Image by TheBazile via FlickrOne young man's journey from Evangelical Christianity to Non-theism
I remember going to church every Wednesday and twice on Sundays. Sunday mornings included Sunday school and children's church, the adult service once I was old enough.
I remember being taught that the Earth was made in six days because the Bible said so. Soon there after God flooded the Earth because the people became evil and only 1 family was spared. I remember learning that David was the only boy to stand up to Goliath. He did so because was filled with righteous indignation over the fact that Goliath challenged David's God. I learned that a man named Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a whale because he disobeyed God. I learned that Job's wife was turned into a pillar of salt because she too disobeyed God.
At the age of eight years old, my father's mother died of cancer. I remember the family praying a lot. I remember my father not being able to understand why his mother had died in spite of their prayers. I remember hearing him say that it was because someone in the room didn't have as much faith as the rest of the family, and because of this his mother wasn't healed.
Around the age of 11 or so, I remember learning the Fundamental Tenets of the Assembly of God denomination. For those unfamiliar with them, they are as follows:
WE BELIEVE... The Scriptures are Inspired by God and declare His design and plan for mankind.
WE BELIEVE... There is only One True God–revealed in three persons...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (commonly known as the Trinity).
WE BELIEVE... In the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. As God's son Jesus was both human and divine.
WE BELIEVE... though originally good, Man Willingly Fell to Sin–ushering evil and death, both physical and spiritual, into the world.
WE BELIEVE... Every Person Can Have Restored Fellowship with God Through 'Salvation' (trusting Christ, through faith and repentance, to be our personal Savior). [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the AG]
WE BELIEVE... and practice two ordinances—(1) Water Baptism by Immersion after repenting of one's sins and receiving Christ's gift of salvation, and (2) Holy Communion (the Lord's Supper) as a symbolic remembrance of Christ's suffering and death for our salvation.
WE BELIEVE... the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a Special Experience Following Salvation that empowers believers for witnessing and effective service, just as it did in New Testament times. [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the AG]
WE BELIEVE... The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ as experienced on the Day of Pentecost and referenced throughout Acts and the Epistles.
WE BELIEVE... Sanctification Initially Occurs at Salvation and is not only a declaration that a believer is holy, but also a progressive lifelong process of separating from evil as believers continually draw closer to God and become more Christlike.
WE BELIEVE...The Church has a Mission to seek and save all who are lost in sin. We believe 'the Church' is the Body of Christ and consists of the people who, throughout time, have accepted God's offer of redemption (regardless of religious denomination) through the sacrificial death of His son Jesus Christ.
WE BELIEVE...A Divinely Called and Scripturally Ordained Leadership Ministry Serves the Church. The Bible teaches that each of us under leadership must commit ourselves to reach others for Christ, to worship Him with other believers, and to build up or edify the body of believers–the Church.
WE BELIEVE...Divine Healing of the Sick is a Privilege for Christians Today and is provided for in Christ's atonement (His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins). [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the AG]
WE BELIEVE...in The Blessed Hope—When Jesus Raptures His Church Prior to His Return to Earth (the second coming). At this future moment in time all believers who have died will rise from their graves and will meet the Lord in the air, and Christians who are alive will be caught up with them, to be with the Lord forever. [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the AG]
WE BELIEVE...in The Millennial Reign of Christ when Jesus returns with
His saints at His second coming and begins His benevolent rule over earth for
1,000 years. This millennial reign will bring the salvation of national Israel
and the establishment of universal peace.
WE BELIEVE...A Final Judgment Will Take Place for those who have rejected Christ. They will be judged for their sin and consigned to eternal punishment in a punishing lake of fire.
WE BELIEVE...and look forward to the perfect New Heavens and a New Earth
that Christ is preparing for all people, of all time, who have accepted Him. We
will live and dwell with Him there forever following His millennial reign on
Earth. 'And so shall we forever be with the Lord!
Again, sometime around the age of 11 I remember going ice fishing with my father. He tried to explain sex to me. All I can recall of the discussion is that he preferred to use the term "making love" instead of the word sex. We never spoke about it in a positive light again.
At some point in middle school I remember a friend showing me pornography for the first time. I remember it being thrilling, secret, and attractive thing.
I remember at sometime in the 9th grade I became dissatisfied with listening to my parents praise and worship music. I received a Walkman cassette player with FM radio for Christmas that year. I began listening to secular alternative rock stations on the radio. My mother found out and took the Walkman away from me.
At the age of 14 my family began to have issues with their church. It wasn't being run the way they thought the church should be run. I remember many conversations about how greatly dissatisfied they were with the church. My grandparents began attending a different church and I began attending their church. After a few weeks my whole family switched to the new church. I made friends at this church, something I don't recall having at the old church.
Only a few months later the youth pastor that I had grown to like announced that he was going to be leaving the church, it was God's will. I later found it out it was the head pastors will, that he was told to leave the church. A new youth pastor came to fill the position, I very quickly grew to like the new youth pastor. The new youth pastor was at the church for a few short years. He invested time in me, attempting to pull me out of my introverted shell, and he was successful to a large extent. The new youth pastor introduced me to Christian Rock music, this type of music wasn't approved of by my parents and we had numerous fights over the subject, a few of the fights resulted in them confiscating the "Christian Rock" Cd's and demanding that I listen to "holier" music. All the while I can recall my father listening to secular country stations, a hypocrisy that I pointed out.
Sometime around the age of 15 the family bought their first home computer. I once again found pornography on the Internet. After a number of weeks my parents figured out that I had been surfing the Internet for that type of content. I was scolded, and I remember feeling great shame. I remember crying, and my parents leading me through a prayer of repentance because I was a sinner.
Sometime around this same age I can remember riding in the car with my mother and sister. I voiced my opinion about being unhappy with a certain aspect of my life. My mother's response was that I needed to pray about it. It's the first time I can recall becoming angry at a response of this nature.
At the age of 15 I had my first girlfriend. My family approved of her, she was from the same church as us. I would spend all day on Sunday with her sitting in the basement of her families house watching movies.
At this same age I began playing saxophone in the church band every Sunday for both services. My girlfriend played the clarinet in the same band, we dated for 6 months.
At the age of 16 I received my drivers license. At this point my family gave me a car to drive, for the most part I had a decent amount of freedom. There were occasions where I would drive 45 minutes away to hang out with friends from church. I'd stay out all weekend with their car, and I called in home once or twice. On occasion I violated my midnight curfew with no consequence.
Sometime around the age of 16 or so I picked up the guitar and began to learn. I was now playing in three Sunday church services which had practices on Thursday evenings. I was also playing in the youth group band which held practices on Wednesday before service. My commute to this church was approximately 35 minutes one way with no traffic. I would make this commute 4 times a week on average for a number of years.
Somewhere around the age of 17 or 18 the youth pastor that had been a large influence in my life announced he was going to be leaving, and that he was going to go back to school, it was God's will. I later found out that the Head Pastor had told him to leave, just like the previous youth pastor. A few months later the Head Pastor's wife took over the youth along with almost every aspect of the church.
Sometime after graduating high school I remember being told by the music pastor ( who was later fired for participating in secular activities) that I needed to have a private meeting with him and one of the pastors wives. In this meeting I was told that they had been keeping record of my attendance.They informed me that I was 15 minutes late to a practice one Thursday, this was due to traffic. They felt that my heart was no longer in the worship program and that I was being asked to quit both the adult and youth services. After 4.5 years of devoted volunteer work, I had been "fired." I remember walking outside of the church after that meeting and crying for a long time. I remember feeling used and discarded.
At this point I began to hang out with friends I had met at FaHoLo church camp. They were not from the Assemblies of God, they belonged to a non denominational church. I remember my family being disappointed in my decision to attend other churches. It was here that I met a different type of Christian, these were people who had previous experience with drug use, some had had premarital sex, most listened to secular music. I remembered feeling acceptance unlike anything I had previous experienced, simultaneously most of my previous church friends shunned me for hanging out with this crowd.
Somewhere around this time I can recall my father getting so upset with our pet dog, a shit-zu, that he threw the dog off a chair, I remember the dog yelping. I remember screaming at him in front of everyone for the way he had treated the dog. I was the only one there who yelled at him for his behavior.
At the age of 19 I met a girl, we fell in love. She wasn't a practicing Christian when I met her. Shortly after her and I first meeting she went to church with my family and I. She went to the altar at church one Sunday morning and "gave her heart to Jesus Christ". My mom prayed with her at the altar, and my she "got saved".
A few weeks after we started dating I had sex for the first time. I remembered feeling so in love. A few weeks after we had been together her and I went to my home, my parents greeted us at the door and both of them were very unhappy. I remember my mother and father sitting my girlfriend and I down, they proceeded to inform us that they were aware that my girlfriend and I had been having sex. My mother explained to me that she had cleaned my car (an event that had never occurred before and never occurred again) and in doing so she discovered a note book which contained discourse between my girlfriend and I. These private and explicit notes made it clear that we had been physically intimate. I remember my mother explaining to my girlfriend and I that I was raised to know better then to behave in such a manner, and that because of our actions we were both sinners. I remember my girlfriend leaving the house in tears. After she left, my parents prayed with me so that I could ask for forgiveness of my sins.
From this point on my parents and my girlfriend never got along very well. They always saw her as the girl who deflowered their little boy, and she always knew they felt that way. Around this time I was told that it was now required of me that I be home by 1 am, no later or I would be locked out of the house. This was something I had never experienced before.
I remember one night my girlfriend and I were going to leave my house. My father made a snide comment to me as I was leaving. I remember having this overwhelming feeling that I had had enough ill feeling from him so I retorted. I remember my father charging me, putting his hands around my neck and backing me into my girlfriend who was holding a glass chess board and pieces. I remember the glass snapping under the weight. I was concerned for my girlfriend's well being ( something my father clearly wasn't concerned about) all of the sudden the long suppressed anger I had felt came charging out. I remember slamming my father into a wall and choking him. I remember my mother pulling us apart and my sister screaming and crying.
I remember one night not wanting to leave my girlfriend, I just wanted to lay with her. I stayed out past my 1 am curfew. At this point I was either 20 or 21. My parents bought a special storm door, to which they did not give me the key. I came home to a locked door. I called my sister to let me in, and she did. The next day I was told that if I ever had my sister let me in again that her and I both would get in trouble. From that point on I started leaving windows unlocked in case I needed to get in after 1 am.
At the age of 21 I had my first taste of alcohol, it was champagne. I remember feeling no shame or guilt, I remember liking the flavor and the effect.
When I was 22 my sister met a guy who wasn't a practicing Christian. Shortly after she started dating him, he left for music school in California. My sister wanted to go visit him for a week. My parents informed her that she wasn't allowed to visit her boyfriend. Eventually she packed everything she could into a few bags and attempted to leave the house. My mother took my sister's bags and locked them in a bedroom so that my sister couldn't leave. My sister called the police to have them assist her in being escorted with her belongings from the home. My sister went to California and stayed out there for a number of months.
When my sister moved back to our resident state of Michigan she moved in with her boyfriend and lived with him for roughly 2 years.
In the meantime my girlfriend and I had started attending a non-denominational church every Wednesday and Sunday. Our church was always looked down on due to the fact that it wasn't evangelical and didn't promote the "gifts of the holy spirit" IE speaking in tongues. My parents came to church with us one time when my girlfriend was being baptised and maybe one other time for a Christmas play. I was always asked to go to their church, especially for Holidays. If I did not attend their church for Holidays I was put on an immense guilt trip.
Over the few years that I dated this female I slept in my car roughly a half dozen times. Most occasions were in winter, so I had to sleep with my car running to stay warm, I was locked out for breaking my newly formed 1 am curfew.
I was frequently asked by my mother if my girlfriend and I were still having sex. I remember lying often to my parents to avoid punishment, guilt and shame from them.
Somewhere around the same time I remember my father screaming at my girlfriend because of a business decision her and I had made the he didn't approve.
My parents owned a cottage in northern Michigan. For a long period of time when they would go out of town, I'd stay home by myself. For a long period of time I remembered hoping that on their way to, or back from their cottage, that they'd get into a fatal car accident. I remember wishing my parents were dead and out of my life, I remember knowing that I shouldn't feel this way, and yet the idea of not having them in my life brought a sense of freedom that my present situation didn't seem to offer.
My relationship with my girlfriend was on the rocks, we broke up and got back together a few times. In that period of time I started going to my parents church which was the 3rd Assembly of God church they had been members of since I had been born. I attended this church for roughly a year. My girlfriend and I got back together and we attended this church a few times but ultimately we went back to the non-denominational church that we had been previously attending. Once again my family was disappointed with my choice.
I was 23, my girlfriend and I broke up for the last time. We had been fighting a lot. Sometimes I would fly into a rage and sometimes the fights became physical. I remember being so angry all the time. I remember doing things that scared me. I remember always feeling like I had to choose between my girlfriend being happy with me and respecting me and my parents being happy with me. Ultimately I let go of my girlfriend, I felt as though I was being torn in two.
I felt sorrow greater then anything I had ever felt. I spent almost a year in emotional agony and turmoil. I sat in the dark, alone with my sorrow many nights. If I didn't sit at home alone, I'd go out to the bar with guys from work. I began drinking often. I hid a 5th of Bacardi Limon in my desk drawer at home. I'd wait until my parents went to sleep and I'd start drinking. When they went out of town I'd drink until I passed out.
Sorrow and suffering -- my new best friends.
It was at this time I began to question many things. My circumstances, my own emotions, how I ended up in the place that I was in. If Christianity is the Truth, and it's supposed to make a person loving and compassionate like Jesus, then why am I always SO angry. If the Christian life is a life of love and joy and peace, then why didn't I see it in anyone close to me? Why was I always so angry, why did I get upset so easily? Why did my girlfriend and I fight so frequently? Why did my parents and I fight so often? Why was I always so afraid of everyone else's opinion of me? I was afraid of what my parents, girlfriend, boss, pastor, youth pastor, friends all thought of me, I sought their approval all the time. I was terrified of them being upset with me. Why did I cry myself to sleep so many nights? Why did I lay in bed and think to myself, if I died in my sleep how peaceful and freeing that would be?
It was around this time that I read a few books which had a large impact on me. Ironically both authors s were Christians, John Eldredge and Donald Miller. I remember reading in one of John Eldredge's books that he didn't attend church for a year and it resulted in a whole new perspective for him on church. I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller after that. The only thing I can recall from the book was that he felt unconditional love and acceptance from the non-Christians at the college he was at, and that it was a foreign concept in Christian circles. I remember reading a chapter that explained that most Christians trade in love like it's a commodity. When you behave in a manner that is socially accepted by your church peers they lavish you with love, however if you take an action that they don't agree with then they withhold their love as a punishment. This was behavior that I had become accustomed to growing up in my house, this was my father's M.O. I eventually came to understand how manipulative this behavior was.
Around this same time I started talking to a close friend of mine whom I hadn't spoken since he'd gone off to an AG (Assembly of God) college. He started telling me about the things he was learning in college, specifically about the scholastic composition of the Bible. He started sharing with me all that he was learning. Things like : The Bible was complied by Constantine over 300 years after Christ supposedly had died, that Bible Scholars had no idea where Christ was crucified or was buried, that they had no idea who wrote the 4 gospels, that they didn't even know if there actually was 4 gospels, That 2 of the Gospels may have come from one original book called the Q text and that Matthew and Mark were copied from that, and that Luke and John were copied off of Matthew and Mark, The fact that the book of John disagreed with the other 3 books on a number of things, and the list goes on.
I began to look up this information for myself and what I learned shook the very foundations of what I was raised to believe. I began to go back and read the Bible with new eyes. I approached the Bible with the idea that IF the Bible was inspired by God, then I should be able to pick it up and read it and understand it like a text book for life, and that in doing so it should mold me into a good person. What I discovered instead was myriad of questions, all of which went unanswered by everyone around me. Ultimately with enough research into the scholarly aspects of the Bible, I came to realize just how human the compilation of the Bible was. It was at this point that I realized that the world that I was raised to see as black and white was actually very grey. It was at this point that I asked myself just how far this grey area went.
I began studying anything I could get my hands on, all the while I was judging Christianity by the fruit it produced, after all that was a concept put forth by Jesus Christ himself. So if Christians hold the cornerstone on what it means to live a life of Love, then why do they have the highest divorce rate of all religions where as atheists have the lowest? Why was it that all I had ever seen growing up were displays of discontentment, disapproval, anger, guilt, shame, fear, and a sense of oppression? Why was it that my family and I could only stay at a church for so long before something went terribly wrong.
In the middle of my personal journey out of theism, the AG church my parents had been attending had a "situation". The pastor they loved and worshiped announced that he was leaving to go to the west coast. Shortly there after it was discovered that the church was 3 years behind on bills and on the verge of foreclosure. I remembered feeling a sense of vindication, I remember saying to myself "and another one bites the dust".
A very wise friend of mine once said "All things end badly, otherwise they wouldn't end.", this statement was definitely true of every church experience I'd ever had growing up.
It was at this point that I developed a voracious appetite for any information and evidence I could get my hands on. I started to wonder, if everything I was raised to believe is seemingly flawed and founded on unsubstantiated claims, then what else is there? I started watching any documentary I could get my hands on that may help me to establish my sense of identity and my world view. I read the Bible on my own, I read scholarly reviews of the Bible, I watched documentaries on how the Bible was made, what books made the cut what books didn't, the Gnostic Gospels, the Apocryphic books, I watched documentaries about archeology and if it supported the Bible, Ancient history, biology, the evidence for evolution, quantum physics, theoretical physics, astronomy, astrology, Ancient Celtic and Druidic lore, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mayan mythologies, panspermia, even some occult ideas. I began to look at other world religions and how they compared to Christianity, Buddhism, Hindu beliefs, pagan beliefs and rituals and how they've influenced Christianity. The similarities between Jesus, Mithra, Buddha, Krishna, Horus, Sumerian epics, etc.
During this time I had been attending the fore-mentioned non-denominational church. It was at this point that I stopped attending this church as well, my personal goal was to remove myself from the influence of a church for a full 12 months and at the end of 12 months reflect and determine how I felt about my time out from under the influence of the church. However it was a condition of my living situation that I attend church atleast once a week. My parents said I could live with them rent free as long as I went to church once a week. Since it was a priority for me to not attend church, I simply lied to them and said I went, I'd leave the house for a couple hours and come back and tell them that I had attended. After all I didn't want to get kicked out of the house, and lying was easier then having a fight.
After roughly 1 year of study and discourse with a few very close friends I realized that I knew enough to recognize just how ignorant I was. Where as before in the ignorance of my youth I thought that I had it all figured out. At this point I knew enough to know how to ask quality questions. So I systematically started asking questions of those around me who were Christian. I found one recurring theme, they ultimately came to a point where they said, "I don't know, I suppose you just have to have faith." To me this answer was the greatest intellectual cop out and failure, to me it was a "Christianese" way of saying, "I don't know but I believe this because I want to, I have no reason for my belief.". Every time I asked a question of a Christian who ultimately had no logic / reason / evidence for why they believed what they believed, I became more and more bold. Their doubt was my strength, I began asking harder and harder questions of a growing number of people. I ultimately worked up the courage to challenge my mother on some basic Biblical questions. At this point I knew that I was going to be moving out of my parents home. I had to get out from under their influence, just as I had removed myself from the influence and authority of the church. Ultimately I decided that if I was going to have a relationship with my parents after I moved out, it was going to be on the grounds of mutual respect.
One night I questioned my mother on many biblical subjects, to which she had little to no answers. I remember my father came into the conversation toward the tail end when I was simply using the Bible to challenge their own Assembly of God beliefs, my father responded to this challenge by slamming his bedroom door in my face. It was at this point that I decided that my parents most likely would never be able to respect me as an individual, and we'd most likely never be able to have a conversation about anything that mattered in life. Sadly I came to the decision that my parents aren't the type of people that I could be friends with. A couple months later I moved out of their house and we've not spoken since.
My major transformation overall took roughly 2 to 2.5 years. I have by no means "arrived". However I can honestly say that in my own personal journey, born out of suffering and ignorance, I have come a long way. I have learned more in the last 3 years of my life then I learned in the previous 24. I am no longer the angry, ignorant, biased boy that I once was. I can honestly say that up until this point in life I've never had the sense of clarity and foundation that I now I have.
As of yet I don't know of a method by which I can instill a sense of curiosity about the world into another individual. I can only speak from my own journey, and it boiled down to the fact that I hit a point where I decided that I wanted to know the Truth regardless of what it was. I didn't care if the Truth supported the worldview I was taught to believe in or if the Truth was that everything I was ever taught to believe was a complete lie. I merely wanted to know what was True and what was false in the world. Out of my desire to figure out what the Truth was, came a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world.
Ultimately I suggest one simple thing:Question "Authority." If those who claim to have answers don't have any actual answers, then you should feel free to stop listening to them. Know yourself, know about the world in which you live. Never stop discovering reality for what it is, and always approach it like it's brand new, question everything. I'm now of the mindset that that which is True should be able to stand on it's own Merritt. To put it another way I borrow some words from the Declaration of Independence, " We hold these Truths to be self evident... "