6/28/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy ApostatePaul ~
Looking back, I don't see how I could have been any more skeptical.
Image by Image Zen via FlickrI was born into a Christian family with two loving parents. Mom, the more "spiritual" of the pair, was a very emotional person and prayed constantly, while Pops, the more intellectual, was very cut and dry, burying his emotions beneath logic and knew all the apologetics. One night in church when I was 7, I finally understood what my parents and Sunday school teachers had been telling me. I needed to ask God to forgive me because I did bad things sometimes and that was the only way to be forgiven. It made sense! The praise for my decision was so encouraging, and just like that my journey began.
I exceeded in AWANAs and in preteen/teen camps. At about 12, I began to make Christianity more my own, thinking about it for myself and realizing that up to this point I had not really been following Christ. The pastors and youth leaders all seemed to be preaching the same thing: Give your life to Christ. It was backed up plainly with the Bible (can't argue with something that you believe must be the truth), so I decided I needed to work harder to be a good follower of Christ and submit my life to him.
Age 16: I go on a foreign "mission trip" It's actually only a half mission trip, organized to "get your feet wet" in missions. I have been having a little bit of a gnawing doubt on my mind lately about God. Some unanswered prayers and seeming inconsistencies I'd found in the Bible were beginning to trouble me. But, the youth pastor convinced me to go anyway, and plus, the girl I had a crush on was going.
My understanding of Christianity fell apart, and rather than struggle through it again hoping it was right, I decided once and for all to get to the end of this. I prayed fervently that God speak to me somehow, show me that He was there. The week before the trip, said girl got a girlfriend and in my teenage mind I felt like I would never meet anyone who liked me back. Up to this point, I had been a very shy, quiet boy who worried a lot about people and their opinions. This led to quite a bit of depression in my life (nothing clinical, just an extrovert without enough friends) and I was getting tired of it. I prayed and prayed for God to fix me and make me something different; I didn't want to be that quiet shy boy, always sad, anymore.
"The girl" that had been making my depression particularly acute as of late came and found me sitting (so cliche) under a bridge skipping rocks. As she talked to me I was begging God to do something to change me now, hoping she would like me more if I did and something would work out. I don't remember now what she said to me exactly, but what stuck with me was the idea that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and do something about my life.
The next week was a total life-change (which was, coincidentally, the tagline of the mission camp for that year), as I resolved to totally alter things and prayed that God would help me. In one week I magically became popular, fun, outspoken... It was as if God set off a bomb in my life and I couldn't thank him enough.
Fast forward a couple of years (get ready for cliche) and I'm a senior in high school, leader in the youth group, President of FCA at school, going to church like 4 times a week. After a suicide at school, my childhood best friend and I would pray every time we met before we played a video game or made a cheesy short film with his cool camera he got for Christmas. I remember sitting for hours and talking to God, my one never-ending friend, parent, and guide who was always watching out for me. It was comforting to know that God was there to listen to me. Whenever I talked to him I felt better because I would understand all the confusing things in life after I talked to him for a while. All of my friends were impressed with my faith, and I wasn't even trying to impress them.
Strengthened by my experience in understanding (I was pretty sharp in school) that came from God, I went out on the discussion boards online on the new hit, Facebook, to convince atheists to believe because I knew a LOT more than the rest of people my age(atheists were rumored to be the most deluded of all nonbelievers). However, after a while, I found that I spent more of my time telling the other "Christians" who were doing the same as me that they were being irrational or hypocritical. I actually made a fake Facebook when I was 18 so that I could pretend I was old and chew out people older than me for totally misrepresenting the true Christianity that I knew. God didn't want hateful arguments, name-calling, and endless Scripture quoting. Atheists don't believe the Bible so we have to give them good evidence! And God was everywhere, universal, and there was proof of His presence in everything.... right?
As I tried to remain honest, I found myself with less and less "proof" for Christianity, and more evidence that defied what I thought I knew to be true. My fake Facebook account became religionless rather than Christian, and I used it for testing the waters asking all the questions I wouldn't dare ask as myself. The questions kept adding up and it was harder and harder to "just have faith" like everyone encouraged me to. I had gone from a leader in my faith to a near agnostic.
After a year or so of putting Christianity on a back burner and deciding to ignore the problem, I had a dream that scared the hell into me (yes, you read that right). A dark figure was chasing everywhere and finally he cornered me in some rocks and and grew huge and black with smoke and whew, scary, and I woke up with his laugh and the words "I have you now" ringing in my head. What could this mean? It was so realistic, I was sweating when I woke up. It had to be Satan, the figure. I texted my old youth pastor asking if he believed Satan could influence my dreams and he said no, Jesus blocks that sort of thing if you're a believer, and quoted Scripture to back it up.
Well, that could only mean one thing. I had lost my salvation. And I needed it back! I was instantly on fire for God. I became floor chaplain at school, started my own college Bible study, got really involved with the youth and even shared my earlier foreign country testimony and other snippets of my life that convinced me for sure that God was with me. I started searching hard for answers and found a meaning-based understanding of the Bible and that science and history were irrelevant to the core teachings of Christianity, which were all about relationships, not worrying about the little details.
But the "little details" were so various! My year as an agnostic had given me a load of them. One day, my (Christian) Physics professor told us plainly that there is nothing to be afraid of when honestly searching for the truth, and since I knew God was true, I had nothing to worry about. He then gave a devo about Old Earth cosmology in Genesis. It inspired me. I delved deeply into everything I had problems with, and found that people had come up with answers for everything! Hell doesn't have to be eternal! Aionios may have been mis-translated. Satan was invented in the 3rd century BC! Genesis can be looked allegorically, metaphorically, or even functionally! The Bible is cultural so if something doesn't match up with our current understanding God was coming to those people to tell them something important without correcting all the little unimportant stuff. Women don't have to be silent in church and we don't have to believe in Creationism! My faith had never made so much sense before!
I started to proclaim my beliefs to my friends at this Christian school. I figured they would all be glad to see the answers to all of these questions that I was sure plagued them as well. Instead, I was met with stout opposition. Many would outright tell me I was wrong and give me reasonably solid Biblical proof against my beliefs, pushing me back into a region of confusion. I knew in my heart that I had to be right because God couldn't be the judgmental, inconsistent God that everyone else I knew seemed to believe in. One thing I knew that remained constant: I had my past to remind me that God was there for me all the way, regardless of what I found out about the Bible. I prayed constantly, talking to God about pretty much everything, when walking by myself to class, while laying in bed at night, when I was tired of studying, and studied the Bible like I had never studied before, poring meticulously over the text and discovering all sorts of new and exciting insights with each study.
As I studied I began to realize the high expectations of the Bible and the need for a full-life commitment. I began to have trouble balancing school (I'm an engineer, so coursework was hard) and my faith, finding that I never had enough time to commit to God. I contemplated dropping out; all I really wanted was to do God's work. But I knew that God wouldn't want me to hurt my parents and my current three years of school had left them and me in quite a bit of debt, so I stayed in. Things got more and more difficult as the arguments, studying, praying and missions work got more intense.
Last Christmas, I went on an overseas missions trip. Nothing ever seemed to work out on the trip except for the things we had thoroughly planned, and I kept expecting the Holy Spirit to help me witness but He never seemed to help. We actually got booted from the City Center because the missions leader deceived the administration into letting us do a Christian presentation that they ended up not liking a lot. I could never seem to witness correctly. Finally I woke up three hours early, read the entire book of Acts, was inspired by it, and bucked up the courage and tried to do things myself and when something good happened, I realized the Holy Spirit was just waiting for me to make the first move and prepare more... Or was it all just me trying and succeeding? This new question never really left me although I dismissed as an "of course it was God."
This past Spring, I openly challenged the inerrancy of Scripture, confident that I knew my beliefs and that they made sense. My arguments were met with strong opposition, and after a ton of debate, I realized.... The other guys were right all along.
I had never found answers to my questions. The Bible was still inconsistent and did not make sense, and the only way to have sense is to ignore parts of it. When I did this, my opponents told me that I can't just pick and choose what parts of the Bible are right; if I take the New Testament as God's Word I have to take the Old Testament too. They were right. As I lost my faith in the Bible, all I had left to base my belief on was my experiences, and with the introduction of the thoughts from the missions trip, I began to realize that my experiences were all interpreted from thoughts I had gotten from the Bible. Everything was based on the Bible, which I didn't believe anymore.
My understanding of Christianity fell apart, and rather than struggle through it again hoping it was right, I decided once and for all to get to the end of this. I prayed fervently that God speak to me somehow, show me that He was there.
I began to look at my life through the lens of "What if God wasn't real?" and I realized that nothing external changed at all. Everything I considered a blessing from God stayed after I stopped believing in Him; the only thing that was different was my understanding.
You might think I was terrified or confused or lost when my faith in God disappeared. On the contrary, it was somewhat of a relief, because I had already realized in my past that the God of the Bible is a very scary concept. I felt freed from the requirement of giving up my life for my faith, and I suddenly started pulling together the grades that had been slipping since my re-conversion with the dream. It seemed somewhat sudden, but the skepticism and deconversion had been happening ever since I started thinking for myself.
I looked back to the missions camp and realized that I had done that and given God credit. I looked at my intimate relationship with God and realized I had invented an imaginary friend who never answered me outside of my own thoughts and merely served as a method for me to talk my problems out with myself without feeling lonely. I looked at the dream I'd had and realized that I hadn't believed in Satan for quite a while and yet I'd never noticed that Satan was the reason for my renewed interest. I pinpointed the fear that drove me whenever I had tried in the past to find the truth.
Looking back, I can easily see why my Christian friends may never escape from the clutches of Christianity. The power of the brainwashing is phenomenal, and even though I was as skeptical as I knew how to be, it took me 22 years to free myself. Now, just three months later, I don't understand how I could have ever been so blind.
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