A Friend Dies

By Brother Greg

3_D303826-Coffee House, Cafe, Drink, Restauran...Image by Harry‧黃基峰‧Taiwan via Flickr

This is something that happened during high school that I wish I had looked at more directly earlier in life – it might have helped me leave Christianity much sooner than I ultimately did. I should mention that this high school was an American school based in Taiwan. In Taiwan, when I lived there, there where there were a large number of white missionaries supposedly there to convert Chinese people to fundamentalist Christianity. I had a friend in the high school– let’s call him Mike.

Mike was a nice guy. He was also quite human. He was proud of his high SAT scores. He was in love with a girl at my high school, and the love was unrequited. He was very opinionated about music, about performing artists, songs, and lyrics. He was someone I could agree with or disagree with, but I respected his intelligence.

One day, Mike invited a friend, Steve, and me to a Christian weekend retreat for high school students, run by missionaries, and, out of curiosity, we agreed to go. There, during that weekend, Steve and I both had spiritual experiences. Given the context of our experiences, surrounded by all the missionaries and fellow high school students who were deeply invested in Christianity, we became Christians. We were told to read the bible, pray, go to church, and clean up our lifestyles, etc. I was stunned by my personal spiritual experience and overwhelmed by the earnestness of all the people so quick to tell me how to interpret my own experience.

Days after that, while hanging out at a local coffeehouse that was set up for Christian teenagers, Mike commented on how he was so happy to have participated in a “miracle”—the conversion of Steve and me. It was a comment that haunted me for years afterward.

About a week later, Mike was diagnosed with hepatitis. He stopped attending school and retired to his home. At the time, it seemed to me to be one of those diseases from which people usually recover. I don’t think, in those days, much was known about the different forms of hepatitis—that some forms are more harmful than others. I didn’t think anything of it. My father had once had hepatitis from eating shellfish, and he recovered. But Mike was getting worse, not better.

I went out to visit Mike at his home one Saturday afternoon. At that time, as he lay in bed, we talked briefly. He told me it was hard for him to have a conversation, because he felt so tired. Even just listening to people was an effort. He indicated that it was hard for him to have visitors, and I got the sense he’d rather not have any. So I let him be.

The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital. Another person and I visited him in the early evening, and he was sleeping. An orderly shook him, telling him he had visitors. Mike woke up, startled, looked at us, and promptly got sick. He was really out of it, and we soon left. That was the last time I saw him.

A strange event that happened after that. It was early on Easter morning, and I had been invited to join with a group of adult, male missionaries for a prayer meeting. During this meeting, we started doing what was called “speaking in tongues” – believing we were praying in another language that we did not otherwise know. Then there was some prayer, in English, about the health of Mike. In this middle of this prayer meeting, someone started speaking, as if channeling a message from God, that we should rise up, go to the hospital where Mike was, lay hands on him, and expect a miraculous healing. Another person added urgency to this message – that we should go now. We all got pretty excited about this, and the prayer meeting came to an end. We got up to leave, with plans to get in cars and go to the hospital, when we were interrupted by a phone call. Someone answered the phone, conversed slowly, and then hung up. This person then announced to us that he had just been told that Mike had died at about 3 o’clock that morning.

We were surprised and perplexed. Mike had died before the time of the prayer meeting. So what were those directions from God all about? Had we misheard? We sat down and started praying again, and soon a new message emerged, that we should still go to the hospital and do as we had been told. In short, Mike would be raised from the dead! We emerged from the meeting, convinced this would happen…. We got in cars and drove to the hospital.

While we were still outside the hospital, as I recall, someone in the group pointed out that we had to get permission from Mike’s dad to see the body, so that we could “lay hands” on him. Others agreed. Someone called Mike’s father, made the request, and was turned down. We felt stymied. We stood around hoping something would happen to make our prophecy come true…. But, of course, nothing happened. We finally left, individually, to go to different Easter morning church services.

I think some of us met later that day or at night at the Christian coffeehouse, where one of the leaders of the coffeehouse expressed his belief that some miracle was still going to happen.

But, as we all could see, nothing had happened.

And as it became clear over the next several days that nothing was going to happen, we stopped talking about it.

Over the years, since then, I’ve reflected on how a group of apparently grown men and a high school student (yours truly) managed to dupe ourselves like that. We earnestly hoped Mike would live, of course, and so there was the motivation. But in the days that followed, no one seemed willing to talk about how childish we had all been – and how wrong we had been, about some so-called “prophecies” from God. I was shocked to realize how these apparently grown-up men, obviously devoted to their faith – men that I looked up to at the time, couldn’t acknowledge we had been absolutely wrong about everything we thought we had heard from God at that prayer meeting. I think, in the long run, it was an experience that eventually made it easier for me to step away from Christian fundamentalism, first, and then Christianity as a whole, later.

The Question They Couldn't Answer

Sent in by koosgirl

Book of AnswersImage by Caro's Lines via Flickr

I was raised in a mainline Protestant household. We said grace, had an Advent wreath, went to church every Sunday, etc., but my parents were not overly heavy-handed. Church services were low-key, with the preaching and lessons geared toward positive things--emphasizing God's love for us, how we should love one another, God's mercy and kindness, and so on. I really never knew the negative aspects of the Bible until I was in my twenties and decided to read the whole thing, cover to cover.

It was an eye-opener for sure. I remember in particular the story of Job. In our church, Job had always been portrayed as a heroically faithful man, remaining true to God even when life dealt him the severest of blows--and being recompensed by God for the strength of his devotion.

So it was rather a shock to get the whole picture. God makes a bet with Satan that no matter how much crap God dishes out, Job will keep coming back for more. In cahoots with Satan, God heaps the shit on Job, taking everything the poor guy has--including his kids. Whoa! What was that? It wasn't *life* that dealt these blows to Job, it was...God! Let's just say it was a WTF moment.

Then, having won the bet, God makes good by replacing all Job's possessions--including his kids. Another big HUH? You can't "replace" a lost loved one by having someone new pop in. They're unique individuals, and God is acting like he's just giving Job a new muffler or something. Even we puny little humans can recognize this, but God can't? What kind of God doesn't know that? What kind of God acts like that?

After that, the question of suffering remained always in my mind. I asked many a pastor, religious counselor, and faithful Christian why a loving god would allow people to suffer, and got one of two answers:

"We don't know. It's a mystery, but God does everything for our greater good, so we must have faith in his ways."

"Because God wants us to have free will, he cannot force us to always do good. Unfortunately, some people choose to do evil things and make others suffer. But God has promised that we have free will, so he cannot intervene because he never breaks his promises."

Answer one never really cut it with me. I failed to see how child molestation, murder, traffic accidents, tidal waves, and such, could be for anyone's greater good. Plus, if it really is for our greater good, why doesn't God explain to us how that works? Why does he let people live on brokenhearted and devastated when he could console them by telling them what that greater good is?

Answer two I could somewhat buy. It is true that evil people have as much free will as good ones, and sadly, that does mean that there are innocent victims. Not very consoling, but it made a certain kind of sense.

Then my world changed, and I asked the question no one could answer.

At age 38, I became sick and was diagnosed with a hereditary illness. Medication helps, but I will never be well again.

This is a whole different aspect of suffering, and I wanted to know WHY it was happening. I wasn't even interested in wondering what greater good could come of it, having disposed of that answer long before. What I wanted to know was, how was my illness the result of someone's free will?

Whose free will?

Mine? I could hardly have chosen to have an illness, considering I couldn't even have chosen to be born.

My parents', for having had sex at that particular time that I was conceived? Not only is that nonsense--since they couldn't choose how their DNA would combine--it's unbelievably cruel to extend to them such a crushing burden of guilt. Besides, my parents loved me, and no loving parent would ever want their child to have an illness.

Adam and Eve's free will? Why should their decision to eat the fruit have any impact on my genetics? Why would God hold against me, something that two characters in a story written thousands of years ago decided to do? What kind of God does that?

I read voraciously, I asked all the so-called religious experts, I thought about it till my head ached.

Finally, one night, lying in bed with my brain chasing its own tail, I had a moment of clarity. The REASON I had an illness is because my parents were trying to have a baby. They had sex that particular time when my mom was fertile, the sperm met the egg, their DNA combined. All in accordance with NATURAL LAW, not the will of some Being in the sky. It happened...because it happened. It happened because Nature is random. It happened because that is the way the Universe works.

The remaining scales dropped from my eyes at that moment. No more metaphysical search for meaning, no more trying to make sense of the good god/suffering conundrum. Only the clear, obvious truth.

Some people say that this realization devastates them. For me, it was liberating! I didn't have to run in circles any more trying to defend some mythical god. I didn't have to wonder what was the greater good that would spring from my suffering. I didn't have to search for meaning in my illness. I tossed the last remnants of religion overboard at that moment, and I felt a peace and certainty much more real than anything religion had ever given me.

While I cannot speak for those who have endured the terrible tragedies of abuse, loss of a loved one, and the like, I can say that the meaning of my illness and the good that can come from it are the meaning and the good that I myself impute to it. In the ensuing years, I have found that for me, the good that has come from my illness has been the development of the grit and courage it takes to live as normal a life as possible, and much more empathy for others--indeed, a willingness not to judge them because I don't know their whole story, just as most people don't know mine.

I do not hate religious people. Some of them are horrible, but most are genuinely trying to be good with the tools they have. Most of them simply can't fathom a life without their faith, and that's fine for them. But as for me, I found much more peace in letting go of the supernatural. Now I value every day for what it is, I work to give meaning to my own life, and I accept the hand that has been dealt me. Life is better, and despite my ups and downs with my illness, I can honestly say I am happier.

The death of "born again"

By Donald R.

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674): Still-Life...Image via Wikipedia

I ended up attending private Christian schools all my life. We were pretty much taught how to be sheltered from anything they deemed evil. So we were oblivious to the world outside of our church faction. Most children after graduation from high school ended up partying harder than the "worldy" folks. They were the children who weren't taught about sex and drugs and ended up getting pregnant at 17 and 18 years old.

My father was a pastor and he was very controlling. He knew how to manipulate your emotions and make you feel guilty for not doing things his way. So I grew up battling with my father because I was always one to ask questions as to why we did the things we did. Why we believed the things we believed. Part of me was made to feel bad for being the only one questioning things and another part of me felt I had a right to know why I was following blindly.

Just about a year ago I was in bed and I thought to myself, "Man I wouldn't even want my worse enemy to burn in hell forever, why would god"? So from there my search began. I begin to study the history of the church, Christianity and even the topic hell. As I studied I realized a lot of what was taught to me was farce. It was tradition. It was man made. A way to control masses of people by fear tactics. To create this good and evil and show how it has it's consequences if you didn't abide by the rules of god who passed it down to these certain "men of god".

I asked myself these simple questions. Why would a perfect god create imperfect beings and punish them for not living perfect? Why would a perfect god create Lucifer and allow him to revolt against him and allow him to tempt mankind? Why would a perfect god pass down his will to faulty man to pass on to the rest of the world instead of just talking to each person individually?

The more I began to ask questions the more I began to realize how crazy organized religion was. How preachers take so much money in the name of god yet the people they are suppose to be helping are poor and struggling to make it through the week.

Right now at this point in life I feel life is bigger than religion. I do believe there is a creator that created everything. The beauty of the world and universe is so complex for it to created out of happenstance. I don't think man can ever understand the creator of universes. We try to understand but no man can be 100% sure of their idea of a creator. So I encourage people to just love those around you, love yourself and continue striving for knowledge of this world. Leaving religion was the best thing that has ever happen to me.

Religion: a panacea for evil

by Lemsip

Sauron's eye : my church is turning evil !Image by AmUnivers via Flickr

This is following the recent article 'Religion has passed it's prime'.

What would a world look like without organised religion. I'm afraid new religions would form as a way to control societies, nations, tribes, etc. Even some atheists have a vested interest in keeping religion alive even to the point of imposing it on people whose behaviour they don't approve of especially those from lower social classes. I say to them 'well if you think church going is so good why don't you go yourself'. This is where the old adage of Karl Marx 'religion is the curse of the working class' rings true.

When I quit going to church for the first time people I knew not just christians were begging me to try a new church. I was sick of church hopping and had realised that it wasn't this particular church and that particular church was wrong but the whole religion itself. I could breathe a bit more as I could watch whatever I wanted to on television and read more but I still felt a bit of a straightjacket around me because of left over hang-ups from religion and childhood. I was noticing it even more because of I was opening myself up more to what was going on in the world.

People expected me to carry on being the goody goody little two shoes I once was but that wasn't going to happen anymore. If anybody was rude to me I was rude back to them. Yet it took a little while longer before I started not taking things personally and attributed this rudeness to something about me. While I was religious I was trained into odd behaviour, to be pleasing and to seek approval beforehand before doing anything. When I became more confident and not caring so much about what people thought of me I became less odd. It took a little while longer not to seek approval from people just as I had been doing from God and the church. Religious 'friends' melted away just as those non-religious people who were looking for a scapegoat and a lackey were also melting away.

I thought GOD was the solution

Stop Abuse NowImage by Dude Crush via Flickr

Sent in by Evelyn

I have been reading the posts about 4 months now. I did not start reading the posts because of deconversion, but because I was searching the Internet for a link on spiritual abuse in that link were testimonials of people were abused in United Pentecostal Church. That was the church I was thrown out of.

I have been struggling all my life with mental illness and severe childhood abuse. Abuse that you only read about in the papers. Even though my adoptive parents did not go to church they sent me to church, vacation bible studies, and my birth family was Catholic. I was adopted at 3+. I was told that if I died I was going to hell, demons were going to get me and locked in closets and told God was going to get me.

I read the bible from cover to cover when I was eight. I know the bible and I wish I had never read it. I have been tormented by it. I never questioned the brutality of it and i did not see how sadistic and cruel the crucification of Jesus on the Christ. I did think that if I was God and could do anything I wanted I would definitely come up with a better plan than that. The barbaric treatment of women. The slaughtering of animals for sin and I really never realised that whole mass murders of societies as murder.

I really believed the bible out of fear and I was a child looking for comfort. I thought God would protect me. I actually slept with a bible under my pillow and I believed that what I was going through was God's will so that I could lead others. I went to church, listened to sermons, and felt condemned, guilty, tried other religions but felt totally condemned.

I was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder. I thought it must be demonic and through away my meds and joined United Pentelcostal Church. Surely God would heal me. I became sicker and sicker. It was easy to hide in church. Revival meetings, speaking in tongues, and every negative emotion or person who did not agree with our pastor was of the the devil.

You can be very sick and function in church. The testimonials of people being healed of their addictions, miracles, etc... They might stop drinking, smoking, having sex but they are still addicted. I was addicted to religion. I never dreamed or thought that Christianity could be an addiction or the root cause of my mental illness. I never recognized that United Pentecostal Church was abusive or a cult.

I became so ill that I could not dress myself. The last day I went to church it took everything I had to get to church. My pastor escorted me to the front door and told me that I my negative spirit caused GOD to leave the church. They told me I ate with devils, slept with devils, and talk to them. That was back in 1989 and it just got worse. I would not let go of my believe in GOD. I did end up turning my life over to psychiatrists and therapist and they were no better. The mental health system is full of Christian casualties. You see consumers walking around holding on to little pictures of JESUS, Crosses, prayers, self talk in their head is God or the devil. I also have to tell you that psychiatry is no better they want to make a disease out of everything and it really isn't about healing rather control. There are people in the system who will never get better but there are people who have recovered.

I did recover by by own self will and determination, and one of the tools I used is challenging what I believe. My life was mostly built upon lies and myths. What you believe will make you sick? In Christianity it is the Devil or God. If you believe that you are born a sinner and that you are inherently evil and there is no good in you everybody is going to hell. Natural normal sexually is twisted and perverted. Those extremes thoughts of good and evil. How can you possibly have a positive outlook on life. When I realized that when I die I am not going to hell my anxiety left. I have been in therapy for 15 years. Every therapist I have worked with said I didn't have Bi-Polar disorder, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I knew about the sexual trauma, the physical abuse and neglect, but did not see Christianity as part of the package. I thought GOD was the solution.

Anybody who has ever recovered or overcame anything in their life did it by taking responsibility for their life and they live by choice. When taking responsibility for your life, I do not mean condemnation, quilt, etc. Wherever you are at today you can make choices that make you life better or worse. If there really was a GOD that created this mess he would be one sadistic being, and it would not make him God just because something has more power than you have. It is time for humans to evolve and throw beliefs in a GOD in the crapper.

Consciencebound to Leave the Faith

Sent in by Jeff

La Conscience (d'après Victor Hugo)Image via Wikipedia

I had a conversation with someone lately via email and they were asking about how I became a Christian and how I ended up leaving the Christian faith. Most of the time people who are Christians do not see how someone could have been a “true Christian” if they end up leaving the faith, so when they hear that I am no longer a Christian, they assume that I had a false faith of some kind. I wanted to briefly share my story of how I became a Christian and how I came to not be a Christian. I know that many people will still feel as though I was not a “real” Christian, but there is not much that I can do about that. The bottom line for me is that I was honestly a Christian and believed in Jesus and the Bible with all of my heart. I left the faith because I feel that I was bound by my conscience to be honest with myself about what I could and could not truly believe anymore.

I grew up in a Christian home but…was not serious about my faith as a teenager at all. I was into drugs and alcohol quite a bit and I had a pretty bad experience on some heavy drugs which scared me into stopping. As I sobered up I had this intense feeling that I was not right with God. I felt that if I were to die that i was likely going to go to hell. I KNEW what I had to do to get right with God from my Christian upbringing and so after a few “divine appointments” of meeting people who invited me to church with them I accepted and went. I KNEW that this was the right thing to do and I FELT that as I heard the gospel and responded that I was forgiven of my sin and assured of eternal life because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ in my behalf on the cross. I accepted this by faith and my life totally changed.

I then wanted to study and know as much as i could about my faith. Not to prove it to be true, because i already knew that by faith, but to simply be able to “give an answer to everyone who asks for the hope that is within me”. I had a lot of friends at the time who were not Christians and who thought that my new found dogmatism in this narrow minded Christian faith was misguided. “Sure Jesus was fine, but how can you say that he is the only way” they would tell me. I wanted what I was experiencing with God to be my friends experience so i wanted to give them the best arguments that I could find to show them that Christianity was a rational belief. I read and listened to tapes by Josh McDowell, Normal Geisler, Henry Morris and any other apologetics that I could find who were popular at the time (about 1990 - 1991). Unable to “convince” my friends, I moved on with my life and immersed myself in the church and found all new Christian friends who were an encouragement to my faith rather than always wanting to attack me. I lived every day as if God was with me the whole day. Reading my Bible and praying and talking to God at work and throughout my days. I loved to worship God and felt especially close to the Lord during worship times at church. It seemed that God was answering my prayers and truly responding to me about daily things in my life. There were countless times that certain “coincidences” happened which seemed to show that God was truly working in my life. I had no doubts in my mind that Jesus was real and that my sins were forgiven.

In time I had opportunity to teach various bible studies and realized how much I really did not know and so I went to a small Bible College in California for a few years. I felt a call to preach the gospel and to teach people about the faith. When i taught, people seemed to be encouraged and drawn closer to the Lord and many people told me about how much they were able to learn from my teaching. After Bible College, I took a position as a youth pastor for a few years and then taught in various capacities in different churches that I went to. I taught small group Bible studies, new believers classes at a larger church, preached in pulpits from time to time, and taught at various random times in different settings. During all of this time (about 8 years or so) I don’t remember EVER doubting that God was real or that He was near me every day. Although I struggled like anyone does when you feel distant from the Lord at times I always had faith and always knew without a doubt that I was following the truth and that my sins were forgiven.

I always worked with people who were not Christians and I loved to talk to people about my faith and try to persuade them that they should consider Christ. In about 1999, I worked with a few guys that I would talk to on a regular basis about Christianity. One of them in particular kept pushing me on some basic questions about knowing whether the Bible was true or not and some of their questions just stuck in the back of my head. At first, it just encouraged me to study more so that i could give a good answer to them and feel comfortable with the answer myself but as time went on, I started to become more and more concerned. I met with my pastor and other people from time to time to share with them the issues that I was having problems with and I would get a little better but end up coming back to these questions which seemed to be a real problem. I remember reading a book by John Macarthur on preaching and he was talking about various preachers of the past who had struggled with their faith. One guy, G. Campbell Morgan, had similar questions and just decided one day that if the Word of God was truly powerful, that he should be able to set all of his other books aside for a time and just read the Bible and if it was true, he would be convinced of it. He did this for a year and when the year was up, he emerged with a faith that was stronger than ever. I figured that I would try the same thing. I put my apologetics and theology books on the shelf and just focused on trying to read the Bible and better my relationship with God. I tried reading more devotional books that were meant to encourage my daily walk with Christ . Books by men like John Piper, Andrew Murray, A.W Tozer and others. My thought was that since I did not come to Christ through arguments and logic, why was I trying to keep my faith in that way. I came to Christ because i had an experience with God where I felt his presence and just knew that Jesus was real and could forgive my sins. It was as if God had written his truth on my heart and I didn’t need to do anything to figure it out, I just had to believe it.

I would go back and forth between the struggle with my intellectual doubts and my internal faith which seemed to come directly from God. Eventually, I felt as though I was avoiding my intellectual problems and I truly felt like I was not being honest with myself. I had to deal with these things. I had to face them head on. If the Bible was true then surely it would stand the test of intense scrutiny as has been the testimony of so many famous Christians like C.S Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and others. My problems and questions only got bigger the more I studied and looked into things. I realized that I was assuming the Christian faith to be true before I even started to find out of it was defensible. What bothered me was that when I was talking to other people who were Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims I would not allow them to do that. They had to deal with the contradictions in their faith and show that there as good historical reasons to believe it. If a Mormon could assume the truth of the Book of Mormon at the beginning then anything that I showed them that tried to point out inconsistencies or errors in it could be resolved since they KNEW it was true in the first place because of an experience that they had with God. I realized that I was doing essentially the same thing and that it was really not an honest way to look at things. I had to look at the Christian faith from the outside and see if it was internally consistent like I would with any other religion or truth claim. Even though i felt as though I had a genuine experience with God and that he answered my prayers and showed himself to be real to me, I had to consider that many people of other faiths had the exact same experience with their “God”. How was I to distinguish between true experiences with God and false ones? Wasn’t it a little arrogant for me to expect that my experience with God was true while all of these other people’s was false without even looking at the facts? Was it possible that my experiences with God were imagined or that I might be the one who was believing the wrong things? I had to at least grant the POSSIBILITY that this could be true. I easily wrote off other people’s claims to answered prayers and religious truth since it did not agree with mine but was that truly justified?

The problem was that when I held the Christian faith to a strict a standard of logic and historical accuracy as I did Mormonism or Islam, it failed just like they did. The more I looked at it from that perspective, the more I saw that there was no more reason to believe Christianity then there was to believe that Mohamed was a prophet of God. And the likelihood of Mohamed being a prophet seemed pretty slim. A few of the problems with the Bible that stood out to me were:
  • We have little to no idea who wrote the gospels and much of the new testament and old testament.
  • The earliest copies of the new testament that we have are over 100 years after they were written.
  • There is apparently no evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt as slaves.
  • The more we examine it, the Bible is shown to be a primitive book written by a primitive people with a very primitive understanding of the world.
  • The Bible speaks as if Heaven is up from the earth and hell is beneath the earth. Jesus ascended "up into heaven" through the clouds into... outer space?
  • If allowed to speak for itself in its own context, the Bible blatantly contradicts itself by teaching polar opposite points of view on major subjects like salvation by works or faith, the salvation of all or only a few, the existence of Hell, The nature of God, the resurrection of Christ etc etc etc.
  • So called prophecies in the Bible are usually so ambiguous that to call them a prophecy is laughable and very similar to believing in astrology.
  • The Bible speaks of major events that have no evidence whatsoever which is similar to the book of Mormon.

I have continued to read and ask questions and talk to as many people who would talk to me (which often is not that many) about these things. I just came to a point where I realized that I really did not believe it any longer even though I am very open to the possibility of the Christian faith being true. I still like to think that I am open and willing to listen to what someone wants to say. I will listen and evaluate whether it seems likely to be true based on whether it is a logically consistent belief, whether it lines up with reality as we know it, and is consistent with History as far as we can tell. I can’t in good conscience just take religious claims on faith since there are so many competing religious claims that are asking me to do that. There has to be a way to distinguish them and to separate truth from error or else it would be too easy to drink a poisoned glass of Kool-aid to my own demise.

For more on the specific reasons that I have for not being a Christian you can check out my blog at consciencebound.com

I'm a missionary kid... and an atheist

Sent in by Tim

I grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippines. I am twenty years old, an atheist (I guess), and quite enjoying my place in the world.

As I said, I am a missionary kid. Both of my parents have been through seminary and are ordained. My father got his master's degree in Biblical Theology and my mom got a Master's of Divinity. My entire family, including my two brothers, my sister and all my distant relatives, is Christian. I went to private Christian schools from first grade to high school graduation. How is it, then, that I don't believe in what my family considers the most important thing in life?

The story of my "escape" from Christianity is more a story of never fully giving in to it. Throughout my life, I have been pretty thoroughly ignored by my family. One factor for my neglect is that I'm the youngest in my family; another is that my brother is (or was) an extremely hyperactive, attention-hungry kid. To add to this, I have always been very introverted and shy. I have always been in the background and prefer it that way. So, how does that play into my lack of belief in God?

Well, to put it simply, I was never fully brainwashed like most religious kids are. My parents simply forgot to tell me about God or assumed I already knew or something. My family and I went to church every Sunday (my dad even preached every now and then) but I would sneak out of church most of the time and not pay any attention when I would attend. So it wasn't until I was a little older (probably 8 years old) that I first heard (or listened to) the Gospel story- my brother Andrew told me about it. He told me about heaven and hell and the whole bit. Well, being young and gullible, I believed it and prayed the prayer that he instructed me to and BOOM!!!... nothing happened. No transformation, no "Holy Spirit", nothing but the silence of the empty room to take witness of my salvation. But that didn't deter my belief one bit.

I truly started doubting when I was ten years old. I decided to go to a charismatic church down the street from our house by myself. It was held in a large pavilion tent and packed full of people. I vividly remember one part of the service where the pastor prayed to the holy spirit, made a radical gesture with his hand and all the people in the congregation fell down, struck by the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues... all except one.

I remember it still and can picture myself- a little shy white kid standing alone in the midst of about 500 Filipinos in spiritual ecstasy, never feeling at odds. I kept wondering, "Why can't I be struck down by the Holy Spirit too? I want to speak in tongues." Well, I prayed time and time again that it would happen to me and, well, it never did. That was the first seed of my disbelief.

In the end I gave up on "feeling the Holy Spirit". I decided that it must not be for me and I kept believing, nonetheless. But did I believe? I still wonder if I truly did or if it was just a passive submission to the beliefs of all those around me. I didn't really think about it that much. However, despite God feeling so distant to me, I decided that I would pursue Her with my greatest efforts. I spent my junior high and high school years participating in my church's choir and musical ensembles (my mom was the music director- woohoo!), leading worship in a youth group band, and even leading my own discipleship group at my school. I guess one waste of time is as good as another and I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it all. But it was not to last.

When I was 18 years old, I abandoned my faith entirely. I'm unsure as to the cause of my disbelief, but I think it was a number of events.

One event that hindered my faith was the church. I'm not referring to some distant scandals about abusive priests or some church crusade long past. I'm talking specifically about the churches I attended and how the members of those churches abused my mother.

My mother was the music director and pianist at a Baptist church for a couple of years. But she had conflicts with the organist- the organist would never practice and would refuse to play many of the songs that were requested of her (and she got payed a lot of money). She decided to blame her own lack of effort on my mother... behind her back... to the church board. So, my mother was fired, friendships were ended, insults were delivered and so forth.

Then my mother got a job as a music director at another, even bigger Baptist church. Everything seemed great there for a year and a half or so, but then "Satan put his plans into motion". The pastor, who seemed so inspired and so Godly, divorced his wife. That caused some controversy. A month later, he married the organist at the church (damn organists). Needless to say, that caused an uproar and the church proceeded to tear itself apart. My mother was forced to leave because she refused to take sides on the issue (at least in public) and the church members pecked at each other in some amazing ways. At a church meeting, for example, one person suggested that the church find a new pastor and another person, who was the pastor's friend, turned on her, attributing her idea to the great Lucifer himself. Ahhh, church politics.

I think the greatest hindrance to my faith was a miracle: I witnessed the supernatural healing of a blind girl... or so some say.

I went on a medical missions trip with my father to Mexico. The goal of our group was to give medical care to the poor people there (for free) and teach them the Gospel (preying on the helpless- I love it!). Well, during my time there, a little girl came to one of our clinics. She had very poor eyesight, perhaps qualifying for legally blind even though she had some sense of vision. Well, a few people in the group, myself included, gathered around and prayed for her and WALLAH!!! She was healed! Her eyes cleared up and she could see perfectly!!!

Haha. That was the version of the story that my father took to the pulpit, along with a few other people who spread the story. Here's what really happened: we prayed for her. Then, the optometrist who was with us did some eye tests on her. He then gave her a pair of eyeglasses that had a really strong focus and, wouldn't you know it, she could see quite a bit better than she could before. This somewhat regular occurrence turned into a big miracle story. My father even wrote an article about it entitled, "Blind Girl Receives Sight". I couldn't believe that my own father would obscure the truth so blatantly and yet so sincerely. I confronted him about it, but he was completely convinced that it was a great miracle. When I realized that this story, which would eventually be widespread among our local Christian community, was so fake, I called into question all miracle stories. That was when I gave it all up.

Well, I am an atheist. I have been for a couple of years but I have yet to tell my family. The funny part of the story- I still attend church. Why? It's pure entertainment. I can't help but crack a wide-toothed grin every time someone walks up to me and tells me, "God bless you" or "the peace of Christ be with you". May religion live on. I couldn't get my Sunday morning chuckles without it.

My rejection of blind faith

Sent in by Daniel Brown

My ancestors were forced out of Europe for being Protestants. Since then, many have been preachers, deacons, missionaries, teachers, and professors teaching and preaching Christianity. I, myself, attended several Christian schools throughout my life and at one time was a religion major with the intention of being a preacher. Throughout college, I served as a youth minister and taking several mission trips in the US and abroad. I graduated from a Christian university and worked for a prominent evangelical denomination for almost eight years.

Over the past five years, I have thoughtfully examined what I believe. This is the first time I have ever truly taken the time to dig deep and determine what my position on religion is. This is an important step considering my background.

I have come to the conclusion that all religions, particularly the three Abrahamic religions, are fabricated, and are nothing more than folklore and superstition.

My primary issue with Christianity and for that matter Judaism and Islam is these religions are based on the dreams, visions, interpretations of folklore, and/or outright fabrications and manipulation of historical events. The authors of these "holy" books transcribed their thoughts in all cases over 1,400 years ago and in some cases over 3,000 years ago. Am I to base my entire life on the written account of an "angel" appearing to an individual 2,000 years ago? I do not know this individual. I do not know if he or she has a history of schizophrenia, paranoia, or is simply delusional.

Consider this simple argument: It is believed that Moses was born in the 13th century BCE and he wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. He recounted stories passed down from generation to generation through centuries before him. Judaism, Christianity, and much of Islam are based on Mosaic writings--one man recounting oral tradition and recording his personal story while in the wilderness. There is no witness or corroborating evidence to support everything he said. Genesis and Exodus can only be viewed as fiction and Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy can be viewed as Moses' manifesto. While Mosaic law is certainly helpful and has assisted in the advancement of Western civilization, I cannot fully believe every word he or anyone else in the Bible have written.

The only argument contemporary evangelical Christians can provide against my position is that one must have faith that what was written is accurate and true. What sort of argument is that? It is Moses' word against reason and rationalism. I choose the latter.

All three of these religions preach and require faith as the means by which people can interact with God and find salvation. This is understandable as there is no rational basis for any claims in any of these three major religions.

All of these, particularly Christianity, with which I am most familiar, do not make their potential converts aware of the first step of faith required to accept and believe in their God. The first step of faith is to believe what the prophets claim to have seen and been told by God as they are recorded in scripture. There are many books in the Bible where in the author is unknown. In others, a third party writes the stories. You must have faith in the author to have faith in what they tell you. Additionally, one must believe that the translations of these books are sound. This is unverifiable to the average person.

Blind faith and complete abandonment of rationalism and critical thinking are required to follow any of these religions. My rational side has not and will not allow me to accept blind faith any longer. Therefore, I completely reject Christianity and all religions and dismiss them as folklore and superstition.

Escaping the Bully

Sent in by Howie51

During the Western Canadian mini revival of the mid 70's, Hal Lindsey's morbid book, "The Late Great Planet Earth" frightened me enough to enter the Christian void. Shortly after my conversion, my scientifically minded wife nearly left me, and having survived that crises, re-considered her departure a year later when my insistence on tithing became a hot issue.
Sunday services at First Assembly Pentecostal in Calgary were never missed, and Wednesday evening bible studies and sing songs both left me goose bumped and longing for more. My departure for greener pastures coincided with the unexplained resignations of both senior pastors, and gave me my first initiation into church politics. The hot new faith based ministries sounded alluring. Oddly enough, they couldn't ever get enough teaching on tithing, and the congregation were harassed every Sunday by a glassy eyed businessman extolling the virtues of giving till it hurts and then some. The church collapsed eventually, and the wandering continued, until exhaustion and cynicism quenched my thirst for communion with the saints.

Church doorways missed any semblance of my shadow for many years, but as a closet believer continually bereft and assailed with guilt over lack of fellowship and service to god, the conscience thing was also exhausting. There is no escaping the mind torture that follows any conversion to Christianity other than to immerse yourself 100% in service to god, even then you will constantly wonder if that is sufficient - after all you haven't died in the process.

Close friends of mine, well educated from both a secular and religious point of view, were going through deep studies of the origins, authorship, and veracity of the bible. Knowing my commitment, they gently left cookie crumbs which lead down the path of enlightenment and freedom in the most unexpected manner. The winter of 2009 in Calgary, horrid as it was (thank goodness for global warming) gave rise to weeks on end spent digesting books on science, creation, and bible anatomy. The lights came on February 25th 2009. Shortly afterward my beliefs swung completely atheist.

Close to 4 months later, what can objectively be said about my experiences? Freedom from guilt and oppression rank first and foremost. Secondly, having honest and scientific answers to perpetually perplexing questions. Thirdly, not having to be ashamed any longer of believing something that deep down inside you knew was fundamentally flawed, but you lacked understanding to express. This is the clearest, cleanest, most aware and open state of mind a human being could ever hope for. To be free of fear of a bad tempered, unreasonable bully of a god, and his hopelessly ambiguous son, is by far the better alternative to 32 years of enslavement to a Bronze Age superstition and cleverly fabricated fables of a water walking savior. Is this man happy? Clearly ecstatic.

But we kinda share the same beliefs...

Sent in by Gary

Maori JesusImage by TitaniumDreads via Flickr

I am an ex-Christian from New Zealand, and while we don't have the same variety of ridiculous Christian offshoots, we have our own quirks (which everybody is obliged to "respect" regardless), such as a recent case where a 14 year old girl was killed in an exorcism where water was poured down her throat to cleanse her of demons. The religion in this case isn't apparent, but it looks to have parts of Christianity mixed with native Maori legends. The case is coming to a close, and the defense of the "divine healer" appears to be one of "she truly believed in the healing power of water, and who are you to judge?" It will not surprise me if the judge acquit him.

And this is a part of what drove me away from christianity - the fact that no two people can agree on a wholistic definition of the religion. Some take the bible literally, others "interpret" it with the guide of the "holy spirit" (ie use their conscience to ignore the parts that are too abhorrent for them to deal with). From what I've seen, modern christianity isn't as much about following the bible, as it is about enjoying a sense of community that is loosely tied to a collection of stories that aren't even consistent within themselves.

I guess this is part of the attraction, but also a big part of the problem - there are an abundance of churches, but not many athiest community centres, and christians who know from the start that they can ignore parts of the bible that they don't like are much less likely to bother to actually attempt to define their beliefs (or like my friends, don't have the "faith" to read more than a few pages of a book such as the God Delusion).

As for my journey, I was a gifted child with a strong biblical knowledge (which eventually is what enabled me to reject the religion my family imposed on me), and grew up closely tied to the church, becoming a leader in the youth group (which let me see first hand how orchestrated the guilt-trips are at christian youth camps), to finally leave the church only this year (after numerous guilt trips to come back and help out and to "stop being silly"). What worries me is that although I am only 20, I have still wasted 20 years of my life on something that doesn't exist.

And now? I'm an atheist. I remained a christian when it appeared to be the right thing, but after opening my eyes to how ridiculous all religions are, I think it's safe to assume that there isn't a god (although in practise atheism and deism aren't that different, I figure fully rejecting god is a much stronger step to make).

Christianity taught me I was worthless as a person

By Autumn

a predestined tragic end..., originally uploaded by chromatophobe.

I grew up in churches. My parents used to change churches if they felt a teacher “wasn’t being true” to the bible. I remember changing churches as being a huge upheaval because all my friends were at church, so it meant going through a long process of making new friends and learning my place in the social strata. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, and my parents involved my brothers and me heavily in the day to day activities of religion. It is painful to write about this, because I would define the religion of my youth as being emotionally abusive.

The main church I remember growing up in was Calvinist, as were all the churches we were prone to attend. Calvinism has got to be one of the most damaging forms of christianity out there, but when I was a believer, I thought it was the best thing ever. Being predestined makes you feel important, especially when the rest of the time you hear that you are a worthless sinner who can’t even make god smile and who deserves to be cast into a fiery pit for eternity because you were born dirty and sinful. But I never felt sure of my salvation, and that worried me. I would have these great emotional conversion experiences that started when I was 6 or 7 and continued into my teens. I probably got “saved” 4 times a year, because there was always this nagging uncertainty in my heart that said something doesn’t feel right. I kept these reconversion experiences quiet, because my parents didn’t handle doubt in their faith well. There were a lot of things I had to keep hidden from them.

My father is an ordained minister who is partway through his masters in divinity. His real life job is as an engineer. Christianity was something his parents had passed down to him, along with a stern disciplinarian side and the inability to tolerate dissent. He is a Calvinist to a tee, a rational man who seems to lack the ability to be pleased, a man who belittles and shouts down anything he doesn’t approve of. My view of the christian god was largely based on my relationship with my father, and our incessant readings of the bible. We would have family devotions several times a week, where my dad would read the scriptures to us, tell us to discuss what we thought it meant, and then we would pray as a family. Religion was our life. At the church where my dad was an assistant pastor, we would be at the church multiple times during the week. I was involved heavily in the youth group, so I would be there Monday night to practice with the band, Wednesday for youth group, Thursday to practice with the adult worship team and choir, and Sunday for church service. And that was if there were no special activities going on during the other days, like Evangelism Explosion on Tuesdays or church cleanup on Saturdays.

Even with my constant participation in church activities, there was still guilt and depression. The christian god and my father would never say that I was good enough, that I measured up, that I pleased them or made them happy. I eventually developed an eating disorder. It was the only aspect of my life that I had control over, and it was a way for me to measure up and be perfect, even if it hurt me. My parents were too busy with their religion to notice, but the leader of our youth group did. Rather than get me professional medical and psychological help, we entered into a strange and irreparably wrong relationship, where I tried to get the affection and approval I was seeking and he had the affections of a teenage girl. He was married, and the relationship I had with his wife became strained. I trusted him to help me fix the pain I was feeling, but all he could offer were bible verses and god loves yous. Eventually we broke it off when he told one of my friends she wasn’t a christian because she didn’t believe in Calvinism.

I was doing everything I could to fix my depression and be happy like a christian should, and I managed to get my anorexia to the point I could control it without my parents commenting on what I was eating or how much I was exercising. When I graduated high school I was sent to a christian college. It was more of the same, religion everyday, but no one noticing what was really going on with me. I found another girl with anorexia, worse than I, because I knew how to hide it and I thought she would get caught. But no one ever noticed either of us getting thinner and thinner, wasting away into shadows of ourselves. I recently found a picture of my time at christian college, and I can’t believe no one ever said anything to me about my weight. I looked like death incarnate. My eyes were sunken and my bones protruding, but still I wasn’t good enough. I still had cravings, carnal feelings, I was still tempted. I was still sinning. I could never be perfect enough for a god that wasn’t there.

During that time, I met the man who is now my husband, the first person ever to shake my ideas of god and the world. He was still a christian then, but he said that god was not good, god was evil and god was responsible for all the evil in the world because he created it and allowed it to go on. I couldn’t find fault with the reasoning he presented, and my church attendance began to decline. We married in our second semester of college and he joined the Navy. A year or so later, we moved down to the Gulf Coast and starting reading and studying religion seriously. My husband and I are both pansexual, and it left us with a lot of guilt because we had both been taught that alternative lifestyles were contrary to what god wanted for us. One of my husband’s friends introduced us to a film called the Zeitgeist, and everything began to change for us.

The first third of the Zeitgeist is dedicated to debunking christianity as a rehash of earlier pagan sun god worship. When I watched it for the first time, it made me very angry. I could only sputter about how it was wrong, but I had no real answers or proof as to why it was wrong. I began to read about pagan religions, especially goddess worship, and the oppressing force of christianity began to weigh down on me. There is no real respect for women in the bible. They have no place except to submit to their husbands and raise christian children, but I was reading about other religions where women had valid places in religion and huge roles in their communities, where women had influence and mattered. To the dismay of my husband, I began to frequent atheist websites and read essays on why the bible isn’t true, how it really came into being, and how creationism is bunk. I had christian science textbooks all through high school, so I felt I was behind a bit in regards to science and I wanted to catch up. My husband was resistant to the changes I was making in my life, but he became close friends with two atheists in the Navy and their discussions began to steer him towards my point of view.

Christianity is not what christians think it is and I am glad to no longer be a part of it. My new way of thinking gives me peace and clarity that I never had from christianity. I am done with the guilt and the fear. I am learning to accept myself and love myself the way I am now, and my eating disorder has been in remission for quite some time. My husband initially thought my rejection of christianity was based on the issues I have with my parents, which are much more in depth and much more personal than I can share here. But to reject a religion because of a bad experience with its adherents would be foolish. I reject christianity because it isn’t true. Plain and simple.

After 18 years in the church, I am no longer a christian. I would say that I am a pantheist, that I believe there is value and spirit in all living things. When people ask me my religion, I identify as pagan. I realize most of the people posting here are no longer religious, but to me paganism is a way of life that respects all living things. My husband has left christianity as well, and joined the Quakers. I began reading essays by people who left christianity on this site about 4 months ago, and I am glad to add my story to theirs.

Religion has passed it's prime

By Joel W. Bizzell

John Lennon- ImagineImage by jeffpearce via Flickr

Growing up in the Deep South, I got birds eye view of religion. To be specific, Baptists.

My parents divorced before I was cognizant of the world beyond my mobile and my testicles. My mother's mother was a good grandparent, but not a very warm or outgoing woman -- not mean, but not one to go too excessively coo. My father's mother, who was the polar opposite of my other grandmother, was the stereotype of the southern granny: great cook, loved to spoil children, and had more love in her heart for he kids than possibly anyone ever before. Anyway, I spent a great deal of time with her from the day I was born right up until her passing last month. She was also a Baptist. (I do want to state here that my verbal onslaught on Christianity is by no means directed at her.)

Outside of my Grandmother carrying me to Sunday services as much as she could when I was very young, as well as when I stayed with her on vacation later in life (after my mother and I left the town where she and my father lived), I was not what you would call "brought up" in a church or a religion.

My mother, being a fairly liberal and permissive woman (she came of age in the sixties, AND was the child of cold, "by the book," parents), felt that it was up to me to seek faith. She never came right out and asked my young mind if I felt that there was a greater power, or even if I wanted to attend Sunday school. If I wanted to, she would have taken me, but as it stood I never asked and we never went.

I was left to my own vices to ponder the mysteries of the universe and the infinite and myself in the infinite. Most of the time I opted for cartoons and X-Men action figures-- it was all I needed. As I grew though, I would begin to consider the sermons I got when I visited my grandmother. Even as an unbiased child of 10 or 12 I would see the pastor and the things he said as being completely full of shit. It just did not make any sense at all as far as I was concerned, but neither did math. However, I know that that those mathematical equations, when done right, were ALWAYS correct. That's wasn't the case with religion, which is rarely done right and is never correct.

The years passed and my dreams changed with the millennium from wanting to be a doctor to wanting to be an artist and filmmaker. So now as a young man of 24 years I have taken a firm stance against religion as a whole. Religion has passed it's prime and worn out it's global welcome as far as I am concerned.

At the age of 24 I am in failing health (born with a condition called Neurofibromatosis, where tumors of various sizes pop up at different places on and in my body. I have some of tumors on my optic nerves which are rapidly robbing me of my vision and several tumors along my spine causing me constant pain). I wonder: Why would a just God...?

So, in my mid-twenties I am a foul-mouthed cynic. Walking with a cane, and addicted to pain meds, I am not a very pleasant person to be around. My contempt for religion has been pretty steady for awhile now, and at my Grandmother's memorial service the preacher, who had promised my father and I that he would give an uplifting talk to encourage the grieving family to remember the life of our departed loved one, decided to slip in a sermon about if you are good, as she was, that you will go to the great beyond and walk along side...dot dot dot. (This was nice. It was good. It truly did good for my cousin who is "special" and in her 30's with the mind of a nine year old, who lost her father, my uncle some years ago, to think that her grandmother was with her father and grandfather.) But the preacher did not stop there. He opted to give the other side, that if you are bad (something that does not pertain to Grandma at all) that you go to hell. And he drug it out to a spiel about Satan. Is that necessary at a funeral? I should say not.

I say now that in a world where all its people drop their faith, it may have a rocky start- but it is the first step to a Global Utopia. Religion as a whole (any and all) has done more harm than good. People lie. cheat, steal, manipulate and murder in the name of a deity.

I think the great John Lennon put it best when he said "Imagine there is no Heaven, above us only skies, no hell below us. Imagine all the people living for - today..."

Thanks for your time. There are very few people who share my opinions here where I live, and I really needed to share some of my viewpoints.

House of Cards

Sent in by Travis Frey

Miniature House of CardsImage by privatenobby via Flickr

Hey everyone. My name is Travis, I am 21 years old. I was born and raised as a Baptist. I grew up believing that the Bible was the literal, inerrant Word of God. I strictly believed that all nonbelievers would spend eternity in hell. That thought caused me much discomfort. Especially when I went to a summer camp and they told us that false believers and "lukewarm" believers would get it worse than anyone in hell. I immediately thought of my parents, whom where really Christian in name only. They "believed in Christ" but that was the extent of it. I didn't see the "work of the Holy Spirit" or "the good fruit" in their lives. I tortured myself at night, pleading, begging to God with tear soaked eyes not to send my parents to hell. Also, my brother is agnostic-ish. I would pray to God that He would help out my brother, and give him the gift of faith! My dreams would be full of visions of my loved ones being condemned to an eternity in hell at Judgment Day. That intense fear I believe caused me severe psychological problems later on in life.

At about the age of 16 I began to doubt my faith. I couldn't realistically believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and all of that fundamentalist protestant jive. After about a year long search I converted to Catholicism, believing I had found a more reasonable, less anti-science and reason faith. The grass was no greener on that side of the fence. They taught all non-Catholics go to hell. So now my girlfriend at the time(now wife) was going to hell. It was so hard to reconcile that a God who is described as love would condemn His own creation to hell for all time. It didn't seem to vibe very well.

I continued to struggle with the faith, but stayed a Christian for fear of hell. However, about 4 or 5 months ago I discovered Universalism. I began to research it and came to found that early Christians had no concept of eternal hell. Judaism, then and now, has no concept of eternal hell. I began to look into early Christianity just to see how far the rabbit hole went so to speak. After I found out that eternal hell is a pagan notion borrowed by Constantine when he invented the Roman Catholic Church to keep the people in line, Christianity fell like a house of cards. I began looking at everything about the church. All of those anti-Christian sites I was told not to go to when I was in church because "Satan might brainwash me," I started looking at. My eyes were opened. Turns out, almost all of Christianity was borrowed from pagan myths and folklore. Superstition abounded everywhere. Where was any room for questions, reason, or logic? Why were all my pastors afraid to answer any questions and encouraged their "flock" to not visit certain sites and read certain books?

I now consider myself a deist. I believe creation presupposes a creator, but that is about the extent of it. I feel a bitterness towards organized religion but I hope that in time my spiritual and mental wounds will subside and so will my anger. Angry and bitter are no way to got through life.

Where I Came From and Where I am Now

By Mriana

What I am about to say is offensive to many of our Christian (and Muslim) visitors, but humans are apes and as such, we are animals. Some of us even behave worse than other animals, especially with how we treat each other, the environment, and even ourselves. Other animals sometimes treat the human child far better than humans treat their own species. Even at a very early age, before I comprehended Darwin, we would go to the zoo, and I would see in the chimps and gorillas, “people” much like us, except with fur. Therefore, there was never a doubt in my mind that we have a kinship with other species, including our pets.

My relationship, as a child, with my pets was rather unique, as well as appalling to my religious relatives. My pets, for me, were my ‘adopted’ brothers and sisters. Now let us make something clear. As a human, I am an only-child, but I have always loved my pets as though they were my family. In some respects, they were/are and when I say things like, “I was raised by animals”, it is not too far from the truth, on a scientific level, but this is not based on science, this time. Rather, it is based purely on one person’s view of the world, one that is more pantheistic than theistic.

In previous posts, I expressed my relationship with my childhood beloved pets. This relationship was comforting, consoling, and for me, a form of unconditional love. As I looked into their eyes during times of distress, I would have vivid numinous experiences, which had nothing to do with religion, but a oneness with nature. At times, they were helpful to me and sometimes, surprisingly acceptable to my relatives because they thought it was cute, like when I was four years old, spilt milk on the floor, and knew I had to clean up the mess; I got the cats to help me. Such was my childish reasoning, but it worked, I loved it, and yes, I was four in that picture, not a toddler of two.

However, during the years after my mother’s second born-again experience when I was around ten or eleven until I left religion about six or seven years ago, I suffered from anorexia nervosa (for about 26 years), which took a toll on my health. Sometimes I fasted due to religion and others times due to a preoccupation with my weight. I did the whole gambit of laxatives, diet pills, even ipecac a couple of times. As an adult of 4’ 11”, my weight was far below what it should have been for health and before I left the Episcopal Church, my weight did not go above 90 pounds and I was constantly weighing several times a day. It was truly and obsession, which increased during religious fasts, such as Lent.

Ironically, since I let go of religion six or seven years ago in favour of a naturalistic and non-theistic world view, my health has surprisingly improved, as evidence by a recent physical. While I prefer not to focus on the numbers, I am 4’ 11” and now weigh 105 pounds on the doctor’s scales. At the time, I had no clue about my actual weight because the obsession of weighing several times a day disappeared a few years ago. I woke up one day and thought, “I have not weighed in a very long time.” Curiosity and temptation almost got the best of me as I stared at my scales, but I left it right where it sat, as I told myself that this could be a step in the right direction in my own recovery.

My blood work returned and to my surprise, my electrolytes were no longer abnormal. While I did not force myself to go through the painfulness of throwing up, especially after the couple of times, I used ipecac to throw up and it built up toxins in my body, which almost killed me, I did abuse laxatives on many occasions in the past, thus throwing off my electrolytes. What this does, is not so much rid the body of calories, but rather rids the body of important fluids, thus dehydrates a person. Sure, one loses body weight, but it only water weight and not much more. I would not recommend it to anyone, because it does cause one to feel like, excuse the phrase, sh**, and with enough diet pills one can die too.

Secondly, my cholesterol was in normal ranges for a change. In the past, even though I fasted, my LDL and HDL were reversed and not healthy levels. The results of my recent blood test showed they are now at very healthy levels, including my triglycerides. I suspect that prolong periods of fasting causes one’s body to produce its own cholesterol in order to make up for famine.

Needless to say, with all I did to myself physically prior to leaving religion, I almost did not survive myself, much less what I experienced from others as a child. I almost unintentionally killed myself several times over with laxatives, diet pills, fasting- sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes due to just having an eating disorder. All of this does do a number on one’s own health and even one’s life, not to mention does not help one’s reproductive system, even and especially with a small frame.

My doctor, who shared the same church before I deconverted, as well as followed me for a very long time, was even surprised after she examined me this year, said I looked good, and even asked how I did it. She does not know I left religion, because I have not exactly told her. She only knows I do not attend anymore, but she did not mention not seeing me in church either. However, in response to wanting to know how I did it, I said, “Well, I tell you, it is all in the human condition and the ability to do things for ourselves.” She gave me a strange look, but did not ask any more questions or even say anything more.

I do not know if there is a correlation between health and leaving religion, but I do know it appears to work for me. However, it would be interesting to see research on this subject. I now have a hypothesis, but researchers would need to rule out certain influences or use control factors and I am not sure what they would be. Does the philosophy of humanism need ruling out of the equation or does it need to be a control factor? I have no clue, especially since I attribute some of my recovery to humanism too. I would hate to see it removed as a control, because the philosophy is very important to me and I consider it very much a part of my recovery.

Besides eating and treating myself better, the other thing is, I returned to appreciating nature to the fullest, thus, where pantheism comes into play. I do not pray or meditate, but instead, and I learned this long before I started reading Marlene Winell’s book, I listen to Native American music while I relax. As I listen, for example, Douglas Spotted Eagle’s “Closer to Far Away”, I quite often envision a nature scene in which I relate to animals. In one scenario, I take myself back to my childhood, in which I had a black and white Shetland pony that I rode in a field bareback. This is one of my favourite imageries and even though it is not real, but only in my mind, I feel as one with the earth, much as I did when I was a child. For me, it is almost like a dance with nature as we gallop in a field of wildflowers in time to the music.

As a child, I always felt a transcending oneness with my pony as I rode bareback, because I could feel his every move. Not once did I care to use a saddle because I could not feel and anticipate his movements. Of course, I was much smaller than a jockey, so concerns about his back were not actually an issue. To put all this in perspective, when I was in Kindergarten, people were shocked to discover I was actually five and not two due to my size, as seen in the picture above. Therefore, when I was around ten years old, I probably did not weigh enough to do much damage, if any, to a Shetland’s back and he could run with the wind very well with me practically lying on his back and neck as I held onto the reins and his mane. Of course, all this took a certain physical communication and trust between rider and horse too, as well as an intimate relationship and skill. Not just anyone could ride him as I did and a certain uneasiness occurred when other children tried to ride him as I did.

Thus, this is one of many of my favourite nature relaxation techniques, but it goes far beyond that. I also allow myself a special appreciation for the world around me in the here and now, almost to the point of reverence, thus explains my lifelong vegetarianism, which I acquired long before I was grown. It is not just a dislike for the taste of meat, but imagine eating your pet pig Wilbur or your pet cow named Bossy or any other pet that is like family to you. As outlandish as it may sound to meat-eaters and especially to Christians, one does not eat their “relatives” and yes, I did have a runt pet pig I called Wilbur. On a more mature level, I cannot stand pain and suffering when I see it. It bothers me greatly and sadly, I have too much empathy or “mirror neurons” or something. “Sadly” might not be the right word, for this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I have spent a lifetime “throwing fits” about humans inflicting pain and suffering on others, right down and including the crucifixion. However, like many others, I feed off others who are in a good mood also.

This last, this “sisterhood”, or empathy, with animals was always a contention between my Christian relatives and myself, but even when I was in the thick of Christianity, I could not let go of my bond with animals or nature. I was always overly sensitive to living beings, regardless of what anyone else, including and especially the religious, had to say. It is innate within me, but it can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage. However, like my pets, I eat to survive, but I do it with a conscious and love for living beings, including myself.

There is also a therapeutic aspect to animals and nature, but this therapeutic nature is not exclusive to pets. Even humans can be therapeutic with their actions and even words. A simple hug or even a desire to give someone a hug has a means of helping another person emotionally. Even after the birth of my first-born son, as I held him for the very first time and we studied each other’s face, I experienced much similar numinous feelings as I did with my pets. All these examples are important in my life and my relationship to my environment. Compassion and reason appear to be lacking with many religious people, but those who are not religious, I often see more reason and compassion, even more understanding of the relationship I attempt to communicate about nature. (I will not start ranting about Palin and her love for aerial killing of wolves or killing animals in general, but she is a prime example of lack of compassion and reason, in my opinion and no, I am not a PETA support. More like ASPCA and World Wildlife Fund supporter.)

Finally, I also developed my own values, the first being “Do no intentional harm”, which does not only apply to animals, human or otherwise, but to the earth too. Granted, I am not perfect with this “vow”, but that is my second value. I do not expect perfection from anyone, not even myself. This does not mean I do not point out when others are being dehumanizing and/or inhumane though. I may be a pacifist with my actions, but not always with my words. This does not mean I judge others either. That is something else I strive to avoid, unless I see inhumane behaviours, then I speak out with vehemence. It is only human to get angry, but what one does with their anger is what makes the difference. Emotions are very much part of being human and should not be repressed, but instead expressed appropriately.

I am also very content to die and become plant food. What an ironic ending to the life of a vegetarian and great way to return what I took from the earth. This does not scare me or even bother me, especially if one considers our vast eco-system that perpetually recycles itself, even in the face of humans raping the earth of its natural resources and polluting it just by living on it. The thought that I will become part of the earth after I die seems like poetic justice to me, instead of a morbid thought.

Thus, I strive to better myself and the world in some manner. I strive to love others, the universe, and myself. I strive for compassion and reason too. It is not always easy though and I am still a work in progress. A work that still has a long ways to go and my own spirituality, without religion or supernaturalism, is still developing. It changes and grows as I grow, but the words of Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth”, expresses much of what I believe and have always believed. There is no supernatural meaning with the words in the song, even though the religious try to claim many as their own. Instead, the words are placed squarely on the human and nature itself, not something that is out there somewhere in La La Land. Angels are nothing more than compassionate humans giving aide, from the goodness of their hearts, to someone in need and the earth is what humans make it while they are alive.

Even though my mother has a different view on animals, she has often said, “It would not be heaven without our pets” and to that I say, “We have that right here on earth” and we should cherish it in the one and only life we know for sure we have. If we do not appreciate what we have in the here and now, when can we?

Lyrics to Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth

Pageviews this week: