Image via Wikipedia“Give me that Old Time Religion,” was my battle cry! Early in life, I listened to the old time country preachers bellow out “hell fire and damnation!” As I became of age, I convinced myself that I was to become a spokesman for the “truth” of “God’s Inspired Word.” Truth was defined by the community of which I was a part--the church, the elders, family and acquaintances. I dared not step out of the belief system.
My experience into the subculture of religion, was a choice that I made early in life. Hearing “preachers” expound Biblical stories resonated as the means to the end that the only way to God was to accept “the truth” to which I was being exposed and accepted as eternal realities. After high school, I chose Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC as my venue for study.
Christian Fundamentalism is a strict belief in the literal interpretation of their Bible. The essence of Fundamentalism is to accept Biblical truisms as inerrant! Believing the teachings of Jesus Christ is more important than practicing those teachings. Though, many of His teachings are impossible to achieve, this slight inconvenience is over looked opposed to the importance of accepting them as truth!
I was “born again” at the age of 11. “God called me to preach” at the age of 18. I graduated from Bob Jones University, Greenville, SC at age of 22. I was “lost” again at age 45. Eternal salvation was only temporary!
In fundamentalist Christianity, the “born again” experience is an all encompassing encounter. The “preacher” instructs, Sunday school educates and the hymns indoctrinated. The church was the center of activity and once I “found God,” there was always someone to tell me what was right and what was wrong. Movies, hanging out at the beer joints, dancing, smoking, drinking, playing cards and an array of other activities were all forbidden.
Given the ambiance of “far right religion,” I was brainwashed with the notion that it was God’s anger in motion that assassinated John F. Kennedy. I firmly believed that God had removed an obstacle to a “Christian Nation.” MLK was Satan personified. My psyche was geared to Theocracy. I was so far to the right, I thought Bob Jones was liberal! All the time I was having doubts about miracles, answers to prayer and the benefits of faith, somewhere in the past I had lost my faith and my brain started to catch up to reality. Denial, with continued belief, is destructive. It requires a giant leap of faith to accept unproven and impossible feats.
Christians, who otherwise are prudent in their lives, pretend to believe religious fantasies for fear of being excluded from family and friends. Giving lip service to immanent babble, they rationalize the myths in order to be accepted and allow their children to be subjected to senseless parodied and irrational silliness. It is indeed a mental disorder!
I have now found Religion is oppressive, repressive, depressive, obsessive, and regressive. Once I was hooked, it was the fear that drove me to the edge. Fear of hell. Fear of retribution. Fear of punishment by disease or death of a family member. “If you love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15) Jesus said, implies that if I broke one commandment, then I did not love Jesus nor would I have the rewards in heaven. That is fundamentalism!
While at Bob Jones, I was president of my class, chaplain of my literary society, a prayer captain, I won an annual sermon contest and was elected “man of the year.” I preached on the street and directed music in a fundamentalist church on weekends.
After Bob Jones, I was an evangelist for a number of years with a radio program, founded a statewide youth organization, authored Sunday school literature, an assistant pastor and was preaching throughout the southeast.
My heroes were far-right “preachers” who pounded the pulpit with Biblical dogma. I joined them with fiery sermons seasoned with brimstone from hell!
Working my way through an exit from the fundamentalist life, I found and experienced emotions that I never knew I had! Religion is a force of control and so possesses a willing mind that escape I equate to a “prison escape!” For sure, there was angry: a feeling of betrayal: feelings of disappointment and complete emptiness! This great god of all power and knowledge, I discovered simply did not exist except in the mind of man and I realized that the concept was unproven, unknowable, unattainable and became simply another fairy tale! Through all the unintelligible pious nonsense, I considered the way religionist used the Bible for personal and political advantages. It’s not about righteousness or morality, as they may claim but it is about religious dominance and power. Notwithstanding, the ambivalence of the “Christian right” leaders, it is equally preposterous that an otherwise discerning populace would be suckered by the ambiguity of a two century old tale. To keep my sanity, I was compelled to "Question the Sacred," which is the title of my book.
God was far away in nonexistence.
I wondered, if Sunday morning may be the most irrelevant hour of the entire week. Think about it! What is the point? 1) Sunday morning keeps religion alive. 2) Sunday morning funds the most superstitious and mawkish ambiguous ethos ever negotiated among purported intelligent life! 3) Sunday morning may be the one-hour, in the week, that wishful thinking is so collectively practiced with so little benefit. 4) Sunday morning just may be the most unintelligible group of momentarily “brain dead” ambivalence, accredited to otherwise rational people of the entire week!
A number of events lead me to a real “born again” experience from religion to secular humanism. The freedom is unequaled. No more wondering if I’ve done enough, if I’ve prayed enough, if I’ve given enough, if I’ve had enough faith and if Jesus is pleased with my life and if I would finally make it through those “pearly gates”.
Since childhood I was told what to believe. To doubt the inspired truths was a sin, (Matthew 14:31). We are all born Atheist and then we are indoctrinated. The church is a master at brainwashing, manipulation and trickery. The early church made followers an offer which they could not refuse -- An offer of eternal salvation at the acceptance of the savior. Shallow and childish dichotomies have infiltrated the entire system of Christianity. The antidote, to this malady, is thinking, reading and self esteem. The church -- the house that guilt built – constantly tells us that we are “born in sin,” and depraved. That is fundamentalism!
My personal experience, to sanity, began to develop after reading a single article in Free Inquiry. I have no recollection as to where I picked up a copy of the magazine. I often tell, as a joke, that “God sent it to me!” I was so captivated by the article that I remember reading several others and thought, “this is astounding.” A whole new world opened up to me. I joined the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and that was a positive step in my journey to intellectual freedom. I became active with a small group of Humanists. I began to read and listen and above all, I began to think.
Since my conversion FROM Christianity, I have accepted invitations as speaker in numerous UU Churches, Humanists groups, and have spoken at several national and international Humanist/Atheist conferences. The freedom to think is a powerful liberation. While religion discourages thinking, open opinions and questioning, I have found the utopia of deliverance -- a truly “born again experience.”
I once stood in the pulpit and denounced the liberties of women! I once stood in the pulpit and deplored freedoms for the black race! I once stood in the pulpit and shamed the idea of thinking! When I think of the souls I imprisoned in the house of guilt, I tremble!
Entrenched in fundamentalism as I was, I often question how I keep my sanity. In retrospect, I now realize that I had become a slave to superstition and the insane belief in an invisible friend. How absurd!
Dr. M. Lee Deitz is a graduate of Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. While a student at BJU, Dr. Deitz was elected President of his class, Chaplin of his literary society, was voted “Man of the Year,” won an annual “sermon contest,” and was a prayer captain.
After BJU, Deitz was a fundamentalist Baptist evangelist. He founded a statewide (SC) youth organization, “Truth For Youth,” and authored Sunday School Literature while active in a statewide fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship composed of “far-right-preachers.” Deitz was noted for his “hell-fire-and-damnation” preaching with fiery pulpit gestures.
Currently Dr. Deitz is president of The Upstate SC Secular Humanists. He has spoken in a number of UU Churches/Fellowships and at several International Humanists Conferences.
Mr. Deitz is the author of “Questioning the Sacred,” a book published in 2000, which is a query into the truth claims of the Christian Bible and religion. Copies are available from: Book By MLD, PO Box 1744, Greenville, SC 29602. $12.25 postage paid. DrMLDPhd [AT] aol [DOT] com.
Deitz is available as a humanist speaker for your group or conference. Hear, not hell-fire-and-damnation, but the “Humanities, Sanity and Reason” in an evangelical style.