12/15/2010 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Miggy Evans ~
I needed a place to share, but I just didn't realize it until I found it.
ex Christians so I don't really need to expand on that, except to say I'm glad this forum, with all of its sanctuary and protection exists. Sometimes it just helps to put the words on paper, so to speak.
NOTE: I'm not sure what the swearing policy is here, since this is my first post, so I've self censored myself to avoid any sort of cheesy language filter affect. But feel free to read the Fs and what not in all their intended glory.
I was raised by two very committed believers. My father was saved when he was 25, my mom when she was 19. My father had several jobs in his life, including that of a Pastor, but never mine. My mother was a school teacher. I think its important to make this quick aside and talk about my parents for a moment.
My father converted from Catholicism to Baptist when 25. My grandfather, upon finding some sort of documentation, promptly disowned him. They had zero relationship for 33 years until my 98 year old grandfather finally reached out again.
My mother was the first her family to convert, her story is hostile. Her parents also converted and attended a Lutheran church. My mother is one of the most beautiful people I know, and though incredibly strict in her spiritual discipline, she embodies all the love and acceptance that she preaches. She would no doubt accept my deconversion, but I fear it would break her heart.
My parents were committed believers. I was raised in a few different states, but mainly California. I attended two different churches for a time after my parents split up. My mothers the more conservative, First Evangelical Free. My father's the non-denominational, charismatic Christian Life church. The latter was the more recent, the first years of my faith were in conservative locales.
I was in Junior High the first time I saw anyone raise their hands in worship. People held out their hands during prayer, they sang loudly, they jumped, they danced, they made weird, incoherent sounds which someone else would interpret in very general spiritually laden phrases. There was talk of a baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the spirit. This was all completely foreign to me, my other church had completely ignored these parts of the Bible. This was way more fun, way more my free minded style. After the youth pastor at the fun church casually commented "what are the chances of you coming here every week?" my mind was made up and I switched. My mother, whom I lived with, was happy I'd found a church I liked and gladly drove me in every Sunday.
I dove headlong into this new charismatic style (a new word to me, even in terms of English). I learned to grow comfortable raising my hands, praying with outstretched arms. People fainting, speaking in tongues, prophesying, it was all commonplace after a few months. I learned about a whole new actively miraculous side of Christianity. I was enamored by the romance of Christianity. At the end of high school, I'd become a dominant member of the church. I was active in youth events, we put on short plays Sunday mornings, I jumped and howled with the rest of them. I never, and still have never, spoken in tongues. I'm somebody who you could say is honest to a fault. That sounds like bragging, but what I mean to say is that its extremely difficult for me to be fake. There is something inside of me that just burns full speed toward reality and leaves no room for pretense. So, I never spoke in tongues because I was never compelled by the holy spirit to do so, of what value was it if I just did it myself? Well....this was the beginning of the doubts...
My stepmother is active proponent of speaking in tongues. She does it all the time. She sees it as like some sort of spiritual weapon or defense against the Devil. She will speak in tongues under her breath during a scary part in a movie, or while watching something that glorifies God. In church, it's just non-stop, as you'd imagine. But when I asked my parents about whether or not it was real, since it just sounded like noises I could make on my own. Also, the Bible doesn't even mention these weird gibberish tongues. it only refers to actual languages being spoken-- I was told "but (your stepmother) does it." Case. Closed.
This is, so far, just my experience in the church. After being publicly educated until I was 12, my mother sent me to Victory Christian High School. What a powerful name, eh? Victory! I did not want to go, I wanted to be at the public schools with my friends, but no doubt my mother worried of corruption and poor education (this is California after all), so off I went. Victory was a horrendous place. Southern Baptist Fundamentalist mentality. More rules than can be counted, but all loosely worded enough to be wrapped around any situation. No extreme hair, no extreme clothes, no logos on men's shirts, no skirts more than three inches above the knee, no plain white T's (because they are underwear), no frayed edges on pants, no shorts, no hats, no piercings (except women's ears), no tattoos...well, you get the picture. This was a feudal territory. The efforts to control people were absolutely outrageous. Any display of individualism was smartly admonished. Spontaneous lunch time games were quickly squashed due to "safety concerns." Friendly pranks on each other's cars (like flipping the wiper blades upside down) were deemed vandalism and threatened with suspension. Once, in an acting class during an improv game much like whose line is it anyway, i couldn't think of anything fast enough and said "damn!" quietly, but loud enough for the whole class to hear. I was sent out of the room, then to the principle and was suspended from school for one day. The reprimand consisted of them telling me I shouldn't even have that word in my vocabulary. Someone, it was OK for them to know it, presumably for the express purpose of punishing people who used it. My mother was horrified at what her little boy was becoming and I was harshly punished at home as well.
The following year, one of the science teachers left the school and was replaced by one of the elementary school teachers last minute. (It was a K-12 school). She had no experience with students over the age of 8, but she was thrown in with the lions (us). She was so naive, it was incredible. When she heard people whispering, she would turn from the board and proclaim "I'm hearing voices!" Even in an adult context, this would draw some ridicule. Nevermind a room of 13-year-olds. She also made it quite clear that she never ever lost papers, ever. So if she didn't have an assignment, it was because we didn't turn it in. Period. Right...
One girl was sick for a couple weeks and she lost an entire stack of her make up work. Another day, an in-class group lab assignment was lost. She had mine, but not my lab partner's. Ever the defender of my friends, I intervened and spoke on his behalf. She wasn't having it and after trying to convince her, she ended the conversation with "Do you have any proof?" PROOF! No, I didn't have proof. What did she want, a photograph? Video? A notary stamped testimony? Well, I would have my revenge. Shortly after, in the same class, another girl who had been absent said she didn't know there was a quiz that day, so she shouldn't have to take it. My teacher boldly proclaimed, well, i had it up on the board all week, you should have known. Victory! If possible, I raised my hand sarcastically. "Excuse me, Mrs. Smith. Do you have any proof?" I was suspended a day for that one too. But all of a sudden, I was becoming aware of the fallability of adults. Maybe not everything they said was true, maybe it was even completely wrong! Maybe, just maybe, they were over doing it.
I started asking questions. Always a popular strategy. I asked about why the rules were so strict, what difference did spiked hair styles make? Or logos? Or frayed jeans? What harm did those things do? They had justifications from certain unnamed studies that better dressed students performed better. Which may or may not be true, but they didn't really know. They would have said anything. Of course, that wasn't even really the issue, it was all about keeping a good christian testimony for the neighbors around the school. We were the salt of the earth, in the world, but not of the world, we had to stand apart and shine the light. Once, i dared to ask "where in the bible does it say we have to care what people think?" "well, Mike, that's what Christianity is all about. Worrying what others think." I knew then, that the battle was not a matter of logic, but of wits. Of justification. I managed to survive the rest of high school without another suspension, but certainly spent my share of time in the principles office, sometimes deserved. At my graduation, instead of shaking hands, I picked up my principal in a bear hug. I have the photographic evidence to prove it. We look like great friends.
In spite of all this legalism and control, I blamed the school, not the church, not Jesus, not God. This was just people who messed it all up. it certainly gave me a distaste for that kind of behavior, but I would still take a bit more by the end.
At my church, I met a man who was a missionary. He worked with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). He'd been in Mexico and there was a missionary training school there. It was supposed to indirectly make you a better Christian by forcing you into closer communion with Christ. I was not super eager to go to college, but neither did I want to get trapped in some full time job. This seemed like the perfect alternative, plus it would infinitely please the religious people in my life.
I spent a total of three and a half years in Mexico. Mexico is an extremely conservative country, even by American standards. I'm speaking about the church of course, not the country as a whole. There is an extremely legalistic approach even on the liberal side. Having said that, there were a number of things that pushed me over the edge. It was an extremely slow journey, but I will highlight the few that I feel did the most "damage" to my previous way of thinking.
By far, one of the most pivotal moments of my entire life came from a book I read while on a missionary trip in Cuba. (We had to enter from Mexico. Don't tell the government....I mean.....I'm lying about that. I didn't go there. Don't investigate.) The book was called What's So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey. It was absolutely eye opening for me. It is basically driving home the point that Christians say they are all about grace, but in fact tend to have very little of it. "God hates fags, abortion clinic bombings, apartheid, etc." It really showed me how strict and fundie-like I'd become in my own life (and with the team I was leading in notCuba.) It really did change my life and I started exploring grace in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. This led me to what I believed was the true purpose of Christianity. To love, to accept, to refrain from judgment or excessive criticism, to let people be. This was how I saw Jesus. A loving person who demanded nothing of anyone but their friendship in exchange for salvation. I started to ask more questions to people, to challenge their hard and fast beliefs on issues as trivial as public affection or going to nightclubs. I was right popular, as you'd imagine. Some friendships dissolved, others strengthened. I started talking with anyone who would listen about this "radical new idea" of loving people instead of controlling them. I was told I had a poor attitude, that I was playing a dangerous game. When I asked what the danger could possible be I was told "uh..I'll have to get back to you on that." Don't worry about it! Just think! Don't be a priori!
I also dated a girl most of the time I was in Mexico. We were very much in love and I believed that Jesus had revealed to me that she was the ONE for me. That she was worth working for, waiting for, fighting for. She was perfect in so many ways, I thought, and I remained faithful to her for the entire time we were together in spite of being a young white male in Mexico, which is sort of like being a bit of sugar in a land of salt. She however, in the end, was not faithful. I was destroyed, my life was over, surely I would never overcome such heartbreak. This for me, was the final straw. God has made a promise, I'd put my full confidence in his word. I defended it, I lived for it, in the words of Benecio del Toro's character in 21 Grams. "I did everything he wanted!" and I was the one who suffered. It took me about 6 months, but I got over her betrayal. This incident however, was the final push. If God cared so little for me, then I would no longer be afraid to question, to challenge, to take apart, to analyze. I would not accept anything because it was consistent with other beliefs, I would not take anyone's word for it, ever. Either God lied, I misheard, or he never said it in the first place. Any of those are foundation challenging ideas. If God can lie....well, no he can't. Stop right there mister. OK, if I can mishear, then how can I trust ANYthing that I interpret as being his word, if he never said it, then how could I have been so certain. There was nothing more certain to me in my entire life than those promises and they were clearly wrong. This was my limit. I simply would not put up with this bullshit anymore.
I left Mexico because I was done there. I was tired of the rules, the control, the hypocrisy, the people. All of it. I'd thought I'd spend my life on the missions field, but three years was plenty. I spent a couple years being angry about things. I was angry at God, more than I'd ever thought possible. I wanted nothing to do with him. I couldn't trust him, i couldn't even trust that I heard him. All the while, I felt that pang of guilt for turning away. "it must be a problem with YOU Mike, God is loving, faithful and he has his reasons." No, F that. F that in the A. God must, he will, understand that he cannot treat me so poorly and expect me to take it on the chin. He will fix this mess or he will lose me as a friend. He's a tyrant, a cold business man who uses people to get some master plan off before the end. I'm worth too much for that.
This led to a general disdain for all things religious. If I was fed up with the religious extremists and fundies before, then I had a downright disgust for them now. How dare they attempt to discern the meaning of life or God's word or the bible when they had no f-ing clue if they were right or not. How could they be SO arrogant to try to tell ANYONE how to live? EVERYTHING is subjective! It's all about how you feel when you read it, or what is going on in your life and how it affects your interpretation, or what your culture is, or what your parents believe. There is absolutely no consistency in Christianity as you move from one believe to the next. How can this be? Is this a religion worth keeping?
I called myself a non-Religious Christian during these years. I had no taste for the church, nor organized religion of any kind, nor anyone else's understanding of who God was or what he would or wouldn't do. It was my life, they would be my rules. My rules allowed for a relationship to have a cold period after a conflict. Its perfectly natural and it would be my reality for 3 years. The more I realized that I could change beliefs and completely justify them, the more I started to question others. Every time I'd get a little braver and question a little deeper. Why aren't Mormons saved? They still believe in Jesus sacrifice on the cross, isn't that what mattered above all the denominational nonsense? If the Mormons could be saved? Then why not random people with no religion? What about people who were so indoctrinated that they weren't able to question their religion? Islam? Buddhists? Random Tribes? If it's all about the relationship, then what difference do the specifics make? Why do you have to understand what happened as long as you get to know God? Why do you need to hear the actual story of salvation? What about people who grow up on it, but never really think about it or understand it? Is their salvation any less valid? Then....the big one....where does the Bible even say that Christ is the only way to heaven? Where does it say we have to believe that he died for our sins? Why do I believe it? Have I really thought about these beliefs and selected them because they make sense? What do i really believe? What is real? What, of all the things I've believed my whole life is worth anything?.....Is....God....even...no, yes, he is, of course he is. You know it, you feel it. Don't be dumb.
Once you open that door however, there is no stopping it, not in my experience.
I did start to question the existence of God. I started to question the existence of everything. How do we know what we know? How does anyone know anything? What does science really know? Is evolution really a lie? Do they believe it just because they need something besides the Bible? Is there any validity to it? Is there any validity to creationism? How do you prove something was created? science, Science, SCIENCE!
Then that was it, at some point I realized that life made so much more sense outside of religion, things worked like they were said to work, they were consistent across the board, no more guilt, no more self doubt, no more confidence undermining belief system. I was out, I was free, more free than the freedom of Christ. I feel good all the time, i have belief in myself, I trust my self, my mind, my thoughts. Mankind is imperfect and limited and this is most clearly evidenced in their creation of Religion.
I'm proudly Agnostic now. Agnostic because the existence of God is simply not something that can be known, it's unfalsifiable. I'm equally agnostic about invisible pink unicorns, the Tooth Fairy and Russell's teapot.
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