3/16/2011 | Share this article:By Joshua ~
I'm a police officer. This only matters because anyone who has a job whose tools include a gun and body armor has a strong disposition towards being religious. My job is in the south suburbs of Chicago, an area generally known as being less than pleasant. Every time I strap on my vest and duty belt I am reminded why I wear them, death is real, violence is real, and the people who would love to put a bullet into me are real. I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist household, and the beliefs that were taught to me sat well with the nature of my job. It's a pretty nice thought to believe that an all powerful being has your back, it's the ultimate back up unit. So why would I give it all up?
In the beginnings of my faith as a young teenager, I always had problems with the Christian view of predestination and free will in coordination with a supposedly omnipotent and omniscient God, and that the suffering in this world was the result of two people listening to a talking snake (never mind the "fact" that God let Satan exist in the perfect garden of Eden in the first place). Even in my juvenile brain, it seemed like humans were set up to fail. I shook this doubt off for the next umpteen years by saying "Us mortals just don't understand God's immortal plan", and left it at that.
The first time I explored these doubts was when my wife started having multiple miscarriages when we were trying to have children. Although it's not the worst thing that can happen to you, once something negative like this keeps reoccurring, it takes the happiness away from the joy of pregnancy. Instead of counting the days until we could welcome our bundle of joy, we counted the time it would take until we would no longer see a heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor. The later of the miscarriages happened at a time when I was already vulnerable in my faith due to events that I'll get into below. I felt that God did not want me to be happy about anything anymore, he had turned a joyous event into one of apprehension and suffering. Watching Christian friends of ours enjoy lives where everything seemed to work out was becoming increasingly difficult.
Doubts about my faith moved from the back of my brain to the front of it when me and my wife's goodwill towards her family was taken advantage of. Her family also believes in the fundamentalist view of Christianity, although you'd be hard pressed to tell by some of their actions. Me and my wife put family before money (a supposedly admirable thing), and we've been paying for it for the last two years. Through a series of reckless business ventures, my father in law decided to declare bankruptcy, this left me hanging out to dry. I had done a paper transfer of ownership on two houses that my father in law had owned, backed with his guarantee that he would be soley responsible for upkeep and all financial obligations towards the houses. After finding out that he hadn't paid property taxes on either house in almost two years after I received notices of tax sales, and the fact that he had stopped being "financially responsible" for these houses, I had some tough choices on my plate. No matter how things would end up, I thought I would be vindicated by God, due to me and my wife's hearts being in the right place. I believed without a doubt that God would work through this situation. Where people fail, God doesn't.
This leads me to "Pastor" Brian. He was temporarily residing in one of the houses I was trying to sell and was a minister at a local Christian church. I let him know I was selling the house to give him as much time as possible to find a place to live. I even talked to him "Christian to Christian" and let him know what me and my family were going through. He told me he knew what I was going through, as he had also faced a similar experience, and that God's will would be executed if everything was handled with honesty and integrity. I had thought that having a Christian pastor involved in this process was a blessing from God.
After a whole lot of praying, I received an offer on the house. After thanking God for this answer to prayer, I let Pastor Brian know about this immediately. Contacting him then became increasingly difficult. As me and the buyer moved to close the deal, the buyer rightfully wanted to have the house fully inspected, to which I notified Brian for his convenience. The inspection date happened to fall on a weekend that me and my wife were going out of town for some much needed time away. Before leaving I contacted Brian again to remind him of the inspection and to contact me if there were any problems. While attempting to enjoy a precious couple days away from the madness, I received a frantic call from my real estate agent saying that "Pastor Brian" wasn't letting anybody in the house and that he was threatening to call the police if everyone didn't get off of "his" property. He told the inspectors and everyone there that I never told him about the inspection, so he wasn't letting anyone in. So much for honesty and integrity. Thanks to the non-Christian people that were involved in the deal, they were able to push the closing through despite Pastor Brian's best efforts at sabotage.
After a few more unfortunate incidents me and my wife had to go through, I became desperate with God. I spent more time in agonizing prayer in six months than I had for the previous twenty years as a Christian. I prayed for understanding, relief, signs, miracles, words of encouragement from fellow Christians, or any other reason to hold onto my faith. You name it, I prayed for it. I also became increasingly aware that I felt like I was talking to myself.
I then decided to open myself up to "Truth", no matter what it might be or where it might lead. The first step I took was considering the possibility that I didn't have the truth. I reasoned that if what I believed was the truth, it would become evident to me. I still considered myself a Christian, but wanted to open myself to knowledge that I had dismissed as "the devil's work" for many years. I read various works on philosophy, apologetics, the history of the Bible and Christianity, science, and even atheism. I noticed the more I learned, the more doubt I had about my faith. Saying "God did it" wasn't enough anymore. Why was there so much evidence contrary to what I believed? I wrestled with the thought "if God is the truth, why isn't it more obvious?" The emperor was losing his clothes, and he didn't seem to care.
I found that he was naked on a cold winter night last December. I was dispatched to a paramedic call that came out as "a 12 year old dying". I arrived at the house to find a hysterical mother holding what was supposed to be the body of a 12 year old child. The child looked no older than six, and his limbs stuck out at awkward angles. The mom told me through sobs that this was because his muscles were too weak to keep his joints in socket, and that her son was diagnosed with a debilitating disease as a baby. All his muscles would atrophy which would eventually lead to suffocation or heart failure, and it appeared that time was here. She then retrieved a piece of paper which was a DNR for her son. I get to watch this kid die. As agonal breathing set in, which is the body's last attempt at getting oxygen, she began begging us to help her son. Instead of sitting there watching her kid die, she agreed to taking her son to a nearby hospital where they might at least be able to make him comfortable. As we loaded him in the ambulance, she lost it. She crumbled to the ground and started throwing up. Watching your kid die has to be the purest form of agony.
Once everyone was loaded up in the ambulance I sat in my squad and chewed a piece gum, trying to get the smell of vomit out of my nose. It was then reason hit me in the chest harder than the "Holy Spirit" ever had. I was left with no choice, I didn't give up my faith, I was dragged kicking and screaming from it. This child didn't suffer because of a talking snake, he suffered because he was the victim of a genetic defect. For a Christian to say that we all deserve suffering is to make a mockery of every human that has had no choice in their suffering. There is no divine plan, there's just life, in all it's beauty and frailty. In all my soul searching for divine inspiration, it was deconversion that provided the clarity I had been looking for.
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