Taking the Red Pill

By BillRPJ

I fell in love with Jesus when I was 12 years old. On the back wall of the baptistery of the Chemung Baptist Church, there was a life-size picture of Jesus as a shepherd, a crook in one hand, cradling a soft, little lamb in the other. As I looked at the face of Jesus, I felt that his eyes were gazing right into my soul — kind eyes, eyes of love. I can recall the picture of Jesus like it was yesterday.

When I turned 12, my father decided that I needed religion so I was sent off to Vacation Bible School in the summer of ’72. I was enraptured by the story of how he came to earth as a baby born of a virgin, did miracles to prove that he was God, died for my sins so that I could be forgiven, and rose again to make a way so that I could go to live with him in heaven forevermore. The VBS teacher said that all I needed to do in order to go to heaven someday was to tell Jesus that I was a sinner, that I was sorry for my sins, and ask him to come into my heart to live. Of course, being in a Baptist church I was also warned about the consequences if I refused to believe in Jesus, namely, going to hell. But it was the love of Jesus that drew me and I responded to that love by becoming a Christian. Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that Christianity does its best to try to get a hold of children before they have developed critical thinking skills. If it can do this, then it puts them in its "Matrix" before they even know what truth and reality is. For a child or young person, truth most often comes, not from the consideration and study of evidence, but from an authority figure, often a parent or a priest. "Because I said so," was often my father's reply as to why I should do a thing. And "because the Bible says so" is the Christian mantra (although it needs to be pointed out that Christians are very much cherry-pickers when it comes to the parts of the Bible they believe or act on). I accepted this "blue pill" because it was handed to me by people I trusted and it promised me a blissful afterlife.

Things at home were rather rocky. As far back as I can remember, my parents were always fighting with one another over something and I can remember thinking that they were the ones who really needed to go to church. Growing up in the farming countryside of upstate New York, I spent a lot of time exploring the woods and nature around me. There were plenty of times that I took my Bible with me up into my tree-house and just spent time reading the scriptures, learning everything I could about God and Jesus and their plan for my life. As I read about God being a deliverer, a protector, a rock, and about Jesus being a savior, I prayed that God would also deliver me from the child abuse that I sometimes experienced and that he would heal my parent’s marriage. But despite my prayers, things continued to get worse. I began to struggle with the efficacy of prayer. Despite all the promises in the Bible that God hears and answers our prayers, my prayers for the wholeness of my family were not answered. I'm not talking about God forcefully violating what is called human "free will", but if God is omniscient, then he would certainly know exactly how to reach everyone of us, what would "throw our switch", so-to-speak.

In ’75, my parents divorced. I suppose that this could be seen as one way that God answered my prayers, but it still hurt nonetheless. My mother started attending a Pentecostal church and “found Jesus.” We were both “on fire” for Jesus. I took my Bible to school with me throughout my high school years and witnessed to anyone I felt God was leading me to.

After high school, I went to a Bible college and then came back home and married a Christian girl I met in high school. We both came from rocky home backgrounds but felt like we could make it because we were, after all, Christians with God on our side. So we married and I decided to go into the Army to get electronics training in order to provide for my family. Despite the fact that we were both Christians, our marriage was a struggle. We both came from broken homes where problems had been dealt with, not by the hard work of communication and compromise, but with holding grudges and getting divorces. So neither of us was really equipped to work out our problems and all the going to church and praying that we did just didn’t seem to help. After five years of marriage, we divorced – the unforgivable sin in modern Christianity (despite the fact that over 50% of Southern Baptists have been divorced and remarried). Due to the fact that I was still in the service, she got custody of our two children. I was decimated. After all, despite many things in my past and in my life that may have been stacked against me, didn’t God have “a wonderful plan” for me? Didn’t Jesus come to give me an abundant life? I was disillusioned – with myself, my life, and my religion. So I stopped going to church as I tried to recover from the shambles that my life was in.

Probably the most important thing that I learned from this period of my life is that guilt is the main tool used by Christians to keep people within the Christian Matrix. That and threats of hell. Couple guilt and hell together, and people will stay within this paradigm for life. Christianity told me I was guilty because of what Adam and Eve did, guilty for sins I committed, guilty for the sins of not doing what I should have done, and guilty for killing Jesus. I was told that I was to blame for the problems in my life. This is one of the problems that can drive someone in Christianity nuts – it is never really God’s fault if something goes wrong. If things go right, God is thanked and given full credit, but failure is always attributed to personal sin or to original sin or to the devil or to a sinful world. Disappointments and hurts in life are never blamed on the God that is said to be “in control” and who is running this universe according to his divine plan. God always seems to be blameless where human suffering is concerned. I didn’t dare think this way back then; I just felt that the failure was mainly on my part because I was, after all, a sinful human being. Church reinforced that notion to me every Sunday.

I eventually found some healing through an older Christian who counseled me. He assured me that God could and would forgive my sin and restore me if I sincerely repented. This, of course, is the “formula” for staying in fellowship with God in Christianity: a constant cycle of sin, repentance, and restoration. This is how Christians “keep their slate clean” before God. They intuitively know that they can’t stop sinning, so the best they can do is to try to stay forgiven. Ironically, their relationship with God doesn’t really stop the sinning, it only forgives it afterward. But I did find some healing through this Christian’s counseling. His beliefs in God’s ability to restore were tested when I began to show an interest in his daughter. I knew she was special from the moment I met her and she was very accepting of me and even of my two children. We began dating and married almost a year later.

My wife and I became very involved in our local churches, both Southern Baptist and then Bible Churches. But I slowly began to grow a little agitated with the kind of Christianity that I was involved with. Maybe because of my past, coming from a poor, broken family, going through brokenness myself, I felt like Christians ought to be doing more to help the poor and broken instead of just sitting in pews singing, “I’ll Fly Away.” I began to wonder, “Why is Christianity so focused on leaving this world instead of on changing it for the better?” I wondered why Christians weren’t doing more to follow Jesus’ teachings about helping the poor, setting captives free, healing the sick and broken, and living out the Sermon on the Mount. I felt that Christianity was almost entirely focused on only “personal” issues – personal sins, personal forgiveness, leaving this world for a personal heaven where we would get personally rewarded. After all, didn’t “the Lord’s Prayer” mention God’s will be done on earth? Because the Christianity I knew was so eager to leave earth, it wasn’t concerned whether the earth was destroyed through war or misuse. For every song we sang that emphasized “This is My Father’s World”, we sang nine others that emphasized “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A’Passin’ Through.” And I found that most of the songs and sermons I heard were not about what God could do through us here for the sake of others but only about what Jesus has done for us personally in order to take us to heaven later. I began to see that despite claims to the contrary, Christianity is a very self-centered religion, that it is all about what God or Jesus does for us with very little about what we could do for others.

The “coupe de grace” came for me in this form of Christianity when one day during church service, my wife and I were called out of the service to come tend our 4-year-old son who was in Children’s Church. When we got there, he was in the hall, crying hysterically. Between sobs, he repeated, “Daddy, why would Jesus burn me? Why?” I assured him that Jesus loved him and would never burn him but he was simply too scared to really listen to what I was saying. My wife took him out to the car and I went into the Children’s Church room to see what had happened. The teacher had shown the kids an artist’s rendition of a man engulfed in flames, his arms raised to heaven, his face contorted with agony, crying out to heaven with a plea for mercy that would never be heard. She told the kids that this is what would happen to them if they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. I reminded her that Jesus never once threatened children with hell but she insisted that she did not want God holding the blood of these children on her hands.

I was struggling myself at this time with the question of how a good and loving God could sentence people that he supposedly loves to eternal torment for finite sin, a question that no Christian that I have ever met has given me a convincing answer to. But I knew for sure that it was inappropriate to foist this doctrine upon young children and asked one of the church elders if a teacher should be allowed to expose children to this “side” of the “good news.” His response was that truth should be taught to all and that, no surprise here, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s probably also the seed of many a psychotic break. We left that church shortly after that.

I was also struggling with Paul’s writings during this time. Paul wanted women to be quiet in church, to never have any authority over men, to never teach men anything. Paul supports slavery in his writings. Paul thinks that government officials rule by “divine right.” And Paul puts forth this offensive doctrine that everyone is born into this world as an evil human being, deserving, not God’s love, but his wrath and destruction in hell. According to Paul, even babies are “born sinners” and will go to hell if they have not believed Paul’s gospel about believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the “good news” to the world?

I discovered in my youth that being a Christian was no guarantee that life would go well. The Bible itself is contradictory on this subject. Sometimes it says that the faithful will be blessed, sometimes it says that the wicked will prosper. But the evangelical call to faith certainly entails a promise of a redeemed, wonderful life. No evangelist says, "Come to Jesus and see how messed up your life will become." The truth of the matter is that life is simply messy, Christian or not. We and our world are complicated and despite Christianity's claims, there are no magic bullets.

I also think it is important to note how contradictory the Bible is about the nature of God and of what he supposedly desires for mankind. Now, I'm no longer in the Christian Matrix so I no longer believe in God, but it is interesting how the scriptures have a verse or a concept for saying almost anything about God that we might want to believe. Christians are very much cherry-pickers about which verses of the Bible and which concepts of God they hold to. So the crisis in my faith really began, not because I wasn't reading my Bible and praying, but because I was. The more I read my Bible, the more I saw how contradictory and nonsensical it was. And the more I prayed, the more I felt I was hitting a glass ceiling. Christians are really good at counting the hits and ignoring the misses. I began seeing the ugly side of Christianity - the constant guilt, the fear of good works, the desire to escape the world, the constant harping on hell, and the adherence to ancient superstitions - and it was too much to ignore.

Overall, I think most of my problems were simply what was going on in my own heart and mind. The more I studied the Bible, the more contradictions I found there and the more I saw things in the scriptures that I felt were immoral or unethical. Things like God killing women and children in the flood. Things like God commanding the Israelites to kill their enemies, including women and children. Things like God testing people (remember Job) when he is supposedly omniscient. Things like God wanting his people to show their devotion to him by mutilating their sexual organs. Things like the notion that blood can somehow remove sin. Things like God sending evil spirits. Things like God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then destroying him for having a hard heart. Things like God commanding genocide. I couldn’t help but wonder, this is the God that so loved the world?

Some would argue that this is the God of the Old Testament and that Jesus came to show us a different view of God, a “New Testament” God, a kinder, gentler God. But the God that Jesus describes, while maybe not calling for God’s people to kill their enemies, steps things up by warning people of everlasting torment. In the OT, if you sinned against God, you were just killed for your sin. In the NT, if you sin against God or Jesus, you suffer unending torture.

And, to top it all off, I’ve never been comfortable with all of Jesus’ teachings either. After all, according to the gospels:

  • He said that he didn't come to bring peace to the earth, but to bring a sword.
  • He said we should to hate our families.
  • He said that we shouldn’t marry or have children.
  • He never denounced slavery; instead he advocated that some slaves should be beaten harder than others.
  • He supported physical mutilation – cutting off your hand/ foot and gouging out your eye.
  • He said that the poor would always be with us.
  • He said that marrying divorced women is forbidden.
  • He forbade planning for the future.
  • He forbade having sexual urges.
  • He forbade stopping thieves or physical attackers.

I took the red pill... Jan 7th 2010 [007/365]Image by Jonathan L D Bennett via Flickr
It began to dawn on me that despite Christianity’s claims, the Bible is not a perfect book and Jesus was not a perfect person. The Bible is simply a record of what ancient peoples thought about God, the world, and their place and purpose within it. And Jesus was just as human as all the rest of us. Christianity wasn’t even the religion that Jesus practiced. It’s the religion centered on worshipping him. But I have to wonder, has this religion, taken as a whole, brought more harm or good to this world? Are Christians necessarily better people than anyone else? I think not. It was Christians who burnt women as witches (with biblical sanction). It was Christians who burnt scholars for translating the Bible into English. It was Christians who stood against women’s rights (with biblical sanction). It was Christians who stood against the abolition of slavery in this country (with biblical sanction) and who donned the robes of the KKK. It was Christians who stood against the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. It was Christians who wanted us to go to war with Iraq and destroy that country in retribution for 9-11. And for any Christian to deny these things proves that they either don’t know their history or they simply chose to ignore it.

The Christianity I have known is, for the most part, a personal religion about how to get one’s personal sins forgiven so that one can gain personal rewards in a personal heaven in the future. It doesn’t seem to be much about how to compassionately change our world for the better for the sake of others here and now and for humanity’s future. Truth be told, if heaven is simply standing or kneeling before God's throne for all eternity, repeatedly telling God how great he is, that just doesn't sound like much of a "purpose-driven afterlife" to me. People that constantly need to be told how great they are have some serious self-worth and self-image problems, no matter how divine they might claim to be.

So I have little use for Christianity. I don’t believe it makes our world or human beings better. People are people, Christian or not. It’s not that we are all sinners; it’s that we aren’t yet mature human beings. I want to be a better person, to be a more mature, well-rounded individual. I don't think that the way forward is into an ancient, superstitious religion. Instead, I face the hard work of rebuilding my life based upon what I - not the Bible, not Jesus, not the church - think is worthy of my time and labor. That notion is very freeing to me. I've left Christianity. After 32 years in the religion, I grew tired of the nonsense, of the constant guilt, of the pressure to conform, of the lack of convincing evidence, and of the notion that Iron Age religion and worldviews are "timeless truths" that should never be challenged by science, logic, or progressive morality. I don't want to waste whatever life I have left in a religion that, all things considered, doesn't make it's followers or the world a better place. People (and all life) are precious. So is our world. We don’t yet know if we are the only intelligent life in the universe. This shouldn’t make us proud, it should make us wonder that we are here to explore, enjoy, and value existence. And that is what I want to do.

Whenever I think of religion, I think of the military

By 0pen ur Mind

Undescribable SacrificeImage by Toni Travels via Flickr

I grew up in a Christian home, loving, never to question authority, always bring it to God and you will be blessed. If I wasn’t, well... God was testing me. Growing up it never crossed my mind that there was something else to believe in. I was the good girl who had the truth on her lips. God is good, how can he not be? Not until college did I expand my mind and fully open it. It’s a brief overpass of my history, but a lot of you know exactly how my “upbringing” went. It wasn’t until I met my future husband that everything finally made sense.

Back up to my high school years... I went to church, gave my life to Jesus Christ, gave 10%, hung out with Christians, but also wasn’t afraid to have secular friends either. Although I still felt that I was right and they were wrong for drinking beer. Towards my college years, I became more liberal. I got a few tattoos, had boyfriends but was still a virgin because I promised God I would painfully do it. I had in my mind like a lot of young Christians who “are saving themselves” that sex was something magical and every time you would have it (with your spouse) it was going to be AMAZING, therefore it was worth the wait. Ohhh deary, how naive I was. Don’t get me wrong, sex is wonderful, especially with someone you love. But let’s be realistic about it. You have to work at it, treat it with respect and as a normal part of a relationship with another person and with yourself.

Going away to college I felt that I was closer to God than ever. I was reading the scripture, praying, doing what I had to do to get into Heaven. I was single, independent and loving it! I didn’t see the problem with drinking socially, I rarely got stupid drunk, and I wanted to show the non-believers that not all Christians are squares. And with a fling romance I lost my virginity. I was still a Christian, but took pleasure in worldly things. I detested those Christians who were holier than thou. I was a loving person who would share that love without boundaries. I was so sure in my walk with God that there was not a single doubt of another way to live. Never say never.

I felt obligation towards God to bring non-believers to the light and truth, but I wasn’t going to force them, as so many have done in the past. But my questioning was just another doubt, so I locked it away, far away.

This whole time I was justifying my beliefs. I would use the Bible to say, that they would drink wine—or, the men back then had no weddings or paperwork, it was plain and simple—he saw, he took for his wife, and then he got her pregnant. Then he took another wife and possibly a maidservant. I felt that my way of living had much more meaning than that. I still believed in God whole-heartedly, I wanted to please Him, and I couldn’t wait to get to Heaven. And all those questions that non-believers or soul searchers had about God or the Bible--I couldn’t answer. We are taught to be okay with not knowing. God is full of mystery and He is doing things we couldn’t fathom. I wasn’t threatened by their questions, because I knew what I believed. Little did I know, they tell you that to keep you dumb. Not make up your mind on your own.

After college I met a man. He was kind, self-confident, helped others in need, smart, etc. I knew that he wasn’t a Christian and I was fine with that, he seemed more to me a Christian than a lot of people at my church. I always had the mind set that he would turn to Christ. He was willing to talk about God and religion if I wanted to. He never imposed his beliefs on me, and he never complained when I would wake up early and go to church. I always tried to get him to come with me, but he just smiled and made a lighting bolt sound as if he would be struck as soon as he entered the doors.

It wasn’t until then when I started to realize that you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person. Wow, it dawned on me that what if this whole time, I was believing in something fictional. Whoa, that’s a lot to handle since NEVER before I had thought of anything but what I was taught as a child and teenager. So yes, I had been brainwashed. Living with a veil over my eyes this whole time. Well needless to say, I did my research (a lot) and was completely amazed at how things didn’t make sense. I had started to form my own answers with my own opinions for the first time in my life and not somebody else’s. Seeing both sides of the story is key to forming your own beliefs. Not only seeing, but without judgment as well. I mean, it was obvious—the Bible was bias and contradicting. Where are the stories from the Egyptians? Or anybody else for that matter? I wanted to make up my mind in seeing everyone’s opinion. Not just take my Mother’s and Pastor’s word that they were sinning. Hence, God wiped them out. Never hearing their side of the story?? What??

I tried to take it in strides, but this was INCREDIBLE! Then I look over at my now husband and asked him, “Why didn’t you shake me and tell me I was wasting my time.” He answers me in the most simple of forms: I have never been judgmental of other people beliefs nor do I ever want to influence or question anyone’s beliefs.
“That was why I never believed in god and didn’t agree with religion,” he said.

So I’ve been living in the clear for almost a year now. I’ve never been so happy to be okay with my choices and not have to justify them. At first, I was all about arguing my points and trying to let my still Christian friends and family see another side to the story. It’s no use; their god will always win. Either he is testing you or blessing you. By no means should you question him either. So I stopped arguing, because if they’re proven wrong (which they are; many of you have helped me with polishing my history knowledge), then you don’t have to prove yourself. Prove it, give me proof that there’s a heaven. You simply cannot. Besides, if we’re trying to say we’re right, we’re doing the very thing that religion does and why we hate it so. Our actions speak louder than words.

It’s simple; god said after Noah and his family came out of the ark, that “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” If every man is evil, then how can you believe in something that man wrote? For so much of the Bible--I was always justifying and saying that I don’t really believe that part of it. That’s being selective and lying to yourself. Either believe whole-heartedly in it or against it.

A while back I read about someone being a Christian but not always agreeing with what they do or what the church does. My question to them is, do you believe everything that god did? Killing Aaron’s two sons while they were making a sacrifice unto him. But they lit the fire before he said to, so he killed them. We all have plenty more where that came from.

Whenever I think of religion, I think of the military. What does the military do? It breaks you down mentally as well as physically, it brainwashes you to believe and do as you’re told without question, and who do you answer to and listen to? Your commanding officer (your pastor); and even higher than that, your government (god), It’s a scary thought. Nobody should own you and you should feel no obligation to something you were born into.

Accentuate the Positive -- Ignore the Negative

By J

ImmyImage by asparagus_hunter via Flickr

My ex-relationship with Christianity is perhaps unique, in that my family attended an Evangelical church, but one whose pastor was nonetheless pretty progressive or diplomatic in his views. (i.e. he rarely mentioned hell, End Times, or even sin in his sermons. It was just "love" and "the Good News.")

But the Sunday School classes (6th grade specifically) were taught by less diplomatic people. They were volunteers which basically meant two things: they obviously were passionate about what they were doing to do it for free, and they had no worries about money or church attendance, so they didn't need to be uplifting or popular in what they said.

So as my parents listened in the main church building about how God is love and sin is forgiven and nicety after sugar-coated nicety (as, I've come to learn since, this is pretty much their entire view of Christianity... they are not fundamentalists, thank goodness) I was in another building in Sunday School, listening to fundamentalist lunatic volunteer "teachers" spouting off about the End Times, God's wrath, Hell, and forcing us to sit through the Left Behind movies. I'm 19 now, and this was right after 9/11, so we also got tons of sermons about how 9/11 was a sign of the End Times and that it proves what worshiping "false" gods leads to.

So for many years I internalized this (I was only 11 after all) believing all of it was true. I lay awake at night worrying that if I drifted off to sleep, my family would be raptured overnight and I'd wake up alone in the "Great Tribulation." (My ironic belief being that if I were awake when the "Rapture" occurred, I'd at least be able to argue with Jesus that I was a "real" Christian and perhaps convince him to take me along after all)

After 6th grade, junior high and high school @ church were fine because, once again, they catered to the students' desires to fit in, find "family," be accepted, etc. So it was very candy-coated, love-centered, and progressive (or as progressive as a Baptist church can get).

I believed in a very vague Christianity throughout high school as a result, never questioning it and at the same time rarely thinking about it or letting it affect anything in my life. I went to church without complaint and didn't mind because I never listened anyway, and I liked to go out to eat afterward.

After reading Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, I am now fully an atheist. Luckily my family has been pretty supportive though they are still Christian and don't know I'm an atheist, just that I am no longer Christian. For a brief period I had a Muslim girlfriend (the relationship soured because... YOU GOT IT! I wouldn't convert to Islam) but my family accepted her and did not tell me they had a problem with the fact she was Muslim. My mother even told me, "She's a keeper." And this had a severe effect on me. On one hand, my mother believed that this woman would spend eternity in agonizing fiery torture (simply for not believing in something) and on the other hand she liked her and said that she'd be a good wife for me, even. This really showed me the divided-ness of a religious mind. The reason they can go on believing in a God of "love" is because unless confronted with questions about Hell, etc. They don't think about it much. They focus on the good feeling they have at church or while praying, and the "message of hope" and almost entirely ignore the sinister parts of their faith.

Atheist Churchgoers Anonymous?

By Vyckie @ No Longer Quivering

I've skipped church four Sundays in a row now and I'm feeling slightly guilty. It's freezing-ass cold here in Nebraska, and I just have been too lazy to scoop the driveway and drag myself and my children out in sub-zero temps. Considering that I stopped believing in God over two years ago, it seems rather weird that I still spend my Sunday mornings attending the local Salvation Army worship services. So why don't I just quit going?

I didn't leave Christianity because of any failure of the people. For the most part, I found the Christians I knew to be sincere, generous and supportive. Misguided and unrealistic, maybe - but hey, that was me too.

It was the Bible and Christian doctrine which I finally recognized as ridiculous and even abusive. Through the years, I had become more and more fundamentalist in my beliefs and practices. My diligent study of the scriptures led me to adopt the strict gender roles and patriarchal family model of the Quiverfull movement as God's perfect will for godly men and women. I accepted all the pregnancies which the Lord chose to bless me with, homeschooled my children and "dared to shelter" them from ungodly influences of the world, and for over a decade I obediently submitted to the "head" of our home: my controllling and abusive husband.

It was a stressful and unsustainable lifestyle which led to near breakdown for me - and a suicide attempt for my oldest daughter.

When I first deconverted, I continued to go to church because the pastor had been especially supportive during the ugly custody battle when I filed for divorce.

About six months after the divorce, the pastor was transferred and the church got a new husband / wife team ~ Salvation Army officers, Xavier and Heather. I had decided to continue going to church through the summer so that the kids could go to the camps (sports, music, and adventure camps) for free. But I decided to be upfront with Heather and let her know right away that I don't believe in Christianity anymore. (I knew I had to say something before they tried to recruit me to teach the kids' Sunday School - wouldn't that be a hoot!)

At first, she didn't believe that I really don't believe - but we really hit it off and became friends fairly quickly. We go out for coffee or lunch together at least once a week. We've been doing this for about a year and a half now and it didn't take long for me to say what I had to say about my unbelief and her to say what she had to say - and now it doesn't really come up much in our conversation. Not that we're avoiding it - just that we've kind of moved past that and just enjoy our friendship. We have a lot in common and so there's always plenty to talk about.

Heather is the sort of Christian whom, in my fundie days, I'd have considered a shallow, "feel good" believer. She loves Jesus and is committed to serving Him, yes - but she is not a fundamentalist and doesn't take every word of the Bible literally.

I asked Heather once what it means to her that, as Paul says, the man is the head of the home. Does that mean Xavier gets to make the final decision whenever you two can’t come to an agreement on a particular issue? “No,” she responded. She paused to think about it for a minute, and then told me, “I guess I don’t really know what it means.” I appreciate her honesty.

I also appreciate that as Salvation Army officers, my pastors are truly the "roll-up-their-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done" type of Christians. If they must say a prayer as they distribute, food, clothing, school supplies, etc. to the needy - so be it. If they give a little Bible study as they're opening up the mobile canteen - that does not offend me. Lt. Xavier will soon be leaving for Haiti to assist in doing what the Salvation Army does in emergency situations. Better he does that, than waste time writing up a sermon to explain all the whys and wherefores of the disaster as it relates to God and the Bible.

At first, continuing to go to church was sort of a confirmation for me that I really didn't believe any of it any more. All at once, it all seemed so crazy to me that I thought, "I must have misunderstood what they are teaching. Surely, no-one really believes this?" So I'd go to church and listen carefully, and sure enough - that's exactly what they're teaching. It helped me to feel confident that what I don't believe isn't just a straw man - some wacko God that only I believed in while other Christians have a more "balanced" view of the bible, Jesus, etc.

So initially church was still interesting enough - but now I'm to the point that it is literally physically and mentally painful for me to make it through the morning service. I can't "in good conscience" participate - which makes it a frustrating and awkward experience. The words to the songs are sick and mortifying. Praise and worship used to be my favorite thing because I love music, and praise just comes so easily for me. So I want to sing and dance - but I don't want to sing about what a worm I am or how thankful I am for Jesus' shed blood, etc. A lot of the Salvation Army songs include "battle" language which makes me cringe. So that's something to be endured. Prayer time is tricky too. They take prayer requests from the congregation and I never raise my hand. When it's time to pray, I don't bow my head or close my eyes.

Anyway, I'm still going to church because that's where my social life is (mostly). I love the people there - and I really like Heather. There's always lunch in the "Sally Ann" soup kitchen after church and that's when I have a truly fun and enjoyable time visiting with all my down-on-their-luck friends. There are also other activities that we do together which the children and I like: picnics, movie night, etc. It is getting more uncomfortable for me all the time. Xavier is certain that this is because I'm feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit - which is truthfully, horseshit.

Lately though, I've been thinking that there's another reason why I still go to church and might continue for some time to come. As an ex-Christian, I sometimes feel like the lame, half-witted child which a nice respectable family might want to tuck quietly away in a distant care facility to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain how their well-bred DNA could result in such a deformed, mutated offspring.

On my No Longer Quivering blog, I have been fairly vocal about the family-destroying Quiverfull teachings - which, I maintain, is nothing more than basic Christian doctrine lived out to its logical conclusions. And it often seems to me that Christians would prefer that I would just quietly disappear - stay home on Sundays and pretend that it was all a bad dream.

But I haven't gone away. Which means they still have to think about me - have to explain me.

They see me, they know me - I am a real person - same as them.

For their part, Xavier and Heather have been thoughtful and gracious. Despite my "defects" of divorce, loss of faith, etc., they still claim me and do not dismiss my experience by arguing that I was never really a True Christian. They are careful that in their teachings, they do not promulgate the patriarchal set-up which has devastated countless marital relationships through the centuries (mine included) - even if it means they have to ignore or torturously "reinterpert" the bible verses which historically have been used to support such sexism.

Conversely, remaining in close contact with practicing Christians helps me to remember that they do what they're doing for all the same reasons that used to motivate me too: a sincere heart and genuine desire to love the Lord and to love their neighbors. This keeps me from building up a caricature of "Christian people" in my own mind whom I must fight against and expose as deluded and hypocritical.

I see them, I know them - they are real people - same as me.

So when I write or speak about the evils of Christian fundamentalism and biblical literalism, I'm talking about words, ideas, beliefs, thoughts which affect and influence the flesh-and-blood people who listen to these abstractions and take them to heart. The people themselves - they're just like me; eager to know the truth and to do right.

Does this make sense? Or am I, in true fundamentalist fashion, twisting my brain in knots in an effort to justify something obviously and utterly ridiculous? Perhaps what I need is an Atheist Churchgoers' 12-Step recovery group:

Hi. My name is Vyckie. I am an atheist and I go to church.

Off with the yoke

By Kalos

“There are tons of religions in the world… but only ours is right?” I asked my mom, I couldn’t have been much older than five years old.

“Yes.” she said, and then smiled and chuckled in a way that seemed to say she was uncomfortable sounding so smug but she did believe what she said. For some reason that explanation was enough for me for so many years to come…

Hello, I am a person that knows the Xian community very well. Like many of you I grew up in the church, the Southern Baptist church to be specific. Like anyone I had no idea what I was doing until I was older so I will quickly skip to what Xians would call my testimony. To set the stage I had never really fit in with the kids at my church but my parents pushed me into the youth group. I’m actually happy for that part because it expanded my social comfort zone but that’s a different story. I had a couple friends from school but they were not that close, we just hung out without really talking about anything important and sometimes I wondered if they even liked me. I was in that state largely because my social growth was stunted by a bad decision I had made. In elementary school before I moved to a new city I felt like I said a lot of stupid things so to make a good impression I just didn’t talk much at all in my new school. That decision became a habit but in my freshmen year of high school I hit a breaking point.

I still remember, it was on the bus home one day and a pretty girl mentioned something that I knew about. I thought of some joke to tell her that would have started a conversation but I didn’t say it. I just sat there silently. That was the final straw. That day I vented to an online friend and vowed to break out of my shell. It was the beginning of an intellectual awakening for up to that point I really had not done much thinking at all.

Now, back to church. Wednesday night services had always been lonely and awkward for me but a group of people took me in even though I was odd and didn’t talk much. One Wednesday the youth pastor was talking about giving one’s life to Christ. I’d heard about believing but that part was new. I was desperate and felt that I knew nothing of what to do with my life so I earnestly prayed that God take my life and do with it as he wished. The next Wednesday night my friends were late so I aimlessly wandered around the sanctuary for a while and then stopped to watch a video that was on a big projector. To my right I heard the voice of a girl that I vaguely knew. She had visited another church on the same day my family had before we decided on staying at the church I was in at that moment. This girl, we will call her Veronica, recognized me from there and so she vaguely knew me. I went and sat with her and her friend Robin. These two were unlike the group that hung out with me, they were both pretty and I thought they were cooler so I wanted to hang around them more and eventually got a crush on Robin. My want to be with this girl turned out to be exactly what I needed to drive me far outside of my shell. However in my trying to woo this girl I found out that she was not impressed by how I would zone out during Sunday School so I began to listen for the first time in my church life and I was amazed at what I heard. I loved the lessons I heard and started to become a real Xian. Looking back I thought that the odds of me meeting up with those two girls was very low. I mean what were the odds that my friends would be late, that I would have visited that one church at the same time as Veronica, and that I would have stopped to watch the movie right where she was sitting, eh? God must have heard my prayer, taken control of my life, and had a plan to make me the person I wanted to be! Never mind that I would have ran into Veronica and Robin eventually in that church since they were regulars, never mind that my group of friends there were late every now and then, and never mind my drive to change my life I had made up my mind that God had officially began to guide me down his exciting path. Funny enough this was a story that supported my faith for years to come because I just couldn’t understand things like chance and coincidence. (Xians will swear coincidence doesn’t exist and that when things with low chances happen it must be the hand of God)

That awakening lead me to getting more involved in the youth group, coming out of my shell, and growing as a person more than I ever had in my life but then my family moved. The move threw me through many trials that I am still glad I went through. The Xian part of me back then would have told you it was God’s plan to move me there so that I wouldn’t just settle into my new friends and thus make a new shell that I’d need to break later, that God put me in a church where I had no good friends so that I would pass the test of just going to church just for him, and that my trials their made me start actually reading the Bible. The truth was it was my dad’s plan to be closer to his job that moved us there, not making another shell was a good thing, and I had no friends at that church because I don’t relate to rednecks.

My dad’s company moved him to a new city once I had made friends again but this time I knew that God knew what he was doing so I was excited. (There was also the fact that I had only been there a year and wasn’t very attached to that place). I had learned in the meantime an extremely value lesson, to be content and happy even when my situation was not the best. I learned it from the words of Paul and from Jesus’ talk on not worrying but really if someone I respected would have just told me “I just try to be happy no matter what my situation; and why worry about stuff? It’s not like worrying chances anything.” Then I would have still learned but I attributed these things to the Bible and my spiritual growth. I did not find any flaw with the Bible as I read through it because I read from the firm mindset that it was God’s word breathed. One can rationalize just about anything in their own mind so I found the Bible to be faultless. Don’t underestimate the power of years of dogma and a made up mind.

When we moved again I realized I thought way too much and needed to just talk to people. Then I met some great people that are still my beloved friends today. I thought that after tons and tons of tests God had finally given me what I wanted. I had confidence, good social skills, and wonderful friends. High School was actually really fun after that. So is college, and so is life in general. Anyway, now for the turning point.

I’ve always been a fairly rational person, but often times it takes me a while to realize very obvious things about myself. The experiences I have shared above were the basis for my faith and so I continued to reason from the assumption that the Xian God, Jesus Christ is real, good, cares about me, and has a plan for me. I would years later tell a friend that someone would have to disprove these experiences to disprove Xianity to me. I thought such a feat would be impossible but as you saw earlier it was actually really easy. I just needed a wake up call.

Sadly the call would take about four more years. I went on my marry way but over time I wondered why I couldn’t so clearly see God in my life and that troubled me. I also looked more into atheist arguments, saw where they were coming from, but would assume, no, I would know that they were wrong because of my experiences that told me Jesus was guiding me. I also thought many atheists were smug and annoying because I was blind to Xians that were the same if not worse. Eventually I came to the point where I could even make atheist arguments myself to counter theist ones but I could from there make another counterargument to debunk the debunker. Like I said, about anything can be rationalized so I would continue to go with my experiences.

I’m not sure what exactly started the feeling in me that made me start to love the idea of throwing away Xianity but I think subconsciously my mind had been over the years rejecting the dogma that had been polluting it. One day I looked into myself and saw that these things had grown too big to be ignored any longer. It wasn’t a bad realization, though, it was fun and new. Even still prayers like “Oh God, please get me back on track” followed to no avail. Then one day at Borders I found a book (funny enough in the religion section) titled “Losing my religion” by William Lobdell. I’m not completely sure why, but I was compelled by this book and I felt that this man knew what I was going through and would offer great and interesting advice. At that point in time I was not ready to admit to myself that I was no longer an Xian, but I did know that there was a new love in me for books like that. I came back to Borders to read the book and I found that sure enough the man did know what I was going through. Lobdell too had come to God in a hard time of his life and then gotten back on track while giving God the glory. Lobdell too had experienced what Xians would call miracles, for instance when he prayed for a specific amount of money a friend ended up giving it to him. Lobdell also felt that his calling was to write for the religion beat in the paper but this would be the beginning of his de-conversion. There were so many great things in that book but some that stick out are that Lobdell points out that there are many people that would love to have faith but just can’t. That goes directly against what most Xians think about salvation because supposedly all one has to do is invite god into their life, right? Wrong. Some people just don’t have the capacity. In my mind this alone was a damning fact for Xianity. I suppose the predestination argument remains but who would follow a God that created a lot of people knowing that he would just end up damning them? That is what any decent person would cal a sadistic monster. Lobdell is an intelligent, open minded person that didn’t hate Xians or Xianity and reading his journey was extremely enlightening and encouraging. Xianity could be casted off. I still have saved in my phone a favorite quote from the book. Apparently priests were saying that those losing faith because of the priests that raped kids were committing “spiritual suicide”. To answer that statement Lobdell put into words why most of us are here at exchristian.net: “Spiritual suicide infers that people make a conscious decision to abandon their faith. Yet it isn’t simply a matter of will. Many people want to believe but just can’t. They may feel tortured that their faith has evaporated, but they can’t will it back into existence. If an autopsy could be done on their spiritual life, the cause of death wouldn’t be murder or suicide. It would be natural causes-the organic death of a belief system that collapsed under the weight of experience and reason.” Indeed, I think experience and reason growing inside of me was what caused my change in emotions which lead me to open up to the reality that my experiences were not miracles or God’s hand in my life. As a matter of fact around that time in my life no matter how much I wanted to think about an event as if it were God’s hand I could not control a rush that brought forth a rational explanation.

I remained a shy atheist for a while after that but over time I’ve found myself more and more fond of atheist literature, though being a poor student I can’t buy many books so thank you exchristian.net for giving me a free place to read up on very interesting debates, facts, and such that have greatly helped me to take the next step in my recovery from Xianity! I’ve found myself infinitely more happy and liberated without Xianity, I’ve made valuable self-discoveries that my Xian beliefs would have made me timid to accept, and every day the ridiculousness of that dogma I believed for so long is more and more apparent.

I would like to conclude by saying that I didn’t have a bad experience with the church or Xians, nor did a priest rape me, nor was I appalled by stories of the like. Many Xians say that we here were never Xians but that bad experiences or bad people turned us away. None of that was the case for me, and I was defiantly an Xian. If you asked any of my friends and some of my path youth ministers they would vouch for me and the youth ministers would be very, very distressed that I wrote this. I had the changed life, I had the zeal, but I also have an open and logical mind that eventually threw the yoke of dogma off and if anything I’m ashamed it took 19 years to do so.

My Atheism

By Sean

Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane Sherine an...Image via Wikipedia

A few old friends ask me why I'm an atheist. Anyone who knew me growing up remembers me as a faithful and religious teenager. What could have possibly happened to the kid who led prayer group every morning before school, organized Chrysalis weekends and professed to love Jesus Christ with all his heart, mind and soul? It was a slow processes, but I'd like to share it and what atheism means to me.

Let me set the stage: I have read the Bible cover to cover multiple times and studied some of the most popular modern Christian thinkers like Dobson, Campolo, Colson and many others. I was the 'go to' guy for Biblical information in high school and college. My faith limited or false: at the age of 15, I kneeled and prayed the Sinner's Prayer and asked Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and rule over my life. I spent the better part of a decade working on that relationship, praying daily, trying to be more Christ-like and coming closer to Christ. So atheism for me is not an uninformed choice driven by a lack of faith. I was not a half-hearted believer; I was all in.

Back when I was a professing Christian, I attended a Bible study with my parents and a few other friends. It was dedicated to some of the harder subjects in the bible. I remember one night's topic being about evolution and the 'universal monkey mind'. The premise of evolution is this; a scientist on an island washes a potato in the ocean, a monkey observes this behavior and copies it, then through the 'universal monkey mind' all monkeys are now able to wash their potatoes in the ocean before eating them. And that in a nutshell, was evolution, a crackpot idea to make man the center of creation instead of God. It was useless as a science and highly contested by everyone in the field.

However, I reasoned that there were people who believed this the same way I believed in Jesus. They must have reasons and if I could understand those reasons from their perspective, then I would have a way of countering their arguments and hopefully witnessing to them. One must understand an enemy before doing battle with them. Besides, I knew that my beliefs were correct, so they would stand up against any test.

I picked up a book on the subject; Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker. This book was highly recommended as an easy introduction to the theory of evolution. My mission was to be able to think like an evolutionist while retaining my Christian mindset so I could convert the poor, deluded souls who'd been hoodwinked by this so-called theory.

For the rest of the story to make sense, I need to summarize what I learned: Let's say you have creature X1. It doesn't matter what X1 actually is; it can be a dog, a plant or an aardvarkosaurus. There are lots of variations among X1 individuals - some are tall, some a short, some are lighter, some are darker. The dark colored X1s fare better because they have superior camouflage. They don't do much better, just about 1% or so better. Over 1,000 generations, the vast majority of the population is dark and now we'll call them X2 (though some are still X1). X1 and X2 are essentially the same animal. X2 is not necessarily a new 'species'. But if we keep running time forward, we'll slowly get X3s with a longer snout, X4s with longer legs, and X5s with stinkier scent glands. Viewed as a continuum, each step is a pretty small change from the previous. Saying anyone of the them is a distinct species would be difficult. However, there are now enough differences between X1s and X5s that if two of them were to get together, they could no longer breed; their genes would be incompatible. We can't really say that a species is a particular animal with certain characteristics; a species is more of this continuum from early ancestor to later descendant with many changes in between. This is what Darwin predicted and it that conclusion that the entire field of genetics supports.

Wow. No one had ever explained it to me with such clarity. I can see how the 'universal monkey mind' became a caricature by those who would dismiss evolution out of hand. But now I was left with the fact that no one I had ever talked to among my Christian friends had any understanding of this definition of evolution. I'm kind of an armchair scientist, so I kept studying. I found out that all modern medicine is based on evolutionary principals. It does have everyday applications. It it testable, falsifiable and there has never been any evidence to the contrary and only evidence to support it in 150 years.

So why did people of faith hate evolution so much? As a Christian it was my duty to find out the truths of the world. Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. I've got to be more like Jesus.

Basically what I found was that the truly faithful people I looked up to simply would not accept evolution, despite evidence or admittedly not understanding its most basic precepts. People were willfully ignorant of evolution or they would learn only the things that put evolution in a poor light; fossils are from the devil to test our faith, Darwin recanted on his deathbed, Hitler used Darwin to create the Holocaust, Polonium rings or the salt content of the ocean disprove evolution. It didn't matter that these things were based on logical fallacies or blatently false; people wanted to believe evolution was evil, so no amount of convincing can make it otherwise. I began to understand how ideology worked.

So I'm kind of stuck at this point. I have a truth that contradicts my faith; Evolution is the way the world works but faith sayt to reject this truth to keep loving God. It really does come down to a choice of truth or faith. Faith means putting the blinders on; I have to ignore the fear, the lies the devil and the world are telling me and accept that God really does have an explanation that I'll fully understand once I get to heaven. Many people go the path of faith and choose to believe and overcome doubt. To the rationalist or the atheist this is all self-delusion. I reasoned that believing in heaven without proof is just as stupid as rejecting evolution because one's faith says so. There has to be proof.

Faith is believing despite the evidence before you. I began to realize that thinking this way is not helpful and certainly not moral. Let me say that evolution was not the only crisis of doubt; I could not plausibly continue to believe in many things once that thread became unraveled; how could a loving God give people 70 or 80 years to tell them they love him or be punished with eternity in hell? If there is one God, why does religion spark so much conflict? Why is there still evil in the world? Why do miracles only happen in ancient tales and not today? Why is there no historical proof that Jesus existed? Why does the Bible have so many contradictions? Why does it have rules for how to treat slaves but nowhere say slavery is bad?

The answer, for me, is that the Bible is a collection of stories of desert-nomads with no understanding of science and a morality built around fanatical worship of a deity that demands blood-sacrifice. Over the years, the stories have been changed and manipulated to suite the agenda of the day. This is true of all faiths. They demand you believe, live according to their rules and don't question them.

I couldn't pretend anymore. I knew it was all fake. No one had real answers for me. People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. In church I found that reality was shut out because it conflicted with faith.

I found myself at this crossroads. My faith had been winding down for a while as I investigated the way the world worked. I'd studied quantum mechanics, biology, sociology and many other subjects. Everything pointed to a universe where God did not exist. I had tons of doubts and questions. I could either believe by faith, or follow the evidence.

I chose to follow the evidence.

This is important; I chose. I have turned my back on superstitious beliefs. I decided that I need proof to live my life, otherwise faith is another word for 'lying to myself'. There is no reason to believe something without tangible proof. To believe in something just because someone says so is to stop thinking. To believe just because you've had a positive emotional experience like salvation is probably a better reason, but personal experiences are not tangible proof. I've applied this rationalism and I think there are many things people believe in without questioning.

Atheism is not a belief. It is the absence of belief. I do not believe in God. For me, he does not exist because he cannot be proven. I will not live my life in service to a figment of the imagination. I will live a good and moral life because it's the right thing to do, not because of a fear of eternal hell-fire. I will live based on evidence; when the evidence changes and something new is discovered or proven to be wrong, I will change what I accept to be true and live accordingly.

Waking Up My Closed Mind

By Andrea

UnhappyImage by Mr.OutdoorGuy via Flickr

Growing up surrounded by only Christians is strange thing. My parents were Christians and they home-schooled me and my younger sister. Church was like a second home and all our friends were there. I knew a few other home-schooled kids that didn't go to my church, and they were Christians too.

I know my parents were only trying to do what they thought was best for me, but I was in a kind of bubble. Since I never talked to anyone with a different opinion, it was really difficult to deal with the teachings in the Bible sometimes. I was terrified of going to hell and really didn't like the teaching of the bible. I mean, hearing that God sent a flood to cover the entire earth and kill everyone except eight people is not very comforting.

After short periods of doubt I would put my questions aside. No one had an answer and I had to get along with my family and friends, so I just decided this God must be good after all. In high school my parents let me go to a public school. I was in an art school with all of these people that were very open-minded and that got me to think about things again. That really didn't change me though because my family would always tell me I needed to avoid the false teaching of that school. I was only fifteen so I ended up siding with my parents and saw it as my "mission from God" to help lead people of that school in the right direction. I didn't preach to them or anything, but I made sure I didn't act like "one of them."

A few years went by and I felt like I was getting incredibly unhappy. I felt a lot of anxiety and I really didn't like myself much, but I didn't know why. I was at the point where you give it all to this God and in the process you start losing your real personality. I knew that I had a talent for art but I gave all of that up because I thought God wanted me to be a missionary instead. I guess I was just making myself into a puppet for God, whatever He wanted, went. I didn't even care about having fun anymore. The burden of trying to do everything God wanted was sucking the life out of me. I thought nothing would pull me away from my God, but this year I snapped. The doubt about the Bible haunted me again, but I was still to afraid to admit it.

Shortly after that I got to know this guy I thought was really cool. He was not a Christian, but he was really nice. Though I liked him he was pretty much in the "sinner" category to me. I believed he was going to hell because he was an openly gay man and admitted that he thought Christianity was too uptight. I didn't know what to do, so I started to pray for him. I carried on in my nonsense. He was very sweet though, and it was hard to call him a sinner. One day I think it just hit me. I looked at him and I asked myself, "Why am I serving a God how would hurt this nice person?" All of the sudden it was like my love for him and for others I knew were not Christian took over and I knew this God had to be false.

I'm now almost twenty and I would never go back to the way I was living. I read the Bible again, this time with an open mind, and I saw all of the contradictions, evil and just plain stupidity it contains. I hate that I wasted some time as a teenager, but I'm glad I got out of it at an early age.

I'm agnostic now. I don't have all the answers, but I'm happy anyway. Being free of Christianity is enough for me.

Why I Am Not A Christian

By Chas Warren

Close up of The ThinkerImage by Brian Hillegas via Flickr

This is going to be long and rambling, but not intentionally. The topic is clearly stated in the title, but in this introductory paragraph, permit me to amplify slightly. In this article, I intend to chart the route of my own non-theism. Call it descent or ascent, but know that I have felt like a mountaineer, struggling towards one peak, only to have another suddenly rise before me, beckoning me to climb again. But the path has never been straight. It has always been circuitous. That’s why this literary map will belong and rambling.

I didn’t possess a natural inclination to believe in God. My father decided not to convince me to believe in Santa Claus, and I don’t rue his decision. I still enjoyed Santa, but I understood that he was a pleasant fiction, like Bugs Bunny. It occurred to me by the time that I was in the fourth grade that God might also be a fictitious creation.

Of course, this was accompanied by apprehension and fear. My parents seemed to believe in God, in Jesus, in something called the Holy Spirit, in the resurrection, and in the scary hereafter. My mother taught me a wonderfully morbid little song that terrified me:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I didn’t tell anyone of my incipient atheism. The subject frightened me too badly.

Three digressions: No, I am not likening God to Santa Claus. No, I am not an atheist. Yes, I know that those are double negatives, but they express what I want succinctly, so I forgive myself.

Anyway, I was soon launched headlong into Christianity. I embraced Jesus Christ as my savior, fervently. This was caused by the divorce of my parents, and my mother’s subsequent refuge in Jesus. I don’t say that mockingly, and it isn’t in retrospect. When my parents divorced, my father suggested that my mother start attending church. She followed his advice. I was swept along, as were my siblings. I loved Jesus passionately from the ages of about 10 – 12.

Then a lot of things happened, which I will try to expand in the succeeding paragraphs, after another digression.

A lot of Christians, upon hearing of my lapsed devotion, automatically aver that I was not a Christian in the first place. I’m not interested in discussing that opinion. I was a “born again” Christian who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah and received the Holy Spirit. That’s not all that I’ll say about this, but it is all that I will say for now.

The church we attended was of the Pentecostal variety. I loved it, and participated enthusiastically. I spoke in tongues, and unabashedly bore my testimony to anyone who would listen. We went to church at least three times a week. I read the bible daily, prayed multiple times a day, and immersed myself entirely in Christian culture. I was a precocious and voracious reader, so I gobbled up Nicky Cruz, David Wilkerson, Hannah Hurnard, Salem Kirban, Hal Lindsey, Haralan Popov, Ernest Angley’s now almost-forgotten “Raptured” novel, and practically everything that Zondervan published. If the Left Behind books would have been published then, I would have read them. I listened to Jimmy Swaggart, Andrae Crouch & the Disciples, and everything else that I could find that was Christian music.

Then I read “The Modern Tongues Movement” by Robert Gromacki, which had been lent to me by a Baptist minister. He also lent me a Scofield Reference Bible, and I purchased a Cruden’s Concordance. I began to doubt the honesty of my own religious experience because of the Gromacki book. I looked around at members of my own congregation, and saw people who had willfully accepted a lie. They weren’t speaking in tongues, they were spouting gibberish. I had been spouting gibberish. They had brainwashed themselves in order to feel good. We had brainwashed ourselves.

Then I thought: If we can do this in our sophisticated 20th century, how do I know that Christ’s followers weren’t similarly deluded? Everything came crashing down.

I fought it for years. I kept praying, kept reading my bible. I started to search for evidence of something -- of anything -- miraculous in the world. I attended the faith healing meetings of Vic Coburn, and watched thousands of people in an auditorium believe what they wanted, while nothing miraculous happened on the stage. I spent months investigating a photograph that purported to show Jesus in the clouds that had an entirely untraceable provenance. It is probably still being distributed among the gullible.

I also read “Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle,” by William Nolen, and left as disheartened as the surgeon who wrote it. I read “The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved” by Lawrence Kusche, and “Crash Go the Chariots,” by Clifford Wilson, and further cherished mysteries disappeared. People like to believe the implausible, I realized.

Whatever I investigated of the supernatural or the paranormal vanished like smoke when I looked too closely. I learned that purposeful stupidity was rampant. I listened to adults say things like, “Only a vain person would believe that we are alone in the immensity of the universe,” and watched other adults nod as if they had just heard wisdom instead of banality. I listened to adults say, “We only use 10% of our brain,” as if it were incontestable fact.

I read other books, many of which I regard as slightly sophomoric now, but they were seeds for thought then. I read “The Philosophy of Humanism” by Corliss Lamont, “On Human Nature” by Edward Wilson, “The Conquest of Happiness” by Bertrand Russell, “Beyond Freedom & Dignity” by B.F. Skinner, and “Asimov s Guide to the Bible.” I read Kant and Hume and Voltaire. Slowly, I moved from devout believer to militant atheist.

The atheism didn’t last. First, because, in the 9th grade, I acquired a Jewish girlfriend., and I realized I knew little of Judaism. I’ll write more about her soon. Second, because I started to read the existentialists, and encountered Søren Kierkegaard’s leap to faith. I realized that atheists and theists were not only claiming too much, but that what they were claiming was irrelevant. Christian belief is only and always an exercise of faith, not something to be decided by logic.

Let’s return to my Jewish girlfriend. Due to her, I decided I would become a lifestyle Jew. She gave me a Talmud for my birthday, a drastically abridged and annotated pocket version. Today, it would be something that one perused on an IPod. I became acquainted with the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon and his “The Guide of the Perplexed,” likewise in abridged form. I read Herman Wouk’s “This is My God,” Howard’s Fast’s “The Jews: Story of a People,” Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “In My Father's Court,” and Chaim Potok’s “My Name Is Asher Lev.” I read Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth and Elie Weisel and Sholem Aleichem. I read “Commentary,” the international affairs Jewish magazine.

I was preparing myself to become a Jew.

My mother accidentally intervened, sabotaging my planned conversion. I’d invited my girlfriend – her name was Andrea -- over for dinner. During the course of the meal, my mother casually informed Andrea that she would burn in hell forever because her people had murdered Jesus. This isn’t like my mother. I was stunned, and so was Andrea. The relationship ended, and so did my flirtation with Judaism.

Years later, I attempted to become a lifestyle Mormon. I didn’t believe it, of course – the stuff about golden plates and lost tribes wouldn’t even make a good adventure novel – but I liked most of the Mormons I’d met, and I didn’t feel that it could do any harm. An LDS Bishop unintentionally dissuaded me this time, by refusing to anoint me into what they call the Melchizedek Priesthood, unless I first shaved. I decided that Jesus would have been unlikely to concern himself with the minutiae of shaving, so I bowed out.

There are other events that led to my unbeliever status, but I won’t go into them in any detail here. I met Roman Catholics priests who didn’t believe in God, but they liked being able to do good works from within a powerful institution. I started to read John Shelby Spong and other liberal Christian theologians. In other words, I became comfortable with my lack of faith.

At one point I joined the Unitarian Universalist Association, and I still admire them, but I began to discover how much I dislike labels. I’ve spent many fruitless hours explaining what Unitarian Universalists are and the distinctions between atheists and agnostics, and I don’t want to do it anymore.

The Mormons believe in the aforementioned golden plates. Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation. Christians as a group believe in an invisible, omniscient, omnipresent superbeing who created everything. Scientologists believe in Xenu. I've known Hindus who prostrated themselves before statues of the elephant god Ganesha. Muslims – at least some of them – believe that deliberate martyrdom is a virtue.

I began to realize that the bad side of Christianity was identical to the bad side of any “ism.” The zeal that drives the bad Christians is identical to the zeal that drives bad Muslims and Hindus and Marxists and Stalinists and Maoists.

There are good Christians. I know many of them. There are good Muslims and Hindus and good Marxists. However, they all have one thing in common, in that they have divorced themselves from zealotry, and concentrated instead on what Christians call the Golden Rule, and what many humanists call the ethic of reciprocity.

Many religions have their own versions.

From Buddhism:
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18

From Confucianism:
“Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15:23

From Hinduism:
“This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517

From Islam:
"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths"

From Jainism:
“In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
From Taoism:
“Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.” T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien

So, in summary, I am not a Christian -- because I figured out that I don’t need to be in order to be a good person, that I can be a good person without the accompanying supernatural baggage, and without the risk of being infected by mind-rotting zeal.

Incidentally, I offer posthumous thanks to Bertrand Russell from whom I borrowed my title.

Poverty as a Testimony

By Eveningmeadows

Awhile ago, I had a thought that I was quite surprised about. I had thought that my life was a "testimony" when I was a xtian. I was told that we were all created with a purpose, and whatever happened in our lives, it was god's will. Well, out of the blue, I started thinking about that statement. Was it a testimony for me to live in poverty?

I was thinking about how ridiculous that thought was! I was working for some middle-class women who had comfortable lives. They had nice houses, new cars, medical and dental insurance, vacations. This is where the stupid part comes in! I started working with these women after my ex had left me for the last time with two small children. I didn't receive child support, I drove a really old car that didn't give me much confidence on long trips. I lived in a third floor apartment in an area that these nice women wouldn't choose to live in, and didn't. My apartment didn't have any insulation to speak of, so my kids and I, during the winter, dressed in two pairs of socks, long johns under our pants, turtlenecks and sweaters. We couldn't do much but sit on the couch bundled up under blankets! I would boil water on the really cold days to try to warm the place up a bit! I was on food stamps, and on a welfare to work program because I didn't make enough money. On top of that, I was miserably depressed.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I honestly thought that they would be able to see god in my life, and what a testimony I was through this rather miserable life I had! I thought that I somehow would have some part in their possible conversion! Can you imagine! Why would women who have nice comfortable lives, with or without a belief in god, look at me in my depression and poverty and say to themselves, "Why look at how god is taking care of this person, I want to accept Jesus as my savior also!" Hallelujah and praise the lord, what a testimony my life was to these people! Talk about being brainwashed and delusional. I was thinking about that time in my life, and I had never thought about it quite that way before! It seems like the layers of brainwashing take a lot of time to peel away.

What they were probably thinking, and what I would be thinking now is, if this god is so loving and great, why is he allowing this woman to live like this? Their god had certainly blessed them more than mine had blessed me! And since I spent ALL my free time in the church, giving my money to the church, working myself to death in the church, shouldn't god have been bestowing more blessings upon me?

In the midst of all this, I actually believed that god was good, and was taking care of me! I was grateful for his blessings! Hadn't he given me this cheap place to live, so what if it was freezing in the winter! Didn't he allow my old car to keep running? Didn't I have enough money to pay my bills and that, of course, was because I was tithing! So I didn't dare stop. He gave me grace to continue on even though I was in a deep, horrible depression! Praise the lord! And all these blessing were because of my faith in this god and serving him obediently. And it wasn't my place to question god as to why my life was like this when other xtians lived rather comfortable lives. This was god's will, and I just had to accept it, he would bless me someday!

Now on that day I asked myself, why didn't god just heal me of my depression? He could have easily done that, heal me of the low self esteem which is a by product of depression, and clear my head of all the cobwebs. With all that gone, I would have had the ability to get a handle on my life and make some smart choices about my future. He could have pointed me in the right direction, and gave me a big push! But, nothing. Now in my opinion, that would have been a better testimony to god's goodness, than god's supposely blessings that weren't really there. And I honestly believed all that hook, line and sinker! My life as is was, was god's will, he was using me to glorify him, to show others of his goodness and his love! I feel so duped and lied to!

I had made choices in my life that led me to where I was. I was made to believe that I wasn't able to take care of myself, that I needed god because I was so needy. I think alot of my thinking was because of the depression, and because I was divorced. I was not thinking clearly, so all this made sense and fed into my guilt. I've read again and again on this site the stories of people struggling with depression who fell into religion also. We all believed different lies.

When this thought came to me, the hurt at being lied to, manipulated, crushed, and anger at all that just overwhelmed me. I can't believe that I excepted all that as truth! I can't believe that it took so many years to see how damaging that religious teaching was. I was never to ask why god didn't heal me, why my life, as it was, was god's will. Why was I supposed to believe that god had blessed me, when it was obvious when compared to others, it wasn't. I believe deep inside, I had grave doubts about his blessings on my life, but didn't dare voice them, because I was afraid of god's wrath if I did!

These questions and others finally did the belief in a loving and just god in. Keep the poor slobs believing in all this garbage so they will continue to work for god's blessing in their miserable lives. Working for the church, that is.

Another viewpoint of Unbelief

by Swabby

NYC - Metropolitan Museum of Art - Seated GaneshaThe Hindu god Ganesha by wallyg via Flickr

I deconverted from Christianity over three decades ago. I was raised in the United Methodist tradition by a conventionally conservative Nebraska family. I think the roots of my disbelief may have been planted as early as the time I discovered the non-existence of Santa Claus.

I took a tangential interest in Sunday school during the 1960s when I was looking for mainstream religious validation of my peace movement alignment against the war in Southeast Asia. But beyond that, I didn't put a lot of faith in the Bible-God or Christ.

I officially washed my hands of Methodism after I left home to move to San Francisco in 1973. I love ritual and pageantry, so I got swept up into the surface practice of the New Age movement. I didn't actually believe any of the stuff, aside from a short journey into astrology, numerology and psychic healing. I tried my hands at those things and figured they were all bogus as well. I understood all of these spiritual arts in an abstract way and appreciated them as cultural artifacts and nothing more.

In my mind, I had an opinion that most folks didn't actually believe in the big three Abrahamic religions nor the showbiz of New Age. All of it just a social sham that folks just pretended to believe so they wouldn't offend their parents and grandparents or to have a base of operations for weddings and funerals.

To me, affiliating with a religion or spiritual path was on a similar scale as affiliating with a political party, becoming a fan of a baseball team or immigrating to another nation. Big things, but still just superficial labels in the overall scheme of life. The main idea being that I still understood all of the religions, cults, sports fan clubs, etc. as abstract concepts. Albeit abstract concepts that people get overly attached to; the way San Francisco Giants fans are overly fond of "their" team and opposed to the infidels, the L.A. Dodgers.

I did understand that it was wise to keep my skepticism to myself because I knew that people are very attached to their self-labels as Giants fans, Astrologers, Muslims, Jews, Christians as Americans routinely understand these sorts of affiliations and attachments to opinions. Still, I didn't really understand the depth of belief that the majority of people have regarding their beliefs. I was really out of touch in that way.

Fast-forward to 2004.

I took the opportunity to visit India with one of my fellow Buddhists. My friend and I are skeptical Buddhists who practice the mental calisthenics and disciplines as ways to maintain focus. We also enjoy being armchair anthropologists. Right away, I fell in love with India and its incredible variety of people and cultural practices.

I had/have a working knowledge of the basics of the main branches of Hindu religions so I was eager to partake of checking out temples, shrines, etc. This was easy because our host is a devout follower of Ganesha (the peaceful, auspicious elephant headed god). I've enjoyed reading much of the Hindu mythology as entertainment and as morality tales. Hence, Hinduism was just another abstract concept to me. Even less real to me because I was visiting a vexing wonderland far away on the other side of the planet.

One day, my Buddhist friend, our host and I took a day-trip to a community several miles north of Mumbai. We had a wonderful time at the beach, schmoozing with the locals and sightseeing. We decided to cap the evening with a visit to a brand-new temple dedicated to Ganesha. The temple was spectacular and looked like something straight out of Disneyland. I was captivated by the artistry of the statuary of hundreds of Hindu gods. In the main shrine was a stunning statue depiction of Ganesha. The image was almost hypnotic in its beauty and decoration. We eventually started a circular walk around the image. About half-way through the circle, a middle-aged male devotee approached me in an extremely hostile manner. His face was literally right in front of mine as he screamed angrily in Hindi. He was raising his fists to pound me when my host quickly intervened. The devotee backed away after my host explained something to him, also in Hindi. Immediately, my host turned to me and told me to bring my hands forward in a prayer-like pose and to hold them together the entire time we are inside the shrine.

Later, my host explained that in my ignorance my manner of holding my hands behind my back was interpreted as an extreme insult to the Lord Ganesha. My host had told the devotee that I was just a stupid American who was ignorant about etiquette inside of a holy shrine. It was brought forward to me at that time, just how sincerely the devotee was in his faith and belief in Ganesha.

I gave a lot of thought to that incident afterwards and also during the flight back to the USA. I was trying to piece together how people could believe that such a preposterous, peculiar, bizarre looking god, Ganesha, was a real being to be worshiped and sincerely adored. It was during that mental puzzlement and brainstorming that I finally understood that most people who are attached to the abstract concepts of religion, cultism, sports-fannery, etc., are very serious believers of these ideas.

As a reminder of the fact that people take their concepts too seriously and as a memento of my visit to India, my host sent me a wall-mountable likeness of Ganesha. I have him hanging in my computer room. BTW. Ganesha is considered to be the god of good fortune. Visitors to my den understand that he is my tongue-in-cheek good luck charm. Whenever I read or hear about the horrendous, outrageous events that are triggered by religious followers, I remember that those followers are deadly serious in their beliefs. I sometimes afterwards, glance at the Ganesha image and remember my vivid encounter with absurd belief systems.

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