out why they cared if two people married and it had no repercussions at all for the church. I watched as they spent millions combating this, abortion, birth control. Why not help the downtrodden instead?
I reveled in the colors of the flowers as spring opened over winter. The sunset splashed pink and orange over the horizon. I marveled at the lightning tearing the sky in half. I laughed at friends catching up in good humor, both human and animal. Rob and I held each other in the morning, new light spilling in through the sheer curtains of the open window, and I felt love.
Suddenly, I knew. In a vicious, lovely cycle, all of these wonderful things in life existed and the horrible things in life existed and I existed--and only God didn't. My life, my world, your life, your world, our universe; we're all validated without him.
Christianity made less and less sense to me
Image by Lin Pernille ♥ Photography via FlickrI can't say I am completely free. I can't bring myself to tell my family that I don't believe in God, although my husband knows and completely supports me. And I do believe in something, just not the God of the Christians. It's hard because my mother is so devout and it would tear her apart to know that I am doomed to hell because she really, truly believes that crap. I figure, it's just better to let her be in peace than break her heart. I live about 45 min away anyway so I don't see her all the time.
But to go to the beginning, I grew up hardcore pentecostal. I think it was even worse because we went to a Hispanic church and most people were immigrants, and most of them were superstitious anyway. We weren't allowed to cut our hair, women couldn't wear pants or makeup, the man controlled the family and women had their place in the home. When I was really little it was fine, but as I got older I knew something was wrong. I didn't understand why all the rules and why we had to go to church 4 days of the week.
I remember one day when I was about 11 or 12, I knelt down and said, "I want to want to believe and love God." But I just didn't have that desire. I watched the people in church jump up and down, speaking in tongues and passing out. I wondered if it was real and I wanted that experience so badly. I even got baptized when I was 13. They said you would be filled with the Holy Spirit and you would speak in tongues. When I got baptized, I felt nothing, and that's when the real doubt started setting in.
When I was 14, word got out that the pastor had seduced a 14-year-old girl in the church. He was married with two kids, but had been sleeping with that girl, telling her it was OK and that God wanted it that way. That's when my family left that church. My mom kept looking for a church but my dad never went back to church. I went to church with my mom but still couldn't really feel anything. I decided to just do what was "right" and God would eventually come to me.
When I was 16 my parents let me go on a mission trip to Russia with some of the youth from the church. I wanted to go so bad but the church said only truly devoted youth should go. They wanted to make sure the holy spirit was with us, so they prayed. I wanted so badly to have a sign from God and I prayed at the altar until I spoke in tongues. It was a strange experience, more like I forced myself to it and then I was so happy I got it that I cried. They said I was touched so I got to go.
The trip was kind of bland. We did some street preaching, but what I liked most was when we went and fed the orphans and the people in the hospice. That was the most spiritual thing I had ever felt, helping people the way Jesus had said to do.
When I came back, I kind of slid backward. I was disappointed that I couldn't feel anything. I had a boyfriend by then and we started having sex. I knew it was wrong but I couldn't' help myself. I kept feeling guilty and dirty and I knew I was going to hell. That's when I started asking questions about sin. Why was it so bad that I was having sex with someone I really care about? Do I deserve to go to hell because of this?
I quickly stopped going to church and instead spent more time working a part time job after school and with my boyfriend, who turned out to be a jerk and a control freak.
In my senior year in high school I had an English teacher who had us read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book changed my life. I talked about destiny and how it is written but can be changed and that when you have a dream, the universe conspires to help you achieve it. There were so many things in that book that were beautiful and none had to do with an angry, jealous god. I think that was when I de-converted.
I started going to college and in my first year I took a Religious Studies class out of curiosity. There were so many religions out there and some made more sense than Christianity! I expressed this to my boyfriend, but he just shrugged me off. I was so eager to explore this with someone, but my controlling boyfriend wouldn't let me go anywhere and waited for me after my classes.
I finally broke up with him after four years of dating. I was 20 by then and had no idea what to do next. I dropped out of college because I ran out of money. But I suddenly had this feeling that I had to get out of my home, I had to get out of California. So I joined the Army Reserves.
I went to basic training and met a lot of different people. There were so many people there who joined to leave their homes because of hardships like abusive parents, poverty, even girls who were being raped by their father or another family member! A lot of them didn't know God and I knew then that if they died at any moment, they would not be going to hell like the pastor said.
During my advanced individual training course after basic training, I met a guy there who changed my life again. I think a higher power brought us together because he was a mirror to me. He showed me that I was miserable because of my desperate attempt to prove to myself that God exists. He also showed me the strength that I had but hadn't tapped into. He showed me who I really was and helped me to free myself from that image I wanted so badly, of a good person according to God. He had even read The Alchemist and we talked about my doubts for hours at a time. I loved him for everything he showed me about myself and about the world's goodness rather than its evils.
I had to go back home after the AIT course because I was in the reserves. I had started going to another Pentecostal church with this guy from work because the music they had was very good. But they started to preach the evils of the world to me again and I somehow slipped back into it. They even exorcised a demon out of me (that's another story!). But a few months later I felt that urge again to leave and never come back. So I changed my contract and got stationed in Germany. I met my husband there and I know that was meant to be as well.
I was deployed to Iraq 6 months after I had my baby. I was very depressed for a while and immersed myself in the search for truth. We were lucky enough to have Internet access and I found a lot of websites and books that helped me make sense of my dilemma. For a while I searched for truth in the Bible but found more questions than answers and no one was able to give me a straight answer. I got a lot of "We can't understand the purposes of God" and "God has a reason for everything, even if we don't understand it".
Christianity made less and less sense to me. Why did God create the angel that would become Satan if he knew what would happen? Why did god lie to Adam and Eve in the first place about the tree of knowledge? Why did god create me with such a personality that would cause me to doubt? Why did god say "thou shalt not have any gods before me" in the 10 commandments if he's supposedly the only god? Why are sins so bad and why did we inherit our "sinful" nature?
Now, I know that Christianity is not truth. And to be honest, I don't know what truth is. All I know is I want to be a good person. I want to help those in need and I want to understand people. I feel a greater spiritual connection to god when I help people, when I love my family, when I hear music, when I see nature, and when I meditate than I ever could when reading the bible or going to church.
At least I'm finally free
Southern Baptist; my parents didn't want the stigma attached I guess. Some of my earliest memories were at a church. Some were fun memories (youth group trips)...some were terrible (vacation bible school, church camp, everything else).
I always resented going to church. It was always boring and I almost always fell asleep or tried to read something other than my Bible. I would doodle sometimes.
I never had a "passion" for church. I always just went along with everything and pretended to be happy or feel touched in some way. It was the thing to do.
Eventually we (my immediate family) stopped going to church because everyone would gossip about my father's alcoholism. My mom got fed up with it and we stopped going to that particular church. It took several years before we tried other churches; each one was just as uncomfortable and uneasy as the next. In small-town Texas it's easy to find another church.
My doubts began to expose themselves as soon as I started to mature. I suppose me being gay didn't help anything. I was always told it was a choice and that it was basically the worst thing a person could be. For the Bible says it so. I just couldn't get it around my head. Why was I this way when I never chose for it? Why does God allow such things? Was I born this way? Those questions were just the beginning of my eventual enlightenment. All throughout my teen years I halfway considered myself agnostic. I kept appearances around my family and other church people, but it was just a matter of time until I saw the logic of it all.
It was a month before going off to college that my grandfather, church deacon and co-founder, told me he was concerned about "my walk with Jesus". I was going to a private fundamental southern baptist university in Texas (only because it was a private university, and I was on scholarship, not for the religious experience). My grandfather told me to find a church when I started living there, and to really get involved in that church. He had hoped that since I was going to a religious school I would finally become the good little Christian they had hoped I would be, but the complete opposite happened.
I never realized how Jesus-y the school was until my first hour there. They really forced it on everyone! I never realized I would be stuck at this awful bible camp for several years. I mean, within the student handbook there was a "statement regarding human sexuality" which stated what you'd expect about "homosexuals" ( I hate that word...it's pretentious). Basically this statement said that the school forbade any student involve themselves in advocacy groups for the LGBT community or anything like that. Also, if a student had a "problem" of this nature then they should "consult campus counselors" immediately.
I was supposed to finally be free of all this church stuff in college and I realize that my school is much more churchy than even my home life. There was no LGBT student organizations or anything you'd expect on a college campus...just Jesus people...who looked down on "homosexuals livin in sin."
I couldn't stand it. I wasn't out to anyone there, and I intended to keep it that way. I wasn't really out to anyone except certain close friends.
It was just all very fucked up. I began to get cynical about everything with church. I had to attend chapel twice a week for class credit, and I had to take classes on the old testament (which was taught by a preacher and his wife, bias much?). I stopped going to chapel because I had decided that I wasn't going to that school anymore. I was backward, and so were these Christians. All of my positive Christian thoughts had been dissolved a few weeks into the first semester there. I just did what I had to do to get through class. I decided that I was going to move to Austin over the holiday break, and I did just that. I'd never have to go back to that school again.
Anyways, all of that to say that I stopped believing in God when I began going to that university. I realized that religion was man made. I realized that some of man's worst atrocities were justified by religion. I realized that the Bible was written by ancient desert people ignorant of the world around them. Nothing is divine, nothing is sacred.
It's absolute craziness to believe a Jewish Carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago is the savior of mankind.
I'm so glad I'm not living in blind faith like other people.
I'm so glad my eyes were opened to truth and logic.
I hope that one day people won't need religion, especially Christianity.
Sometimes I feel so frustrated and angry about it all, sometimes I feel exhilarated and enlightened...
I haven't told my parents or grandparents that I'm an atheist. I think that they would be kind of upset. Just wait until I come out.
That will be some day for them.
At least I'm finally free.
Leaving Christianity in the midst of fears of hell and Satan and Antichrists and raptures with trumpets blaring and people flying into the sky
Image by Gabriela Camerotti via FlickrMy departure from Christianity occurred 11 years ago.
This is a letter I recently wrote to filmmaker Brian Flemming after watching the film The God Who Wasn't There.:
For the first time in my life, someone has reflected back to me the kind of kind of utter confusion, anxiety, stress, and often panic that I experienced being raised in a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian community. I, too, was a Christian ▬ one who earnestly and perpetually tried to come to terms with "reality" inside of the "absolute truth" of Christian teachings. The constant presence of obvious inconsistency without logical explanation, however, which seemed rarely to weigh as significantly on the hearts of Christians around me as on me, was never overcome by that "peace that passes all understanding" that Faith was taught to provide.
The beginning of the end of my identity as a Christian was at the age of 27, when the lifetime of internal struggle finally gave way to the discernment best described as:
"This has never made sense enough for me to be absolutely sure of it (no matter Who says one can be absolutely sure of it) AND I'm tired of trying to make it make sense AND I'm tired of trying to simply accept through Faith what doesn't make sense AND I'm tired of being afraid of hell for myself and others because I/they can't feel honest in accepting it like it is."
My departure from Christianity occurred even as the programmed fear of hell and Satan and Antichrists and raptures with trumpets blaring and people flying up in the sky still held me. My journey beyond Christendom began with me watching an 8-part PBS documentary explaining Darwinian evolutionary theory (borrowed from the library). Prior to this, even though I was always very curious about the nature of the universe, I was too scared to research such things and I certainly had no mentors to turn to. I grew up in a world were Darwin was likened to Satan's right-hand man in deception ▬ I even remember 2 popular Christian pop songs by Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore and the Distance criticizing evolution (in fact, I just located the lyrics - see http://www.lyricsmode.com/
I watched the Darwin documentary and the more I saw and heard, the more I cried -- for the first time basic questions about the nature of the world around me were not only answered, but making logical sense. My continuing, personal exploration to understand "how things work" has happily broadened since then to include many diverse sciences. And when I don't understand something or experience skepticism toward some concept, not having everlasting damnation as a likely punishment is a definite plus. :)
I am crying right now, so I don't think I will write much more at the moment even though the memories also leave me feeling compelled to provide you with details (I think because now I know there is another person who could even begin to understand these experiences). I truly believe most people not part of the mainstream Christian world have little idea of the nature of the specific ideologies perpetuated there. As an analytical, thoughtful, and creative child, not only were they confusing, they were truly frightening. Lack of acceptance being equated with eternal excruciating torment was only one of many terrifying concepts that plagued my inner world even as I was perpetuating pleasantness in the foreground.
Here is a recent promotional video for the school I went to -- very similar to yours. It wasn't a small school when I attended there, and it has grown incredibly since that time. I believe most who are part of the school have the best intentions in saying and doing what they do. However, they don't talk very much on the front end about their ideas that the God in whom these students will be taught to cultivate absolute trust is also the God who damns you if you don't trust. This video is only about the love and nurture, not the 'accept or else' dimension they just as readily believe and teach about God: http://www.lcsonline.org/
My entire family is still a part of Christianity, and my siblings' children are being brought up in Christian schools now.
I don't want to be an evangelist of any ideology, but I would like in some way to be a part of creating a new meme. I would also very much enjoy meeting ex-Christians who are not bitter about their experiences, yet mindful of the significance of this issue ▬ who could be better to heartfully and compassionately create new possibilities than those who have experienced life from both sides of this issue?
Ironically, my Netflix account delivered your movie later than expected, so I'm watching it on the day before easter. Mom invited me, yet again, to easter dinner with the family. I believe I'll pass. (lol)
I stopped believing and never looked back
Image via WikipediaI came across this site while search for the origins of Easter. I guess that was my sunrise service. I read Nicole's testimonial dated April 6, 2009 and was inspired to share mine. (Thanks for the forum).
I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for 12 years. I went to mass every Sunday and in college, when I worked on Sundays, I attended Saturday evening mass. When I was 14, I saw the virgin Mary hovering over me one night. Funny that a good Catholic boy would have a vision of the Virgin Mary. So yeah, I was pretty much brainwashed.
In my late 20's I was in a bad marriage and wanted out. But I was dealing with all the baggage and implications that come with being a good Catholic. I went for a long walk down a busy main street and prayed for guidance. I cried, just wanting an answer. I got it. On the way home, I saw ambulances and mangled cars. When I got home, the neighbor informed me that a teenage girl was killed in the accident, decapitated. It was at that exact moment that I stopped believing.
Sure, I probably was already on the cusp, I don't know. But I realized that as I prayed for guidance about a looming divorce, some poor mother had probably prayed for the safety of her daughter.
I stopped believing and never looked back. I don't have visions of the Virgin Mary, I don't believe in ghosts, I don't believe in hell. It's funny how more spiritual I am now, than I was then. But now it's just me and my relationship with the world. So I'm off to YouTube to watch my Sunday morning sermon from George Carlin on religion. Even non-believers need communion.
Where I came from; where I'm going
Image by Himalayan Trails via FlickrI was born into a devoutly Christian family in the Midwest 51 years ago. I can't honestly say I ever felt accepted in my family, or in any extended church "family". I always felt out of place, unwelcome.
I won't say that I didn't believe, but I think I always had some reservations.
My father for some reason had National Geographic magazines in the house, and I soaked them in. The info contained in them probably led to my first serious doubts about what I was being taught in Sunday school. I had lots of trouble accepting the six-day creation story, and a six- to eleven-thousand-year-old earth. Also, the problem of evil in the world, perfectly fine people supposedly going to hell, inconsistencies in "God's word", and many things similar to what many of you have stated before, all caused me much doubt.
But, I didn't leave Christianity or the church for another three decades. In fact, I married a Christian girl and had children, still remaining silent about my doubts. I was never able to "witness" to people, though, as I don't think I bought into the whole story enough to try to bring anyone else into it.
I wasn't a happy person. Rather, I was embittered, pent-up, etc. I had a near-death experience in 1986 and found my personality changing. I found eventually that I was unable to go along in silence anymore, acquiescing to everything around me.
Anyway, my wife found out accidentally about my as yet private thoughts about Christianity and the Bible, and that was the start of our troubles. We were never able to have an adult, open, productive discussion about my reasons for doubt, and that was the beginning of the end of my marriage.
The bad thing about the whole deal is: I have kids, and they have been indoctrinated (the same thing of course was done to me when I was small, but somehow it didn't take). I have been divorced now for 17 years, mostly estranged from my family (father, mother, brother, sister), and have had difficult relations with my daughters because I let my thoughts about Christianity be known. It's been hell, at times, and never really gotten THAT much better until maybe the last five years or so.
I have been reading this website for a number of years now, but never sent in my story. I've read many similar stories on here, and it has been a source of some comfort. One of the reasons I've waited so long, I think, is because, though I don't believe in Christianity or the Bible, I never really became an atheist either. I'm not a Deist, but tend to lean towards the Eastern religions: Buddhism, Zen, Taoism in thought.
Anyway, this is getting long, I think I'll stop there. : )
Faith without God
Image by » Zitona «  via FlickrI want to take a moment and tell you how truly grateful and inspired I am from the very personal stories shared on this site.When I first left religion I was extremely depressed and lonely. I had considered suicide seriously for the first time in my life. I was in one of the darkest hours of my life ,but, ironically I had faith. After finding this and other similar sites I was warmed and found peace in your different stories. Mostly I realized I wasn't alone. I wasn't crazy and I wasn't being illogical.
Today I am 37 years old and I am happy in a way that I never imagined possible. It is not my physical birthday but instead my "spiritual" birthday. And I am deeply happy because I have seized control of my life and stepped into the light.
I was raised in the Mormon church by my well meaning and generally good parents. From my earliest memory I have spent an average of 25 - 40 hours a month in church in one form or another. I have been to seminary,performed baptisms,given blessings,served in a high calling,been to the temple and in general performed almost every ritual you can imagine in an attempt to "feel" God in my life.
I was taught to live in fear. Fear of punishment, judgment, transgression,but,mostly fear of ARMAGEDDON. I had been lied to by Christianity and all who were most responsible for guiding my growth. Well meaning people perpetuated lies for whatever their individual reason or intention.I was in the "Church of Jesus Christ of LATTER DAY saints".
It wasn't even a question of "Would I see it in my lifetime?" It was a question of "When?" Since I believed The End was inevitable and looming, I decided to forgo college and any attempt at career planning. I drifted from job to job and poor relationship to even poorer. I saw no point in improving my station in life because the Second Coming was right around the corner!
Despite numerous talents and natural charm, and a reasonable amount of intelligence, I managed to piss away 33 of my 37 years just trying to stay stoned so I could deal with the depression and fear as I waited for Judgment Day. I didn't see any point building anything of value, because I wasn't likely good enough to share in any of the post-apocalyptic, terrestrial, Jesus-induced earthly glory He might bring.
You see, at a young age I began to question the things I was taught. I began to ask questions that my parents and leaders couldn't logically answer, like "How could any God command someone to perform Genocide?" Or "How could God ask Abraham to show his loyalty by sacrificing his son in true mafia fashion?" Why Lot would offer up his daughters to the mob of Sodom to be raped? Why are rape, torture, and child molestation not included in the 10 commandments. Pretty big stuff for God to leave out, huh? He made damn sure to cover the no other Gods, and that he's a jealous God.
So, at around 13 years old I found sanctuary in the library. Thank whatever Gods you believe in for the library!! As I grew older I began to study history, science, anthropology, ancient civilizations and religions. I don't have a PHD, but I damn sure guarantee I have done the man hours for one. I was truly, deeply committed to learning the truth at all costs. Hiding it from my parents, I began to visit other religious institutions: Buddhist temples, Hindu teachers, Muslim Imams, Rabbis, Catholic priests... You name it and I have probably spent some time there. None could provide me with the peace I was looking for.
I already had decided that The Book of Mormon was crap and the Bible as well. It all just defied logic and reason. I couldn't see myself believing in their God who had less emotional control than I. Even I overcame jealousy!
I have had some strange and unusual experiences in my life, and at times I would say I have felt a "spiritual tingle" that some may perceive as God. I felt it when I first heard Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture,or the works of Mozart. I felt it when I first saw a galaxy through an observatory telescope. I have felt it when I witnessed the birth of my children and the death of my closest friend. But, I had never experienced the burning baptism of fire inner affirmation the church spoke of. I was depressed and resentful of God for putting so many challenges in my life without giving me the comfort and certainty of this fiery affirmation.
So one day I just snapped. When a man realizes he has screwed up his life because of false beliefs and bad decisions it can be overwhelming. After reading in several different books about how fasting seemed to be a common path to find communion with God I decided enough was enough. I decided I would fast completely until God gave me this blessing of certainty and confirmation. No food, No water, No shit!!!! I went 6 days without food or water. NO joke. All the while food and water easily within reach. I was 100% committed. Out of desperation I was willing to starve myself to death to find the answers.
On day seven I began to really get fuzzy. My body was extremely dehydrated and my brain was starting to slip. I went into my bedroom to lay down and continue to "pray" My wife was seriously and rightfully concerned. She told me that nothing was this important and that I was being crazy.
After I lay down I had an experience I can not explain but wouldn't change for anything.
I slipped into a blackness that was total and yet comforting. I felt aware of something other than myself that I cant describe as anything other than a presence. In a moment I had an awareness of answers that were surprisingly simple.
This thing told me that I was a beautiful example of life in nature.It told me I was beautiful because of my desire for truth and the relentless pursuit of it. It told me that I was worried about technicalities and rituals and not to get lost in those things.
It told me that we are so much more than we can hope to understand in this lifetime. It told me that my doubts were valid but that I would not receive all the answers in this existence but that I should savor the pursuit of the mysteries of life. It told me that my inner energy is eternal but I should savor every moment of this life and worry less about the next.
Now I cant tell you if this "presence" was God, or Astral beings,Aliens, or freaking man-bear-pig. I cant be sure that it wasn't my brains own self preservation or even my subconscious. I can tell you that a huge weight was lifted from me and I finally found peace that night.
I am an optimistic agnostic who enjoys the complexities of life's mysteries and I am working on a degree in psychology so that I may help others who have suffered as I have.
I embrace life's challenges now and I am defining MY FUTURE! I am truly grateful for everyday and the power I have to control my reactions to life. I cant tell you what God is or even if he exists but I can tell you that NO religion has the answers.
We may never know or mean a damn thing. Don't get so busy building a mansion in heaven you neglect your home on earth. I openly and civilly challenge the traditional religions when someone begins to pontificate.
My God is now the great unknown and my religion is the pursuit,application,recording and sharing of KNOWLEDGE. A wise Buddhist told me we are "enlightened" when we realize how much we don't know.
I am so happy and fulfilled now because I can now see a future that isn't preordained and even though the future of mankind sometimes looks bleak I can now take peace knowing I am living in an incredible time in human history and we are on the verge of real knowledge and hopefully enlightenment. Knowledge is exchanged in the blink of an eye and we are becoming one world whether we like it or not.
I will finish with a poem that I wrote that has given me much comfort and clarity and I hope it helps any who may read it.
As daylight fades and twilight approaches,
Swift and steady night soon encroaches,
So seize this moment and contemplate your next,
What will you do with the moments you have left,
For no gravestone could ever eulogize,
The death of great dreams unrealized.
Thank you so much for sharing your stories and please continue to share with all who will listen because you guys saved my life and you may save some one else. From a star-filled Texas town with much happiness and love, yours truly, Shannon Hughes.