Well – it is time for me to write my story – my antitestimony – and make it public.
Image by ThomasThomas via FlickrFirst of all, I am thankful for the many people who have come before me on this website and shared their personal, sometimes painful, and always insightful experiences about their deconversion experiences.
Yes – I have been lurking here for over a year. I still try to hide this from my wife – although I think she is catching on though. That shame over publicly questioning god really has a tough time going away.
I kind of feel like I am at an AA meeting here... religion is a kind of addiction to me. (While I was never an alcoholic, I did grow up with an alcoholic parent and attended many meetings as a child. I think that is one reason the regularity, acceptance, and rules of Christianity were attractive to me – they helped define something, anything, as being ‘normal’. Any ACOAs out there will know what I mean.) So, I will start off by saying:
“Hi. My name is ‘Particle Man’ and I am a recovering born-again Christian.”
This is the point where everyone out their reading is supposed to say, “Hi Particle Man”, welcoming me into your inner circle. Then we sing “Kum Ba Ya”. OK, enough of that.
If you knew anything about me 20 years ago, you would have never believed that you would ever hear me say these words. Let me repeat them again: “I am no longer a Christian in any sense of the word by which most understand it.” In fact, while my mind is always open to evidence to the contrary, I would have to describe myself as an atheist at this point. If my Christian friends and family heard that, they’d probably fall right out of their chairs.
I attended church from a young age, brought weekly by my parents, but to rather liberal Methodist churches which did not emphasize reading the Bible, evangelism, etc. (just the customs – no hellfire and brimstone). I found all of this to be all a form of socialization and learning about my / their culture. Yeah, I learned the stories and was confirmed like a good Methodist in 5th grade, but it did not mean anything to me. That was until I hit junior high and the normal trials and identity crises of adolescence started. My grades started to suffer – I was depressed – having trouble fitting in, until one of my friends invited me to come to his Church (also Methodist) and play piano (I could play well – my one extracurricular activity I excelled at) in their youth-group worship/drama team. This turned out to be one of the most positive experiences of my life. I gained an instant set of friends who more or less accepted me as I was and I gained some important social skills and confidence. My grades went up (way up actually) and the rest of my high-school was great. The church activities were a core part of my life, but doctrines, reading scripture, even religious guilt, were not. Our church was a very ecumenical, love-centered one.
Then, I got to college and went through another one of those identity crises common to young people. This time I was a freshman in college, was depressed, having a hard time fitting in, and one day a guy from Campus Crusade for Christ sat down and shared with me a little booklet I know many you are familiar with: “The Four Spiritual Laws”. If there was ever a ‘perfect’ target audience for the Campus Crusade evangelism materials, well, I was probably it. I had been prepared by adolescent experiences of positive, social interactions within the church (no ‘hard’ doctrines), was currently confused and friendless after seven months in college, and here was a group of happy people ready to accept me into their fold – no questions asked (OK – well I found out pretty quickly later that there were lots of expectations and questions to ask, but by then it was too late.) The Four Spiritual Laws put in to logical form what had previously seemed mysterious to be – the doctrine of salvation and lordship. I bought it ‘hook-line-and-sinker,’ as they say. From there on out, my involvement in campus Christian life and ministry accelerated dramatically. I became immediately made aware of (through a “small group”) all the little things “true believers” have to do to protect themselves from sin and temptation, to make the most of every opportunity to be a good witness. I had never heard things like these in the Methodist church. But, as I started reading the Bible (everyday "quiet times" were expected you know), I began to pick out and choose the verses that seemed to justify the doctrines and teachings I was hearing. I led music at my local chapter’s weekly meeting. I dated only girls from within the select group of ‘true believers’ I had surrounded myself with. I was taught to look down on my ‘liberal’ Methodist upbringing. I was encouraged to consider carefully the spiritual ‘state’ of my parents and siblings and make a plan to share my faith with them. I was asked to question if my parents really had God’s interests in mind when they sent me to college to be a certain major. Maybe God wanted me to join in the harvest for his kingdom as a missionary or as Campus Crusade staff. I joined and was baptized into a real-live Southern Baptist Church, which ‘told it just like the Bible says it’ (or so they believed). Anyway, by the time I finished my undergrad degree I had gone on a summer mission trip overseas, I had led others personally ‘to Christ’, I ran ‘discipleship groups’, I led a group through the book ‘The Search for Significance’. If there can be such a thing as a “true Christian”, then I was one.
These strong beliefs continued on into graduate school (I went for a PhD in a technical field). However towards the end of my Ph.D., I did begin to notice ambivalence in the church regarding scholarship and open-minded rational thought. Being an intelligent, inquisitive, independent thinker I was never really against reading outside of Christian approved books, and in fact my training demanded that I follow any rational argument to its logical conclusion – for the sake of discovering the truth. I saw no good reason to confine this practice to only science – but to apply it throughout my life. I began to notice that a large majority of my ‘fellow believers’ were just not interested in freethought, however. In fact, some were downright hostile to considering or discussing any ideas that they thought might lead down a road of instilling even the smallest amount of doubt. I began to delve into apologetics – in fact I became a personal friend of one of today’s leading Christian evangelical apologetics authors and speakers. You’ve probably read (or been referred to by well meaning Christian friends) his books.
So, I guess my undoing was actually reading the Bible to see what it really said.When I left grad school and became a professor at a major U.S. university, my work and family became the focus of the limited amount of time I had. My emphasis on church work and attendance really dropped down. I was trying to survive pre-tenure in the ‘publish and perish’ environment. I was not going to Bible study every week – I was not reading the Bible every day (and I was feeling terribly guilty for not doing so at the time!) But something remarkable happened – slowly, but surely, for the first time in over a decade, I had an opportunity to really begin to see the world as it really was. The filters of indoctrination and a protective circle of enabling Christian friends were no longer there…and I began to see the ugliness of this world and how it contrasted the ideas of a loving God who has a plan for everyone’s life, a plan to give all life in abundance. Well – I hate to break it to you, but that ain’t happening for the majority of the world’s population. I finally began to deal with “theodicy” (The problem of evil) for the first time and I also began to investigate the history of the bible and Christianity. I didn’t like what I found. Then I decided to go back and actually read the Bible. But this time with no study aides, no devotional material, no expectation of a message hidden cryptically in the 2000-3000 year old texts, no study group aimed at keeping our conclusions ‘within the bounds of church doctrine’. I just read it for what it was, as if I were a peer-reviewer. And for the first time in my life, although I had read and memorized large sections of these same scriptures before, for the first time I was appalled by the childish, emotional, belligerent things God did and approved of. I saw the holes, the misrepresentations, the contradictions, that my doctrinal blinders had never allowed me to see before. So, I guess my undoing was actually reading the Bible to see what it really said. I took the red pill, so to speak, about one year ago and I have been chasing down the rabbit hole to see how deep it really goes ever since. While religion at its best provided some great structure in my life when I needed it, I have to admit that is also provides a lot of excess baggage (guilt, expectations of time and money commitments, expectation to adhere to a narrow set of irrational doctrines) that are frankly distractions from living a real life. It is so nice to just be me and not pretend anymore. It is so nice to be free of the nagging cognitive dissonance.
That, and realizing that all over the world, as the Internet age has dawned, people like me have been becoming aware of the deceptive influence of religion in their lives. The stories of others have been invaluable to me. I hope you keep sharing – I know I will.
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