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Falling Off the Fence

By OMC ~

I was raised in the Episcopal church, which is Catholic Lite...fewer rules, less guilt. My parents were faithful church attendees; active in all social aspects of the parish. My sister and I were good children, went to Sunday school (which my parents taught), got confirmed, became acolytes, attended church youth groups, etc. I made many friendships, some which have lasted over 30 years.

When I was 14, our family moved from Michigan to Atlanta, where I met people who were really into church on a daily basis- God, and the Bible, ruled their lives. This was all new to me. Up until then, church was just a place where you went on Sunday, listened to the priest, sang, took communion, then went out for lunch. I did pay attention in church. I could mouth all the words to the entire liturgy on any given Sunday. But the attitude of the southern church culture was much more serious

The local Baptist church down the street from our house had a concert every night: heavy rock with a Christian message. The place was full of teenagers digging the music, and the message. Faces and hands were pointed to the sky, giving glory to the Lord. I was immersed, and swept up by the scene. I started attending Bible study with classmates, joined FCA, and got more involved at church. I was such an impressionable youth. My parents thought I went nuts. It's amazing what a person goes through just to fit in!

Two years later, we moved back to Michigan, where "Praise the Lord, Hallelujah" type stuff was frowned upon. By this time, or at least by the time I got to college, I learned what objective thinking was, and how to ask questions. I never questioned the existence of God, or of Jesus, but I did question the amount of faith people put into the whole idea. This was about the time the PTL/Jim Bakker scandal erupted. I thought, how could God let a creep like that use His name to fleece an entire congregation? (I had big blinders on!). I still believed, but with crossed fingers.

Fast forward several years, when I'm about 30. I met a girl that just stunned me. Beautiful, smart, energetic, fun-loving...I was smitten. She grew up in a fundie Evangelical Lutheran household: the Bible is completely true, God is watching you, be careful, pray, repent, etc. We lived together in sin for 3 years, drinking too much, smoking cigarettes, having porn movie sex...we were completely in love. Until we went to visit her parents, and subsequently went to the church she grew up in.

As a baptized Episcopalian, surely this Lutheran church would accept me, right? After all, the liturgy is almost exactly the same, our two denominations are like brother and sister, what could go wrong?...Upon entering the vestibule at the front door, there was a sign telling: 1)members please sign up if you wish to take communion, and 2) "because we believe in the sanctity of one Scripture and one Last Supper, we ask that all non-Lutherans refrain from taking communion". WTF, I thought. Is there a different Lutheran God, a different Lutheran Bible? One of the banners on the back wall behind the altar depicted a crown of thorns atop a cross, with a caption that read, "One death for us all". I chuckled audibly, and received dirty looks from her and her parents. Needless to say, when the collection plate came around, I would not even touch it.

Really, segregation among Christians! At that moment, I swore off of organized religion, though I still believed in some divine deity. I felt like a black man at an exclusive country club-"Please, Mr. Jackson, eat and drink all you want, date our women, drive our cars, but please, you can't go on the golf course because you aren't Lutheran.

She and I broke up soon after, after she remembered how important church was to her. I did all I could to try to see things her way--reading religious books, re-reading the Bible, talking to my old parish priest...nothing could convince me that I was wrong in giving up most of my faith. As a matter of fact, they probably speeded up my de-conversion!

Fast forward 8 more years, now I live in North Carolina, the Bible belt. Still riding the fence on whether or not to give up on the idea of god entirely. I met a woman, an organic chemist from a fundie Methodist family in Arkansas. She is an atheist. She introduced me to PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and several other scientists. At last, reasonable thinking without 'supernatural beings'! I had finally met someone I could talk to logically. I had been an almost skeptic for many years, and she pushed me off the fence! I feel happy and free, with no guilt or remorse, except that our parents think atheists can't possibly be real. By the way, I married that former fundie Methodist girl 2 years ago!


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